Water Softener Troubleshooting & Repair: Fixing Common Problems

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

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In many places in the US, water softeners are a must because of hard water levels. Nevertheless, just like other home appliances, you can run into unexpected issues with your softening system time and again after its installation.

When you aren’t an experienced DIYer, troubleshooting can be a little challenging. Don’t fret, though; our guide below will discuss typical water softener problems and how to give them a quick fix.

So, here is our water softener troubleshooting and repair guide!

Troubleshooting Overview: Water Softener Problems and Fixes

IssuePotential CauseFix
No Soft WaterSoftener Not WorkingCheck Troubleshooting 101
Not Enough Soft WaterInitiate Regen Cycle and Increase Salt Dose or Cycle Frequency/Length if Needed
Check Troubleshooting and Repair Guide if no Improvement
System Doesn’t Regenerate ItselfMisconfigured or Broken TimerCheck Settings + Replace Timer if Needed
Blocked Brine Injector or Venturi ValveUnblock
Clogged Drain ConnectionUnclog
No or Insufficient Water in the Brine TankCheck Below
Salt BridgingRemove Bridge + Start Manual Regeneration
Salt MushingDissolve Salt Crust + Start Manual Regeneration
Too Much Water in Brine TankCheck Below
Dirty Resin BedClean or Replace
Broken MotorReplace
No or Insufficient Water in the Brine TankCrooked Brine Tank FloatStraighten
Broken Brine Tank FloatReplace
Stuck Brine Tank FloatClean
Clogged Brine LineClean
Clogged Brine ValveClean
Water Softener Doesn’t Use SaltSalt BridgingRemove Bridge + Start Manual Regeneration
Too Much Water in Brine TankDirtClean Brine Tank
Crooked Brine Tank FloatStraighten
Broken Brine Tank FloatReplace
Stuck Brine Tank FloatClean
Clogged Brine LineClean
Clogged Brine ValveClean
Faulty Brine Valve O-ringReplace
Low/High Feed Water PressureAdjust
Clogged Drain ConnectionUnclog
Blocked Brine Injector or Venturi ValveUnblock
Misconfigured TimerCheck Settings
Salt MushingDissolve Salt Crust + Start Manual Regeneration
Clogged Control ValveUnblock
Leaking UnitBroken PieceReplace
Faulty ConnectionReinstall
Brine Tank Water is BrownRust or DirtClean Brine Tank
Water That Appears DiscoloredRust or DirtClean brine tank
Fouled Resin BedClean. Increase Salt Dose or Regeneration Cycle Frequency/Length if Needed
Water Pressure is LowDirty or Worn Out Resin BedClean or Replace
Resin Beads Clog Fixtures and AppliancesFlush Plumbing System + Replace Resin Bed or Broken Resin Tank Basket
Undersized SystemReplace
Clogged Control ValveUnblock
Water is Too Slippery or Excessively Salty After RegenerationSalt Dose Too HighAdjust
Restricted Drain ConnectionUnblock
Softener is Draining Non-StopRestricted Drain ConnectionUnblock
Blocked Brine Injector or Venturi ValveUnblock
Low/High Feed Water PressureAdjust
Stuck Brine Tank FloatClean
Clogged Brine LineClean
Clogged Brine ValveClean
Broken Circuit SwitchReplace
Misconfigured Regeneration SettingsAdjust
Weird NoisesVariousCheck All Components
Water Softener is Using Too Much SaltFaulty Regeneration SettingsAdjust
Too Much Water in Brine TankSee Above
Pipes and Water Contain Yellow Resin BeadsBroken Resin Tank BasketFlush Plumbing System + Replace Basket
Worn Out Resin BedFlush Plumbing System + Replace Resin

What to Do if Your Water Softener is Not Working?

Before discussing what needs to be done with your failing water softener, it is imperative to determine whether or not a problem exists at all. For that purpose, you’d need to check if your water softener is working correctly.

How to Check if Your Water Softener is Functioning Properly

To determine if your system is working as it should, measure the hardness or softness of the output water. For this purpose, get a simple testing kit.

Hence, it’ll save you the hassle of contacting a professional and asking them for assistance.

Follow the instructions that come with the hard water test kit. It’s all about determining calcium carbonate levels. The concentration is usually calculated in gpg (grains per gallon) or ppm (parts per million).

Troubleshooting 101

Your water softener may not be producing enough soft water to meet your needs, or it may not be working at all. If you couldn’t measure even a tiny drop in water hardness, you should follow the steps below before proceeding with the troubleshooting and repair guide further below.

