How to maintain a water softener

Last updated on: May 1, 2022.

Several households across the country use water softeners as important pieces of equipment. They can improve the quality of your water as well as provide longevity for your plumbing infrastructure. Without water softeners, the water that comes out of your tap is called hard water. Hard water is filled with mineral ions, mostly magnesium and calcium.

While they are not particularly harmful to health, they can damage your pipes and the plumbing systems. Magnesium and calcium deposits can build up over time. This can block pipes, cause damage to water heaters and reduce the efficiency of water-soluble detergents. Water softeners turn this hard water into soft water by removing mineral ions from your water with the technology of ion exchange.

When hard water first enters a water softener, it passes through a tank containing resin beads. Oversaturated with sodium that is provided by salt in a brine tank, the resin beads bind to mineral ions in the hard water. This exchanges the magnesium and calcium for sodium which is much safer for your appliances and pipes.

The water provided after this process is called soft water and is considered safe to circulate throughout your household. Soft water has also been proven beneficial for better cleaning. It also heats more efficiently and offers several benefits over hard water.

Why do water softeners need maintenance?

pentair on demand water softener

Water softeners generally require low maintenance. However, like all machinery, they need regular upkeep to keep them performing at their best. This also increases their lifespan. Regular maintenance of your water softener will ensure that it operates smoothly for years to come as well as reduce repair costs.

Understanding how your water softener operates will help you determine the steps you can take to maintain and care for your unit.

Water Softener Maintenance: 9 Tips on How to Increase The Lifespan Of Your Softener 

There are several ways to care for your water softener beyond a quick and simple brine tank refill. Maintenance that is done properly has many benefits, including the lifespan of the water softener, and its impact on other household appliances. To guide you towards a great maintenance schedule, that ensures that your unit does not break down or needs replacement, here are nine tips. Remember, a water softener in good working condition will ensure that you get good quality water.

Check the salt regularly 

The first step in providing good care for your water softener is monitoring the brine tank. Refilling your water softener’s brine tank needs to be done only around once in two months. It is good practice however to check salt levels more frequently. You need to ensure that the salt is wet and covered in water.

If the salt appears dry and the moisture content looks low,  you know it is time for a refill. This is particularly important the older your water softener is, especially if it is older than a decade. This is the most active step you will have to do on a frequent and regular basis. The following tips will ensure that your water softener will last as long as possible.

Use high-quality salt 

diamond crystals

Using good quality salt to refill your brine tank will go a long way in ensuring long-lasting performance from your water softener. There are different types of salt you can choose to use in your water softener.

Rock salt is the most commonly found and inexpensive type. It often contains many impurities like dirt and sediments. These impurities will accumulate over time, creating buildup and blocks that can damage your water softener.

Solar salt is formed through the evaporation of seawater. Solar salt is available in pellet and crystal forms and is more soluble than rock salt.

Evaporated salt comes from both mining and evaporation. This is a form of salt with very few impurities. You can use evaporated salt pellets which are the purest option available currently. You may use any type of salt except block salt which is to be avoided unless explicitly stated by your water softener manufacturer.

Luckily, good quality salt is relatively inexpensive so it is worth acquiring the best quality salt to refill your tank with. This will prevent many issues that may come up later as a consequence of using substandard salt in your water softener.

Properly clean your brine tank 

Knowing how to properly clean your brine tank is a great way to conduct preventive maintenance.

The best way to do this is to wait until your brine tank is almost out of salt and then scoop out any remaining salt rocks. If your water softener has not been cleaned in a long time or is particularly dirty, the salt will resemble sludge. If the sludge is caked to the bottom you may use a stick or similar object to pry the sludge gently free.

Do not be overly aggressive in scraping off the sludge as that could damage your tank. Once the sludge is removed you may use brushes and detergent to scrub the tank clean. If there are signs of mold forming in your tank you may also use mold removal cleaning solutions to get rid of it. Once you’ve successfully cleaned out your tank, you can give it a rinse, refill it with salt and leave it overnight to regenerate.

Once a year you can soak your tank in two gallons of water mixed with a quarter cup of bleach. This gets rid of dirt and sediments that may have built up over time. It is imperative to have a good cleaning strategy in place for cleaning your brine tank.

Check your tank frequently and allocate time for checks and cleaning on a bi-monthly, monthly, and yearly basis. Having a good cleaning strategy will ensure that your water softener performs at its best consistently.

