Ultimate Guide To Water Softener Maintenance (Updated 2019)
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Written by: Donavan Jones on August 5, 2018

The Definitive Guide To Water Softener Maintenance – Learn How to Drain, Clean & Service Your System

water softener maintenance

If you want to be sure that your water softening system runs smoothly at peak performance for years to come, there is more you can do than adding new salt into the brine tank for water softener maintenance.

Did you know that regular water softener maintenance will increase the lifespan of the unit and it will lower the repair cost?

Is it hard?

No, it is very simple. Most homeowners should be able to take care of it themselves.

Are you ready to learn more about maintaining your water softener? The following guide will teach you everything you need to know about water softener maintenance.

Table Of Contents:

Water Softener Maintenance 101

Water softeners are low-maintenance and easy to run. Below you will find a few easy ways you can make your unit work more efficiently and last longer.

Refilling The Salt Tank

pouring salt pellets into a water softener

Refilling the salt in your water softener is really easy. Simply check the salt level of your water softener’s brine tank once a month. You need to refill it once the salt is below the 1/4 mark. Fill it up to about 2/3 full.

How To Drain The Brine Tank On A Water Softener

Draining the water softener’s brine tank is a necessary step for water softener troubleshooting cleaning, and sanitizing.

There a two category groups for water softeners, pre-fill, and post-fill. 

  • Post-fill system – This type of unit will automatically refill its brine tank at the end of each regeneration cycle. Thus, it always has water inside
  • Pre-fill system – This type of unit will not have water in the brine tank and there is no need to drain it, obviously – at least as long as it’s functioning properly.

Now you know that there are two different options when it comes to a water softener.

As stated above, pre-fill water softeners do not require draining.

Let’s move on to the draining of a post-fill water softener.

There are different ways you could drain your post-fill water softener. You could scoop out the water from the tank and put it into a clean bucket. This is the best way as you can return the water back into the tank when you are done with the maintenance. Only do this if the water is not dirty.

Another way you can get the water out of the post-fill water softener is to use a wet/dry vacuum. Alternatively, you could start a regeneration cycle to drain your unit.

Last but not least, you can drain your system into an appropriate drain. Before you move your tank, you need to put it in bypass mode. At this point, you can disconnect the fill tube that connects the brine tank to the head valve as well as the brine tank’s overflow hose.

If your water softener has a salt grid, you need to remove that too. Now at this point, you need to take out the float, then dismantle the overflow elbow (if there is one). Now you can remove the brine well. The brine well is the tube that is inside the brine tank. 

At this point, you can tip over the tank. Be aware that if you empty the water onto your lawn, the grass will turn brown and die.

How To Clean Your Brine Tank

Your water softeners’ brine tank needs to be cleaned once a year to once every five years. This depends on the feed water and how often you do the maintenance. If suddenly the output water has increased in hardness or the water is discolored or it smells weird, then it’s definitely time to clean the brine tank as soon as possible.

Here’s how.

Cleaning The Brine Tank

The best time to clean your water softener is when it is low on salt.

Why?

You want to do it this way so you don’t have to scoop out all of the salt manually.

When the salt-level is low you will be able to see dirt at the bottom of the tank. The dirt came from the salt, usually inexpensive rock salt. Since the sediment cannot dissolve it accumulates over time as you keep filling the brine tank. After using cheap salt for a while, the brine may look like sludge.

This sludge is the main reason for the cleaning. 

If you cannot wait until the salt is low enough you need to remove it manually. Any salt above the grid plate (if there is one) is worth saving for later use. Throw out any salt that is below the grid plate.

Did you get rid of the water?

Great!

The following is the rest of the cleaning procedure.

  • Remove any remaining salt and sludge
  • Clean inside
  • Add new salt (and water with post-fill softener)
  • Set the regeneration cycle for the upcoming night

To remove any remaining salt and/or sludge, you need to use a shovel or a similar tool. Be careful when you do this because you don’t want to damage the tank. A shop vac is great for this. If the salt is too hard to be vacuumed you can break it up with a broom handle. Once the salt is broken up you can use a hose to rinse the inside of the tank and vacuum any remaining salt, water, and sediment.

It’s time for the cleaning.

Mix water with some dishwashing soap. Use a brush to scrub the inside of the tank. The is no point in making it look new again. No one will see inside of the tank. When you are done, make sure you rinse out the tank thoroughly. 

Pro Tip: Now is the perfect time to make sure the float switch is straight and can move freely up and down. Double check that it’s not clogged up. If it is, just soak it in hot water to unclog. This is important because it needs to be able to suck in brine during the regeneration cycle.

soapy sponge

Once everything is cleaned, you need to reassemble the parts and reinstall them back into the tank.

