Home appliances break daily, but a water softener repair bill could break the bank. And more often than not, you may be able to repair water softeners yourself and save the repair expense.
Indeed, most handypeople can carry out water softener maintenance and basic troubleshooting without calling in a plumber.
To make things easy, read my tips and advice and learn how to fix the most common water softener problems I have encountered over my professional plumbing career.
How to Repair a Water Softener
Water softeners look complex, but they are often easier to fix than you think. There are two significant 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 by following the steps below:
- 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.
Some water softeners don’t have a bypass valve, but they’ll still have standard plumbing valves or global valves that accomplish the same purpose. Check those valves if your softener doesn’t have a bypass valve.
- Check the power of the water softener: Most water softeners use electricity to run a timer that regulates the regeneration schedules. Ensure the conditioner’s voltage transformer is installed correctly, plugged in, and working.
- Check your water softener’s salt tank: Maintaining an optimal salt level is essential for the adequate 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 in 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 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:
- A 4-in-1 screwdriver
- A bucket
- A wet-vac cleaner
Water Softener Problems, Causes, and Repair Procedures
|Air discharge at plumbing fixture level after a regeneration cycle||Clogged, stuck, or leaky air valve||Check and clean the air valve. Replace it if necessary|
|Inadequate or missing regeneration cycle||No 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 cycle||Brine 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 water||Bypass 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 does not measuring water flow or hardness. Low capacity||Close bypass valve. Replenish salt. Unclog the brine tank and change the salt. Replace faulty valve. Replace control head/timer assembly. Replace the control head. Make sure the softener meets your household capacity before buying.|
|Excessive salt usage||Improper 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 loss||Scale or sediment build-up.||Unclog and clean plumbing, brine tank, and control head.|
|Stains, odors, debris||Bacteria or sediment build-up.||Clean and disinfect plumbing and water softener system with a resin cleaner.|
Understand The Benefits Of Using Clean Water For Your Health
Common Water Softener Problems
1. Water Softener Problems With Water In Brine Tank
Perhaps the primary concern water softener users are facing is a brine 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:
The water softener is too old: These systems have a life expectancy of around eight years, after which they 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 damage.
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 valve 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.
Recommended Reading: How Much Salt Does A Water Softener Use? (Complete Guide)
This build-up can sometimes form salt bridges at the tank’s base, preventing 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, 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 of having brown water because of the softener. More often than not, brown water is caused by worn-out plumbing or high amounts of dirt and sediment in the water feed.
Recommended Reading: Best Sediment Filter for Well Water
However, the accumulation of bacteria in your softener may also cause undrinkable brown water.
To exclude this possibility, sterilize your system with chlorine or hydrogen peroxide. Put two cups of 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 any faults are reported.
4. Water Softener Is Not Using 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 ion exchange, thus no softening of the hard water. This makes for a useless system unless you identify and fix the problem.
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 leading causes of a too-full brine – or salt – tank. However, what to do when the brine tank water is too low?
Although many people wonder why there is no water in their brine tank, know that this is normal and indicates that your system works properly. Unless the salt level in the tank drops considerably to around ½ of the tank’s volume, 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 with the 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, they can break or lose their potential, requiring you to replenish salt more often.
Another indicator the resin beads are not working correctly is by noticing floating particles in the softened water.
Although this could be an annoying issue, the solution is relatively 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 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, so water is not flowing through the system. 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 solving the issue is correctly identifying 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:
Recommended Reading: Low Well Water Pressure? Reason and How to Fix (Easy Checklist)
The system is too small: Improper sizing can cause low water pressure. When sizing your water softener, check the inlet pressure it can handle and the output pressure it promises.
Sediment build-up: Scaling or sediment clogging in any system part 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 setting more frequent regeneration cycles.
9. Water Softener Has a Salty Taste
Drinking salty water can become an unpleasant experience, especially if you have to deal with the aftermath of a stomachache. Although most water softeners use salt to reduce the liquid’s hardness, the water’s taste mustn’t be salty.
If it is, that’s a sign of something wrong with your system. Often, you might be simply using too much salt. The drain hose could also be clogged, so 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 quickly fail, and since water softeners run on electricity and need a motor to function, keep in mind that they can break. If the system dies, the most probable cause is a motor failure.
Before concluding, 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, 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 to work correctly, but sometimes they may fail for several 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 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, 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 tedious, but you’ll have to inspect every part of the system to see where the water comes through.
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 have to fix or replace parts, 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 deafening, 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 repeatedly. The most common reason might be the impossibility of drawing 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 cause 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 correctly, countless things could go wrong.
Before operating the system, therefore, make sure you can use your appliance in total 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 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.
Repair 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.
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, ensure 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.
One of Kinetico’s main problems includes damaged resin beds. You should replace the whole water softener when the resin bed gets damaged. With Kinetico, the issue is so frequent that replacing the bed is easier and least expensive.
For this operation, you’ll need:
- Phillips screwdriver
- Kinetico resin
- Resin funnel
- Riser tube
To replace the resin bed, follow the easy steps below:
- Measure the resin in the tank to determine how much resin you need.
- Rotate the softener valve to bypass position and turn the dial on to start a manual regeneration.
- Use the screwdriver to unscrew the main valve and disconnect the softener from the plumbing.
- Dump out any resin you have in the softener, as well as the old riser tube.
- Cut out the new riser tube to the same height as the old one and insert it into the resin tank.
- Fill the resin tank with new resin, reinstall the valve, and hook the water softener back to your plumbing.
- 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 unnecessary, 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; instead, it relies on the kinetic force of water to work and 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:
- Turn off the bypass valve on your softener.
- Open the soft water faucet to clear the water pressure.
- Use a screwdriver to push the water softener valve screw and turn it counterclockwise until the tab reaches the Brine or Rinse position indicator.
- Turn the bypass valve back to the Service position.
- 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.
Repair Whirlpool Water Softener Problems – Water in Tank
Whirlpool is one of the best home appliance brands, and its 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 brand’s main issue 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.
- Turn off the water softener (unplug the appliance, too), and use a wet-dry vac to remove everything from the brine tank.
- Set the water softener on bypass mode to prevent water from entering it.
- Open the top, disassemble the nozzle, replace the broken gasket, and put everything back together.
- 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.
- Remove the water, 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.
Repair 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 ensure 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 in your product’s manual. Get GE Water Softener Clips here
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, then check if the valve works correctly. Often, all you’ll have to do is change a faulty valve. Sometimes the error is caused by a damaged motor, so 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 correctly, and one or more settings may be out of the softener’s range. Use the SET button to adjust the settings.
Repair Culligan Water Softener Problems
If you have a Culligan water softener, the main problems 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.
As you can see, most water softener problems are easy to fix with minimum hassle and effort. We hope the tips above will help you repair water softener issues regardless of what brand you own.
Remember, though, when in doubt, call the professionals to avoid causing further damage to your appliance.