How To Winterize a Water Softener (5 Expert Tips)

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If your water softener is installed outside or in a location that leaves it susceptible to freezing temperatures, you need to make sure it’s suitably protected before winter arrives.

Here, we’ve shared our advice on the best way to winterize your water softener system.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Freezing conditions may damage the resin beads in a water softener or result in leaks from the tanks and pipes.
  • You can winterize a water softener by keeping the area warm, installing insulation, and keeping water running through the system.
  • If you don’t plan to use the softener in the winter months, unplug it and drain the water.

🤔 Who Should Winterize A Water Softener?

Let’s start with an overview of the circumstances in which you should winterize your water softener.

You’ll need to protect your water softener against cold weather if it’s installed:

  • Outside, even if it’s in a rainproof shelter
  • At any unheated location, such as an outhouse, garage, or basement that isn’t connected to your central heating
  • In a property that you don’t use, and therefore don’t heat, in the winter
  • In your home if you plan to be away for extended periods in the winter months

Essentially, if your water softener ever has the potential to be exposed to very cold temperatures, you should protect it from damage by following the water softener winterization tips in this guide.

Water softener installed in home's point of entry

🚿 How To Winterize A Water Softener: Our Top Tips

Here are our top tips for water softener winterization:

Tip 1: Keep The Area Warm

Our number one tip for winterizing a water softener that you still want to use is to keep the installation area warm.

This is fairly easy to do if you keep the softener in any sort of enclosed area. You just need to make sure there’s enough heat in the install location to prevent the softener or its connecting pipes from freezing.

The recommended air temperature for a water softener install location is at least 32 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, no part of the softener should be able to freeze.

If you know that temperatures drop below 32 degrees in the winter, place a space heater next to the water softener to heat up the install location.

Or, if your softener is installed in an area that’s usually heated by central heating but you’ll be away from home for a few weeks, keep your heating on low in the room where the softener is installed to prevent a significant temperature drop.

Yes, these methods will increase your water bill slightly, but a few extra dollars per week is much cheaper than the cost of repairing or replacing a water softening system that has been damaged by freezing conditions – or even dealing with a catastrophic leak.

Tip 2: Insulate The Softener 

Our second tip for winterizing a water softener that you plan to use over the colder season is to insulate the softener to keep the heat in.

You should be able to find insulation material from your local home improvement store. Buy enough material to fit around your water softener, then hold it in place with zip ties or rope.

With good insulation, your water softener should stay warm enough to provide continued operation even if temperatures fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

We also recommend insulating your pipes with special plumbing insulation. Again, you can purchase pipe insulation wrap at most home improvement stores. This will prevent freezing pipes from affecting your water softener’s performance.

Protective insulation on water softener

Tip 3: Keep The System In Operation

If you’re leaving home on vacation for a couple of weeks, your water softener will be more susceptible to freezing because the water is sitting still inside the tanks.

So, another way to reduce the potential for freezing is to keep water moving in your water treatment equipment while you’re away.

Leave a kitchen or bathroom faucet dripping, which will require a small amount of treated water from your softener. This should help you to avoid burst pipes in your water softener system.

We recommend combining this trick with tip 1 or 2 (or 1 and 2) in this guide, since leaving your water running alone doesn’t guarantee that your softener won’t freeze in very cold temperatures.

Tip 4: Prevent Exposure To Outside Air

A water softener is more likely to freeze in the winter if it’s exposed directly to the outside air.

So, you can winterize your water softener by reducing its exposure to the elements. There are a few different ways to do this, depending on the water softener install location.

If your water softener is installed in a garage, make sure to keep your garage door shut in the winter months, even when you’re working in your yard and easy access to your garage might be more convenient.

If your water softener is in an outdoor location, you’ll need to house it in an insulated box. This will prevent contact with cold air and help your water softener to retain its heat as temperatures drop.

Insulated box for water softeners

Tip 5: Drain & Unplug The Softener

Our final tip applies to anyone who doesn’t plan to use their water softener for long periods in the winter – especially if the softener will be exposed to freezing weather conditions during this time.

We recommend unplugging your softener, which will prevent problems with backflow and frozen pipe issues, as well as electrical problems and leaks. You’ll need to drain any of the water lines in the system to prevent them from freezing while you’re away.

🧊 How Freezing Temperatures Affect A Water Softener

Now you know how to winterize your water softener, you might be wondering why it’s so important. What impact can freezing temperatures have on your water softener’s performance?

When a water softener is working properly, it exchanges calcium and magnesium minerals with sodium ions on a resin bed. Water flows through the media tank (otherwise called a mineral or resin tank) whenever you switch on an appliance or a fixture, and the hardness minerals are removed on-demand.

If water softeners are exposed to frigid temperatures, the water in the mineral tank and connecting pipes may freeze. This could damage the resin beads and cause your water softener’s pipes to crack, potentially leading to a leak.

The brine tank (salt tank) that houses the softener salt might also freeze, preventing brine from traveling in the brine valve tubing to the media tank. Your soft water supply will be interrupted as a result.

Or, the floor drain might freeze, meaning that your water softener can’t completely drain water during a regeneration cycle, potentially leading to flooding.

Plus, if water can’t move freely through the system, your home’s water pressure may drop, and your softener may be unable to supply your plumbing system with enough water to meet demand.

Frozen water softener piping

🔎 Signs Of A Frozen Water Softener

So, what are the signs that water softeners display if they’re frozen?

Here are some of the things you might notice:

  • A water softener tank that’s cold to touch
  • You can see ice around the tanks, control valve, and pipes
  • The drain likes are clogged with blocks of ice
  • Your water softener’s electronics switch off or are temperamental
  • Your water softener is operating at a louder volume than normal

Even if your water softener itself isn’t frozen, the pipes connecting to the softener might be. Check for signs of frozen pipes, too, including freezing cold pipes that are coated with ice or frost.

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📑 Final Word

As long as you take the correct water softener winterization steps, you should be able to safely use your water softener year-round.

Even if you’ve taken all the steps above to protect your hard water treatment equipment from freezing in the winter, you should still make sure to keep an eye on your water softener’s performance if it’s at risk of damage by freezing.

Get into the routine of daily checkups, examining your water softener for leaks and checking that the system is operating as it should. If you’re concerned, program a manual regeneration cycle. Is the system backwashing water as it should? Unplug and drain the softener immediately if you notice any leaks.

If you think your water softener has frozen, warm up the install location as soon as you spot the issue, then check all pipes and components for damage that could result in a major leak.

Contact your local plumber if you’re concerned and need a second opinion.

  • Brian Campbell
    President & CEO, CWS, CWR

    Brian Campbell, a WQA Certified Water Specialist (CWS) and Certified Water Treatment Representative (CWR) with 5+ years of experience, helps homeowners navigate the world of water treatment. After honing his skills at Hach Company, he founded his business to empower homeowners with the knowledge and tools to achieve safe, healthy water. Brian's tested countless devices, from simple pitchers to complex systems, helping his readers find the perfect fit for their unique needs.

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