Hard water can leave spots on your drinking glasses and scum on your shower. It may discolor your clothes and dry out your skin. A water softener has the potential to fix these issues, but only if it has enough salt in the tank. When you know how often to put more salt in your water softener, you’ll maintain a steady supply of softened water for household drinking, washing and bathing.
Purpose of Salt in the Water Softener
Salt plays an integral role in the way your water softener functions. This appliance’s job is to remove minerals from your water supply, and chemistry makes it happen.
The water softener contains resin beads that have sodium ions all over them. The ions carry an electric charge. As your household water supply passes over the beads, the charge attracts calcium and magnesium ions. Those are the main minerals responsible for making water hard. The sodium ions on the beads end up switching places with the calcium and magnesium ions. Then, the water supply no longer contains a high level of problem-causing minerals.
Eventually, the beads will have lost all of their sodium. They’ll carry only calcium and magnesium. When that happens, it’s time for a regeneration cycle. That’s when the water softener salt comes into play.
The salt mixes with water in the softener’s tank to form a brine solution. During the regeneration cycle, the brine washes over the resin beads and does the ion exchange in reverse. The sodium ions transfer to the beads, and the calcium and magnesium ions move into the brine. When the regeneration cycle is finished, the brine and the minerals it contains drain out of the system.
The water softener must have a steady supply of salt. Otherwise, the brine tank won’t produce a strong salt solution for recharging the resin beads, and the softener will stop doing its job.
Schedule for Adding Water Softener Salt
Since salt is an essential component of your water softener system, you’ll want to get into a regular habit of refilling the brine tank. You can expect to add salt to your water softener once every one to two months. The exact schedule will depend on your water softener model as well as various household factors.
Older water softeners need a new batch of salt about once every four weeks. Updated models run more efficiently, so you may be able to increase the schedule to once every eight weeks. It depends largely on the size of your brine tank, though. The more salt it can hold, the less often you’ll have to fill it. Separate tanks are usually bigger than built-in ones.
No matter the size or style of your water softener, your household water usage will influence your refill schedule. If your family’s water consumption is lower than average, you may be able to go a little longer between refills. If you use a large amount of water, you’ll need more frequent top-offs.
The quality of your water supply will make a difference as well. Water softeners in areas with very hard water will go through more salt than those in areas where the water is naturally softer.
Recommendations for Checking the Salt Level
Even though you might not need to refill your softener more than once a month, it’s smart to check it more frequently. This can be especially true when you’re new to softener ownership.
Take a look at the brine tank every two to three weeks. It should always be at least one-quarter of the way full. If the salt level is approaching that point, it’s time to add more to the unit.
You typically need to have more salt than water in the brine tank. Pour in a new bag of pellets if the salt in the tank looks wet or the water level is sitting higher than the salt.
Some water softener models have an alert that lets you know when the salt level is getting low. There might be an audible beep or a flashing light. You may even be able to receive a low-salt notification through a smartphone app.
Amount of Salt to Add
It’s common to go through approximately one 40-pound bag of salt pellets each month, but usage varies. Some people use a little less, and others may need twice as much.
With each refill, be sure to put a sufficient amount of salt in the softener. Otherwise, you run the risk of needing to fill it again quite soon. As a general rule, you should fill the tank past the halfway point. There should be enough salt in the unit that the water level sits a few inches lower than the salt.
While keeping the tank full enough is important, that doesn’t mean packing the unit as full as can be. Overfilling the tank can lead to a problem called salt bridging in which a salt formation develops at the top of the tank. Seeing that buildup of salt, you might figure that the brine tank is still plenty full. In actuality, there are no useful pellets left inside. You’ll need to knock away the salt bridge before you can add more salt to the brine tank.
To make sure that you don’t overfill the tank, pay attention to the maximum fill line that’s marked on the side. It’s usually 4 to 6 inches from the top of the tank.
Issues Caused by Running Low on Salt
It’s always best to refill the brine tank before the salt is all used up. Letting it run out can cause damage to your home, your belongings or your softening system.
The main problem that will occur when you run out of salt is that you’ll no longer have softened water flowing through your pipes. Your water will once again be filled with minerals that leave your laundry dingy and your dishes spotty. Soap scum might accumulate on your bathtub walls and your shower curtain.
Over time, mineral deposits might collect on your faucets. Those same minerals might also build up in your pipes, which can limit the flow of water. Appliances that use water, such as the dishwasher, can end up with clogged lines.
Of course, such issues develop slowly. You won’t run out of salt and find that your sink faucet is covered in limescale the very next day. Even still, it’s a wise idea to keep track of your salt level so that your water softener will keep operating effectively.
Plus, there’s a risk that running out of salt could damage your water softener. Some units are susceptible to overflowing when the salt runs out. This issue can arise in models with a single shut-off valve.
When you have questions about salt refills or want to learn more about water softeners, contact Cooper’s Water in Indianapolis. We have experience with both water softeners and water conditioners. Our team works with water filters and reverse osmosis systems as well. In fact, we’re a full-service plumbing company, so you can count on us for all your water needs. Call today to schedule your appointment with our water professionals.