Home appliances break every day, but a water softener repair bill could break the bank. And more often than not, you could fix the problem yourself and save some bucks.

Water Softener Problems

Indeed, most handymen can carry out water softener maintenance and basic troubleshooting themselves without calling in a plumber.

To make things easy, read our tips and advice and learn how to fix the most common water softener problems.

How to Repair a Water Softener

water softener troubleshooting

Water softeners look complex, but they are often easier to fix than you might think at first glance. There are two major steps to take – identifying the issue and stocking up on the required tools to fix the problems.

First Things First – Identify the Problem

Diagnosing your water softener problems may seem intimidating, but you can pinpoint the issue effortlessly following the steps below:

Identify water softener Problem

  • Check your water softener’s bypass valve: One of the most common issues water softeners have is going in “bypass.” This means the household water is not flowing through the softener. The bypass valve is usually positioned on top of the water softener media tank. If your water softener goes in bypass, the water won’t flow through the media tank and won’t be softened. Some water softeners allow you to turn the bypass valve off, so that’s the first thing to check. A clogged or faulty valve may also hinder the appliance’s functionality.

  • Check the power of the water softener: Most water softeners use electricity to run a timer that regulates the regeneration schedules. Make sure the conditioner’s voltage transformer is installed correctly, plugged in, and working.
  • Check your water softener’s salt tank: Maintaining an optimal level of salt is essential for the proper functioning of your water softener. The level should be about 2-3 inches above the water level. Another thing to check is the state of the salt. If you’re using the wrong type, it might form a bridge that prevents water from being appropriately treated. All these issues are elementary to fix.
  • Check your water softener’s resin bed: Over time, the resin bed in the tank can be depleted, reducing the appliance’s effectiveness of removing chemicals from water. Sure, the regeneration process revives the resin bed, but it will still wear out after several years. When this happens, it’s time for a new water softener.
  • Check the regeneration process: We mentioned above that most water softeners have a timer that allows you to schedule the regeneration sessions. Ensure the timer is set correctly and that the regeneration process is carried out during the night or when you’re not at home. If the system regenerates while you’re using the water, your water softener may not be able to provide sufficient soft water.

Tools Required to Fix Water Softener Problems

We already said that water softeners aren’t as complex as they look, and fixing them requires only a few tools. For most fixes, you will only need:

Tools Required to fix water softener issues
  • A 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • A bucket
  • A vacuum cleaner

Water Softener Problems, Causes, and Repair Procedures

ProblemCauseRepair Procedures
Air discharge at plumbing fixture level after a regeneration cycleClogged, stuck, or leaky air valveCheck and clean the air valve. Replace it if necessary
Inadequate or missing regeneration cycleNo electrical power. Defective timer. Altered timer settings due to power failure.Check that the water softener is plugged in and powered on. Replace defective timer. (Browse for new timers at Amazon) Reset the timer.
Stuck, delayed, or continuously on regeneration cycleBrine is not drawn from the tank. The control keeps cycling continuously. The drain won’t stop flowing.Unclog the brine tank, injector, or drain line flow. Adjust water pressure. Check/replace faulty circuit switch. Program the control head properly and unclog the control head.
Hard waterBypass mode is on. No salt in the brine tank. Clogged brine tank. Distributor or an internal valve leak. Control head program wheel, not rotating. Control head not measuring water flow or hardness. Low capacityClose bypass valve. Replenish salt. Unclog the brine tank and change the salt. Replace faulty valve. Replace control head/timer assembly. Replace control head. Make sure the softener meets your household capacity before buying.
Excessive salt usageImproper salt dose setting. Improper water level in the brine tank.Check and adjust salt dose setting. Check the brine tank and plumbing for clogs and remove them.
Water pressure lossScale or sediment build-up.Unclog and clean plumbing, brine tank, and control head.
Stains, odors, debrisBacteria or sediment build-up.Clean and disinfect plumbing and water softener system with a resin cleaner.

Common Water Softener Problems


1. Water Softener Problems Water In Salt Tank

Perhaps the primary concern water softener users are facing is a salt tank full of water. This usually happens due to a lack of overflow or clogging. However, the issue can be caused by multiple factors.

