Why is My Water Softener Not Using Salt?

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If you own a traditional water softener, you probably know all about the importance of salt.

Water softeners require salt to perform ion exchange, which replaces calcium and magnesium hardness ions with sodium ions. Without salt, your home won’t benefit from soft water.

So if you’ve noticed that your water softener isn’t using salt, you’re right to be concerned.

It’s easy to spot this issue – your water won’t be softened, so you’ll start to get problems with scale on your faucets and fixtures. You should also be able to taste the difference between salt-softened and hard water, so you’ll know if your softener is not using sodium properly.

Improper salt use can be caused by a number of factors, but it’s normally fairly simple to fix. Read on to learn why your water softener salt might not be emptying, and to figure out how to get the system working properly again.

💡 Common Reasons For Water Softener Salt Not Going Down

Salt Bridge or Buildup

A salt bridge is a clump of undissolved salt that collects above the surface of the water in the brine tank. Bridging usually results from humidity in the tank. It could also be caused by excessively filling the tank with salt.

When a salt bridge forms, it can give the appearance that your brine tank is full of salt, when actually, the salt beneath this bridge might have dissolved properly.

This could result in your system running out of salt while you’re still under the impression that your tank hasn’t emptied.

Salt, iron and other sediment could also build up in your drain line, preventing water and salt from properly moving through the system and affecting the softening unit’s ability to regenerate.

Nozzle Venturi Clogged

A water softener’s nozzle and venturi are needed to help the system operate properly.

Suction is required to send the brine into the resin tank. If the venturi becomes clogged with dirt, debris or sediment, the brine will be stuck inside the salt tank. This means the resin bed won’t be replenished, and there will be no sodium ions to replace the calcium and magnesium water hardness minerals.

The venturi can usually be found beneath the softener top cover in the venturi housing. Check your user manual for more information.

Too Much Salt (Or Not Enough Water in Brine Tank)

Having a normal salt-to-water ratio in your brine tank is essential for proper operation.

If there is too much salt, there might not be enough water to properly form the brine solution.

The water will be overwhelmed with salt, so while some salt may dissolve properly, there may be sludge left over in the bottom of the tank. This is known as salt mushing.

You may also have a lack of water in the salt tank.

This could indicate a problem with the tank’s fill tube, such as a clog or blockage. The water in your tank should be at least one-quarter full – though it’s normal for the salt level to be a couple of inches above the water level.

Wrong Type or Size of Salt

The type of salt you fill the tank with is more important than you might realize.

Not all salt is best suited for a water softener. For instance, table salt shouldn’t be used in your softener, because it is made of tiny salt crystals that are far more likely to cause mushing at the bottom of the brine tank.

Some salts are more efficient than others, too.

Rock salt is the worst type of salt to use in your water softener, as it contains the highest dirt content, making it the most likely to clog up your system and prevent the regeneration process from being properly carried out.

water softener salt not going down
Pellet salt

✔️ How to Fix a Water Softener Not Using Salt

Get Rid of a Salt Bridge

If a salt bridge is preventing your water softener from using sodium, you should fix the problem as quickly a possible.

To get rid of a salt bridge, here’s what to do:

  1. Switch the water softener into bypass position to stop water from entering the brine tank.
  2. Use a long tool, such as a mop or broom handle, to break up the salt that’s causing the problem. Make sure you’re gentle while doing this, being careful not to break or crack the inside of the brine tank.
  3. If the broom handle isn’t doing the job on its own, you might have to pour hot water onto the bridge. This should quickly dissolve and break up the salt, making it easier to chip away.
  4. Don’t leave the salt where it is. Scoop the floating chunks into a plastic bucket or container.
  5. Once finished, remove the leftover brine, either with a bucket or a wet vac. You could also empty the contents into a drain with the help of another person, or program the softener to flush the water out.
  6. Replenish the salt tank with more sodium, filling it to the halfway line.
  7. Adjust the bypass valve to send water back into the system and switch the water softener back on. Next, program a regeneration cycle and check that the system regenerates properly. If it does, the problem is solved.

Prevent Salt Bridges Forming

Your water softener is only designed to handle evaporated salt, which produces the brine that’s needed to replenish the resin beads. Salt bridges are, therefore, more than just a nuisance. They can stop the system from working altogether.

Preventing salt bridges is doable, however. Some preventative measures to take are:

Reduce High Humidity

Salt bridging is more likely to occur in high-humidity environments. Check your humidity levels, especially in the summer, if your unit repeatedly forms a salt crust.

If your softener can’t properly form salty water, you may have to better ventilate your system’s install location, or even move it to a different part of your house entirely.

You can also buy casing for your soft water system that prevents hot air and humidity from getting in.

Don’t Overfill Salt

Overfilling salt is one of the biggest causes of salt crust formation in water softeners.

The solution here is simple – only fill your tank’s brine well halfway with salt.

If you do want to add a little more, consult your user manual to see how much salt your water softener can handle. You shouldn’t allow the system to be more than 2/3 full, as this will create a bridging risk.

Clear the Nozzle Venturi

If there is no salt bridge present, you might have to clear the nozzle and venturi in your water softener.

Systems may vary, but here’s what you’ll typically need to do:

  1. Start by removing the top cover to access the venturi and nozzle. Before doing this, check that the system is operating a normal cycle, and there’s no pressure on the venturi. Adjust settings if needed. You may choose to bypass water from the system.
  2. To remove the components, hold onto the venturi housing with one hand and use the other to remove the cap by twisting. Don’t lose the O-ring while you’re doing this. Remove the screen and support screen from the housing. You will then be able to easily remove the venturi and nozzle.
  3. Clearing the venturi doesn’t require any specialist equipment. Simply use warm water (drinking water is fine, but distilled is better), and soap. You might also need a small brush or a thin item like a toothpick to break off any caked-on dirt. Be careful not to clean with anything that will scratch or misshape the components. If any components are broken, don’t just clean them – you will have to replace them.
  4. While you’re there, you may also want to clean the flow plugs and gasket in your water softener.
  5. After cleaning the components and removing any blockages, replace the parts in the right order and use grease to lubricate the O-ring. Hand-tighten the cap, being careful not to apply too much force or over-tighten.

Revise Type & Quantity of Salt Used

Remember, your salt level needs to be a bit higher than your water level, but it should be at least 6 inches beneath the brine lid.

If salt isn’t properly moving through your water softener, you may end up using hard water in your home. The resin bed relies on sodium to carry out ion exchange.

When the resin bed is empty of salt, it can’t swap sodium mineral ions for calcium and magnesium. This means it’s essentially useless, and won’t improve your water quality in any way.

If you’ve used this guide to scan for problems in your water softener, but you can’t determine the cause, try draining and regenerating your unit to clean it out.

If that doesn’t solve it, you may need to make a service call. A plumbing expert can check for issues with your unit’s drain hose, control valve, float, timer, brine valve, and anything else that may be affecting the quality of performance. They can quickly fix the unit and get it operating properly again.

  • 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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