Troubleshooting Water Softener Issues
Home system repairs can sneak up on you without warning; anything with a motor has the potential to breakdown eventually. Most of our major home appliances don’t require constant supervision, so we often forget what it’s like to live without them. Water softening systems are reliable, hard-working machines that do a big job for homeowners. Whole home filtration treatment is hard to live without, if it means living with hard water instead.
A well-maintained softening system will last for many years, keeping your home’s water free from hard mineral troubles. When water softeners quit producing softened water, most homeowners want to troubleshoot without delay to avoid hard water annoyances. Stains in toilets and tubs, scaling on appliances, and mineral build-up in plumbing systems are just a few of the problems that families face without proper treatment of hard water. Here are some of the most common water softener issues and what you can do to fix them.
When your water softener isn’t functioning as it should, one of the first things to look for are blockages. Typically, it’s the result of an accumulation of salt and mineral build-up. These deposits can block the path to the tank, leaving little room for water to pass through. Brine lines and filter screens are two commonplace areas for water softener blockages to occur. The first sign of a blockage is a considerable difference in the softness of your water. Fortunately, most homeowners can investigate and clean blockages without the need for a costly service call. Guidelines and troubleshooting help can be found in your specific unit’s user manual.
In addition to causing blockages inside your brine line or filter, salt can also form a hard crust in the brine tank. When your water softener is operational, but is no longer softening water or using salt, it mostly likely means a salt bridge is preventing the system from going through a regeneration cycle. A salt bridge is a hard layer of salt that forms a surface crust over the water in the brine tank. Below the crust is open space between salt and water.
When water enters the bottom of the tank, it is unable to reach the salt, and therefore will not dissolve the salt to make brine. Without brine, a softener can’t produce soft water. Salt bridges are easy to remove by simply breaking up the hard salt crust with a broom handle until it has been cleared, including any remaining salt along the edges of the tank.
If your softening system isn’t drawing water from the brine tank, it could be that the line is unable to create suction. This can be caused by a clogged injector. A water softener brine injector is a component of the control valve that regulates the flow of brine. Sediment caused by dirty salt can plug your injector. Using at least 99.5% pure salt in pellet granular or block form will cut down on sediment build-up in your brine tank and injector screen.
When sediment caused by dirty salt plugs up your injector, the brine won’t get pulled through the resin and you’ll still have hard water. Sometimes a clogged injector will cause your brine tank to overfill because it continues to add to the brine tank, but is unable to draw from it. If your tank begins to overflow, it’s a sign of a blockage and you’ll need to check for clogging. In most cases, cleaning the injector screen will restore the softener to normal operation.
Always make sure that your system is on bypass before beginning any cleaning. You’ll need needle nose pliers to gently pull apart the small components before cleaning with a small brush or wire. Once the injector parts are free of debris, put everything back together and into the control valve. Then you can manually regenerate the softener to make sure suction is once again being created.
Damaged Resin Bed
Resin serves an important function in the ion exchange process, replacing hardness minerals with soft ones. Resin beads are used in all salt-based water softening systems and often last as long as the lifetime of your water softener. Diagnosing a resin bed problem is simple—if your softener still uses salt at its normal rate yet you don’t have soft water, or your system is requires too frequent of regeneration yet you are still running out of softened water quickly, your resin bed may be fouled. When resin becomes saturated with iron deposits or damaged by excessive chlorine, it can no longer be regenerated by the brine.
Try cleaning your resin bed using iron removal chemicals designed for water softeners. Always consult your user manual for the specification of your system. If a resin bed cleaning solution doesn’t do the trick, your resin bed may be damaged and in need of replacement. When resin fails, you may notice particles floating in your softened water, and your resin will need to be replaced. This type of maintenance can be done by savvy DIYers, but it’s not something that every homeowner wants to tackle on their own.
Repair or Replace?
If your water treatment equipment is over a decade old, the best solution to get your soft water flowing again may simply be to replace your old water softening system with a new one. But before jumping to any conclusions, check for the simplest causes of malfunction first. Is your system plugged in, is it installed properly, are your settings programmed correctly, does the brine tank have enough salt?
Water softeners may seem complicated, but understanding the inner workings of your unit will help keep your system running efficiently and extend its lifespan. If your water isn’t soft anymore, you can often use this knowledge to troubleshoot softener issues yourself—or at least know when it’s time to call a water treatment expert.