How do softeners keep contaminants from salt tank out of drinking water?

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We have a water softener and there's something I've always wondered about them, in general, that came up in a recent discussion.

Ours is an AO Smith model and it has a door on top that you can slide back to put salt into it every so often. My previous GE was similar. The salt in the bag from the store is by no means "pure" or "sterile". In fact, sometimes I see a few small stones (or something not clear) in the mix. So I pour it into the tank and through softener magic, the salt is mixed with water and some of that solution comes in contact with our household water in order to allow for the ion exchange that ultimately "softens" the water.

Also, the wet salt tank isn't sealed in any way; it just has a (non-watertight) sliding cover that pulls forward over top of the salt tank. I've even seen on the instructions for this particular model that it can be placed outdoors. It's definitely not sealed enough to keep a roach out, who could crawl into the tank and die among the pile of salt, only to have it's body dissolved eventually into the salty water solution.

So how does the softener keep contaminants, either from the original salt bag or anything that may have found its way into the salt tank, from contaminating the water we drink from our faucets? I know it all works and must be safe since millions of people aren't dying from contaminated water from their softeners. I just want to understand why that doesn't happen. :) Thanks for any enlightenment...


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Northern Wisconsin
The brine that results in the "wet salt tank" as you put it doesn't actually get into the drinking water. Instead, after the brine has done its job the resin is rinsed to remove residual salt and the impurities you're concerned about.

BTW many (most?) solids/crud that might be in the brine tank will remain there, and after some time will need to be cleaned-away by hand.
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