Water softener brine tanks: what causes too much water in the water conditioner brine tank or salt tank & how do we fix it. Problem diagnosis & repair with brine tank float control & other salt tank level controls.
Diagnose & Fix Water Softener Problems: this article series describes procedures for diagnosing and repairing water softener or water conditioner problems including water conditioner control settings and adjustment or repair, brine tank and brine tank float cleaning and repair, and the proper amount of water softening or conditioning that is needed.
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Question: I don't see a brine control valve and the water softener brine tank is too full of water. What should I check?
I did as you suggested and emptied and cleaned out the water conditioner brine tank, I notice that there is nothing in the tank except a 1/4 inch line for water and that is it,
When I put it all together again it fill up to 3/4 full again and the salt was all submersed. In other words, my water softener brine tank does not seem to include a brine refill control valve.
What else should I try.
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Our photo above both shows the water softener brine tank in normal condition. My buddy Mark K. (page to photo) has poured salt pellets into the brine tank to a safe level that does not risk pellets falling into the brine tank float assembly should its cap be removed. The smaller round cylinder in this salt tank contains the brine float control assembly. If your salt tank does not have this component the water entry quantity and salty water dose quantity for a water softener regeneration cycle may not be properly controlled.
An accurate diagnosis of what's wrong with your water softener depends on the particular model water softener and what controls it uses.
When we find that the brine tank on a water softener or water conditioner system seems to be too high, or the tank is flooded, there are several things to check. An accurate diagnosis of what's wrong with your water softener depends on the particular model water softener and what controls it uses.
Here are the most common reasons for finding too much water in the brine tank: 
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Bottom line: until we are sure we have correctly identified the water conditioner model, found its installation and operating manual, and made sure that it has all of the proper parts installed, trying to debug a problem with water level in the brine tank leaves us just guessing.
Give your water conditioner manufacturer a call - their contact information is right there in the water conditioner operating manual - and ask about your model and just what brine tank level controls it uses.
In addition to the questions & answers about water softener operating problems presented in the article above, additional Water Softener Diagnosis& Repair Q&As are at WATER SOFTENER DIAGNOSTIC FAQs
Reader Question: water softener brine tank not draining
Water softener has water stuck in tank, not draining. - Amy 9/19/11
Amy, at DIAGNOSE SOFTENER BACKUP / FLOODING we describe how to diagnose & fix a water softener that is not draining properly. Typically the problem is a crimped drain line, a control not operating properly, or a stuck brine control float that is not allowing the regen cycle to function properly.
Question: water softener brine tank does not empty fully
I just noticed today that there was still some water in my salt tank after the cycle completed this morning (the drain hose is fine). Is this something I need to worry about? The softener (Kenmore) is 12 years old now. - Scott 8/27/12
Scott, possibly the float control valve in the brine tank needs cleaning, or the whole tank is due for a cleanout. See BRINE TANK FLOAT LEVEL ADJUSTMENT - if your water softener brine tank is overflowing the float control may be stuck.
Also see SOFTENER CLEANING & SANITIZING for the steps to solve this problem.
Question: Water-Rite 740 water softener has brine tank full of water - what's the normal liquid level in the brine tank?
Hi, can you tell me how much water should be in a brine tank of a water rite softener under normal use, now it is full of water all the time, is this normal. I think this will just melt all the salt in the tank all the time. It is a model 740 - M.C., Canada
Reply: you should not normally see liquid in the brine tank unless it's about out of salt
A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem or in this case just what's wrong with your water softener. That said, here are some things to consider:
We don't know specifically by quantity, but in general, you should not see water in the brine tank unless salt has been used up to the last 6-12 inches in the tank. So we suspect that the brine tank float level control valve that sets the water level in the tank is not working properly.
Check the brine refill control valve in your water softener brine tank
The BRINE REFILL CONTROL VALVE device is found in the vertical tube in your brine tank. Typically it incorporates a float, vertical rod, and a switch that controls the water level in the tank during a brine generation cycle. The part is also called the brine refill control valve.
We discuss how the brine refill control valve works and how it may be adjusted at SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS.
More photos of this valve are at SOFTENER CLEANING & SANITIZING.
How to fix the brine tank water level
First check the water softener settings SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS .
