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Troubleshooting water softener

How to Troubleshoot & Repair Your Water Softener

Morton, GE, Culligan, or Whirlpool — From time to time, each water purifier may have problems that will need to be fixed to function correctly.

Unfortunately, troubleshooting is not always simple, especially if you aren’t an experienced do-it-yourself. But do not worry, our water softener repair guide can help you.

Hopefully, you find a few quick fixes which you could try to save you from a service call.

What to Do If Your Water Softener Is Not Working?


The easiest way to check if your water softener is functioning accurately is by measuring output water hardness.

To do this, you can purchase a cheap test kit online or in the local hardware store. All you’ve got to do then is follow the included directions.

Testing for soft water is about levels of calcium carbonate. It measures concentrations in ppm, mg/L, or GPG (grains per gallon). The latter is the industry norm.

Of course, it is wise to examine the feed water to ensure a difference in hardness after and before the softening process.

Initial Steps

water softener salt not going down

If hard water comes from your softener, it is not working or producing a sufficient amount of soft water to fulfill your demand.

In case hardness isn’t reduced even a small bit, make sure to follow these simple steps first before you proceed with our DIY Troubleshooting & Repair Guide below:

1. Does your softener operate on electricity? Double-check that it is plugged in and the socket isn’t switched off. Check the unit’s display. If it is blank?

2. Make sure that any bypass faucet isn’t in the neglect position.

3. Check if there is sufficient salt in the salt solution tank. Also, start looking for salt bridges. That’s a really common aspect.

4. Check that it displays at an accurate time, particularly after a potential outage. Fix it if need be.

5. Apply the perfect settings involving hardness of saltwater, use for regeneration, and regen time and cycle length (refer to the manual).

6. For a new unit, is the valve registering the water stream? See by opening a nearby faucet.

7. For a new device, is it plumbed incorrectly? Think about water flow management.

8. When you haven’t found the error at this time to start a manual regeneration cycle (see the operation manual for more information) and retest the output water hardness level later.

Is the water perfectly soft now? Then it might be that your water intake is greater than you thought. If your requirement exceeds the supply, you’ll run out of water since your softener exhausts its capability early.

To solve this, raise the salt dose for more out of your system or allow it to regenerate more frequently and for a longer time.

Note: Many people ignore how much water they use daily. The average is from 80 to 100 gallons per capita.

If that is not it, then there’s indeed something wrong with your system. It may not regenerate because of a malfunctioning timer, or the salt solution tank is having an issue, so the Polythene cannot wholly recharge. Another reasonable explanation is a filthy or depleted Polythene bed.

To eliminate these and other possibilities to check out the sections below, #1 through 5 specifically.

Are you not finding any soft water right after regeneration? Here, there’s a matter that needs your attention -- time for some troubleshooting.

Water Softener Troubleshooting & Repair 101

1. System Doesn’t Regenerate

Your water softener doesn’t regenerate correctly or not at all?

Broken timer: To find out if you’re working with a broken timer, place the regen cycle daily. You should then see and hear the system recharges the following night. If nothing happens, the timer is possibly broken, and replacing the item is the only option.

Misconfigured timer: Another issue may be a timer or clock that’s not configured correctly. Consult the operation manual and check all of the settings.

Clogged venturi/injector-- Check whether the salt solution  venturi or injector -- used to suck salt solution  to the Polythene tank -- is plugged and, if so, remove any salt or debris deposits (refer to the manual).

Restricted Drain Hose/Control: A limitation may disrupt salt solution draw during recharge. Remove the blockage.

Too little water in the salt solution tank

Salt mushing or bridging

Too much water in the salt solution tank

The dirty or worn-out Polythene bed

Motor collapse: In the case of a motor failure, there’s not much you can do to replace it. The fantastic thing is that this is an infrequent occurrence.

2. No or Not Sufficient Water in Salt solution Tank

You can only tell if sufficient water flows to the salt solution tank when it runs low on salt. Why? Since a usually working tank won’t fill up to the surface, it is not even close.

Instead, water only gets pumped to the bottom. The salt partly dissolves, and the salt solution becomes sucked into the Polythene tank for regeneration.

Just because you can’t find any water does not imply that something is wrong -- no reason to panic just yet!

However, if indeed no water flows to the salt solution tank, then your softener can’t revive its softening capacity. If the tank isn’t filling up enough, regeneration will be partial at best. Both scenarios entail the machine will not operate at peak performance and finally don’t soften water completely.

