Water Softener Maintenance: What You Should Know

What do you need to do to maintain a water softener system? We explain. Read about the costs, supplies, and upkeep needed for various types.

Water Softener Maintenance: Supplies and Upkeep

Water softeners turn "hard" water — water full of impurities like sulfur, iron, or other minerals — into "soft" water that's safe to drink, cook with, and bathe in. Because water softeners do their jobs so effectively, it can be easy to forget about its maintenance. However, there are certain steps you should take regularly to ensure your water softener is working at its best.

Here are our must-know water softener maintenance tricks that will keep your home's water as soft as possible!

Refill your salt (every 4-6 weeks)

Your water softener uses rock salt to remove chemicals and minerals from your water. Because of this, it needs a certain amount of salt in its system to do its job correctly. Your salt should need refilling every 4-6 weeks. If your water softener isn't using up all its salt in 2-3 months, this may be a sign that something else is wrong. (Pro tip: Be sure to choose your salt wisely! The higher a salt's purity, the more effectively it removes impurities from your water. Plus, salt that contains more dirt or other materials can cause clogs or other issues.)

Test your water (every 2-3 months)

Knowing what's in your water helps you establish what settings to use on your water softener. More importantly, it keeps your water drinkable and your family safe! You can test your water yourself with a home testing kit, or schedule a service visit from your water softener tech if you're worried about possible contamination.

Check for salt bridges and salt mush (every 2-3 months)

Sometimes, a hard crust of salt forms on the edge of the brine tank. This "salt bridge" keeps salt from dissolving properly in the water of the brine tank, which makes it difficult for your water softener to treat your water. You can check for salt bridges by pressing gently on the brine tank's top layer of salt with a strong household object, like a wooden spoon or broom handle. This will break up the salt bridge, allowing the salt to more easily dissolve into the water.

However, if the salt does not clear away, it may be a sign of a more serious problem called "salt mush." This happens when salt turns into a sludgy, mushy mess on the bottom of the brine tank. Unfortunately, you can only get rid of salt mush by draining, emptying, and cleaning your entire water softener. Regular checks for salt bridges will keep salt mush from forming!

Recharge your resins by cleaning the resin bed (every 3-4 months)

The "resin bed" is the part of your water softener that hard water flows through to get treated. Most resin beds last for 10-15 years if handled correctly, but if you live in an area with a high iron content, or your water comes from a well, your resin bed may need more maintenance than most. Luckily, specialty cleaning solutions do this job for you! Simply use a water softener cleaner to flush out the resin bed, removing any impurities that have built up over time. This process is called "recharging" your resins.

Clean internal equipment (every 4 months)

Like other large appliances, your water softener is made up of a bunch of smaller, internal parts. And like dust clogging up the cogs of a watch, water impurities can build up on the insides of your water softener and reduce their efficiency. Over time, this buildup can become so severe that parts need to be replaced. To prevent this, turn off your water softener and individually clean the parts inside the valve cover. (Pro tip: Your checklist should include the venturi valve, nozzle, connections, and O-rings.)

Add or replace a pre-filter

Sludgy water sediments can build up in the seals and gaskets of your water softener, even before they impact the parts mentioned above. One way to prevent this is to add a pre-filter to your water. Rather than treating the water, a pre-filter simply removes the biggest, most obvious impurities before they enter your softener system, much in the same way a miner can filter out rocks and stones when panning for gold. If your system does not already have a pre-filter, consider adding one. If one is already installed, check it every few months to make sure it's operating smoothly.

A water softener is one of the easiest appliances to maintain. By following these practices, you can ensure your softener works at its best for 10-15 years!

If your water still feels or tastes hard, and you've gone through all the steps on this list, it's time to call in an expert. Likewise, if home test results show that your water isn't safe to drink, you should stop using it and contact a plumber immediately.

Resources— Best Osmosis Systems, GE, Home Water 101, Idaho Water Solutions, Clearwater, Family Handyman