Water softeners are appliances that remove hard minerals from water and replace them with sodium or potassium ions.
However, since they are machines, they are still prone to malfunctioning every now and then.
A broken water softener is useless. It can stop producing soft water and reduces the overall water quality. Plus, it is a huge waste of water and energy.
It may seem daunting to try troubleshooting a water softener by yourself, especially if you aren’t familiar with electronics.
But it might save you hundreds of dollars on the professional costs that come with hiring a professional.
Problems associated with a faulty water softener are usually easy to identify. You just have to have a keen eye and a sharp memory.
To prevent problems with your machine in the future, you should also do regular maintenance by cleaning the most important parts of a water softener.
It would only take you about an hour maximum. And all you’d need to have on the ready is soap and water, along with the occasional Iron-Out to “iron out” any issues caused by iron in your local water supply.
Prevention is better than cure, and keeping a healthy water softener is better than having to repair one that could have been prevented by proper maintenance and care.
In this article, we are going to lay out the most common problems water softeners can develop and how you can troubleshoot them yourself.
But before you can correctly identify what’s broken in a water softener, you have to know how it actually works.
How a Water Softener Works
The brine tank is where water is mixed with salt to activate the resin beads in the resin tank.
Once the excess salt water is drained, unsoftened water is allowed inside the resin tank and the hard minerals are replaced by the sodium and potassium ions.
The hard minerals latch on to the resin beads, and the newly softened water is sent through your home’s plumbing system.
Before trying to take your water softener apart (which we don’t recommend unless you’re a professional), go through this checklist of easy fixes for troublesome appliances:
Is your water softener connected to electricity?
It sounds like a stupid question, but it’s an important one. There’s a very slim chance that a circuit has shorted out and your outlet isn’t connected to the electricity.
Make sure it is plugged securely into a wall socket that has electricity. Take a look at your breakers, and check for electrical wiring problems around your house.
Where is the bypass valve pointing towards?
A bypass valve controls which direction water flows. It could have accidentally been twisted the wrong way, hence your water softener not working correctly.
Make sure it’s facing the right way.
Does it regenerate on time?
A water softener has to regenerate at least once a week to “refresh” the resin beads. If it isn’t able to do this, then the water quality goes down and some hard minerals may be left in the water.
If you’re using a water softener with a single tank, set it to regenerate at night when there is less consumption of water.
Once you’ve set a time for it to regenerate, then you will have to wait a few hours to see if it switches on by itself for regeneration.
A water softener that regenerates when it’s not supposed to may also be cause for alarm. It could mean that there is more hard water going through the tanks than it can handle.
Make sure to adjust your regeneration schedule accordingly, and that you have the right size of water softening tanks to support the demand for water in your household.
How much salt is in the brine tank?
Always check how much salt is left in the brine tank. Putting in too much salt causes “salt bridges” that damage water quality.
Alternatively, too little salt doesn’t allow the system to work as efficiently.
How much water is entering the brine tank?
Water flows through the brine tank and into the resin tank then goes out either as wastewater or as soft water. The amount of water coming in is regulated by a float valve.
If the float valve is malfunctioning, then you may have to empty out the water manually. But if it’s working just fine, it could be a problem with the tank’s tubes or a clog in the pipes.
Is there still resin in the water softener?
As your machine gets older, the resin beads won’t work as well as they used to be. They may fail to pick up all hard minerals and reduce the quality of your water.
Although a regeneration process should reawaken them every now and again, it can only do so much until you’ll have to replace either the beads or the entire machine.
Sometimes, a water softener can also malfunction and slowly dispose of its resin beads. When this happens, you can just replace them after repairing the problem.
Is the water softener’s motor running?
You could be running ragged trying to replace the salt in the brine tank, adjusting the water levels, and turning the bypass valve this way and that, only for the motor to be the one causing the problem.
Listen to the sound your water softening system is making. It should make a low humming sound that tells you the motor is running.
If it’s silent as a clam or sluggish, and you’ve gone through the checklist, then there really is something wrong with your machine.
Contact company you bought the water softener from and ask them if your warranty is still valid. Try to get a replacement and insist on it instead of having the motor repaired.
Common problems for water softeners
So you’ve gone through the checklist and still haven’t been able to fix the problem. Continue reading for a more in-depth discussion on diagnosing what’s wrong with your water softener, and how to fix it.
The water softener is running all the time
When you water softener keeps running, it may be time to check the brine tank. It’s possible that it is trying to get enough brine for the resin tank.
Low water pressure can contribute to this because the water softener is unable to get enough water to continue with its automatic processes.
The salt tank is full of water. Should it have water?
Ideally, you will never have to see your tank filling with water because a “healthy” water softening system regulates how much water is in there.
Take a look at the float valve and see whether it’s functioning as it should and if it’s at the right level. If that isn’t the problem, turn to the water entry valve.
A broken entry valve has to be replaced to fix the issue.
There is no water in the brine tank
This could be normal. You’re not usually supposed to see it filling with water because it’s only supposed to go so high before being sent to the resin tank.
The only way you can see the water is if the float valve is malfunctioning or if there’s less salt that intended.
Refill the salt in the water softening system to ensure maximum water quality.
The water softener is lowering the water pressure
Low water pressure is frustrating because it prevents you from doing so many thingsÑa shower, a good dish wash, and laundry to name a few.
Almost nothing can be accomplished quickly if there is little to no water pressure around the household.