Properly clean your resin tank 

Cleaning your brine tank is a regular occurrence that goes hand in hand with refilling it regularly. Your water softener also has a resin tank that you do not need to maintain often. It is useful to know about it nonetheless. Your water softener contains resin beads that get cleaned automatically. This becomes less effective over time as your beads are aged around seven years old.

The simplest solution is to have the beads replaced entirely by a professional. This can get expensive, costing you between a hundred to three hundred dollars. This only needs to be attended to once every seven years or so.

Alternatively, you can use an iron cleaning formula to cleanse the beads and restore some efficiency to them. These specially formulated water softener cleaners can be used every month or so to increase the lifespan of your resin beads. This can lengthen the duration between the need to replace the resin beads entirely. You can extend the need for replacement from seven years to only once in a decade or so.

Clean the venturi valve and smaller components 

The venturi valve is the part in your water softener that creates the suction that transports the brine solution into the resin tank. Since there is frequent contact with brine, it is possible for this valve to get blocked with sediment. This will cause the entire system to be dysfunctional. You can clean this valve by unscrewing the cover, removing the parts, and cleaning with soap and water.

In most cases, you will have to do this only twice a year to remove debris from the venturi valve. Anything that obstructs the flow of water will reduce the performance of your water softener. As such, small components need to be regularly checked to make sure they are not obstructing water flow.

While doing your routine cleaning, it is important to pay attention to smaller and overlooked components as well. They do not usually need to be cleaned as regularly as larger components like the brine tank. Checking these smaller components is helpful to adopt into your maintenance schedule. This can prevent malfunctions and faults ahead of time.

Address blockages

Similar to how mineral deposits cause blockages in water pipes, blockages can happen within your water softener too. Salt and minerals from the brine can accumulate over time and impede the flow of water. The most common areas for blockages in a water softener are the brine line and filter screen. This can reduce the efficiency of your system.

The most noticeable sign is a reduction in the quantity of water being softened. One indication of a blockage is noticing a reduction in output from your water softener. Another indication is detecting a change in the taste and quality of your water. As you conduct regular cleaning of your water softener, it is worthwhile to find and clear any blockages that have built up over time.

Using water softener cleaners regularly can help prevent blockages. If you find a blockage, you can gently dislodge the block and use soap and water to clean the affected areas. Occasionally it can be difficult to identify a blockage. In this case, it is best to consult with a professional technician who can release the block for you.

Look out for salt bridges

A salt bridge is a layer of crust that forms between the salt and the water in your brine tank. This separation can prevent your water softener from functioning properly. Using high-quality salt will normally reduce the chances of this happening.

Nevertheless, it is important to check for salt bridges occasionally. If you observe one, you can simply poke it with a stick and it will give way fairly soon as your water softener goes through its next regeneration cycle.

Electronic components and technical errors

Sometimes the poor operation of a water softener can be caused by the malfunctioning of electronic components. For example, a broken motor or a faulty fuse. You may first check if all the cables and cords are undamaged.

If the wiring looks fine you may contact your water softener manufacturer to provide a technician. An expert can diagnose your system and offer solutions to any electrical or technical issues.

Notice telltale signs of hard water problems

Monitoring your brine tank and maintaining your water softener is a great way to address the cause of issues faced by hard water. It is also worthwhile to be on the lookout for symptoms associated with hard water. This can ensure that your water softener is running efficiently.

One of the most common diagnostic tools at your disposal is observing how soap reacts to your water. Hard water interacts with soap in a manner that prevents it from lathering up properly. If you notice that soap is lathering up less than it used to, you know that your water softener is not operating properly.

In addition to this, some other telltale signs you can look out for are:

• A significant change to the taste of water.

• Unnatural regeneration schedule.

• Scaling and buildup in pipes.

• Abnormally stiff laundry.

Noticing any of these aforementioned signs is a good indication that your water softener is not operating properly and needs to be fixed.

How often should we service our water softeners?

Good water softeners can last several years with minimal maintenance if they are installed properly. Regular cleaning and inspection of your water softener can greatly improve the lifespan of your water softener. In addition to your own maintenance, it is worth having your water softener inspected professionally on an annual basis.

Experts are able to provide several unique services. They know the intricacies and details of your water softener and are able to provide top-notch assistance in the following ways:

• Identifying issues and conducting proper cleaning of individual parts. This ensures your water softener can perform to its best ability.

• Optimizing settings so your water softener performs to the needs of your household without any wastage. Correctly optimized settings can save money in the long run as it ensures you are provided the exact amount of soft water you require.

• Maintenance of your water softener by examining worn-out parts. They can also arrange replacements for faulty components.

