How to Maintain a Water Softener

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Wondering how to maintain a water softener? You’ve come to the right place.

A water softener can be a crucial piece of equipment in your home. Not only does it improve the quality of your water, but it also provides you with the tools that you need to preserve the plumbing equipment around your property. One thing that can be easy to forget when you’re investing in a water softening system, is the fact that like any other piece of equipment, these devices need regular maintenance and care if they’re going to continue performing at their best.

There’s more to water softener maintenance than simply topping it up with fresh salt from time to time. Although these machines are generally low maintenance, there are various steps to take to ensure your machine lasts as long as possible.

Maintaining the Salt Tank

The first step in any guide for good softener maintenance is maintaining the salt or brine tank. You’ll need to make sure that you’re checking the salt levels in your salt tank at least once a month. Rock salt is an essential part of the water softening process, as it helps to regenerate the resin tank beads that are responsible for drawing chemicals and other substances out of your water.

The manual that you got with your machine should give you an insight into the ideal salt level that you need to maintain soft water quality. Usually, the tank has to be at least half-full with salt at all times, and around three inches higher than water level. Higher salt levels can improve efficiency, but you should reduce this if you find that old salt is often clinging to the sides.

You should also check your manual to make sure that you are using the kind of salt your manufacturer recommends for your machine. Solar salt is often a lot purer than rock salt while evaporated salt is by far the best choice for your water softener in terms of quality. However, choosing something other than rock salt or coarse salt could mean that you have to spend more money on your tank. Saying that, because coarse salt has a lot more impurities, you will need to replenish your tank more regularly.

When you’re maintaining your salt canister, make sure that you spend some time breaking up the salt bridge that can occur within the tank. These bridges happen when layers form in your brine tank, preventing loose salt from mixing with the water below. The softener cannot work at its best in these cases. Pushing a broom handle into the center of the tank – right to the bottom – will help to break any sold layers that have formed. If you have trouble with your handle, then you can pour hot water over the salt to make it easier to break.

If problems with bridging keep happening for you, then you might need to use less salt overall, and keep the salt below water level. Furthermore, salt can sometimes form a mushy pile at the very base of the tank that causes water to rise around instead of mixing together. Remember to allow the mush some time to dissolve too. You can once again use your broom handle to break this up if it forms a large mound.

Fully Cleaning the Softener Tank

Learning how to service a water softener is a crucial part of protecting your investment. Below are steps for cleaning your water softener tank to keep it in tip-top working condition.

  1. Schedule regular cleaning sessions to deal with the issues that can occur in your brine tank. The frequency with which you need to clean your system will depend on how modern your softener is. Some water softeners can go without cleaning for up to ten years and still have no problems. Other older models, particularly electric ones, can benefit from annual cleaning. A full tank clean-out can be a great way to take your maintenance to the next level.
  2. Use your bypass valve to stop the water intake in your softener. Siphon the water out of the tank and remove any salt that has been left behind. Keep the waste out of your garden if you can, because your salt could kill the plants that you’ve been trying to grow. You may also need to dissolve any salt bridge issues or blocks by hand or with hot water.
  3. Remove the brine grid from your tank’s base if it has one. Only some models will have a mesh platform at the bottom of the tank. If yours does, then you will need to set that aside before you continue cleaning.
  4. Once your tank is ready, mix a generous amount dish soap into some hot water, and pour it into the tank. You can scrub the entire interior with a long-handled brush to get rid of any salt and other substances that might be clinging to the sides.
  5. Rinse the tank thoroughly after scrubbing with plain water to remove all remaining soap.
  6. You can also clean the tank with bleach. Stir around a quarter of a cup of bleach with 3 gallons of water and put it into the tank. Let the mixture sit for fifteen minutes to fully sanitize the tank, then get rid of the water.
  7. Rinse again making sure that you get rid of all the bleach in the water softener. You will need to rinse several times just in case.
  8. Replenish your brine tank with water and water softener salt as normal and wait for at least a few hours before you regenerate the tank. This will give the salt some time to dissolve.