  1. If your water softener uses electricity which most systems do, ensure that it’s connected correctly. One of the primary reasons water softeners do not work is due to an improper connection.
  2. Make sure that your water softener is plugged in properly and the switch is turned on.
  3. Look for the amount of salt in the brine tank. Is it sufficient? Besides, also check for salt bridges.
  4. Open a water outlet to see if the water meter is recording flow accurately.
  5. Are you experiencing unexpected power outages? If so, your softener head might be displaying incorrect time. Hence, causing the system to malfunction. So, make sure you adjust the time.
  6. Check and adjust the settings for salt, hard water level, and water consumption for regeneration.
  7. If your softener was installed recently, check if it’s appropriately plumbed. Water flow should be in the right direction.

If you didn’t figure out a problem till this point, begin a manual regeneration cycle. Test the hardness levels again afterwards.

Consequently, if your water gets soft, it indicates that you’re probably utilizing a higher amount of water. Hence, running out of soft water is not surprising.

Simply put, if your demand is more than the supply, you’ll frequently run out of soft water.

To fix this, you’d need to consider doing two things:

  1. Regenerating more often and for a longer time
  2. Increasing the amount of salt used

Most households don’t think about how much water they consume daily. Surprisingly, many utilize 80 to 100 gallons per capita.

Nevertheless, if this isn’t the case with you, there is indeed something up with your system that needs your attention. Several reasons could contribute to your system’s malfunction. So, let’s move on to troubleshooting and a few practical fixes.

Guide: Troubleshooting and Repairing a Water Softener

Water Softener Troubleshooting and Repair Thumbnail

Before we dive into the problems and solutions, note that there could be various reasons why your water softener is failing to work. Thus, troubleshooting is not as simple as it may seem at first.

To make it easier for you, we have organized the list from the most common to the least common issues.

Also, you might need to switch between sections.

The System Doesn’t Regenerate Itself

Your water softener may fail to regenerate correctly or may not regenerate at all. Here are a few typical issues that might be causing your system to malfunction.

  • Motor failure. Water softeners run on electricity and therefore need a motor to work. Nevertheless, the engine can break for one reason or another, and your system fails to work. So, if this might be the cause, it’s best to replace the motor.
  • Clogged drain hose. Check and remove if something is blocking the drain hose.
  • Broken timer. You will need to replace your timer if it’s damaged. To figure that out, set a time for regeneration. If the process doesn’t begin at the specified time, your timer is broken, unfortunately.
  • Disorganized timer. The system can also malfunction if the timer is incorrectly configured. Make sure your softener is displaying the correct time and day.
  • Dirty Mineral tank. When hard water passes through the mineral tank, various deposits can accumulate in the resin bed, contaminating it. Make sure you keep your resin in good shape using a resin cleaner.[1]
  • Blocked injector or brine line. Remove any dirt or deposit in the brine tube or valve as it may be causing a hindrance in the accurate functioning of your water softener. The same goes for venturi valves.
  • Insufficient water in the brine tank. If less or no water passes through the brine tank, it would negatively affect the regeneration process.
  • Excessive water in the tank. Too much water in the brine tank is also an issue. The softener will fail to recharge. Hence, ensure that you drain the water in the brine tank and check the water level is not exceeding the required amount.
  • Salt issues. Salt might get accumulated at the bottom of the brine tank, forming a stiff crust. This is called mushing. Salt mush won’t dissolve in the water, affecting the regeneration procedure. To fix it, take a hammer and try to crush the deposited salt. Salt bridging can also be the root of the problem.

No or Insufficient Water in the Brine Tank

Brine tanks that function properly don’t fill all the way up or even close to it. Instead, water gets pumped into the tank bottom, the salt dissolves (to some degree), and the brine gets drawn into the resin bed.

So, if there is no water in your brine tank, you do not need to freak out. The problem is not evident yet!

Still, your system will not perform optimally and fail to provide enough soft water if:

  • Water does not flow into the brine tank at all.
  • The tank is not filling up the required amount of water for regeneration.

But, how can you fix this issue? Consider following the steps below.

  1. If the brine valve or brine line is blocked, unblock it by pouring hot water.
  2. Check the brine tank switch is working correctly and moving freely (if it has one). Cleaning the brine well thoroughly if need be.

Water Softener Doesn’t Use Salt

If your water softener isn’t using any salt, it will fail to function. You can find out by checking the salt level in the brine tank. If it doesn’t drop, it means that no salt is being used.

This issue is primarily caused by salt bridging.

A salt bridge is a hard crust that keeps salt from dissolving in the water forming brine. Consequently, the regeneration procedure will be hindered, and as a result, the water softener will stop softening.

