water softener

noun
any of a group of substances that when added to water containing calcium and magnesium ions cause the ions to precipitate or change their usual properties: used in the purification of water for the laboratory, and for giving water more efficient sudsing ability with soap.
Also called softener.
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World English Dictionary
water softener
 
n
1.  any substance that lessens the hardness of water, usually by precipitating or absorbing calcium and magnesium ions
2.  a tank, apparatus, or chemical plant that is used to filter or treat water to remove chemicals that cause hardness

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Encyclopedia Britannica
Encyclopedia

water softener

device for removing calcium and magnesium from water; water so treated will not form insoluble scale in pipes and tanks and will not form a precipitate with soaps or interfere with other cleaners. Water softeners usually consist of zeolite or an ion-exchange resin (q.v.) in a tank connected directly into the water system. The zeolite or resin contains sodium ions that change places with the calcium and magnesium ions dissolved in the water. When the zeolite or resin becomes exhausted (when most of its exchangeable sodium is replaced with calcium and magnesium), it can be regenerated by washing with a strong solution of common salt, which removes the calcium and magnesium and replaces them once again by sodium. Indispensable in many industries, water-softening units are also used in homes in a number of countries.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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Example sentences
It is also an effective deodorizer and water softener that enhances the
  cleaning powder of soap.
The plastic is a resin of the kind used to pull calcium out of water in a water
  softener.
If you use a water softener, make sure your drinking water faucets are not
  connected to the water softener system.
The typical water softener has two parts: a mineral tank and a brine tank.
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