Will running water softener without salt ruin it?

Water softeners are an important solution for households looking to improve their water quality and reduce the effects of hard water. Hard water carries an excess amount of calcium and magnesium and may also have trace amounts of iron and other impurities.

Water is either drawn from a well in the property or from the city supply. But before the water reaches our inlet, it flows through pipes, and over time, the plumbing can trap the impurities and form limescale.

Therefore, softening water is a necessary step in many households. It can help reduce scale buildup and improve the water’s taste, which is why water-softening units have become common household appliances across the country. While you may invest in a water softener and have it installed, regular upkeep and maintenance are essential to fulfill its purpose.

How does a water softener work?

How does a water softener work?

There are different types of water-softening systems. One is the salt-based water softener that uses a process called ion exchange to swap sodium ions with hard minerals. The other is a salt-free water treatment unit that conditions the water by neutralizing its hardness.

But what happens when the water softener runs out of salt? Will it ruin the softener? This article will explore the answer to this question and provide helpful information about how to maintain a water softener properly.

How Long Can A Water Softener Go Without Salt?

Hard water can be a challenge to deal with, especially when it comes to cleaning, bathing, and other chores. Many people rely on a water softener to combat the effects of hard water. A water softener is a device that utilizes salt to soften hard water by removing the minerals that make it hard. But how long can a water softener go without salt?

It depends on several factors, such as the water hardness level, the size of the water softener, and the amount of water it is treating. Generally speaking, a water softener can go several weeks without salt.

However, this varies depending on the factors mentioned above. When it comes to water hardness, the higher the hardness level, the more salt is required.

How Long Can A Water Softener Go Without Salt

Therefore, if your home has a high water hardness level, you may need to add salt more frequently. The size of the water softener is also essential. If your water softener is on the smaller side, it may require more frequent salt replenishment. Larger water softeners can typically go longer without salt than smaller water softeners.

Finally, the amount of water that is being treated plays a role in how often salt needs to be added. If your water softener treats a lot of water, it will go through salt much faster and require more frequent replenishment.

In general, a water softener can typically go for several weeks without salt. Still, you may need to add salt more frequently if your home has a high level of water hardness, if your water softener is on the smaller side, or if it is treating a large volume of water.

To ensure that your water softener is functioning properly and to keep it from running out of salt, you should check the salt level regularly and add more as needed.

Essentially, a water-softening unit will continue to run without salt. But, the water will not become soft as there would be no salt to swap with the hardness-causing minerals. Therefore, it is not wise to run the unit without salt.

How to Ensure Water Softener Doesn’t Run Out of Salt?

Salt is essential in ensuring a water softener’s efficient operation. Without it, the water softener won’t be able to use the ion exchange process to remove hard minerals from the water, making it unsuitable for everyday use.

As such, it’s important to ensure your water softener never runs out of salt. Here are some tips on ensuring your water softener has enough salt.

How to Ensure Water Softener Doesn't Run Out of Salt?

Monitor the water softener’s salt levels regularly.

Make sure to check the salt levels in your water softener regularly, at least once a month. If the salt level gets too low, you’ll need to replenish it.

Buy salt in bulk.

Buying salt in bulk will ensure you never run out. And you will save money while ensuring you always have a supply of salt on hand.

Buy salt in bulk

3. Use salt that’s specifically designed for water softeners. Not all salts are created equal. Make sure to use a salt specifically designed for water softeners, as it’ll dissolve more easily and won’t leave residue in the water softener.

Install a float switch.

A float switch is a device to monitor the salt level in the water softener. This device will automatically shut off the water softener when the salt level drops below a certain point. This is a great way to ensure you always have enough salt.

Install a float switch

Clean the water softener’s brine tank regularly.

Make sure to clean the brine tank regularly. This will help ensure the salt is being used efficiently and won’t get stuck in the tank, preventing it from dissolving properly.

