21 Water Softener Problems & How to Fix it Before Calling in a Professional

by Jay | Updated on May 6th, 2023

Have you ever wondered why your water tastes or feels a bit off despite having a water softener installed? You’re not alone. As an expert in water treatment solutions, I’ve encountered many customers facing similar issues. In this article, we will navigate through the most common water softener problems and offer practical solutions to keep your system running efficiently.

Understanding the Basics of Water Softeners

Before we delve into the problems and their solutions, let’s quickly understand how a water softener works. Most water softeners operate on a principle called ‘ion exchange,’ wherein hard water ions like calcium and magnesium are replaced with sodium ions. This process softens your water, making it better for your skin, hair, appliances, and plumbing.

salt water softener

How to Determine the Issue

Diagnosing water softener difficulties may seem challenging at first, but with the methods we outline below, you will be able to identify the problems with ease. By following these steps, you can save time and money by troubleshooting the issues yourself:

  1. Examine the bypass valve on your water softener: The bypass valve is often the culprit behind water softener problems. Check if the valve is turned off or if it’s clogged or defective.
  2. Check the water flow recording of the control valve: The control valve measures water flow into the system and triggers the regeneration process. Open a faucet to see if the valve is properly recording water flow.
  3. Verify the power supply to the water softener: Ensure that the voltage transformer is correctly installed, plugged in, and operational.
  4. Check the time and date display: If your system experiences frequent power outages, the timer may display the wrong time, causing malfunctions. Adjust the time if necessary or replace the timer if it’s broken.
  5. Examine the salt level in your water softener: Maintaining an adequate salt level is crucial for proper operation. Ensure that the salt level is 2-3 inches higher than the water level and that you’re using the correct type of salt.
  6. Inspect the resin bed in your water softener: Over time, the resin bed may degrade, limiting the system’s ability to remove contaminants. If the resin bed is worn out, it’s time to replace the water softener.
  7. Check the regeneration procedure: Ensure that the timer is set correctly and that regeneration occurs when you’re not using water. If the system regenerates while you’re using water, it may not provide enough soft water.
  8. Consider manual regeneration: If everything seems to be in working order but you still experience issues, manually regenerating your system may help. Follow the steps outlined in your user manual to manually regenerate the system.

Repairing water softener issues requires specific tools

We’ve already stated that water softeners aren’t as complicated as they appear and can be fixed with just a few tools. For the majority of repairs, you will just need:

  • a four-in-one screwdriver
  • a crate
  • Vacuum cleaners

Common issues and solutions

1. Water softener salt tank issues

A full salt tank is one of the most common issues that water softener users confront. Such problems occur as a result of blockage or insufficient spillage. A slew of difficulties will contribute to the problem. Once you’ve identified the issue, you can easily troubleshoot salt tank water problems.

The Softener Is extremely cold.

Most water softening systems are built to endure for roughly 8 years. If your softener has reached the end of its useful life, carefully inspect its components for wear and tear.

Damaged Entry Valve

When the entry control valve fails, water flow to the brine tank is disrupted, which may result in flooding. So, to remedy the problem, replace the control valve as soon as possible.

The float valve is set too high.

The float valve is intended to assist in controlling the water level in the compartment. When the float valve is adjusted higher, surplus water accumulates, preventing the softener from efficiently releasing it.

2. Problems with the salt bridge water softener

Water softeners can help prevent mineral scaling on fixtures and pipelines. On the other hand, water softeners are prone to salt accumulation from hard water, which causes a buildup of scales inside the tank and unit’s lines.

When salt builds up, it forms salt bridges at the tank’s base, making it impossible for the system to soften water efficiently. Salt bridges are easily repaired by breaking and removing the salt crust. Also, make sure to clear the salt that has accumulated on the tank’s edges.

The following steps are included in water softener troubleshooting for salt scale issues:

  • Examine the system for salt bridges that prohibit water from flowing through the brine tanks or impede regeneration cycles.
  • Break apart the accumulated salt scale and clean it out of the device. Also, remove any accumulated salt scale around the tank’s edge.


