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    September 08, 2022 8 min read

    How Do I Know If My Water Softener Is Working Properly?

    water softener working properly

    Have you just installed a new water softener? Water softeners perform an extremely important job, removing minerals such as calcium and magnesium from the water in your home. While they can last much longer if well maintained, water softeners have a typical lifespan of between 10 and 15 years. 

    Then you’re in the right place. A water softener can be a valuable part of your household. It improves the taste of your water, as well as protect your pipes from overexposure to certain harmful minerals. However, while many homeowners have their own water softener today, they’re not fully sure how these systems work, or how to determine whether or not the tool is working properly.

    How do water softeners work?

    To know if your water softener is working properly, the first question you need to answer is, “How do water softeners work?”

    Water softeners work by removing the calcium, magnesium, and other minerals present in your water through a process called ion exchange. The resin beads within your softener pull the mineral components from the water and keep hold of them so that the water you get from your faucets or in the shower is completely pure and softened.

    Eventually, these microscopic beads become full and can no longer hold any more deposits. When that happens, you need to regenerate the system. Regeneration involves using sodium to remove the buildup of residue from the resin.

    If your water softener isn’t working as it should be, then there’s a good chance that there’s something wrong with the beads, the regeneration cycle, or the various moving components within your device.

    Here are several tests you can do to know if your water softener is working:

    Water hardness test

    One of the best techniques regarding how to tell if a water softener is working involves testing the water itself. After installing your system, many technicians (certainly those at American Home Water and Air) will conduct water softener testing to scientifically demonstrate that the water coming from your faucet is now soft.

    You should periodically conduct your own such tests to ensure your softener is running properly. This will alert you to deviations in your water that may suggest something is wrong with the softener.

    Water hardness test kits are widely available in home hardware stores and even online. They will provide a reading that details your water’s condition. “Soft water” is categorized as containing between 0-17.1 mg of minerals per liter of water. Anything in excess of this (especially if it deviates from your system’s norm) should alert you of issues.

    If the issue is serious enough to stop your system from functioning altogether, you will notice scale buildup in your sinks and appliances as well as stiff laundry and damaged skin and hair.

    The Soap Test

    Another easy way to check for a malfunctioning water softener is to see if your soap lathers and bubbles. Pure liquid soap (such as Castille) will do this when mixed with soft water. If the water is hard, the same soap won’t function properly.

    It’s not a totally scientific test and you probably don’t want to rely solely on it — but it can help confirm suspicions and indicate that more tests need to be done.

    Common Signs Your Water Softener Isn’t Working Properly

    There are several sure-signs that your home’s water softener isn’t producing the quality of water you’d expect. Yet, noticing these signs may not mean your water softener needs to be replaced. It could mean your softener simply needs servicing.

    There might be a certain component that can be replaced, you may need to replace the media, or you simply forgot to add salt in the brine tank. Valves can become jammed or the softener could require cleaning. If you’re unsure of the problem, contact your local residential water treatment experts and have them look at your situation.

    Here are four things to watch for that could indicate your water softener needs to be serviced or replaced.

    1. Not Enough Lather

    One of the telltale signs of hard water is soap refusing to lather. If you notice that you are having a hard time soaping up in the shower, you may need to check your water softener. You may notice that you are going through shampoo and soap a lot faster than usual, as you need to use more to make a decent lather.

    2. Household Chore Problems

    Washing your clothes in hard water can make them stiff and scratchy. Fabric softener can counteract this stiffness to some extent, but a more effective solution is to make sure your water softener is functioning properly to effectively remove the minerals that are making the clothes stiff.

    Hard water can damage a washing machine as well as other appliances such as hot water heaters and dishwashers. To protect those appliances, it is important to check to make sure your water softener is functioning properly.

    Water Doesn’t Feel Soft: If you’ve ever had a water softener in your home, you can immediately feel the difference when soft water stops flowing. You may feel dry and itchy after a shower or find you can hardly get a suds to form in the kitchen sink. First, check to make sure you have plenty of salt pellets in your brine tank. If there’s salt in the tank, this may be an indicator that your system has stopped softening and needs to be serviced.

    3. Crusty Buildup Around Pipes and Faucets

    The minerals that are naturally present in hard water can cause a crusty buildup around your pipes and faucets. Pay attention to your faucets when you are cleaning the kitchen and bathroom. If you notice a chalky substance building up around them, this could be a sign that you need to take a look at your softener.

