how to clean a water softener

Do you know how to clean a water softener correctly? This is one of the most important things homeowners can do to keep their appliances working perfectly for longer.

While, for the most part, water softeners are relatively low maintenance, they do require the occasional cleaning to stop them from deteriorating too quickly. Performing regular maintenance on your water softener resin tank, brine tank, and other essential components could help the system last for as long as 20 years without the need for emergency repairs.

Fortunately, cleaning a water softener is a relatively straightforward process. There’s no need to hire a professional to do it for you. Simply follow the steps below.

Why Clean a Water Softener?

Before you begin cleaning the tank and internal systems, you might wonder why you should be spending so much time on maintenance. After all, most water softeners are designed to keep themselves in good working order for as long as possible. They even use automatic regeneration cycles to preserve the internal resin.

Taking extra steps to clean your water softener tank simply ensures you can keep your system in great condition for as long as possible. Not only do you protect your system from problematic issues like salt sludge, but you can also remove impurities from the system, which could make your water softener less effective. Cleaning your water softener will:

  • Prevent brine and sediment from collecting within the brine tank
  • Stop the resin bed from fouling early, leading to expensive replacements
  • Minimise issues associated with salt mushing and bridging
  • Keep the system smelling fresh (no one wants a rotten egg smell)
  • Increase the lifespan of the system’s components and reduce the frequency of repairs

How to Tell if a Water Softener Needs Cleaning

There are no hard and fast rules for how often you should clean your water softener. Most products typically won’t need to be cleaned every year unless your water usage is very heavy and you have particularly high hardness levels.

a faucet with hard stains

However, you should be cleaning the system every few years at least. It’s also worth increasing your cleaning routine after your water softener reaches a certain age. The older the system gets, the more likely it is to need maintenance.

Consider also that certain water softener parts will need cleaning more often. For the brine tank, for example, it should be done whenever you refill it to reduce the risk of salt bridges. In general, it’s best to keep an eye on your water softener and monitor signs of poor performance.

If you find your water softener isn’t working as efficiently as it once was, or you’re noticing more minerals in your bath and shower, then this could be a sign it’s time to clean. Keep an eye out for the following:

  • Different tastes in your tap water. This could indicate residue build-up
  • Encrusted salt around your water softener brine system
  • Reduced softening capacity from your water softener
  • Unusual smells coming from your water softener system
  • Loud noises or clattering inside your tank

How to Clean a Water Softener Resin Tank

During your general maintenance sessions, you’ll need to clean various parts of a water softener. The two most important things are the resin tank and the brine tank. However, you can also consider washing down the external housing of the system too.

The resin tank is one of the most straightforward parts of your water softener to clean. On average, most people clean this system out around once per year. However, if you have very hard water with high levels of iron or manganese, you may need to clean your resin bed more often.

Your resin tank is filled with resin beads, which help to support the ion exchange process used to soften your water. If these beads are exposed to too much dirt and residue, they can begin to lose their charge, which makes them less effective.

The easiest way to clean your resin tank is to use a rust stain remover, rust remover, or a specific resin cleaner. Your manufacturer should be able to advise you on what kind of cleaner to use for your water softener resin tank. While different substances come with diverse instructions, the steps for using these products are usually relatively straightforward:

  1. Dissolve the cleaner in warm or hot water according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure you only use the amount of cleaner required.
  2. Pour the mixture into your water softener’s brine tank.
  3. Program a manual regeneration cycle to transfer the water from the brine tank into the resin tank

The cleaner will then naturally clean out the resin bed as your system progresses through the regeneration cycle. Keep in mind some cleaners need to be used when a brine tank is already full of salt, while others can be used when there’s not a lot of salt in your tank.

How to Clean a Water Softener Brine Tank

Learning how to clean a water softener brine tank is a little more complicated. Most brine tanks need to be cleaned once every 6 to 12 months, depending on the kind of salt you use. Low-purity salts such as rock salt may require you to clean more frequently.

Here are the steps involved:

Step 1: Wait Until Your Salt Levels Are Low

Most people will wait until sodium levels in their brine tank are already low before they begin cleaning. If you’ve just added block salt to your tank, you’ll be wasting the salt if you empty everything for a cleaning cycle. Additionally, waiting until there’s less salt in your tank should make it easier to lift the system and dispose of the remaining salt.