You can solve it with a do-it-yourself remedy. Take the following steps:

Break apart the salt bridge with a broom handle. Drain the tank to remove salt mushing, then refill with fresh, high-quality salt.

3. Brown water issues

When your hard water softener starts dispensing brown water, the plumbing is worn out, or the water feed contains a lot of grit and sediment. Bacterial buildup on the water softener could also be to blame.


The simplest way to fix this issue is to sterilize the system with hydrogen peroxide or chlorine. Before flushing the plumbing system, you may need to place the sterilizer in the brine tank of your water softener and conduct many manual regeneration cycles.

Steps for troubleshooting a water softener to eliminate brown tap water include:

  • Using hydrogen peroxide or chlorine, sterilize the tank. Allow two to three regeneration cycles after adding two cups of sterilizing agent to the brine tank.
  • Plumbing line flushing

If water softener sterilization does not remove the brown pigment, you should have a plumber investigate the system for potential problems.

Resin cleaners, such as Rust Out, chemically change the iron and rust that has formed on the resin bed of your water softener before draining it out of the softening system. However, water softener regeneration cycles cannot remove all the dissolved iron from the system. The iron residues will harden into rust particles, which will adhere to the resin beads and muddy the color of the water.

Cleaning your water softener regularly with a product like Rust Out will extend the softener’s life. However, a clogged softener with iron particles will be far less effective at decreasing water hardness since the resin beads will not be refilled during regeneration.

4. The water softener does not use salt or too much

Begin by determining the amount of salt in the tank. If the salt level in your water softener is not depleted, there may be no ion exchange in the resin bed. Unless the problem is resolved, the resin beads and the entire system will be rendered unusable.


The fundamental reason for a water softener not employing salt is the formation of salt bridges, which prevents the softening of resin beads. Make sure that the salt bridge issue is resolved to get the resin bed to work its magic and ensure the efficient performance of your system. To begin repairing a salt bridge system, switch off the water from the incoming faucet. Then, using a long rod, tap the crust until it breaks.

The salt level should generally be 3 to 4 inches higher than the water level. The system will not function properly if the salt level falls too low. So the best “treatment” here is maintaining an optimal salt level.

Using the incorrect salt can result in bridges (crusty salt buildup) above the water level in the tank, preventing the water from being adequately treated. Instead, tap on a salt bridge with something hard and blunt (not on the tank) to remove it.

If your water tastes salty, the system utilizes too much salt, or there is a clog in the drain line, preventing all of the brine water from being washed away correctly.

5. Clogs

Clogging and obstruction are two of the most prevalent water softener issues you’ll encounter.

These blockages are often caused by salt and other minerals accumulating against the interior of the softener. Once these minerals have accumulated to a particular level, they leave little space for water to pass through.

A clog typically results in water that feels less soft and acts more like hard water. Fortunately, most clogs are simple to clear.

Hard water’s calcium and magnesium content can leave chalky deposits on your pipes and fixtures, but it can also leave this residue on your water softening system. In addition, accumulating these minerals and salt from your brine solution might clog the water line that flows through your water softener’s tank over time.

If the softness of your water fluctuates significantly, this is a sign that your water softener is clogged. In addition, if you notice chalky deposits on your dishware and fixtures that you did not previously have, this could be a sign that your water softener is clogged.


This system problem is frequently caused by faulty components or the need to modify controls.

  • A faulty water entry valve does not prevent water from filling the salt tank, which may cause the tank to flood. To resolve this issue, simply replace the cover.
  • If the float valve within the compartment is set higher than necessary, the system may be unable to release the water volume, resulting in a buildup. To prevent water accumulation in the salt tank, adjust the float valve to a lower setting.
  • Inspect the injector with needle-nose pliers. Pull it out through the little entrance, and if something is stuck in the small hole, use a needle or safety pin to remove the debris.

