Hard water is known for its remarkable ability to damage, rust, corrode, and make everyday home life a nightmare. While calcium and magnesium minerals that cause hard water typically aren’t harmful to ingest, they spell major trouble for appliances and plumbing systems.
Hard water problems don’t end with stiff laundry and soap scum. Frequent appliance repair and replacement due to high levels of calcium and magnesium minerals can put a serious dent in your wallet, too. Untreated water reduces the efficiency of heating elements in water heaters, shortens the lifespan of appliances, and causes mineral build-up in pipes. The corrosion and rust caused by hard water can devastate a home plumbing system as well.
No one wants to live with hard water; it’s easy to panic when your softening system goes on the fritz. But before rushing off to replace your entire system, make sure that your water softener isn’t just in need of a little TLC. Blockages, salt bridges, and setting adjustments are some of the most common water softener problems that can be diagnosed and repaired, often without the help of a technician.
Diagnosing Common Water Softener Problems
Water softeners may seem complicated, but many times there’s an obvious fix. Before starting any repairs, make sure to put your water softening system on bypass. This allows the water coming into your home to bypass the softener while resolving any issues. Keep in mind that bypass mode will not shut off your home’s water supply— it shuts off your water’s access to the softener.
You’re ready to diagnose the problem and you’ve got your toolbox at the ready. But don’t start taking apart that softener before you check your settings, especially after a prolonged power outage. How often a water softener recharges, or regenerates, is regulated by the control valve. Some systems are time-initiated, meaning the system is programmed to regenerate after a certain number of days, during a time with low water usage.
Other softeners regenerate on-demand, where the valve keeps track of water usage and triggers regeneration when needed. If your system has lost power, its settings may need to be readjusted for proper regeneration. Water softeners set for optimal regeneration increases the life of the system while reducing salt and water usage.
Each regeneration cycle in a water softener consumes salt. The level of salt should be 3-4 inches above the water in the brine tank. Forgetting to add salt, or the appropriate amount of salt, can result in the failure of your system to produce softened water.
In the same manner that calcium and magnesium can create deposits in your plumbing system, salt and minerals in the brine tank of a softener can accumulate and obstruct the water flowing through the tank. The type of salt you use in your softener will affect the efficiency of your system. Using a high purity level salt will reduce sediment build-up and frequency of tank cleaning.
If your water softener is not using salt, and the softener is running but not producing softened water, a salt bridge may be the culprit. Sometimes a hard crust, or “bridge” forms in the brine tank. This is a fused layer of salt that prevents new salt from mixing with the water below. In the case of a salt bridge, scoop out any loose salt, break up the salt bridge with a broom handle, and refill the brine tank with new salt.
When To Call A Professional
Having a water softener in your home keeps appliances running efficiently and eliminates stains and clogged fixtures. Routine cleaning extends the life of your unit and knowing how to repair a water softener can save you a bundle in service calls.
When the solution is not a simple or quick fix, and you’ve experienced changes in water quality, your best option is to let a water treatment professional get your hard water under control. An expert will test your water and service your equipment. If parts or repairs are needed, don’t forget to have your manufacturer’s warranty handy.
Some water softening equipment is easier to operate than others, particularly for an inexperienced user. Learning to troubleshoot problems and perform your own home repairs can be satisfying. But like any other equipment, softening systems can malfunction, and you should never be afraid to call for reinforcement.
Ben Franklin may have been referring to our health when he said that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," but this sentiment holds true for our homes as well. The better maintained your home appliances are, the longer they will last. Part of keeping a home in tip-top shape is a well-cared for water softening system. When DIY repairs are too hard to handle, professional help lends the assurance that the job was done right.