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Why Does Water Softener Salt Bridge Occur? (How to Remove It)

Scott Winfield
Written by Scott Winfield
Last Updated on

Water softeners require little maintenance as they regenerate automatically and keep on functioning as long as you add salt to the brine tank. However, there are certain cases that might require you to open up the brine tank and see what’s going on there, and sometimes, you might see a salt bridge, which is a crusty layer of salt on the upper section of the brine tank.

A salt bridge might reduce the efficiency of the softening device and cause it to malfunction in extreme cases. It mostly happens when you use low-quality salt or fill the brine tank with more salt than required. It’s a more common issue in humid places.

Now, let’s see in more detail how water softeners utilize salt and how salt bridges might happen. We’ll also explain how you can solve the issue and prevent further occurrences.

Water Softener Salt Bridge
Water Softener Salt Bridge

How Do Water Softeners Work?

Water softeners operate on the basis of a process known as ion exchange. In this process, positively charged mineral molecules in hard water are drawn to negatively charged resin beads placed in the primary tank of the softening device.

However, these resin beads won’t stay charged by themselves. Especially when the water they deal with is too hard, their charged status is easily going to wear off, and they’re going to lose their effectiveness.

That’s when salt that’s placed in the brine tank enters the picture. Every once in a while, the softening unit will regenerate itself, meaning that the resin beads will be recharged by the sodium present in salt. To that end, water will enter the brine tank, pick up sodium molecules by dissolving salt, and carry it to the resin.

Therefore, it’s fair to say that salt is one of the most integral components in the water softening process. Unless it’s well taken care of, resin beads won’t attract mineral molecules, and your water will be as hard as it was before you installed the water softener.

How Salt Bridges Occur

When salt crystals clump together, water can’t dissolve the salt successfully. Over time, this process will result in a hard layer of salt inside the brine tank, which blocks water from reaching soluble salt.

Even if you have the best water softener on the market, this problem might occur since the reason behind it has nothing to do with the softening device itself. If you see a salt bridge inside the brine tank, it’s probably due to:

  • Low-quality salt: Water softener salt is processed because no dirt, clay, or foreign elements should enter the water softening system, and the salt should be easily-soluble. However, not all options on the market are an ideal quality. So, if you picked low-quality salt, it might not dissolve quickly enough, resulting in a salt bridge.
  • Too much salt in the brine tank: Water can only dissolve a limited amount of salt in a limited period, and the time the brine water spends inside the tank is limited. So, if you pour more salt into the tank than it can handle, the water won’t be able to dissolve it all, leading to the formation of a salt bridge.
  • Humidity: In humid environments, moisture might reach inside the brine tank. As a result, some salt pellets will partially dissolve, become stickier than usual and eventually clump together to form a stronghold. If not maintained regularly, it might easily turn into a salt bridge.

Usually, you can tell whether there’s something wrong with your softening unit when you realize that the water isn’t as soft as it used to be. In that case, just look inside the brine tank and see if there’s a salt bridge.

How to Remove a Salt Bridge

How to Remove a Salt Bridge
A man removing a Salt Bridge

Salt bridges should be no cause for worry as they can quickly be dealt with in a couple of simple steps:

  1. Turn off the water supply to your house and unplug the softener.
  2. Drain the water that might still be inside the brine tank.
  3. Lift the lid of the tank and clear out the normal salt on top.
  4. Clear the salt bridge by using a knife or hammer. Be wary not to damage the tank.
  5. Vacuum the inside of the tank with a wet vacuum cleaner. Do NOT use a dry vacuum cleaner.
  6. Plug the softener, turn on the water supply, and have your softening device run a manual regeneration cycle.
  7. Add salt for the device to return to normal function.

Check the user manual to see whether the manufacturer has any advice on the matter. Always follow manufacturer guidelines.


Salt is essential for water softeners to keep on operating effectively. However, it can sometimes form salt bridges and prevent the softening device from functioning properly.

A salt bridge occurs mainly due to three factors: using poor-quality salt, adding too much salt to the brine tank, and high humidity levels where the device is placed. If the device stops softening your water, you should check out the brine tank for a salt bridge and clear it thoroughly, as explained in the previous section.

To prevent recurrences, opt for high-quality salt and add salt to the brine tank only as much as it’s required. Regularly cleaning the brine tank might also avert salt problems if you’re living in a particularly humid area.

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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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