Water Softener Troubleshooting thumbnail

Water Softener Repair & Problem Troubleshooting Guide – Is Your System Working?

Culligan, GE, Morton or Whirlpool – From time to time, every water softener can have issues that need to be fixed in order to function properly.

Unfortunately, troubleshooting is not always easy, especially if you are not an experienced do-it-yourselfer. But don’t worry, our water softener repair guide will help you out.

Hopefully you find a few quick fixes that you can try to save you from a service call.

Contents:

Water Softener Problems + Fixes | Overview

ProblemPossible CauseFix
Hard waterSoftener not functioning at allGo through First Steps
System produces insufficient amount of soft waterStart manual regeneration cycle + retest water for hardness. Is it soft now? → Increase salt dose and/or regeneration frequency + cycle length. No improvement? Go through Troubleshooting & Repair 101
System does not regenerate properly or not at allBroken timerSet regen cycle to daily. Can you see/hear system regenerating the following night? No: Replace timer
Misconfigured timerCheck settings
Clogged injector/venturiUnclog
Restricted drain hose/controlRemove blockage
Not enough water in brine tankGo through 2. No or Not Enough Water in Brine Tank
Salt bridgingGo through 3a. Softener Is Not Using Salt
Salt mushingGo through 3b. Mushing
Too much water in brine tankGo through 4. Full of Water – How Much Water Should Be in the Brine Tank?
Dirty/worn out resin bedGo through 5. Dirty or Worn Out Resin Bed
Motor failure (rare)Replace
No water or low water level in brine tankCrooked or broken brine tank float switchStraighten/replace
Brine tank float switch stuckClean all parts inside brine well
Clogged brine line/valveSoak in hot water + flush
System does not use saltSalt bridgeTry to push to bottom of brine tank with broom handle. You can’t? Crush bridge + large clumps. Start manual regen
Brine tank water level is too highAccumulation of dirtDrain + clean brine tank
Crooked or broken brine tank float switchStraighten/replace
Brine tank float switch stuckClean all parts inside brine well
Clogged brine line/valveSoak in hot water + flush
Brine valve assembly has missing/misplaced/worn out O-ringReplace O-ring
House water pressure too low or highMeasure + adjust accordingly
Restricted drain hose/controlRemove blockage
Clogged injector/venturiUnclog
Misconfigured timerCheck settings
Salt mushingGo through 3b. Mushing
Plugged control valve (rare)Unclog
LeakingDamaged/misplaced tank, hose, valve, O-ring…Fix or replace
Installation errorFix
Brown water in brine tankRust in waterClean brine tank
Dirt in saltClean brine tank
Soft water is discoloredRust in waterClean brine tank
Dirt in saltClean brine tank
Fouled resin bed (other indicators are reduced softening capacity, cloudiness, unpleasant taste, rotten egg smell)Clean and/or sanitize. Increase regeneration frequency + cycle length. Reduce salt dose if necessary
Low water pressureWorn out or clogged resin bedGo through 5. Dirty or Worn Out Resin Bed
Resin beads have clogged fixturesGo through Yellow Resin Beads in Pipes and Water
System sized too smallReplace
Plugged control valve (rare)Unclog
Slippery and/or overly salty waterSystem uses too much saltAdjust salt settings
Restricted drain hose/controlRemove blockage
System runs or drains continuouslyRestricted drain hose/controlRemove blockage
Clogged injector/venturiUnclog
House water pressure too low or highMeasure + adjust accordingly
Brine tank float switch stuckClean all parts inside brine well
Clogged brine line/valveSoak in hot water + flush
Broken circuit switch or wrong settings controlling cycle lengthReplace/adjust
Water softener makes loud noisesDoes not necessarily indicate a problemCheck for clogged tubing/valves, worn out timer, broken air valve
Increased salt useImproper system settingsAdjust salt dose and/or regen cycle frequency
Too much water in brine tankGo through 4. Full of Water – How Much Water Should Be in the Brine Tank?
Resin beads in water systemCracked riser tube basketBypass softener. Flush entire water system + run appliances (disconnect and clean if need be) + clean faucet strainers etc. Replace riser tube
Worn out resin bedBypass softener. Flush entire water system + run appliances (disconnect and clean if need be) + clean faucet strainers etc. Rub resin beads between fingers. Do they crumble? → Rebed or replace resin tank

What to Do If Your Water Softener Is Not Working?