Try emptying the brine tank completely, cleaning all the parts, make sure that the brine control valve (the float actuated switch in the brine tank) moves freely up and down, then fill it at least 1/3 full of salt. For details about cleaning out the water softener brine tank see SOFTENER CLEANING & SANITIZING.
Then send the water softener through a manual regeneration cycle (SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS) and watch what happens.The volume of water that is pumped into the brine tank and then out back through the water softener is set by the salt "dose" setting on the water softener control.
The manufacturer of your Water Rite water softener, properly a Water-Right water softener, can provide you with the installation, operation, and maintenance manual for your water softener if you don't already have one.
Question: sudden increase in water softener salt usage
I have a twin tank and all of a sudden I am using tons of salt. Any ideas? - Joanne 8/16/12
Check for a change to the salt dose or water softener backwash/regen cycle frequency on the unit controls
Question: water level too high in the brine tank: how do I fix a stuck salt float on my Kinetico model 50 water softener? Kinetico stuck in regeneration?
The water level in the water softener brine tank is higher than the salt level by about an inch. Is that right?
I have a Kinetico Model 50 water conditioner. The float seems to be stuck and the brine tank sis filled with water and overfills causing a flood. Any suggestions would be helpful. - Anon
I set my time and left the tabs as is as I am renting the house. The tank where the salt is has water in it about 1 inch higher than salt level which is half way up. I also do not know if i was to do something other than set time and turn dial to in service? any help is appreciated. - Diana
Diana, your salt tank sounds as if it's got too much water - or else your salt level must be near the tank bottom in which case just add salt. You can also send the softener through an extra regen cycle (see the control panel and the article above) to see if it seems to be working. In the article above you'll see a sketch and discussion of the "Brine Refill Control" that you'll find in your salt tank.
Usually if there is too much water (above the top of the salt in the tank) either
I don't usually expect the water conditioner control itself to be at fault, though I guess that's possible too.
On a conventional water softener the brine refill control is basically a float-operated valve that opens or closes a water supply valve that allows water to enter the salt tank.
The float mechanism can get stuck due to caked on salt, due to someone pouring salt inside the plastic shroud that is intended to allow the float and switch to move freely up and down ad water level rises, or due to mechanical damage. I'd start by taking a look at the float assembly to see if its parts are moving freely.
Sometimes I can just grasp the upper end of the vertical float rod and manually move it up and down a few times to free one that's stuck.
Better, but more trouble, is to completely empty and clean out the salt tank and then remove, clean, and reassemble the brine level control assembly. Details about the float control in brine tanks are found in the article above
Continue reading at BRINE TANK WATER TOO LOW or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: water softener not working - diagnose the trouble?
(Feb 19, 2014) Bruce said:
My softener stopped softening the water 2 months ago. The unit is about 18 years old. I replaced the resin, cleaned the valve head, poured 3 gallons not water into the brine tank with iron out and manually regenerated many times. The water gets soft for a few days but then isn't. It's using salt normally, the valve timer is working but still won't keep the water soft. The only thing I haven't done is disassemble and clean the brine tank. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.
Check the float assembly to assure it's not stuck and check the salt dose setting against the measured hardness of the incoming water supply;
Thanks Dan, the float assembly looked fine. I soaked the basket in Ironout just in case and blew it out, seems clear. The salt setting was at 3 lbs which seems rather low so I bumped it up to 13 lbs. The last water test was pH 5.8 / Iron 3.0ppm / Hardness 20 grains per gallon. What setting do you recommend for that iron level? Again, your help is really appreciated.
The separate article SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS discusses salt dose and regen cycle settings - which you can look at but you'll want to set your particular softner salt dose and regen cycle frequency per the instructions for your particular brand and model to get it just right.
I don't know about softener setting for iron level - which is a secondary feature to softener settings for hardness; I'd be glad to do some research but let's start with the instructions for your unit. What is the brand and model? (And you have the instructions for it?)
(Feb 20, 2014) Bruce said:
How much water should be in the brine tank after a full regeneration? I'm starting to wonder if the air check ball is stuck or for some reason, the correct amount of brine water is not being created.
Indeed there are usually a few inches in the bottom of the brine tank, but in normal conditions you won't see it: the brine solution will be covered by salt.
Two checks to make: check for a stuck brine tank float; check for salt bridging or crusting
- check that the float assembly travels freely and is not stuck - most brine tanks control water entry and exit quantity by a float operated switch.
