How to Tell if a Water Softener is Working – Quick Checklist

Millions of American homes only have access to hard water, so it is not surprising that water softening is increasing in popularity every year.

A water softener can be an incredibly effective way to prevent the many negative consequences of having hard water flow through your taps, but your water softener is no good to you or your family if it is not working properly.

Since hard water poses a serious risk to your pipes, fixtures, washing machine, water heater, and even your skin and hair, it is important to make sure that your water softener is working and realize when it stops working. To help you get the most out of your water softener, we’ll go over a quick checklist you can use to ensure it is working at full capacity!

1. Perform a Soap Test

If you have ever showered with untreated hard water, you know how difficult it can be to wash the soap off your body and shampoo from your hair, and not just because of reduced water pressure from the buildup of hard minerals. You have likely also noticed that it is almost impossible to form a thick lather. A basic soap test checks to see how the water reacts to soap.

To perform a soap test, fill a water bottle with water sourced from one of the taps in your home. If you believe that a particular faucet has harder water than others, get your water from there.

Add roughly 10 drops of any liquid dish or hand soap. Then, vigorously shake the bottle for about 30 seconds. Stop shaking and check for suds. If you see a lot of suds, you likely have soft water. If there are no or very few suds, there is a good chance you have hard water minerals and your water softener is not working correctly.

2. Taste the Water

If you suspect that your water softener is not working, perform a quick drinking water taste test. Drink a small amount of water directly from the faucet. Do not use a filter, as this will alter the taste.

If you taste salty water, it could be a sign that your water softener is regenerating too often, which is a sign that it is not working correctly. If this is the case, visually inspect your water softener’s brine tank. If you notice it is out of salt pellets or the salt level is very low, you might have an issue that requires professional servicing. 

Remember, you should not have to replace the water softener salt in your brine solution tank more often than two times a month. If you need to do so more often than this, there is a good chance your water softener is not working correctly.

3. Check for Visual Signs of Hard Water

While this method may sound like a fairly obvious way to tell if your water softener is working, it is important to do. White, crusty mineral buildup around your tap water faucets and showerheads points to hard water, as do any signs of residue and scale in your bathtubs and sinks.

If your water softener is not treating the hard water correctly, you will also notice that your dishware and glassware have white streaks and spots. In some cases, you may notice your laundry looks faded after it dries. This is another common sign of hard water.

If you notice these obvious signs of hard water flowing, there is a good chance you need to repair your water softener, or in serious cases, you might need to replace it. The best tactic is to check the salt pellets in the brine tank and make sure that everything is maintained to the standards outlined in the owner’s manual. If you cannot get to the bottom of the problem, have a qualified professional perform a service check on your water softener.

4. Purchase and Use a Water Hardness Test Kit

If you are still unsure whether your water softener is working properly, you can also try a water hardness test kit. You simply dip one of the test strips into your water and wait for it to change color. This test will tell you whether you have hard or softened water and they are surprisingly affordable and accurate.

Once the strip has dried, compare the color against the chart provided with the test kit. These strips offer results within seconds, and they can be very accurate at detecting hardness minerals. Not only will they show you whether or not the water flowing from your water softener is hard, but they also give you a hardness measurement, so you can see if your water softener is underperforming or not working at all.

Common Reasons Why Water Softeners Stop Working

While there are many reasons why your water softener might stop working properly, the following are some of the most common explanations:

  • An ongoing regeneration issue. This allows untreated water to pass through your home’s water supply. Depending on the severity of the regeneration issue, your water could have a mild to severe hardness when it leaves your water softener.
  • An unclean resin bed. When mineral ions build up in your water softener’s resin bed, it can result in untreated water leaving the water softener. Fortunately, this issue is usually easy to repair, and you can address it by performing basic maintenance on your water softener.
  • An accumulation of debris and contaminants throughout your water softener system. This issue can occur when the water softener cannot flush itself properly. You can usually repair the issue by performing basic maintenance; however, some issues need to be resolved by a qualified professional.
  • A motor failure. While this problem is less common than the causes listed above, it can occur with an older water softener. If you moved into a house with an existing water softener, check when it was installed. If it is nearing the 20-year mark, it might be time for a replacement.

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