How to tell if water softener is working?

Last updated on: May 1, 2024.

Investing in a water softener for our home and installing it is only the first step. You would want to know if the new equipment is working well and if it will supply your home with soft water that is free of mineral deposits. So, it is best if you keep an eye on the unit and monitor it for its effectiveness. You would want to ensure that it has been worth the investment.

The main objective of water softeners is to remove or reduce the mineral deposits in the water. To know if the system is working as it should, you should know how water softeners work. This information can save you time and money because you may be able to fix the problem yourself without having to pay for professional services.

How do water softener systems work?

water softener working

A water softener contains resin beads that help remove the hardness minerals, calcium and magnesium, through an exchange of ions. Generally, water softeners are used for softening hard water and iron treatment, making the lifespan of resin beads shorter. The resin beads in the softener draw the mineral contents from the water and hold them to make sure that the water flowing from the faucets or shower is softened and pure.

Over time, these microscopic resin beads become so full that they are unable to hold any more minerals. This is when the system needs to be regenerated. Regeneration of the system involves the use of sodium to remove the accumulation of residue from the resin.

If your water softener isn’t working as it should be, the problem can be in the beads, the regeneration process, or the other components in your unit.

How to tell if water softener is working properly?

1. Hard water spots: 

You will notice hard water spots on the faucets, shower doors, glassware, etc., which are caused by exposure to hard water. 

2. Dry skin and hair: 

Your water will feel harder too. That is, it will cause dry skin and itchiness after a shower. Or, you could find that your skin feels squeaky. It is because of the magnesium in the water as it leaves a filmy residue on the skin. Your skin can feel sticky, too. It can affect your hair, too. You will notice that your hair is becoming dry and brittle.

3. Changes in water pressure:  

Changes in the water pressure can be because of a buildup of salt in the brine tank that obstructs the water supply. 

4. Change in the taste of water:  

Water tastes different and can be salty due to the increase in minerals. It could be caused by too much salt in the water. You may need to clean the brine tank and replace the salt and water to remove salty water. 

5. Reduced lather:  

Lathering is reduced when the water is hard. If you find that the soap is not lathering well or quickly, it is a sign that the water softener is not working correctly.

You can also run a soap test to check if suds form in the container. The container must be filled with water and some drops of liquid soap. Shaking it should produce bubbles on top leaving the water below the bubbles clear.

If the water is cloudy, or if there are only a few bubbles forming in spite of shaking the container, it means that your water softener is not working efficiently.

How to set water softener hardness level?

To set the water softener’s hardness level, you need to know the hardness level of your water. For example, if water hardness is running at 25, you would set it to 25 on the unit. This setting can be done through the dial manually or by programming it in an electrical unit. The instruction manual that comes with equipment will help.

What should you do if your water softener is not working properly?

servicing water softener

Some steps that you can take to make sure your water softener is working properly include:

1. Unplug The Unit

Start by unplugging the unit. Block or remove access to the water to avoid flooding the house.

2. Look for salt buildup

Look for salt buildups or salt bridges that could be preventing the system from working correctly. The salt buildup can obstruct the water flow. In case of excess salt, you need to clean the system and add salt and water for it to start working properly again. Pressing the regeneration button will also help clean the system. 

3. Remove iron particles

You can also try removing any iron particles that might have built up in your unit by using products to remove rust and clean the resin bed if it has become too full of iron deposits. 

4. Restart the unit

After you’ve cleaned and recharged the water softener, restart the system. 

5. Call for assistance

If the above steps don’t work, you may have problems with the electrical systems or the plumbing. For issues like that, you may need to have electricians or plumbers come in to check the unit.

Service professionals are better equipped to handle the problems that are preventing your water softener from working optimally.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. How to tell if water softener is regenerating?

You can tell if the water softener is regenerating properly by seeing how much salt is used each week and if it is reducing in quantity. If it is, that means the water softener is regenerating. You can also take a manual regeneration step to see if it runs properly. 

2. How to know if water softener is set correctly?

You can know if the water softener is set correctly by checking the water hardness level in your home. The hardness level and the setting will be the same. The water setting is done manually by turning a dial or through the programs in an electrical unit. 

3. How long should a water softener last? 

You can expect water softeners to last anywhere from 10 to 20 years, depending on the model, type, and quality of the unit. On average, a single tank electric water softener could last up to 12 years, while some can last nearly 20 years. 

4. Who should you call if water softener isn’t working?

If your water softening unit is not working correctly, and you are unable to figure out why you can call the service professionals that specialize in water softeners. If the unit is still under warranty, it won’t cost you anything. But, if it is past its warranty period, you may have some expenses. A service technician would be able to fix the problem. 

5. How fast does a water softener work?

The water softener regeneration cycle takes about two hours. Ideally, you should not be using the water when it is in its regeneration cycle, as the hard water can fill up the heater and cause a mineral buildup in the system. 


When we invest in an appliance that softens the hard water, we would want it to work well enough to remove iron and other contaminants from the water. So, it is best to know some of the basic steps you can take if you think the unit is not working well.

Learning about how water softeners work and what they should be doing can help in handling hard water-related issues. Hopefully, the above information will help you notice the signs of a poor functioning unit quickly to take appropriate steps.

It should ensure that you get a continuous supply of softened water for your household needs. 

About The Author

Our Web Producer

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.