- poke at the salt in the tank; salt can form a crust that makes it look as if there's plenty of salt in the tank while actually there may be nothing but hollow space below the crust.
There is about 3-4" of water but the float sits about 5-6" above the water line while in service mode. Does the water go up that high during regeneration? Doesn't seem like it does at all. Further to that, I opened the air check where the brine tank hose attached expecting to find a ball but there wasn't one. I understand that the all floats when water is in there and close up the line when the brine water runs out. But there was no ball. Also, my air check looks different than the ones I see pictured, it's flatter than taller. I can send a pic if that's possible. Thanks again, you are very helpful, I appreciate it,
Bruce, I'm not sure, not even knowing what softener you have, but generally the float controls the quantity of water that enters the brine tank - as you probably see, water enters, causes the float to rise until it shuts off the incoming water; time is given to dissolve salt; then salty water is pumped back out of the brine tank and through the softener to do the regen.
If you want to experiment, with no salt in the tank, so you can see what's going on, use the softener controls to request an extra or manual regen cycle. Watch the brine tank. You should see water enter, the float rise, the float stops rising and presses against a mechanical switch that stops water entry. (The float level is adjustable on many softeners and should be set per the manual).
As the cycle continues you should see the salty water pumped back out of the unit and the water level drop.
Even before that observation it should be possible to GENTLY lift the float rod and let it drop back into position. The float should move freely up and down. Sometimes floats get stuck as salt cakes or falls into the tube protecting the float assembly.
(Feb 21, 2014) Bruce said:
Thanks, I understand exactly what you wrote. The valve is an Autotrol 255/440 from 1996. Right now, I've the water soft but not sure how long it will last. It's soft because 2 days ago I add 3 gal hot water to the brine tank and did a manual regen. I'm wondering if enough water is getting into the brine tank. Is the float valve itself subject to failure commonly? The float moved the valve freely up and down but that doesn't mean the valve is opening fully, right? Maybe I should watch a full cycle to see if the water rises during the brine creation cycle. That air check w/o a ball also is bothering me since everything I read on the 255 says there should be a plastic ball in there. Also, I read that air leaks could impact brine flow.
Reader Comments: Diagnostic tips for a water softner that won't draw brine
Although I'm not the most expert on water softeners I've messed with them a bit and inspected quite a few. It is common for the brine tank float to get stuck or fail to operate properly. Some folks go on for years with the system not working, never realizing a thing until their water pipes clog with minerals that the softener was not removing because it was not doing a thing.
I haven't come across the air leak problem but that makes some sense, though I'd like to hear more specifics about where the air leaks occur; I suspect that an air leak in the brine line between brine tank and softener might let air rather than brine pass back to the softener, but I'd think during the brine tank fill cycle you'd see water leaks at the same place. The manual for your water softener says an air leak in the brine line can cause a brine tank overflow.
I'd suggest removing all the salt (you've done that) then starting a manual regen cycle and then stand there and with the lid off the brine tank watch what it does. You should see water enter, the float rise, the float stop the water entry, then the water flow should reverse and flow back through the softener.
(If you'd photograph the whole sequence and email me those that'd be a useful addition to our diagnostic routines online.)
Take a look at the diagnostics page in the manual - I'll quote some key passages:
Continuing with Autotrol w55/440 Water softener diagnostics, here are things to watch for during the regen cycle:
Control will not draw brine: possible causes-
Also interesting is a system that actually takes or uses less salt than the setting on the salt dose dial (I suspect this is a good candidate for your complaint as you say the softener gives soft water after a regen cycle but just for 2 days):
Finally, some general Dx for "Run out of Soft Water Between Regen Cycles"
- improper regen (which we've been discussing)
Given the age of your water softener I'd be alert for the debris-related diagnostics in the company's list.
If you don't have the manual on hand contact me by email and I can send you a copy.
That list is very helpful. I decided to shock the well again today (2nd time in a month) because I still believe it's at the heart of my problems. I'm clogging up a whole house filter once every 7-10 days now. Used to be every 2 months. It's never been a good well and I'm thinking it got worse and the softener simply can't deal with the high iron content, I'm flushing the chlorine out as I type, the hose has been running for well over 1 hour and the water is still very brown.
Hopefully it starts running clear soon. If I can't improve that part and go at least a couple months before a filter change, I think a new well or at least well company inspection is next.
