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 brine tank salt level, but your system says otherwise.
An abnormally high water level in your brine tank is one of the most common water softener issues, and it could prevent the system from performing a proper regeneration. 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 brine tank might be full of water, and how you can get things working normally again.
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🤔 Why is My Water Softener Full of Water?
There are several reasons why your water softener brine tank might be full of water – and it really depends on how you define “full”. Low levels of water can be expected in some systems. 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 12 inches in the average residential unit.
This water is needed to dissolve a portion of the softener salt and form a brine solution, which flushes the captured hardness out the resin beads and replenishes them with a new charge of sodium ions.
Usually, if you can see water in your brine tank, it’s a sign that you may need to add salt. It is sometimes recommended that you add enough salt to your brine tank to completely cover the water.
A problem has likely occurred 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.
🚫 Why is My Brine Tank Not Emptying?
Improperly Installed Brine Tubing
The brine line delivers water to the brine tank. It also draws brine from the tank during the brining phase of a regeneration. If this line isn’t installed correctly, it may overfill the tank due to leakage, or fail to draw brine properly and draw air into the system through the leak point. The tubing must be in good condition and properly connected at the softener valve and at the brine tank float valve assembly.
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 brine line might also become kinked, preventing water from flowing through. If the brine line appears to be damaged, replace it with a new one.
Poorly Installed Brine Line
Inside most brine tanks is a float assembly. This float valve is designed to prevent overflow of the brine tank.
If your brine line isn’t properly installed, it may prevent the float from being able to stop a brine tank 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 removing the cap from the brine well.
The brine line connects the brine tank float valve assembly to the control valve. Your owners manual should have more information about the brine line and its proper installation.
Flow Controls Are Clogged
If your brine line doesn’t appear to be the issue, examine the water softener’s control valve. 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. Proper maintenance and cleaning of the control valve should help prevent internal valve issues.
You might also be dealing with a clogged brine refill flow control. Contaminants in the brine well may result in a clogged orifice. Cleaning will likely be required to ensure proper operation. Finally, check the drain line flow control in your water softener. This may also become blocked, especially if your water has a high hardness or iron content.
Injector is Clogged
Again, for high hardness and iron water supplies, a clogged water softener injector assembly is another possible issue. In this case, simply remove the injector assembly and clean all of its components. Inside the injector nozzle is a small orifice that regulates the brinedraw. 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 water softener control will determine how often the system performs a regeneration cycle, based on your water usage and/or your hardness levels. If the timer isn’t properly programmed, it may cause the softener to regenerate too often or not often enough. It may also prevent some or all of the phases of a full regeneration cycle from taking place for the proper amount of time or from taking place at all.
Damaged Seals or Piston
If the brine tank and brine line are fine, you might have a problem with the piston or seals on some models. If your water softener doesn’t draw brine into the resin tank during regeneration, you might be dealing with a damaged piston or seal.
One option to quickly check if a seal or piston is damaged is to remove the brine line and drain line while the system is in the service position. If water is still flowing through the control valve and out of the brine or drain port, it’s likely that you need to replace the seals and spacers or piston, or all of the above.
This can prove to be a challenge, depending on the design of your water softener, but if you consider yourself mechanically inclined, there are videos on YouTube that offer plenty of guidance.
The brine tank itself can become clogged at the bottom, preventing water from being able to properly fill and draw from the tank. This is known as salt mushing. Cleaning out the tank should solve this issue.
A salt bridge can also affect the water’s ability to dissolve salt, and may prevent the salt level in the brine tank from dropping over time as designed. This can sometimes be caused by over packing salt in your softener brine tank.
You can help avoid salt bridging and mushing by using the highest quality salt, avoid overpacking, and periodically allowing the salt level to drop adequately.
Evaporated salt is the most soluble and contains the highest purity sodium, reducing the risk of mushing, clogging or dirt deposits.
Sticking Safety Float
The safety float in your brine tank may become clogged, which may cause it to stick or prevent it from moving freely. In this case, you will need to clear out the clog or replace the float with a new one.
In some units that utilize a constant refill feature while in service, the float valve may be set too high, allowing the water level to exceed the amount of water that can be drawn during regeneration.
✔️ How to Drain a Water Softener Brine Tank
Many of the above problems can be solved by repairing the component that is preventing the tank from emptying and refilling properly. But if all else fails, it may be 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 our 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.
To drain your water softener brine tank, here’s what you need to do.
Dump the Water
First thing’s first, you need to dump the remaining water. You might need a friend to help you dolly the tank to your dumping location, as it can be quite heavy when full. Make sure to dispose of the salt and water in a good location. It’s not wise to empty out the water in your yard, as the high sodium levels will kill your grass.
Scoop It Out in a Bucket
A simpler alternative that requires no heavy lifting is to scoop out the salt and 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 remaining salt and water, as the tank will be much lighter.
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 system to draw down the brine tank, then shut the system off before the unit can refill.
Use a Wet/Dry Vacuum
Finally, a wet/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. Be sure to completely and properly clean and rinse your vac, or you will be purchasing a new one much sooner than expected.
🔧 How to Prevent a Water Softener Not Drawing
Dealing with a water softener that will not properly draw down might be a bit of a hassle, but you’d still rather have your system functioning 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, is less likely to contribute to these issues. 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, properly maintaining the brine tank will help prevent scale build-up inside the softener tank and control valves, reducing the chance of high or low water levels in the brine tank and softener maintenance costs.
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, chlorine levels, proper maintenance, and the hardness minerals and iron in your water.
Clean the Venturi Valve
A properly clean and operating venturi, injector assembly, nozzle, throat, screen, drain line flow control, refill control, piston assembly, seals and spacers, etc., are necessary to draw the brine into the media 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:
- Unscrew the cover and take out the components.
- Wash them all in hot, soapy water.
- Soak in white vinegar to remove particularly tough stains.
It’s wise to clean the venturi valve at least once a year to ensure the proper flow of water during the regeneration 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 valves, seals, drain line, o-rings and control settings.
You’ll want to ensure that everything is in good condition, and there is no damage to components, incorrect programming, or other issues which could contribute to improper operation.
When you know what to look out for, hopefully you’ll be able to prevent some of these issues which can cause excess brine tank water, rather than having to fix the problem after it has happened.
Following some of these easy preventative maintenance steps, and using the tips in this article to determine why your water softener might not be emptying the brine tank properly, may help save you from more extensive and expensive remedies. When in doubt, or if all else fails, contact a qualified water treatment specialist for an evaluation.