Why is my water softener full of water? [Reasons & Solutions]

Last updated on: December 1, 2022.

A water softener system may be a welcome addition to your family of household appliances as you look forward to enjoying softened water throughout the house. You think all your worries and irritation about hard water will disappear now that you have installed a water softener. Most often, that is the case. But no appliance is completely fool-proof.

Whether the water softened is old or new, bought or rented, you are bound to find that they occasionally throw up a glitch or two in their functioning. This is why it helps to know the inner workings of a system. Sodium is exchanged for hardness-causing minerals like calcium and magnesium in ion-exchange water softeners. The resin beads in the resin tank have negative ions that help trap the hard minerals with their positive ions. 

A water softener has three parts – a control valve, a brine tank, and a mineral tank. 

The control valve measures the water that passes through the mineral tank and has a meter to track the volume of water. The hard water flows through the mineral tank that contains the resin beads. After some time, the resin beads get saturated with hard minerals and will need to be recharged to work as efficiently. That is when the control valve initiates regeneration. 

This maximum capacity is already programmed into the control valve’s onboard computer. This program is based on the size of your house, the number of family members, and the hardness levels of the water coming into your home. A control valve is typically a demand-initiated controller that ensures your water softener is always at peak performance. 

The mineral tank is where the work of softening is carried out. The water supply first enters the mineral tank where the resin bed is situated. The water flows over the resin beads and deposits the hard minerals. The water is softened and flows into the pipes through your home. 

The brine tank is essential for regeneration. It is smaller than the mineral tank and holds a high concentration of sodium to aid in the resin beads’ recharging of positive ions. Salt pellets are added to the brine tank and dissolve in the water. As soon as the control valve registers that the resin beads need to be recharged, the concentrated brine solution is drawn from the brine tank and into the mineral tank to flow through the resin bed. This process can only work if there is enough salt in the brine tank and the water in the brine tank is not depleted. 

It is a simple process but will only work if there are no problems in the unit. Occasionally, you may find that the brine tank is overfull and affects the process of proper regeneration.

This article should help you understand the problem and how you can fix it before your pipes fill with hard water. We have a step-by-step guide on what you can do when faced with a water softener that is full of water.

A step-by-step guide on how to fix a water softener that is full of water?

Step 1: Check the brine line

Check the brine line and make sure it is attached properly to the brine tank and into the float. This float will stop the water flow once the water has reached a certain level. If the brine line is not attached the right way, the water will continue to flow, and the water level will get too high. 

STEP 2: Check the brine drain

The brine drain is critical and will only function properly if there is no clogging or blockage. The drain hose can become kinked or frozen. If the brine solution cannot flow freely through the tank for regeneration, it will cause a water buildup in the tank. 

STEP 3: Check the drain line flow control

There is a small hole in the brine line flow control, and it can easily get clogged with debris. The flow control in the drain line helps regulate the amount of water that flows through the water softener. If it is clogged, it won’t draw the brine solution out of the tank, and your system will become full of water. Therefore, you must ensure that all deposits are removed to prevent blockage.

STEP 4: Check for a salt clog in the bottom of the tank

Sometimes, salt can also clog the bottom of your tank and restrict the flow of water, causing water buildup in the tank. This is called a salt bridge and is formed by salt clumping together at the bottom of the brine tank. This salt bridge needs to be broken down with a long stick without causing damage to the tank. 

STEP 5: Check the safety float

Your water softener unit will have a safety float. This float is designed to shut off the water flow into the brine tank after the water reaches the required level. It is also there to avoid causing a flood. If the safety float is malfunctioning, it won’t shut off the water flow at the right time. Naturally, this will cause the tank to get overfull.

There are a few things you can do to fix a sticky safety float. When the water softener is NOT going through the regeneration cycle, 

  • You can remove the float and run it under some hot water for a few minutes
  • Gently move the float up and down till it begins to move freely. 
  • Make sure that the small ball at the bottom of the float is also moving freely. 

STEP 6: Check the injector

The injector creates suction to draw the brine out of your tank. If this injector becomes clogged, your water softener won’t drain the water out from the brine tank.