Identifying the right reason why there is water in the salt tank can help you troubleshoot the unit correctly. Here are the most common reasons why water could gather in the salt tank:

Water Softener Problems Water In Salt Tank

The water softener is too old: These systems have a life expectancy of around eight years, after which they start to degrade quickly. If your system is old or if you don’t know how old it is, inspect its components for wear and tear damage, such as cracks in the tank and o-ring damages.

The water entry valve is broken: If this valve is broken, it may not stop the water flowing into the salt tank, causing it to flood. Merely replace the lid to solve the issue.

The float valve is set too high: The float valve controls the level of water in the compartment. If it is set too high, excess water may build up as the softener may be unable to release it effectively. Set the float valve lower to fix the problem.

2. Water Softener Problems Salt Bridges

Water softeners are designed to prevent minerals from scaling on your pipes and fixtures, but funnily enough, they are subject to salt – which is still a mineral – scaling inside the tank and within the system’s lines.

Water-Softener-Problems-Salt-Bridges

Recommended Reading: How Much Salt Does A Water Softener Use? (Complete Guide)

This build-up can sometimes form salt bridges at the base of the tank that can prevent your system from softening the water.

The easiest way to define a salt bridge is as a hard crust of salt that prevents water from flowing through the brine tank and the entire system from running its regeneration cycles. Unidentified, a salt bridge can eventually break the system.

Once identified though, the salt bridges are easy to fix by simply breaking and removing the salt crust. Also, make sure to clean any salt build-up around the edges of the tank.

3. Water Softener Makes Water Brown

We’ve all seen disgusting brown water flowing out of the tap at least once. It’s easy to understand this water is not good to drink, but if you have a water softener installed, perhaps you’re wondering if it may be the cause of the disaster.

For your information, there is a remote chance to have brown water because of the softener. More often than not, brown water is caused either by worn-out plumbing or high amounts of dirt and sediment in the water feed.

Recommended Reading: Best Sediment Filter for Well Water in 2021.

brown water issue in water softener

However, the accumulation of bacteria in your softener may also be a cause of undrinkable brown water.

To exclude this possibility, sterilize your system with chlorine or hydrogen peroxide. Put two cups sterilizer into the brine tank, run two or three regeneration cycles, then flush your pumping. If the problem persists, call in a plumber to inspect your system for leaks or contact your water supplier to see if there are any faults reported.

4. Water Softener Doesn’t Use Salt

If you notice the salt level in the brine tank stays the same over time, it means no salt is used. This subsequently means that there is no ions exchange, thus no softening of the hard water. This makes for a pretty much useless system unless you identify and fix the problem.

Salt-Tank

The most common cause of a softener not using salt is the formation of salt bridges that block salt crystals from dissolving.

Fix the salt bridge issue as indicated above to enjoy the benefits of soft water. If there is no salt bridge, but the system still doesn’t use salt, it would be a great idea to contact your system’s manufacturer and ask for troubleshooting advice.

5. Brine Tank Water Too Low

We already described the main causes of a too-full brine – or salt – tank. However, what to do when the brine tank water is too low?

Well, although many people are wondering why there is no water in their brine tank, know that this is normal and an indicator that your system works properly. Unless the salt level in the tank drops considerably, to around ½ of the volume of the tank, there is little chance to spot water in there.

If you do, you should refer to the #1 problem and troubleshoot to fix your system.

6. Water Softener Problems Resin Beads

Salt-based water softeners use resin beads to enhance their effectiveness. These beads typically last as long as the system. In some cases though, they can break or lose their potential, requiring you to replenish salt more often.

Water-Softener-Problems-Resin-Beads

Another indicator the resin beads are not working properly is by noticing floating particles in the softened water.

Although this could be an annoying issue, the solution is rather simple. Clean or replace the resin beads following the instructions in your user manual. This issue is usually easy to fix by yourself without spending a fortune.

7. Water Softener Not Softening

Perhaps the most annoying of all water softener problems is noticing that your system is not actually softening the water.

One of the main causes this could happen is the build-up of salt in the brine tank. However, there may be other reasons as well.

