Water Softener Maintenance Guide – Learn How to Service Your System

Author: Lisa Keller - Published: 2021/07/23 - Updated: 2021/07/23

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If you have a water softener at home, you must be aware of how it has changed your water (and life!) for the better. Thankfully, a properly maintained water softener lasts a long time.

Don’t worry! You can easily maintain your system to help it perform smoothly. Here is everything you need to know about keeping your appliance in good shape, thus eliminating unnecessary repair costs.

We will cover everything in detail, so you never run out of soft water in your home.

So, here is our water softener maintenance guide!

When to Refill Salt?

Most water professionals advise checking the brine tank once a month. The rule of thumb is salt levels should not go below ¼. And never fill more than ⅔ of the tank to prevent clumping.

How often to add salt will depend on the hardness levels of your water plus your water usage. According to industry standards, a four-person household with hard water levels between 7 and 10 GPG will need a 40 lbs. bag of salt per month.

What Type of Salt Should I Use for My Water Softener?

With so many water softener salt choices, you’re likely to get stumped by this question.

However, the right type of salt can make all the difference in the service life and performance of your softening system.

So, here are the types available for softening water.

  • Rock salt. Although this salt is pretty economical, it has a high content of calcium sulfate and all types of dirt. Hence, it may not dissolve efficiently and create maintenance issues.
  • Solar salt. This type of salt is made by evaporating seawater and is the most commonly sold form of salt for water softeners. Also, it is relatively soluble.
  • Evaporated salt. This is perhaps the most expensive salt type but has the highest purity rate. And the higher the purity, the lesser the chance of insoluble buildup. Definitely recommended!
  • Block salt. If the water level in your brine tank is not sufficient to fully submerge the blocks, we do not recommend using block salt.

How to Maintain a Water Softener: Cleaning

How to Maintain a Water Softener Thumbnail

When Should You Clean the Brine Tank?

It is imperative to clean the brine tank at least every five years or ideally every year. Well, the good news is it’s a simple process that doesn’t take much time or expertise.

Ideally, you should clean the tank when it’s almost out of salt. Why?

  1. First, you won’t waste usable salt this way.
  2. Secondly, the process will be quicker as you don’t need to go through the trouble of emptying the tank manually.
  3. Moreover, you can easily see the condition of the tank like buildup, mold, sludgy salt residue, etc., and decide how to clean appropriately.

On the other hand, if you see that your water has become cloudy and inappropriate for usage, you can clean the tank right away regardless of the last time you did it.

Why Should You Clean the Brine Tank?

But why do you need to clean the brine tank at all? Some salt pellets, sold at major supermarkets, contain a lot of impurities and water-insoluble matter. Over time, this insoluble matter builds in the brine tank, possibly leading to poor performance and even malfunctioning.

To avoid dealing with constant clean-ups, always buy salt with the highest purity level or as instructed by the softener’s manufacturer.

So get busy, spare a few hours, and save yourself from further trouble. Here is the step-by-step process to help you.

Cleaning the Brine Tank

As discussed above, the ideal time to clean the tank is when it’s almost empty. But if you find your water fouling or notice a poor performance of the water softener, you can remove excess salt to proceed with a thorough clean-up.

Drain the Water

If you own a post-fill water softener, you will have to drain the water inside the brine tank to begin cleaning.

Don’t know whether you have a post-fill or a pre-fill softener? Here is the difference between the two.

  • Post-fill: A post-fill water softener refills the brine tank with water after every regeneration cycle.
  • Pre-fill: A pre-fill water softener does not fill the brine tank with water after each regen cycle, but right before. Needless to say, this model doesn’t require draining.

Here are a few options to drain the brine tank.

  • The easiest way is to use a small vessel to remove water into a bucket. Or, if the water is too dirty, you can throw the excess into the floor drain for disposal.
  • If you own a wet vacuum, use it to suck out the water. It saves you time and hassle.
  • Start a manual regeneration cycle and allow your unit to enter the brining phase. When your softener is in brining mode, the water is sucked out of the brine tank.
  • Alternatively, you could tilt over the tank and allow the water to flow in a drain. But don’t do it just yet. First, turn off the water supply to the softener by activating the bypass valve. Next, disconnect the tubing brine tank and control valve, and also the brine overflow hose. Finally, remove the salt grid and the brine well.

Remove Salt

Ideally, any leftover salt above the salt grid plate is suitable for further usage. Anything under should be disposed of in the drainage. You can scoop up the salt using a small shovel and save it for later use.

Avoid using any sharp tools since they can end up damaging the brine tank wall. Is the salt too hard to scoop? No worries! Tap the outer part of the tank with a soft mallet or use a broom handle to break up the lumps.

