Common Water Softener Problems And How to Repair Them

A water softener is a must-have for your household water filtration system.

It filters out dissolved minerals from the water to make it soft enough for household activities. A typical water softener processes a considerable amount of water daily to meet household needs.

Now, these appliances are built to withstand such heavy loads for several years at a stretch. However, it is a machine, and like most other machines, it might encounter issues every now and then.

You can try to resolve most of these issues by the DIY way. But if you’re not a skilled DIYer, you might not know how to troubleshoot it properly.

No need to worry, though, for here we have discussed most common water softener problems along with detailed solutions for each. So, without any further ado, let’s get started!

Contents show

How Does A Water Softener Work?

Knowing the mode of operation of an appliance can make it easier to troubleshoot. So, before we get to the core discussion, let us give you a basic idea about how a water softener actually works in this section.

From the outside, a water softener may seem like a fairly complicated appliance due to the numerous components it has. But believe us, figuring it out is a lot simpler than you think. On that note, apart from the different valves and pipes, a water softener has a few key components that help in filtering the water. These components are the brine tank, mineral tank, and the control head.

There are two primary processes that take place inside a water softener, and both of them have been discussed below.

A. Purification

The main purification process occurs inside the mineral tank, which contains a resin bed for softening the water. In this stage, the hard water from your water supply main flows into this tank via the inlet pipe. 

This water is then passed through the numerous resin beads, which effectively absorb dissolved minerals, such as calcium and magnesium through a process called ion exchange. Once the desired softness level has been reached, the water exits the tank through the outlet pipe and is supplied throughout your home.

B. Regeneration

After a few purification cycles, the resin beads inside the mineral tank become saturated with minerals, which affects their effectiveness. That is why they need to be renewed or “regenerated” periodically so that they can keep functioning at optimal levels.

The brine tank plays a crucial role in the regeneration cycle since it supplies the salt solution that purifies the resin beads. By using the same ion exchange process, the salt solution removes the hard minerals from the surface of the beads, which essentially regenerates their purification capabilities. Following that, the salt solution and the residual hard minerals are flushed from the tank through the drain line.

This whole regeneration process takes around two to three hours to complete. It is not a good idea to use the water softener during this process since the machine will not be able to purify the water efficiently. This is where the control head of the water softener comes in handy. It contains an adjustable timer that allows you to regulate the different cycles at your convenience.

That was a basic outline of how a typical water softener works. Note that if any component starts to malfunction, it will naturally affect the above processes and cause problems in the water softener. 

Identifying The Problem

It is a well-known fact that diagnosing a problem is the first step to fixing it. Keeping that in mind, let’s talk about how you can identify your water softener problem. 

You can follow the methods we have discussed below to diagnose the appliance without any hindrances.

A. Check The Bypass Valve And Switch

If there is an issue with your softener or if it needs maintenance, the flow of water needs to be diverted from the machine. This is what the bypass valve does – it provides an alternative channel for water flow that bypasses the softener. 

It is typically located on top of the appliance, which makes it easy to identify. Likewise, the bypass switch is located in the same area, and it controls the flow of water through the valve. In case there are any problems with these components, the water filtration process will become disrupted. So, you need to check these two components in this step.

B. Check The Power Supply Of The Water Softener

A water softener is an electrical appliance, and in order to operate it, you need to plug it into a suitable power source. Plugging it into an incompatible or unstable power source will naturally cause problems in its operation. That is why you should check the power outlet before plugging in the device. 

If you’re lucky, it might be something as simple as an unplugged adapter because of which you might not be getting soft water. But if it’s not, then you need to ensure that it has the proper voltage ratings and wattage to run the appliance.

C. Check The Resin Bed Of The Water Softener

The resin bed is a vital component that helps with the water purification process, as we have previously discussed. That is why you need to check it out during the diagnosis. It is located at the bottom of the water softener tank, so you will need to empty out the tank to get a clear look at it. 

In some models, the resin bed may be contained within a separate resin tank, which can make it easier to check it out.

D. Inspect The Water Softener’s Brine Tank

The brine tank, otherwise known as the salt tank, is another important component inside the water softener. It helps to maintain an optimal salt level inside the machine so that it can function properly.

When inspecting the salt tank, you need to check two things – the level and state of the salt. The salt tank is fairly large and is located adjacent to the primary water tank of the softener, which means that you can check it out without any hassle.