The injector is small, and it is easy to get clogged. You would need to remove the injector and clean it before putting it back. A toothpick or soaking it in CLR would be enough to clean the hole in the injector. 

How much water should be in my water softener brine tank?

Brine tanks require water to operate. The salt in the tank dissolves in the water and forms the brine solution. This brine moves into the resin tank during the water softener’s regeneration cycle, cleaning the resin bed with the salt necessary for ion exchange. If there is no water, the salt would not be able to travel into the brine tank, and the softening process can’t take place. 

Water softeners manufactured below 2015 have a wet brine tank. The amount of water in the brine tank will depend on the type of tank or water softener. 

The wet tank could hold water 24/7, but the size of the tank will determine the amount of water it holds. You can expect it to store between three and six gallons of water. The water level would be as high as six to 19 inches. 

Whatever the model, water softeners that use the ion-exchange process use a resin bed to soften water and salt to regenerate the resin beads. The salt in your brine tank should be at least one-quarter full, and no more than 4-6 inches below the top, and a few inches above the water level.

However, your brine tank may hold less water because of a blocked drain or a frozen drain line if you have installed it outside. Still, when you add the salt to the tank, you should be able to see a few inches of salt above the water. 

How to adjust water level in water softener?

water softener head

If you want to ensure that the water softener is working as expected, you should make sure that it has the right balance of water and salt. Water softeners require that the brine tank float level be adjusted to provide the correct salt dosage needed. Adjusting the float height in the salt tank determines the volume of water injected into the tank and the salt used during a water softener backwash cycle.

How to drain brine tank on water softener?

water in brine tank

You can use different methods to drain your brine tank. 

A bucket or scoop

You would need a small bucket that would fit inside the brine tank. Use the bucket to take the water out. 

Scoop out the water

If you don’t have a small enough bucket, you may need to use a scoop and scoop out the water by hand. You can use a larger container to pour the scooped water into before disposing it into the drain. 

If the water you are scooping out is still relatively clean, you can fill up a large container and reuse the water instead of wasting it. Or, you can use it to do your laundry. 

Use a wet-dry vacuum

If you are not comfortable scooping out all of that water by hand, you can use a shop-vac, also called a wet-dry vacuum. It will suck the excess water out from the brine tank easily. These devices are specially designed for the purpose. You would need to make sure that the wet-dry vacuum works on both wet and dry applications. 

How to use a wet-dry vacuum?

  • Empty the collection tank: If the wet-dry vacuum uses a single collection tank (some models have a wet tank and a separate dry dust bag), then you must empty it before using it to suck the water from the water softener. 
  • Remove the filter: If you find that you have to draw a lot of water through the wet-dry vacuum, you must remove the filter. Smaller amounts of water can be sucked out without removing the filter. 
  • Attach the right accessories to the hose: Your wet-dry vacuum will have a special attachment used for sucking up water. It will look like a squeegee. This attachment must be connected to the hose. 
  • Switch on the vacuum: Once the attachment is connected, you can plug the device in and switch it on.Place the hose and attachment into your brine tank so it can begin removing the water.
  • Empty the container: You can empty the vacuum after you have sucked up all the water. If the water looks clean, you can use it for laundry or use it for something else. If not, you can pour it into the drain. 
Remove the brine well to dump the water

Yet another way to drain the water is to disconnect the brine well and throw the water into the drain. The drain well is long and cylindrical in shape that holds the safety float inside the brine tank.

Before removing the brine well, you have to remove the safety float that is inside the brine tank. You may need to remove the overflow elbow if any. 

Then, pull out the cylinder that contains the safety float. The next step is to disconnect the fill tube. If you have a side-by-side water softener, you can disconnect the fill tube that connects the head valve to the brine tank and the tank’s overflow hose. 

Finally, you can lift the brine tank out and pour the water down a drain. 

Run a manual regeneration cycle

The older water softeners have an option for manual regeneration. If your system has one, you can drain the water by running the regeneration cycle manually. 

