What is Salt Mushing in a Water Softener?

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When a water softener is working well, it’s one of the most valuable water treatment systems you can own. But when problems occur, your water softener may stop working, leaving you with hard water once more.

Salt mushing is a common water softener problem that can prevent the resin tank from refilling with brine solution during regeneration, hindering the ion exchange process. Thankfully, salt mushing is easily dealt with – and it certainly doesn’t mean the end for your water softener.

This guide will look at salt mushing in water softeners, including what it is, how it happens, signs of salt mushing, and how to fix salt mushing in a water softener.

🤔What Is Water Softener Salt Mushing?

Salt mushing is when dissolved salt recrystallizes in the brine tank and clumps together to form granules. These granules usually collect at the bottom of the brine tank, where they can block the flow of brine solution out of the tank during regeneration.

salt mushing in brine tank

Salt Mushing Vs Salt Bridges

Water softener salt mushing and salt bridges are different things.

While a salt bridge causes a layer of hard salt to form at the top of the brine tank, salt mush typically occurs at the bottom of the tank.

Salt bridges are hard, solidified masses, while salt mush is usually smaller, softer clumps of salt.

Salt bridges usually result from overfilling the salt tank, while salt mushing occurs regardless of how full the tank is.

Salt Bridges

Treating salt mushing requires a different process than treating a salt bridge, so make sure you know whether you have a salt bridge or a salt mush problem before attempting system maintenance.

💭Why does Salt Mushing Occur?

There are two common reasons for a salt mush:

1) Using the Wrong Type of Salt

The type of salt you use in your water softening system determines how effectively the salt can dissolve in water.

Loose salt is more likely to crystallize in water than larger evaporated salt pellets because salt is contained within these pellets, preventing recrystallization.

Additionally, the poorer the quality of your salt, the more likely you are to experience salt mushing.

You can buy salt in various shapes, purity levels, and sizes. Low-purity salt is more likely to form salt mushing than high-purity salt because low-purity salt contains impurities that aren’t water-soluble.

2) Reduced Water Temperature

A drop in water temperature can also result in salt mushing. This is because the solubility of salt is linked to water temperature. Salt is more soluble in warmer water because the heat increases movement between molecules, causing them to collide more frequently.

If your water softener is installed in an unheated room (such as your garage) and your local temperature has recently dropped, this could explain any salt mushes that occur.

📌Signs and Symptoms of Salt Mushing in Water Softeners

Although you may not be able to see salt mushing in the bottom of the brine tank, there are telltale signs that salt has crystallized in your water softener:

  • The water softener isn’t regenerating properly – If your water softener’s brine line is clogged by crystallized salt, and the system isn’t replenishing the sodium ions in the brine solution, regeneration won’t work. The whole purpose of regeneration is to replenish the resin bed. Without regeneration, softening can’t occur.
  • Your water isn’t soft – If you don’t notice a problem with regeneration, you should at least notice that the quality of your water isn’t up to standard. Crystallized salt can prevent your water softener from removing calcium and magnesium and producing soft water, and can even damage the resin bed.
  • The water softener has flooded – In a worst-case scenario, the crystallized salt will clog your system so badly that the brine tank may overflow and flood part of your house.

🔧 How to Fix Salt Mushing in a Water Softener

It’s important to deal with salt mushing as soon as you notice the issue. Follow these steps to fix a salt mushing issue in your water softener:

Fixing salt mushing in water softener
  1. Turn off your softener. Prevent water from getting into the water softener by turning off your main water valve or switching the bypass valve to bypass mode, diverting water away from the system.
  2. Drain the system. Drain the brine tank until all of the salt is washed out.
  3. Clean the brine tank. Use a soft-bristled brush or hand vacuum to wipe away any salt crystals that have built up inside your tank. It’s important to remove all of these crystals to prevent the risk of crystallization once you refill the brine tank.
  4. Clean the brine line and valves. Use a soft-bristled brush to wipe away any salt build-up along your brine line and valves.
  5. Flush the system. Turn on your main water valve or switch the bypass valve to send water back into the water softener, then flush the system with clean water. This will remove salt crystals from the resin bed.
  6. Refill the salt tank. Add more salt to the brine tank, making sure you use proper proportions. Ideally, use high-purity salt pellets, and be careful not to add too much salt to the tank.
  7. (Optional) use a water softener cleaner. Clean impurities out of the resin beads with a water softener cleaner. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the bottle. Most cleaners can also remove iron and dirt from the resin bed.
  8. Restart the softener. Re-start your softener and program a system regeneration to make sure the softener works normally. Look for leaks and listen for unusual noises. If the issue appears to have been resolved, pour a glass of water to check that you have soft water once more.
  9. Consider professional support. If you’ve tried all of these steps and your water softener still isn’t performing correctly, call a professional to help you resolve the issue.

🔎How Can You Avoid Salt Mushing in a Water Softener?

To prevent evaporated salt from recrystallizing in the brine tank, follow these tips:

Don’t Allow the Softener to get Too Cold

If you’re installing your water softener in your garage or basement, make sure this room is adequately heated to prevent dips in water temperatures that make it more difficult for salt to dissolve.

The key is to maintain a consistent temperature that isn’t too cold or humid – humidity can cause water softeners to form salt bridges, which is another issue you want to avoid.

Use the Right Salt

Using the right water softener salt

You have several options when choosing water softener salt:

  • Evaporated salt pellets – Evaporated salt pellets have the highest purity and are the most expensive type of salt.
  • Rock salt – Rock salt looks like small rocks, hence the name. This type of salt is affordable but is high in calcium sulfate.
  • Solar salt – Solar salt comes in crystals and pellets, and is more soluble than rock salt, but doesn’t dissolve in water as well as evaporated salts.
  • Block salt – Block salt is the least recommended salt because of its block design. You’ll need to raise the water levels in your brine tank to ensure the salt is fully submerged.

The best salt to use to prevent mushing is evaporated salt pellets because they’re high purity (you can buy 99.9% salt or higher), reducing the chance of insoluble buildup in the bottom of the brine tank.

Although evaporated salt pellets are more expensive than solar salt or rock salt, they’re worth the extra cost for the long-term benefits of owning a healthy water softener.

‼️ Signs of Serious Salt Mushing

If you’ve fixed your water softener’s salt mushing issue and taken these preventative steps, but your water softener still isn’t performing properly, you may have permanent damage to your resin bed.

Signs of permanent damage to water softeners include:

  • Unusual noises during regeneration
  • Hardness minerals in your drinking water
  • Lots of salt in the brine tank, which doesn’t seem to be decreasing when the system regenerates

In this case, replacing the contents of the resin tank may be the only way to ensure protection against water hardness going forward.

You can see that salt mushing can be a huge, costly problem if left untreated. That’s why it just makes sense to spend that little bit more on high-purity salt, which will prevent damage to your softener’s resin bed and prolong the lifespan of the system.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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