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how to tell if water softener is working

How To Tell If Your Water Softener Is Working

In Phoenix, water softeners are essential. Minerals and sediment abound in the local water supply, which can damage pipes, sinks, and even your skin and hair. In this post, we’ll give you some tips on how to tell if your water softener is working properly.

Water Softener Basics

Before we get into diagnostic strategies, let’s cover a few water softener basics and learn how water softeners work.

The water softeners we carry at American Home Water and Air (and most softeners, for that matter) work by replacing calcium and magnesium ions in your water with sodium ions.

This is achieved through the use of negatively-charged resin beads that attract positively-charged minerals. As your water passes through the beads, the minerals stick to them, resulting in “soft water” emerging from the system.

Eventually, these beads get filled with minerals and need to be regenerated. Aiding this process are salt (or potassium chloride) pellets sitting in what’s known as a brine tank. Salty water flows from this tank into the resin beads, washing the mineral deposits from them and allowing the beads to do their job properly.

There’s a lot going on here — and occasionally, things go wrong.

How Do I Know My Water Softener Is Working?

When people ask “how do I know my water softener is working?” they are typically referring to the regeneration process.

How Do I Know If My Water Softener Is Regenerating?

There are two ways water softeners “know” it’s time to regenerate. The first is what’s known as time-initiated regeneration. The system will regenerate at a specific interval — usually once per week during the early morning hours.

If your water softener regenerates using this method, you should be able to check its settings and determine the specific interval.

Another method water softeners often use to regenerate is known as demand-initiated regeneration. The system regenerates solely based on your water usage. Tracking regeneration can be a bit trickier with this method. Typical units, however, will regenerate every two to three days while more efficient ones may regenerate daily. Refer to your owner’s manual and observe your softener to fully understand its schedule.

Whatever regeneration method your softener uses, if you notice it deviating from the norm (in other words, regenerating too often or too scarcely), you need to investigate.

Common causes of regeneration issues include:

  • leaks in tubing from your brine tank
  • salt bridging or mushing
  • improper time settings (i.e. someone accidentally misadjusted the time and date)
  • the timer is broken altogether
  • improper water levels in the brine tank (too much or too little)
  • the brine injector or venturi valve is clogged

Water Softener Testing: How To Tell If Your Water Softener Is Working

One of the best techniques regarding how to tell if a water softener is working involves testing the water itself. After installing your system, many technicians (certainly those at American Home Water and Air) will conduct water softener testing to scientifically demonstrate that the water coming from your faucet is now soft.

You should periodically conduct your own such tests to ensure your softener is running properly. This will alert you to deviations in your water that may suggest something is wrong with the softener. You can also refer to the water quality reports in your area, here’s an example of a water quality report from Maricopa, Arizona.

Water hardness test kits are widely available in home hardware stores and even online. They will provide a reading that details your water’s condition. “Soft water” is categorized as containing between 0-17.1 mg of minerals per liter of water. Anything in excess of this (especially if it deviates from your system’s norm) should alert you of issues.

If the issue is serious enough to stop your system from functioning altogether, you will notice scale buildup in your sinks and appliances as well as stiff laundry and damaged skin and hair.

How To Tell If Your Water Softener Is Working: The Soap Test

Another easy way to check for a malfunctioning water softener is to see if your soap lathers and bubbles. Pure liquid soap (such as Castille) will do this when mixed with soft water. If the water is hard, the same soap won’t function properly.

It’s not a totally scientific test and you probably don’t want to rely solely on it — but it can help confirm suspicions and indicate that more tests need to be done.

Common Causes of Inconsistent Water Softener Results:

  • a regeneration issue that results in the unit’s control valve allowing untreated water to pass through the system; see the “how do I know if my water softener is regenerating” section for more information on this
  • a dirty resin bed
  • accumulation of debris throughout the system
  • motor failure (rare but it can happen with old and worn systems)

Need Water Softener Service in Phoenix? Trust American Home Water and Air

As you can see, there are many different answers to the question “Is a water softener worth it?” or “how do i know if my water softener is working?” Good water softeners are finely-calibrated machines within which a variety of things can go wrong.

Beyond refilling your softener’s brine tank with salt or potassium pellets, many of the issues we’ve mentioned above require professional assistance. A good idea would be to also pair your water softener with a reverse osmosis system.  If you’re unfamiliar with the inner workings of your water softener, call American Home Water and Air. Our 30+ years of experience installing HVAC and water systems (that also includes scale control water treatment system) for more than 50,000 customers means we’re well positioned to solve any softener issue on the first service call.

Found this useful? Also check out nest thermostat benefits and testing reverse osmosis water acidity

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should you regenerate your water softener?

With most softeners, you shouldn’t have to trigger the regeneration process yourself manually, although you might want to do this for certain diagnostic procedures. It should regenerate on its own based on a time or demand schedule. This should happen at least once per week; refer to your system’s manual (or call us if your softener is one of ours) for more information.

Can I use water during softener regeneration?

This is typically not recommended. If you use your water while the softener is regenerating, untreated water will pass through your faucet. Further, you will be reducing the pressure of the water flowing through the system, which can have unpredictable results.

This is why most systems are set to regenerate in the early hours of the morning (around 2AM).

Is it bad to let your water softener run out of salt?

Yes, it can cause damage to your faucets and fixtures while causing the brine tank to overflow if you’re not careful.

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