Do you have a water softener?
A water softener can help reduce scale build-up in your pipes, prevent corrosion, and make your home’s water feel softer. But like any other piece of equipment, it needs to be properly maintained in order to function at its best.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide – to help you maintain your water softener and keep it running smoothly for years to come. We’ll walk you through the critical maintenance requirements, show you how to clean your softener yourself, and give you tips for keeping it tuned up. Even if you hire a professional to service your water softener, read this guide to be certain they do everything they’re supposed to.
In this blog post, we will discuss 10 tips for maintaining your water softener. Follow these tips to ensure that your water softener continues to work properly!
Critical Maintenance Requirements for Water Softeners
Water softeners are a very important part of a home’s water treatment system. They effectively remove hardness from your drinking water, working quietly in the background. Because they are out of sight, we sometimes forget that they need to be regularly maintained just like any other appliance in our home.
But water softeners do require regular maintenance, or they will not work properly allowing hard water to pass through into your home’s plumbing.
Read my complete guide to water softeners to learn more about this treatment process.
1. Check salt levels regularly
Salt is critical to the regeneration process of a water softener. It is used to replace the hardness minerals that are removed from your water. If your water softener runs out of salt, it will not be able to regenerate and will stop working. This can cause hard water to flow into your home, which can lead to scale build-up and other problems.
As a general rule, you should check your salt levels at least once a month and add salt as needed. Add it to your calendar or schedule app so you don’t forget.
You can purchase and install a salt level indicator to help you keep track of the salt levels in your softener. They provide an easy way to see when your salt levels are low and need to be refilled.
Learn everything you need to know about salt in my article.
2. Break up salt bridging
When you check on your water softener, open the brine tank and take a look at the salt. If you see large chunks or mounds of salt, it means that salt bridging has taken place. This is when the salt crystals have bonded together and formed large clumps, preventing them from being dissolved by the water.
High humidity and temperature changes near the water softener are some of the most common reasons for bridging. If you notice your water is less soft but your salt tank appears full, you likely have salt bridging.
If you notice this condition, use a broom handle to break up the clumps and stir the salt around. You can also use a drill with a paddle bit to do the same thing. Be sure to wear gloves when doing this, as salt can be abrasive and irritating to the skin.
Salt bridging is a common problem, especially with highly efficient water softeners, because they don’t use as much water as older, less efficient units.
Address salt mushing
Another salt related issue is salt mushing. Salt mushing is caused by dissolved salt recrystallizing and forming a sludgy solid on the bottom of the tank. This thick layer of salt can block the flow of brine into your resin bed, preventing the water softener from properly cycling through the regeneration process. This issue can result in hard water and other problems.
If you notice salt mushing, you’ll have to drain the water out of the brine tank and remove all of the old salt. This may require a tool like a spatula or metal spoon because the salt can become hard and difficult to remove. Once you’ve cleaned the tank, refill it with fresh salt.
3. Clean the resin
The resin is key to the success of your water softener. It is responsible for removing hardness minerals from your water. If it becomes dirty or clogged, it will not work properly, and you’ll notice a decrease in water softness.
A common cause of resin fouling is iron scaling. You can check for iron fouling by opening the resin vessel and looking for rust color on the media. If you have iron fouling, you can clean it with a product like Iron Out. This cleaning solution dissolves the iron deposits from the media, returning it to its original condition.
In some cases, you won’t be able to adequately clean the resin, and you’ll have to replace it. This is a fairly simple process and can be done by following the instructions in your water softener’s owner’s manual.
Use quality salt
Not all salts are created equal. There are three main types of salt used in water softeners:
- rock salt
- solar salt
- evaporated pellets
Rock salt is the cheapest salt, but it also has the highest levels of impurities, including calcium sulfate which is insoluble. Over time, a dirty tank can develop, lowering the softening effectiveness while leaving contaminants in your water.
Solar salt is made by evaporating seawater using solar heating. It produces a salt that is more soluble than rock salt and can be purchased in either crystal or pellet form. This form of salt is purer than rock salt and is a good medium-price salt.
Evaporated pellets are the most expensive salt, and it is the purest form of these three. It has essentially no insoluble materials or minerals that might foul your water softener.
