While using a water softener resin may not be ideal in certain agricultural applications, in most commercial and residential areas, this is a must-have in water treatment. Hard water is a common problem in the United States and many parts of the world.
Ion-exchange resin beds are used in water softeners to saturate the water and remove the high concentration of heavy metals (the main culprit is calcium in its carbonate form, CaCO3). This doesn’t only improve the overall quality and taste of drinking water but it can also extend the life of many water-using appliances, particularly boilers.
Water Softener Resins – My Top Picks for DIY Installations
With so many water softeners on the market and hundreds of different resins used, it can be nearly impossible to decide on a replacement water softener resin, especially if you’re not exactly sure what it does. That I will explain in this article while also giving you my favorite selections.
ABCwaters SOFRES1 Water Softening Resin
The reason I find this replacement softener resin more than enough for most people is simple. It’s a cheap 8% crosslink standard resin used in commercial or home water softeners.
Unless you live in an area that is known for high concentrations of chlorine or iron in the water, the 8% crosslink will do just fine. The resin bead is polystyrene in a familiar crosslink percentage with divinylbenzene.
But this doesn’t mean that this replacement resin is for everyone. Going cheap is not always a great idea. Sure, this resin comes in a 45-pound pack that’s enough for 1 cu.ft. of resin bed and rated to last between 12 and 15years.
That being said, I wouldn’t always recommend for situations when the water has a high iron concentration. 10% crosslink resins have a finer mesh, and therefore less susceptible to oxidation. It also has higher capacity, so you won’t have to regenerate the resin as often.
- Long-lasting efficiency
- Good value for the money
- High capacity resin
- Not ideal for water with high iron concentrations
2. LiquaGen Ion Exchange Resin
This resin, although pricier, is probably the one you’ll need if you’re tired of hard water ruining your kitchenware or clothes. This resin has a 10% crosslink which means that it’s a lot better at catching the excess iron molecules in your water.
What I find even cooler is that this comes with a funnel included. It should help you direct the resin in all the right places and save a bit on material too. One bag is enough to occupy 0.5 cu.ft. of the resin bed.
This particular formula seems treated for high efficiency. I find it significantly better at keeping the water pressure within optimal parameters than other 10% crosslink resins. And that’s even when the water hardness is a serious issue in the area. Note that the finer mesh of 10% crosslink resin will result in higher pressure drops than the standard 8% crosslink resin.
- Great at dealing with high iron content
- Food-grade resin
- 10% crosslink
- Pricey for a 26-pound or 0.5 cubic feet pack
3. Purolite C-100E Water Softener Resin
This resin replacement is what you might call industrial-grade. It is developed to handle even the toughest conditions. This is why I find it one of the best-suited to handle water with high iron content like what you may encounter if you’re using a private well for your water supply.
In terms of performance, the Purolite C-100E does what every softener resin should and perhaps more. It will help clean the water and not only make it suitable to use with appliances but also tastier to consume. Note that studies have yet to demonstrate any conclusive health effects from drinking hard water.
Therefore, eliminating the aftertaste is probably the main selling point. There are many resin replacements that work with multiple water softeners but that doesn’t mean that all of them leave you with quality drinking and cooking water.
- Treats well water efficiently
- Strong acid cation
- Compatible with most water softeners
- The longevity of the resin bed is greatly influenced by the water quality
4. Aquatrol Ion Exchange Resin
Aquatrol also has a very popular replacement ion exchange resin that’s mostly designed for residential use. The beads work with just about any water softeners although you should still your owner’s manual to determine the right amount and type.
Getting this resin in your system is not the easiest task. But then again, this is the case with most resin replacements – as the resin is supposed to last over 20 years if your water isn’t extraordinarily hard. This one is rated at 10 years but the manufacturers are usually conservative – they assume that you have particularly problematic water just to be safe.
The resin beads are 8% crosslinked polystyrene and divinylbenzene. They do form a rather fine mesh for the 8% crosslink. It does seem to have an easier time of catching excess minerals like iron and sulfur without reducing the lifespan of the resin bed by too much.
The Aquatrol gives good value for the money. While the resin may not be high-end per se, it is significantly better than any cheap media that comes with most mass market water softeners (I’m not talking about Culligan here).
- Fine mesh resin bed for 8% crosslink
- Very good longevity rating
- Works with the majority of residential water softeners
- Not efficient in most commercial water softening systems
5. Tier1 IER-100 Ion Exchange Resin
This is a high-quality resin that saturates your hard water to the point of making it safe for consumption and your appliances that use water.
The low hard mineral content will increase the longevity of your appliances such as boilers, coffee makers, dishwashers, etc. While the health effects of hard water are hotly debated, there is no question that hard water will lower the life of your appliances, especially that heat water to high temperatures.