Additional Upkeep for Your Water Softener

Aside from fully cleaning your water softener and salt tank, you’ll also need to consider other forms of additional upkeep.

For instance, when learning how to maintain a water softener, it’s a good idea to regularly exercise the valves in your machine. About once per month, adjust the bypass valve in your system to cut the softener off from your water supply. This valve is basically just a rod that you can push in to block the flow of water. Twist the outtake valve and the intake valve to the off position, and then turn them back to their original position.

This should help to keep your valves in good condition. However, if your valve leaks or drips, disassemble it and replace any damaged washers or seals. This should help your brine tank stay in better condition for a little longer.

Once you’ve repaired or replaced any components of your water softener that’s been damaged from overexposure to hard water, you can flush through the brine tank with a softener cleaner. There are specialist softener cleaning solutions available in the market that are great for this purpose. You may need to manually start a regeneration process to ensure that the cleaner enters the resin tank too.

Remember that water softeners can also suffer from damage outside of the brine tank in addition to common salt bridge issues. You’ll also need to clean the valve between the brine tank and the resin system. The nozzle and valves between both tanks create the suction that pulls in water for regenerating your system. You can disassemble and clean these components twice a year to avoid any clogging or similar problems.

Remember to follow the instructions when removing softener salt and other debris from your machine. Failure to follow instructions like relieving the water pressure before disassembling the valve could lead to injury.

Do Water Softeners Need Maintenance?

When you consider all of the complexities of average water softeners, it’s easy to see why most people put off cleaning their systems. The good news is that if you’re using a water softener to help with your hard water problem, modern water softener systems for hard water are largely automatic. If they’re properly installed and sized properly according to your needs, they’re likely to operate for years with very little work needed.

However, there are still steps that you need to take to keep your water softener in peak condition. Simple things like breaking up the salt bridge residue caused by your hard water or checking the salt level can make a huge difference.

The most important kind of maintenance for most water softeners simply involves adding the right kind of salt and cleaning solutions to the systems as needed. You can usually perform this activity on a quarterly basis with very little issue. On top of that, there will be instances when your salt system might end up causing additional problems with your machine, requiring additional maintenance.

A decrease in your soft water quality could be a sign that your machine isn’t consuming water softener salt as it should be, causing hard water levels to rise. If you’re experiencing maintenance issues, the following are some of the basic troubleshooting steps to take:

  • Checking that there are no kinks in any hoses
  • Ensuring that you set the regeneration timer to maintain your soft water
  • Ensuring that the bypass valve is open so that there are no salt bridge issues
  • Checking to make sure that you’re using the right water softener salt
  • Ensuring that the circuit in your computer display is working properly
  • Maintaining the right salt strategy and using the right number of regenerations

How Much Does It Cost to Service a Water Softener?

If you’ve tried the strategies above to break up salt bridge issues and eliminate additional problems caused by hard water in your water softener, then your last option may be to seek professional help. Experts can help you to understand what’s causing the issues. The cost of having a water softener maintained by a professional can vary depending on the kind of assistance that you need, however.

Obviously, the cheapest form of water softener maintenance is just adding regular salt to your system yourself to help counteract the hard water that’s flowing through your pipes. You can also use some of the steps above to address the damage that the hard water might do to your water softener. The amount of salt that you need to purchase and add to your tank each month will depend on a number of factors, including the size of your household.

If you need a specialist to look at your system, then that’s a whole different level of water softener maintenance. Professionals will usually charge by the hour. However, there’s a chance that some of the softeners that you buy on the market today will come with free service to address specific issues, like bridges in your brine tank.

Maintaining Your Machinery

Hopefully, this guide will have helped you to understand how to maintain a water softener, and how to service it regularly.

Used correctly, water softeners can be a valuable piece of equipment, capable of reducing the negative impact of hard liquid in your tanks. If your hard water levels have been making it increasingly difficult for you to protect your appliances and pipes, then a softener could be exactly what you need.

Of course, just like any other kind of machinery, your system for softening hard water will always work best when it has the right maintenance. Commit to a regular strategy of maintenance and repair, and your device will serve you well for years to come.

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