Everything You Need to About How to Clean a Water Softener

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A water treatment system with Water Softener

A water softener is one of those appliances you buy and almost forget about because it requires little maintenance. But learning how to clean a water softener and doing it when necessary can significantly improve your machine’s life span.

While it’s essential to keep an eye on the salt level and refill it as needed, it won’t do any good if there’s buildup in your brine tank. Some of the softening salt pellets on the market contain highly insoluble impurities that cause buildup in the reservoir, which may easily lead to a system malfunction.

So, if you’ve noticed any buildup in the brine tank, it may be time to add this chore to your list of “fun things to do on the weekend.” The good news is, you won’t have to do it often.

Steps on How to Clean a Water Softener

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If you don’t know how to clean a water softener, it can be daunting and confusing. Do you wash the tank with any soap you have in the house? Can you add bleach to the brine tank? Is it OK to disassemble the system when you want to clean it? And how often are you supposed to do it?

If you’ve recently bought a water softener or haven’t bothered to clean it for years, these are some of the questions that may be going through your mind. We’ve all been there. Lucky for you, we’ve got all the answers to your questions.

Here’s how to clean a water softener.

A schedule will save you a lot of hassle

The best thing about water softeners is that they don’t require frequent cleaning. Most modern systems can go up to 5 to 10 years without cleaning. However, if the water coming out of the system is hard or has a foul smell or taste that won’t go away, you may need to clean it immediately.

But if you have an older or electric model, it’s best to clean it at least once a year or when you notice excessive buildup in the tank.

And to ensure you’re keeping up with proper maintenance, it may help to schedule your cleaning times so that you never forget.

Also, make sure to clean your tank just before you replenish the salt in the system. This way, you won’t have to remove good salt for cleaning purposes.

A low salt level also makes it easier for you to see any mold or dirt at the bottom of the tank. What’s more, it easier to move the machine if it doesn’t have too much salt in it.

Safety is key 

If you own an electric water softener, it’s crucial to ensure you’ve turned off the power and unplugged the machine before you begin cleaning.

The same case applies to battery-powered water softeners. Ensure the system isn’t running when you want to begin cleaning.

How to clean a water softener: getting started

Once you’ve turned off the machine, and you’re sure you’re safe to begin cleaning, the next step is emptying the tank. You have two options here. You can either siphon or damp it out — whichever works best for you.

Afterward, remove any residual salt from the tank and throw it away. However, you need to be careful about where you dispose of your salt. Don’t dump any of the water or salt in your garden because the salt may kill your plants.

And if you have a hard time removing the salt due to hardening, dissolve it in hot water for faster, easier removal.

Get full access to the tank

The next step on how to clean a water softener is removing the brine grid (if your machine has one) so that you have full access to the tank. Set the brine grid aside and proceed to the next step.

Grab your cleaning supplies

To clean your brine tank, you’ll need a mixture of water and mild dish soap — no need for harsh chemicals. You’re also going to need a handheld brush to scrub the dirt away.

However, keep in mind that you’re not trying to make your water softener brand new again. Focus on getting rid of the dirt and rinse thoroughly after finishing.

This is an excellent time to check on your float switch. Ensure it’s not only straight but can also move up and down with ease.

Don’t forget to sanitize

A water softening system and its resin are highly susceptible to microbial contamination for different reasons. The main culprit is the abundance of moisture in the tank — mildew and mold thrive in such an environment.

It’s also possible for microorganisms to enter the tank via different routes, even if you’re using disinfected water. Not to mention, impurities like sulfur and iron may also encourage infestation.

Therefore, apart from knowing how to clean a water softener, you should also know how to sanitize the system. This way, you can ensure the water is safe to use. The typical signs of infestation are a change in the color of the water or its smell.

To sanitize your brine tank, you’re going to need a quarter cup of household bleach and 2 to 3 gallons of water. Mix the two by stirring and allow the mixture to sit in the tank for about 15 minutes.

Afterward, scrub with a handheld brush, making sure to focus on the float assembly.

Pro tip: Consult the instructions manual before using bleach or any other chemical to clean your water softener. This way, you’ll know what the manufacturer recommends for your specific water softener and what they discourage.

Finishing off

The last step on how to clean a water softener is rinsing. Rinse it thoroughly with clean water to remove the bleach and any residual dirt. Afterward, put back the grid and replenish the tank with salt and water as usual.

Wait a few hours before regenerating the tank to give the salt some time to dissolve.

Proper Water Softener Maintenance

As you can see, the process of how to clean a water softener is quite straightforward. However, if you want to keep your system in tip-top condition, it’s also crucial to learn how to maintain the brine tank for optimal performance.

Similar to the cleaning process, water softener maintenance is also a hassle-free process. As long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and keep an eye on the system’s performance for troubleshooting, you should be OK. Here are some of the things you should do.

