15 Most Common Water Softener Problems And How to Troubleshoot Them

Water-Softener-Problems

A faulty water softener won’t give you access to soft water, and it may even reduce the quality of water you’re using.

Luckily though, the most common water softener problems are easy to identify and troubleshoot. In this guide, we’re going to tell you what are the most frequent issues your system may have and how to troubleshoot them quickly and easily.

#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:

  • 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.
  •  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.

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.

However, 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. Which 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.

The most common cause of a softener not using the 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 troubleshooting 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.

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:

  • 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.
  • Iron build-up in 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.

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. 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.

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 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 inputting, 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.

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John Wood

John Wood

I started this blog to share expert opinions towards improving the quality of drinking water. Your go-to resource for water filter guides, tips, and advice to purify city or well water before consuming it.

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