E. Check The Regeneration Timer

In many cases, the normal functions of a water softener might become disrupted if the regeneration timer has been adjusted incorrectly. This is located on the control panel of the water softener, so it is easy enough to find.

What Are The Common Water Softener Problems?

Here, we have discussed all the problems that can occur with a typical water softener. We have also discussed the solution for each problem, so we suggest that you keep reading.

1. Water Softener Brine Tank Is Overflowing

An overflowing brine tank is possibly one of the most common water softener problems faced by users. The salt tank has a limited capacity, so it will start to overflow if there is too much water inside it. 

In most cases, the excess water accumulates inside the tank due to a blockage in the outlet valves and drain hoses. However, it can be caused due to other factors as well, such as a float valve malfunction or a broken inlet valve.

A clogged drain hose or outlet valve is a pretty common occurrence in a water softener. This is because the hard minerals and salt residues from the water get deposited on the walls of these valves, which eventually blocks them.    

The float valve of the water softener works in the same way as the float valve of a toilet tank. If it starts to malfunction, the water level inside the tank cannot be regulated, which will ultimately cause it to overflow. 

Likewise, if you have set the float ball too high, water will keep accumulating inside the tank even after it reaches the maximum threshold. And soon enough, all that excess water will start overflowing.

Furthermore, if the inlet valve is broken, you will not be able to stop the flow of water to the tank. As a result of this, the brine tank will get flooded and start to overflow.

How To Resolve This Problem?

Based on the underlying cause, there are several ways in which you can resolve this problem. If the water is overflowing because of clogged valves, you will need to clear them out. For this purpose, you can flush the valve with vinegar and baking soda. Alternatively, you can use drain snakes or cleaning solvents to clear out a stubborn blockage.

For a broken inlet valve, you will have no other choice than to replace the part with a new one. The same solution is applicable for a damaged or malfunctioning float valve as well. But if the float valve is set too high, you can easily adjust its level after checking the manual.

2. The Water Level In The Brine Tank Is Too Low

Now you know how to deal with too much water in the brine tank, but what happens in the opposite scenario? Well, that is just what we have discussed for this particular point.

You will be relieved to know that a low water level in the brine tank is not a major problem. This tank is not designed to hold large volumes of water anyways. Thus, if you notice a low water level inside this tank, this usually means that it is working as expected.

That said, some water is necessary to ensure the normal functioning of this component. So, if there is no water inside the tank or if the water level has fallen well below the recommended level, that indicates a problem.

This generally occurs when the inlet pipe becomes clogged. The dissolved minerals in the water get deposited along the inner lining of the pipe. And they keep accumulating over time until the passage of water becomes fully blocked. 

The problem can also happen if you set the float ball to a very low level. Consequently, the float valve will shut off too soon, which will reduce the water level.

How To Resolve This Problem?

If the low water level is due to clogged water lines, then you can clear it out to solve this problem. For simple clogs, you can use hot water or vinegar mixed with baking soda. But if the clog is a stubborn one, you should use a pressurized water jet to clear it out.

On the other hand, if it is caused by a low float ball, you can solve it by simply adjusting the float arm to a high enough level. Here, you should be careful not to set it too high, or else the water will start overflowing out of the tank. You can refer to the user manual of the water softener to determine the right level.

3. There Is Too Much Salt In The Brine Tank

Under normal circumstances, the salt concentration in the brine tank is maintained at a moderate level. So, if you notice that there is too much salt inside the tank, it signifies a problem with the water softener.

High salt concentrations inside the tank form salt bridges that disrupt the regeneration cycle. These are crusty deposits of pure salt along the inner walls of the tank. They are formed when the brine tank is kept in humid environments. The excess moisture in the air causes the salt to clump together and crystallize, ultimately forming the salt bridge.

That being said, salt bridging should not be confused with salt mushing, which is another problem that arises due to high salt concentrations. While it forms a similar crusty deposit of salt inside the tank, it does not accumulate over the water like a salt bridge. Instead, a salt mush is formed at the base below the water level, which prevents the salt solution from passing into the resin tank.

How To Resolve This Problem?

