Water Softener Troubleshooting – 20 Common Problems and How to Fix Them

A water softener is a system built to last for years, but while using it, there are certain issues that will develop. 

So, in this ultimate troubleshooting guide, we will be looking at the most common water softener problems and how to solve them by yourself. 

20 Common Problems That Affect Water Softeners And How To Easily Solve Them

1. The Water Has A Salty Taste 

The water softener system removes the hard minerals and replaces them with small sodium ions(salt) particles to soften water.

Hence, the presence of minimal salt in soft water isn’t a surprise, but when it starts tasting like salt, it is a problem. 

One of the reasons for the production of salty water by your water softener system is a clogged drain hose.  

When a drain hose is clogged, the brine solution can’t be flushed out during the regeneration process. 

And the failure to do away with the used brine solution during the regen cycle will lead to its accumulation in the water. 

To resolve this issue, check your drain hose and try unclogging and flushing it. 

If this assessment has no improvement, you can replace it. 

Another reason is the wrong setting of your water softener’s hardness number. 

When the hardness number of your water softener is set above the actual hardness of water coming into the water softener, the system adds more salt than the real water hardness level. 

This will lead to the production of salty water by your water softener.

2. Salt Bridging

A salt bridge, one of the most common issues faced by water softeners, is formed as salt crusts on top of the salt level in the brine or salt tank.

Salt bridging can stop the regeneration process of your resin bed from going smoothly and cause your brine line to become clogged.  

• A salt bridge is formed due to too much salt in the brine tank or the wrong type of salt in your water softening system. 

Here are simple steps you can follow to resolve this issue:

• Use the bypass valve to shut down the water softener. 

• Use a broom handle or any solid tool to carefully break the salt bridge and pack out the pieces remaining at the bottom of the tank using a container.

Also, endeavor to avoid salt buildup on the brine tank’s surface. 

• Then, remove the water softener from the bypass mode and refill the salt tank with a good type of salt in the appropriate quantity. 

• And finally, perform a manual regeneration cycle on the water softener. 

However, to prevent it, you must ensure that the amount of salt you pour into the brine tank isn’t above its salt level and that the type of salt you use is a high-quality softener.

• In addition, a salt bridge can also be formed due to storing the brine tank in an area with high humidity. 

To prevent this, you must ensure that the brine tank of your water softener system isn’t placed in an area with high humidity. 

3. Wrong Set-Up and Programming Of Your Water Softener 

One of the problems that most softeners encounter is setting it up. And this issue is mostly encountered when a new water softener is set up for the first time. 

The best way to avoid making mistakes while setting up and programming your water softener for the first time is to read through the system’s manual and follow the steps stated in it. 

If the steps stated in the manual aren’t clear enough, you can call on the attention of the customer care unit of the system’s manufacturer or hire the services of an expert to help you set it up. 

4. The Water Produced By The Water Softener Remains Hard

A water softener removes hard mineral ions from your water supply and softens the water. However, some possible problems might make your water softener unable to do this: 

• The Bypass Valve: The first thing you should check when your water isn’t getting softened is your bypass valve. 

When turned on, water cannot flow into the softener by diverting it, hence making it unable to be softened, as the softener can only soften water that flows into it. 

An easy way of resolving this issue is to turn off the bypass valve and allow the water to start flowing into the water softener system.

Note that some brands of water softeners aren’t built with the bypass valve but are instead built with a different type of valve.

So, in this case, locate the valve built for this purpose and turn it on. 

• The Water Softener’s Power System:

Another reason your softening system cannot soften water is its power system. 

Most water softeners use electric timers to control the regeneration process of their system.

So when there is a malfunctioning in the electric timer, the regeneration process can’t run smoothly and on time it has been set to, making it difficult to soften water.

To fix this, check your electric timer and ensure it is set and working properly.

Also, ensure the water softener is powered on, as a softener that is off can’t treat water.

• Clogging and Salt Build-up: 

Clogging and Salt Build-up in your brine tank can also make your softener unable to supply soft water to your home. 

When clogging happens, it affects the free flow rate of water in the system’s tubes and pipes, hence affecting the water softening process too. 

To solve this issue, you must remove the softener tubes and assess whether they should be fixed or replaced.

On the other hand, the salt build-up can be caused by salt bridging — the formation of salt crusts in your brine tank due to too much salt or the wrong type of salt in your salt tank.

To avoid this, ensure you fill the tank with the right amount of salt as stipulated in your user’s manual and the right type of salt, e.g, evaporated salt.

• Absence of salt in your brine tank can also prevent your water softening system from treating hard water.

The resin beads in the resin tank need to be charged with salt to properly carry out the ion exchange process, which softens the water.

So when there’s no salt supplied to the mineral tank, it won’t have anything to release into the water when it removes the hard minerals, hence maintaining the hardness level of the water.

The salt in the brine tank is also needed for the regeneration process. It involves cleaning the resin beads of hard minerals trapped in them during the water-softening process and recharging them for another softening process.

To avoid this, check your brine tank from time to time and refill it with salt when due. 

5. Inability of the Water Softener to Regenerate

Another common issue that water softeners encounter is an inability to carry out their regeneration process. 

