How To Tell If Your Water Softener Is Working

How To Tell If Your Water Softener Is Working

Anthony Barnes

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Many people who have hard water supplied to their homes choose to use a water softener.

While hard water has not been linked to any significant health problems, washing yourself, your clothes, and your dishes in hard water can cause dry hair and skin, color-faded clothing, staining on washed items, and even a buildup of limescale in your plumbing. 

If you do use a water softener, however, you will need to monitor it to check if it’s working on a regular basis.

This is because the consequences of drinking water filtered by a malfunctioning water softener can actually be worse than simply using hard water for your daily washing needs. 

Today, we will be explaining what a water softener is, why you need to monitor its functionality, and how to check if it’s working.

With our help, you’ll be able to make sure that the water supply in your home is clean and safe. 

What Is A Water Softener?

A water softener is an appliance used to soften water. It does this by removing calcium and magnesium ions from the water before it enters your house or apartment.

These are the minerals that cause hard water. 

The most common type of water softener uses ion exchange resin beads as a filter medium. The resin beads are contained within a tank, which is then connected to your pipes.

When the water passes through these beads, some hardness-causing elements are removed. 

Water softeners are great for purifying water, but in order to work properly, a water softener must be regularly maintained.

If it isn’t, it may clog up over time, or it could stop working altogether. 

Why You Need To Monitor Your Water Softener 

Monitoring the functionality of your water softener is very important because if it breaks, expires, or otherwise malfunctions, it could have disastrous consequences for the quality of your water. 

The best-case scenario if your water softener (see also ‘How To Clean Water Softener‘) malfunctions or expires is that it will simply stop softening your water, and your taps will start producing hard water again.

This won’t be harmful to your health, but you may notice that your clothes look faded after washing or that your hair feels dry after a shower. 

However, in some cases, a broken water softener may leak resin beads into your water supply.

This may release too much sodium into your water, and if you have any pre-existing health conditions that make you more sensitive to sodium, this can be dangerous.

Moreover, if bacteria is allowed to accumulate in your water softener, these germs can be released into your water, causing negative health effects. 

For all of these reasons, it’s important to be aware of how well your water softener (see also ‘Installing A Water Softener: Your Ultimate Guide‘) is working. 

Ways To Know If Your Water Softener Is Working 

Lather Some Soap 

If you want a quick and easy way to check if your water softener is still doing its job, try this simple trick: just run the tap and try to create a lather of soap between your hands. 

Hard water makes it much more difficult to lather up a bar of soap, while soft water should make this process easier.

Therefore, if you’re struggling to get a good lather, the chances are that your water softener isn’t working properly. 

The fact that you can’t lather soap effectively might not seem like that much of a big deal, but this will prevent you from washing your hands thoroughly.

The lathering issue will also extend to things like shampoo, making it more difficult for you to wash your hair. 

Check Your Laundry

Another good way to see if your water softener is working is to check the cleanliness of your laundry when you take it out of your washer. 

If you’re washing your clothes in soft water, you can expect a higher quality of cleaning from your washing machine (see also ‘How to Fix a Washer Machine Drain Backing Up?‘).

Hard water is known to fade the color of your clothes and bedding because of the added calcium and magnesium, whereas soft water will not cause this problem. 

Unfortunately, many of us take it for granted that our washing machines will clean our clothes to a high standard, so we’re not in the habit of checking how clean and colorful our clothes are after every wash. 

In order to monitor the functionality of your water softener, you should start checking your clothes each time you wash them.

Your clothes should not feel rough, stiff, or overly delicate, and they should not be faded. 

Clean Your Plumbing And Appliances 

Clean Your Plumbing And Appliances 

Limescale buildup is one of the biggest indicators that hard water is circulating through your plumbing.

In order to see whether limescale is present in your pipes, faucets, toilets, and other appliances, you will need to clean them regularly. 

Obviously, cleaning the toilet isn’t a task that anyone relishes, but it’s important if you have a water softener because it’s one of the most accurate ways to tell if it’s working properly. 

Not only that, but if you don’t address limescale buildup as it occurs, you might end up with blocked pipes, which is inconvenient, costly to fix, and can sometimes cause a really messy situation. 

Luckily, cleaning the pipes in your home isn’t as difficult as it might sound.

There are solutions you can purchase online or even from your local store that are specifically designed to be poured into drains and will clean your pipes in a matter of minutes.

