6 Common Water Softener Problems (and How to Fix Them)

Amy Pawlukiewicz
Written by Amy Pawlukiewicz
Updated August 12, 2021
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When your water softener seems to be malfunctioning, there are a few steps you can take to zero in on the issue

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Water softener problems can make you salty (literally!), leaving spots on your glasses and residue in your shower. These are signs that there’s something wrong with your water softener that’s allowing that pesky hard water into your pipes. Repairs and replacements can be costly, but there are a few things you can do on your own to troubleshoot and possibly resolve the problem.

Here’s a look at common water softener problems, and what you can do to fix them.

1. Salt Tank Problems

Salt problems can throw a huge wrench into your water softener’s operations. A salt bridge and the salt level are the most common problems that need addressing.

Salt Bridge

Maintaining a proper level of salt is essential for the functioning of your water softener. Sometimes, especially if you use extra coarse salt crystals, the salt can build up and form what’s called a salt bridge. A salt bridge forms when salt fuses together and forms a crust at the top of the salt tank. 

There’s an easy DIY fix to removing the salt bridge:

  • Use a rubber mallet to tap along the sides of the brine tank, working your way from the bottom up

  • If you start to hear a hollow sound, hit the tank more forcefully and the bridge should collapse

  • Refill your salt tank, and in two to three days, you should have soft water again

Salt Level

Water softeners are finicky, and if you don’t maintain the proper salt levels, they can malfunction. The salt level in your softener should be 2 to 3 inches above the water level. 

You also need to ensure that you’re using the proper type of salt for your unit. If you suspect the salt level is the problem, this is a simple fix you can do yourself by adjusting the amount of salt in the tank.

2. Timer Problems

Most water softeners are electric and run on a timer that regulates their regeneration schedules. The time on your water softener should always read the current time of day, not the regeneration time.

If you’ve had a recent power outage in your home, it’s very possible that the clock on your water softener was affected. When the timer on your water softener is incorrect, the device might cycle while you’re using water (which it’s not supposed to do). While the softener is cycling, water doesn’t pass through it, so it allows hard water into your pipes. 

There’s an easy fix to this water softener problem: Simply reset the timer on your water softener. If you’re not sure where the timer is located on your device, you can refer to the manual for instructions.

Regeneration Schedule Problems

The regeneration program on your water softener should be set to run during the middle of the night or at another time when no one is going to be running water. Since hard water will get through if you’re running water while the softener is regenerating, the timer settings are crucial. Check to make sure that your cycles are running at the appropriate times.

3. Power Problems

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Your water softener keeps track of the time of day, and this lets the softener know when it’s time to regenerate. If you lose power, blow a fuse, or the water softener gets unplugged, the softener doesn’t know when to regenerate and will not do so on its own.

Check your fuse box to be sure everything is in working order. If you haven’t blown a fuse, the softener is plugged in, and the rest of your home has power, there may be an issue with the specific outlet. 

There are electrical outlet testers you can purchase for between $6 and $20 that you can use to test whether or not an outlet is functioning properly. An even easier test is to simply plug something else into that outlet, such as a lamp, to see if that turns on.

4. Resin Bed Problems

Your water softener is filled with thousands of resin beads that make up the resin bed. When hard water enters the softener, the hard minerals bind to the resin beads and are removed from the water that ultimately enters your faucets.

Over time, the resin bed in your water softener can get depleted, which leaves fewer beads to catch the hard particles entering the tank. The regeneration process is designed to replenish the resin bed, but after several years of use, the bed will eventually wear out. 

Unfortunately, the only fix for a resin bed depletion is a new water softener.

5. Bypass Valve Problems

Bypass valve problems aren’t limited to hearts: There’s a function on your water softener that’s often referred to as bypass mode. Water softeners have a bypass valve, usually located on the top of the tank. If your water softener is in bypass mode, water will not flow through the media tank of the softener, so it will not be softened. 

Some water softeners have the option to turn the bypass valve off. Consult your manual to locate your bypass valve and make sure it’s functioning correctly.

6. Softener Problems

If you’ve gone through all of the fixes listed above and still haven’t found the problem, your water softener itself may be the problem. Your water softener repair manual should have some troubleshooting tips that you can perform yourself, but if you still can’t find the problem, you may want to call in a water treatment professional.

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