Water softeners have regeneration schedules, but when they fail to regenerate when due, they find it difficult to soften water. 

• One of the reasons why your water softener isn’t regenerating is due to the clogging of its hoses. 

When the hoses are clogged, you will hear sounds that seem like the softener is going through its regeneration cycle, but the water it will produce will still exhibit characteristics of hard water. 

To fix this, remove the hoses and try flushing them; if they can’t allow water through them, replace them and try running a manual regeneration cycle to confirm the problem has been solved. 

• Another reason your water softener isn’t regenerating is that your regeneration timer is broken. 

Water softeners are programmed using a timer to carry out their regeneration process at specific periods. 

But when the timer breaks or develops a fault, there will be nothing to alert the water softener when to regenerate, preventing it from regenerating or causing it to regenerate once in a while.

To fix this, try setting your regeneration timer to a particular time and see if it will regenerate when that time comes. 

If it doesn’t, then it’s time to replace it. 

6. Usage Of No Salt In Your Water Softener 

When you notice that the salt level in the brine tank of your water softener is the same after a particular time, there are two possible causes: the formation of a salt bridge and a faulty entry valve motor. 

• When a salt bridge forms in your brine tank, it prevents the salt from mixing with the water in the brine tank to form a brine solution that will be used in the regeneration process. 

You can use a broom handle to carefully hit the salt bridges until they dissolve.

For the salt bridges that do not dissolve even when you hit them with a broom handle, you can remove them from the tank. 

• The entry motor valve regulates the amount of water that goes into the brine tank, so when it is faulty, enough water doesn’t go into the brine tank. 

And when the water isn’t enough, it can’t be able to dissolve the salt and form a brine solution that will be to perform the regeneration cycle of the water softener system.

You can fix this problem by changing the entry motor valve. 

7. Too Much Water In The Brine Tank

Overflowing water in the brine tank is a common issue that can be caused for several factors, which include:

• Wrongly-Set Float Valve: A brine tank’s float valve regulates the amount of water in the tank, so when it is set to a high level then, it allows a high level of water in the salt tank. 

To fix this problem, follow the steps in the manual and reduce the float valve level. 

• Broken or Faulty Entry Valve: An entry valve regulates the amount of water that enters the brine tank, so when it is broken or faulty, it will be unable to perform its duty, allowing too much water to enter the brine tank. 

You can fix this problem by changing the entry valve. 

• Clogged Drain Line and Injector: A brine tank’s drain line helps water leave the tank, so when it is clogged, water cannot leave the tank, leading to its overflow.

The solution is to remove the drain hose, clean it, and try passing water through it before putting it back.

You will need a new drain hose if water can’t pass through after unclogging it.  

On the other hand, a water softener injector also draws water and brine solution out of the brine tank, so when it is clogged, it can’t function properly.

Take it out, clean it and the injector screen, and test it afterward. If it isn’t unclogged after cleaning it, then replace it. 

• The Age of The Water Softener: As a water softener ages, so do its parts. So, if you use an old water softener, its brine tank tends to have too much water. 

The solution to this is to buy a new water softener. 

8. Presence of Resin Beads In Water 

The presence of resin beads in your water results from the beads’ aging. When resin beads age, they fall off their resin bed and go into the softened water. 

Resin beads in your water might not harm your health, but they are in your plumbing system.

Their presence is also a sign that they need to be replaced. 

You can replace them by taking them out and pouring the fresh ones into the resin tank.

9. Production of Dirty and Brown Water

Having dirty and brown water isn’t always caused by your water softener. 

It could be because your plumbing system is rusty and worn-out or the accumulation of dirty particles and sediment buildup in your water source.

Nevertheless, if your water softener causes it, it can be attributed to many bacteria in the system. 

If it is due to the accumulation of bacteria, ensure you add two cups of bleach or sterilizer to your brine tank and run a manual regeneration cycle 2 – 3 times.

If dirty and brown water is still flowing into your home after this, install a sediment filter and call on a plumber to check your plumbing system.   

10. Frozen Water In The Brine Tank

Frozen water in the brine tank of your water softener system could be due to a cold weather condition and the softener installation in a cold area of your home. 

Frozen water in your plumbing system can cause harm to the pipes and also make your softening system blow up, literally. 

You can prevent this by ensuring your water softener is always inside and above 32 degrees. 

11. Use Of Too Much Salt In Your Water Softener

Using too much salt in your water softener could be because of the repetitive regeneration cycle and the wrong salt dose. 

To solve this problem, check your regeneration timer to know how often your softener’s regeneration cycle runs and adjust its frequency. 

Also, check your manual to know your appropriate salt dose. 

12. The Water Softener Getting Stuck In The Regeneration Mode

When your water softener gets stuck in the regeneration mode, the water will continually run on its own. 

This unending water running into your brine tank can cause the brine tank to overflow. 

The following reasons could cause this problem:

• A Broken, Faulty, or Wrongly-Set Switch. 

The solution to this issue is to check your switches and ensure they aren’t broken and wrongly set. 

If they are broken, change them and if they are wrongly set, ensure you correct the settings. 

