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Water hitting hard? Fight back with water softener maintenance

A white man is getting punched in the face by a green boxing glove with water around it

Hard water problems can be a daily nuisance and a financial pain. Hard water damage can cost you hundreds of dollars every year, which is why water softeners are a standard household appliance across much of America. In this introduction to your home water softener and water softener maintenance checklist, you’ll gain the steps you need to maintain this home appliance confidently.

Water softener salt types

Though it may seem like an easy solution, table salt is NOT safe to use with your water softener. Each one requires a special kind of salt; reference your manual to know which of the three main water softener salt types will work best for your device:

  • 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 moderate quality. It has a higher price tag, but it 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 water softener.

How to check your water softener levels

Some homeowners may not know where to begin when learning how to check their water softener levels, but we’ll show you how. Every four to six weeks, peek into your water softener tank at least once a month and check the levels. If your salt tank is down only 1/4th full or less, it’s time to fill it up to at least half a tank, with the water level stopping about 3 inches below the salt level.

Common water softener problems

Homeowners face two common water softener problems: salt bridges and salt mushing.

salt bridge forms 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 that occurs 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. 

Water softener maintenance checklist

Use this water softener maintenance checklist as an at-a-glance guide for keeping hard water out of your home.

Cleaning: Modern water softeners can typically go five to ten years between manual cleanings. Unless your water has turned hard and basic maintenance is not fixing it, you may not need to clean it. Older softeners should be cleaned annually, or when you experience frequent clogs, bridges, or mushing. Your user manual should have all the necessary instructions for cleaning your tank; if you don’t have your manual handy, this article can serve as a general guide. 

Pro Tip: 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, per the label’s instructions. 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, parts may need to be replaced.

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 damage to your water softener’s parts 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.

Now, you’re empowered with the information you need to keep hard water at bay. Now you can run the dishwasher, drink a glass of water, or take a luxurious bath knowing that you have what it takes to reap all the benefits of your water softener!

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