The Tier1 IER-100 resin bead has a 10% crosslink. This clearly makes it a suitable choice for both residential and commercial water softener systems. However, it only comes in a 25-liter bag that’ll occupy 0.883 cu.ft. of resin bed.
- High-quality fine mesh resin bed
- 10% crosslink
- Suitable for residential and commercial use
- May be a bit expensive for residential systems
6. HydroTec Systems Ion Exchange Resin
Although this resin is manufactured outside of the United States, its formula is compliant and certified under NSF / ANSI 61 standards (the minimum standard for water softener parts). This also means that it is a food-grade resin for standard drinking water systems.
A lot of people are skeptical of replacement resins made outside the country. However, you should know that this formula was initially developed and used by a US company a few decades ago.
The resin beads are 8% crosslinked, so it’s optimized for regular hard water. The resin is particularly damp so it doesn’t have a long shelf-life.
You may need to use the entire 50lb bag in one go. Also, avoid using it with well water. The longevity once in the system is quite impressive, being able to last at least a decade.
- Great resin bed longevity
- Food-grade ion exchange resin
- Compliant with all US safety standards
- The resin is very damp and hard to store once the bag is opened
A Simple Explanation of Water Softeners and Why You Need One
The softening resin is also an ion exchange media. In a water softener, the resin bead acts as a cation (positively charged ions) to attract ions of the opposite charge (negative).
In this case, the brine solution in a water softener is run through the ion exchange resin, which attracts the negatively charged sodium ion in the solution. Now it’s ready for action. When hard water with soluble magnesium and calcium salts (these are the hard metals that cause hardness) runs through the resin, ion exchange happens. This is because the magnesium and calcium ions have a charge of negative two (-2), so they replace the singly charged (-1) sodium ions on the resin bead.
That’s essentially how an ion exchange water softener works. Of course, you also have to regenerate the resin with sodium ions to get rid of the magnesium and calcium ions when the resin is at or near capacity.
Also, the cross-linked Divinylbenzene or DVB is used to tighten the core of resin beads. Depending on the tightness, resin formulas emerge with different crosslink values.
What Is the Percent Crosslink?
The 8% and 10% crosslink is a value that shows how much DVB is used. Since DVB is a lot more expensive than polystyrene, higher crosslink will be more expensive.
Why is this important? – With less DVB, the beads are bigger and the larger beads tend to swell up more than the smaller beads. This makes the resin bead vulnerable to factors such as resin attrition, oxidation, etc.
What this essentially means is that you’ll want higher crosslink if your water has high ppm of chlorine, for you’ll need higher protection from oxidation.
But the lower crosslink can hold more water, so technically it’ll make the beads more efficient at softening water. On the other hand, the higher crosslink will have higher capacity.
Ok. But How Does the Resin Really Work?
As water enters the softener system, it will pass through the resin beads that form the resin bed. The water then replaces most of its heavy mineral content with softer minerals such as potassium and sodium.
As explained above, when it reaches capacity, you’ll have to regenerate the resin by manually inserting sodium or potassium, or you use a softener system that automatically regenerates the resin.
This regeneration occurs when the resin is flushed with a brine solution that eliminates the hard minerals and leaves sodium or potassium behind which the resin bed then uses to soften the hard water again
When to Replace Your Resin?
Due to the poor quality of the ion-exchange media found in some water softening systems, it wouldn’t hurt to make the switch to an aftermarket resin as soon as you set up your new water softener.
However, if you don’t have any problems, you can go with the standard system for a while. Now, how do you spot a potential problem with your resin bed? – Check the salt consumption rate on your water softener.
If it’s using salt at recommended levels but your water is not coming out soft, then the chlorine or high amounts of iron may have damaged the resin bed. Note that if your system is not using enough salt, this may indicate a malfunctioning valve.
If that’s the case then your resin bed may still be fine but it’s not getting flushed with enough brine solution so it’s not getting recharged.
Other Uses for Ion Exchange Resins
Most of you probably use ion exchange resins purely in water softeners. But, did you know that they also have another very important role?
Ion exchange resins also play a role in water purification. They can also be used to remove chlorine, organic contaminants, and various heavy metal ions such as copper, lead, and cadmium from water. While again, replacing them with sodium or potassium ions.
The standard choice for most people will be the larger 8% resin because it’s good enough to handle city water.
However, if you rely on well water, you may need to make a bigger initial investment. The 10% crosslink doesn’t necessarily do a better job of exchanging heavy metal ions for sodium and potassium ions, but it is less susceptible to oxidation. This is what you want because well water is known to have higher concentrations of iron.
Also, don’t get scared if you are still unclear on how the resin works. Though it sounds a bit technical, changing out the resin should be a relatively easy gig if you follow the manual of your water softener. It should show you how to change the resin and also how much you need to create an effective resin bed.