Next, put the brine tank back into place. Now add 2 to 3 bags of salt to the tank.

Don’t forget that with a post-fill water softener you will have to add about 3 gallons of water. Over time, your water softener will adjust its own water level.

Finally, set your water softener to regenerate for the following night. 

Venturi Valve/Brine Injector Cleaning

Your water softener may have either a venturi valve or a brine injector. Both of these are responsible for transferring brine from the brine tank to the resin tank.

The venturi valve or a brine injector has a screen to stop the dirt from entering the resin tank. This screen needs to be cleaned about every 6 months. If you don’t clean the screen regularly you risk the valve or injector to clog up.

All water softeners models are different from one another. It is best to check the manual.

The components are somewhere on the back of the head unit. You first need to put your water softener into bypass mode. Next, release the water pressure by running it through a manual regeneration cycle.

Now you can open the cover.

Can I Put Bleach Into My Water Softener

The resin of a water softener can become contaminated with bacteria and other biological organisms.

But my water is disinfected at the source.

Great, but biological organisms can enter the water source at any point between the source and the water softener.

Minerals such as iron and sulfur can promote an infestation. The most common signs are

  • Change In Color
  • Foul Taste
  • Rotten Egg Smell

Water softening systems that have been out of service for some time or that run for long periods between regenerations are affected the most.

After you have cleaned your brine tank, you can use 2 oz of unscented household bleach mixed with 3 gallons of water to sanitize the brine tank.

Let the bleach mixture sit in the tank for about 20 minutes to kill any mold or mildew. Next, scrub with a brush. Focus on the float assembly.

After you are done scrubbing just dump the mixture and rinse thoroughly with clean water.

Before using bleach or any other chemical to sanitize your water softener, read the instruction manual for specific hints and restrictions or consult a professional.

You can also sanitize the entire system. Some water softeners require regular disinfection(3 to 12 months).

Bleach is best for this. Bleach can be used with polystyrene resins, zeolite, and greensand.

We recommend adding 1.5 cups of bleach per cubic foot or resin into the brine tank, before/after backwashing the system. The bleach will dissolve in the brine tank and will be sucked into the resin tank during the brining phase.

Continue with a normal regeneration cycle.

Add 2 to 3 gallons of water into the brine tank, this depends on your water softener.

Check the manual.

You need to unplug the unit for about a half hour during the brining phase to allow all brine to be used up.

The bleach should be in contact with the resin for at least one hour for complete sterilization.

Be careful to make sure that none of it ends up in the water you are going to use. The resin bed should be rinsed with a minimum of 75 gallons of water per cubic foot. This will eliminate any disinfection byproducts that may have formed.

Never mix bleach with resin cleaner. Doing so may produce harmful fumes!

Bacteria in Water Softener

How To Clean Your Resin Tank

Most of the time your resin bed is going to be in good shape. 

Not all the time though! Especially if you have bad water.

Usually, municipal water is fine. Well water, on the other hand, can be problematic if it contains high amounts of iron or manganese. Both of these minerals can foul the resin.

Apart from, accumulation of organic compounds, most commonly tannin and humic acids, can occur in shallow wells. When these compounds form suddenly they become trapped between the resin beads.

In that event, cleaning a fouled resin bed with a specialized resin cleaner will restore the water softening capacity. It will also reduce salt and water usage and will prolong the resins lifespan.

Your water may even taste better and you may see a boost in flow rates.

So, how often to clean the resin?

We recommend cleaning the resin every 3 to 12 months, this depends on the input water quality.

Resin Cleaners For Your Water Softener

There are many different types of resin cleaners to choose from, Iron OUT® is the most popular for removing iron deposits.

Iron OUT® triggers a chemical reaction that puts iron ions into the solution. The active ingredient is sodium hydrosulfite.

Unfortunately, not every iron remover or specialized cleaners will be suited for your water softener and its resin. Check with the manufacturer to find out all the necessary information about what cleaners to use.

Do you want to make sure that any cleaner residues is removed before using the water? Thoroughly flush your softener after regeneration or you can run a second cycle 2 hours after the first cycle.

How much does a bottle cost?

Specialized cleaners cost between $5 to $20 per bottle.

How To Remove A Salt Bridge

Salt bridging is an encrusted bridge made up from salt that blocks the salt from reaching the bottom of the brine tank. The salt and water need to touch too from the brine. If not it will prevent your water softener from regenerating properly.

