Water Softener Maintenance: 2023 Ultimate Service Guide

Water softeners are your best weapon against limescale. The most capable water softening systems eliminate hardness minerals, providing soft water benefits throughout your home.

In this guide, we’ve shared your essential water softener maintenance checklist. Follow these steps to retain the highest-quality water softening process throughout your softener’s lifespan.

Don’t yet have a water softener? Read our reviews of the best softening systems out right now!

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Important maintenance tasks for a water softener include topping up the salt levels, cleaning the salt tank, replacing the pre-filter, cleaning the water softener’s resin beads, cleaning the venturi valve, and exercising the bypass valve.
  • Water softener maintenance is essential to allow the softener to effectively soften your water in the long run.
  • The cost of water softener maintenance is $0-$75 per year, depending on the extent of the maintenance required.

✅ Water Softener Maintenance Checklist

Keep this quick checklist to hand if you just need to know the maintenance jobs to carry out on your water softener, without in-depth explanations.

General Maintenance Tasks

  • Test your water hardness with a hard water test kit – Once a year or when concerned
  • Replace the sediment pre-filter – Once every 4-6 months
  • Check connections for leaks – Once every few months
  • Check and lubricate/replace o-rings – Once every few months/when necessary
  • Exercise the bypass valve – Once every few months/when necessary
  • Clean venturi valve – Once every few months/when necessary

Brine Tank Maintenance Tasks

  • Top up the water softener salt – Once a month or when salt levels fall by more than half
  • Check the water levels are normal – When topping up the salt
  • Ensure the float switch is straight, easy to move up and down, and sediment-free – When topping up the salt
  • Remove salt bridges and salt mush – When you notice them
  • Clean and sanitize the brine tank – Once a year

Resin Tank Maintenance Tasks

  • Clean out the resin beads with a resin cleaner – Once every 3-12 months
  • Sanitize the resin – Optional, once a year

🔧 Why Water Softener Maintenance is Important

Water softener maintenance is important to keep your water softening system in fantastic working condition throughout its lifespan.

If you don’t perform regular system maintenance as advised by the manufacturer, your water softener may become defective. Forgotten maintenance tasks will affect the system’s ability to perform a regeneration cycle. Without salt, a water softener is pointless.

Maintenance is especially important for a well water softener, since the system is more susceptible to a build-up of mineral ions in the tanks. Read about our favorite water softeners for well water here.

servicing a water softener

🧰 Water Softener Maintenance Checklist: 9 Tasks To Complete

Refilling Salt

Frequency: Once A Month, Or When Salt Levels Drop Low

The amount of salt needed in your water softener’s brine tank depends on the tank capacity and your water usage.

An empty medium-sized tank will need 2-3 bags of salt to be filled.

To top up your water softener’s salt level, follow these steps:

  1. Open the brine tank lid & check the salt level. If the salt level is lower than half-full, it’s time for a top-up.
  2. Check for salt bridges/mushing. Quickly check for salt bridges and mushing. These issues will be more easily resolved while your salt level is low.
  3. Add the salt. Pour salt slowly into the tank until you reach the fill line.
  4. (Only if necessary) add water. Some softeners need you to manually add water after adding salt. Make sure the salt levels in the softener tank are two-thirds of the water levels. Note: most modern softeners automatically adjust water levels in the brine tank, saving you the job.
  5. Shut the brine tank lid. Job done! No need to program a manual regeneration – the softener will continue to operate as normal.

Make sure to add the right type of salt to your water softener. Most water softeners take salt pellets or crystals.

👨‍🔧 All-in-one softeners should be filled with salt pellets only. Only use block salt if advised by your local plumber. Avoid rock salt – it might be cheaper, but it’s highest in impurities.

salt in water softener brine tank

Cleaning The Water Softener Brine Tank

Frequency: Every 1-2 Years

Cleaning a water softener’s brine tank removes accumulated debris and dirt. You should clean the salt tank once every 1-2 years, or more frequently if you use a low-purity salt type (like rock salt).

Before cleaning the brine tank in your water softener, you may need to empty the water (depending on the type of system you have).

There are several options for draining your water softener’s brine tank:

  • Scoop or vacuum the water – Use a clean container or a wet vac to scoop or vacuum the water out of the tank.
  • Program a manual regeneration – On the softener’s control head, adjust the programming settings to schedule a manual regeneration. Once the tank is drained, skip the rest of the regeneration cycle.
  • Pour down a drain – Ask a family member or friend to help you pour the water from the tank down a floor drain.

Once your brine tank is empty, it’s time to clean it.