Over time, the injector in your water softener might become blocked with debris. This can potentially impair the water softener’s capacity to generate suction for the brine cycle. As a result, the softener cannot regenerate correctly, resulting in hard water. Checking the water level in the brine tank is a common approach to determine if an injector is clogged.

Pull the injector out using needle-nose pliers and peek through the little opening in the injector to inspect it. The hole is quite small. If something gets stuck in the little hole, use a needle or a safety pin to push the debris out.

Deposits might also choke the brine pipe and valve; to determine whether a brine line blockage is the source of the problem, inspect the line for any visible deposits that may obstruct water flow. If you see a clog, you may require the assistance of a professional to clean the line without causing damage to your system.

6. Error in operation

Water softeners rely on input and manual settings to work their magic, making them prone to malfunction. If the unit has a complex structural and technological configuration, you should try to have it checked by a professional regularly. A professional will have the technical knowledge to solve most operation faults efficiently and keep your machine running more efficiently.


It would be far better if you could find a water softener servicing professional specializing in your unique tank, such as Harvey water softener issues.

7. There isn’t enough water in the brine tank

When the brine tank contains less water, it may indicate that the system is not performing correctly or has a defect. Conversely, the low water level in the brine tank may suggest that your system is working well.

However, if the water level is really low, there may be a problem, and you should have it checked by a specialist.

8. Overflow of the brine tank

The brine tank is critical to the water softener’s functionality. When empty, the brine tank typically holds 8-14 inches of water, depending on its size and salt setting. The level rises as a result of water displacement when salt is added.

An overflow occurs when the brine line becomes clogged, an injector becomes clogged, a float becomes stuck, or a valve malfunctions.


You can utilize a do-it-yourself remedy in some cases, but in others, expert aid is required. To troubleshoot your brine tank overflow problem, follow these steps:

  • Check to see that your brine line is still connected to the float in the brine well. Examine the caps on your brine well and brine tank to ensure a tight fit.
  • Examine the brine line float for salt buildup.
  • Examine the brine tank and drain line for clogging or kinks.
  • Examine the injector for debris or particles that may be clogging it.
  • Make an appointment with a professional to clean or replace your injector.

9. Resin beads water softener issues

Resin beads are used in salt-based water softeners to increase their effectiveness. These beads are often as long-lasting as the system. However, they can break or lose their potential in some situations, necessitating more frequent salt replenishment.

The resin in the tank depletes with time, decreasing its efficiency in eliminating undesirable substances from the water. Yes, the regeneration process “revitalizes” the resin beads, allowing them to continue cleaning more water, but the older your softener, the shorter its life. The resin can wear out after many years of harsh water pouring through the tank. When this occurs, it is time to replace the water softener.

Another sign that the resin beads are not functioning effectively is the presence of floating particles in the softened water.

Although this may be an annoyance, the answer is straightforward. Follow the directions in your user manual to clean or replace the resin beads. This is usually a simple problem that you can solve on your own without spending a bunch.


If there are floating particles in the softened water, the resin beads in the system may not be working correctly. If the system is not functioning properly, it will require more frequent salt replenishment, or the beads will need to be replaced.

Floating particles in soft water indicate a resin bead failure. To resolve the problem, the beads must be cleaned or changed.

10. There is no softening of the water

One vexing and upsetting water softener issue is the unit’s inability to soften water. This problem is caused by salt buildup inside the brine tank. As a result, when the bypass switch on the unit is turned off, the unit may as well not work.


A few reasons could be at fault if your water softener fails to soften the water in your home.

  • Salt buildup in the brine tank might inhibit water softening and must be removed.
  • If the bypass switch on the water softener is turned off, water does not move through the system and is not softened. Examine the bypass settings.

11. Filter is filthy

A filthy filter is one of the most typical water softener issues.

Water softeners employ filters at the beginning of the filtering process to keep big minerals out. Unfortunately, as a result, these filters come into contact with far more sediment than the softener’s other components.


You should change your water softener’s filter every 3 to 5 months to ensure peak efficiency. But, of course, if you identify any issues before this, there is no reason not to modify them.