    4. Hard Spots

    Hard water spots are one of the most common signs that a water softener isn’t working. These can appear on shower doors and faucets, and they result from the buildup of minerals in the water. Another telltale sign of a failed water softener is hard water spots. These may show up on your shower door or porcelain tub. They can either be white, cloudy spots or discolored (think rust-looking color). A properly working water softener won’t leave mineral deposit stains anywhere that your water touches.


    Seeing hard water spots: Generally, with softened water you shouldn’t be cleaning hard water spots off your shower door. If you’re fighting scale and mineral buildup, have your unit serviced to ensure it’s functioning properly and the settings are correct.

    4. Your Water Tastes Different

    Hard water tastes different than soft water. Some people prefer the smooth taste of soft water and will notice if the water supply to their home begins to have increased mineral content. If you’re drinking water straight from the tap, pay attention to changes in taste, as it could mean your softener needs to be serviced or replaced.

    If there’s too much salt in your water softener, you might notice a salty film on the inside of your dishwasher or your faucets. Your water might taste saltier too. Do remember that the salty taste increases as the levels of minerals in your water increase. To fix this issue, you might need to clean the brine tank and replace the water and salt. Remember, just as you can have too much salt in your softener, you can have too little too.

    5. Change in water quality

    If you notice a reduction in water pressure or even simply a change in the quality of your water (perhaps you’re suddenly seeing staining on your porcelain tub), you should immediately call for your water conditioner/softener to be serviced. If your water seems just as hard as ever after having water softening systems installed, this indicates that they are not working at all. At this point, you may need to check that all of the components of your water softeners are set up properly.


    6. Change in Water Pressure

    If your water pressure drops, that could be because there’s a build-up of salt in your brine tank that’s causing problems with your water supply. A sudden change in water pressure could mean a variety of issues are going on with your plumbing. One possibility is that mineral deposits have broken free inside your pipes or the resin beads we mentioned earlier have broken and need to be replaced. Either of these can cause clogs in your pipes and make your water pressure low. It is best to call a professional and have them examine your plumbing and see what the culprit is.

    What's wrong with my water softener?

    If you’re still wondering, “How do I know my water softener is working?”

    If your softener isn’t working as it should be, then you can troubleshoot the cause of the problem. Start by unplugging your softener. Remove access to the water so that you don’t accidentally flood your home either.

    This is actually the most common water softener problems, not enough salt. Just mark it on your calendar or set yourself a reminder to check the salt level once a month. You’d be surprised how many people will think their softener is broken only to lift the lid and see that it’s just out of salt. Most need to be at least half full of salt.

    If the salt is less than half full and looks dry, refill it until it’s about ⅔ full (refer to your manufacturer’s guide for specifics). Those bags are pretty heavy, so be careful when you’re pouring so that you don’t over fill it (or get salt everywhere).

    Look inside of the softener and find out whether there are any salt build-ups or bridges that could be preventing the system from working properly. If there is an excessive amount of salt, then you’ll need to clean out your system and refresh it so that you can begin to create soft water again.

    If there aren’t any salt deposits to worry about, press the regeneration button provided with your water softener to see whether you can clean out the system this way instead. Sometimes, you will be able to set your product up to regenerate automatically. However, if you use a lot of water one week, you may need to regenerate your water softener faster than usual.

    Additionally, it’s important to make sure that you’re willing to perform regular maintenance on your water softening system if you want it to keep working too. Taking the time to clean salt pellets and salt bridges out of your tank is a good way to keep your product in good condition. You’ll also need to frequently regenerate your water softener so you can refresh the resin beads used to remove mineral deposits from your water.

    If you use your system regularly, it might even be helpful to pay for a professional to come out and check your water softener from time to time. This will give you an insight into whether any components could be breaking down or need replacing.



    Thinking of replacing your water softener?

    To ensure that your softener is working properly, we recommend that you have your softener inspected by a local water treatment professional at least once each year. A professional will make sure the valve is functioning properly, all settings are optimized, and possibly even conduct a water test to make sure that your system is still the right match for your home’s water.

    Water quality changes over time. If you are thinking of replacing your water softener or having it serviced, it is a good idea to get your home’s water tested so you get the right water treatment equipment. Experts from Water-Right’s family of brands can give you reliable advice and recommend the right solutions.