Keep a close watch

One of the most important things you should do is to check the salt level frequently. The salt is vital for the softening process. It works on the resin beads, thereby preparing them for softening.

For this reason, you can’t afford to have your salt level outside the required amount. It’s best to do it monthly to ensure your system is working fine.

Fortunately, it’s easy to check on the salt because the instructions manual contains all the information you need. But a rule of thumb is to ensure the tank is half-full of salt and that the salt is at least 3 inches above the water level.

Higher salt levels of about 4 inches above the water level may improve the efficiency

of the water softener. However, if you notice that the salt is clinging onto the sides, it may be best to lower the salt level.

Follow instructions to the letter

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It’s also essential to ensure you’re using the right salt in your machine. Some water softeners use granular salt while others require either block or tablet salt.

Therefore, before you begin shopping for the salt, make sure you consult the manual to find out what the manufacturer recommends.

Granular salt is the most common because it dissolves faster. But if the manual also approves pellet form, it may be a better alternative because it won’t clog your tank as quickly as regular salt will.

That said, there are different salt grades you can use. The first option is rock salt, also known as coarse salt. This type of salt is affordable but contains a lot of impurities that dirty and reduce the efficiency of your tank, thus requiring frequent cleaning.

You also have the option of getting solar salt, which is purer than rock salt. And if you can afford to splurge, evaporated salt is the best.

Deal with obstructions effectively

A common problem most people face when using a water softener is “bridge” formation — a case where the salt forms a solid layer in the brine tank.

When this happens, it prevents the loose salt on the top from mixing with the water below. As a result, your softener won’t work.

To fix this problem, you have two options. First, you can use a long broom handle to break up the solid layer of salt. Push the broom handle through the thickness of salt a couple of times until the salt breaks.

Alternatively, you can pour hot water on the bridge to make it easier to break and use the broom handle to break it down further. The steps on how to clean water softener should also fix this problem.

However, if the issue with bridge formation persists, you should consider reducing your salt usage. It may also help to give the salt some time to drop lower between the refills.

The right way to deal with mush

Apart from salt bridges, you may also have to deal with salt mush. The salt may form a mushy pile at the bottom of the tank, which makes the water rise instead of mixing with the salt.

If the salt forms a large mound, you can use a broom handle to break it up to make it easier for the salt and water to mix. Alternatively, you can scoop out the mush, place it in a bucket of hot water, and put it back into the tank.

Exercise the valves

Another way to ensure your water softener is working as it should is to exercise the valves. Do this at least once a month.

To do this, all you have to do is to adjust the bypass valve inward to cut off the water softener from your water supply temporarily.

Twist both the outtake and intake valves to the off position and turn them back on. By doing this, you ensure both valves are working correctly.

If you happen to notice drippage or leaks while exercising the valves, disassemble them and fix any damaged seals or washers.

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Another incredible hack that will save you the hassle of cleaning your water softener often is adding a softener cleaner during the regeneration process. Doing this every month will keep your resin functional and efficient.

Just make sure you follow the instructions provided on the cleaner. However, if your water is rich in iron or other issues interfere with the softening process, you may need to look for a stronger cleaner to deal with the problems.

Alternatively, you can purchase an attachment that will add a small amount of the cleaner automatically just before the regeneration process.

Stop clogging at its tracks

There’s a valve between the resin and brine tank that’s responsible for creating the suction that pulls the water in to regenerate the system. When dirt accumulates in it, it may clog the brine tank, thus affecting the system’s functionality.

To prevent this, clean the valve at least twice every year or whenever you notice the brine tank is clogged. And when you decide to do this, make sure you relieve the water pressure before you begin.

Failure to do so may cause damage to the part or cause bodily injuries.

The last resort

If you’ve followed all the steps on how to clean a water softener as well as the maintenance tips, and you’re still getting hard water, some troubleshooting may help.

Begin by ensuring the regeneration timer is set, the bypass valve is open, and the hoses are free from kinks. It may also be a good idea to check your water pressure.

​If you’re using more water than usual or you’ve noticed the water is harder than usual, try setting the timer to regenerate often. Also, ensure that the circuit is powered and that all fuses and wires are intact.

If none of these solutions work, call an expert to take a look at the problem. And if that doesn’t work either, it may be time to start researching the best water softener reviews to begin our search for a new water softener.

Wrapping Up

There you have it: a simple guide on how to clean a water softener. As you can see, it’s a hassle-free process that shouldn’t take you a long time to finish.

Just make sure you don’t use harsh cleaning products. And always consult the instruction manual before trying something new on your water softener. Don’t forget to follow our maintenance tips, as they’ll surely go a long way in increasing your system’s life span.

Where these tips on how to clean a water softener useful? How do you clean your water softener, and how often do you do it? Please let us know in the comments section below. It’s always a joy to hear from our readers.

Featured Image via flickr

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