Step 2: Shut off the Water

When you’re ready to clean your brine tank, twist the water softener’s bypass valve to turn off the water. This will allow you to divert water away from the system, so you don’t end up spilling water everywhere. Notably, your water will not be softened while the bypass valve is in place.

Step 3: Drain the Brine Tank

Remove the brine well from the base of your brine tank, and scoop out the remaining water. Once you can pick the tank up, you can detach it from your water supply and drain it into the sink. Alternatively, you can set up a manual regeneration cycle to empty your brine tanks more quickly.

Step 4: Clean the Remaining Salt

Once you’ve removed the water from your brine tank, you will be left with a layer of softening salt and encrusted salt on the bottom of the system. You can scoop this sludge out of the tank using a scoop, broom handle, or a sponge. You can also simply wash away the salt with a sponge, a long-handled brush, and hot or warm water.

Step 5: Remove Salt Bridges

Salt bridges are hard layers of salt which form over the remaining salt in the tank. These can sometimes convince you there’s more salt in the tank than there really is. To get rid of a salt bridge, you’ll need to bash the salt with a broom handle or another tough object until it breaks. Try not to damage the tank when you’re working.

Step 6: Start Washing

A great way to avoid messes when cleaning your brine tank is to take it into your garden and use a hosepipe to get rid of all the remaining minerals within the system. Make sure you don’t wash away the grid plate. Try to get the tank as clean as you can with your hose, then add a couple of drops of dish soap into a bucket with some hot water. Scrub the inside of the tank with a non-abrasive sponge. Ideally, it’s best to avoid harsh chemicals. A solution made with household bleach could damage your system.

Step 7: Rinse and Refill

Once you’ve fully scrubbed the tank from bottom to top, rinse it with the water from your hose to eliminate any suds. You can either dry the inside with a cloth or leave it to dry naturally. Once your system is dry, reinstall it into your water softener and add your salt pellets. Turn the bypass valve to let the water flow back into the system, and set your softener to perform a regeneration cycle.

Water Softener Maintenance: Quick Cleaning Tips

When cleaning a water softener, you should focus most of your attention on the brine tank and the resin beads in the other tank. However, it’s worth cleaning the outside of the unit too. You can use a cleaning cloth with a bucket of soapy water to get rid of dust and dirt.

It’s also worth taking steps to reduce the number of times you need to clean your water softener. For instance, you can:

  • Filter your water: A whole house water filter can remove damaging contaminants like iron, chlorine, and manganese, which might damage the resin bed in your water softener, and lead to more common maintenance issues.
  • Use high-purity salt: The purer the salt you add to your brine tank, the fewer impurities it will contain. High-purity salt won’t make your brine tank as dirty, so you won’t have to commit to regular cleaning as often.
  • Regenerate regularly: if your system doesn’t regenerate as often as it should, it won’t flush the resin properly. This leads to a rapid build-up of contaminants in your resin bed, causing more damage.
  • Use the right tools: Consider investing in a wet vacuum to help you get rid of extra water and salt in your water softener. At the same time, ensure you have the right resin cleaners available. Don’t rely too heavily on bleach solutions.
  • Use bleach wisely: It is possible to add bleach to a brine tank as a sanitiser, but it’s important to be careful. Two ounces of bleach is all you need for about three gallons of water. You can leave this substance for a few minutes, then scrub the interior of the tank before dumping the solution and rinsing the tank with clean water.

Keep Your Water Softener Clean

Learning how to clean a water softener might seem time-consuming, particularly when you have an in-built regeneration process to help maintain your system. However, it can be an excellent way to improve the lifespan of your technology.

A little maintenance is all it takes to enhance the performance of your water softener tank and ensure you always have clean water. However, always follow the owner’s manual for your system carefully, and never use any solutions or cleaning products which could damage the tank.

If you’re not sure how to clean and maintain your water softener correctly, you might find it’s easier to ask a professional to complete the process for you during a regular maintenance check-up. Most of them will be able to clean your water softener as part of the service.

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