How to Fix Standing Water in a Water Softener Salt Tank – 2021 Guide

how to fix water softener not draining

Buying a water softener feels like a big enough challenge – but then comes maintenance and troubleshooting.

You think you’ve been doing everything right, keeping up with your salt top-ups, but your system says otherwise.

Standing water in your brine tank is one of the most common water softener issues, and can prevent the system from performing a proper regeneration cycle.

Don’t fret, though. It’s easy to resolve the issue once you’ve diagnosed the cause. In this guide, I’ll share the reasons why your water softener might be full of water, and how you can get things working normally again.

🤔 Why is My Water Softener Full of Water?

There are many reasons why your water softener might be full of water – and it really depends on how you define “full”. Low levels of water are expected. If you’re dealing with excessive water, an overflowing tank, or a dip in water pressure, you’re probably facing a bigger issue.

💧 Should There Be Water In My Brine Tank?

If you can see water in the brine tank of your softener, there might not actually be an issue at all. Water in your brine tank is normal – there should be around 6 to 10 inches of it in total.

This water is needed to mix with the softener salt and form a brine solution, which flushes out the resin beads and replenishes them with a new batch of sodium ions.

Usually, if you can see water in your brine tank, it’s a sign that you need to top up your salt levels. It’s recommended that you add enough salt to your brine tank to completely cover the water.

The problem is if too much water has entered your brine tank, or your brine tank isn’t emptying. This could be caused by a number of factors, which I’ve covered below.

standing water in water softener salt tank

🚫 Why is My Brine Tank Not Emptying?

Improperly Installed Incoming Water Line

The incoming water line delivers water into the brine tank. If this line isn’t installed correctly, it may fill the tank with too much water, or fill the tank more frequently than usual. Check your user manual if you think you have faults with this component.

brine tank regen line

Brine Drain Issues

The brine drain is what allows the brine solution to leave the tank and enter the resin bed during regeneration cycles. If the brine drain becomes blocked or disconnected, the tank may struggle to empty (or it may leak out of the system, which is even more of a nightmare.

The drain line might also become kinked, preventing water from passing through. If the drain line looks damaged, clean it or consider replacing it with a new one.

water softener drain line

Poorly Installed Brine Line

Inside your brine tank is a float. This float is designed to control the level of brine solution, a bit like the float in your toilet.

If your incoming water line isn’t properly installed, it may prevent the float from being able to accurately read your brine level, which may result in an overflow.

Check that the brine line is installed properly to avoid this issue.  You can find the brine line by removing the lid of the brine tank and unscrewing the cap from the brine well. 

The brine line connects the tank to the brine valve. Your user manual should have more information about the brine line if you’re unsure of its location in your water softener.

water softener brine line

Flow Controls Are Clogged

If your drain line doesn’t seem to be the problem, try looking at the water softener’s flow control valve itself. If you have higher-than-average water hardness, or your water contains a lot of iron, there may be a buildup of minerals inside the control valve. Cleaning out the control valve with white vinegar should be enough to prevent future clogging.

You might also be dealing with a clogged brine line control. Contaminants in the brine well may result in a clogged line. It should help to flush the system.

Finally, check the drain line flow control in your water softener. This may also become blocked, especially if your water has a high iron content.

Injector is Clogged

Again, for high-iron water supplies, a clogged water softener injector is another possible issue. In this case, simply remove the injector and clean it. Inside the injector is a small hole that regulates your water intake. Use something small, like a wooden toothpick, to clean it out. Don’t use anything that’s hard enough to alter the hole size, though.

It might also be useful to use white vinegar or a scale-removing cleaning product on your injector. If it’s beyond cleaning, you’ll need to consider buying a new one.

Timer Not Configured Correctly

The built-in timer in your water softener will control how often the system performs a regeneration cycle, based on your water usage and/or your hardness levels. If the timer isn’t configured properly, it might program the softener to regenerate too much or not enough. It may also prevent a full regeneration cycle from taking place.

water softener control head timer

Dried Seals

If the brine tank and brine line are fine, you might have a problem with the seals. When your water softener can’t suck brine into the resin tank during regeneration, you might be dealing with something as small as a dried or torn seal.

You will need to remove the brine line and drain line to properly check your seals. If water is still flowing through the control valve, it’s likely that you need to replace the seals or spacers. This can prove quite difficult, depending on the design of your water softener, but there are videos on YouTube that offer plenty of guidance.

Salt Clog

The brine tank itself can become clogged at the bottom, preventing the brine from being able to leave the tank. This is known as salt mushing. Cleaning out the tank should solve this issue.

A salt bridge can also affect your water’s ability to drain, and may affect the salt level in the brine. This can be caused by adding too much salt to your softener.