• Water assessments that test your water for impurities. They can detect changes in your water on a periodic basis and even catch a malfunction early.

Scheduling an annual inspection by a professional can ensure that your water softener has the longest life span possible. This also minimizes the chances of future malfunction.

Is there an advantage of using salt-free water softener?

Salt free softener

Salt-free water softeners operate differently from salt-based water softeners. They do not use ion exchange to soften water. Instead, water is processed in a manner that reduces damage. The minerals in the water are changed to a crystalline form that doesn’t adhere to surfaces.

Rather than soften water by removing minerals, water is conditioned to cause less damage to plumbing. Since there is no need to remove trapped components, there is no cleaning cycle in these types of water softeners.

The advantage this offers is that there is significantly less maintenance required. Electricity is not needed to run a cleaning cycle and wastewater is not created when purging minerals from the resin bed. Salt-free water softeners are also cheaper than their counterparts. You can also do the installation by yourself with proper equipment.

Salt-free water softeners offer a unique solution where hard water does not cause damage but is still unsoftened. Keep in mind that while damage control is possible with these types of systems, you will not get the same benefits as soft water. Although salt-free systems do not soften water, there are certain advantages to these types of systems as discussed above.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is water softener resin cleaner?

Water softener resin cleaner is a specially formulated cleaning agent. It can get rid of contaminants in your system that salt alone cannot remove. Regularly using resin cleaner can prolong the life span of your resin beads.

It can reduce valve blockage and ensure your water softener operates at its best while increasing its lifespan.

How often do you need to recharge a water softener?

Regular regeneration is a good indication of a water softener performing well. The resin bed is kept active with frequent recharging. Generally, once in two to three days is a good timeframe to recharge your water softener.

If your water is particularly hard or you have a large tank, your water softener will likely recharge on a daily basis. If you notice your recharge periods are irregular it may be an indication that your water softener has a problem and needs to be serviced. 

How do you maintain a brine tank?

Brine tanks have to be refilled around once every two months. It is good practice however to use high-quality salt, check salt levels frequently, and ensure your salt doesn’t get too dry. Look out for salt crusts and sludgy salt that accumulates at the bottom of your tank.

Similarly, keep a lookout for salt bridges that form a hard layer between salt and water. This barrier can cause your system to perform poorly. If you see a salt bridge, poke it with a broom or stick to break it. This will usually resolve itself when your system regenerates.

Conduct regular cleaning of your brine tank with soap and water and pour water softener cleaner into the brine tank every other month or so.

Additionally, you can do an annual cleanse where after rinsing with soap, you can soak your tank in two gallons of water mixed with a quarter cup of bleach. 

How long does a bag of salt last in a water softener?

This can differ based on the specific water softener and hardness levels of your water. Resin beads in water softeners get their sodium ions from salt that is filled into the brine tank. Generally, the salt in your brine tank will have to be replaced every two to three months.

If the hardness level of your water is above ten grains per gallon, you may require more salt that is refilled every month. It is a good practice to frequently check your salt levels in your water softener, perhaps twice a month. This will ensure that you monitor salt levels and refill salt in your water softener when required. 

Should there be water in a water softener salt tank?

Seeing standing water in your salt tank can be a cause for concern. It is however not a cause for alarm. Normally your salt tank should not be full of water. Standing water can be an indicator of a larger problem.

For some households that do not go through a lot of water, it could be possible to see some water in your tank and add a bag of salt to fix the issue. If you are unsure, it is always best to consult your water softener manufacturer. They can help you hire a technician to diagnose your system and identify problems if any exist.

Conclusion

Water softeners are useful components in households that can reduce damage to your plumbing. They also reduce the impact of hard liquids in your tanks. Removing minerals such as magnesium and calcium from water results in soft water.

Softened water is considered beneficial for your household and can protect your appliances and pipes. Soft water offers several benefits to ensure your family has access to safe and clean water sources. As with any other machinery, maintenance and upkeep of your water softener are essential to ensure its durability.

We hope that this article has provided enough information on how to maintain a water softener. Investing in a water softener adds to your monthly budget. Therefore, it is best to ensure proper maintenance to make it worth the cost. Committing to an effective plan for the maintenance of your water softener will serve you well and keep the system functioning optimally in the long term.

About The Author

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Judith— a passionate water treatment specialist — is a waste water management enthusiast, clean drinking water advocate, and someone with deep personal experience and knowledge about various water equipments. Her work was mentioned in countless notable water associations. Previously she was an editor at Water Alliance.