Clean the water softener's brine tank regularly

By following these tips, you can ensure your water softener never runs out of salt. It will not only keep your water softener running efficiently, but it’ll also help extend the unit’s life. So keep an eye on your water softener’s salt levels and take the necessary steps to ensure they stay topped up.

How to reset water softener after adding salt?

After adding salt to your water softener, it’s important to reset it back to its original settings. This is because you switch off the power when adding salt, which may affect the water softener’s settings. It must be reset to ensure it operates properly.

How to reset water softener after adding salt?

So, if you’re wondering how to reset your water softener after adding salt, follow the steps below.

1. Turn off the power to the water softener. This is an important step and must be done before any other actions.

2. Take off the cover of the water softener. You should be able to do this by unscrewing it from the backside.

3. Locate the reset button on the water softener. It should be a small button located near the front of the unit.

4. Press the reset button. This will reset the water softener back to its original settings.

5. Put the cover back on the water softener. Make sure it is securely fastened to avoid any water damage.

6. Turn the power back on. This will allow the water softener to start working again.

Points 2, 3, 4, and 5 may vary based on the brand and model of the water softener. You will use the reset button to ensure that the unit is back to the original regeneration cycle and operating as efficiently as before.

Modern water softeners have a ‘REGEN’ button controller that you press and hold down for three seconds before it gets reset. Similarly, the water softener’s salt level indicator must be reset.

In this way, you should be able to reset your water softener after adding salt. Always turn off the power before attempting repairs or maintenance on your water softener to keep your family safe.

What happens if you unplug the water softener?

What happens if you unplug the water softener?

The power supply is only for regeneration purposes, and by unplugging the unit, nothing happens to the softening process. Water will continue to flow over the resin bed and swap the sodium ions with the mineral ions. But when the resin beads are saturated with the mineral ions, the unit must begin to regenerate, and that is when the machine would need to be plugged into the power supply again.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Why Does A Water Softener Need Salt To Soften Your Water?

Water softeners use salt to soften water because it acts as an ion exchanger. It works by exchanging minerals like calcium and magnesium with sodium ions from the salt. This process removes the hard minerals, making the water softer.

2. What are the other uses of water softener salt?

Water softener salt can be used for a few other purposes, including creating homemade bath salts, as the salt helps to soften the water and leave the skin feeling soft and smooth.

You can make homemade laundry detergent, as the salt helps to increase the cleaning power of the detergent.

Additionally, you can use water softener salt to remove ice and snow from driveways and sidewalks, as the salt helps to melt the ice and snow.

3. Where does the salt go in a water softener?

The salt goes in the brine tank of a water softener. The brine tank is typically located near the water softener unit and contains a mixture of salt and water. The salt helps to remove hard minerals from the water that passes through the softener unit.

4. What is the difference between pool salt and water softener salt?

Pool salt is typically sodium chloride, used to sanitize a swimming pool by raising the chlorine levels. Water softener salt is also sodium chloride but is specifically designed for water softeners to help reduce hardness in water. Water softener salt is coarser and contains impurities. Pool salt is finer and dissolves faster, making pool maintenance simple.

5. What should you do if the water softener uses too much salt?

If you find that the water softener is using too much salt, you would need to check a few things:

  • Look for running toilets or leaky pipes. You will find that with continuous running, the salt in the water softener brine tank gets depleted too fast.
  • Look for a system error. You need to check the timer setting for regeneration. If it is too frequent, it may deplete the salt faster.
  • Use the correct type of salt. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use the recommended salt and add salt in the right quantity.

What is of paramount importance is that you check the unit regularly and ensure regular maintenance to keep from wasting salt or water.


Water softeners work on an ion-exchange process, which requires salt. The salt is essential to the regeneration after the unit softens water because the resin beads involved in swapping sodium ions with calcium and magnesium minerals will become saturated. The water softening resin needs regular sodium ions to continue the softening process.

Therefore, it is best not to let the water softener run without salt because it will lose its effectiveness and the scale buildup will reduce the lifespan of the device while also impacting the water heating system, plumbing systems, etc. by allowing hard water to flow through the pipes.

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.