Your water softener was a big investment, and you’re already enjoying the benefits of soft water on your skin and hair. You’re probably also enjoying the cost savings in cleaning products and in the increased lifespan of your appliances and plumbing. Now you need to learn about water softener maintenance and what steps you need to take to keep your water softener in prime condition.
Water Softener Basics
In order to understand the reasons for the steps we’ll outline for your water softener maintenance, you first need to understand how your water softener works.
Hard and Soft Water
Most municipal water sources and private wells that supply water to homes, provide water that is rich in minerals. This is referred to as “hard” water. The minerals in the water tend to harden in pipes and on whatever surfaces the water touches, including your dishes and your skin and hair.
The mineral deposits are not harmful, but they can have harmful effects. In pipes, the mineral buildup can occlude the pipe over time, reducing water flow. If you have hard water, you can see the buildup in your tub, shower and sink. This buildup is often called lime scale and is difficult to remove without using harsh chemicals.
On your dishes and any surfaces you clean with water, you will see spotting, and in pots and pans and kettles you will see a whitish buildup of calcium or lime over time. This can reduce the efficiency of your small appliances like electric kettles or coffee makers.
How It Works
A water softener pumps tap water though a tank of tiny resin beads that attract the minerals out of the water and trap them. The water then continues into your house without the minerals.
The water softener also has a tank of brine water—water that is filled with dissolved salt. The salt water is pumped into the resin tank at regular intervals in a process called regeneration. The dissolved salt in the brine water pulls the minerals out of the resin beads, returning them to their original state. The brine water, now also full of minerals, gets discharged into a drain.
Now the resin beads are clean and ready to absorb more of the minerals from the incoming water.
Water Softener Maintenance
For the most part, water softeners are simple to maintain. A water softener can last for many years with just a few simple maintenance steps.
You need to check the salt level in the brine tank at least once per month. The tank should be filled about half way to two thirds of the way with salt. The salt level should be about 3 inches above the water level.
There are three types of salt you can buy
- Rock salt
- Solar salt
- Evaporated salt
Rock salt is the least expensive but contains impurities that might necessitate more frequent cleaning of the tank, increasing your water softener maintenance duties, and also might reduce the softener’s efficiency.
Solar salt is solar-evaporated sea water and is much purer than simple rock salt. The most expensive and efficient of the three is the evaporated salt which is 99.99% sodium chloride.
Water softener salt also come in three different forms
Your water softener maintenance manual will tell you which form to use. When possible use a pellet salt because it minimizes issues that can occur with granular salt.
The first indicator that you might get that you need to pay attention to your water softener maintenance will probably be harder water coming out of your tap.
The first step you want to take is to check on your salt level. Add salt if needed.
Sometimes the salt can crystalize into a “salt bridge” that prevents the salt that accumulates above the bridge from dissolving into the water below. Take a broom handle and gently probe the salt to make sure that there is no hardened layer in the tank.
Another problem can occur at the bottom of the brine tank, where the brine can coagulate into a sludge that prevents the water from circulating properly through the resin tank. This is calledsalt mushing, and the only solution is to drain the tank, dig out the old salt and begin with a fresh bag of salt.
Using a good quality pellet salt can help avoid these two maintenance issues and keep your softener running properly.
Maintaining the Brine Tank
An older model water softener brine tank should be cleaned out annually. If you have a newer model, you only have to clean the tank every 5 to 10 years unless you are having a problem or your water is continuing to be too hard.
Create a schedule for your tank cleaning. Since this is a water softener maintenance task that you don’t need to do very often, you might want to post your proposed cleaning dates on a sticker on the tank itself to remind you.
To clean the tank, you first need to empty it. Find the bypass valve and shut off the water intake into the tank. Siphon or pour the water out of the tank and dig out the old salt to throw away. If you see bridges or other recrystallized salt, use very hot water to dissolve it. Don’t dispose of this salty water in your garden. The salt will damage your plants.
Remove the brine grid from the bottom of the tank if your tank has one. You will need to clean this separately. Scrub the inside of the tank with soapy water. You can use a brush. Rinse thoroughly.
Although most microbes cannot live in the briny water, to ensure the purity of your water you’ll want to include a bleach rinse in your water softener maintenance routine. Use ¼ cup of bleach in 2 to 3 gallons of water. Stir the mixture around in the tank and let it sit for about 15 minutes before you pour it out.
Rinse your tank thoroughly again and replace the brine grid in the bottom of the tank. Then refill the tank with water and salt as usual. Let the tank sit for a few hours after cleaning to allow the salt to dissolve into the water before regenerating.
Additional Upkeep Tips
Cleaning the Resin Tank
The resin pellets are continually recharged by the brine, but it’s a good idea to pass a water softener cleaner through the system every few months. Follow the directions on the product label or the instructions in your water softener maintenance manual.
This is an especially important step for maintenance if your water has a high iron content. If this is the case you can also look into purchasing an attachment that automatically adds a bit of cleaner to each regeneration cycle.
Exercising the Valves
There are intake and outflow valves in your system. Exercising them is simply the process of closing and opening them as a part of your routine water softener maintenance. This will prevent any kind of buildup that may limit the functioning of the valves. It will also give you the opportunity to see if the valves are leaking. You can check your valves every few months.
Cleaning the Venturi Valve and Nozzle
The most important valve to maintain is the venture valve between the brine tank and the resin tank. This valve and nozzle are what create the suction to pull water from the brine tank into the resin. Your water softener maintenance manual will have specific instructions for how to dismantle, clean and reassemble these parts.
This probably sounds more intimidating than it actually is. Remove the cover of the valve; no tools are necessary. Then clean the parts in soapy water before replacing them.
Check Simplest Issues First
If the water coming out of the taps in your home is too hard, make sure you have followed the water softener maintenance tips outlined here. Start checking the simplest issues first. Is the power connected properly? Sometimes power outages can change the regeneration schedule in the computer. Reset the clock.
Has your family significantly increased its water usage? Maybe you need to add salt more often, especially in summer when you are washing the car or watering the lawn.
Is the intake valve open? Maybe your unit got bumped and the water is not flowing into the brine tank. Check to be sure.
If simpler issues don’t solve the problem, then use the steps we’ve outlined here to make sure your salt is in good shape. Call a plumber for any significant issues you can’t solve for yourself or if you’re uncomfortable doing maintenance on your own.
Water softener maintenance is simple and straightforward. If you take the simple steps outlined here your water softener will serve you and your family for decades.