Reply: shocking the well won't help a clogged water softener
If the water filter clogs in just a few days I'm doubtful that shocking the well is going to do much for it - you'll need to
- find and (ick) fix a leaky cracked damaged well casing or well piping
Reader Jim added:
Look for an air leak at the check valve or brine tank line; possibly an air leak at the backwash control,
Yeah Dan, I think you're on the right track there unfortunately but I'll give it a couple days.
Thanks , I'll look for the leak, still not sure why there is no ball in the air check. Thought that was required for it to work.
Question: what if there is no salt tank at my water softener
(Jan 30, 2013) trish said:
We have a tank in our basement that we were told was a salt system. I am confused because it has no brine tank. It is tall and thin with a control box on top. We have lived here 6 months. Finite was the first time I hand heard it "regenerate". It was running for about 20 minutes. My husband turned it off and bypassed it. We don't have a clue about it. Do they all have brine tanks or do some have just a pressure tank??
Your system may not have a separate water brine tank if the unit is an exchange type system:
Some water conditioners use an "exchange tank" design: the resin is pre-charged with salt or other chemicals and is inside a tank taht is exchanged periodically, typically monthly by a water treatment service company.
Feb 23, 2014) Anonymous said:
resin tank full of water and motor runs all time
Anon: I think you mean the salt or brine tank is full of water - the resin is inside the water softener - you can't normally see it.
It sounds as if your water softner control is stuck; try unplugging the unit; if it can't be reset manually the control may need repair or replacement.
Question: foamy water from Rainsoft water conditioner
(Mar 1, 2014) Lloyd Franklin said:
I have a rainsoft whole house water system that is showing signs of foamy water. Please let me know what problem can cause the system to make the water foamy?
I'm not sure Lloyd; maybe mis-adjustment, over-softening; have you tried cleaning the brine tank and checking the water softener settings against the actual measured hardness of incoming water?
Question: leaky water softener control O rings - fixed, now water too briny
(Mar 10, 2014) Dan said:
I just had the o rings on my water softener replaced due to leaking, and the system cycles properly. However, after the last 2 cycles, the first water of the morning is distinctly briny, which goes away after using water, say doing a few loads of laundry. This has never happened in 15 years of service. Any suggestions? Thanks.
Check the salt dose - it may be set too high.
Question: water foamy briny
(Mar 22, 2014) John said:
Recently I've been experiencing very foamy and salty tasting water from the cold water faucets in the mornings. I have to run the faucets for several minutes to clear. I have RainSoft about 30 years old. Never maintained except to replace salt.
John, perhaps you need to empty and clean the brine tank, then check that the tank float is moving freely, then run the softener through an extra regen cycle.
Question: water softener beeping and says "sending help"
(Mar 27, 2014) David Ashby said:
my water softener won't stop beeping. And the screen reads " SENDING HELP "
Well that's one I've not heard before. "Sending help"? You didn't mention the brand and model - which would let us (or you) check the owners' manual.
For example Culligan Gold water softeners include a beeper that can be turned on and off and indicates button activity as well as an "alarm" mode.
Your unit needs repair or service.
On Rain Soft water softeners you may be able to re-set the alarm. If you have that brand or most others you can obtain a manual from the company's website, and we also have some on file.
Question: water hammering during water softener regen
(Apr 13, 2014) TERRY M said:
My water softener makes noise like water hammering when it regenerates very loud thru out the house
Terry, take a look at this water hammer diagnosis & cure article and keep us posted
(May 11, 2014) Stuart Machin said:
My Crown twin tank water softener is running much longer on its regeneration cycle, 2-3 hours instead of the usual 10-15 minutes.
Stuart start by checking the control settings. Then try a manual regen cycle and watch what happens. Is the clock reading ticking or moving? I suspect a debris clogged control, check valve, or possibly a salt-stuck brine float.
7/19/2014 (4 hours ago) james lavalley email is firstname.lastname@example.org said:
I have a performa water sofner.It keeps pluging up my washing machine screen with q
This sounds as if the water softener is sending debris from the brine tank OR actual resin from the softener out with the house water supply. You could try emptying and sanitizing the brine tank (articles here describe how to do that). But I suspect it's a resin problem - which means it's time to call your local water conditioner company to take a look at the equipment. I'll do some further checking and comment further as well.
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