Water softener maintenance is not the toughest job if you know what to look for. There are three things that should be on top of that list. And once you have those essentials taken care of, you need to know how to keep it running smoothly. So, we have the essential checklist and a few tips to keep your appliance in top form. Take a look.

The Checklist

First, let’s go over the checklist for water softener maintenance. Then, we will take a detailed look at what each of those points means. And finally, we will follow that up with a few tips for water softener maintenance.

  • Step 1. - Check the salt levels

  • Step 2. - Prevent salt bridges

  • Step 3. - Clean the brine tank

Check The Salt Level

The first thing about water softener maintenance is that this appliance’s efficiency depends heavily on the levels of salt.

You must check them regularly and if they decrease, it is probably because you have been using it frequently and the tank is dealing with a lot of hard water.

So, you must check salt levels every four to six weeks to make sure that they are not lower or higher than they should be.

But how often you check the levels also depends on a few other factors. One of those is the levels of minerals in the water. The salt is present in your water softener’s brine tank. This is where the process of softening happens through a process called the ion exchange. Here, the sodium ions are exchanged with calcium and magnesium ions in the water.

If the water softener does not have enough salt, the process of softening won’t take place. The process of checking involves only two simple steps.

  • Step 1. - Open the lid of the brine tank and locate the pellets of salt. They should be visible and cover all the water in the tank.

  • Step 2. - Refill the brine tank if the salt levels are less than two-thirds of the tank. This way, the salt will be about three inches over the line of water. Make sure it is not more than that.

But it is not just about the levels of salt but getting good quality salt.

Types Of Salt And Which One To Pick

There are three categories of salt that can be used in a water softener. They are evaporated, solar and rock salt.

First, there is evaporated salt which comes from mining it and then evaporating the water. This is the purest of them all, with 99.9 percent sodium chloride content. It is expensive but is also a very good pick for a water softener because it works very efficiently on hard water.

Then there is sea salt, which is also called solar salt because it is made by evaporating seawater. This one is about 99.6 percent pure and will dissolve faster when compared to rock salt.

And finally, there is regular rock salt, which is affordable but it has a lot more insoluble minerals which makes it subpar. This actually negatively impacts the water softener’s ability to do the job.

It also contaminates the tank by making it muddy, which means you will have to clean it more frequently than you would like. This also caused salt mushing and bridges, which we will talk about a little later.

Typically, you will end up using about one or two bags of salt every month. But it may vary depending on the hardness of the water, the size of the household and the capacity of the brine tank.

The best way to figure out how much salt to use will be detailed in your water softener’s instruction manual. You might want to use an iron remover along with the salt.

You will know when there isn’t enough salt in the water softener by looking for signs of hard water. This includes the soap not lathering or a film on the glassware.

Check Out The Salt Bridges

Salt bridges are formed in the brine tank. This happens when you use the water softener often and either the quality of the salt is poor or the humidity or temperature in the tank is high.

But there could be other reasons which is why you need to check this manually. You must make sure that the bridges are cleaned and be careful because the walls of the softener can be damaged if you are not.

A salt bridge typically creates space between the salt and the water in the brine tank. This stops the salt from dissolving in the water, which makes the brine. To make sure that you are dealing with a salt bridge, you must get a broom handle and gently push the top layer of salt.

Put just a little pressure to make sure that the solidified salt bridge can be broken. If you hit any of these formations that are not the walls or the bottom of the tank, they are salt bridges.

The Step-By-Step Process

  • Step 1. - Once you notice that there is a salt bridge, you must turn off the water supply by shutting down the faucet or the bypass valve.

  • Step 2. - Break the salt bridge using the broom handle. Sometimes, you might need something a little more sharp or heavy. So, keep a backup tool handy.

  • Step 3. - After breaking the bridge, you must scoop up the salt pellets and remove them from the tank.

  • Step 4. - Clean the bottom of the water softener using a wet/dry vacuum and remove the remaining water from the brine tank.

  • Step 5. - Add a new layer of salt and fill the tank up to two-thirds of its capacity.

  • Step 6. - Turn on the water supply till it is filled up to 10 inches. Push the regenerate mode and it is done.

Clean The Brine Tank

A lot of the modern-day water softeners actually don’t need you to clean the brine tank all that often. But if you want to avoid problems like the salt-forming sludge at the bottom, you most definitely should clean it once every 6-12 months. Your instruction manual will tell you exactly how often and under what conditions.

