Water Softener Troubleshooting & Diagnostic Procedures
DIAGNOSE WATER SOFTENER PROBLEMS - CONTENTS: How to Diagnose & Fix a Water Softener that Is Not Working Properly - How to diagnose water softener operation problems. CHECKLIST for an inoperative water softener
POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about how to diagnose water softener operating problems: how long the softener runs, how much water is in the brine tank, how much salt, how salty or soft is the household water, more.
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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.
This water softener repair article describes what to check first if the softener is not working properly. Also see the FAQs at the end of this article for examples of water softener problems & solutions.
Water Softener Checklist: if the Softener is Not Working Check These First
if the water softener doesn't seem to be doing anything,
check these items:
Check the water softener bypass valve: You want first to see that the water softener is not on "bypass" - is household water flowing through the unit? A sketch of an Autotrol bypass valve is shown at left.
Details about how to use the water softener bypass valve are at BYPASS VALVE.
This valve is an option and may not be installed on your unit. But there may be standard plumbing valves or globe valves that accomplish the same purpose.
Check power to the water softener: If the unit uses electricity to run a timer be sure it's plugged in to a live outlet and has power. Some water conditioners use a low-voltage transformer to power the control - be sure that device is present, plugged in, and working. You can use a simple VOM to check that the transformer is outputting DC at the proper voltage level.
Manually regen cycle: Then try a manual regen cycle - you'll see on most units a lever you can push on the control box to start that process
Set the water conditioner controls: Set the right doses and regen cycles for your water hardness and level of water usage
Watch the water conditioner timer: it is possible that the timer mechanism itself has failed. You should see the timer wheels or clock wheels turning and, if you try setting a regen cycle at every day (just for starters) you should see and hear the system go through a regeneration cycle automatically the very next night.
Feel and test the water supply: if you still can't get a lather when bathing the water may be insufficiently treated, or if the water feels slimy and you have trouble washing soap off, the water may be over-treated. Test the water for hardness so that you know how to set the controls.
How to Get a Water Softener Working & Confirm that It Works Correctly
Before replacing a water softener - a step that may not be necessary, here are some things to try:
Make sure that the water softener is actually "on" and working, that is, that the system has electric power, valves turned on, not left on "bypass"
Make sure the water softener is clean and that no debris is blocking any water passages or tubing.
If the salt tank has stayed "full" for a long time, either no salt is being used (improper operation) or a crust of salt has formed over a virtually empty tank. Poke around into the salt to be sure the salt tank is really there.
Test the water softener output water for hardness and if you like, also test the output water salt level for excess salt
Check the water softener control adjustments. If the equipment appears to be working, but water is still too hard (or has too much mineral content) you can increase the salt dose or the backwash/regeneration cycle frequency.
If the water softener is leaving too much salt in the water, reduce the salt dose on your softener's controls. You may see this as a thin salty film left at faucets or in a dishwasher. Mineral scale may also be a thin hard white deposit but is a separate problem not a too-much-salt problem.
Call for professional help with the water softener. If the equipment is not visibly broken, damaged, leaking, and/or you don't want to mess with it yourself, most water softener companies will be glad to send a service technician to your home to inspect, clean, adjust, and test the equipment.
Try these water softener diagnosis and repair steps before rushing to replace the water softener itself.
Master Table of Water Softener Problems, Causes, Repair Procedures
Water Softener Problem
Water Softener Problem Cause
Water Softener Problem Repair
Air discharge at plumbing fixtures after softener regen cycle
Clogged, stuck, leaky air check valve
Check and clean the check valve (if one is used) on the brine tube in the brine tank
Break up the crust, then add salt if needed. The salt level should be above the water level in the brine tank. Normally the water level reaches 6-8" in the brine tank during a regeneration cycle. For diagnosing brine tank problems
Insufficient water into the brine tank opr insufficient salt dose or related brine tank problems can cause the water softener regen cycle to be too short or can cause the softener to fail to produce enough soft water.
