What is a Water Softener Salt Bridge? (+How to Fix It)

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If you’ve been checking your water softener salt level and you feel like it isn’t going down, you’re likely dealing with a salt bridge.

Salt bridges aren’t always obvious, because, viewed from above, they look like the top of the salt that you’ve added to the brine tank. Actually, though, there can be a big empty space between the salt bridge and the brine solution underneath, and because salt bridges stick to the walls of the brine tank, you end up none-the-wiser.

In this guide, we’re sharing all the facts you need to know about bridging: what it is, why a salt bridge occurs, how to fix and prevent a salt bridge, and more.

🚱 What Is a Water Softener Salt Bridge?

A water softener salt bridge occurs when a crusty, hard layer of salt forms in the top section of the brine tank, or salt tank.

The problem with a salt bridge is that it gives the appearance that your brine tank is full, while underneath the salt bridge, the brine tank is actually running low on salt, or empty.

Water softener salt bridge

📥 Why do Salt Bridges Occur?

Even with the best water softeners today, salt bridging can occur for several different reasons:

Poor-Quality Salt

Frequent salt bridges are commonly caused by poor-quality salt.

Salt is available in a variety of sizes, shapes, and purity levels, and low-purity salt isn’t fully soluble in water, making a salt crust more likely to form.

Related: Can pool salt be used in a water softener?

Overfilled Brine Tank

Aside from the type of salt you use, the amount of salt you add to your tank can affect the likelihood of bridging.

If you add salt too frequently, or you fill the brine tank too high, you’re likely to experience issues with salt crusting.

High Relative Humidity

If your water softener is stored in a location that has high relative humidity, it can increase the likelihood of salt bridging.

This is because humidity forms moisture in the brine tank, which causes the loose salt pellets to merge together, become sticky, and eventually solidify into a surface crust.

salt bridge in a water softener

📰 Signs and Symptoms of a Salt Bridge

Some of the most obvious signs of salt bridges in water softeners are:

  • The water softener isn’t working properly. It looks like there is enough salt in the tank, but the softener isn’t producing soft water.
  • The regeneration process isn’t working. Salt mushing and bridging can prevent the water softener from regenerating the resin bed properly, resulting in poor performance in the resin tank.
  • You can feel the surface crust. The most obvious sign of a salt bridge is that you can feel it when you press down on the salt in the tank. A salt bridge is a solidified block of salt, rather than loose pellets. The side of the bridge will be stuck to the side of the brine tank.

Related: Why is my water softener beeping?

⚙️ How to Fix a Salt Bridge in a Water Softener

If salt in your water softener is hard, or you can see salt chunks in your brine solution, you’re likely dealing with a bridging issue.

You need salt in the resin bed to remove hardness minerals and produce softened water. Salt mixes with water to form a brine solution, which is sent into the resin tank to regenerate the resin beads. Without salt, there’s no point in owning a softener at all. That’s why it’s important to fix a bridging issue as soon as you notice it.

Cleaning Salt Tank

How can you remove a salt bridge from a water softener? Follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Use the bypass valve to divert water away from the softener, or turn off the water supplying your home.
  2. Empty the brine tank. Using a garden hose, drain water from the brine tank to remove any evaporated salt that isn’t stuck to the walls.
  3. Open the lid of your brine tank. Use a plastic container to scoop loose salt out of the top of the tank. Next, using a putty knife or a broom handle, pry away any chunks of salt that are stuck to the walls of the brine tank.
  4. If there are any large chunks, break them up using a hammer or mallet. You can also use a wire brush – just be careful not to damage the brine tank on your water softener.
  5. Vacuum the inside of the salt tank to remove the lingering water. Make sure your vacuum is safe to use with water; otherwise, pour the water down your drain.
  6. Turn the water back on or divert water back towards the water softener. Program your softener to carry out a regeneration cycle.
  7. Add more salt. After you have removed all the salt chunks, add fresh salt pellets to the brine tank. Don’t fill the tank any more than 2/3 full.

📝How Can You Avoid Salt Bridges in a Water Softener?

To prevent salt bridges from forming in your water softener, here’s what to do:

Don’t Add Too Much Salt to the Tank.

Overfilling the brine tank is one of the most common causes of salt bridges. Make sure you don’t fill the tank more than 2/3 full.

Use High-Quality Salt

Salt that is low-quality can contribute to bridging in your brine tank. Use salt that’s specifically designed for water softeners.

The higher the purity of the salt – or the higher percentage of the salt is actually sodium – the better, because salt in its purest form results in less storage tank residue (or less material that isn’t actually sodium).

Related: How long does salt last in water softener?

Adding salt to ion exchange water softener

Avoid High Humidity

Make sure the location where your softening system is installed doesn’t have high humidity levels. Use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier to reduce humidity if necessary. This will prevent salt from clumping together.

  • 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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