The solution to this problem depends on whether you have a salt bridge or a salt mush. If there’s a salt bridge, you can get rid of it by gently poking it with a stick. This will break the salt crust into pieces, which can then be removed from the brine tank. After that, you should brush the inner walls of the tank to get rid of any remaining debris.

In case of a salt mush, you will first need to clear out the tank, which will allow you to access the base easily. Next, break the salt deposit with a stick, similar to a salt bridge. Following that, you need to scrub the base with a brush to remove the remaining salt debris.

4. The Water Softener Is Not Using Salt

The salt solution that is used during the regeneration cycle consumes a fair amount of salt from the brine tank. So, under normal conditions, the level of salt inside the tank keeps falling.

However, if you notice that the salt level has remained the same for a long time, you’ll know that the water softener is not using any salt. In this situation, the water you get from the machine will be hard water, which will defeat its entire purpose unless you fix it.

The problem is mainly caused due to the formation of salt bridges, which keeps the salt from mixing with the water. It can also occur if you use impure rock salt or dirty salt, which does not dissolve in water as readily as purified salt.

How To Resolve This Problem?

Since the salt bridge keeps the salt from mixing with the water, getting rid of it will automatically fix this problem. You can use the procedure we have previously described to get rid of the salt bridge.

And if the problem is due to dirty or impure salts, you can address it by using high-quality, purified salts in the tank. But first, you will need to empty the brine tank of all the existing salt, which will otherwise prevent the salts from mixing. 

5. The Soft Water Has A Salty Taste

We have often come across users who have complained that their soft water tastes salty. While a traditional softener does use salt for softening water, you should not be able to taste it. Therefore, salty water is a clear indication that something is wrong with your water softener.

This problem mostly arises due to incorrect salt dose settings. The water softener uses a fixed amount of salt for each of the softening cycles. This amount is determined by the salt dose setting, which you input into the control panel.

The problem can also be caused due to a pinched drain hose, which blocks the passage of water. Because of that, the salt solution used in the regeneration cycle does not empty out of the tank in time. And the longer it remains inside the tank, the chances of it mixing with the softened water increases, thereby making it taste salty.

How To Resolve This Problem?

If the salty water is caused due to incorrect settings, then it can be resolved by simply inputting the correct salt dose values in the control panel. But if the problem is caused due to a pinched hose, then the process will require a little more effort.

In this situation, you will need to inspect the entire drain hose thoroughly for any kinks or folds. Once you have located it, make sure to straighten out the kink either by flushing water through the hose in force or by adjusting its position. However, if the kink has damaged the hose, you will need to replace it entirely.

6. The Water Tank Is Not Softening The Water

Let’s be honest here – the primary purpose of getting a water softener is to remove the hard minerals from the water and make it soft for everyday usage. If it fails to do that, it defeats the entire purpose of the machine.

Surprisingly enough, this is pretty common in water softeners, which means that a large number of users might have faced this problem at some point. And in many cases, it arises due to major faults, such as damaged valves or malfunctioning control panels, which makes this problem difficult to fix.

However, it can be caused due to seemingly minor hiccups as well. These include an empty brine tank, an unplugged adapter, or a bypass valve that is turned on. Such issues are much easier to fix than the ones we have mentioned before.

How To Resolve This Problem?

If the water softening issues are caused by any of the minor problems discussed above, then you should consider yourself lucky. In case of an empty brine tank, you can resolve it by pouring salt. 

Likewise, if the power cable is unplugged, you need to plug it into the correct outlet, and the softener should start working again. And if the bypass valve is turned on, simply turn off the switch to restore normal functionality.

7. Water Softener Regeneration Issue

In some cases, the water softener regeneration cycles may fail to initiate. This, in turn, will affect the water-softening process, thereby rendering the entire appliance ineffective.

The problem is typically caused due to a faulty regeneration timer. If it starts to malfunction, the appliance will not know when to initiate the cycle. On that note, a faulty timer may also lead to the opposite scenario, where the softener might run too frequent regeneration cycles. This will eventually wear out the softener and reduce its lifespan.

In addition to the above, you might sometimes notice that the regen cycle begins but fails to complete. This usually happens when the cycle gets stuck at some point, possibly due to a clogged brine line or drain hose.

How To Resolve This Problem?

If your regen cycles are not starting or running too frequently, you can address it by adjusting the regeneration timer correctly. But if the problem still persists, it indicates that the timer is broken, which means that you will need to replace it.

