After making the investment in a whole-house water softening system routine water softener maintenance should be something you work into your schedule to keep your softening unit running in top condition.
Water softeners are built to last a couple of decades at least, some can last much longer with the proper upkeep. I have put together this comprehensive list of maintenance items for you to follow.
As you read through keep in mind that softener maintenance is not very time consuming and most of the suggestions can be done in just a few minutes. When you do have a more time-consuming task be aware that these are still simple DIY projects that you can complete in just a short time frame and they only come around every so often.
Water Softener Maintenance: Visual Inspection (Ongoing)
Your water softening system is probably located in the garage or some other conspicuous place. As a part of your maintenance schedule be sure you take a few seconds to visually inspect the unit whenever you are doing other tasks nearby. Make sure you keep an eye out for any leaks, dripping connections, or any parts that look like they are not functioning properly; this includes any odd noises coming from the unit that may indicate an underlying problem.
You should also cut the water and electric supply and do a quick inspection of the brine tank to check for any unusual buildup of sediment. Just lift the lid and have a look, you should be able to check quickly as this will be visible to the naked eye.
Another thing to be aware of is a change in your water quality. If you begin to notice signs of hard water such as spots on your dishes or your laundry, clothing, hair and skin not being as soft as normal with conditioned water then you may have an issue. You should do a water quality check with a home test kit to make sure your softener is producing soft water.
If you notice the salt levels remaining the same week after week, the softener failing to regenerate or if it gets stuck in the regeneration phase you will probably need to call in a plumber to check things out unless you feel comfortable doing major parts replacements yourself.
Water Softener Maintenance- Adding Salt or Potassium (Quarterly)
An essential ingredient to a long-living water softener is to keep the correct salt or potassium levels. This will ensure your water softener can perform at peak levels and soften your water effectively. If you have correctly sized your water softening system you should only have to add to the brine tank every few months.
If you are still in the process of choosing a softener be sure you check out our easy calculator to make sure you get the correctly sized softener for your family. Of course, you need to follow your specific manufacturer’s recommendations but on average you can expect to add salt every quarter. Additionally, you should add no more than a couple of bags of salt at a time so if you are finding that you are adding hundreds of pounds at a time you would be better off increasing the frequency that you add salt/potassium.
Keep reading to learn more about water softener salt and water softener resin and how they factor into the maintenance schedule.
Water Softener Maintenance- Check for Salt & Potassium Bridging, Sediment Caking (Quarterly)
One of the most frequent causes of water softener problems is “bridging”. Bridging is when sediment, salt, or potassium begins to build up and forms a rock hard lump at the bottom of your brine tank.Bridging will cause the softener to be less effective. The best way to head off this issue is to clean your brine tank regularly: annually for salt units and quarterly for potassium units.
To check and see if you are developing any sediment build up you can use something like a broom handle to swirl the brine water around. Be aware that just breaking up the sediment is usually only a quick fix, not a permanent solution. Sediment that has already bridged will do so again and usually much more quickly.
The best way to combat this issue is to completely drain and clean the brine tank and put in fresh salt/potassium. It is not a good idea to re-use salt/potassium that has bridged as it will do so again much more quickly than fresh product.
Water Softener Maintenance- Clean the Brine Cabinet (Quarterly or Annually)
If you have noticed bridging in your brine tank you need to perform a flush and clean. However, this is a part of the regular maintenance schedule that you should follow so don’t wait until you spot a problem before doing this.
As you are doing your ongoing visual inspection of the system if you begin to notice any significant buildup of crusty material that is also an indication that it is time to give the tank a good flush and clean. You will notice this particularly if you use a cheap salt or potassium product as the impurities are likely to be higher in a lower quality product. Nothing against cheaper supplies just be aware you may have to do more maintenance.
As a general rule plan to clean out the tank on a quarterly basis if you are using potassium and on an annual basis if you use salt. You may need to do this more often if your salt/potassium has a high amount of impurities in them. Just check for sediment buildup inside the tank and for bridging in the bottom and clean accordingly.
Start this project by cutting off the electric and water supply to the water softener.