If your system can’t keep up with the water demands from your household, it will give you less water pressure. Make sure you chose the right unit for your house.
There could also be clogging going on within the system. Caused by a buildup of sediment, you should locate and remove the blockage as soon as you can.
The resin beads are clogging the tank. You’re going to have to remove all the resin beads and replace them with new ones.
Clean the system thoroughly to make sure no beads are left to continue clogging the machine.
Iron can build up in the tank. This is easily remedied by adding a mineral cleaner, and scheduling regeneration cycles to happen more often.
The water softener is not softening the water
Isn’t it annoying when water softeners don’t do what they’re supposed to do? There are many reasons for this, ranging from a lack of regeneration processes all the way to the age of your water softening system.
A water softener is usually good for about 8 years. Once it’s past that age, it deteriorates pretty quickly.
Not even replacing resin beads will improve water quality if your machine has reached past its due date.
But if your machine isn’t that old, look it over and check in the brine tank for salt build-ups. After cleaning the brine tank and still having the same issue, then the problem lies elsewhere.
Check its bypass valve. If it’s facing the wrong way, correct it. If that doesn’t work, manually schedule for a regeneration cycle as soon as possible.
There is also a chance that something has stopped it from going through with the regeneration process. Watch it closely to make sure everything goes right.
If it hasn’t been regenerated in more than a week, the resin beads are probably “sleeping” and need to be “revived” to start working again. Resin beads remove hard minerals found in the water and replace them with postassium and sodium ions.
Water softener keeps regeneratingÑor it won’t stop regenerating
If you’ve correctly scheduled the frequent regeneration cycles, then doublecheck to make sure nothing stops it from doing this automatically.
It is possible that the timer itself is broken. Test it out by listening for the telltale signs of a water softener that is going through its regeneration cycle.
On top of a defective timer, it’s also possible that a switch is broken and has short circuited. It could be sending in a series of commands that tell the water softener t6hat it has not undergone a regeneration process yet.
If you need to stop a regeneration cycle that you can’t override through the commands, unplug it from its wall socket and get a professional to look over your machine.
Or, you could also try to do the classic “did you try turning it off then back on again?” Hey, if it works, then it works.
Resin is coming out of the machine
Air that has managed to enter the water system could be the reason why resin is also being pushed out. It could also be an issue with the piping. Check it over for leaks.
However, if the resin is old and the weird discharge looks like silt or sand, then your resin beads may need to be replaced.
Resin beads contribute a lot to the effectiveness of a water softener. Without them, a water softener is unable to replace the hard minerals found in water with sodium or potassium ions.
Defective resin beds need to be replaced or cleaned.
There is salt build up outside the water softener
Salt bridges are what you call the scaling of salt around the parts of a water softener. If you see a hard crust of salt anywhere on your appliance, you can easily remove it.
They aren’t as cumbersome to remove as lime deposit stains caused by hard water.
Removing salt bridges from your machine helps them last longer.
Water tastes salty
It is horrifying to taste salt water when you were expecting fresh, clean water. If your tap water ends up tasting salty, then it’s a sure sign something is wrong.
Check the drain hose. It could be clogged by sediments that are floating around your pipes. Unclog it as necessary.
Basic troubleshooting of water softening products
Troubleshooting water softening products can follow the same general process outlined up above.
Kinetico Water Softener
The Kinetico Water Softener does not use electricity to treat water. Instead, it directs water through turbines and gears.
This means that a power outage or a faulty outlet won’t affect your soft water experience. The process of troubleshooting a Kinetico Water Softener is the same as most water softeners.
It does, however, have a prefilter. Make sure you replace them with a new cartridge if they get clogged.
Culligan Water Softener
The Culligan Water Softener follows a universal system across all its products. If the device malfunctions after a power outage, just press the “Regen” button to restart the timer.
Power interruptions can alter the device’s recorded time and cause it to either run earlier or later than usual.
If there is an increase in the demand for water in your household, reschedule its regeneration cycle to be closer together. You can do this through the control panel.
How to clean a water softener
One way to prevent any issues from coming up with your water softener is to clean its different parts thoroughly on top of its frequent regeneration cycles. The parts you’ll have to clean are:
1. The Brine Tank
You will have to make sure that the brine tank doesn’t have a hard salt dome or crust. If it does end up having one, break it up with a broomstick and get rid of it.
A mixture of soap and water can clean the tank just fine. Finish it off with a final rinse.
2. The Resin Bed
If your area is known to have some iron residue in their water, the resin bed will have to be cleaned. Let Iron-Out flow through the system in order to clean it.
You will have to add an appropriate amount to the Brine Tank, then schedule your machine for a manual regeneration.
3. The Resin Tank Injector
Dirty salt can sometimes get in the way of the injector. Shut off the water softener’s water supply by turning the bypass valve the other direction.
Run it through another manual regeneration to lessen the water pressure. Then, locate the caps to remove them on both sides.
Clean both the injector and the injector screen.
Knowing how your water softener works familiarizes you with how it normally operates. This knowledge means you can easily identify what’s wrong if your water softener ever starts acting up.
Keep a clean and healthy water softening machine to prevent any issues in the long run. Run regular maintenance cleanings to avoid buildup of sediments or salt within your machine.
Check the basics first before trying to do a thorough cleaningÑor, even worse, taking your water softener apart. If you have little to no experience with electronics, then do not try to open your water softener.
If all else fails call in a professional to get your water softener back in working order. If it’s been around for a long time, then it might be time for it to retire and for you to get a new one.