In the case of a stuck regeneration cycle, you will need to clear out the clogs from the brine line or drain hose by flushing water through these pipes at high pressure. Doing this should clear out the blockage in most cases.

8. Water Softener Motor Failure

Compared to some of the other problems we have discussed before, this is relatively uncommon. However, if it does occur, it will give you a serious headache because of its severity.

Since a water softener is an electrical appliance, it needs a motor to operate. And if it fails, your water softener will practically become useless.

The good news is that the problem can be identified beforehand, which allows you to take the appropriate measures in time. Before the motor fails, it will start to make odd noises, as if it were struggling. Apart from that, the motor might take much longer to start up and behave erratically.

How To Resolve This Problem?

If your water softener is still under warranty, you can resolve it fairly easily. All you need to do then is contact the manufacturer, and they will send a replacement unit. 

But if your softener is out of warranty, you will need to get it replaced, which will cost you a lot of time and money. And considering how complex this component is, you might need to hire a professional to get it fixed, which will further increase the cost.

9. Low Water Pressure

We know how much of a problem low water pressure can be for day-to-day activities. So, if you feel like the water softener has lowered the water pressure throughout the household, you should look into this issue immediately.

You need to verify if the water softener is actually the reason behind this issue. Turn on the bypass valve, and if your water pressure becomes normal again, then you can say for sure that the softener is causing it. Also, you need to determine the extent of the problem. If it’s localized to certain taps, then it might just be a minor issue with your plumbing system instead.

There are certain factors why a water softener causes low water pressure. A small water softener is one of these factors. If you have a relatively large household, the water softener will not be able to supply adequate amounts of water, which will cause the low water pressure.

Another factor is sediment build-up in the water lines. Here’s when the passage of water becomes partially blocked, which leads to lower water pressure. Similarly, if resin beads get stuck inside the pipelines, they may obstruct the flow of water and reduce the pressure.

How To Resolve This Problem?

If the problem is caused due to a small-capacity water softener, you will need to replace it with a high-capacity model. It will be able to handle large volumes of water at once, thereby restoring the normal pressure.

However, if the problem is caused by sediment build-up or stuck resin beads, you will need to drain the tanks and clear out the pipes to restore the water pressure.

10. Operational Errors

Like most appliances, water softeners need to be properly configured so that they can do the job efficiently. If you don’t configure them properly, the machine will encounter different operational errors that will disrupt normal functioning.

Luckily, most water softeners these days come with a water softener troubleshooting guide, including a wide range of operational error codes, which help fix water softener problems. These codes are displayed on the control panel of the appliance and can range from minor issues to major faults.

How To Resolve This Problem?

First, you will need to check the error code that is being displayed on the control panel. Based on that, you need to take the appropriate measure to address the error.

In that context, every manufacturer uses a distinct set of codes for their water softeners. So, the codes for a Culligan water softener will be different from the codes used in GE water softeners and so on. That is why you should consult the user manual to get a better idea about it.

11. Water Softener Is Leaking

A leaky water softener is a common and annoying problem. Not only does it waste a lot of water, but it also makes a mess around the machine that needs to be cleaned up.

Leakages can occur in any part of the water softener, and they are usually caused due to faulty installations or loose fittings. In some cases, leakages may be the result of high water pressure in the plumbing system. Moreover, a leak can appear due to external damage to any of the components. 

The nature of the leakage itself needs to be considered here. A minor leakage is a lot less severe than a major one. Likewise, if there are numerous leaks across different components, it will make the problem a lot more annoying than a single leakage.

How To Resolve This Problem?

To repair any leakages in the water softener system, you will need to inspect every component thoroughly. This will help you to determine its nature and tackle the problem accordingly.

If the leakage is caused due to loose pipes, you can tighten the joints with a wrench. Similarly, if you notice water leaking out of minor cracks in the pipes or the tanks, you can seal them up with a little bit of plumbing putty.

However, if the cracks are quite large, you have a major leakage on your hands. In that case, you will need to replace the damaged components and pipes with new ones. 

The same solution is applicable for leakages that are caused by high water pressure. In this case, you need to ensure that the pipes you are getting have a wide enough diameter to distribute the pressure evenly. 