Testing: How to Tell If Your Water Softener Is Working Properly

The easiest way to test if your water softener is working properly is by measuring output water hardness.

To do this, you can buy a cheap test kit online or at the local hardware store. All you have to do then is follow the included instructions.

Testing for soft water is all about calcium carbonate levels. Concentrations are measured in ppm (parts per million), mg/L or gpg (grains per gallon). The latter is the industry standard.

Of course it would make sense to also test the feed water, so you can be certain that there is a difference in hardness before and after the softening process.

Hach Total Hardness Test Kit

Hach Total Hardness Test Kit – available on amazon.com

First Steps

If hard water comes out of your softener it’s either because it’s not functioning at all or it’s not producing a sufficient amount of soft water to meet your demand.

In case hardness is not reduced even a tiny bit make sure to follow these simple steps first, before you dive into our DIY Troubleshooting & Repair Guide below:

  1. Does your softener run on electricity? Double-check that it’s plugged in and that the outlet is not switched off. Check the unit’s display. Is it blank?
  2. Make sure that any bypass valve is not in bypass position.
  3. Check if there is enough salt in the brine tank. Also, look for a salt bridge which is a very common phenomenon (learn more below).
  4. Check that the correct time of day is displayed, especially after a recent power outage. Adjust if need be.
  5. Apply the right settings regarding hardness, salt and water usage for regeneration, and also regen time and cycle length (refer to manual).
  6. For a metered unit, is the valve registering water flow? Check by opening a nearby faucet.
  7. For a new unit, is it plumbed in correctly? Think water flow direction.
  8. If you haven’t found the error at this point start a manual regeneration cycle (see operation manual for more info) and retest output water hardness level afterwards.

Is the water perfectly soft now? Then it may be that your water consumption is higher than you thought. Obviously, if your demand exceeds the supply you will run out of soft water eventually, since your softener exhausts its capacity ahead of schedule.

To solve this, increase the salt dose to get more out of your system and/or let it regenerate more often and for a longer time.

On a side note: Many people underestimate how much water they really use on a daily basis. The average is between 80 and 100 gallons per capita.

water softener

If that is not it then there is indeed something wrong with your system. It might not regenerate due to a malfunctioning timer or the brine tank is having a problem so the resin cannot fully recharge. Another possible explanation is a dirty or depleted resin bed.

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

You are not getting any soft water even right after regen? In this case there is definitely an issue that requires your attention – time for some troubleshooting.

Water Softener Troubleshooting & Repair 101

We ordered the following water softener problems from most to least common where it made sense.

Now, you might have to jump between sections. Also, keep in mind that there are many potential causes for a water softener to fail and finding the error is not always straightforward.

1. System Does Not Regenerate

Your water softener does not to regenerate properly or not at all?

  • Broken timer – To find out if you are dealing with a broken timer, set the regen cycle to daily. You should then see and hear the system recharge the following night. If nothing happens the timer is probably broken and replacing the piece is the only solution.
  • Misconfigured timer – Another issue could be a clock or timer that is not configured correctly. Consult the operation manual and check all settings.
  • Clogged injector/venturi – Check if the brine injector or venturi – used to suck brine into the resin tank – is plugged and if so remove any debris or salt deposits (refer to manual).
  • Restricted drain hose/control – A restriction may disrupt brine draw during recharge. Remove the blockage.
  • Too little water in the brine tank
  • Salt bridging or mushing
  • Too much water in the brine tank
  • Dirty or worn out resin bed
  • Motor failure – In case of a motor failure there is not much you can do except replacing it. The good news is that this is a very rare occurrence.

