Knowing if your water softener is working is a crucial part of maintenance and is not always talked about when you purchase it or is explained poorly.

How to Tell If Your Water Softener Is Working

If you know more about what can go wrong with your water softener along with how it works, you have a better chance of fixing problems right away when they happen.

How Does A Water Softener Work?

Depending on what type of water softener you have the function may be a little different than what I describe here. But they all do the main function of keeping scaling in pipes from happening and helping to reduce the number of minerals inside the water.

Only one type of water softener works to completely remove minerals that make water hard though instead of filtering them out or changing their charges, so they do not build up in your pipes at all. This is an Ion Exchange Water Softener and they work like this…

Softening Stage

  • Hard Or Well Water Enters The Softener
  • The Ion Exchange Process Starts
  • Soft Water Is Made And Sent To The Destination

During the softening stage, water from the source (well water or city water that contains calcium and magnesium) enters the softener unit. Once in the tank, the ion exchange process starts where the softener resin starts to exchange sodium ions in place of the hardness minerals. Once complete the water will be soft and then will exit the softener without the hard water minerals.

Look at this water softener flow diagram:

water softening process flow diagram
Water Softening Process Flow Diagram Image Credit:

Ion-exchange water softeners are the only ones that mark all the boxes to truly make soft water soft and remove minerals completely from the water.

The minerals swap the chemical bonds between the salt and the resin beads, and the salt is released from bonds while minerals are trapped, creating soft water that is better for skin and hair equilibrium overall compared to hard water.

How to Tell If Your Water Softener Is Working

How to Tell If Your Water Softener Is Working?

To know you have a water softener working properly, you can do a couple of different things.
Check it when it will regenerate: If your water softener is not regenerating or using salt and you are not needing to fill up the salt when you used to, you may have an issue with your water softener will need to check.

How Much Does It Cost to Install a Water Softener? (Complete Guide)

Check for Hard Water Signs:

  • Has your water gone back to leaving water spots on dishes and in the bathrooms?
  • Has your laundry gone back to being a little stiffer?
  • Have you been noticing dry skin after showering again?
  • Have faucets started to have mineral deposits again?

Running a Soap Test: Checking for suds from soap is something you could do at home very easily without the need to go to the store for a hard water testing kit and be a guide for if your water softener is working desired just as easily.

  1. Fill a water bottle to almost full of tap water from your faucet
  2. Add 10 drops of liquid soap
  3. Shake the bottle

Check for suds. If suds do not appear when you have a water softener with around 10 drops of liquid soap, you may need to get a test kit to see how hard your water is.

What Are the Signs a Softener Is Not Working Properly?

 Signs a Softener Is Not Working Properly

There are a couple of different signs to note when a water softener is not working properly.

Sticky hands: Hands feel sticky after washing them, or a little dry.
Seeing Signs of hard water: Signs of hard water returning are almost always a sign of something wrong with the water softener.
Water Tastes Salty: The water begins to taste saltier than normal, it may be regenerating too often.
Brine Tank of Out of Salt: If your brine tank is out of salt, it has no way to regenerate and continue to produce soft water.
Water Softener is not working at all: This is when you call in a professional to take a look to service it if you have ruled out all the minor issues it may be pieces that have worn out for your softener that need to be replaced.

What Factors Affect Water Softener Performance?

You will have a couple of different factors that can affect water softener performance.

Excessive Salt Buildup

When the proper maintenance is not done often enough, salt buildups that affect softener performance can occur.

Resin Bead Quality

Over time these will eventually wear out and stop working how they originally functioned even with proper care. When these wear out they cannot be repaired and will make the water softener eventually not be able to function even if everything else is working perfectly.


All motors eventually stop working due to having a certain range for life due to it being mechanical. This is a piece that will need to be replaced when it decides to stop working altogether.


If the filter is clogged that keeps hard minerals out of your water softener, then your water softener will need to be cleaned more frequently and lose efficiency more often.

Salt Bridges

Salt is what makes them work, but also what can make them no longer work. Salt bridges cause water flow issues, and all is needed is to break them up to allow water to flow through again normally.

Recommended Reading: Best Water Softener Salt for Sensitive Skin In 2021

Frequently Asked Questions And Answers


Is My Softener Working If It is Full of Water?

It may work for a little bit, but after too much time, it will fail to work and start having issues to where it will no longer be making soft water due to not being able to drain properly.

How to Tell if Whirlpool Water Softener is Working?

You can tell if your whirlpool water softener is working by checking to see how much salt is in its week to week and if it is going down at all or not. If it is then it is regenerating.

Another thing you can do is a manual regeneration to see if it runs and is working properly.

The last easy thing to make sure that your water softener is working is to do a soap test to make sure that you have soft water.

Can You Put Too Much Salt in a Water Softener?

Yes, you can put too much salt in a water softener. You need to leave at least 4-6 inches unfilled for salt in the brine tank, if not more, depending on what the manual says for the water softener that you buy. I also have a guide on how to remove excess salt if you need that advice.

Why is My Water Softener Brine Tank Dirty?

By creating soft water, you are taking out impurities from the water and filtering them out, along with getting minerals out with the ion exchange. This means that you can catch dirt or grime in the tank as well.

You may also have a full filter that needs to be changed to do its job again and keep the bigger particles and impurities out of the water.

Final Thoughts

Many things can go wrong with a water softener, and knowing more about what can go wrong and checking to make sure that it is working properly before having to call on someone else to come service it can help save you a lot of money.

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