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Water Softener Maintenance: How to Keep Your System Working Longer


Like most appliances, your water softener requires a little regular maintenance to keep it running at peak performance. This is especially true for well water users or anyone with significant water issues, including high iron content. Luckily, it’s relatively easy to care for your system.

Your local water softener supplier is the best resource to help with the regular maintenance of your softening system. Being proactive by maintaining salt levels and having your system cleaned as needed can help increase the overall lifespan of your system and its ability to consistently provide you with cleaner, soft water.

Besides regular salt refills, there isn’t a lot that needs to be done. So how do you know if your water softener needs maintenance? The biggest sign is the return of hard water issues, including:

  • Spots on your dishes (even after they go through the dishwasher)
  • Dull, dry skin and hair
  • Limescale buildup around faucets and fixtures

Here’s what to know about water softeners and their maintenance requirements.

How Do You Maintain a Water Softener?

When it comes to water softener maintenance, your most significant responsibility is to stay on top of things. That means paying attention to your system and any apps, smart features or notifications designed to keep you on track with basic care. You should also note any routine maintenance recommendations in your owner’s guide (find Culligan’s HE and Smart HE Water Softener Owner’s Guide here). Get a quick overview of what’s needed in this video:

Here are the most important things to keep in mind:

How Often Should You Add Salt to a Water Softener?

The core task in maintaining your water softener is maintaining the right salt level. That’s because your water softening system is full of resin beads that attract the hardness minerals to help remove them from your water. When these resin beads become saturated with hardness minerals, they need to be cleaned with a saltwater substance called brine. If you never added water softener salt, the resin beads would be overloaded, and you’d be right back to your old hard water problems.

Your salt should be:

  • The correct type: This will ultimately depend on your system. Many softeners use pellet, solar, evaporated or rock salt.
  • Free from issues like salt bridging or mushing: When there’s too much salt in your brine tank, two issues may occur — salt bridging and mushing. These problems are caused by salt deposits, which solidify or congeal. This reduces your water softener’s effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Refilled depending on your schedule: Your water softener requires regular salt refills — usually every two to four months. The exact frequency depends on the level of water hardness, your water usage and your system’s type and age. Staying on top of your system’s salt level can prevent blockages or shortages from harming your system and your water. Some softening systems offer salt-level monitoring or low-salt alerts to assist with this.

If that sounds like a lot of salt buying, carrying and replacing, don’t worry — there are two key ways to make things easier:

  • Choose an efficient softener: Culligan® high-efficiency water softeners are the world’s most efficient and can be programmed to need less salt — and less water and energy.*
  • Work with a good supplier: Regularly scheduled salt delivery based on your specific needs can reduce inefficiencies and inconvenience for you and your family.

How Many Times Should a Water Softener Regenerate?

Regeneration is a water softener process that recharges the resin beads so they can keep doing their job: removing the calcium and magnesium that cause hard water.

Water softeners typically have a second tank called a brine tank, which contains a saltwater solution. During regeneration, the saltwater brine solution flows through the resin tank, rinsing the calcium and magnesium from the beads and flushing the minerals from the system.

Many systems regenerate on a fixed time interval or based on how much water has flowed through the system. The best method is Culligan’s proprietary Aqua-Sensor® technology, which monitors the condition of the resin and only regenerates as needed, making the system more efficient.

There are two significant cases in which your water softener might regenerate at incorrect intervals:

  • Your softener is too small: An undersized water softening system is overworked, so it may regenerate too often and waste water.
  • Your softener is too big: An oversized water softener regenerates infrequently. However, it uses more salt when it does regenerate, which means the process is still wasteful.

A well-sized, well-maintained water softener system will likely regenerate every four to seven days.

How Often Should a Water Softener be Cleaned?

The best part about water softeners is that they don’t require a lot of care — beyond keeping your eye on the salt level, that is. However, there are certain times when you might need to clean internal parts. (It’s best to have an expert help with that.)

In other cases, you may need to sanitize your whole system. Examples include:

  • Right after water softener installation, when your system is first starting up
  • After standing idle for a week or more
  • Any time you receive an alert that your city water is unsafe to consume
  • If you use a private well water supply and begin to experience unpleasant tastes and odors in your water

Preventative Maintenance for Your Water Softener

While most water softener maintenance is simple and infrequent, there are a few everyday things you can do to keep your system functioning effectively:

  • Clean the outside: Use mild soap and warm water when cleaning the softener’s exterior. Never use harsh, abrasive cleaning compounds or anything containing vinegar, bleach or similar products.
  • Don’t stack: Remember, your softener isn’t a table. Don’t place or stack heavy objects on top of the salt storage tank or timer cover.
  • Plan ahead: The salt storage tank needs periodic cleaning to maintain peak operating efficiency. In this case, it helps to plan ahead. You should schedule this cleaning every few years and target a time when the salt supply is low. Don’t worry — your supplier should help with brine tank cleaning.

