Guide to Water Softener Issues, Maintenance Tips, and Replacement

Water purification is often required in offices, homes, businesses and industry where it is used for cooking, drinking, or producing goods and or services. The most common methods are is usually water filtration and water softening. Of these two, water softening is commonly used in applications where hard water is involved. In this process, calcium and magnesium ions in water are physically removed and replaced with sodium ions in a process called ion exchange. Water softening is performed with various types of valves and vessels depending on the application and the volume of water to be treated. Like water filters, most commercial water softeners are designed to last 10-15 years. If these systems are properly cared for, they can last much longer without needed to be replaced. What is involved with maintenance? What are indicators that the systems is failing? When do they require replacement? How to ensure lasting performance? Read the post to know the answers.

Common Signs to Look for When Using Water Softeners

As said before, a water softener is used to segregate hard minerals from hard water in some amounts. It removes minerals like magnesium and calcium from the water (iron and manganese secondarily but softening may not be the best choice for these metals). However, at times it may not work as expected. How to know if they are working or not? Here are the signs that will tell you about the diminishing efficiency of your water softener.

  • Changed Water Taste: The water laden with minerals has a bitter and pungent taste. However, soft water has a somewhat neutral taste. If one notices a rapid change in taste, mineral breakthrough can be an indicator the system needs to be serviced or is failing.
  • Produces Less Lather: Another common sign is less soap lather. In hard water, you have it is difficult lather the soap while in the shower. In fact, soft water can make soaps and detergents go further as less is required to do its job.  Hard water causes soap to form a precipitate instead of foam. If this happens, then it is time to address the technical issues of the water softener.
  • Laundry Issues: If hard water is used to wash clothes then they may feel scratchy and stiff. Although many times fabric softeners may help you counter this water hardness, they are not a permanent solution. Also, the regular use of hard water may have a severe impact on the functioning of appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, and hot water heaters. Thus, to seek desired results and to protect these appliances from malfunctioning, it is important to check the performance of your water softener.
  • Stains and Corrosion Build-Up Around Fixtures and Pipes: If you notice rust near pipes or faucets then perhaps it is an indicator that your softener is not working properly. One may also notice opaque white or rust color rings around sinks, tubs and showers. If ignored, this may require sometimes the entire replacement of fixtures and plumbing.
water softener maintenance
Water Softener Maintenance Tips

Why Do Water Softeners Fail to Perform?

Although water softeners are designed to withstand the chemicals and minerals in hard water, there are a few things that may affect their performance. The following are a few factors:

  • Hardness of Water: Today, you will find water softeners that are specifically designed for treating water with certain hardness levels. You will notice 32K, 48K, or 64K on its specifications for example.  These numbers represent the capacity and size for the system that relate to how much hardness a system can remove before requiring a regeneration (cleaning) cycle. There is a calculation that is used to convert the hardness minerals into grains. Certain metals have a multiplier that needs to be utilized and added to this formula.  It is imperative that you choose the correct sized softener, as well as the correct softening resin,  that will best treat the type of hard water minerals that is creating your problems. If the water has more minerals than the capacity of the softener, it may not work for a long time because of excess load causing a breakthrough and potential dumping of these hardness minerals.
  • Frequency of Use: The shelf life of a water softener also depends on volume of water treated, the hardness levels that are treated, and the frequency of regeneration. In an average household, each person uses 100 gallons per day. If a residence contains 4 people, they will use 400 gallons per day or 2,800 gallons per week. If capacity is reached early before a regeneration cycle occurs, it could shorten the life of the resin.  If a home or business is regenerating their system once or more daily, the wear on the seals could shorten the life of the system. Proper sizing is imperative.
  • Volume of Water Processed: Frequency and volume are two inter-related terms. For instance, the frequency of use will also affect the volume.
  • Not all Hardness Minerals are the Same: Even though iron and manganese is used in calculating the capacity of a softener, water softening may not the best technology to remove these.  Anything over 1 ppm can potentially foul the resin.  Special resins can be substituted that are better equipped to address these metals along with calcium and magnesium. The resin will cost more upfront; however, it will save the end user money in the long run by extending the need to replace the resin.

All the above-listed problems may limit the life of your water softener; still, you can utilize it properly with a few easy-to-follow maintenance tips.

Easy-to-Follow Maintenance Tips for Water Softeners

The following tips are proven to work for water softener owners and they assure a lasting performance of water softeners.

  • Check the Level of Salt: Low salt levels or reduced salinity of brine settings are key reasons for water softener failure. The salt level to be maintained is defined by every manufacturer. Make sure the level is maintained constantly at all times. Most manufacturers would recommend checking the salt level at least once in a month; however, the frequency may change due to the frequency of regenerations or size of the brine tank.
  • Check for Chloride Scale and Salt Bridges: A salt bridge is a condition when a hard crust is formed in a brine tank. It produces an empty space between the salt and the water. This crust creates channeling and prevents the water and salt from mixing; thereby, limiting the concentration of brine. If the brine is diluted, it will be unable to clean the resin beads and kick off the hardness minerals and replace them with sodium ions. The bridging may occur due to high-temperature changes or high humidity. Chloride scale (aka salt mushing) is another problem that you may face. This usually occurs, when salt dissolved in water recrystallizes and forms a layer of sludge. Salt mushing usually occurs on the bottom of the tank. It can also be found in the brine line or injector pins inside the valve head.  Salt bridges can be broken using a broom handle or any other hard object. If it doesn’t break down easily then probably salt mushing may be the cause. You can get rid of salt mushing by cleaning and then replacing both the water and salt in the brine tank.  Immediately follow the cleaning with a regeneration cycle.
  • Check on the Brine Tank: Most advanced water softeners are equipped with brine tanks that do not require regular cleaning. However, for their proper functioning, it is recommended to clean them once or twice a year, within a gap of 6 months. Before cleaning the tank, it is important to read the user manual to check for dos and don’ts.
  • Clean the Resin Bed: The resin beds are charged with brine solution. However, they may fail to perform due to heavy metals, iron, and other organic compounds. So, ensure you clean the resin bed by using an approved resin cleaner as suggested by the manufacturer.
  • Use Only Recommended Salt: There is a common misconception that water softeners are compatible with any type of salt. Many people end up using any salt available with them. Bags are colored in white, yellow, or blue as indicators of what type of conditioner (or lack of one) that is added to the salt. You must refer to the user manual to check the most suitable salt and stick with that type of salt or substitute with an approved conditioner.

Following the suggested maintenance schedule will help you boost the performance of your existing water softener. However, if you find any of the components are damaged or worn out beyond repair then it may be time for a replacement. There are a variety of options available for softeners and competing technologies that do not require salt. When choosing a new water softener, ensure that you select the one that meets your application requirements. There are several water softeners available in the market which claim to offer the best value for investment. However, they may work as expected. It is always recommended to source your water softener from a trusted brand like Intec-America. The company offers various water treatment solutions including copper-ionization for pools and spas.