You can start by pushing and holding the ‘regenerate button’ to activate manual regeneration. This will empty the water softener that is full of water. Your unit will automatically suck the water out of the brine tank during the regeneration process. Therefore, manually activating regeneration is an effective method to drain the water.  

Then, push the button again once the regeneration cycle starts so that it will skip the brine cycle. 

Once the tank is empty and the water is drained, you can push the ‘regenerate button’ once again to skill the rest of the cycles, and your water softener will be back to normal.

However, this last method can work only if your regeneration cycle works properly and there is no glitch in this stage of the water softening process. 

When to call the professional?

If you find that the water softener is full of water and you are unable to fix the problem, it may be time to call a professional. But first, you can try the various methods of draining the water, flushing the remaining salt, and cleaning the brine tank. If you still find the water remaining too high and you can’t figure out why it is so, you may need professional assistance.

Standing water in your brine tank can be because it needs more water for regeneration or for the ion-exchange process. But, if there is too much water and it is not draining out as it should, or if your water tastes like hard water, there may be a problem with the unit, and you would need the know-how only a professional can offer. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What are the most common water softener problems?

Water softeners can last decades if they are well maintained. And they are reliable units that purify and filter the hard water and remove the hard minerals from the water. But, once in a while, there may be a few problems with the unit and it may breakdown because of a few common problems:

 Clogging

Clogging is fairly common in water softeners from accumulated hard minerals and scale buildup. The unit gets clogged because of salt and minerals building up and sticking to the interior of the water softener. These clogs can be easily cleared away. 

Faulty motor

All motors are prone to problems. They could be because of regular wear and tear or some part that stops working. While this is not too common, it can happen. It is essential to keep the water softener well-maintained and serviced so that it will work optimally. You must also stay on top of the cleaning, filter changes, and ensuring that the water drains properly. 

 Problem with resin beads

Salt-based water softeners have resin beads that are essential to soften the water as they trap the hard minerals and swap them with sodium. Resin beads help soften the water and regenerate when they become saturated with hard minerals. If you start seeing the resin beads floating off the resin bed, the whole bed would need to be replaced. 

Salt bridges 

In some water softeners, the salt in the brine tank can become clumps at the bottom of the tank. They don’t dissolve in the water and become hard crusts, otherwise known as salt bridges. You would need a long stick to tap on these clusters to break them down. Make sure that you tap gently so as not to cause any damage to the tank. 

 Dirty filters

A dirty filter is one of the common water softener problems. Water softeners use filters at the beginning of their filtering process to keep out the larger minerals. The filter is the first point of contact and can accumulate more sediment than other parts of the water softener. It is best to change the filter every three to five months. 

2. What should you do when the water softener leaks during regeneration?

How much salt you put in a water softener depends on the hardness levels of the water and the quantity of water usage in the household. An average family of four with hard water will use about 10 pounds of salt each week. 

3. Is there supposed to be water in the salt tank of a water softener?

Yes. There is supposed to be water in the water softener’s brine tank. The water must be filled just a little below the salt pellets so that water is in complete contact with the salt to make sure the salt dissolves and forms into a concentrated brine solution. 

4. How can you tell if your water softener is clogged? 

One of the signs that your water softener is clogged is when your water becomes hard again. You will notice white spots on kitchenware and glassware. You may even feel that your skin is getting dry and your hair is losing its shine. Soon, your bathroom tiles will have white or gray spots. 

All these signs are fairly noticeable and mean that your water softener is not working as it should. It is best to have it checked to see where the fault lies. 

Conclusion

Water softeners are useful products and help soften water in your home. But, they can only be effective when they are working well. A good water softener can last for decades without causing any problems. On the other hand, it could run into a few issues, like a blocked drain hose. Any clogging of the drainpipe or in other components of the water softener will cause water to fill up in the unit.

We hope this guide will help you understand the various factors that cause standing water, and you can quickly resolve the problem by following the step-by-step process outlined above. Knowing how to take care of minor issues like kinked drain hoses, small clogs, or salt bridges can save you some money. Knowing also when it is time to call the professional will prevent a bigger problem later at a higher expense. 

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.