Water Softener Hardness Number What Does It Mean? (Explained)

Last Updated on December 12, 2022 by Mattias

Removal of hardness minerals like calcium carbonate and magnesium ions from water and replacing them with sodium ions or potassium chloride through the ion exchange process to produce soft water is a role that a water softener is best known for in the United States and the world at large. 

The softened water obtained using this system improves your water quality and stops mineral buildup in your plumbing system, dry skin, soap scum, scale buildup, and other effects of hard water. 

However, to eradicate hard water problems using this system, you must first know how to set the hardness number of your water softener and the factors that affect them. 

But not to worry, in this article, I will explain all you need to know about the hardness setting of your water softener, the right setting for your water hardness level, and the appropriate hard water level for your water supply. 

However, before we go into that, let’s first look at your water softener’s hardness number and what it does mean.  

Water Softener Hardness Number — What Does It Mean? 

A water softener’s hardness number is a figure that shows the total hardness of the water going into your water softener. 

So, the higher the figure, the harder the water entering your water softener is. 

The water hardness number on your water softener system can also help you know your water softener’s regeneration cycle frequency. 

What Are The Factors That Affect The Hardness Setting On Your Water Softener? 

• Presence Of Iron:

Iron content in your water can affect your water’s hardness, but you can get rid of it using your water softener. 

However, you must first know the ppm of iron in your water to do this. Using an iron test kit is the best way to check the ppm of iron in your water.

When you know the iron levels in your water, you can correctly program the hardness setting of your water softener and eradicate it from your water. 

For every 1 ppm of iron in your test result, you should add 4 to your water softener’s total hardness number. 

Therefore 2 PPM = addition of 8, 3 PPM = addition of 12, 4 PPM = addition of 16 to your total hardness number, etc. 

Nevertheless, not all water softeners can remove iron content from water, especially when it is much, so you should get a system like an iron filter to help remove the iron, especially if the water is well water. 

Read also: 9 Reasons Why Your Softened Water Tastes Salty

• The Water Softener’s Age:

The age of your water softener could also affect the hardness level of your water. 

As a water softener starts to age, the resin in its resin tank fails to efficiently hold hard minerals and release the right amount of sodium into the water during the ion exchange process to soften it. 

So, to cover up for the resin’s lack of efficiency, the hardness setting of the water softener must be increased to help it soften water properly

• Hardness Of The Water:

The hardness of your water also plays a huge role in programming your water softener’s hardness setting. 

Higher grains of hardness in your water will equal a higher hardness setting for it to function properly. 

When the hardness setting of a water softener is set lower or higher than the hardness level of your water, then the softening process won’t be efficient. 

Read also: Will Water Softener Water Kill Plants?

How Can You Know The Hardness Level Of Your Water?

You can check the hardness level of your water by carrying out water hardness tests such as the soap test, laboratory test, and the use of the water hardness test kit. 

• Laboratory Test:

Using a certified laboratory to test the hardness level of your water assures you of accurate test results as the hardness of the water is broken down to either part per million (PPM) or grains per gallon (GPG).

• Water Hardness Test Kit:

Another easy way to check your water’s hardness level is by using a test kit.

This method works by dunking the water test strips into a water sample to know the water hardness’s grains per gallon (GPG). 

The test strip’s change in color when dipped in the sample of your water will signify the hardness of the water.

• Soap Test:

You can also check the hardness level of your water by carrying out a soap test which involves the addition of liquid soap into a container — preferably a plastic water bottle. 

After adding soap, close the water bottle cover, shake it intensively, and then notice its reaction. 

If bubbles are formed, then the water is soft.

But if there are no noticeable bubbles but a milky layer on the water, the water is hard. 

This test is due to the difficulty of hard water forming later or bubbles with soap or detergent. 

• You can also know the hardness level of your water by enquiring about the water utility company near you. 

Knowing the hardness level of your water will help you know the steps to take for its treatment and softening. 

Turning a blind eye to how hard your water is will lead to the buildup of water hardness scale in your heating and plumbing systems, altering their performances and several other hard water issues. 

Read also: 12 Best Kitchen Faucets For Hard Water + Buyers Guide

What Hard Water Level Is Appropriate?

Different hard water levels are appropriate for different households, however, the hard water level of 120 – 180 mg/L, which equates to 7 – 10 grains per gallon of water, is moderate for most households. 

This hard water level is considered moderate because it is easily manageable. 

Other hard water levels, 180 mg/L equalling more than 10 grains per gallon of water and above, are much harder and cause more damage to your home appliances.  

When the hard water level is this high, a standard water softener — with a brine tank and a resin tank filled with resin beads on the resin bed — is initiated. 

What Level Should You Place Your Water Hardness Setting At?

The level you should place your water softener setting at is based on personal preference, the hardness level of your water, the iron and mineral content of the water, and the age of your water softener. 

Grains per Gallon (GPG)

Parts per Million (PPM) & mg/L

0 – 17
Barely Hard1.5 – 5
17 – 60
Relatively Hard3.5 – 760 – 120
Hard7 – 10
120 – 180
Very Hard>10
Water Hardness Scale

Why Should You Programme My Water Softener’s Hardness Setting Correctly? 

You should program your water softener’s hardness setting correctly because:

• Setting it wrongly will prevent your water softener from treating hard water hence providing your home with hard water despite using a water softener. 

When the hardness setting of your water softener is programmed lower than the hardness level of the water, the softener will be unable to withstand the hardness and hence won’t be able to soften the water.

This will make you continue to experience hard water issues despite purchasing and maintaining your water softener. 

• Setting it wrongly will make the water softener’s regeneration process happen too often, making it use up the talk in its brine tank at the speed of light, which will make you purchase and refill much salt frequently. 

After programming your water softener’s hardness setting correctly, you should also endeavor to check it from time to time, as an interruption of power or power outage can cause it to return to the default settings it was at before you programmed it. 

However, you should also ensure that all other water softener units are working perfectly before setting your water hardness settings, as faults in other units can also be responsible for the issues stated above. 

Read also: How To Add Salt To Water Softener

Water Softener Hardness Number What Does It Mean Summary

There is no pinpointed perfect water softener hardness setting that will work for all households; it is based on personal preference and putting the above-stated factors into consideration. 

We hope that after going through this article and following the steps listed, you will be able to make the right choice for your water softener’s hardness setting which will eradicate the hard water minerals from your water supply.

Eradicating these hard minerals from your water will help preserve your home appliances and extend their lifespan. 

It will also prevent your clothes from discoloration and your skin from drying.