How to Clean Water Softener Appliance

By: Jake Gallagher | October 23, 2023

If you hate the effects of hard water and all those magnesium and calcium ions seeping into your home’s water supply, your water softener is probably your favorite appliance. So you need to take good care of it!

Despite the fact that water softeners are often low maintenance, they still need periodic cleaning to prevent deterioration. Regularly cleaning the resin tank, brine tank, and other critical components of your water softener will help the system survive up to 20 years without constant repairs or servicing.

Thankfully, cleaning a water softener is a pretty simple process. There is no need to pay an expert to do the job for you. Simply follow the instructions below.

Why It’s Important to Clean Your Water Softener

A water softener is an appliance that, like any other, requires regular maintenance and cleaning to work properly. If you use your water softener as intended, you probably won’t need to clean it more than once or twice a year. 

You should get your system cleaned, though, if the water’s hardness level suddenly rises or it starts looking brown. Below is a list of benefits you will enjoy with a well-maintained water softening system:

  • Your water will be free of any viruses, bacteria, and other dangerous microorganisms.
  • Routine cleaning of the softener control valve removes any mineral buildup that may cause premature wearing of parts.
  • Maintaining the softener’s ion-exchange efficiency with regular cleaning boosts its lifespan and reduces its total operating expenses and repair costs.
  • Cleaning it ensures your household gets quality softened water consistently.
  • Regular cleaning keeps the water-softening system smelling fresh, with no rotten eggs smell.
  • Having a clean water softener increases the lifespan of your plumbing fixtures and other household appliances, such as water heaters, washing machines, and dishwashers.
  • Cleaning prevents the formation of salt bridges (brine and sediment accumulation) within the brine tank.

How to Clean a Water Softener

You can clean your water softener system with relative ease. The two most crucial components are the resin tank and the brine tank. In addition, you should consider dusting off the water softener tank. Just follow the instructions below.

Step 1: Cleaning the water softener resin tank 

Typically, cleaning a water softener resin tank is easier than cleaning the brine tank. Most people clean their softener’s resin bed once a year on average. However, if your water is really hard and contains significant amounts of iron or manganese, you may need to clean your resin bed more frequently.

Most water softener resin tanks contain a cubic foot of polystyrene resin beads, which are instrumental in the ion-exchange process used to soften your water. When these beads are exposed to too much dirt and debris, they might lose their charge and become less effective.

There are two basic techniques for cleaning the resin tank: removing the tank and cleaning it manually or using an iron-removing cleaner (or resin cleaner) and a manual regeneration cycle to eliminate any impurities. 

Let’s take a closer look at both methods:

Method A: Cleaning the tank manually

Make sure the water softener is disconnected before removing the resin tank. Unscrew the bolts, unhook the valve, and take the tank out. Before replacing the tank, clean the resin with a household bleach solution and water. To remove any residual bleach from the system, run a manual regeneration cycle.

Keep in mind to use bleach wisely. A large quantity can harm the resin bed, which is where resin beads work to remove hard minerals. A safe quantity of bleach is between 50 and 100 PPM (parts per million). If you are concerned about harming the system, use a smaller quantity per gallon.

Method B: Iron-removing solution

Another method for cleaning your resin tank is to use an iron-removing solution. Pour some of the product into the tank according to the package directions. After allowing the product to work for a while, start a manual regeneration cycle to eliminate any wastewater.

Step 2: Cleaning the water softener brine tank

Mastering the process of cleaning a water softener brine tank (also called a salt tank) is a little more challenging. Most brine tanks require cleaning every 6 to 12 months, depending on the type of salt used. Low-purity salts, such as rock salt, may necessitate more regular cleaning.

You should plan your cleaning as carefully as possible. For example, the ease of cleaning will depend on how much salt is in the water softener. The brine tank should be cleaned when it is nearly empty. 

Planning the cleaning of your brine tank around the salt level is beneficial for two different reasons. First, since it contains less salt, it is considerably lighter and simpler to handle than if it were full of salt. To prevent water from spreading throughout your home, you should take the brine tank outdoors before you start cleaning it. While outside, you can also dispose of the brine appropriately.

Second, a brine tank with a low salt level simplifies cleaning due to better visibility. When the salt level is low, it is easy to see any salt sludge and debris at the tank’s bottom. Any debris in the brine that goes through the salt tank becomes lodged in the salt and builds up over time.

Follow the steps listed below to clean the brine tank:

  1. Prepare space to discharge the brine: Dig a small hole anywhere in your yard if possible. To prevent salts and contaminants from leaking into the soil, line the bottom with landscaping cloth, gravel, and sand.
  2. Turn off the water softener system: Turn off the system by opening the bypass valve before removing the water softener’s brine tank. Disconnect all power sources to the water softener.
  3. Drain the salt sludge: Take the brine tank outdoors and drain the water and sludge into the hole that you prepared.
  4. Clean the brine tank and components: Disassemble the brine tank’s numerous components. To make a cleaning solution, mix 1 or 2 gallons of water with a few tablespoons of dish soap and use it to scrub the interior of the tank with a stiff bristle brush before rinsing with water.
  5. Let the brine tank dry: Before reassembling the clean brine tank and its components, allow them to dry completely. Smaller components, such as the brine valve, can be dried with a rag if necessary.
  6. Reassemble and refill the brine tank: Bring the tank and its parts back inside the home and put them back together. Turn the power back on and fill the tank almost to the top with new, clean water-softening salt pellets.

