Water Hitting Hard? Water Softener Maintenance Tips

America's Preferred Home Warranty, Home Maintenance

Hard water can be a financial pain. You use twice as much soap for the same lather, have higher gas and electricity bills, go through clothing items faster, and have a harder time with appliance & plumbing maintenance—never mind what it does to your hair and skin in the shower. These things can add up to hundreds of dollars every year, which is why water softeners are a standard household appliance across much of America. So show your water softener some love once in a while, and your wallet will thank you.

Know Your Salt Stats
Your user manual will recommend the best salt form and kind to use for your specific machine. Pellet form is the least likely to clog, and there are three kinds of water softener salt on the market:

  • Rock Salt is the cheapest, but it’s also the lowest quality. As the salt dissolves, excess sediment will settle on the bottom of your tank and may lead to clogs in the system. Homeowners who choose this option should clean the tank more frequently.
  • Solar Salt is of medium quality. It has a higher price tag but allows your tank to run more efficiently.
  • Evaporated Salt is the highest quality option. It’s the most expensive, but it has little to no sediment and is least likely to cause unnecessary problems with your unit.

Don’t Be a Stranger
Take a peek into your water softener tank at least once a month to check the levels. If your salt is at ¼ tank or less, it’s time to add more. Fill it up to at least half a tank, and the water level should stop about 3 inches below the salt level.

Common Issues
Homeowners face two common issues with water softeners: Salt Bridges and Salt Mushing.

  • A Salt Bridge is when the salt at the top of the pile has hardened into a solid layer or ‘bridge,’ preventing any new salt from mixing into the water below. Take a broom handle and poke through the bridge down to the bottom of the tank, gently breaking it apart and mixing it with the rest of the salt. If this happens frequently, you may want to use less salt, let it drop lower between refills, or clean your brine tank.
  • Salt Mushing is a more serious problem, when the salt and water at the bottom of the tank have created a sort of salt slush together, causing water to rise above it instead of mixing in. The best fix is to scoop it out and replace the salt, but if you’re looking to save the salt, you could try scooping the salt mush into hot water to dissolve it, and then mixing it back in.

Cleaning & Other Tasks

  • Cleaning: Modern water softeners can typically go five to ten years between manual cleanings. You really only need to clean them if your water has turned hard and basic maintenance is not fixing it. Older softeners should be cleaned about once per year, or if you’re experiencing frequent clogs, bridges, or mushing. Refer to your user manual for details on how to clean your tank, or take a look at this article. Do not dump any waste into your yard—the salt will kill your plants.
  • Water Softener Cleaner: Flush your tank with Water Softener Cleaner once every few months, following the instructions on the label. This will assist with removing excess sediment as well as extending the life of your unit.
  • Bypass Valve: Exercise the bypass valve a few times a year by twisting it to ‘off’ and back to ‘on.’ This ensures that you won’t have to struggle to access it if needed, plus it allows you to check for any leaks or drips. If it does leak or drip, you may need to replace parts.
  • Clean the Valve Between Tanks: Twice a year (or when clogs form), clean the valve between the brine tank and the resin tank. Make sure you follow your manual instructions to the letter for this: Failure to do so could result in parts damage or personal injury.
  • Order a Tune Up: It may be worth having a professional plumber take a look at your water softener once every few years, to give it a thorough cleaning and ensure it’s working properly.

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