Check for a cracked or leaky distributor tube; check for a bad O-ring or Tube Pilot.
Internal valve leak
Replace the control head valve seals, O-rings, spacers and/or piston.
Control Head program wheel not rotating (mechanical water softner controls) with timer motor
Pull cable out of the control head cover and rotate the trip-wheel manually. Program wheel must move without binding and clutch must give positive “clicks” when program wheel strikes regeneration stop. If it does not, replacethe timer assembly or control head.
Control head not measuring water flow or hardness (these features are not present on all water conditioners)
For a mechanical water conditioner control head, check output by observing rotation of small gear on front of timer (Note - program wheel must not be against regeneration stop for this check). Each tooth to tooth is approximately 30 gallons (model dependent). If not performing properly, replace the control head.
Water usage + hardness exceeds water softener capacity
Measure water hardness and daily or weekly water usage quantity; compare these with the water softener capacity specifications; try increasing the salt dose, regen cycle frequency and regen cycle duration.
Hard Water observed right after a water softener regen cycle
Bypass valve not returned to closed - water not going through the water softener
Close the bypass valve
Abnormal water levels in the brine tank: too high OR brine level in the salt tank is too low.
Poor suction at the injector assembly due to leaks, damage, nozzle wear.
Leaky bypass valve O-rings
Slightly-hard water (test it) after a regen cycle may be caused by leaks at the bypass valve, leaking hard supply water through to the building.
Before attacking the o-rings, remember to check the salt dose and compare that to the original incoming water hardness to be sure your softener settings are correct.
Damaged O-ring in the distributor tube
Check for a water softener distributor tube (see your softener parts explosion) that is damaged or that is not securely connected to the control valve. This tube can be loosened by water hammer or by a water heater pressure backing up hot water into a nearby water softener.
Hard Water observed before normal next-regen cycle is due
The water softener salt dose and regen cycle frequency have been properly set for the amount of water being used in the building and the incoming water hardness but still the water becomes hard before the next regen cycle.
Inadequate brine flow through the softener during regen cycle because of dirt at brine tank bottom
Clean the brine tank.
Check for and clean the air check valve (if present) on the brine tank tube.
Check for and clean the rotary valve, drain hose assembly, check valves.
Inadequate brine flow through the softener during regen cycle because of control valve malfunction - brine draw too fast or brine tank float or air check valve shuts off before all brine has been drawn out of the brine tank.
Water hardness has changed, water softener settings incorrect for new hardness level.
Seasonal changes in the water table supplying a private well (usually lower in dry seasons), changes in the water table because of other wells drilled nearby, or changes in treatment of water by a municipal water supplier can result in increased actual water hardness level.
Re-test the incoming water supply for hardness, compare with water softener settigns, and adjust the water softener settings as needed.
Brine tank salt bridge causing insufficient salt dissolution in the regen cycle
Bridging, the formation of a crust of salt in the brine tank, can prevent the salt from settling to the tank bottom where it is to be dissolved by incoming brine tank water during a softener regen cycle.
Reverse Osmosis (RO) water treatment system installed
RO water treatment systems increase the volume of water used in a building (to back-wash the RO system periodically) but the low-flow-rate of an RO backwash system is not detected by some water softeners whose controls and regen cycle are based on measuring the actual water usage.
Adust the water softener settings to a more-frequent regen cycle frequency.
Check the salt dose setting on the softener control head;
Check the regeneration cycle frequency setting at the softener control.
Improper water level in the brine tank
Check for a stuck brine tank float, a clogged drain line, a clogged drain line flow control, a plugged injector system, for a timer not cycling, or for a clogged brine tank float valve. For details
Check for deteriorated water softener resin: if the system is years old, if you see fine silt or sand-like or resin particles in faucet strainers and shower heads, the water softener resin may need replacement. See
Note: Not advisable for cooking & Bathing purpose use for floor cleaning & flushing.