Experts say that cleaning the brine tank once a year should be enough. If you don’t do so till the sludge is formed, it is tougher to clean it later on. The process of cleaning differs slightly from product to product, but here’s what you need to know in general.

  • Step 1. - Find a place to get rid of the brine from the tank before you even start the process.

  • Step 2. - Put the water softener in bypass mode and unplug it.

  • Step 3. - Take the brine tank away from its valve assembly.

    If the tank is too heavy, remove some of the salt with a wet/dry vacuum or your hands. Then take it outside and dump the brine.

  • Step 4. - Then disassemble the empty tank and start cleaning it. This means you need to remove the salt plate and clean it with dish detergent and cold water.

    Scrub the tank after pouring a solution of soap and water. Use a brush with a long handle for this and then rinse the tank with a water hose.

  • Step 5. - For every four or five liters of clean water, add about a quarter of a cup of bleach or vinegar.

  • Step 6. - Pour the water into the tank and keep it that way for about 15 minutes. Once the water settles down, scrub and rinse it again.

  • Step 7. - Get rid of the water and everything is clean as new.

  • Step 8. - Assemble the water softener back and connect the water lines back.

  • Step 9. - Remove the bypass mode and add clean water. Fill the tank with salt and check the levels to make sure they are above the water.

  • Step 10. - Let it stay like this for a couple of hours till the salt dissolves in the water. Then turn the water softener into regeneration mode. If you don’t wait the resin might not be cleaned entirely.

Tips To Maintain The Water Softener

Apart from taking these three steps on a regular basis, there are a few other things you can do for water softener maintenance. Here are a few tips.

Dissolve The Salt Mush

When the salt dissolves and crystallizes again, it is likely to cause salt mushing in the water softener. This is the formation of sludge at the brine tank’s bottom. This layer stops the water softener from going into regeneration, which means it can’t do anything.

So, while you are cleaning, if the salt bridge does not break after you push it with a broom handle, it might be because of salt mushing. You need to dissolve this mush by draining the water softener.

Then you must remove all the old salt and place fresh pellets. To clean the salt mush, you must clean the brine tank. You already know how to do it.

Clean The Venturi Valve

You must also make sure that the venturi valve, which is the one that makes sure that suction is created when the water softener is in the regeneration cycle, is clean. Without this, the valve will get clogged with sediment and dirt, which means the water softener will fail at its task.

Luckily, you don’t need any special tools to clean this valve. You just need to take off the cover and all the removable internal parts. Get some soapy water and clean the parts. Then put them back and you are good to go. And you need to do this only a couple of times a year.

Flush The Resin Bed

Finally, you need the resin beds to be fully charged. This is taken care of by the salt but flushing them once every few months will keep the water softener performing at an optimal level. For this, you will need a water softener cleaner.

Doing this regularly will also ensure that all the metals and pollutants that your water softener comes into contact with will not do as much damage. You need to regenerate the water softener manually.

This means you will need to open the brine well and pour the softener yourself. And the cleaner will leave the system when you are flushing the resin bed, which is also to be done manually. This will keep it clean and ensure that the maximum amount of magnesium and calcium is being absorbed.

How Often Should Water Softeners Be Cleaned?

This depends on a number of factors but the thumb rule is to clean it whenever you are going to refill it. That means you are likely to end up cleaning it about once every month. This is also a good time to see if there is any sludge or mold on the surface of the tank.

What Is The Lifespan Of A Water Softener?

Any good water softener is likely to last about 10 to 15 years. This is the case even if you don’t maintain it properly. But with maintenance and servicing from a professional, you might be able to extend the lifespan of the water softener.

How Much Does It Cost To Service A Water Softener?

Typically, a service call is likely to cost anywhere between $40-100. But this does not include repairing specific parts of the appliance. If you are looking at a repair situation, you must be ready to shell out $150-600.

If you have a maintenance contract, you might have an all-inclusive deal which means you can expect to pay about $100-250 every year. But it will cover all the charges for annual inspections, water testing, cleaning, refilling salt and repairs.

In Conclusion

Taking care of a water softener is a pretty easy job to do if you know exactly what you need to do. You hardly ever need any special set of tools.

In fact, you just need to know the parts to check and the levels of salt and water. You also don’t need to do this too often which makes water softener maintenance almost a piece of cake. Almost.

5 reasons for buying a water softener