If a sediment buildup does exist, you will need to loosen it so it’s easier to remove. Start by using a broom handle or similar object to break the sediment up into manageable pieces. It is easy to use your wet vac to suck out the old brine water. Give the tank a rinse and get all the stuff vacuumed out. Once you have removed any sediment, old salt, and brine water be sure you wipe down the inside of the cabinet to clean out any remaining residue. Let the brine cabinet air dry or use a lint-free cloth to dry it out. You can then add new salt or potassium and refill with water. Finally, turn your power and water supply back on and manually regenerate. Be sure you check with your owner’s manual for any instructions specific to your water softener model.
Water Softener Maintenance- Clean the Brine Line
Cleaning your water softener’s brine line is another water softener maintenance task that you should consider doing. Do this when you clean the tank, it only takes a few minutes. A water softener’s brine line is traditionally located on top of the water softener near the bypass valve. It is connected to the water softener’s control unit by a compression nut.
First of all, turn off the water softener’s water and electric supply as well as release the pressure in the tank. Turn the dial on the valve head to start a manual regeneration (that’ll bleed off internal water pressure).
Using an adjustable wrench, unscrew the compression nut and remove the line. Rinse the line out and if you happen to notice a clog blow it out of the line. Reverse your steps to hook it back up and don’t forget to turn the power and water supplies back on.
Water Softener Maintenance- Clean the Injector
The water softener injector controls the amount of brine that is transported to the resin tank. It is possible for the injector to become clogged with sediment or other impurities from time to time. This maintenance task is a bit more involved so you may only wish to do this one annually unless you suspect a problem.
First of all make sure water and power supplies are off and the pressure is released from the softener. Turn the dial on the valve head to start a manual regeneration (that’ll bleed off internal water pressure).
A water softener’s injector is located on the top of the water softener near the brine line and behind an access panel. You need to remove the screws that hold the access panel into place then unscrew the injector and remove it from its housing. The most likely place for sediment to build up is in the injector’s filter screen, inspect it for obstructions and if an obstruction exists, gently wash the screen with a mild soap like dish detergent.
You’ll also want to inspect the O-rings. If the O-rings or screen appear to be worn, replace them with new ones. Reverse your steps to reassemble everything and be sure to turn the power and water supplies back on.
Water Softener Maintenance- Disinfect the System
You may want to occasionally disinfect the water softener system. There are several products you can purchase to do this. Here is a link to some good options for both city water and well water. They are generally very easy to apply, just add the recommended amount to the brine tank, simple as that. You can also put 1.2 oz of 5.25% sodium hypochlorite (regular household bleach) for each cubic foot of resin into the <strong>brine well</strong> (the tube inside the brine tank) and then put the system through a complete regeneration cycle to disinfect the tank.
You can do this as part of your ongoing maintenance schedule or wait until you deem it necessary. Times it would be necessary would be if your water municipality issues a warning to boil water you will want to disinfect the system once that warning is lifted to make sure all contaminants are out of your tanks. Also, if your area has experienced a flood or localized flash floods you may want to disinfect the system as well.
Water Softener Salt
Since the sodium chloride you use plays a vital role in the functioning of your water softener you will want to put some consideration into what you choose. The water softner salt (or potassium) is the key component in removing the hard water minerals from your water. The type you choose will relate directly to the hardness of your water, the quality of your softener system, and the amount of time you wish to spend on maintenance of your system. Of course, some water softeners are only able to accept specific salt pellets or potassium so be sure you check your owner’s manual before making a purchase.
Choosing Sodium Chloride or Potassium Chloride
Most water softeners are capable of using either sodium chloride or potassium chloride. The differences are slight but will be important to some people. Potassium will replace the hard minerals for potassium and the Sodium will replace the hard minerals for sodium. So, if you don’t want additional sodium in your diet for health reasons you may wish to go with potassium. On the flip side some health problems, like diabetes, are affected by potassium so you will want to keep that in mind. This goes for the people and the pets in your home that will be consuming softened water.
Also, you will be releasing these compounds into the environment and potassium is better for the environment than sodium. Likewise potassium is beneficial to household plants and they generally don’t do well with sodium.
Sodium is less expensive as it is more costly to mine potassium from the earth.
Can Sodium and Potassium be Mixed?
I read on the Morton website that they can be. This seems to be an interesting choice. I think it would be more work mixing the two but some folks might think that it would work well for them.
Here is what Morton has to say about whether you can mix potassium and sodium in your water softener,”Yes, if you wish to reduce the sodium content of the softened water. The products can be mixed in any ratio you desire. We would recommend starting with a 50/50 ratio and see how that works for you. If mixing potassium chloride with salt, it is important to note that softened water will contain a higher ratio of sodium to potassium at the beginning of the service cycle and a higher ratio of potassium to sodium near the end of the service cycle.”