Can I know what is the best way to remove the hardness of water. - Shobia 6/20/12
Reply: water softener capacity must be able to handle level of water hardness
Shobia it does sound as if you'd need water treatment to make that water usable in the home; if you call two local water treatment companies they will be glad to propose systems to meet your needs, and typically don't charge for that advice. Using hardness as an example, it's quite simple to check the level of hardness you need to deal with against the capacity of the water softener system proposed.
I can't say more as I don't understand your data - hardness is usually expressed in milligrams per liter or grains per gallon, not parts per million.
Reader Comment from Cullman 8/26/12:
You need larger size water softener to remove this high hardness. Also TDS (total dissolved solids) level is very high , so for drinking water I suggest using Reverse osmosis system at the kitchen sink. Ph level is good.
Thanks Cullman for the helpful suggestions to Shobia - Ed.
Reader Question: Water softener keeps regenerating & water remains hard
About once a year my softener will have salt in the tank and will run regenerating. But nothing happens and the water remains hard running throughout he house.
Maybe something is clogged? What should I look to do. Thanks so much. - Rob P. 7/24/12
Rob, check for a stuck float switch in the brine tank;
Reader Question: Can I replace the resin media inside of a water softener?
8/31/14 Ron Fix It Man said:
My softener is 13 years old and I have read the resin becomes ineffective in about that life time. Iron out has been used with little benefit. Effectiveness of the softener has declined unless greater amounts of salt per cycle are used. Troubleshooting reveals no improper cycle operation. Is it true the resin has a limited life? Can it be restored, say with a wash of dilute muratic acid? If not, where can it be purchased?
Reply: procedure to replace water softener treatment tank resin media
Indeed it is possible to replace the resin in a water softener.
Water softener resin can last for 20 years or even longer, but may have a shorter life depending on the chemistry of the water being processed in the water softener. But I would not start down the "replace water softener resin" path before diagnosing the problem with my water softener to be sure I'm making the proper and necessary repair.
If you've done that and are ready to replace the resin in the softner tank, details of just how to replace the resin in the water softner, where to buy resin, and other advice are
at SOFTENER RESIN REPLACEMENT
White Scale Deposits on Plumbing Fixtures: hard water indicators
Question: White Deposits on Faucets: why does my water keep leaving water marks on my plumbing fixtures? Should I replace my water softener?
I currently have a water softener system in my home BUT, there are always water marks on my chrome fixtures and on my windows,mirrors,etc.
What can I do to improve this system or should I just replace it with a different one?
I realize that soft water does not mean non-staining water but I was hoping for better results.
Can you help of advise? - C.T.
Reply: Diagnose, clean, adjust, and test your water softener before buying a new one
We speculate that there are several likely explanations for what you describe:
The water softener is not working adequately or not properly adjusted, does not remove enough minerals, and minerals continue to be deposited on your fixtures
The water softener is not adjusted properly and excess salt is being sent through your system, depositing salt on the fixtures.
The water softener unit is dirty, and needs cleaning and perhaps also adjustment
The water softener simply has stopped working - broken, perhaps leaking, clogged, or with a control that no longer functions.
The water softener regeneration system is not working: no salt in the salt tank, or improper regeneration cycle or salt dose setting, or the regeneration control timer may be stuck.
Watch out: too often a water softener failure or operating problem that could have been corrected by a simple adjustment, cleaning, or repair, is in stead "repaired" by installing new equipment.
Since a new water softener just installed is more likely to be clean and properly adjusted, the old problem may indeed go away, and you may think that replacement was needed, but if simple cleaning and adjustment of the old water softener would have been sufficient, you have faced an unnecessary expense.
Reader Question: corroded drains & faucets - does this mean a water softener problem?
Our drains and faucets are starting to corrode and rust. we have always used a water softener and maintained it. Is this an indication that there is a problem with our softener? - Sharon Osterby 9/16/12
Sharon I'm not sure the problem is with your water softener or with the chemistry of your water. If the softener is not working you might see white mineral build-up at faucet strainers and openings; If the water chemistry is aggressive that might be a factor in plumbing corrosion.