For instance, the system bypass switch might be turned off, in which case water is not flowing through the system at all. Your soft water demand may also exceed your system’s capacity. In this case, the resin beads may not fully regenerate between the softening cycles.

Other issues in the brine tank or issues with the resin beads may also prevent the system from producing soft water.

The first step to solve the issue is the correct identification of the cause. Then, check your user manual for targeted troubleshooting. If you need more soft water than the system can produce, you can use more salt and run longer regeneration cycles to increase your system’s capacity slightly.

8. Water Softener Causing Low Water Pressure

Low water pressure is daunting for most homeowners. In most cases, a water softener may cause low water pressure issues in the following cases:

water softener Low Water Pressure problem

Recommended Reading: Low Well Water Pressure? Reason and How to Fix (Easy Checklist)

The system is too small: An improper sizing of the system can cause low water pressure. When sizing your water softener, check the inlet pressure it can handle as well as the output pressure it promises.

Sediment build-up: Scaling or sediment clogging in any part of the system may reduce the water pressure. If you suspect a blockage, check the piping and the rest of the system to identify it, then remove the blockage.

Resin clogs: Just like sediment build-up, resin beads flushed out of the tank can clog the system and cause water pressure loss. To fix the issue, replace the resin beads and flush the entire system to remove any beads blocked into it.

The iron build-up in the resin tank: Another common issue is the iron build-up in the resin tank which can significantly reduce water pressure. You can prevent this issue by adding a mineral cleaner to the resin tank and by setting more frequent regeneration cycles.

9. Water Softener Problems Salty Taste

Drinking salty water can turn into an unpleasant experience, especially if you’ll have to deal with the stomachache aftermath. Although most water softeners use salt to reduce hardness in the liquid, the taste of the water mustn’t be salty.

Water Softener Problems Salty Taste

If it is, that’s a sign there is something wrong with your system. Oftentimes, you might be simply using too much salt. The drain hose could also be clogged, in which case brine may not be flushed during the regenerating cycles.

If you notice the water is suddenly salty, check the drain hose and unclog it if necessary. If the hose is not clogged, try to reduce the salt dose you use.

10. Water Softener Motor Failure

Motors can easily fail, and since water softeners run on electricity and need a motor to function, keep in mind that they can break. If the system simply dies, the most probable cause is a motor failure.

Before reaching a conclusion though, check the cables and make sure they are not damaged. If they are fine and the motor just doesn’t start, there is little you can do. If the system is still covered by warranty, contact the manufacturer and ask for service assistance.

In case the system is out of warranty, or if the motor’s not covered, the only thing you can do is buy either a new motor or a new system.

Since repairing or replacing the motor is expensive, make sure you maintain it and use the device as instructed.

11. Water Softener Will Not Regenerate

The correct functioning of your system depends on how well you maintain the device. Water softeners need to run their regeneration cycles in order to work properly, but sometimes they may fail to do this for a number of reasons.

The most common is a faulty regeneration timer. Without the timer, the machine will never know that it must run its cycle.

To check if this is indeed the issue, set the regeneration timer to daily and check if you can hear the system regenerate at the scheduled time. If you don’t hear the specific sounds, it means the timer is broken, and you’ll have to replace it.

Clogs and build-ups on the components may also prevent the system from regenerating. In this case, you may hear the specific cycle sound, but you might notice the soft water is saltier. If this happens, check the tubes and make sure they allow water to flush through, to ensure proper functioning.

12. Water Softener Is Leaking

Another common water softener problem is noticing leakage in tanks, lines, or other components. Detecting the leakage may be a tedious task, but you’ll have to inspect every part of the system to see where the water comes through.

Softener-Is-Leaking

Once detected, you will have to either fix or replace the component. Luckily, most leaks happen due to errors in the installation, so they are quite easy to fix.

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

If you do have to fix or replace parts though, remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid bringing other damages to the system.

13. Water Softener Makes Funny Noises

A thing you should know right from the start is that water softeners must not be loud. Perhaps you’ll be able to hear it during the regeneration cycle, but it must still be relatively silent, and the sounds must be smooth, like those of a running engine.

If the system makes funny noises or it’s incredibly loud, that’s a sign something is wrong. Loud noises can be caused by:

  • Clogged valves or water lines.
  • Broken air valves.
  • Worn-out timer.

