Many people who have water softeners are under the impression that these are maintenance-free devices.
While they do not need constant attention, water softeners do require periodic maintenance and cleaning to keep them working efficiently and to extend their useful life.
Once you read this article, you will come to realize that performing maintenance on a water softener is not only important but also very simple.
I have a water softener in my house, so take it from me, if it is not maintained properly it can cause some real headaches.
Most of these headaches can be avoided by simply following the water softener maintenance tips that I will present to you here.
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Why It’s Important to Maintain Your Water Softener
As you can see in the above diagram, a water softener is a much more complex piece of equipment than it looks from the outside. A lot takes place inside of it to get your tap water as soft as possible.
A water softener system consists of two types of tanks that you will need to perform periodic maintenance on.
One is the main tank with the resin beads that help in its ion exchange process and the other is the brine tank which stores the salt solution which also plays an important ion exchange role.
If either of these two tanks gets too dirty or the salt runs low in your water softener’s brine tank, it will hurt your water softener’s efficiency and worse yet it can reduce the system’s useful life.
This is why it’s so important for you to periodically do the following water softener maintenance steps.
Basic Water Softener Maintenance Tips
Here are the most important water softener maintenance tips that we can give you:
1. Remember to Refill Your Salt
What happens if you don’t have enough salt in your water softener’s brine tank? The same hard water that goes into your water softener will come back out of it into your home.
So eventually when the salt levels in your softener get low enough it will be the same as having no water softener at all.
Many water softeners have controls that will monitor the salt level in your water softening system. It’s also pretty easy to open the lid on your water softener’s brine tank to check the salt level inside of it.
Most manufacturers recommend that this brine tank be kept filled with salt to at least the halfway point.
You should check your water softener’s salt level at least once a month. Also, be aware of the signs in your tap water that may indicate your water softener’s salt level is too low. This includes:
- Ugly spots starting to form on glasses and dishes
- Limescale starting to build up on kitchen and bathroom fixtures and surfaces
- A change in your tap water’s odor and taste
- Soaps and shampoos no longer lather up well
2. Select the Right Salt
Water softener salt selection is important because the less pure that your water softener salt is, the more problems you may run into. You may also be surprised to learn that there are many different types of water softener salt to choose from. This includes:
This tends to be the number one recommended water softener salt by manufacturers. That’s because this type of salt is almost 100% pure, so it leaves little to no grime behind in your water softener’s brine tank and also adds only pure salt to your drinking water.
As the best water softener salt choice, you can also expect it to be the most expensive.
Sea Salt (also called solar salt)
You will find this type of salt to be the second most pure type of salt. That makes it another choice that will help make your brine tank easier to clean. The only problem with this type of water softener salt is since it’s made using natural means its purity tends to vary.
This is the most readily available of all of the salt types mentioned so far. It is also the least expensive. The problem with this type of water softener salt is it’s more prone to having impurities than the other above-mentioned salt types.
This is another inexpensive and readily available form of water softener salt. You most likely will want to avoid using it because of its high level of impurities.
It will do the trick if your salt budget is low or you are in a pinch to get your water softener working again and you can’t find a better salt type that’s available.
My suggestion here is to take whatever advice your owner’s manual gives you as to the type of salt the manufacturer recommends you use in their system.
If you don’t find this information in your water softener owner’s manual, it’s worth taking the time to place a call to the manufacturer to find this out.
3. Clean Your Resin Bed
One of the main components of your water softening system is the special resin beads in the main tank that help facilitate the ion exchange process.
These beads attract the hard water-causing calcium, magnesium, and other minerals and keep them from traveling on in your home’s tap water.
Simply put, the cleaner these beads are kept the more efficient your water softener will be. Although your unit’s regeneration cycle will help keep them fairly clean, you will also benefit by periodically cleaning your water softeners resin bed.
This takes on even more significance if you have high iron content in your incoming household water and no iron filter before your water softener.
That’s because although water softeners do a fair job of eliminating iron in your tap water, iron particles form such a strong bond with the beads in your resin tank, they tend not to easily wash off of them during the regeneration cycle.
Iron will eventually build-up to a point on your system’s resin beads where it will hinder their effectiveness.
The best way to clean the resin beads that are found in your water softener is by using a special cleaner such as the Evo Dyne Water Softener Cleaner shown above.
It’s best to follow the cleaner manufacturer’s recommendations that are on the bottle or package to get your resin bed as clean as possible.
Just so you have an idea of how this is done, these are the usual steps involved in water softener resin bed cleaning:
- Drain the main tank down so that it’s 3” to 4” above the resin bed
- Add the resin cleaning solution or powder
- Drain more water out of the main tank until the resin bed is barely covered
- Soak for the recommended amount of time that’s found on the resin cleaner package
- Rinse the tank and resin bed thoroughly
4. Clean the Venturi Valve
Venturi’s are a type of valve that is designed to create suction on a line without leaking water out of it. There is usually one on every water softener that’s found on the feed line that runs from the brine tank to the main resin tank (see photo above).
This valve creates the suction that’s necessary to pull the salt solution up from the brine tank and into the main tank. Sometimes these will get clogged up with sand, sediment, or other debris.
That’s why they need to be checked once every three months for proper operation and cleaned.
5. Avoid Salt Bridges & Mushing
Here are a couple of brine tank issues that can cause some problems with your water softener. A salt bridge forms when you use water softener salt that has many impurities in it.
These impurities collect on the side of the brine tank and prevent the salt from going down and making the salt solution that’s necessary for your water softener to work properly.
Salt mushing, which is a bigger concern than having a salt bridge, happens when sludge on the bottom of the brine tank recrystallizes and forms a thick layer. If this happens, your water softener will not be able to properly cycle through its regeneration process.
Both of these problems can be avoided by draining your water softener’s brine tank and removing all of the salt inside of it. Also, be sure to scrub any grime off the sides of the tank.
Once again, using a purer form of water softener salt will help avoid these conditions or significantly slow their occurrence rates.
Basics Tips for Maintaining a Salt-Free Softener
If you have what’s known as a salt-free water softener, they operate completely differently than salt-based water softening systems. Most are virtually maintenance-free.
The lone exception is template-assisted crystallization water softeners that may need to have the filter media inside of them changed out every few years.
Being virtually maintenance-free is part of the appeal of salt-free water softeners.
Salt-based water softeners will do a great job eliminating all of your hard water concerns but that’s only if they are properly maintained and the salt level in the brine tank is kept at an acceptable level.
That’s why it’s a good idea to follow the advice given here so your water softener will continue to work efficiently and to do its job for many years before needing to be replaced.
If you do not have the time or desire to perform your water softener maintenance yourself, then consider having it professionally done. This is a maintenance task that most plumbers or a local handyman will happily do for you for a reasonable fee.