By the way, if you are having problems identifying the parts this might help:
water softener parts diagram

2. No or Not Enough Water in Brine Tank

You can only tell if enough water flows into the brine tank when it’s running low on salt. Why? Because a normally functioning tank won’t fill up all the way to the top, not even close.

Instead, water only gets pumped into the bottom. The salt partially dissolves and the brine gets sucked into the resin tank for regeneration.

So just because you can’t see any water does not mean that something is wrong – no reason to panic just yet!

However, if indeed no water flows into the brine tank then your softener cannot restore its softening capacity. If the tank is not filling up enough regeneration will be partial at best. Both scenarios entail that the system won’t run at peak performance and eventually fail to soften water completely.

How to address the problem? First, ensure that the brine tank float switch is straight and can move freely up and down (if it has one). If it’s stuck, cleaning all parts inside the brine well should do the trick. As a last resort, replace a broken switch.

Next, make sure that the brine line and valve aren’t clogged so that brine can be sucked in. Soak in hot water and flush out to unclog.

Is your water softener broken beyond repair and the time has finally come to get a replacement? We provide detailed reviews for a range of models!

3a. Softener Is Not Using Salt

If the brine tank salt level is not going down it means that no salt is being used, so far so good.

Most likely this is caused by a hard salt crust, also called “salt bridge“, that has formed in the bottom of the tank. The bridge prevents salt from falling down and dissolving in the water to form brine. At the same time, most if not all salt underneath the bridge is already gone.

If too little salt gets dissolved the resin can’t regenerate and will eventually stop softening.

water softener salt bright

You can easily test for this by trying to push a broom handle all the way down to the bottom of the salt tank. If you can’t then you have encountered a bridge.

Carefully crush the bridge and all large clumps with the broom handle or whatever blunt tool you have at hand. Then start a manual regen cycle so that your water softener can finally recharge.

For more severe cases of bridging refer to our Water Softener Maintenance Guide.

3b. Mushing

Mushing occurs when salt first dissolves but then recrystallizes to form a thick layer of sludge in the bottom of the brine tank.

The mush can clog the brine well and cause the water level in the tank to rise with each regen cycle. It also reduces the salinity of the brine.

To fix this, empty all loose salt. Then use a broom handle to break up the mush and scoop it out. Or you can simply dissolve it in hot water. Furthermore, make sure that the brine well is clean.

4. Full of Water – How Much Water Should Be in the Brine Tank?

Should your softener have water in the brine tank? Yes, it should, as long as it’s a post-fill system. But as stated above, unless the salt is almost empty you should not be able to see any of it, because the tank is not supposed to fill up to the top (usually no higher than 10″ to 12″).

If that’s still the case it means that your brine tank is either not filling or not emptying the way it should. Too much water also means reduced brine salinity which prevents your softener from recharging properly.

Thus, it’s best if you drain the tank by hand and thoroughly clean it afterwards.

Again, ensure that the brine float is straight and moves freely. And neither brine valve nor brine tube should be clogged. Furthermore, the valve might be stuck in the open position or the assembly has a misplaced/worn out O-ring or is missing one.

FYI: With post-fill water softeners, the salt tank is refilled at the end of each regeneration to prepare brine for the next cycle.

More possible reasons why your brine tank is full of water or overflows:

  • Water pressure in your home is too low/high – Measure the water pressure in your home. If it does not meet your softener’s requirements adjust it accordingly.
  • Clogged drain tubing/control – Clean the drain tubing and control if need be.
  • Clogged injector/venturi – Check if the brine injector or venturi – used to suck brine into the resin tank – is plugged and if so remove any debris or salt deposits (refer to manual).
  • Malfunctioning timer – The refill time might not be set properly. We have covered this above.
  • Salt mushing
  • Blockage in control valve – Although it’s rare, a blockage in the main control valve might cause an internal bypass. Clean to unclog.