14. Water Softener Keeps Running

There are a few reasons why your water softener keeps running over and over again. The most common reason might be the impossibility to draw brine from the tank. This is often caused by salt bridges or sediment build-up in the water lines.

Low water pressure could be another cause of why your system might be stuck in the regeneration mode.

Also, check the settings and the switches. Wrong settings or a broken switch may be the cause of an endless regeneration cycle, or they could cause errors that prolong the cycle.

15. Operation Error

Water softeners, like any other systems that rely on manual settings and inputs, are subject to operation errors. If your system is particularly complicated and you don’t have the technical knowledge to set it properly, there are countless things that could go wrong.

Before operating the system, therefore, make sure you can use your appliance in full confidence and that you can troubleshoot it if user errors occur. Otherwise, ask a professional to install and set up your unit.

Popular Water Softener Brand Problems and How to Repair Them

When you’re looking for solutions to fix your water softener, it might help to know the most common problems based on the water softener brand. Let’s delve into it.

Kinetico Water Softener Problems

Kinetico is one of the most popular water softener brands. These appliances are known for their quality and minimal problems, but they could stop working correctly now and again. Here are some of the most common issues that may occur.

Stuck Regeneration

Water softener stuck regeneration is triggered by:

  • Improper programming of the control head or timer
  • Failed control head
  • Clogged or leaking control head
  • A broken or short-circuited switch
  • Low water pressure
  • Clogged brine tank float valve assembly

To fix this issue, check the switch first, make sure it’s working correctly, and then do the same with the control head and timer. Make sure they are programmed and working correctly. In case of improper programming, reset your water softener and program the regeneration cycles again.

Next, check the system for clogged debris and clean it. Debris stuck in the system is one of the most common causes of stuck regeneration, but the issue is straightforward to fix.

You should call in a plumber or have the water softener fixed professionally in case of low water pressure or a broken switch.

Resin Replacement

One of Kinetico’s main problems includes damaged resin beds. Typically, you should replace the whole water softener when the resin bed gets damaged. With Kinetico, the issue is so frequent that it’s easier and least expensive to replace the bed.

For this operation, you’ll need:
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Kinetico resin
  • Resin funnel
  • Riser tube
To replace the resin bed, follow the easy steps below:
  1. Measure the resin in the tank to determine how much resin you need.
  2. Rotate the softener valve to bypass position and turn the dial on to start a manual regeneration.
  3. Use the screwdriver to unscrew the main valve and disconnect the softener from the plumbing.
  4. Dump out any resin you have in the softener, as well as the old riser tube.
  5. Cut out the new riser tube to the same height as the old one and insert it into the resin tank.
  6. Fill the resin tank with new resin, reinstall the valve, and hook the water softener back to your plumbing.
  7. Turn the valve back to its service position and check for any leaks. That’s it. You can now enjoy your water softener once again.

Kinetico Water Softener Adjustments

Sometimes, Kinetico water softener repairs are not needed, and all you have to do to get soft water is adjust your appliance correctly. As its name suggests, the Kinetico water softener doesn’t use electricity; it instead relies on the kinetic force of water to work, and it has no timer or buttons.

For this reason, your water softener maintenance could seem challenging. If you need to regenerate your softener manually, follow the steps below:

  1. Turn off the bypass valve on your softener.
  2. Open the soft water faucet to clear the water pressure.
  3. Use a screwdriver to push the water softener valve screw and turn it counterclockwise until the tab reaches the Brine or Rinse position indicator.
  4. Turn the bypass valve back to the Service position.
  5. Soft water should now start flowing through the system. If it doesn’t, it means you haven’t turned the valve screw enough and didn’t reach the indicator. All you have to do is repeat the steps above to fix your water softener.

Whirlpool Water Softener Problems – Water in Tank

Whirlpool is one of the best home appliance brands, and their range of water softeners lives up to expectations. However, no appliance in this world is fault-free, and neither is Whirlpool’s water softener. The main issue the brand has is too much water in the brine tank.

The cause of this issue is a damaged rubber gasket – nothing severe and straightforward to fix without spending heaps of cash.

