Like any home appliance, your water softener requires regular maintenance to continue operating at peak performance. This is especially true because water is constantly running through the system, which can lead to a buildup of rust and other types of residue if not cleaned and serviced regularly.
Though a water softener professional will need to service your system on a regular schedule, there are other things you can do yourself to keep your water softener working well. Sometimes just regularly checking things like salt and water levels is enough to spot and troubleshoot any issues. In other cases, taking the time to clean or replace certain system parts before they cause serious issues will save you money and hassle in the long run.
Regular water softener maintenance is especially important in places in greater Phoenix, where water hardness levels are often as high as 17 grains per gallon (GpG) in residential areas. Your water softener has to work harder to soften this water and may require more frequent maintenance to continue operating well.
Whether you’ve just had a new water softener installed or want to keep your current softener working well, follow these five simple tips to keep your water softener in tip-top shape.
Tip #1: Regularly Check Your System’s Salt Levels
With most water softeners, your salt can be found in the brine tank, which is used to produce the sodium ions that will “swap” with magnesium and calcium ions in a process called ion exchange.
If your salt level is too low, your softener won’t have what it needs to perform this process. The result is hard water that leaves chalky white residue on fixtures and leaves skin and hair feeling sticky and dry.
Thankfully, checking your salt level is an easy do-it-yourself task that you can perform without the help of a professional.
How to Check Your Water Softener’s Salt Level
- Locate the brine tank and lift the lid.
- Salt pellets should be high enough to cover any visible water in the tank
- If you see water or if the salt is filling less than half of the tank, refill to about halfway
- Before refilling, loosen any encrusted salt sticking to the side of the tank
Tip #2: Clean Your Brine Tank Regularly
Most water softener experts recommend cleaning your brine tank once per year. Otherwise, salt can form clumps or sludge and reduce the effectiveness of your softener’s regeneration process. If your water has high levels of iron or sediment, you may need to clean your brine tank more often.
Cleaning your brine tank is possible to do on your own, but an expert can also help you clean your brine tank during regular water softener service each year.
How to Clean Your Water Softener’s Brine Tank
- Prepare a place to dump the brine from the tank, like a pit or gravel bed in your yard
- Put the system in bypass mode
- Unplug the water softener and disconnect the brine tank
- Take the brine tank outside and dump the contents in your prepared gravel bed or pit
- Once empty, disassemble and clean the brine tank and valve:
- Remove and clean the salt plate in cold water with dish detergent
- Use a long handled brush or a power washer to clean the inside of the tank
- Use a quarter cup of bleach with two to three gallons of cold water and let the water sit in the tank for 15 minutes
- Scrub the inside of the tank again, empty the bleach water and rinse with clean water
- Wipe and tank and valve dry before reassembling
- Replace the brine tank and reconnect all lines to the water softener and drain
- Take the system out of bypass mode
- Add five gallons of water to the brine tank
- Add at least two 50 lb. bags of water softener salt
- Let the salt sit in the water for about two hours
- Start a regeneration cycle
Tip #3: Look For and Eliminate Salt Bridges
A salt bridge is a crusty buildup of salt residue that collects in the tank of your water softener. When a salt bridge forms, the salt will not dissolve in the water to form brine. Without the brine, resin does not regenerate properly, so the water does not get softened. A salt bridge forms in high humidity or from using low-quality salt.
You can easily break up a salt bridge on your own, but if they become a consistent issue, a water softener expert can help you identify the underlying cause. If you notice salt bridges happening frequently, there could be an underlying issue with your water softener that requires professional assistance.
How to Identify and Eliminate Salt Bridges
- Use a broom handle or a similar rigid tool to push into the brine tank
- If it hits something hard that’s not the bottom or sides of the tank, there’s a salt bridge
- Use the broom handle to gently break up the salt bridge
- If necessary, pour a gallon of warm water into the tank
- In a humid area, fill the brine tank with less salt more often to prevent a salt bridge from forming
Tip #4: Replace Your Water Softener Resin
Resin is a crucial element of your water softener’s operation since it allows ion exchange to take place. Though resin is usually designed to last the duration of a water softener’s lifetime (around 10 to 15 years) high levels of iron and chlorine can sometimes break down resin faster than usual.
If the water softener consumes salt at the regular rate but doesn’t produce enough soft water, it may be time to replace the resin bed. Small particles in your water called “fines” are also a good indicator that the resin is beginning to break down, and it a surefire sign that it’s time for resin replacement.
Though replacing your softener’s resin is possible to do without the help of an expert, a professional will be able to do this much faster. Alternatively, a professional can check your water softener’s resin during regular service appointments.
How to Replace Your Water Softener’s Resin
- Determine the amount of resin you’ll need in one of the following ways:
- Reviewing your owner’s manual
- Using a chart or calculator like this one
- Place system in bypass and unplug the power cord
- Disconnect the plumbing and remove the control head
- Lay the softener tank on its side, or into a trash can
- Use a garden hose to rinse out expired resin
- If your water softener uses a layer of gravel at the bottom, save old gravel
- Stand the tank upright and cover the opening in the product tube
- Refill the gravel so it covers the screen
- Fill the tank about half full with new resin
- Uncover the product tube
- Reattach the control head and reconnect plumbing
- Place the system in service mode and start a manual regeneration
- Test the water for the softness level
Tip #5: Use the Right Type of Salt
Only use high quality salt designed for use in water softeners. Other types of salt will have a high level of insoluble impurities that could build up and clog your system. High-purity salt costs more than other types of salt, but the investment is worth it to protect the longevity of your water softener.
There are many different types of compatible salts for your water softener, so make sure to compare different types of water softener salt before making a selection. If you need help choosing a salt for your water softener, contact an expert.
Tip #6: Add a Prefilter
If your water has sediment, iron, sand, clay or other substances — commonly found in well water or tap water in certain areas throughout the country — your water softener could become clogged or damaged. A prefilter removes these contaminants from your water supply before it reaches your water softener and remains effective for six to nine months before needing a replacement.
Ideally, your water softener company will include a prefilter when your system is installed. Unless you have considerable plumbing skills, however, adding a prefilter after your softener is installed should be left in the capable hands of an expert. Contact our team if you think you need a prefilter installed on your water softener.
Get Expert Help with Your Water Softener Maintenance
Some water softener maintenance issues are best left to professionals. Regular professional maintenance will help reduce issues so your system provides the soft water you need. If you need help troubleshooting water softener issues, contact the experts at Clearwater Concepts for help servicing your water softener.