You can avoid salt bridging and mushing by using the highest quality salt in your water softener. Evaporated salt is the most soluble and contains the highest purity sodium, reducing the risk of mushing, clogging or dirt deposits.

salt mushing in brine tank

Sticking Safety Float

The safety float in your brine tank may become clogged, which may cause it to stick or prevent it from freely moving. In this case, you will need to clear out the clog or replace the float with a new one.

The float valve might also be set too high, allowing the water level to exceed the flow of water that can be drained during regeneration. This may mean that your water level gradually rises as there is always a little salty water left over inside the brine tank.

water softener control float

✔️ How to Drain a Water Softener Brine Tank

Many of the above problems can be solved by cleaning the component that is preventing the tank from emptying and refilling properly. But if all else fails, it’s always worth draining the tank and starting again from scratch.

You may also want to clean out the inside of the tank. Most water softeners have brine tanks that need to be cleaned once every 1 to 5 years. The resin should be cleaned at a minimum of every 12 months. You can learn more about maintenance in my Ultimate Water Softener Service Guide.

I would advise draining your tank when it has nearly run out of salt, which will make it easier to empty. But if your system isn’t operating and you need to fix the issue fast, you may not be able to wait a few days.

To drain your water softener brine tank, here’s what you need to do.

water softener full of water

Dump the Water

First thing’s first, you need to dump the remaining water. You might need a friend to help you carry the tank to your dumping location, as it can be quite heavy when full. Make sure to dump the water over a drain. It’s not wise to empty out the water in your garden, as the high sodium levels will probably kill your grass.

Scoop It Out in a Bucket

A simpler alternative that requires no heavy lifting is to scoop out your water using a tub or bucket. This may take a little longer, but the end result will be the same. If you can’t get out the last little bit, it’ll be much easier to dump the water, as the tank will be virtually empty.

Run a Manual Regeneration Cycle

Programming your water softener to manually regenerate is perhaps the easiest water draining solution of all. You’ll need to program the water to drain out of the brine tank, then shut the system off before more water can replace it.

Use a Wet/Dry Vacuum

Finally, a wet or dry vacuum can be used to suck water out of your brine tank. Make sure your vacuum is designed to handle water, though, as not all of them are.

🔧 How to Prevent a Water Softener Not Draining

Dealing with a water softener that won’t drain might be relatively low-hassle, but you’d still rather your system functioned properly 24/7.

When operating poorly, water softeners may affect a home’s water pressure or even become irreversibly damaged. Luckily, preventing draining issues – and therefore ensuring access to soft water 24/7 – is simple.

Some of the ways to prevent a water softener not draining are:

Use High-Quality Salt

The better quality salt used in your softener, the less potential for the system to clog.

Salt that’s designed to dissolve effectively in water, without causing bridging or mushing, won’t prevent water from emptying down the drain line. You should also opt for salt with the highest purity, to reduce dirt buildup in the brine tank.

Clean The Brine Tank

It’s recommended that you clean out the brine tank once every 1-5 years. If you have high water hardness or high water iron levels, cleaning out this tank as frequently as possible will prevent scale build-up inside the tank and control valves, reducing the chances of water filling issues.

Consider using salt with iron remover if your iron levels are too high for your water softener to deal with.

Use a Resin Cleaner

A resin cleaner can help to maintain the overall health of the system. Clean resin beads will allow for the most effective water softening, and will ensure that regeneration can take place properly.

It’s recommended to clean your resin at least once every 12 months. This will remove any iron, salt, heavy metals and other pollutants that have built up inside the mineral tank.

You will also need to replace your resin bed, but this isn’t something that needs doing regularly. Most water softener resin beads have a lifespan of at least 10 years, though this depends on the quality of the resin, your water usage, and the hardness of your water.

Clean the Venturi Valve

The venturi valve and nozzle are needed to suck the brine into the softening tank, where it replenishes the resin bed. Every so often, the valve and nozzle may get blocked up by salt, dirt and sediment.

It’s essential that the venturi valve is free of blockages, or the system can’t draw brine out of the salt tank.

To clean the venturi valve:

  1. Unscrew the cover and take out the components.
  2. Wash them all in hot, soapy water.
  3. Soak in white vinegar to remove particularly tough stains.

It’s wise to clean the venturi valve at least twice a year to ensure the smoothest flow of water during the water softening process.

Perform System Checkups

Checking the salt in the brine tank is the best way to make sure your water softener is performing properly. But aside from a brine tank check, you should familiarize yourself with the other components of your softener model.

Check your brine and bypass valve, seals, drain line, o-rings and flow control settings.

You want to make sure that everything looks in good condition, and there is no damage or unexpected change to programming.

When you know what to look out for, you’ll be able to prevent excess water, rather than having to fix the problem after it has happened.

It’s simple enough to ensure a proper flow of water in your water softener. Just follow these preventative maintenance steps, and use the tips in this article to determine why your water softener might not be emptying properly.