Alternatively, you can make your own homemade pipe-cleaning solutions to remove limescale and other buildups.  

Taste The Water 

If you have had a lot of experience drinking hard water and have since switched to soft water, you will probably find it pretty easy to tell just through your sense of taste whether your water softener has stopped working. 

Hard water typically has more of a strong flavor than soft water, which can be put down to the fact that it contains more minerals (magnesium and calcium). 

On the other hand, soft water is the kind of water that many people say has no flavor, or that they can’t taste at all. 

If you’ve been using a water softener for a while and suddenly find yourself thinking that your water has a stronger taste than usual, it could be a sign that your water softener is not working. 

The Most Common Problems With Water Softeners 

There are a few issues that can cause your water softener to stop working as well as it usually does. These are: 

Problems With Resin Beads

As we mentioned earlier, one of the ways in which a water softener can impact the quality of your water is by releasing resin into the water.

A common water softener problem is an issue with the resins. 

Your resin beads may get worn out over time, meaning that they are not as effective when it comes to filtering water. Luckily, this issue is fairly easy to fix.

Simply rinse out the resin tank using instructions from the product manual and replace the resin beads, which you should be able to purchase from the same manufacturer. 

Reduced Pressure 

There are a few causes of reduced pressure in your water softener, but all of them can lead to hard water. 

It could be that your water softener is simply the wrong size for your household’s water usage.

This can be difficult to determine by yourself, but you can get a HVAC professional to help you. 

The filter in your water softener may also be blocked by sediment from mineral deposits. Fixing this is simply a matter of changing the filter. 

Finally, the reduced pressure could be caused by a build-up of iron.

You can solve this problem by applying mineral cleaner to the appliance or changing the settings to make your water softener regenerate more often.

Instructions for this should be included in the user manual. 

Leaking 

If your water softener is leaking, it obviously won’t be able to do its job properly.

Sometimes, this is a fixable problem, and other times, you may need to replace your water softener

Luckily, in most cases, water softeners leak because they have been installed incorrectly. In these situations, re-installing the unit correctly should solve the issue. 

Failed Regeneration Cycles 

Regeneration cycles in water softeners are a process designed to remove all the mineral ions that have been removed from the hard water so that they don’t circulate back through the water supply. 

If your water softener is not performing regeneration cycles properly, you will be left with hard water because the water is being re-contaminated by the ions that have already been filtered out. 

In case you suspect that the reason for your hard water is that the water softener isn’t regenerating, you should check the product guidebook.

This should include information about the signs that the water softener is going through this cycle.

If these signs are absent, you may need to hire someone to take a look at your appliance or replace it altogether. 

Does Your Water Softener Need Replacing?

Most problems with water softeners can be fixed without the help of a professional, but if your water softener keeps having issues, and you’re repeatedly having to diagnose problems, you might want to consider replacing your appliance. 

Additionally, if your water softener (see also our article on water softener maintenance) is more than 10 years old, it’s a good idea to replace it.

These appliances can last up to 15 years, but it’s rare for them to get this old without problems. 

Prolonging Your Water Softener’s Life 

If you want your water softener to keep working for as long as possible, you should take the following steps: 

  • Change the filters on a regular basis
  • Ensure that the water softener is an appropriate size for your home 
  • Don’t refill the salt too frequently 
  • Never allow the regenerant to run out completely 

By following all of this guidance, you will be in a better position when it comes to the lifespan of your water softener.

With that being said, you still shouldn’t expect these things to make your water softener live past 10 or 15 years.

These are just preventative measures to stop your appliance from failing too early. 

Final Thoughts 

Water softeners are useful appliances for regulating the mineral content of your household’s water supply, preventing salty water and annoying side effects of untreated water such as water spots, stiff laundry, and dry skin. 

However, you should be alert for signs that your water softener isn’t working properly because if it fails, it can cause problems such as a salty flavor in your water due to sodium ions, excess limescale, or leaking. 

To ensure that your water softener is working as it should, do the soap lather test, check your laundry after each wash, check and clean your plumbing regularly, and take the time to actually taste the water when you have a drink.

These should all tell you whether your current water softener is effective or not.

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By Anthony Barnes

Anthony Barnes is the founder of Water Heater Hub and a second-generation plumber by profession. Before developing Water Heater Hub, Anthony Barnes was a full-time plumber, and he has undertaken a wide variety of projects over the decades. As a second-generation plumber, it was easy for Anthony to get used to the technicalities of all from a tender age