5. Dirty or Worn Out Resin Bed

The resin bed is the very heart of each water softener. If it’s not in good shape it can lead to a whole range of issues, from discoloration to low water pressure.

So what causes a resin bed to deteriorate?

Any water, well water in particular, contains impurities such as sediment, iron, sulfur, manganese, organic compounds or bacteria. At high enough concentrations, these materials build up inside the resin tank over time and foul or clog the bed.

Newly installed softeners and those that have been out of service for some time or that run for long periods between regenerations are particularly affected.

On a side note: Another major source of dirt is the softening salt.

bacteria

Fouling is often accompanied by reduced softening capacity and possibly an unpleasant taste or rotten egg smell in your water. Cloudiness and discoloration may also occur. This is one way to identify an underlying issue.

Bottom line: Cleaning and/or sanitization are required. Above that, consider shortening the time between regeneration cycles while lowering the salt dose if necessary. You also want to look into the regeneration cycle duration.

You can learn how to sanitize a fouled resin using bleach here. Cleaning a clogged bed with specialized resin cleaner is explained on this page.

It might also be that the resin is simply worn out. This is most common on city supplies where chlorinated water breaks down the small plastic beads. To test if your resin bed needs to be replaced, rub some of the beads between your fingers. If they crumble easily it’s a sign that they have reached the end of their life.

Another way to determine the condition of the resin is to look for particles in faucet strainers and shower heads, and floating in the soft water.

Unfortunately, the only solution to this is to rebed or replace the resin tank.

Unit Is Leaking

If your water softener shows any signs of leakages you have to check every component: Tanks, hoses, valves, O-rings…

Fix or replace every piece that’s broken. It’s also possible that a mistake was made during installation.

We know, inspecting the whole system is a tedious task but there really is no way around it.

Dirt – Brown Water in Brine Tank

Brown water in the brine tank can be a sign for too much rust in the feed supply. Mixed with brine it creates the brownish color. It may also be that dirt contained in the salt has accumulated over time. (Are you using rock salt?)

The obvious solution to this is to clean the brine tank. As a rule of thumb, a standard water softener should be cleaned between once a year to every five years, depending on the condition of the feed water.

You can learn everything you need to know about how to clean a brine tank by following this link: https://www.best-osmosis-systems.com/water-softener-maintenance/#brine-cleaning

Discolored Water

Brown, yellow, cloudy or otherwise discolored water coming out of your faucets – especially after a recent regeneration cycle – could be an indicator for rusty water, dirty salt or a fouled resin bed.

Check the above section for how to clean your brine tank – if that is the culprit.

If the discoloration originates from the resin bed, jump to this section.

Softener Causes Low Water Pressure

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

  • Worn out or clogged resin bed – Most of the time, a drop in pressure results from resistance in the resin bed. Chlorine might have corroded it. The remains sink to the bottom of the mineral tank and form an almost impermeable layer. Or the resin is simply clogged. Both result in low water pressure. You can find out what to do about this here.
  • Resin beads have clogged fixtures – If beads are washed out of the resin tank they can end up in and clog faucet strainers and shower heads. To get the pressure back to normal clean all outlets (for more info see section below).
  • Improper system sizing – A water softener that is too small in terms of softening capacity or that does not provide a high-enough flow rate will either bleed hard water or reduce pressure, or both. There is not much you can do really except for learning how to size a water softener the right way and buying a new system.
  • Clogged control valve – Like we said, this is rare. Clean to unclog.

Water Is Slippery and/or Tastes Overly Salty (After Regeneration)

If your water is too slippery and/or tastes overly salty and might even leave behind a white residue it basically means that the water is “too soft”. In other words, your softener is using too much salt when regenerating. So check your salt settings.

Another explanation could be that the drain hose or control is clogged. This prevents brine from being flushed out of the resin tank during regen. In order to fix the problem remove any debris.

woman drinking

Softener Won’t Stop Running/Draining

Your softener might be stuck in regeneration or keeps cycling over and over if the resin tank cannot draw brine from the salt tank.

