How To Take Care Of Your Water Softener System

Water softener systems in homes with hard water are an important investment that helps prolong the life of pipes, air conditioners, and other appliances. Because a water softening system treats the water that is used throughout your home, taking care of the system is crucial to ensure it keeps working for years to come.

Once a month

On a set day each month, plan to spend five minutes checking your water softening system. A few scheduled minutes spent maintaining your system can save you hours or days of professional services later on. There are three things to keep an eye out for:

1. Break up salt bridges at the top of the tank

Open the lid on the brine tank and check the level of the salt and water. It may help to have a flashlight handy. If you see a layer of salt and not water, this may mean that your salt is a good level, but it may also mean that a salt bridge has formed. As the water passes through the brine tank, the top of the salt can form a hard crust that keeps the loose salt from mixing with the water below. Take a pole or long handle and tap on the top layer to see if it will dislodge. If a salt bridge has formed, knock the salt away from the top and sides of the tank, breaking up any pieces of salt that have formed.
If salt bridges regularly form in your tank, you may need to use less salt when you top off the tank and let the salt levels drop to a lower point between refills. If you have a problem breaking up the salt pieces, pour hot water over them to loosen the layers.

2. Stir up salt that collects at the bottom of the tank

Just as salt can form on the top of the tank, it can create a sludge on the bottom of the tank that keeps your softener system from working optimally. Take your handle or pole and stir to the bottom of the tank. If you find a pile of mushy salt clumping at the bottom, break up the pile so that water can flow through it. If the salt mound is too dense to combine with the rest of the solution in the brine tank, scoop the crystals into a bucket of hot water to dissolve the chunks before pouring them back in the tank.

3. Check that the salt is at the right level

The water softener system only works if the brine tank contains the right amount of salt to soften the water. Too much salt and the system can clog. Too little salt and there is not enough material to soften the water.

Check the manual for your particular model to determine if there are any specific requirements for the type or amount of salt pellets you must use. Machines use either granular, tablet, or block salt. Granular salt looks similar to the salt you have in your kitchen and is the cheapest. It contains more impurities than other forms, though, which causes your tank to need cleaning more frequently. Pellets are a great option because they do not clog the tank as much as granular salt.

In general, you should refill your brine tank with salt once the salt level is lower than 1/4 of the tank. Add salt to fill one half to two-thirds of the tank, and keep it at least three inches above the water line. If you use block salt, make sure the block is completely submerged in the water. You might need to have a professional change the level of the water to cover the block.

4. Check the valves around the tank

There is nothing worse than a slow water leak that is not discovered for months. Leaks usually happen at valves and joints, so take time every month to inspect the pipes around your water system. Pay special attention to the bypass valve, the intake valve, and the outtake valve, as well as any bends in your pipes where stress can occur when water flows.

The bypass valve is located between your water softener system and the main water supply for your house. You want to make sure that the valve will close when you need to turn off the water to the softener system, so take time once a month to close the valve and reopen it. Close and re-open the intake and outtake valves as well. Exercising the valves reduces the chance that they will stick when you need them most.

Occasional Maintenance

Every quarter, a little extra maintenance can help keep your water softener system in good shape.  Choose a quality water softener cleaner and follow its instructions to flush the brine and resin tanks.

Check for clogs in the venturi valve and pipe between the brine and resin tank. Twice a year, or more often if needed, you should make sure the pipe that brings salted water to the resin tank is not obstructed. The venturi valve between these two tanks should be cleaned following the instructions in your manual since every system is different and improper disassembly could damage the valve.

Full Cleaning

Older water softener systems may benefit from an annual cleaning of the brine and resin tanks. Modern systems may last 5-10 years without cleaning. To clean your system, shut off the water intake using the bypass valve. Remove the water from the tank by siphoning it and scoop out the salt. Make sure to properly dispose of the salt in the trash, as salt will kill lawns and plants. When the brine is removed from the tank, scrub the tank with soapy water and rinse completely. Then sanitize the tank with 1/4 cup of bleach in 2 gallons of water, making sure bleach reaches all parts of the tank interior. After rinsing the tank once again, fill the tank with salt and water to normal levels. Give the salt a few hours to dissolve before regenerating the tank, and your system should be ready to go.

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