Tips on maintaining your compact water softener

Written By: Marjorie Cliff Picard

Compact water softeners can be found in apartments, condos, RVs, boats, mobile homes and regular homes where they can fit into small places, like under sinks and in closets and anywhere a larger water softener cannot go. Some are portable, so you can move them from houses to boats to RVs without a fuss-wherever soft water is needed. They all need a certain amount of care, the amount depending on the model.

Basic maintenance

Even the most basic water softener needs to have the owner regenerate the unit.

  • First, the salt level must be checked every month. The specifications outlined in the manufacturer’s manual must be followed. The right type of salt and the right amount must be used.  Salt regenerates the resin beads and gets them ready for more softening. The lid can be lifted to see the brine tank. Or, if an electric model is used, checking the LED display can be done.

  • Salt must be added on a regular basis. As a general rule, salt is added when the level is less than half-full.

  • The right form of salt must be added. This could be either a tablet, a block, or in  granular form. The tablet is most common. It dissolves most completely and does not build up in the brine tank.

  • The system should be inspected on a regular basis, usually every several months. This can be done by the owner or a trained technician from a water conditioning firm for a fee. The inspection should include a search for any leaks and any other signs of wear and tear. It can be done at the time the salt is replenished.  If there is a solid build-up of salt in the brine tank, this is known as bridging or forming salt bridges. This condition usually develops in areas of high humidity, and needs to be addressed.  The salt may not be touching the water, thus not regenerating the resin beads and softening the water. These bridges must be broken up, and the best thing to use is a broom handle. Once a salt bridge is formed, it will happen over and over with increasing frequency. In humid areas, the salt level should be kept lower and added to a little bit at a time and more frequently.

  • The brine tank of older units should be cleaned every 6 to 12 months depending on the age and condition of the system. More modern units need less maintenance but should be cleaned at least once a year to assure efficiency. When the tank is cleaned, the salt should be completely dissolved first, then scrubbed with soapy water. This should avoid build-up of residue.

Some compact water softeners can use as little as one pound of plain table salt and nine to ten gallons of water. Cleaning it can be as simple as:

  1. Shutting off the water supply  
  2. Unhooking the outlet side
  3. Taking off the top
  4. Pouring in the salt
  5. Putting the cap back on
  6. Turning on the water supply
  7. Rinsing the unit for 15 minutes

The life span of a unit depends on the water quality of the area as well as the care given to it. It may reach 20 to 25 years. If the unit is not using the salt or regenerating, it may be worth fixing if the problem is simple. If only a few parts need replacing, the unit may not need to be disposed of.


Facts every water softener owner should know

Written By: Marjorie Cliff Picard

A water softener makes chores easier and appliances last longer. A good, well-maintained unit should last from 20 to 25 years. It protects faucets, pipes, showerheads, surfaces and other items. However, to keep a water softener in peak condition, basic maintenance measures must be taken.

Adding the right kind of salt is imperative. This should be done quarterly, by the homeowner or by a technician from a water softener firm who is qualified to work on that particular system.

Salt types

There are three kinds of salt used in water softeners: rock, solar, and evaporated salts.

  • With rock salt, the unit reservoirs have to be cleaned a lot more often. Rock salt is cheaper, but more work.

  • Solar salt is formed by evaporation of sea water, and is used in the form of pellets or crystals. If the unit uses a high amount of salt, deposits will build up quickly with solar salt and require more cleaning.

  • Evaporated salt is acquired by mining and is recommended.

If there is low usage, the salts can be used interchangably. Can they be mixed together? It may not hurt the unit, but certain brands of water softeners require one type of salt or another. Mixing rock and evaporated salt together may clog up the reservoir. The unit must be completely empty before a different salt is added.

Three types of system maintenance

There are three types of water softeners in terms of maintenance:

  • Basic: this type requires the homeowner to regenerate the system. This means backwashing to remove the minerals which have built up. Brining is the next step, which means adding salt to the brine tank. Salt added to the drinking water may make people concerned about their blood pressure and salt intake. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, the amount of salt is at a safe level. Salt can be replaced by potassium, which is equally effective as a water softener. It is also more environmentally friendly and may be less corrosive to the unit and other appliances.

  • Semi-automatic water conditioner: The homeowner starts the regeneration process at a preset time, and the water softener finishes the job on its own. 

  • Fully automatic: This process starts and completes the whole regeneration process by either sensing an increase in the hardness of the water or by measuring the amount of water going through the system. Most water softeners these days are fully automated.

If the homeowner replenishes the salt quarterly himself, he should always do a visual inspection of the unit at that time. He should look for leaks and other unusual things. Some soft water companies provide a maintenance plan for a fee.

If the water softener is not using up the salt or does not appear to be regenerating, a water softener technician should be called. It may be a very simple repair. Repairing a unit rather than discarding it makes more sense if the parts replaced are few.

A few more facts

Washing a car in hard water may leave blotches on the surface. Leaving one outside faucet on for soft water makes cleaning easier.

Soft water can also be used in icemakers, if the homeowner has one. The unit acts like a filter, removing solids and iron from the water, which will actually make the ice cubes look cleaner.

The homeowner must always remember to read and follow all the specifications provided by the manufacturer. 

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