• Inability of the resin tank to draw brine solution from the brine tank due to a clogged water line.

To solve this issue, remove the water pipes, unclog them, and run a manual regeneration cycle. 

• It can also be caused by low water pressure from your water supply, which can be solved by installing a booster pump to boost the flow rate.

13. Water Level In Your Brine Tank Isn’t Enough 

As too much water in your brine tank can be a problem, having low water in it is also a problem, so it is a good idea to ensure that the water level is appropriate.

It is important to note that when you can’t see water in your brine tank, do not panic. It is a sign that it is working properly. 

The salt in the brine tank is supposed to cover the water in it, however, when the salt level drops significantly, and you still can’t see water, then there is a problem, and these are the possible causes: 

• A Wrongly-Set Float Valve

When a float valve is set too low, it prevents adequate water from entering the brine tank, causing the water to run low after it is used for a few regeneration processes.

The steps to set your float valve properly are usually stated in the system’s manual, so endeavor to follow those steps and set them correctly. 

• A Clogged Brine Line

A brine line is supposed to refill the brine tank during the regeneration process, but when it becomes clogged, it becomes unable to play this role, making it fall short of adequate water. 

In this case, you should remove it and try unclogging it.

If it doesn’t work after that, then replace it. 

14. Loud Noises in Your Water Softener 

First, you should note that a water softener often makes sounds when it is carrying out its regeneration process and when its timer is ticking like a water heater. 

If this is the reason for the noises from your water softener, then it is normal and should be overlooked.

Nevertheless, here are certain units where noises from them should be a cause for concern: 

• The Control Valve

• The Water Valve

• The Air Valve

• Overly-Loud Timer Sounds

15. Motor Failure In Your Water Softener 

A failed motor in your water softener is equivalent to having a “dead” water softener. 

This is because when a motor fails, the water softener can’t function or regenerate despite other units of the softener being in perfect shape. 

If you are still in your warranty period when the motor of your water softener fails, then you are in luck; it will be replaced for you.

But if you aren’t in the warranty period, you will have to pay the price and purchase it yourself or consider getting another water softener. 

16. Production of Water With Bad Smell 

When the water from your softeners smells bad, it could be that the water supply stinks or the tank where it is supplied has a bad smell. 

The stinking smell of the water supplied to your system could be due to the presence of hydrogen sulfide, iron, etc., in the water.

To solve the issue, ensure your filtration system does away with these pollutants before the water gets into the softening system.

On the other hand, if the bad smell of the water is due to a stinking tank, you should hire a professional to clean the tank and do away with the smell. 

17. Reduction Of Water Pressure

The Reduction of water pressure in your home could be because of the following reasons: 

• Sediment and Iron Buildup 

Sediment buildup causes clogging and, in turn, causes low water pressure.

If this is the case, remove the pipe, unclog it and fix it back, or change it if it can’t be used again.

The iron buildup could also cause this issue. 

To solve this, you can add an iron-removing cleaner to your resin tank and run a manual regeneration cycle. 

• Issues In Your Resin Tank 

Experiencing low water pressure could also be caused by the aging of resin beads. 

When resin beads get old, they fall into your water supply, causing low water pressure. 

To tackle the issue, change the resin beads, and flush the system until the entire resin beads are removed.

• A Wrongly-Sized System

Using the wrong size of water softener system can also cause this problem. 

When the softening system installed is too small, it will be difficult to supply the kind of water that your plumbing system requires, hence causing a low water pressure. 

To correct this issue, make sure that you replace the wrongly-sized system with one that fits your home’s plumbing system.

18. Water Softener Experiencing Operation Error

When your water softener is experiencing an operation error, it displays an error code on the control unit display to tell you exactly what is wrong with your system.

If you do not understand the error code displayed by your water softening system, then you can check your system’s manual, consult a professional or check this site for the meaning of the code.

19. A Leaking Water Softener

A leak in your water softener can be from any unit, so you must go through the process of gently and carefully checking each out to find out where.

And when you find the source of the leak, you can assess it to know if it should be fixed or replaced and then take the appropriate action. 

20. Salt Mushing

Unlike salt bridging that forms in between the softener salt and the water in the brine tank, salt mushing happens at the bottom of the tank. 

When salt mush is formed, it stops the movement of brine solution from the brine tank to the resin tank, affecting both the regeneration process of the water softener and the effective softening of water.

To correct this problem, you must completely remove the water and salt from the brine tank and wash the internal part of the tank, ensuring that no particle or crystal of salt is left behind. 

After doing this, you can refill the tank with fresh salt(preferably evaporated salt and not rock salt).

Water Softener Troubleshooting Guide Summary

This troubleshooting guide for water softeners has highlighted the most common problems that your softener will face.  

Carrying out these simple fixes on your water softener will ensure its proper functioning and prevent mineral buildup in your plumbing system.

It will also improve the water quality in your home and save you money by preventing you from carrying out frequent water softener repairs and regular maintenance on your water-using home appliances.

However, suppose you are unsure about carrying out these troubleshooting methods independently. In that case, you can employ the service of a professional to fix these water softener issues and get them back in good shape.