If you suspect this to be the issue, take a broom and try to push the handle to the bottom of the tank. If you cannot do that, know that you have a salt bridge.

You can remove it by simply crushing it. Warm or hot water can help, too.

Once it’s done, initiate a regeneration cycle so that the water softener can start working again.

Salt Mushing

Salt mushing is somewhat similar to a salt bridge. It occurs when salt forms a thick sludge at the bottom of the brine tank. First, the salt dissolves, then it recrystallizes, ultimately blocking the brine line.

As a result, two things happen: First, brine concentration decreases; second, the water level gets higher.

To resolve this issue, dissolve the crust using hot water. Once it breaks, scoop it out and clean the brine tank and you’re all set.

What is the Right Amount of Water for the Brine Tank?

If your brine tank is full of water, it’s not a good sign. Also, many water softener users report this issue.

Too much water in your salt tank will prevent the system from regeneration effectively. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that your brine tank should have no water at all. But as mentioned earlier, you will not be able to see any unless the salt is about to run out. Ideally, the water level should be about 10 inches.

Note: Only post-fill water softeners should have water in their brine tank.

However, if your tank is filled to the top, it either doesn’t fill up the right level of water, or it doesn’t drain as it should.

Therefore, you need to empty the tank and clean it properly to get the system working again.

Additionally, check that the brine float can move freely up and down at 90°. Further, ensure the brine tube isn’t clogged. Is the O-ring in the assembly intact? Is the valve stuck open?

Listed below are some more possible causes for your overflowing brine tank.

  • Low water pressure. Too low water pressure can be the culprit. Make sure you adjust the pressure according to your softener’s requirements.
  • High water pressure. Same as with low water pressure. Adjust accordingly.
  • Blocked control valve. A blockage in the control valve could be it. Clean it thoroughly. Otherwise, it may result in an internal bypass.
  • Obstructed drain tube. If something is clogging the drain tube, clear it with warm water.
  • Misconfigured timer. An improperly set timer can also cause an issue, as stated earlier.
  • Salt Mushing. This happens when the dissolved salt recrystallizes in the bottom of the brine tank.
  • Blocked brine injector or venturi valve. Remove any salt deposits, dirt, or debris that’s stuck in there.

Dirty Resin Bed

The resin bed is perhaps the most important component of a water softener. If it’s not working well, it can lead to several problems, such as low pressure.

But what causes a resin bed to wear out?

Water typically contains several impurities like biological contaminants, heavy metals and sediments. When these impurities are present in high levels, they can accumulate inside the resin bed with time and cause it to foul.

Additionally, resin tanks tend to clog faster if:

  • Your water softener has been out of order for a long time
  • You’ve just installed it
  • The time between regeneration cycles exceeds one week

Furthermore, with a dirty resin bed you can also encounter discoloration or cloudiness in your water. It may also taste and smell bad.

To fix this, you need to clean your system. Also, make sure that you shorten the span between regeneration cycles.

Lastly, check if your resin bed is completely worn out. If it is, replace it instantly. To test this, rub the resin beads with your fingers. If they break easily, unfortunately, it’s time to switch to a new resin bed.

Leaking Unit

It can be challenging to figure out precisely which part of the unit is leaking. Why? Because you’d need to check each component of the softener separately: hoses, O-rings, the various tank components, valves…

Once you discover the leaky part, you’d need to fix it or replace it to get your softener working again.

Note that if you hire an incompetent tech, they might unintentionally break a component during installation. Therefore, installing and configuring a water softener requires additional care, so better not to compromise on that.

Brine Tank Water is Brown

We’ve all encountered brown water flowing from our faucets at least once. It’s pretty easy to comprehend why this water is not fit for use. Nevertheless, if you experience brown water even after installing a water softener, it can be an annoyance.

You installed a softener to get access to cleaner water in the first place. Then why does brown, icky water flow through your tap?

Well, too much rust[2] or dirt accumulated in the brine tank results in discoloration of water. A straightforward solution to this is to clean the tank. Although water softeners can last for years with little maintenance, it is recommended to have them serviced every year.

Furthermore, frequent inspection and cleaning will help maintain optimum performance.

Water That Appears Discolored

Besides brown water, you can also experience yellow, cloudy, or otherwise tainted water. Water discoloration could indicate a contaminated resin bed, unnecessary salt accumulation, or rust.

Either the resin bed or the brine tank needs to be cleaned to fix the discoloration issue.

