Maximizing the Lifespan of Your Water Softener

Maintaining your water softener

Most modern water softeners last between 10 and 20 years. The number one thing that determines where a particular water softener falls within that range is how well it’s taken care of. In other words, if you make sure to properly maintain your water softener, you could ensure it lasts an entire decade longer than it might otherwise.

There’s even more good news: maintaining a water softener is really easy! Follow these simple tips, and you could end up saving a lot of money and enjoying the benefits of your water softener for a long time.

Optimize the Settings

Water softener settings dictate how much the softener should soften the water in its tank. The more softening the appliance does, the harder it has to work. The harder it has to work, the faster it wears down.

Your water softener’s optimal setting is determined by how hard your water is without softening. If your area has unusually hard water, keep your softener on a high softening setting. If you have average water, turn down the setting. You won’t notice a difference, and your water softener gets a significant break. If you do notice your water getting hard again, simply turn the setting up until the hardness goes away.

water softener salt in the tank
Break Up Salt Bridges in the Salt Tank

Over time, salt can form in hardened domes and crusts, or “salt bridges”, inside the salt tank. Salt bridges limit the effectiveness of the softener by preventing it from using all the salt in the tank.

Look for salt bridges or other buildup along the walls of the tank every time you resupply salt. Use a broom handle, mop, or some other tool to break up the hardened salt. Then, manually run a water softener regeneration cycle. If you have trouble breaking up the salt buildup, try dumping a bucket of hot water into the tank to soften it.

water softener salt
Clean the Salt Tank

You should flush out and clean your tank about once a year. First, turn off the water intake by closing the bypass valve on the supply pipe. Dump the water out of the tank and throw away any remaining salt. Pour a mixture of dish soap and water into the tank and scrub. Rinse out the tank after scrubbing.

After rinsing, you should consider using bleach for a deeper clean, especially if you haven’t cleaned the tank in a while. Pour about a ¼ cup of bleach into the tank along with 2 or 3 gallons of water. Stir the bleach into the water until it has been absorbed, and then wait fifteen minutes and rinse.

Don’t Add Too Much Salt

Refrain from adding salt to your softener tank until it’s about ⅔ empty, or until you can start to see water above the salt. Don’t fill the tank up all the way–the longer salt sits in the tank, the more likely it is to stick to the walls or form bridges.

Leave about ¼ of the tank empty, or at least 4 to 6 inches at the top. Too much salt will lower the effectiveness of your softener. Make sure you add the same salt you’ve been using to the tank, especially if there’s still some of the old salt left over.   

Use Evaporated Salt

Not all water softener salt is created equal. There are generally three types: rock salt, solar salt, and evaporated salt. Evaporated salt is the most expensive, because it’s the purest. The purer the salt you use, the less residue it leaves behind.

If you can, you should invest in evaporated salt. It’s more expensive now, but it will probably save you money in the long run. If you can’t find or afford evaporated salt, look for higher purity salts in general and salt in pellet form.

resin beads for the inside of a water softener
Clean the Resin Bed Annually

Water softeners work by passing hard water through a pack of resin beads in a bed. Over time, hard ions from magnesium or calcium will collect on the resin, making it less effective. The water softener’s regeneration process helps prevent resin deterioration, but it’s still a good idea to manually clean the resin bed and its beads around once a year.

You can find resin cleaners at most hardware stores. Some resin cleaners are generalized for all ions, while some target particular elements. Pour your resin cleaner into the salt tank when it’s mostly empty and manually trigger a regeneration cycle. Repeat this process two or three times, adding the recommended amount of cleaner each time. Flush the tank when you’re finished.


Water softeners are easy to forget about, until they aren’t. A little extra maintenance now can save you a big expense and a bigger headache in a couple years. Plus, if you know how to use your water softener properly, you could save money on salt and labor costs at the same time!

Need some help repairing or replacing your water softener? Give Ben Franklin a call today! We can help get you all set up, and we’ll throw in some helpful maintenance tips while we’re there. Enjoy your soft water!