How to address the issue? First, make sure that the salt solution tank display switch is directly and can move smoothly up and down (if it has one). If it’s stuck, cleaning all components within the salt solution well should do just fine. As a last resort, change a broken switch.

Next, make sure that the salt solution valve and line are not blocked so that salt solution could be sucked in. Use scalding water and flush it out to unclog.

3a. Softener Is Not using salt

water softener salt not going down

If the salt solution tank salt level isn’t going down, it means that no salt is used. So far, so good.

Most likely, this results from a tough salt crust, also known as “salt bridge,” that has formed at the base of the tank. The bridge keeps salt from falling and dissolving in the water to form a salt solution. At the same time, most if not all salt beneath the bridge is already gone.

If too little salt becomes dissolved, the Polythene cannot regenerate and will eventually stop softening.

You can easily check for this by pushing a broom handle all of the ways down to the salt tank base. If you cannot, then you’ve found a bridge.

Thoroughly crush the bridge and all big clumps with the broom handle or anything blunt tool you’ve got at hand. Then begin a manual regen cycle for your portable water softener can eventually recharge.

3b. Mushing

Mushing occurs when salt dissolves but recrystallizes to form a thick layer of sludge at the salt solution tank base.

The mush can block the salt solution well and cause the tank’s water level to grow with every recent cycle. Additionally, it lowers the salinity of the salt solution.

To fix this, empty all loose salt. Then use a broom handle to split up the mush and scoop it out. Or you may dissolve it in hot water. Furthermore, be sure that the salt solution well is clean.

4. Full of Water -- How Much Water Should Be in the Salt solution Tank?

If your softener has water in the salt solution tank? Yes, it should, as long as it is a post-fill system. But as mentioned previously, unless the salt is empty, you shouldn’t be able to view any of it since the tank isn’t likely to fill up to the top (usually no higher than 10″ to 12″).

If that’s still the case, it means your salt solution tank is not willing or not draining the way it should. Too much water also implies reduced salt solution salinity, which keeps your softener from recharging properly.

Hence, it’s best if you drain the tank and thoroughly wash it afterward.

Again, make sure that the salt solution float is right and moves freely. And the salt solution tube nor the salt solution valve need to be clogged. Furthermore, the valve may be stuck in the open position, or the assembly has a misplaced/worn outside O-ring or is missing one.

Note: With post-fill water softeners, the salt tank is refilled after every regeneration to prepare salt solution for another cycle.

More likely reasons why your salt solution tank is filled with water or overflows:

  • Water pressure in your house is too low/high -- Measure the water pressure in your dwelling. If it doesn’t meet your softener’s requirements, fix it accordingly.
  • Clogged drain hose/control: Clean the drain tube and control if need be.
  • Clogged venturi/injector-- Check whether the salt solution venturi or venturi.
  • Injector -- used to suck salt solution to the Polythene tank -- is plugged and, if so, eliminates any debris or salt deposits.
  • Malfunctioning Timer: The refill time of the filter may not be set correctly set.
  • Salt Mushing
  • Blockage in the control valve — Though it is rare, a blockage in the primary control valve might result in an internal bypass. Clean to unclog.

5. Worn Out or Dirty Polythene Sheath

The Polythene bed is the very center of every water softener. When it is not in great shape, it

may cause various issues, from discoloration to reduced water pressure.

So, what makes a Polythene Sheath deteriorate?

Water, well water particularly, contains impurities like sediment, sulfur, iron, manganese, organic chemicals, or germs. These substances develop within the Polythene over time and filthy or clog the bed at high enough concentrations.

troubleshooting water softener

It especially affects newly installed softeners and those out of service for a while, or that run for extended periods between regenerations.

Note: Another significant source of grime is the softening salt.

Fouling is often supplemented by decreased softening capacity and a foul taste or rotten egg odor in your water. The cloudiness and discoloration may also occur. This is one way to recognize an underlying problem.

Bottom line: Cleaning or sanitization are needed. Above that, consider shortening the time between regeneration cycles while reducing the salt dose if needed. You also want to check in the regeneration cycle length.

Maybe the Polythene is easily worn out. This is quite common on city supplies, where chlorinated water tears down the little plastic particles. To test if your Polythene bed has to be replaced, rub a few of the dots between your palms. If they crumble easily, it is a sign they have reached the end of life.

Another way to find out the Polythene’s status is to look for particles in faucet strainers and shower heads and drift in the soft water.

Unfortunately, the only proper solution to this is to rebid or replace the Polythene tank.

Unit Is Leaking

If your water softener shows any symptoms of leakages, you need to look at every element: tanks, hoses, valves, O-rings.