12. There Are Resin Beads In The Water

While this problem is rather uncommon, it can be a bit troublesome to fix. When it occurs, you will notice small beads floating in your bathtubs and toilets. These beads originate from the resin tank of the water softener.

Under normal circumstances, the resin beads remain aggregated together to form a resin bed. This bed helps to remove the hard minerals from the water through the process of ion exchange, as we have previously discussed. But sometimes, the beads may become loose due to general wear. However, the beads cannot mix with the water due to the presence of a filtering screen.

So, if these beads have found a way through your water fixtures, it indicates that the filtering screen has become damaged. And you should get to fixing the problem quickly, or the beads may block up the pipes in your plumbing system.

How To Resolve This Problem?

First of all, you will need to open up the resin tank of the water softener and check the filtering screen for any damages. If you notice that the screen is visibly damaged, you will need to replace the part.

Then, you will have to take out the resin beads and wash them with water. Once that’s done, make sure to put them back inside the tank in a way that they remain aggregated at the base. You might also need to refill the resin beads if a large number of beads is lost.

13. The Water Is Brown

If you see brown, dirty water gushing out of your taps, then it is definitely a cause for concern. In many cases, this happens due to old, rusty plumbing, but in some instances, the water softener may be the reason behind it.

That is why you should verify this first so that you can take the appropriate measures to fix it. For this, you will need to take a look inside the tank of the water softener. If you notice brown water inside it, then the problem is caused by the softener.

The water might be dirty due to sediment build-up inside the tank. Besides that, it may be caused due to an accumulation of bacteria in the tank. In the case of the latter, the water will have a foul odor as well – something like a rotten egg smell.

How To Resolve This Problem?

If sediment build-up inside the tank is to blame for this problem, then you will need to clear out the tank and scrub it thoroughly with a brush. 

However, if the brown water is caused due to bacterial growth, then you will need to clean and disinfect the tank with a sterilizing chemical, such as chlorine or hydrogen peroxide. After that is done, make sure to wash the tank thoroughly to remove any trace of these chemicals.

14. Odd Noises Coming From The Water Softener

Under normal conditions, there will be little to no sounds coming from the water softener. While you might hear noises coming from the machine during the regeneration cycles, these noises are very smooth, like the hum of an engine.

But if you can hear odd and funny noises, such as squealing, hissing, or banging from the softener, it usually indicates one of the worrying water softener problems . These noises may be caused by a malfunctioning motor, clogged or broken valves, or a worn-out timer.

How To Resolve This Problem?

If the noises are due to a malfunctioning motor, you can follow the solution we have discussed for the motor failure problem. Similarly, if the noises are caused by clogged valves, then you can use unclogging solutions like drain snakes, pressurized jets, and so on.

However, if the odd noises are a result of damaged valves or broken timers, then you will need to get these components replaced.

Taking Care Of Your Water Softener

Now that you know about the different water softener problems and their solutions let us talk a bit about water softener maintenance. If you take good care of your softener, most of the above issues can be avoided, which will save you a lot of trouble. Not only that, but it will also improve the lifespan of the appliance so that you can keep using it for a long time.

1. Always Use High-Quality Salt

If you use high-quality, purified salt in your brine tank, you can keep a lot of water softener problems away. Unlike impure rock salt, it will not clog as easily, which will keep the machine in pristine condition for a long time.

2. Regularly Monitor Your Machine 

You should periodically check the brine tank, resin tank, and mineral tank. That way, you can identify and resolve any clogs or salt bridges before they become a problem.

3. Clean The Valves Regularly

Since they play a crucial role in the normal functions of a softener, you should make it a point to clean the softener’s control valve, water entry valve, and air valve on a regular basis. That will prevent the buildup of rust and sediments and allow the soft water to flow unhindered through the plumbing lines.

4. Use Cleaners For The Resin Bed And The Tanks

You should clean the tanks and resin beds from time to time using a suitable mineral cleaner. This will keep them clean and sanitary, which will ensure that the softened water is hygienic as well.

Final Words

There you have it, folks – a list of all the common problems encountered by a water softener. As you can see from the solutions, most of these problems can be easily resolved on your own. However, in case of major faults, it is advisable to get in touch with a qualified technician.

In any case, once you solve the problem, you should take adequate care of the appliance to ensure they do not happen again. For that, you can refer to the maintenance tips we have provided above.

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