Before getting started, turn your water softener’s bypass valve to shut off the water. Then follow the step-by-step instructions below for how to clean a water softener brine tank:

  1. Wait for a suitable time for cleaning. Wait until the tank’s salt levels have dropped. That way, you won’t have to scoop out a lot of salt before you can get started, and the tank will be lighter and easier to handle. Salt that’s beneath the grid plate should be disposed of. Save any salt above the plate and add it back in once you’ve finished cleaning.
  2. Remove the salt grid and brine well. Both of these can be found inside the brine tank.
  3. Clear salt/sludge from the system. Use a shovel or a bucket to scoop away the sludge. You may need to use a broom handle to break away stubborn bits of salt clinging to the tank’s walls.
  4. Rinse the inside of the tank. Use a hose to rinse out the inside of the tank. This should clear the tank of any lingering salt pellets or sludgy matter.
  5. Scrub the inside with dish soap. Take some dish soap and a brush, then add a little detergent and get scrubbing. If the tank has mold, you may also need to use a mold removal treatment.
  6. Rinse thoroughly & refill. Rinse the tank thoroughly to wash away the dishwashing detergent. The tank is now ready to refill with salt. Make sure to re-install the tank before refilling.
  7. Manually start regeneration. Finally, program the system to perform a manual regeneration cycle. Once the regeneration is complete, the softener will be ready to use.
how to clean water softener brine tank

Cleaning the Resin Tank

Frequency: Once A Year

The water softener resin beads may become clogged with certain drinking water contaminants over time. To remove these contaminants and clean the resin, we recommend using a resin cleaner once a year.

Routine resin cleaning is especially important if your water is high in iron, volatile organic compounds, sediment, or manganese, since these contaminants are known for fouling the resin.

Follow these steps to clean the resin tank in your water softener:

  1. Buy a resin water softener cleaner. Resin cleaners are also known as “rust removers” or “rust stain removers”. Make sure to buy a product that’s suitable for use in water softeners.
  2. Dissolve the cleaner in water. The exact process for cleaning the resin bed will depend on the manufacturer’s instructions. Typically, you should dissolve the cleaner in water and pour it into the brine tank.
  3. Program a regeneration cycle. Set your water softener to perform a manual regeneration cycle. The resin bed should now be clean and ready for use.

👨‍🔧 Check the instructions carefully to make sure you follow the right steps to safely use a water softener cleaner in your water softener’s resin tank.

Removing a Salt Bridge

Frequency: As And When You Notice The Issue

Occasionally, your water softener brine tank may form a hard crust, known as a salt bridge. A salt bridge is usually a result of too much humidity or too much salt inside the softener.

When salt bridges, it forms an air gap between the salt and the water, preventing the salt from being able to dissolve. With no dissolved sodium, you have no brine solution – which means the resin bed won’t regenerate properly, and water that flows through the system won’t get softened.

Make sure to check regularly for salt bridges – ideally every time you top up the tank with more salt.

To fix this issue, follow these steps:

  1. Take a broom or a mop and turn it upside down, then gently press the top of the handle against the salt until it breaks off.
  2. Use hot water to break up the chunks if they’re particularly tough.
  3. Once the chunks of salt are floating in the water, scoop them out with a small container.
  4. Add a new batch of salt straight away.

👨‍🔧 You can avoid salt bridge formation altogether by only filling your brine tank two-thirds of the way with salt. The top third should just be water.

Fixing Salt Mushing

Frequency: As And When You Notice The Issue

Sometimes, salt pellets don’t properly dissolve in water. When this happens, the salt forms small granules that clump together, resulting in a mushy layer – or “salt mushing”.

Salt mushing may eventually clog the tank’s water intake valve, affecting the regeneration and softening processes.

Clean out the brine tank if you discover salt mushing. If the problem returns, try a different brand, or a different type of sodium.

For instance, if pellets don’t seem to work well in your system, try crystals. Make sure to buy high-quality, high-purity salt, such as evaporated salt or solar salt.

salt mushing in brine tank

Addressing Iron & Manganese Buildup

Frequency: When The Issue Is Discovered

Water softeners can tackle small amounts of iron and manganese, but when these minerals are present in excess, they form deposits on the inside of the tanks. These deposits restrict water flow and affect the efficiency of a water softener.

If you discover iron and manganese buildup in your water softener, you’ll need to clean out the affected components of the system according to your user manual.

Consider buying a whole-home water filter that can remove these minerals, helping to keep your water softener and your pipes and appliances in a much better condition.

The alternative is to clean your water softener regularly to get rid of the deposits, using an iron-removal resin cleaner when necessary.

Replacing The Resin Beads

Frequency: Once every 10-20 years

Different types of softening resin have different crosslink percentages, which affect their lifespans:

  • An 8% crosslink resin lasts around 10 years
  • A 10% crosslink resin lasts up to 20 years

Check your user manual or contact the manufacturer if you’re unsure what type of resin your water softener contains.