How To Know if Your Water Softener Needs Maintenance

If your system has smart features and an accompanying app, you’ll likely receive a notification when a salt refill is needed or if your system has a problem. However, it’s still good to know what to look for:

Hard Water
If your water softener has issues — for example, it’s running low on salt — hard water problems will return. For most people, the first red flags appear in the shower, where the water feels different and soap or shampoo products don’t work as effectively.

Learn More: Download Your FREE Hard Water Solutions Guide

Keep in mind that some water differences actually mean your softener is working properly. Many people say that softened water has a “slippery” feeling, which is a good sign; that means the natural oils in your skin are able to do their job without being stopped by hardness minerals.

The Soap Test
Soap with soft water will create a strong lather, but hard water won’t create the same amount of foam. While not exactly scientific, this “soap test” can be the first step in determining if your water softener is working properly.

Brine Tank Appearance
To see if you have salt level problems, try lifting the lid of your brine tank. You should be able to see salt — but if you see water, it’s time to add more salt to the tank. If you do see salt but are still having issues, you might have a problem with salt mushing or bridging. You’ll need to call your water softener supplier for help.

Salt, Water and Energy Usage
If you just replaced or upgraded your water softener, you may notice that it’s using less salt, water and energy. That’s not necessarily a sign of maintenance issues; it’s just the newer, more efficient technology doing its job.

Changes In Your Habits
Say your softener seems to be failing, but you can’t find anything wrong. In this case, maintenance might not be the issue; instead, you’ll need to look at your habits. For example, if another family member recently moved in with you, your water usage might have gone up — which, in turn, made your current water softener settings less effective. You might just need to make some system changes so your softener can keep up — no maintenance or repairs required.

Whether you have proof of a problem or just suspect that something’s not right, it’s best to call the experts. Schedule a system inspection to test your water and your softener.

Benefits of a Well-Maintained Water Softener

A well-maintained softening system is an effective softening system. But what does that mean for you? Here are just a few benefits of caring for your water softener:

  • Easier cleaning: When your water softener is working properly, it helps eliminate minerals such as calcium and magnesium. These minerals create soap scum and spots — so getting rid of them means it’s easier to clean dishes, shower doors, faucets and other parts of your home.
  • Healthier-feeling skin and hair: If you maintain your softening system regularly, you won’t have to worry about hardness minerals and their impact on your hair, scalp and skin.
  • Longer-lasting appliances: If you take good care of your softener, you’re indirectly taking care of other water-using appliances. That’s because hard water can reduce efficiency, performance and lifespan in your dishwasher, washing machine and more.
  • Fewer repairs: Repairs can be frustrating, and they may even leave you without a softener for a few days. Avoid the headaches by making preventative maintenance part of your home care routine.

Having other water issues, too? Try our Water Solutions Finder.

Water Softener Lifespan and Replacement

If well-maintained, a high-quality water softener can produce soft water for decades. That means you shouldn’t have to replace your system frequently.

That said, it’s important to know the difference between a maintenance issue and a more substantial problem. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Maintenance: Everything from preventive maintenance to small water softener system repairs can be handled with a little help from your provider. This is all normal, and it’s nothing to worry about.
  • Large-scale issues: Maybe your water softener is running on old technology and, as a result, wastes a lot of salt and water; maybe your system came with your home when you purchased it and simply doesn’t match your needs. These larger-scale issues generally can’t be addressed with maintenance and sometimes require system replacement.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Water Softener?

The cost to replace your old water softener will depend on a variety of factors, including size, capacity and system features.

The good news is that water softeners save you money in the long run. Here are a few examples:

  • Reducing costly appliance repairs and replacements
  • Reducing spending on household cleaners, detergents and shampoos
  • Contributing to potential energy savings

When purchasing a new system, consider all aspects such as durability, available service, time- and energy-saving features and more. You should also think about maintenance agreements. Some providers, including Culligan, offer programs including salt delivery, maintenance, repairs and help managing your system. This doesn’t just make it easier to support your water softener and keep hard water at bay; it also helps save time, money and effort.

Soft Water Is Better Water

There’s a lot to know about water softeners, from finding the right one to caring for the system over its decades-long lifespan. The good news is that you don’t have to take these steps alone. Your local Culligan Water expert can help — and they’ll even have information about water hardness levels in your area.

The process begins with a water test, which helps you and your local expert get started on a personalized water plan.

Take the first step today — schedule your free, in-home water test and consultation.

*HE Softener when configured with proportional upflow brining with Aqua-Sensor®

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