12. Problems with low water pressure

Sometimes, your water softener will discharge water at a lower pressure. Here’s how to use a low-pressure water softener:

  • The softener is much smaller — improper softening unit sizing can result in decreased water pressure. Water softener sizing necessitates checking the unit’s inlet and output pressures.
  • Sediment build-up — When scales and sediments accumulate in the components of your softener, the pressure at which water flows is reduced.
  • Resin clogs — cleaning away a clogged softener’s tank might reduce water pressure. However, to resolve the issue, you must replace the resin beads.
  • The accumulation of iron inside the resin tank – another common softener problem that can cause low water pressure is iron accumulation inside the resin tank. Adding mineral cleaners to your resin tank is the greatest way to prevent and address this problem.

14. Salty flavor

Drinking salty water is unpleasant and may cause stomachaches. While most modern systems employ salt to soften water, the salt should not be left in the treated water.

If your system does create salty water, the problem could be a clogged drain line or insufficient regeneration cycles, rendering the resin beads ineffective. Inspect and unblock the drain hose when you notice your softener producing salty water.


The drain hose is inspected during water softener troubleshooting:

  • Inspect the drain hose for obstructions and remove any that are discovered.
  • If there is no clog in the drain pipe, reduce the amount of salt used in the system to affect the flavor of the water.

15. It’s making odd noises

Softeners are designed to run quietly and effectively. Therefore, a water softener that makes a loud hissing sound does not always indicate that the system is damaged. Instead, the softener produces a low buzzing sound, particularly during the regeneration process, which usually occurs at night when it is too quiet.

However, If yours produces strange noises, it could be due to worn-out timers, clogged water lines, or clogged valves.

The noise could be generated during the regeneration cycle. Extreme noises must be avoided if your system runs smoothly and correctly.

If the noises become louder over time, you should check for a worn-out timer, a malfunctioning air valve, or blocked valves and tubes.

16. Failure of a motor

Motors are required for these systems to function. If the motors fail, the entire setup will be in trouble. If your system fails, the first thing you should do is inspect the motor. Depending on the extent of the damage, a faulty motor can be replaced or repaired.


  • If your water softener stops operating, double-check all of the wires and settings to ensure that there are no other issues that aren’t related to the motor.
  • Contact a plumbing specialist if you feel your motor has failed. They can validate the diagnosis and, if necessary, replace the motor.
  • Check the motor’s warranty to see if you can get a replacement motor fitted for free if it’s still under warranty.

17. Water softener leak

Another Harveys water softener issue is leakage in water softener components such as lines and tanks. Unfortunately, leaks in water softeners are notoriously tricky to detect. The only method to discover such leaks is to inspect the softener thoroughly.


You can repair or replace the damaged component, depending on the size of the leak. However, most of these leaks occur due to inadequate handling during the installation process.

18. The softener doesn’t regenerate

To deliver soft water in the desired volumes, water softeners must finish their regeneration cycles. Therefore, the machine will not complete its regeneration cycle when the regeneration timer fails.

The simplest way to identify a problem with the regeneration timer is to set it and evaluate it to see if it regenerates at the specified time. If it does not make the necessary sounds, you should know that the regeneration timer has been damaged.

19. The water softener is failing

Another common water softener issue is the discovery of leaks in tanks, lines, or other components. Detecting the leak may be time-consuming, but you must inspect every portion of the system to determine where the water enters.

When a component is detected, you must either repair or replace it. Fortunately, most leaks are caused by installation problems, making them relatively simple to repair.

If you need to repair or replace parts, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid causing more damage to the system.

20. Water softener continues to operate

There are a few possible explanations for why your water softener keeps running. The most typical reason is the inability to drain the brine from the tank. This is frequently caused by salt bridges or silt buildup in water pipes.

A clogged drain line/control, injector/venturi, or brine line/valve could all blame. It’s also possible that the valve assembly in the salt tank is stuck or your home’s water pressure is too low (measure and adjust accordingly). Any impediments must be removed.