Tip #1: Use evaporated pellets to prevent fouling and loss of efficiency in your water softener. You’ll find that it’s worth the higher price.
4. Maintain the venturi valve
The brine tank has a venturi and nozzle at the bottom that transfers the salt solution to the resin vessel. This valve should be checked occasionally to make sure it is clear and free of debris. A common issue is the accumulation of salt that recrystallizes on the nozzle and venturi. If the nozzle becomes clogged, the flow of brine will be reduced, which can result in salt bridging or mushing.
If you find that the venturi valve is dirty, use a small brush to clean it out. Be sure to remove any solids or salt build-up from the nozzle and venturi.
5. Monitor hardness and water quality
You should routinely check the hardness of the water that your softener produces. If the water hardness increases, it’s an indication of a problem that requires attention. You can test the water hardness with a simple home test kit (test strips) or by sending a water sample to a lab. (Read my comprehensive article on testing your water softener).
Common problems associated with rising hardness include:
- dirty or fouled resin
- salt bridging or salt mush
- no salt in brine tank
- improper settings on softener
Tip #2: Take care of all issues right away. If you allow a problem to persist, it will only get worse. If the performance of your water softener declines, hard water can enter your home’s piping system causing fouling or damage to appliances.
If you’re interested in salt free water softening, read my comprehensive article here.
Watch this video on DIY water softener maintenance.
How to Clean Your Water Softener
Keeping your water softener clean is an important and simple thing you can do to ensure its long-term success. If your water softener isn’t clean, it won’t operate at peak efficiency, and you may start seeing a decrease in water softness.
Brine tank cleaning
Clean your water softener’s brine tank once a year.
I suggest waiting until the brine tank is almost empty to start the cleaning process. At this point, the tank is almost empty, so you’ll have less salt to remove (and waste). Turn off your system, disconnect the electric power, and open the bypass valve.
Drain the liquid from the brine tank. I move my tank outside to avoid making a mess in my basement.
Carefully disassemble all of the components in the tank (venturi valve, strainer, drop pipe) and lay them on a clean surface. Clean the inside of the tank and all of the pieces you removed. Use a mild cleaning solution like dishwashing detergent and a soft brush. Clean every surface thoroughly.
Allow everything to dray and then return the tank to its position. Reassemble the tank components in the reverse order that you took them apart. Check everything for tightness, connect the power, and then fill the tank with salt.
Resin vessel cleaning
The resin and the resin vessel should be inspected and cleaned once a year.
Turn everything off, disconnect the power, and disconnect the resin vessel from your pipes. I prefer taking the resin vessel outside to avoid making a mess.
Add a solution of either resin cleaner to the drained resin tank. Allow the solution to remain in the tank for 60 minutes (or whatever the resin cleaner instructions indicate). Drain the liquid out of the resin tank and move it back into its position.
Reconnect the resin vessel to the plumbing and check for proper fit. Start of regeneration cycle to flush the cleaner from the resin.
Disinfecting your water softener
You should disinfect your water softener annually. The resin, resin vessel, brine tank, and all fittings should be sanitized to ensure all pathogens are removed.
Turn off the water softener, disconnect the power, and drain all water from the unit. Remove the salt from the brine tank.
Add a 3% bleach solution to the brine tank and resin vessel. Allow this solution to remain for 30 minutes.
Pour a gallon of bleach solution through the inlet valve and the other fittings.
Flush all components with water until there is no odor of bleach.
Replace salt in the brine tank, reconnect all components, and turn on your system. Add salt to the brine tank and initiate a regeneration cycle.
DIY versus Professional Service
If you are handy, you may be able to do some or all of the water softener maintenance tasks yourself. However, if you are not comfortable working on your system, it is best to call a professional.
A professional will charge between $100 and $350 for an annual maintenance visit. This price may seem high, but it is worth the cost to have a professional inspect and clean your system annually. Not only will this ensure your water softener is running at peak efficiency, it will also extend the life of your unit.
Tip #3: Maintain your water softener regularly for peak performance and long-term success.
How to Clean Your Water Softener
Your water softener will provide years of service if it is properly maintained and kept in good condition. Routine cleaning is part of good maintenance, and it is something you can do yourself if you are comfortable with doing so.
