9 Essential Water Softener Maintenance Tips

Matt Marandola
Written by Matt Marandola
Updated November 22, 2021
Woman pouring water into a cup
Photo: Daniel Krasoń / Adobe Stock

It's not hard to keep your water soft

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While technically the “hard” version of water is ice, a water softener doesn’t actually make your water “soft” and into water. Instead, it focuses on removing specific minerals, such as magnesium and calcium, which provide benefits for your home and your skin

Water softener maintenance is extremely important to keep your water fresh. Here are nine tips to make sure your water softener is always up and running.

1. Know How to Clean the Tank

Water softeners don’t typically need to be cleaned yearly, despite their constant usage. However, you should clean them every five to 10 years

If your water softener is older than 15 years, you will likely need to clean it every year or so. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t use any water throughout the home when cleaning your water softener unless absolutely necessary.

How to Clean a Water Softener

Cleaning a water softener doesn’t take long, but it can be tedious because the tank is typically full of water, making it heavy. You’ll want at least two people to ensure nothing goes wrong.

Here’s a quick rundown on cleaning your water softener:

  1. Dump out the existing water and salt.

  2. Remove the brine grid or mesh platform from the base of the tank.

  3. Scrub with dish soap—temperature doesn’t matter.

  4. Rinse out the soap.

  5. Fill the tank ¾ full with water and ¼ cup of bleach. Salt kills most organisms, so this isn’t a necessary step, but you can use it if you notice rust or bugs in the tank.

  6. Dump the tank again and rinse it out.

  7. Refill the tank with water and salt—wait two to three hours before doing a regenerating cycle.

2. Break Up Piles at the Base of the Tank

Whenever you’re pouring in salt, ensure there are no salt piles built up at the base of the tank. These large clumps usually won’t dissolve on their own, but they don’t need to be removed. If your tank is too deep to reach the pile, use a broomstick to break it up.

If there are any stubborn pieces that refuse to break from the handle or your hand, scoop up the salt and place it in a bucket of hot water. This step should do the trick and you can add it back in. Be sure to account for the salt if you’re adding in more.

3. Use the Appropriate Type of Salt

Speaking of salt, you should always make sure you’re using the right type of salt in the brine tank. 

There are three main types of salt that a water softener might use:

  • Rock salt

  • Solar salt

  • Evaporated salt

Check the manufacturer’s guide to make sure you’re always using the right type of salt. Often, a water softener can support multiple different types, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

4. Check Your Salt Levels

shower head running water
Photo: Colin / Adobe Stock

Salt is the necessary mineral needed for the resin beads within a water softener to perform their job. The resin beads are responsible for the regeneration process of removing the magnesium and calcium and replacing it with sodium and potassium.

Check the salt levels at least once a month. In the summer months, if you have a pool, sprinklers, or shower more, you might need to up the amount of salt.

The water softener manual should note how much salt to add and there’s also a good chance that it’s marked within the tank itself. But that depends on the model. If there’s no manual or mark, a general rule of thumb is to fill the brine tank to around half-full with salt.

5. Look Out for Salt Bridges

Rather than salt filling at the base, salt bridges can occur at any place in the tank. These bridges occur when salt has clumped together in a section and will no longer mix with the water below. If you notice your salt levels never going down, this is a sign of a salt bridge.

To break up salt bridges, pour hot water into the tank over the salt. This will loosen it up, making your life easier. From there, simply take a broom handle and push the salt down into the water.

6. Exercise the Valves

While doing your monthly inspection of the salt levels, give the valves a twist and turn to ensure they’re working well. You don’t want to find your shut-off valve doesn’t work when you go to clean the tank.

7. Keep the Machine Sparkling Clean

Most of the work happens in the tank, but water softener maintenance also means giving the outside some love as well. Give it a good shine and look out for any signs of rust or even pest damage.

8. Use a Water Softener Cleaner

Once a quarter, or even bi-annually, consider using a water softener cleaner. You’ll need to run a regeneration process while using this cleaner though, so make sure you have adequate salt levels in the tank. The point of this specific cleaner is to keep the resin beads running efficiently.

9. Address Problems ASAP

Notice a dent, or do your salt levels never seem adequate enough? Don’t waste any more time and hire a water softener repair company in your area. The longer your system runs while there are problems, the more likely there is for permanent to occur, causing your water softener to fail.

Common water softener problems to look out for include:

  • Issues with the timer

  • Issues with salt usage

  • Depletion of resin beads

  • Power issues

What If You Have a Salt-Free Water Softener?

While salt-free water softeners have their advantages, they aren’t true water softeners and are considered water conditioners. Salt-free water softeners won’t require as much water softener maintenance, but you’ll still need to schedule regular cleanings to ensure nothing becomes corroded.

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