To solve the problem, you must first order a new gasket. Once you have the new piece, follow the steps below.

  1. Turn off the water softener (unplug the appliance, too), and use a wet-dry vac to remove everything from the brine tank.
  2. Set the water softener on bypass mode to prevent water from entering it.
  3. Open the top and disassemble the nozzle, then replace the broken gasket and put everything back together.
  4. Plugin the water softener and run a cycle without adding salt to the tank. You should end up with about 2.5-inch of water in the tank.
  5. Remove the water again, fill the tank with salt, and switch the bypass valve back on. That’s it.

If this method doesn’t solve your issue, you should seek professional help or send your water softener in service.

GE Water Softener Problems

Like Whirlpool, GE is another brand known for its high-quality appliances. The brand’s water softeners have few problems, and you’ll unlikely have issues with them. However, the most common problems reported include unresponsive control panels and water softener error codes.

GE Water Softener Buttons Not Working

Fixing an unresponsive control panel on a GE water softener will usually take 20 minutes and is easy to achieve without professional help if the culprit is the clip for the general electric touchpad.

Before ordering a new clip and changing it, you should check the power source and make sure the appliance is plugged in – or that the socket works appropriately. If the control panel is turning on, but the buttons don’t work, order a new clip and change following the steps shown in your product’s manual. Get GE Water Softener Clips here

Rarely, a damaged nozzle or gasket may also trigger the error. If you’ve replaced the clip, but the buttons are still not working, it’s worth replacing the gasket and nozzle, too.

GE Water Softener Error Codes

Error codes are another common issue with GE water softeners. These appliances can display four error codes:

  • Err 1: This is displayed in case of electronic failure. When this error appears, you will have to reprogram the appliance. Press any key on display to reset it to default, then use your product’s manual to program the water softener from scratch.
  • Err 2: This error signals an improper regeneration start. Press any key to remove the error notification, and then check if the valve is working correctly. Often, all you’ll have to do is change a faulty valve. Sometimes the error is caused by a damaged motor, in which case you’ll have to have the water softener fixed professionally.
  • Err 3: Indicates the regeneration cycle didn’t finish properly. Err 3 can be caused by a faulty valve, motor, or switch.
  • Err 4: Indicates that the controls have not been set properly, and one or more settings may be out of the softener’s range. Use the SET button to adjust the settings.

Culligan Water Softener Problems

If you have a Culligan water softener, the main problems you can have include low water pressure and a water softener constantly draining. Here’s how to fix them.

Culligan Water Softener Low Water Pressure

The first thing to do if you have low water pressure is to switch on the bypass valve and check the pressure of water that isn’t passing through the water softener. If the pressure is still low, then the problem is elsewhere. If the pressure is normal, check out:

  • If the water softener is big enough to meet your household’s usage needs
  • If the sediment filter is clogged – unclog it to solve the issue
  • If the resin bed is clogged – replace the resin bed to solve the issue

Culligan Water Softener Constantly Draining

Constant draining is the result of a system stuck in the regeneration phase. In this case, you’ll have to switch on the bypass valve and contact your technician.

Water Softener Maintenance: Prolonging Your Softener’s Life

Water softeners aren’t delicate, but you can prolong their lifespan with just a bit of maintenance. Here are a few things you should do regularly:

  • Check the system for clogs and salt bridges: Remove them as soon as you spot them to prevent a loss of water pressure or improper functioning.
  • Use quality salt: High-quality salt will not clog as quickly as the cheap stuff, keeping your water softener pristine longer.
  • Use resin bed cleaner: While most water softeners clean the resin bed during the regeneration cycle, a resin bed cleaner can help maintain its lifespan. I love this cleaner from Res-Up
  • Clean the Venturi valve regularly: Another thing to do to avoid a loss of water pressure is to clean the Venturi valve regularly. You should also inspect it for damage as often as possible and replace it promptly whenever needed.

In Conclusion

As you can see, most water softener problems are easy to fix yourself with minimum hassle and effort. We hope the tips above will help you fix water softener issues regardless of what brand you own.

Remember, though, when in doubt, call the professionals to avoid bringing further damage to your appliance.

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