To replace your water softener’s resin beads, follow these steps:

  1. Gather your items. You’ll need new resin (enough to fill your tank), a new riser tube, a bucket, gravel, and a screwdriver.
  2. Bypass the water softener. Engage the bypass valve to send water around the softener.
  3. Remove the system from your plumbing. Place a bucket beneath the connections to catch any leaking water.
  4. Remove the softener valve head. Turn the head to remove it from the resin tank, then place it on one side.
  5. Dump out the old resin. Get a friend to help you – the tank will be heavy!
  6. Cut the new riser tube to size. Make sure it’s the same length as the old tube.
  7. Refill the tank. Install the new riser tube, then fill the resin tank with gravel and the new resin beads.
  8. Put the system back into “service” mode. It’s now ready for use.

👨‍🔧The frequency of the resin changes also depends on your water quality. If your water contains a lot of chlorine and iron, it may foul and degrade the resin beads, requiring more frequent resin changes.

Water softener ion exchange resin

Replacing The Pre-Filter

Frequency: Every 4-6 Months

Most water softeners come with a sediment pre-filter, which protects the resin from sediment damage. Failing to replace the pre-filter may cause it to become too clogged to perform properly.

To replace a water softener’s sediment pre-filter, follow these steps:

  1. Gather your equipment. You’ll need a filter wrench, a bucket, lubricant, and a new filter and O-ring.
  2. Switch off your whole home water supply. You can find the supply valve near water’s point of entry into your home.
  3. Depressurize the system. To do this, open a nearby faucet and allow water to drain.
  4. Detach the filter housing. Place a bucket under the housing to catch any leaks.
  5. Wash the housing. Remove the old filter and wash the housing if necessary.
  6. Replace the O-ring and filter. Grease or replace the O-ring and insert it in the filter housing, then slot the new filter in place.
  7. Reattach the housing. Attach the filter housing back onto your plumbing and switch on the water supply.

Looking Out For Common Problems

Frequency: Whenever You Perform Maintenance

Whether you’re topping up the salt, adjusting your softener settings, or carrying out any other maintenance, make sure to keep an eye out for common problems that affect water softener performance.

These include:

  • Salt bridge
  • Salt mushing
  • Clogged venturi valve
  • Worn O-rings
  • Salt running low
  • Malfunctioning motor
  • Malfunctioning control valve

There are a few indicators of these problems, including poor flow rate, hard water in your faucets, and water with an unusual taste, odor, or appearance.

When inspecting your water softener, check for leaks and replace any faulty or worn parts to improve the efficiency of your system.

Exercise the bypass valve to make sure it’s nicely lubricated and check that none of the valves and lines in the softener are clogged. Clean the brine injector valve at least every 1 year; preferably every 6 months.

A water softener may need the occasional repair or servicing job. The faster you can detect and resolve these common problems, the more effectively you can maintain your water softener.

Fixing-salt-mushing-in-water-softener

💲 Water Softener Maintenance Cost

If you choose to perform maintenance on your water softener yourself, the maintenance cost is $0-$75 per year, depending on what type of maintenance is needed.

Or, you could hire a plumber (see below), which costs $100-$150 per year on average.

👨‍🔧 When to Hire a Water Softener Service Professional

You might want to avoid dealing with water softener maintenance yourself. If you’d prefer to hire a professional plumber or handyman to clean out your softener tank, you can do so.

Many plumbers offer water softener maintenance programs. This includes a system inspection and cleanout of the resin beads.

Most folks should be capable of performing maintenance duties themselves, but if you simply don’t want to, you have the option to pay to get it done by an expert.

❔ Frequently Asked Questions

How can I prolong my water softener’s life?

The best way to prolong your water softener’s life is to clean and maintain it properly. Check the brine tank for salt bridge formation and salt mushing, and clean the resin every 3-12 months. Check that all components are in good working order. Replace degraded o-rings and damaged parts. Change the sediment pre-filter frequently to protect the resin beads.

What happens if I don’t clean my water softener?

If you never clean your water softener, the system would eventually lose its ability to perform a proper regeneration cycle. As a result, the resin would be unable to effectively remove hard water minerals. If you want to tackle hard water problems over the years, regular cleaning is essential.

How does dirt get into my brine tank?

Dirt in a water softener’s brine tank usually comes from the softening salt, which contains sediment that can’t dissolve in water. Some salt is dirtier than other types – for instance, rock salt is notoriously dirty. The purest type of salt is evaporated salt pellets.

How long do water softeners last?

With proper maintenance, water softeners can last 20+ years.

How often does a water softener need servicing?

A water softener needs servicing once or twice every 5 years, at least. Ideally, service your softener once a year.

Can I put bleach in a water softener?

Yes, you can put bleach in a water softener. Water softeners can become contaminated with harmful pathogens, such as bacteria, and bleach is the best way to fight this. Add an unscented bleach-water mix (use 2 ounces of bleach for every 3 gallons of water) to the brine tank. Leave the solution for up to 20 minutes, then scrub the tank with a brush, dispose of the water, and clean the tank out with a batch of tap water. Dump this water, then refill the tank with salt.

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