64oz.org may earn commission for purchases made through the links posted on this page.

Water Softener Maintenance Checklist

by Carl Jensen

Plumber, Welder, Contractor

> 2 min read

Water Softener Maintainance

Purchasing a water softener is an excellent way to remove excess calcium and magnesium levels from your water supply. You may notice less build-up of mineral deposits on your bathroom surfaces, and your dishware should be pristine after the dishwasher cycle. 

However, if you fail to maintain your water softener, you may see the effects of hard water reappearing. Clothes may begin to look faded after washing, or you could lose pressure in your water system. Fortunately, many modern water softeners can operate for long periods with minimal maintenance. 

You can follow some straightforward tips to keep your water softener operating at peak efficiency.

How Water Softeners Work

Water softeners remove harmful calcium and magnesium from the water supply, changing it from hard to soft water. There are two types of water softeners on the market: ion exchange and salt-free.

Ion exchange units use resin beads that produce negative sodium ions to attract the positively charged mineral ions in the water to the beads. Salt-free units break down the mineral deposits into smaller particles that won’t clog your plumbing.

Check Salt Levels Regularly

One of the most effective water softener maintenance tasks is to ensure your appliance has enough salt to perform its job. Salt regenerates the beads with negatively-charged sodium ions that take the place of positively-charged magnesium and calcium ions in hard water. Without salt, this ion exchange can not occur, allowing the harmful excess minerals to clog your domestic appliances.

Although you may not need to replace the salt more than once every two months, it’s a good idea to have a maintenance schedule to check the salt level every 30 days. You can identify if your device has been using more salt than usual, which may point to a decrease in water quality, or indicate a fault in your appliance. 

Your manufacturer’s instruction booklet should state the ideal salt level for optimum performance.

"Salt regenerates the beads with negatively-charged sodium ions that take the place of positively-charged magnesium and calcium ions in hard water." 

Use High-Quality Salt

When investing in a water softener, you expect the system to reduce hard water’s adverse effects. However, you need to supply your appliance with high-quality salt so it can perform effectively. Using an inferior product could lead to hard water coming through your faucets, resulting in an excess amount of calcium and magnesium in your domestic water supply.

Water softener salt is relatively inexpensive, and you may find evaporated salt pellets provide the best results. However, you can experiment with different types, such as solar salt. Block salt is generally inexpensive but contains more impurities than other kinds of salt. Always check the manufacturer’s instruction booklet to ensure the salt type you purchase is suitable for use with the water softener model.

Clean Your Brine Tank

Maintaining your water softener should be proactive rather than reactive. By learning how to clean your water softener’s brine tank properly, you can prevent many problems before they occur. When the salt level is low, use the bypass valve to shut off water intake and dump the water out of the tank. Remove as much of the remaining salt as possible. 

Remember that salt can be toxic to the environment, so dispose of your water and salt responsibly. Ensure you have a sealable container to prevent spilling or wildlife from contacting the mixture. 

You may notice the salt looks like sludge, and some may stick to the tank. You can make it easier to gather by wearing rubber gloves. If any salt is clinging to the brine tank’s base, you can dislodge it by gently prodding the mound with a stick or broom handle. You can soften the salt bridge first by using warm water, and you must poke gently to avoid damaging the tank’s interior surface.

If your water softener model has a mesh covering at the tank’s base, remove this before cleaning. After removing the salt and mesh material, use a detergent and water mix to clean the tank thoroughly. 

If you notice mold, apply a mold remover to make your tank spotless. It’s good practice to use bleach to kill any microorganisms present in your water softener. 

Although it is unlikely the organisms will be alive after being in contact with salty water, using bleach provides an extra security layer. Allow the chemical to work for approximately 15 minutes. Ensure you rinse your brine tank with water after using cleaning chemicals and dry it with a towel.

Replace the mesh covering at the tank’s base and add your salt and water supplies as usual. The salt requires time to dissolve, and you should delay the regeneration process for around two hours. 

Ideally, you should start the regeneration process overnight. If you begin the procedure during the day when water is in use, your system cannot filter minerals, and hard water can fill the water heater. This issue can lead to clogging in your appliance.

Regular Maintenance Tips

While performing a substantial clean is an effective water softener maintenance practice, there are other tasks you can regularly carry out to keep your device in good condition. You can pour a water softener cleaner into the brine tank every two months and begin a manual regeneration process. This cleaning process helps your water softeners resin to remain in excellent condition. 

You can also disassemble the pipework connecting the brine and resin tanks to clean the valve. There is no need to do this more than once or twice a year, but it can prevent clogging and allow for more efficient operation. It’s essential to follow the instructions in the manufacturer's manual when carrying out this procedure. Improper techniques such as not relieving the water pressure could damage your device.

Learn How to Identify Problems Early

Your water softener can operate for many years without experiencing issues. However, you can properly maintain your tank by noticing when the performance level begins to drop.

One of the first signs could be finding it difficult to form a lather when washing with soap. Instead of a soapy mix, there could be a curd-like substance that is hard to wash off your skin. Laundry might look soiled after washing, and dishware may have a spotty residue. 

If you notice any of these issues, you can carry out a thorough cleaning process. If this doesn’t solve the problem, it could be time to contact the manufacturer’s service team for advice.

Carl Jensen

About the Author

Carl Jensen is a plumber with over 50 years of experience in the industry, as well as related jobs like underwater welding. He runs a successful plumbing practice in Tampa, Florida, and contributes his plumbing expertise to our DIY articles, and helps to fact check and consult on most of our other stuff to boot.