This could be due to a clogged drain line/control, injector/venturi or brine line/valve. It might also be that the valve assembly in the salt tank cannot move or that water pressure in your house is too low (measure and adjust accordingly). Any blockages have to be removed.

A broken circuit switch or the wrong settings controlling regen cycle length could also be causing the error.

Usually, a full cycle should take little more than 1 hour.

Noises

A water softener that makes loud (hissing) noises does not necessarily indicate a problem that needs to be fixed. The system has many parts that can make noises that are totally normal, especially during regen that usually happens at night when it’s very quiet.

Still, you want to check for the following:

  • Clogged tubing/valves
  • Worn out timer
  • Broken air valve

Very High Salt Use

Disproportionately high salt use might result from either having set an improper salt dose or too frequent regeneration cycles. Check both settings on the control unit.

Too much water in the brine tank could also be causing the issue (read more).

Yellow Resin Beads in Pipes and Water

A cracked basket at the bottom end of the riser tube located in the resin tank might leak yellow resin beads into your house. This can happen if there is a lot of chlorine in the water that eats away the plastic. Or it might be the case that the resin beads are worn out.

Whatever the reason, they will end up everywhere in your plumbing system, water outlets and appliances, clogging small water lines and causing all sorts of damage.

This is why it’s crucial that you don’t sit around and do nothing. First you want to flush your entire water system:

  1. Open the softener bypass valve.
  2. Drain and flush your water heater.
  3. Open all water outlets including faucets and showers. Remember to flush both hot and cold water lines. Flush your toilets. Clean faucet strainers etc.
  4. Run all water appliances such as your washing machine and dishwasher. If one of them seems clogged, turn it off, disconnect it and check all water lines for beads. Then reattach and run the appliance a second time.

Lastly, replace any broken part(s) responsible for this mess. To replace the riser tube you have to empty the resin tank first.

faucet running

Repair Companies & Cost

Sometimes, hiring a company to repair your water softener for you is inevitable. A trained technician will be able to diagnose and fix the system in no time. Costs usually range from $200 to $750 USD, depending on the scope of the project.

If you are renting a water softener, repairs are usually carried out by the rental supplier. The company should also cover the cost, unless you have caused or contributed to any damage, or have otherwise violated a contractual obligation. Give them a call!

comment banner

If you have any questions or thoughts about how to repair a water softener please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

Leave a Comment:

23 comments
vai says last year

Before 3 week i installed water softener but issue is coming like yellow particle coming in water. So can i know how can i solve it?

Reply
    Gene says last year

    It’s hard to tell, but it sounds like there’s softener resin in your water.

    First, you should close the valves to the water softener and put it in bypass mode.

    Next you’ll have to drain and flush your water heater. And you’ll also have to flush out the resin from every other water outlet and appliance, including faucets, toilets, showers, washing machines, etc. If any of your appliances is clogged, check its connections and remove all beads. Then flush again.

    Last but not least, check your softener for broken parts, such as a membrane. You might even have to replace the entire unit.

    I know this sounds like a lot of work and it is, but it’s the only way to get the softener resin out of your water.

    Best,
    Gene

    Reply
Debbie Johnson says last year

I bought a house in 1994 that had a water softener that was never used or serviced. It is now spewing out a large amount of mist and had a drip that is saturating the side of my house. What kind of a professional do I call to turn off/fix this non functioning, unused softener? I do not plan on using the softener. Thanks

Reply
    Gene says last year

    Hi Debbie,
    Thanks so much for your message and sorry for replying a little late.

    We’d recommend you to hire a professional plumber, so you can make sure that nothing goes wrong.

    Best,
    Gene

    Reply
eugene miller says last year

morton softener seems to be using much more salt than it has used in the past. unit is about 10 years old.

