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Why Is My Water Softener Leaking?

a kitchen experiencing signs of hard water because the water softener is leaking

A leaking water softener is an irritating problem to have in your home. Not only can the leak cause quite a mess, but it can also impact the appliance’s ability to do its job. Without a properly working water softener, you may start noticing signs of hard water again. For example, your home’s water might leave spots and residue on your glasses and faucets, and start to dry out your skin and hair. This is why it is important to identify the source of the leak before it becomes an even bigger problem.

As with any kind of appliance, water softeners only last for a certain amount of time. Their typical lifespan is around 10 to 15 years. At this point, the water softener can start to have issues like leaks or could stop working altogether. However, having a leak does not necessarily mean that it is time to buy a new water softener. Even appliances that are much newer can start to have problems—some of which can be inexpensive and easy to fix.

Here are some of the most common reasons why your water softener might be leaking.

A Defective O-Ring

Water softeners typically have a valve called a “bypass valve” that you can turn to allow water to either flow to the appliance or bypass it. This valve has o-rings that help seal the connection and which can be the source of leaks. They can break down if they are not maintained and lubricated. Additionally, these o-rings can also crack and wear out over time. If a defective o-ring is causing the water leak, then you can fix the problem by replacing the o-ring.

A Puncture in the Brine Tank

Another common reason that your water softener might be leaking is a puncture in the brine tank. This most often happens when someone tries to break apart a salt bridge in the tank and accidentally pokes a hole in it in the process.

Unfortunately, if a puncture is causing the leak, usually the best thing to do is to replace your tank completely. However, this might depend on the size and location of the hole, as it is sometimes possible to seal up punctures. A licensed water quality specialist can inspect your tank and give you the best advice for your specific problem. A specialist can also give you advice on how to prevent salt bridges in the future.

A Damaged Rotor Valve or Rotor Valve Seal

The rotor valve is the mechanism that directs water to different parts of your water softener. As your appliance gets older, this valve and the seals inside the rotor valve can crack and cause leaks. If either of these issues occurs, then replacing the rotor valve should fix the leaking issue.

A Bad Water Line Connection

Water softener connections, such as the water softener hose, can sometimes work themselves loose and cause leaks. When this happens, you can often fix the problem by tightening the connection.

However, it is also possible that this hose, the drain line or another water line connection has gone bad. If this is the case, it is best to contact a plumbing professional. A professional can replace the damaged or defective hose and check the rest of the unit’s plumbing for any other defects.

If you would like to try to locate and fix the leak on your own, there are some things that are essential to keep in mind. No matter the cause, before you try to fix a water softener leak, you must turn off both the electricity and water supply to the appliance. This will reduce the chance of harming yourself or creating a bigger mess. You can turn off the electricity supply by unplugging the water softener and flipping the circuit breaker to the off position. In terms of the water supply, you can typically stop the water by turning the bypass valve to route water away from the appliance.

Of course, the best way to address any kind of water softener leak problem is to reach out to a trusted plumbing professional. Professionals can quickly identify and fix any issues you may be having. They can also give you the information you need to decide if it makes more sense to buy a new water softener instead of trying to fix the problem.

Signs You Should Replace Your Water Softener

Some common signs that it might be time to replace your water softener include:

  • The appliance is over 10 years old or is getting close to that age.
  • There’s been lower water pressure than normal.
  • You are having to refill the salt in your water softener more often than you used to.
  • Your clothes have started fading or feel itchy.
  • There is mineral buildup in your appliances, on your faucets or around your drains.
  • Your skin and hair have started drying out for no obvious reason.
  • It is taking longer than usual for your water softener to regenerate.
  • There are mineral spots on your dishes or it takes a while to get them clean.
  • The water in your home has started tasting weird.

a running kitchen sink

How Much Salt Should I Have in My Water Softener?

One of the things a water quality professional will be able to take care of is checking the unit for salt and refilling it as needed. In general, it is best to avoid letting the salt level fall below one third of a tank full. Otherwise, you risk the possibility that your water softener might run out of salt completely if you forget to check the tank as often as you usually do.

However, exactly how much salt your water softener needs and how often it needs refilling will depend on a variety of things. Some factors to consider are the type of water softener you have, the size of the brine tank, the water hardness level in your area and how much water your household uses.

Preventing Salt Bridges

It is good to check your water softener at least once a month to make sure the salt is at the right level and ensure that a salt bridge has not formed. A common cause of a water softener leak is when a homeowner mistakenly punctures the brine tank while trying to clear a salt bridge. This typically happens when someone tries to break up a salt bridge.

That is one of the reasons it is best to hire a plumbing professional. A pro can fix any problems you might be having with your water softener and set up a routine maintenance schedule to help keep your appliance in the top working order. They can take care of everything for you, so you do not have to risk inadvertently damaging your system and prolonging any issues.

Another good way to help prevent salt bridges is to make sure you are using the right type of salt. The best option is to get a high purity salt, such as evaporated salt. This is typically more expensive than some other kinds of salt like rock salt or solar salt. However, when you use a higher quality water softener salt, it can save you time and money. This is because appliances using better salt typically need less maintenance.

a bathroom

How to Maintain a Water Softener

Regularly maintaining your water softener can help prevent leaks and other common water softener issues. One of the top items that should be included in your water softener maintenance schedule is checking and refilling the salt. It is typically best to keep the tank around half full with salt. How often you will need to check it and how much salt you will need to add each time will depend on several factors. For example, what kind of water softener you have, what kind of salt you use and your water’s hardness level.

It is also good to run a water softener cleaning solution through your unit about three times per year. This will help your water softener last longer and help remove buildup. Another important part of water softener maintenance is checking for salt bridges in your tank. If one of these forms, it could keep the salt from getting to the water flowing through the appliance. However, if you do get a salt bridge in your water softener, it is wise to be careful when trying to clear it. Otherwise, you might accidentally damage your system.

Of course, you do not have to handle this all on your own and risk damaging your water softener. Instead of attempting this task yourself, you can contact a plumbing professional to deal with any issues for you. You can set up a schedule with a trusted specialist who can perform routine maintenance on your water softener. This professional can help prevent common water softener issues like water leaks. They can also catch problems before they turn into bigger and more expensive issues.

ABC Can Take Care of Any Water Softener Issues You May Be Having

Instead of spending your free time trying to learn how to repair your water softener, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our licensed professionals will be able to quickly find the problem and then make all needed plumbing repairs. That way, you can go back to enjoying your softened water.

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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