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How Long Do Water Softeners Last?

a kitchen with white cabinets

Softening water can help prolong the life of your home’s pipes, water heater and other appliances. Plus, it can make your water easier on your skin and hair. This is because hard water not only dries out people’s skin, but the sediment in hard water can also build up in your plumbing.

Water softeners work for about 10 to 15 years, but a variety of factors can affect how long the equipment lasts. For one, the quality and type of water softener that you own matters. This is because some types of water softeners can degrade more quickly. For instance, water softeners that run on a timer system instead of on-demand may run through water and regenerate more often than needed. These systems replenish salt based on a set schedule, even if you haven’t been using much water. This can make the system work much harder than it needs to and wear it out at a faster rate.

A similar thing can happen if you set the hardness level on your water softener higher than you need for the water in your area. If the setting is too high, then your system will use more salt than it needs and overwork itself. The water softener might also need replacing sooner if there’s very hard water in your area because the system will likely have to regenerate more often.

Your water softener might also break down sooner if your household uses a lot of water. Water softeners typically need to regenerate only every two to seven days. However, if you use a lot of water, then the water softener might need to regenerate more often. So, the equipment might need to be replaced sooner.

Your maintenance schedule can also affect how long the system lasts. Like any piece of equipment, water softeners need regular maintenance to continue performing well. Some examples of steps you can take to maintain your water softener include checking the salt level and refilling it when needed.

Another tip is to occasionally check to make sure there is not a salt bridge inside your tank. This issue could prevent salt from getting to the water in your system. If you do spot a salt bridge, you should be able to dislodge it with a broom handle or other long stick. It’s also important to use a water softener cleaner solution in your system once every four months or so. This will help remove buildup inside your water softener and help it function better.

You may be wondering how long water softeners last because you’ve noticed some issues with your softener lately. Some common signs that you might need to start shopping around for a new water softener include:

  • The water softener has started using more salt than it usually does, and the system needs to be replenished more frequently.
  • You start noticing mineral buildup in your appliances that use water.
  • The water is constantly running in your water softener or it is taking more than a couple of hours for your system to regenerate.
  • Your water has started to smell like rotten eggs or tastes funny.
  • It has started taking more soap to get your dishes or hands clean.
  • You see mineral spots on your dishes or what looks like soap scum in your bathroom.
  • Your hair has gotten dry or your skin has started to itch.
  • There are reddish stains around your drains, or your faucets have stains or white crust.
  • Your clothes have started feeling itchy or losing their color.
  • There is less water pressure coming out of your showerhead than usual.

If you’re experiencing signs of hard water or issues with your system, it’s wise to contact a professional. Specialists have the training and tools necessary to inspect your system and help you decide whether the problem can be fixed or if it might make more sense to replace your water softener.

One of the reasons that you might wonder if your water softener needs replacing is if you are noticing that the salt level in the brine tank is not changing.

a kitchen with hard water because the water softener is not using salt

What to Do if My Water Softener Is Not Using Salt?

When the regeneration process is working as it should, your water softener uses a certain amount of salt to flush out calcium and magnesium ions that are trapped in the resin beads. This plays a key role in removing hard minerals from your water—unless this regeneration process is not working. Then, minerals will overload the beads and your water softener will not function properly. Water softeners typically go through regeneration every two to seven days—depending on the type of system you have. The salt level in the brine tank should go down each time the regeneration process runs.

Generally, you’ll need to add salt to your brine tank about once every other month. However, if you start to notice the salt level isn’t going down, then something is probably going wrong somewhere in your system. Many different problems could keep a water softener from using salt the way it should.

For one, it’s possible a salt bridge might have formed inside the brine tank. Some signs this might be the problem are if the “low salt” warning light is flashing even though you recently put salt in the tank. Or, if you see a hard crust inside the brine tank. Homeowners can typically solve this issue by gently breaking apart the salt bridge using a broom handle or other long stick.

However, if this doesn’t solve the problem, then several other things might be happening. For example, there could be an issue with the water softener venturi, timer, rotor valve or valve motor. Any of these parts might be dirty or damaged, or you might have an even more complex issue on your hands.

You might be tempted to figure out the problem and fix these more complicated water softener issues on your own. However, without the proper training and tools, you might damage the system. Not only can this prolong the problem, but you might end up having to spend even more money to resolve the issue or even buy a new water softener.

Since there are many things that can keep a water softener from using salt, the best way to handle this problem is to contact a professional. They can take care of everything for you, so you don’t have to deal with it.

These pros will check each of the system components that could be causing your issue and run a diagnostic test to figure out what might have gone wrong. Once they find the problem, they can help you understand your options and work to resolve the water softener issue.

a kitchen with soft water because the water softener is set up

How To: Water Softener Set Up

After you have your water softener installed, you’ll still need to adjust some controls to finish setting it up. Depending on the type of water softener that you have, some of the system settings that might need programming include:

  • Salt dose, which is the amount of salt that your system needs for each regeneration cycle. The dose level you’ll need depends on the hardness level of your water.
  • Water hardness setting, which should be turned to the same number as the hardness of your water supply.
  • Regen or backwash cycle frequency, which is how often the regeneration cycle will run.
  • Brine tank float level, which controls how much liquid is in the brine tank and helps make sure the system has the correct salt dose.

The best way to get your water softener set up properly is to contact a water quality specialist. They will figure out the water hardness level for your water supply as well as the specifications for your water softener. Also, these pros will program the settings needed for your particular system, fill the brine tank with the proper level of salt and make sure your system is working as it should.

However, you can also choose to set up your system on your own. If you choose the do-it-yourself route, it’s wise to read and follow the manufacturer’s installation and maintenance instructions for your specific water softener model, based on the water hardness level in your area.

ABC Can Help With All Your Water Softener Needs

If you’re experiencing issues with your water softener, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our pros are highly trained and can get to the root cause of your problem. You can also rely on us for honest advice on whether it makes sense to repair or replace your water softener. Or, if you’re contemplating getting one, we can help you weigh the pros and cons of water softeners.

Tom Riggs

Tom Riggs is the Division Manager for Mechanical Services, overseeing sales and operations for HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Appliance Repair and Water Quality for all ABC Austin branches. He joined ABC in 2014. Before ABC, he was an HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Comfort Advisor/Sales and Operations Manager. Tom attended Universal Technical Institute. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys country living with his wife and two sons.

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