Reply
Dennis says last year

My softener makes loud noises and vibrates at the end of the settle rinse. Only the last 3 to 4 Minutes. Replaced the brine tank valve. Also lubed the resin tank top valve. Still makes noise loud enough to wake me in the house.
Checked input and output water pressure and is 50#.
Help

Reply
    Gene says last year

    Hi Dennis,
    Thanks for your question. Puh, that’s a tough one. Maybe there is an air leak in one of the connections from the control valve to the brine tank? Check all the connections and tighten if necessary. It could also be possible that the floating ball is stuck in case your brine tank uses an air check mechanism. What softener model do you have?
    Gene

    Reply
Andrew says 11 months ago

Here is my latest issue with a culligan gold series 10. We had a power outage. Everything looks fine with time of day and time to regeneration. Unit did a regeneration and we got air in all our taps. After a couple days the air was gone but hard water appeared. Checked unit and screen says soft water 100% and it won’t use any soft water. Seems like no water coming out of unit. I forced a regeneration and same thing. Air in our water pipes and won’t use soft water. Any ideas?

Reply
    Gene says 11 months ago

    Does water actually flow through the unit? If no, it might be in bypass. If yes, the resin must be depleted so the regeneration didn’t work for some reason.

    Reply
Richard Schoepke says 10 months ago

My Morton system saver m34 don’t automaticly make softwater the automatic senser seems as though it don’t tell the softner to regenerate I would like to know what to do

Reply
    Gene says 10 months ago

    Richard,
    That could be a broken timer or switch float. There are other possible explanations for this. I would start the troubleshooting by consulting the manual and see how it goes from there.
    Hope that helps,
    Gene

    Reply
John gilbertson says a few months ago

My kenmore softener has low to no water coming out of the tap. I put it in bypass mode and get good water pressure. Where would be a good place to start working on it?

Reply
Fran Bond says a few months ago

Whirlpool Model WHES40 – The first morning’s water in line tastes slighly salty. What needs to be done?

Reply
    Gene says a few months ago

    Does the water softener regenerate every night? Maybe it uses a little too much salt so lowering the does might help.

    Reply
Frank says a few months ago

Looks like my Sears Water softener is using too much salt. Also I noticed salt residue at the bottom of my water softener possible leakage. How can I fix these myself if possible and/or is it worth calling someone to fix these issues at this point?

Reply
Mark says last month

We recently purchased a new water softener and have been experiencing problems with the quality of our water. Our dishes look cloudy. water tastes salty, and the shower stall and fixtures look dingy. The company that installed the softener assured us that the water softener is working properly and explained the problem was caused by the heavy rains we’ve been experiencing. They made a few adjustments which seemed to work for about 2 weeks. When we called the installation company a month later to schedule a follow up appointment, they didn’t have any record of servicing our water softener. Feeling like we are getting the run around. Any advice on how we should proceed?

Reply
    Gene says last month

    Sorry Mark, I have no advice apart from what you can find in this guide.

    Reply
fiona says last month

Hi
My water softer is serviced annually but I was recently away for 3 weeks and then noticed brown water when running a bath. After a couple more runs, it cleared although there is still some residue after draining the bath.

More noticeably, the digital display only shows the time and a clock. nothing more.
Should I get in the technician?

Reply
    Gene says last month

    What does the manual say regarding this issue?

    Reply
RACHEL E STANTON says 3 weeks ago

I had a rainsoft ec5 and ultrefiner II installed in August. The ec5 has been worked on numerous times because of excessive salty taste in the water. They adjusted the salt level lower, and replaced the control unit, neither fixed it. It’s fine for about 2 days after regen, then gradually starts tasting salty again to the point I have a constant salty aftertaste in my mouth. I have the chlorine filter unit also. I put both on bypass and my water still tastes salty after a few days. The install tech had lots of trouble and I really think something is installed incorrectly. Or water on bypass is worse than before we put this in. Any ideas?

On the ultrefiner, it gurgles for long periods of time after getting filtered water. The company says that’s normal but my research suggests the drain line is too low. Thoughts? Thank you.

Reply
    Gene says 3 weeks ago

    Sorry Rachel, no idea. Maybe you are right and this has to do with backflow from the drain line.

    Reply
Add Your Reply