The following tips will help you keep your water softener clean:
- Clean the brine tank once a year
- Inspect and clean the resin vessel once a year
- Disinfect all components annually
- Remove the automatic valve, venturi valve, and strainer and clean with a brush and mild cleaner
Tune-Up Your Water Softener
A water softener is a big investment, and you want to make sure it is running at peak performance. A tune-up can help ensure your system is working properly and providing you with the best possible results.
You can have a professional perform the adjustments or do them yourself. The key is to do this at least once a year.
What Does a Tune-Up Include?
- Test hardness. During a typical tune-up, you should test the hardness of the softened water produced by your unit. It should have a hardness level between 0 and 1 grains per gallon (gpg). If you have a TDS meter, the level should be less than 20 parts per million (ppm).
- Visual inspection. Conduct a visual inspection of everything. If anything looks damaged or loose, take a closer look to see if it requires repair or replacement.
- Clean the equipment. Adjust the brine tank and check the salt level. Clean the inlet valve, automatic valve, venturi valve, and strainer.
- Check the resin. The resin should be inspected for dirt, debris, and hardness. If you notice any rust color, it may need to be cleaned to remove the iron.
You should also check all of the settings on your water softener to ensure everything is operating at peak performance. There are four parameters that should be checked:
1. Regeneration frequency
Your water softener must periodically regenerate the resin by flushing it with salt water. The regeneration frequency should be set to match the hardness of your water and the size of your system.
A general rule is to regenerate no more than once every 3 days but no less than once every 14 days. If you regenerate too frequently, you end up wasting salt (and water). This adds to the cost of operation.
During your annual service, you (or your service technician) should check the water’s hardness and the amount of water used during a month. Calculate the hardness loading of your system and set the frequency to ensure you’re regenerating at the optimum time.
2. Setting time of day for regeneration
You can set the time of day that your softener initiates a regeneration cycle.
When the water softener is regenerating, it isn’t softening your water. A typical cycle can take up to 30 minutes. Any water that you use during this period, you’ll have hard (or partially treated) water coming into your plumbing system.
Prevent this from happening by selecting a time of day when no one is using water. You can set the regeneration cycle for night, but the sounds of this process may wake people up. Another option is to set the unit to regenerate when you’re at work or out of the house.
3. Regeneration duration
Most water softeners allow you to set the length of time that the regeneration cycle takes. The typical factory setting is 30 to 60 minutes. I don’t recommend changing this setting unless you know what you’re doing and have a good reason for doing it.
If the duration is too short, then you may not completely regenerate the resin. If the duration is too long, you increase the time where you home is without soft water.
4. Salt dose
Not all water softeners allow you to change the salt dose. Before making any changes, check the manufacturer’s recommendations in the manual.
Initiate a manual regeneration cycle, allow it to run through the entire cycle, and collect a water sample. Measure the hardness of the treated water. If the hardness is greater than 1 gpg, increase the salt dosage. You can try lowering the salt dose if the sample is 0. Be careful, because you run the risk of using too little salt to completely regenerate the resin.
Do water softeners need maintenance?
All water softeners require routine maintenance to keep them functioning properly. This includes cleaning the equipment, checking the salt level, and inspecting the resin.
How often should I clean my water softener?
You should clean your water softener at least once a year. You can do this yourself or have a service technician do it for you.
How much does it cost to service a water softener?
Having a professional service your water softener will cost between $100 and $350 per year.
What happens if my water softener runs out of salt?
If your water softener runs out of salt, it will stop softening the water. This will allow hard water to pass through the softener and into your plumbing. If allowed to continue, you’ll have clogged pipes and damaged appliances. Read my article – How Long Can a Water Softener Go Without Salt?
What is the best time of day to regenerate my water softener?
The best time of day to regenerate your water softener depends on when you are least likely to need softened water. You can set it for night, but the sounds of this process may wake people up. Another option is to set the unit to regenerate when you’re at work or out of the house.
Final Take on Water Softener Maintenance
Properly maintaining your water softener is critical to ensuring its longevity and proper function. By following the tips we’ve outlined, you can keep your water softener running smoothly for years to come.
In this article, we outlined 10 tips for maintaining your water softener and preventing costly repairs or replacements! We’ve given you the tools you need to keep your water softener running smoothly so that you can enjoy all of its benefits on an ongoing basis.