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Fix a Water Softener

You can often fix water softeners by checking the brine tank for salt problems or simply cleaning the resin bed or several other key parts. All are easy to do and you might avoid the expensive service call.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Overview: Check the control settings

Is your soft water not so soft anymore? You can often fix the problem yourself. However, if you have an older softener (20 years or so) and none of these fixes work, it may need replacement ($500 and up).

All softeners, whether they have one or two tanks, work the same way. As cold water flows through the resin tank, the mineral content—the hardness—is removed because the minerals stick to thousands of resin beads. When the softener recharges, the flow of fresh water is stopped while salty water from the brine tank is sucked into the resin tank, where it dissolves the accumulated minerals and is flushed down the drain.

Before you tear apart your softener, check the control settings—especially after a long power outage. The timer clock has to show the right time so that the resin tank is cleaned and recharged when no one is using water (usually early morning).

Also make sure the hardness setting is still correct—well water hardness can change over time. Bring a small container of your water to a water softener dealer for a water hardness test, then check the results against your settings.

Note: Set the water supply to “bypass” before working on the softener. And run the hot water after you turn the softener back on to flush out any hard water.

Step 1: Look for salt problems

Check for salt problems in the brine tank. Start by pushing a broom handle down into the salt to break up salt bridges (like a dome), blocking salt from dropping to the bottom of the tank. If too little salt gets dissolved, the resin bed won't get clean and the water won't get softened.

Also, when the salt level is low (or at least once a year), check for a crust of salt mush at the bottom. This thick salt paste doesn't dissolve well, reducing the salinity of the brine solution, and needs to be removed (photo).

Don't use rock salt; it contains dirt and other impurities that can clog the softener.

Step 2: Clean the resin bed

Clean the resin bed twice a year with resin bed cleaner (available at water softener dealers) if you have “clear water iron” (dissolved iron makes a glass of water turn cloudy or rusty after sitting for several minutes). Otherwise the resin bed won't remove the iron (photo).

Step 3: Clean the venturi assembly

The salty water flows through these parts from the brine tank to the resin tank. If the screen and nozzle get clogged by sediment, the resin bed won't be cleaned and the water will stay hard (photos).

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • 4-in-1 screwdriver
    • Bucket

Comments from DIY Community Members

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April 10, 4:29 PM [GMT -5]

My water softener holding tank must be leaking because I have salt all over my basement floor but I can;'t find a leak .. Any ideas?

November 06, 12:58 PM [GMT -5]

Thankyou very much for this information. I've had one of theese machines for 17 years and often wondered if there were any parts or a cleaning process for this system. Your article will save me some money from having to call the service man I am very grateful.

November 14, 12:03 PM [GMT -5]

I had a plumber install my water softener a few months back. Not too long ago when I was checking the salt level I noticed that there was water standing in the top of the salt and the salt level wasn't appearing to be going down. I call that plumber and he said to just fill it up with salt so I poured a bunch in to fill up the water area and thought things were ok. But it still seems like no salt is being used and water is always standing on top...it has melted a little. I read about the salt bridge and figured this might be my problem so this weekend I scooped all the salt I could reach...could get in the bottom...I see that someone recommended using a wet vac to clean out the bottom, so I will try that. Once I get it all cleaned out, do I just add new salt...I don't know what the next step would be after that...any help, new at this and hope to avoind having to pay someone to come if I can do it myself....thank you

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