Didn’t work? Pour hot or warm water in the tank to loosen up the big hard lumps of salt, aka salt bridges.

Now use your tool or a wet vacuum to clean up the entire tank of any leftover residue.

Clean the Tank

Use a mixture of dishwashing liquid and warm water to clean the insides of the tank thoroughly. First, scrub using a long-handled hard brush, but don’t go overboard. Now, rinse it carefully with clean water and dump out excess water.

Add Salt

Once the tank is free of soapy water, add two bags of salt or just fill about two-thirds of the tank.  If you have a post-fill water softener, you must add water according to manufacturer instructions. Generally, three to five gallons is enough.

Turn On the Unit

Once you have added the salt, turn the bypass valve to service mode. Then, connect to the socket and start a regeneration cycle to begin using your softener again.

Cleaning the Brine Injector or Venturi Valve

The brine injector or the venturi valve in a water softener regulates the flow of saltwater from the brine tank to the resin tank (where the actual softening takes place). It creates a suction force that pulls salt water from one tank to another.

To prevent sediment and dirt from entering the resin tank, this valve is guarded by a mesh net. However, with time, the net can clog due to sediment, dirt or other particles. If the injector isn’t working correctly, the resin tank will never recharge, and you’ll be left with hard water.

Industry experts recommend cleaning the brine injector or venturi valve once or twice a year to prevent clogging.

First, bring your softener into bypass mode. Then follow the step by step instructions found in the product manual.

Note: This process is different for almost every water softener model.

Sanitizing the Brine Tank

If you haven’t used your softener for a long time or the water in your area is highly polluted, you may need to sanitize the brine tank. Disinfecting the tank will get rid of mold, mildew and unwanted contaminant buildup that can pose potential health risks as well as system malfunctioning.

If you see any sign of contamination in your water, such as a change in color, nasty taste or weird rotten smell, it signifies you need more than dish soap.

We have already discussed a basic cleanup of the brine tank. Now let’s see how to sanitize it.

Prepare a mixture of household bleach and warm water and pour it into the brine tank.

Use a brush to scrub the corners and hard-to-reach places to ensure maximum sanitization. Let it sit for 15 minutes, then drain the solution. Use fresh water to rinse the tank carefully to eliminate any residue.

Note that some manufacturers don’t advise using strong bleach and chemicals in your brine tank. So, consult the manual before you start the process.

Sanitizing the Complete System

A simple backwashing cycle is not always enough to stop the growth of microorganisms like bacteria or algae in the resin tank. Thus, complete sanitization is required.

Whenever you buy a new softener, refer to the manual for instructions on how often to sanitize the complete unit.

You can use unscented household bleach along with most resin types. Water professionals state adding about 1 fluid ounce per cubic foot resin to the brine well before or after backwashing the system.

How does it work? When the resin tank starts to suck brine, it is already loaded with bleach. So it will clean the resin tank and sanitize it.

Moving onto the most important part: This solution of brine and bleach should not reach you. To ensure this, rinse the unit with 75 gallons of water per cubic foot.

Safety Measures

  • Never use bleach with a resin cleaner since it can create hazardous fumes. Both agents work individually to sanitize the unit and should be used at different times. If you are using a resin cleaner, don’t attempt to use bleach simultaneously.
  • Also, avoid using hydrogen peroxide since it can cause fatal injuries.
  • Alternatively, you may use an NSF-certified cleaner that can remove various harmful bacteria and viruses.

Is Bleach Good for the Softener?

Let’s be honest; bleach is not your resin’s best friend. But neither are mold, mildew and microorganisms. Then why are we recommending using chlorine for your tank? It’s because it’s the lesser of the two evils.

More importantly, periodic usage of chlorine to clean the tanks won’t dramatically affect performance or resin capacity.

In reality, household bleach is the most effective, cheap and convenient way to kill microbes[1].  So, if you are using your water softener after a long time or your water tests show the presence of bacteria, go ahead and sanitize your entire unit.

Cleaning the Resin Bed

The resin tank is the heart of every water softener, where the magic takes place. Therefore, periodic cleaning of the resin bed is highly essential for optimum performance. Although resin beads recharge regularly, an occasional boost can go a long way.[2]

Depending on the manufacturer’s instructions, you can clean the resin tank once every twelve months. However, if you are dealing with water from a private well, you may not be so fortunate.

Water from wells, generally, has higher content of iron or manganese. Moreover, it can be laden with organic compounds that are not removed during regeneration.

All of these unwanted compounds can, over time, embed in between the resin beads. A foul/contaminated resin bed will fail to work efficiently, and you may end up wasting excessive salt and water.

To clean and boost the resin bed, you must use specialized resin cleaners. Not to forget, a clean resin bed will increase the lifespan of your softening system and improve the water quality around your home.