By frequently cleaning your water softener brine and resin tanks, you will boost their efficiency and longevity.

You should check your salt levels at least once a month to ensure that your brine tank has the proper quantity of salt pellets to operate effectively. Neglecting this routine can disrupt the regeneration process of your resin beads and badly impact your home’s soft water supply.

You should ensure that the salt levels in your tank are at least half full and extend at least three inches above the water level. More salt than water improves efficiency. However, I recommend that you monitor the tank and lower the salt level if a salt bridge starts to form.

Water Softener Maintenance Tips

When cleaning a water softener, the brine tank and the resin tank should receive the most attention. However, it is also important to clean the exterior of the unit. Using a cleaning cloth and a bucket of soapy water, you can wipe off any dust and grime.

It’s also worth making efforts to limit the frequency with which you must clean your water softener unit. Here are a few maintenance tips that should keep your water-softening unit in top shape:

Replace your water softener resin beads

Resin beads are an integral feature of your water softener’s functionality because they facilitate the ion-exchange process. Even though the resin beads are made to last for around 10 to 15 years, iron and chlorine can sometimes break them down faster than usual.

If the water softener consumes salt at the normal rate but does not create enough soft water, the resin bed may need to be replaced. The presence of small particles in your water known as “fines” are also a strong indicator that the resin is breaking down and that it’s time to replace the resin.

Though you can perform this task by yourself, a professional will be able to handle it considerably faster. Alternatively, a professional can inspect the resin in your water softener during regular service visits.

Look out for salt bridges and salt sludge

The creation of a salt bridge is one of the most typical problems in a brine tank. Salt bridges are simply crusts that form on top of salt. While the salt underneath is regularly used up, the salt bridge remains, giving the impression that your brine tank is full. As a result, people may fail to replenish their brine tanks, resulting in resin beads that are only washed with water.

Salt bridges can occur as a result of a variety of conditions, including humidity, overfilling the brine tank, or simply using the incorrect water-softening salt. To remove the encrusted salt, turn off the water supply to your water softener system and break down the crust using a broom handle, long-handled brush, mop, or whatever tool you have available.

Scoop out the chunks of the salt bridge, since water cannot dissolve the larger pieces of salt. Before refilling the tank with salt and starting a regeneration cycle, use a wet vacuum or warm or hot water to remove the remaining salt.

Along with salt bridges, you also need to look out for salt sludge, also called salt mushing.

Salt mushing is a thick sludge that forms at the bottom of the brine tank. This sludge contains salt impurities that have not been completely dissolved in water. Salt mushing can clog the water intake valve in the brine tank as it builds, causing the tank to overflow. This salt sludge can also hinder resin beads from receiving adequate mineral ions.

Use the right salts

Use only high-quality salt meant for water softeners. Other forms of salt include a high quantity of insoluble particles, which can accumulate and clog your system. High-purity salt is more expensive than other forms of salt, but it is well worth the investment to ensure the longevity of your water softener.

There are several suitable salts for your water softener, so compare different types of water softener salt before making a decision. Contact a professional if you need assistance selecting a salt for your water softener.

Check the salt level regularly

You must add salt to the brine tank of your water softener in order for sodium ions to be produced. During the ion-exchange process, these ions will be replaced by calcium and magnesium ions pulled from your hard water, resulting in soft and healthy drinking water.

Therefore, care must be taken to maintain the correct salt level in the system. Otherwise, the procedure will not be able to progress efficiently, and you will begin to observe limescale buildup.

Fortunately, monitoring the salt level is a simple task. Lift the brine tank’s cover and check the salt pellets. If less than half of the salt remains in the tank, you should replace it. A general rule of thumb is to check the salt level every 4–6 weeks, but the frequency may vary depending on the type of water-softening unit and your water hardness level.

Add a prefilter

Your water softener might get clogged or damaged if it contains sediment, iron, sand, clay, or other elements that are typically found in well water or tap water in some regions of the US. A prefilter eliminates these impurities from your water supply before it reaches your water softener and is effective for six to nine months.

In an ideal situation, your water softener will come with a prefilter. Adding a prefilter to your water softener after installation should only be attempted by a professional unless you have extensive plumbing knowledge.

How to Clean a Water Softener: Final Thoughts

Checking and cleaning your water softener on a regular basis guarantees that the unit operates without any issues. In addition to choosing the best water softener available for residential use, you must also consider routine maintenance of your water softener for optimal results. For best results, however, you may need to occasionally hire a professional to clean your water softener.

For more information about water softeners, read my article containing everything you need to know about water softeners.

Would you like to learn how to maintain your softener more comprehensively? You’re welcome to explore the additional resources we’ve included below.

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