Start by testing your softened water to see if it is effectively treated, and if not, clean, adjust, repair the water softener first.
If you suspect a problem with water chemistry (say the softener is working normally and the water at the tap is not hard) then I suggest asking a water treatment company to test your water. Such vendors often will test your water at no charge (they want to sell you equipment) or if you're doubtful, pick up a sterile bottle from your local water test lab and ask their recommendations for what screening tests to perform.
Continue reading at BRINE TANK WATER TOO HIGH or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
 North Dakota Standards for Water Softeners, North Dakota General Authority Law, Chapter 62-04-08, Water Softener Units http://www.legis.nd.gov/information/acdata/pdf/62-04-08.pdf. "The objective of this chapter is to provide a standard of quality, capacity,
and performance for water softener units. Water softener performance
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 Culligan Mark 10 Water Softener 1994-1998 Installation and Operating Instructions (covering models manufactured after 1995) (1-96) 01881948.pdf available from www.culligan.com
 Water Softeners, CMHC, Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/wawa/wawa_005.cfm - October 2008. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation acknowledges the contribution of Health Canada to the development of this document. For further questions regarding water treatment and water quality, contact Health Canada at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 613-957-2991 or 1-866-225-0709.
 "Commercial Water Softener Installation and Operating Instructions", IBC Filtration & Water Treatment Products (Australia) for commercial, industrial and residential application www.ibcwater.com.au (07) 3219 2233
 "Non electric water softener,
Installation and Operating Instructions", IBC Filtration & Water Treatment Products (Australia), op.cit.
 "Water Softener Twin Tank Installation and Operating Instructions", IBC Filtration & Water Treatment Products (Australia), op.cit.
 Our Water Hardness Table used at originated with but was edited and added to from http://www.bestfish.com/tips/110598.html and also from http://www.water-research.net/hardness.htm
 Thanks to reader Gail Sanchez for discussing water softener backups and floods after an electrical outage - August 2010
 Water Right, 1900 Prospect Court
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 General Electric Corporation, Operation Manual, 740/760 [Water Conditioner or Water Softener] Control, 255 and Performa Series Valves, (268, 268 FA), General Electric Corp. 2007
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
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"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
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Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
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Art Ludwig has cut to the core of wastewater issues. He's obviously done all of his homework, mulled-over the variables, and come up with a common sense, economically reasonable, environmentally responsible approach to wastewater. I expect to save money that I would have spent on a post-septic tank, aerobic unit that would seemingly have been ecologically responsible; but because of the technological overkill, ultimately that system would have defeated my altruistic environmental concerns.
... These books talk the talk and walk the walk better than anything else that I've seen. Buy a set for yourself, a set for your neighbors, and a set for the regulators.
The Toilet Papers: Designs to Recycle Human Waste and Water : Dry Toilets, Greywater Systems and Urban Sewage (Paperback) Sim Van Der Ryn, Wendell Berry; Quoting from an Amazon review: With a title like "Toilet Papers" and from a distinguished eco-architect like Sim Van der Ryn, I needed no intro or review to buy a copy of this little, but well researched historical over-view of effluent mitigation and current eco-friendly toilet design.
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Quality issues in harvested rainwater in arid and semi-arid Loess Plateau of northern China,
K. Zhu, L. Zhang, W. Hart, M. Liu, H. Chen (out of print, find by search and deferred order).
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City eying home water-recycling technology; uses bath and washer water for irrigation., (ReWater Systems' equipment for greywater irrigation):
This is an article from: San Diego Business Journal [HTML] (Digital) available online in digital format. I have not (yet) reviewed it -- DF
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
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Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. (DF volunteers to serve as indexer if Burks/Minnis re-publish this very useful volume.)While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference
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While Minnis says the best place to buy this book is at Amazon (our link at left), you can also see this book at Minnis' website at http://web page .pace.edu/MMinnisbook
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Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill.
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* Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code
* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.
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