If you have a salt bridge, it will look like that your tank is full. However, all the salt below the bridge is most likely all gone. This is why it is important to watch for salt bridging whenever you refill the tank.

Salt bridges are more common than you think.

Why?

Water Softener salt

Today’s water softeners are much more salt efficient than they used to be. As a consequence, they use less salt. This means there is more time to form a clog. High humidity and the wrong type of salt are other ways salt briding can form.

The most common symptom for salt bridging is that brine tank salt level is not going down. This can cause hard water to come out of the water softening system.

So, how can I tell if I have a salt bridge?

A quick way to see if you have a salt bridge is too gently tap on the side of the brine tank. If the salt moves or it feels firm when you tap the tank, that is an indicator that you have a salt bridge. Another way to test for a salt bridge is to use a broom handle and try to push it all the way down to the bottom of the tank. If you cannot then you have a salt bridge.

Now what?

You need to crush any encrusted salt and large clump that has formed. You can use a broom handle or other blunt tools to accomplish this. Once the salt bridge is broken up, start a manual regeneration cycle.

If you have a severe salt bridge, you need to loosen and take out as much salt as you can. Next, remove all the brine that is left in the tank.

Now pour 2 to 3 gallons of warm water or hot tap water on top of the salt. This may collapse the salt bridge. Pour a half gallon of warm or hot water into the brine tank as well.

The water will start absorbing the salt after a few hours. 2 to 5 hours later you can hit the regeneration button.

24 hours later you can poke around the brine tank.

Do you still have a salt bridge?

If so, try to loosen up some more salt and start another regeneration cycle. You may need to do this for a few days in a row.

If you had used the wrong type of salt then you need to replace it.

How To Prevent Salt Bridging

prevention

A simple way to prevent a salt bridge to form is to fill your brine tank to 2/3 full and don’t add any more salt until the salt level is down to about 1/4 full. If you live in a humid area you should test adding even less salt but more often.

Can I mix different salts together?

No, you don’t want to mix pellets, cubes, crystals or block salt with one another.

mixing different salts together

As long as you keep an eye on your salt level and following the tips stated above, you most likely will never have issues with salt bridges ever again.

Water Softener Maintenance Checklist

This checklist covers basic maintenance tasks that you can do yourself

General

  • Make sure the water softener is plugged into the power supply
  • Check the system to make sure it is in service mode unless regenerating
  • Optional: Test output water for hardness – provides insights into whether or not the system is properly calibrated and functioning correctly; adjust if need be:
  • Check the hardness settings
  • Make sure the regeneration time of the day, frequency and duration is set correctly
  • Timers
  • Salt settings
  • After power outage: Reset Timers

Brine Tank

  • Is the water level normal
  • Salt level is above water level; refill if need be (up to ⅔)
  • No salt bridge; remove if need be
  • Empty and clean; set regeneration for coming night (about once a year)
  • Is the float switch straight and  free from salt/dirt and can move freely up and down; soak in hot water if need be
  • Optional: Sanitize

Resin Tank

  • For high iron/manganese/tannin levels: Clean resin with resin cleaner (about every 3 to 12 months)
  • Optional: Sanitize

Single Parts/Components

  • Connections do not leak
  • O-rings are in good condition; replace if need be
  • Exercise bypass valve to keep it lubricated
  • Clean brine injector/venturi valve (about every 6 months)
  • Optional: Replace pre-filter

The Florida Water Analysis Difference

Basic water softener maintenance is a must to keep your water softener working properly. Florida Water Analysis offers an annual maintenance program in which the installer will check the system once a year to make sure the water softener is working efficiently. Our water softener maintenance program can help to prevent repair costs that might come from a poorly maintained water softener system. Our water softener maintenance program is inexpensive and outweighs the cost of unnecessary water softener repairs.

Call Florida Water Analysis today to help you choose the right system for your home for a flawless installation.

  • Check water softener salt, adding more when necessary
  • Inspects water flow
  • Monitor any changes in water hardness levels
  • Adjust the regeneration frequency
  • Sanitization

why choose Florida Water Analysis

Conclusion

Water softeners are low-maintenance and easy to run, but there were a few issues you need to be made aware of. A little common sense will go a long way when maintaining your water softener. Refilling the salt, breaking up salt bridges, cleaning and sanitizing the system are the basics of maintaining your system.


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Donavan Jones

About Donavan Jones

Donavan Jones is the marketing manager at Florida Water Analysis. He's an expert in inbound marketing and lead generation. In his spare time, Donavan is developing a video game with his friends and family.

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