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Water Softener Not Using Salt? Here are 5 Reasons Why (And Solutions)

Scott Winfield
Written by Scott Winfield
Last Updated on

There are a number of reasons why your water softener isn’t using salt such as salt bridge formation, using the wrong type of salt or regeneration system failure.

The key is to know what went wrong, which is exactly what we’ll show you how to do in this article. The good news is that you don’t need any prior training to resolve this issue. We’ll detail 5 ways to identify and solve this problem.

Signs of Water Softener Not Working Properly

Home appliances such as dishwasher and washing machine not functioning properly despite the water softener running are telltale signs of water softener not properly utilizing salt.

In some instances, such as with glassware and clothing, the lack of salt and softening is pretty noticeable because you’ll be able to see and feel the difference right away.

However, there are situations in which you will be hard pressed to notice anything at all – especially if you are using well water to attend to your gardening and yard, so this is something you’ll want to keep in mind.

5 Reasons Why Your Water Softener Is not Using Salt

1. Formation of a Salt Bridge

The first possibility that your water softener might not be using salt (or using it efficiently) is that you have a salt blockage. This occurs when a salt bridge forms on the inside of your brine tank.

Salt Bridge
Formation of a Salt Bridge

Salt bridge is a hard salt formation that causes blockage in the brine tank. This makes it impossible for the required levels of salt to dissolve in the tank to adequately soften the water.

So the question is: how do you know if you are dealing with a salt bridge? One effective way is to check by pushing a pole down into the brine tank carefully to probe for a salt bridge. If you hit something that doesn’t easily give way, you are probably dealing with a salt bridge.

How to Fix & Prevent Salt Bridge Formation

Once you’ve established that you’re dealing with a salt bridge inside the brine tank, you can try to break the crusted salt bridge with a pole.

Take extra care not to damage anything else in the process. This means that you should use slow and gentle movements. Never use a sharp object for this task because you will most likely damage your brine tank.

Sometimes, the issue might persist even if you do manage to successfully break down the salt bridge. If so, you might be dealing with a multi-stage problem. If this happens to be the case, you will need to explore the potential underlying causes; more on those later.

To prevent salt bridge formation in the future, there are a couple more things to take into account. Some of the usual suspects that cause salt bridge formation are high humidity in the tank, using improper or low-quality salt, and regularly overfilling the tank with salt.

You can solve these by moving the brine tank to a less humid environment, developing a habit of filling the tank halfway, and using high quality salt.

2. Using the Wrong Salt Type

Wrong Salt Type
Wrong Salt Type

Remember that you can’t just use any salt type and expect your water softener to work as it’s supposed to. Always check product instructions. Water softeners come with an operations manual where the manufacturer specifies what type of salt to use for best results.

3. Using the Wrong Salt Size

Table salts dissolve very fast in water softeners. Block salt dissolves too slowly and isn’t suitable for maintaining proper brine. Most people revert to using salt crystals or pellets because they’re regarded as the most efficient salt precaution against salt bridges.

Wrong Salt Size

We recommend using salt pellets over salt crystals because they don’t form salt bridges very often. But, again, please check your water softener manual to see what your water softener manufacturer advises.

4. Regeneration System Failure

If there are no salt bridges in your system, then you should take a look at the water softener’s regeneration process. Sometimes, the venturi nozzle gets clogged and blocks the salt from passing through.

Regeneration System

Venturi nozzle is the component responsible for the brine solution getting pulled from the brine tank. The brine solution can’t pass through a clogged venturi nozzle.

What you need to do if this is the case is clear the blockage from the nozzle.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing this by yourself or worry that you might damage the tube for good, you can always consult a professional.

5. Control Valve Clog

Streaming untreated water through the control valve on a regular basis might cause the piston to seize and wear out.

Control Valve Clog
Control Valve Clog

This all depends on the model of your water softener. Usually, the best water softener models take this into account and soften the water before it passes through the control valve section.

Always make sure that your system has enough salt in storage. You don’t want hard iron and minerals to move past the piston chamber untreated. Although this problem is not as prominent as the other ones on this list, it’s usually the last thing people think about.

If you have a really old softener, then this should be the first thing that you consider after checking for a salt bridge.

In Closing

Water softener systems can sometimes appear to be working but may have an issue with either using salt effectively or a related problem upon closer inspection.

The good news is that, by using the 5 methods we’ve detailed above, you should be able to quickly zero-in on the problem. In most cases, it’s either the type of salt you are using or a clogged venturi nozzle, and the fix can be pretty easy.

Even if your system works as it should, always check the salt levels in your brine tank on a monthly basis to see what condition it’s in.

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Scott Winfield
Scott Winfield
My name is Scott Winfield and researching and writing about water filters and other strategies to purify water has become my full time passion in recent years. I'm glad that you found our site and you can look forward to authoritative and well researched content here to help you get the best in water.
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