If your water softener is operating but not softening your water, you most likely have one of the following issues:
- Water softener settings are off
- Salt bridges or salt mushing
- Too much water in the brine tank
- Dirty resin bed
- Water softener is old and needs to be replaced
We’ll go through each of these issues and show you how to troubleshoot for your particular issue.
First, though, to help you better understand the reason yours has stopped working, let’s look at how a water softener works.
How a water softener works
A water softener strips your water of the minerals that make it “hard” (i.e. calcium and magnesium).
Most water softening systems have 2 tanks:
- Resin tank or the “water softener”
- Brine tank or the “salt tank”
The resin tank is responsible for stripping your hard water of calcium and magnesium ions. It does this via special resin beads that attract the “hard” mineral ions.
As the hard ions cling to these beads, the beads kick off “soft” sodium ions, replacing the “hard” ions in your water.
The brine tank (salt tank) is responsible for “recharging” your resin beads. Let’s look at how the brine tank does that:
Step 1: Over time, the resin beads are filled to capacity with calcium and magnesium ions. In order to “recharge” these beads (i.e. rinse the “hard minerals” away), the salt tank creates a brine by dissolving salt into water.
Step 2: The brine tank sends the brine to the resin tank
Step 3: The sodium ions in this mixture flood the resin beads and kick off the “hard” minerals.
Step 4: When the hard minerals are knocked off the beads and collect at the bottom of the tank, they can then be flushed and drained out of the system.
Now let’s look at some things that may cause your water softener to stop softening your water.
5 Reasons your water softener stops softening your water
Your settings are off
Water softeners have a control valve that dictates when the system “recharges.” But if these settings are off, your system may not be recharging those tiny resin beads. It may be recharging while you are using water, in which case, the water you receive may not be softened or you may have a salt taste if it has not gone through the rinse portion of the regeneration.
What to do: Check that the correct time of day is displayed on the softener head.
If it reads the wrong time, you’ll need to adjust the hour. This can happen after long power outages.
You may also want to check what time the softener is set to recharge. Most plumbers will set the time for recharge at 2:00am. The reason for this is that most likely no water will be in use in the home at that time so the recharge can run uninterrupted.
Different brands of water softeners have different control settings. So refer to your manual if you need to adjust the time of day settings.
Watch this YouTube video about getting to know your water softener.
You have a salt bridge or salt mushing
A salt bridge is when your salt hardens into a “dome” that creates an air pocket between the salt and the water.
Salt mushing is when salt recrystallizes and creates a thick sludge at the bottom of your brine tank.
Both situations prevent sodium ions from recharging your resin beads, which means the beads will eventually stop softening your water.
What to do: To check for a salt bridge, press down on the layer of salt with a broom handle. If you can reach the bottom of the tank, you don’t have a salt bridge. If you do have a salt bridge, gently break up the hardened part.
To test for salt mushing, remove some of the salt and check for a thick layer of sludge coating the bottom of the tank. If there is a layer of sludge, you’ll need to completely clean out your brine tank and refill it with salt and water.
Note: Salt clogs in small valves and other assembly pieces can prevent your water from being softened. We suggest having a professional find and remove the clogs as this may require disassembly.
There’s too much water in the brine tank
If your brine tank has too much water and too little salt, this decreases the salinity of your “recharging” brine.
Lowering the salt content of the brine prevents the resin beads from fully recharging. And if your resin beads don’t properly recharge, they’ll stop softening your water.
What to do: Check the level of water in your brine tank.
How much water your brine tank needs depends on the size of your tank, but generally, if the water level is higher than 12 inches high, you probably have too much water.
Your system automatically fills the brine tank so if you think there is too much water, you’ll need to have a professional inspect your brine tank and float assembly for the problem.
Your resin bed needs to be cleaned
Over time, iron and other hard minerals can build up on the bottom of your resin tank. This makes it hard for your resin beads to soften your water thoroughly.
What to do: Find a resin cleaner that is specifically designed to remove mineral buildup. Follow the directions on the bottle and pour the correct amount of cleaner into the brine tank.
Find the “regenerate” knob on the control valve and turn it counterclockwise with a screwdriver.
If you have a particularly “dirty” resin bed, you can repeat this process again.
When you are done, just remember to turn the regeneration knob clockwise back to its original position.
To flush out any remaining cleaner in your system, turn on the nearest faucet and let it run for 10 minutes.
Just like all appliances, a water softener gets less efficient as it ages.
Additionally, over time, chlorine in your water can make the resin beads mushy and unable to remove the minerals from the water. When this occurs, the resin beads can be replaced. However, it may be best and more cost effective to replace the softener depending upon its age.
A good rule of thumb? If your water softener is over 15 years old and is no longer softening your water, replace it.
What to do: Contact a plumber to guide you through this process. They’ll be able to determine the water softener size you need and install it safely.
Alternatively, you could look into installing a whole house water filter before the softener to remove the chlorine and other impurities in the water. This helps prolong the life of your softener and protect that investment.
Get help from an Arizona plumber
Still not sure why your water softener isn’t softening your water?