Water Softener Salt Types
There are generally three types of salt for water softener: rock salt, solar salt, and evaporated salt. Rock contains the most impurities while evaporated contains the least. They are also priced lowest to highest in that same order.
Rock salt is mined from naturally occurring deposits in the ground, it has the most impurities and is the cheapest to purchase.
Solar Salt is obtained through the evaporation of seawater. It also has a high amount of impurities. Usually it is sold in either crystal or pellet form.
Evaporated salt is the purest and most expensive of the three. After being mined the salt has its moisture evaporated from it by way of either natural gas or coal energy.
You can use any of the three water softner salt types but be aware that those with more impurities will cause you to spend more time on the maintenance of your water softening system.
The best water softener salt is the one that provides you with the price and maintenance schedule you are comfortable with.
Benefits of Choosing a High Quality Softener Salt
You will get improved regeneration efficiency of the resin beads
Prevention of buildup of sediment on valves and screens
Removes almost twice as much dirt and impurities
Removes up to 5% more water hardness minerals than lower quality softener salt
Check prices on Water Softener Salt Here
Water Softener Resin Replacement?
When and why you might need to replace your water softener resin beads depend on how old your water softener is and how much hardness is in your water. Usually resin beads need replacement after about 20 years. Basically, they are made to outlast your water treatment system. However, there are occasions when the resin would need to be replaced sooner.
Water Softener Resin Damaged by Exposure to Chlorine
If your “city water” has a high concentration of chlorine your softener resin can break down over time. After about 10 years of this high exposure the resin beads will begin to swell and fragment. These fragmented pieces will collect at the bottom of the tank and begin to restrict the water pressure in the tank, these fine pieces of resin will also begin to clog your faucet screens inside the home. If this has happened to you be sure you replace not only the water softener pellets but also the bottom distributor.
Outdoor Water Softener Resin Issues
If your water softener is installed outdoors your resin can become contaminated with algae growth. If this happens you will want to replace the resin.
Well Water Issues
Sometimes water supplied by a well will have a large amount of sand in it. Of course, you should be using a sediment pre-filter if you know this to be the case. Be aware that this sand will collect in the bottom of the tank and cause issues with the water pressure. You will need to clean the tank, install a sediment pre-filterand replace the resin pellets to remedy this problem.
Putting an Old Unit Back into Use
If you have a water softener that has not been used for many months or years you may need to replace the resin. If you notice a strong odor coming from the tank the resin has become fouled. You can try to use a resin cleaner or a weak bleach solution but you might be better off cleaning the tank out and starting over with fresh resin beads.
Resin and Iron Don’t Mix
Your water softener resin can also become fouled by a high concentration of Iron or other organics in the water supply. If this is the case a good cleaning will usually work but if the resin is old you may just want to replace it and start over fresh.
How to Replace Water Softener Resin Beads
Always check with your owner’s manual as some softeners have specific instructions but this should work for most softening systems.
Turn off water and disconnect plumbing and electricity
Unscrew control head and remove tank
Lay softener tank on side outside or over trash can, insert garden hose and allow water to rinse the old resin out.
Discard old resin but save any gravel and rinse it clean.
Stand tank upright then place tape over the opening of the well tube
Add the gravel back in so it covers the screen completely then pour in new resin until tank is a little over 1/2 full. (See next section for specifics)
Remove tape from the well tube, re-attach the control head, re-connect plumbing, turn on water and electricity
Run a manual regeneration cycle and finish by testing your water hardness
How Much Resin to Use?
Tank Resin Gravel
8″ x 35″ 0.64 cu. ft. About 10 lbs.
8″ x 44″ 0.75 cu. ft.
9″ x 35″ 0.75 cu. ft. About 13 lbs.
9″ x 48″ 1.00 cu. ft.
10″ x 35″ 1.00 cu. ft. About 16 lbs.
10″ x 40″ 1.00 cu .ft.
10″ x 44″ 1.25 cu. ft.
10″ x 54″ 1.50 cu. ft.
12″ x 52″ 2.00 cu. ft. About 20 lbs.
13″ x 54″ 2 – 2.50 cu. ft. Recommend 35 lbs.