Why is My Water Softener Using Too Much Salt?

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The biggest water softener maintenance task is topping up your salt. You can expect to spend between $100 and $300 per year on salt for your softener – but what if you’re spending a lot more than this?

If your water softener seems to get through far more salt than the average system, you might be wondering whether it’s using too much salt.

But how much salt is technically normal?

What affects your water softener’s salt usage?

And is it possible to reduce your yearly salt spend?

I’ve answered these questions and more in this guide.

🧂 What Affects Water Softener Salt Usage?

There are several factors that may affect how much salt your water softener uses. These include:

Water Chemistry

Your water hardness is an indication of the quantity of calcium and magnesium present. The more calcium and magnesium ions present, the more sodium will be needed for ion exchange in the resin tank.

It makes sense that if your hardness levels are particularly high, your system will use a greater amount of salt per gallon compared to a home with moderately hard water. Considering hardness is exactly what you purchased your softener to tackle, there’s nothing you can do to reduce your water hardness in advance of it entering the tank.

Your water’s TDS levels may also have an impact on your water softener salt usage. TDS (or total dissolved solids) is a broad indication of how saturated your water is with inorganic and organic materials. A higher TDS indicates that you most likely have iron, copper, sulfates, or manganese in your water.

These minerals will also be removed from your water during ion exchange, and will take up space in the resin bed. So, even if your water hardness is relatively low, your system will still require a substantial amount of salt because of the additional mineral presence.

water hardness scale

Water Usage

The amount of water you use depends on several factors, such as your family size and how many hours per day you spend at home. If you’re using more water, there will naturally be more water flowing through your ion exchange water softener, prompting the softener to regenerate more frequently.

You might be able to cut down on the amount of water your household uses by simply being aware of water waste. Washing larger batches of laundry less frequently, taking shorter showers and fixing any leaks can all help you to reduce your water intake and limit the amount of salt used in your water softener.

average residential water usage
source: aquasana.com

Resin Capacity

Your water softener’s resin capacity is another important factor that should be considered before you buy the system. The more sodium the resin can hold onto, the longer the system will be able to operate before requiring the softener to regenerate.

However, water softeners are complex systems, and using a lower amount of salt per regeneration and regenerating more frequently is actually said to be the best option if you’re looking to reduce your spend on this method of water treatment.

Improperly Sized System

Water softeners come in a variety of sizes, and you may think that when it comes to effective soft water production, the bigger, the better. But this isn’t true if you’re trying to reduce your salt level.

A water softener should regenerate every 2 days to keep the resin bed active. But if you’re using less water in your house than your softener accommodates for, you could end up wasting salt in the resin, which may have a capacity that’s too large for your daily water consumption.

water softener uses too much salt

Increased Water Usage

Perhaps you’re confident that you use a certain amount of water in your home every day… but for some reason, it looks like you’re now using more. This may be because you have a leak near the softening unit, or in your home’s pipes, toilets or faucets.

Even small leaks can waste up to a gallon of water every day. You might put off fixing your leaks, but leaving a leak as it is will waste money and increase your water softener salt usage.

If, for example, your leak wastes 1 gallon of water every day, your water softener will soften an entire gallon of water for no reason whatsoever. Getting rid of this leak will ensure you’re only using your water softener for purposes you can benefit from.

Related: How to diagnose a leaking water softener

Control Head Was Reset

If you’ve recently had a power outage in your home and your water softener’s backup battery failed, the control head may have reset.

Most likely, when you first installed your water softener, you inputted details like your water’s hardness (in GPG or grains per gallon) and your average daily or weekly water usage. This would have set the softener up to only perform a regeneration cycle when required.

If these settings have now been forgotten, your softener may not be operating as efficiently. It may regenerate when the resin bed contains usable sodium, which would result in salt waste.

It’s usually fairly easy to change the settings on your softener head. Consult your user manual if you’re not sure.

water softener control head timer

Improper Programming of Control Head

Following on from the above point, you may have programmed your softener head improperly when you installed the system. It’s important that you’re as accurate as possible with your water usage and your hardness measurements to prevent the softener using too much salt.

As an example, let’s say you inputted your water’s hardness as 8 GPG (grains per gallon), when it was actually 6 GPG. Your water softener would assume that it would need to regenerate at a fast enough rate to replenish the salt levels for 8 GPG of hardness. But if your water wasn’t that hard, the softener would perform a regeneration cycle before all the salt in the resin tank had even been used.

If you don’t currently know your daily water use or hardness level, I recommend buying two things: a smart meter and a hardness test kit. This takes the guesswork out of your water treatment, and you should be able to use a lower amount of salt in your softener as a result.

Clogged Injector/Venturi

The injector and venturi suck brine out of a softener’s brine tank and send it into the resin tank during regeneration.

Over time, the venturi and injector can become blocked with salt, dirt and sediment. When this happens, the brine won’t get sucked out of the tank, and the unit could end up getting stuck in a regeneration cycle.

This could greatly deplete your salt level, as your softening system might end up wasting gallons of brine for no reason.

Buying a high-quality, high-purity salt can prevent dirt and sediment from getting into the brine tank, but it’s wise to check the injector and venturi for blockages from time to time regardless.

Control Valve Failure

Your softener’s valve controls your system’s regeneration based on the flow of water. The valve is linked to a timer, which is programmed according to the details recorded by your system.

If this valve fails, it may inaccurately measure how much water has flowed through the unit. As a result, your water softener’s settings might be off, and the resin tank may be replenished when it still contained plenty of salt to produce soft water.

❔ Frequently Asked Questions

How can I reduce my yearly salt spend?

There are plenty of tips in this guide that should help you to improve the efficiency of your water softener and cut down on your salt spend. You may also find that bulk-buying batches of salt can save you money. Manufacturers will often offer discounts on bigger up-front spends, so you’d pay less per bag for 3 bags of salt than you would for 1 bag, for instance.

Unfortunately, water softeners simply can’t operate without salt, so while you might be able to reduce your salt usage, you’ll always need to put aside some money for this maintenance task.

  • Michael Claybourn
    Water Treatment Specialist

    With 25+ years in water treatment, Michael Claybourn Sr. (WT Specialist 3) leads his company, Water of Texas LLC, in solving industrial, commercial, and residential water challenges. From filtration to ozone, he tackles any task, from initial consultation to equipment maintenance. His passion, honed in nuclear power and Culligan of Brazosport, fuels his commitment to delivering pure, healthy water for every client.

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