Fix or replace every piece that is broken. There is a potential that it caused a mistake during the installation.

We know inspecting the entire system is a tedious job, but there is no way around it.

Dirt — Brown Water in Salt solution  Tank

Brown water in the salt solution tank can be a sign of too much rust in the feed distribution. Mixed with salt solution, it generates a brownish color. It can also be that dirt in the salt has accumulated over time. (Are you using rock salt)

The obvious solution for this is to clean the salt solution tank. As a guideline, a standard water softener should be cleaned between once annually to every five years, based on the feed water condition.

Discolored Water

Brown, yellow, cloudy, or stained water coming from your taps — especially after a recent regeneration cycle — may be a sign of dirty salt, rusty water, or a fouled Polythene bed.

Check the above section for how to clean your salt solution tank — if this is the culprit.

If the discoloration starts from the Polythene bed, jump into the section.

Softener Reasons for Low Water Pressure

Your softener may cause low water pressure for one or more of the following reasons:

Worn out or blocked Polythene Sheath: Most of the time, a drop in pressure results from resistance from the Polythene bed. Chlorine may have corrupted it. The remains move to the bottom of the mineral tank and form an almost impermeable layer. Or it clogs the Polythene — the two results in reduced water pressure.

Polythene particles have clogged outlets — If we wash particles from the Polythene tank, they may wind up in and clog tap strainers and showerheads for the pressure back to normal wash outlets.

Improper system sizing — A water softener that’s too small concerning softening capacity or that doesn’t supply a high-enough flow speed will bleed hard water or decrease pressure, or both. There’s very little you can do except learn how to size a water softener the ideal way and purchase a new system.

Clogged control valve: As we said, this is uncommon. Clean to unclog.

Water is Slippery or tastes Too Salty (After regeneration)

water softener salt not going down

If your water is too slippery or tastes too salty and may even leave behind a white residue, it essentially means that the water is “too soft.” You may need to define it differently. Your softener uses an excessive amount of salt when regenerating. So, check your salt preferences.

Another explanation might be that the drain hose or controller is clogged. This keeps salt solution from being flushed from the Polythene during regeneration. To repair the problem, remove any debris.

Softener Won’t Stop Draining/Running.

Your softener may be stuck in regeneration or keeps cycling over and over whether the Polythene tank can’t draw salt solution from the salt tank.

This can be because of a clogged drain control/line, injector/venturi, or salt solution line/valve. Maybe the valve assembly in the salt tank can’t move, or water pressure in your home is too low (quantity and adjust accordingly). If there are any blockages must be eliminated.

A broken circuit switch or the incorrect settings controlling regeneration cycle length could also cause the error.

Usually, a complete cycle should take a little over one hour.


A water softener that creates loud (hissing) sounds does not indicate a problem that has to be fixed. The machine has many parts that may make normal noises, particularly during regeneration, usually when it is very quiet.

However, you want to test for the following:

Clogged tubing/valves

Worn out timer

Broken air valve

Very high salt use

Disproportionately high salt use might result from having put an improper salt dose or overly frequent regeneration cycles. Check both settings on the controller unit.

Too much water in the salt solution tank may also cause the problem (read more).

Yellow Polythene Particles in Water and Pipes

troubleshooting water softener

A cracked basket in the bottom end of the riser tube found in the Polythene tank might flow yellowish Polythene particles into your house. This can happen if there’s a lot of chlorine in the water that eats away the synthetic. Or it may be the case that the Polythene particles are dirty.

Whatever be the reason, they will end up everywhere in your water outlets and appliances, flushing little water lines and causing all kinds of damage.

Therefore, you mustn’t sit around and do nothing. First, you want to flush your complete water system:

1. Open the softener bypass valve.

2. Drain and flush your water softener.

3. Open all water outlets, including showers and taps. Don’t forget to flush both cold and hot water lines. Flush your toilets, clean drain strainers, etc.

4. Run all water appliances such as your dishwasher and washing machine. If among them they slogged, turn it off, then disconnect it and assess all water lines for particles. Then reattach and operate the appliance another time.

Finally, replace any broken part(s) responsible for this mess. To replace the riser tube, you need to drain the Polythene tank.

Repair Companies & Price

Sometimes, hiring a company to fix your water softener for you is inevitable. A trained technician will diagnose and repair the system right away. Prices usually range from $200 to $750, based on the scope of the project.

If you are leasing a water softener, it often carries reclined by the leading supplier. The corporation should also cover the price unless you have contributed or caused any harm or have otherwise breached a contractual obligation. Call them!

About the Author Ed Carmichael

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