If your home has a water softener you know that they are virtually trouble free. Here’s how to fix their few quirks. This Fix-It Guide on water softener repair tells how a water softener works, what can go wrong, how to identify a water softener problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives simple step-by-step instructions for how to clean a water softener injector, how to flush a brine line, and how to clean a brine compartment. This guide also refers you to electrical receptacle repair and motor repair for specific problems.
How Does a Water Softener Work?
A water softener is an appliance designed to remove minerals from water by means of an ion-exchange process. As water flows through a bed of sodium impregnated resin beads, mineral ions are drawn from the water to the beads. The sodium ions are added to the water. The water softener unit recharges the beads with brine or a potassium chloride solution. Some water softeners have separate tanks for the sodium resin and the brine while others have the resin tank inside the brine tank.
Full-home water softeners typically are installed right where the main water line enters the house. For economy, some systems bypass faucets and fixtures that don’t need soft water, such as toilets and exterior water systems. Depending on what system you have and who owns it (you or a leasing company), your water softening system may be maintained by a service company. All you need to do to get soft water is turn on the tap–and pay the bill.
Do you really need a water softener? Not sure? Call your county or state health department to find out how and where to have a water sample tested.
What Can Go Wrong with a Water Softener?
Most water softeners generally require little maintenance aside from periodic salt refill. If you have a water softener service, responsibility for the equipment is with the supplier. If you own the equipment, however, there are a few things you can do to maintain and repair it. The motor can break down, the water may not be softened, and the brine may not flow.
How Can I Identify a Water Softener Problem?
- If the motor is not operating, make sure power is on at the electrical receptacle. If the unit is not under a service contract, test the motor.
- If the water is not softened, flush the tank (see below) and add salt. Reset the timer to increase regeneration frequency.
- If the iron content of the water is too high, check and, if needed, replace the filter. On some models, purchase and use salt with iron-control agents. Make sure that the bypass valve is set to the service position and that water is not being lost to plumbing leaks.
- If the brine is not flowing, flush out the brine line, then check and replace the injector and filter screen (see below). Check the brine line for kinks or damage. Make sure the brine line pressure is set according to the owner’s manual.
Can’t get down to the store to pick up some more salt for your water softener? Turn the system to the bypass mode. You shouldn’t let a water softener operate without salt.
What Do I Need for Water Softener Repair?
Replacement parts are available from the manufacturer and aftermarket suppliers as well as from most plumbing supplies, and larger hardware stores and home centers. The tools you will need to fix a water softener include these:
- Shop vacuum
- Canned air
- Syringe or turkey baster
- Paper clip or small wire
- Soapy water
- Small brush
What Are the Steps to Water Softener Repair?
Clean a water softener injector:
- Turn the water softener control to the bypass mode (so the main water line does not run through the softener). On some units, you also may need to disconnect the unit from the electrical source.
- Unscrew the softener injector cap and remove the screen and injector nozzle. You may need the owner’s manual to determine where these components are located on your model.
- Remove and clean the screen with warm soapy water, then rinse in clear water. If it is damaged, replace the screen.
- Clean the nozzle with canned air, a small wire, or a paper clip.
- Reassemble and test the unit.
Flush a water softener brine line:
- Turn the water softener control to the bypass mode. On some units, you also may need to disconnect the unit from the electrical source.
- Loosen the brine line fittings at the injector housing and salt tank with a wrench, then remove the brine line.
- To clear a clog, use a large syringe or a turkey baster to inject warm water into the line.
Clean a water softener brine compartment:
- Turn the water softener control to the bypass mode. If suggested by the manufacturer, disconnect the unit from the electrical source.
- Wash the brine intake with water and a small brush.
- Remove the brine tank cover and dump out the brine with any salt residue. Alternately, use a wet-dry or shop vacuum.
- Flush the tank clean with clean water using a hose.
- Refill with salt as recommended by the manufacturer.
Save yourself some time and trouble by remembering to clean the brine tank before each salt refill. Salt buildup can clog the system.