Water Pressure is Low

trickling faucet

You can experience low water pressure when multiple taps are running in your home. This can happen during peak water consumption hours. For instance, your family unknowingly uses more water than the softener can provide in the morning when showering and preparing to leave for work or college.

A few other reasons why this might happen include:

  • Your resin bed might have gotten corroded by chlorine. The remains form a stiff layer at the bottom of the resin tank, blocking water flow.
  • The resin bed is clogged.
  • An improperly sized water softener can be the culprit. For instance, a 7-gallon-per-minute system with low softening capacity reduces water pressure when you open multiple outlets demanding a total flow of 9 gpm.
  • The resin beads might wash from the resin tank into the shower heads and faucets, clogging the water flow. Hence, you need to clean the outlets.
  • The control valve is clogged.

Water is Too Slippery or Excessively Salty After Regeneration

Drinking excessively salty water can be an unpleasant experience, especially if you suffer from bowel-related issues.

So, if your water is overly slippery or salty, there could be one reason: it is too soft.

Simply put, your water softener is utilizing more than the required amount of salt. Therefore, you’d need to adjust the settings.

Another possible reason could be a clogged drain. This keeps the brine from discharging out of the resin tank during regeneration. Consequently, you should watch out for dirt or debris and remove it immediately.

Softener is Draining Non-Stop

One of the primary causes of a water softener constantly draining is that it is stuck in a regeneration cycle. The cycle continues endlessly, probably because the resin tank cannot draw brine. A clogged valve or line typically contributes to this cause.

Other reasons include low water pressure or the brine valve assembly not moving appropriately. Hence, you need to measure and set the water pressure accordingly and remove any blockages respectively.

Lastly, wrong regeneration cycle settings or broken/worn-out switches are also to blame. Typically, a complete cycle takes a little longer than an hour. So, make sure your regen settings are appropriately adjusted.

Weird Noises

Low noises are an indication that the system is undergoing regeneration. Therefore, if you hear such sounds, especially during night (as regen begins), there’s nothing to fret over. It’s completely normal.

Nevertheless, if you hear loud screeching or something like that during the daytime, you may need to check your system. You can examine your water softener for:

  • Broken/Misconfigured timer
  • Clogged tubes
  • Damaged valves

You’ll likely come across any of the above issues if you hear loud noises. In that case, you’d need to replace the worn-out component or get it fixed.

Water Softener is Using Too Much Salt

water softener brine tank with salt

There could be various reasons why your water softener is using excessive salt.

  • Too occasional regeneration cycles
  • Improper salt dose settings
  • Excessive water in the brine tank

Hence, you need to check and adjust the settings and also get rid of clogs.

Pipes and Water Contain Yellow Resin Beads

If there is an excessive amount of chlorine in your water, it may end up cracking the basket at the bottom of the riser tube inside the resin tank. As a result, you’ll encounter yellow resin beads in your home’s water. The chlorine can also eat away the resin beads themselves causing the remains to wash out of the tank.

Your water lines and the entire drainage system will be clogged, which can be a real pain. So, before you encounter any severe damages, it’s best to fix the issue by flushing your entire plumbing system.

  1. Put the water softener into bypass.
  2. Flush your water heater empty.
  3. Make sure you flush both cold and hot water outlets. Open all the water lines, including showers, taps and toilets.
  4. Use all the water appliances in your house, including dishwashers and washing machines. If any of the appliances appear clogged, unplug them and inspect the water lines for resin beads.
  5. Also, if any damaged part of the softener is contributing to this problem, get it replaced.

Water Softener Repair: Cost

Although the above solutions should help immensely, you may not be able to resolve the issue causing your water softener to malfunction in rare cases. At this point, hiring a company to fix your system becomes mandatory.

A trained professional can diagnose the underlying issue and repair your softener quickly. Depending on the severity of the problem, the price can range from $200 to several hundred dollars.

If you’ve rented a water softener, your rental supplier will repair it (for free). However, if you’ve violated the terms of the agreement or contributed to the loss, you may need to pay for it yourself.

Conclusion

In conclusion, you can try to troubleshoot and repair your water softener even if you’re not an expert. Some issues are simple to diagnose and fix while others are more complicated.

A good starting point is to measure output water hardness. Is the hard water level reduced at all?

If not, it’s time for some troubleshooting 101: ensure the system is correctly connected to a power outlet, check the brine tank salt level, check timers and regeneration settings and adjust if necessary, and test if the system’s water meter is functioning by opening a nearby faucet.

That didn’t help? Then it’s time to go through our detailed water softener troubleshooting and repair guide above.

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.

Get in Touch with Lisa

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