Can I Put Bleach in My Water Softener? (2024)

Reviewed by: James Layton
Updated on:
February 21, 2024

Key Takeaways

Why You Shouldn’t Use Bleach in Your Water Softener

Bleach is a strong oxidizing agent that can break down and damage the resin beads, which can reduce your water softener’s ability to remove hard minerals from your water.

The extent of the damage will depend on the concentration of bleach, the amount of time it was left in the system, and the type and age of the resin beads. In some cases, the damage may be irreversible, and you may need to replace the resin beads or even the entire water softener system.

If you have already added bleach to your water softener’s resin tank and damaged it, contact a professional plumber or water treatment specialist to assess the damage. 

They may simply recommend flushing the system (explained below), but in extreme cases you may have to replace the resin beads.

Replacing resin beads is a big job. It involves complete disconnection of the softener, removal of the control top, and dumping out the resin by tipping over the resin tank. Some softeners have gravel on the bottom, and that gets mixed into the resin when you dump it out. You’ll have to replace the gravel and the resin.

If your water softener is beyond repair, you have my condolences. If only you’d read this article before you poured half a gallon of bleach into it. As a consolation, I suggest you read my list of the best water softeners so you can get yourself a new one.

How Should You Clean a Water Softener?

The best way to clean your water softener is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t, you may damage your water softener or its components, and, in some cases, void your warranty.

This could leave you with an unusable water softener and no protection of your investment.

Each unique water softener is going to have its own instructions for how to clean it according to the manufacturer. Some don’t want you cleaning your water softener at all. It really depends on the model.

Don’t trust any website telling you there is one way to clean all water softeners.

That said, some water softeners can be cleaned with general water softener cleaners. You’ll find multiple products made especially for cleaning water softeners that can achieve the effect you’re looking for without damaging your system — if the user manual says to use a general water softener cleaner.

See our list of the best water softener cleaners for more information, but, again, don’t use one unless your manual says to.

How to sanitize a water softener with bleach

I know I said you shouldn’t put bleach in your water softener, and you really shouldn’t. It can damage it and it’s really not even necessary in the vast majority of cases.

However, IF your manufacturer allows and IF you’re determined your softener should need it, there is a way to do it.

If you’ve just bought a house equipped with a water softener that has sat unused for several months, simply running a few regeneration cycles will clean it. However, depending on the manufacturer, you may be able to use bleach if you’re concerned about the cleanliness of your system.

If your water softener’s manufacturer suggests you run a bleach cycle, your softener will have a special port to pour service products, like resin cleaner, iron remover, and even bleach, into. The steps will look something like this:

  1. Pour 3 ounces of unscented household bleach into your brine tank’s service port.
  2. Initiate a regeneration cycle. (This is when water is drawn from the brine tank into the resin tank.)
  3. Two and a half hours later, run a cold-water faucet in the house for 20 minutes. This will ensure no bleach remains in your water lines.

Don’t do this without consulting your product manual.

How to manually clean the brine tank

The high concentration of salt in a brine tank keeps it pretty clean. But if you want to clean it every now and then, it can’t hurt, and it’s quite simple.

It’s best to do this right before you refill the salt so you can discard the salt you’ve removed.

To clean the brine tank, you can use dish soap or vinegar, but you can also use bleach, since you will be rinsing it out and not letting it cycle through to the resin tank. For best results, do this outside near your garden hose.

  1. Disconnect your brine tank from the rest of the water softener and scoop out and discard the salt.
  2. Mix 2 teaspoons of bleach with 1 gallon of water.
  3. Wearing gloves, scrub the inside of the brine tank with a rag or paper towels. Rinse it thoroughly with the garden hose.
  4. Put the brine tank back together and reconnect it to the resin tank.

Final Thoughts

You should not use bleach to clean your water softener because it will damage the resin beads. You should only clean your water softener according to the manufacturer’s guidance. In some cases, those instructions may include bleach.

Water softener cleansers are specifically designed for use with water softener systems and can effectively remove mineral buildup, iron deposits, and other contaminants that can reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of the softener, if your manufacturer advises it. 

We at Drinking Water want to help you get the most out of your water softener and other water treatment systems. That’s why we’ve written a how-to guide for cleaning your water softener.

If you’re looking for more expert information about other household water treatment systems, see my article on the best water filters for every situation.

Want to delve into a more comprehensive approach to maintaining your softener? Feel free to peruse these additional resources:

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