Which Resin Cleaner to Use?

There are plenty of resin cleaners in the market for you to choose from. However, it ultimately depends on the model of your water softener. It will help if you can contact the manufacturer and get a list of the resin cleaners best suited for your unit.

You can also get help from a local plumber to select the best product and explain how it works.

In reality, all resin cleaners come in different forms and will need to be used differently. So, you will have to follow specific instructions provided with each product.

For example, some cleaners are in liquid form while others are in powder form. Few have to be poured over the salt while others go in the brine well before the regeneration cycle.

Some resin cleaners work continuously for a few days if you set up a feed system. A set amount of water softener cleaner is dispensed into the salt every day to clean the unit slowly but thoroughly. It also prevents fouling for a long time.

Some water softener manufacturers like Whirlpool and Culligan also provide their own cleaners. It’s best to check out with your dealer when you make a purchase.

Once you are done, remember to flush the system thoroughly.

Salt Bridging

A common problem that many water softener owners face is salt bridging. The combination of humidity and stagnant water in the brine tank collectively results in these big chunks of salt.

When a salt bridge forms, there will be a gap between the water and the salt in the tank. Therefore, when freshwater enters the brine tank from the bottom, it cannot get in contact with the salt on top. The brine tank salt level remains constant it appears.

In simple terms, if you open the brine tank and see a hard crust of salt over the water, you need to fix it right away. This is a serious problem because it means that your unit is not able to produce brine/saltwater.

Without brine, the softener will not be able to complete the regeneration process resulting in hard water.

How to Fix Salt Bridging

  1. First, turn the bypass mode on to prevent water damages.
  2. Then use the handle of a wooden broom and tap the center of the bridge. Go slow and keep a steady hand. Don’t apply more force than necessary, or you will end up puncturing or breaking the tank.

If the salt bridge is less stubborn, you can continue using your unit as before. But for harder bridges that won’t move, follow these steps.

  1. Try to scoop out as much salt as you can, carefully making your way towards the bottom.
  2. Pour a couple gallons of warm water directly on the salt bridge to dissolve it. Also, pour warm water into the brine well.
  3. Wait several hours.
  4. Finally, turn the softener into service mode and initiate a regeneration cycle. Let all the salt clear away. Later, add new salt for the next cycle.

Preventing Salt Bridges

Salt bridging is not about the type of salt you’re using. Therefore there is no surefire way to avoid this problem. However, you can eliminate it to some extent by not overfilling the tank.

Moreover, never mix different kinds of salt, i.e., pellets, cubes, crystals, etc. Finally, every time you add more salt to the tank, keep an eye out for salt accumulation and break the deposits, so they don’t get a chance to become a nuisance.

Salt Mushing

Salt mushing is similar to salt bridging; only the former is a less pressing issue. Mushing occurs when dissolved salt recrystallizes at the bottom of the brine tank. It appears like a thick sludge that can choke the tank and affect the regeneration process.

If left untreated, the sludge at the bottom of the tank can force overflow. Prevention is better than treatment for this phenomenon.

So, every time you lift the brine tank cover, use the end of the broom to move the contents around.

Additionally, make sure the water softener is not placed in a place where humidity levels are high.

What to do about salt mushing? Either you can manually scoop out the sludge or break it using a blunt tool.

Checking the Float Switch

When maintaining the brine tank, quickly check if the float switch is free from salt and positioned straight.

Remove any buildup that might have accumulated.

A plugged float switch requires cleaning. Otherwise, it can’t draw brine into the resin tank.

Professional Water Softener Maintenance Service

Proper maintenance of a water softener is essential to get high-quality softened water around your home. However, if you don’t want to deal with regular maintenance, you can hire a professional service provider to do it for you.

The charges can vary, from $100 to several hundred dollars per year, depending on the size and complexity of your system. It may include salt, inspection and periodic cleaning.

Conclusion

In conclusion, water softener maintenance is important to ensure smooth performance and a long service life.

The first task is to check the salt level in the brine tank regularly. Also look out for salt bridging and salt mushing.

Depending on the water quality, cleaning the brine tank is required every few years. The procedure is simple: Drain the water, remove leftover salt, scrub the tank with dishwasher solution, add new salt, and turn the water softener back on.

Furthermore, make sure the brine injector or venturi valve doesn’t get clogged.

Sanitizing a water softener can be done with the help of bleach.

And lastly, in order to keep the resin bed in good shape use specialized resin cleaner occasionally, especially if you are on well water.

Further Reading

Resources

Meet Lisa Keller

Lisa Keller Lisa has joined the Water Masterz team as a contributing writer. She combines two decades of digital marketing experience with a passion for healthy living.

Lisa’s favorite leisure activities are meeting new people, learning new stuff, and yoga.

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