If the resin tank cannot draw brine from the salt tank, your softener may become stuck in regeneration or continue to cycle.

The issue could be caused by a faulty circuit switch or incorrect regen cycle length settings.

Another reason your system may be stuck in regeneration mode is a lack of water pressure.

Check the settings and switches as well. Wrong settings or a damaged switch may produce an infinite regeneration cycle or cause faults that prolong the cycle.

A complete cycle should usually take no more than an hour.

21. Water Is stinky

When your softened water begins to smell like rotten eggs, it indicates that it contains hydrogen sulfides and sulfates. Sulfur scents must be carefully inspected and treated for effective eradication. These contaminants may be too intense for water filters to manage. Instead, clean the unit and remove any residues.

Taking the First Steps in Troubleshooting Your Water Softener

If your water softener is dispensing hard water, it’s either not functioning correctly or it’s not producing enough soft water to meet your needs.

Before you delve into our comprehensive DIY Troubleshooting & Repair Guide, please make sure to take the following basic steps:

  • Confirm that your softener is powered by electricity. Check to see if it is plugged in and that the outlet is functioning. Also, inspect the display on the unit. Is it blank?
  • Make sure no bypass valves are in the bypass position.
  • See if the brine tank has an adequate salt level. Also, look out for a salt bridge, a common occurrence.
  • Verify that the correct time is displayed, especially if there has been a recent power outage. Adjust if necessary.
  • Set the appropriate regeneration parameters for hardness, salt, and water usage, along with regeneration duration and cycle length. (Refer to the manual for specifics).
  • If your unit is metered, is the valve detecting water flow? Open a nearby faucet to test.
  • If the unit is new, is it plumbed in correctly? Consider the direction of water flow.

If you’ve gone through these steps and still haven’t identified the issue, initiate a manual regeneration cycle (for more information, consult the operation manual) and then retest the output water hardness level.

If the water is now completely soft, then your water use may be higher than you anticipated. If your demand exceeds your supply, you’ll eventually run out of soft water because your softener will exhaust its capacity ahead of schedule.

To remedy this, increase the salt dose to extract more from your system and allow it to regenerate more frequently and for a longer duration.

Besides, many people underestimate their daily water consumption. Average per capita consumption ranges between 80 and 100 gallons.

If none of the above is the case, your system is likely facing an issue. It might not be regenerating due to a faulty timer or an issue with the brine tank, which prevents the resin from fully recharging. Alternatively, the resin bed might be dirty or depleted.

Explore the sections below, particularly #1 through #5, to rule out these and other possibilities.

If you’re not getting soft water even after a regeneration cycle, there is undoubtedly an issue that warrants your attention.

When it comes to managing water and electricity, challenges are inevitable. A significant part of local water dealers’ revenue comes from servicing water softeners due to the myriad of issues that may arise. In fact, the maintenance aspect is so substantial that it becomes a lucrative, continuous business venture, post the initial system sale. What an intriguing product indeed!

If you’re mulling over the idea of purchasing a water softener system, you’re likely wondering about the extent of maintenance involved. Regrettably, these issues are more common than exceptional. Apart from the routine task of adding salt to the brine tank, maintaining your salt system is an ongoing commitment.

Over time, these maintenance expenses accumulate, rendering the salt-based water softener a more costly investment than the initial outlay. Hence, these potential difficulties are worth considering if you’re planning to invest in an ion exchange system.

Ensuring Optimal Performance of Your Water Softener

Before considering a replacement for your water softener, try these troubleshooting tips that might save you from an unnecessary expense:

  • Verify that the water softener is powered on, operational, and not set to “bypass.”
  • Ensure that the water softener is clean and free from debris that may obstruct any water passageways or tubing.
  • Check if the salt tank is adequately filled. If it’s been “full” for a while, there might be a salt crust formation over an almost empty tank, or it might not be using any salt, indicating improper operation.
  • Poke around in the salt tank to ensure it’s still intact.
  • Initiate an additional water softener regeneration cycle using the water softener control.
  • Monitor the water softener control for several days to verify that it’s functioning correctly and regularly cleaning and regenerating the water softener salt dose.
  • Test the incoming water for hardness to understand the necessary treatment level.
  • Examine the water softener’s output water for hardness and, optionally, check for excess salt.
  • Review the water softener’s control settings. If the system appears to be functioning, but the water remains hard or contains excess minerals, consider increasing the salt dose or the backwash/regeneration cycle frequency.
  • If the water softener leaves too much salt in the water, reduce the salt dose on your softener’s controls.
  • If you notice an excess of salt in your water supply shortly after a regeneration cycle, it might mean that the cycle wasn’t completed thoroughly.
  • In such a case, start a new regeneration cycle and use your softener’s controls to skip to the “final rinse” step. This should help remove any extra brine from the resin tank.
  • If you’re not comfortable troubleshooting the system yourself, consider seeking professional assistance. Most water softener companies are more than willing to send a service specialist to inspect, clean, adjust, and test your system.

How to Test Your Water Softener

One of the easiest ways to check if your water softener is functioning correctly is to measure the hardness of the water it outputs. You can easily purchase an affordable test kit online or at your local hardware store. The instructions that come with the kit should guide you through the process.

The main factor to look for when testing for soft water is the levels of calcium carbonate. These concentrations are usually expressed in parts per million (ppm), milligrams per liter (mg/L), or grains per gallon (gpg). The industry standard is grains per gallon.

It’s equally important to test your supply water, as this will help you determine the difference in hardness before and after the softening process.

Five Steps for Keeping Your Softener Healthy

To maintain the longevity and efficiency of your water softener, follow these steps:

  1. Use pure salt with an iron remover: While standard rock salt may be less expensive, it contains contaminants that can lead to sediment buildup in the brine tank and clog the injector and control valve. Opt for pure salt with an iron remover to prevent these issues​1​.
  2. Don’t add salt until the tank is almost empty: Refill the brine tank only when the salt level is low. Avoid overfilling the tank and keep it no more than two-thirds full​2​.
  3. Clean the resin bed and control valve parts with Iron-Out: If your water contains iron, it can eventually foul the resin bed. Use Iron-Out, following the recommended amount, to clean the resin bed and the parts in the control valve. Run a manual regeneration cycle to purge the wastewater​3​.
  4. Clean the brine tank: Even pure salt can contain contaminants. Clean the brine tank once a year to remove any sediment or impurities that may have accumulated​4​.
  5. Ensure proper drain line placement: Make sure the softener’s drain line is not pushed down into a floor drain. The end of the drain line should be above the drain grate to prevent accidental siphoning of sewage into the softener​5​.

Incorporating these steps into your water softener maintenance routine will help extend its lifespan and ensure optimal performance.

Costs and calling a repair company

Hiring a company to repair your water softener is sometimes unavoidable. In no time, a trained technician will be able to diagnose and repair the system. Depending on the nature of the job, costs typically range from $200 to $750.

The rental company typically handles repairs if you rent a water softener. However, unless you have caused or contributed to any harm or have broken a contractual commitment, the employer should also bear the expense.

In conclusion

These are the most frequent water softener issues you will encounter regularly. However, these issues are quickly resolved in a matter of hours.

However, rather than waiting until your water softener develops complex problems that will cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair, you should consider hiring a professional to examine and service your system regularly. If you detect any of these issues with your water softener, you should follow the steps recommended to resolve them.

Some difficulties will be too complex for an inexperienced person to handle. And it is at this point that a professional specialist’s services in the water softeners field should be sought. You want your water filter to work normally and with little to no fuss.

Only a professional will know how to repair complex water softener difficulties correctly, so you should seek assistance whenever other ways of resolving softener issues fail.


Jay is a health and wellness enthusiast with expertise in water quality and nutrition. As a knowledgeable advocate for holistic well-being, Jay successfully manages Type 2 Diabetes through informed lifestyle choices. Committed to sharing reliable and authoritative insights, Jay combines firsthand experience with a passion for enhancing health."