Problems with salt bridging or clumping together
On alot of the water softener service calls we go on, once we have tested the water and examined the unit, it’s often determined that the primary cause of the problems has to do with the salt.
The top left picture is a classic example of a salt bridge. The water softener has gone through numerous cleaning cycles and dissolved ALL the salt in the bottom half of the brine tank – leaving a ‘bridge’ of super hard salt above the water line. When the softener goes into the ‘brine draw’ part of the regeneration cycle, instead of sucking in a strong solution of sodium chloride, all it gets is straight water.
Using a large slotted screwdriver (and a fair amount of physical work), the bridge has to be broken apart until it collapses into the water below.
Another common problem is when the salt clumps together into a mushy, gooey mess. The middle picture above shows how some brands of evaporated salt can create big problems. When the clumping gets really bad, the water level in the brine tank will gradually rise and eventually overflow – either around the lid or out the ‘overflow port’ on the side. The salty water gets all over the floor and evaporates, leaving the salt behind. The salt that comes in the wavy chunks seems to have the most problems with clumping together.
What we suggest
Every 5 years, thoroughly clean out the brine tank. This can be a bit of a messy job so be sure to have lots of old towels (and maybe a mop) readily available. You’ll also need some buckets and something to scoop with.
Start by scooping out any water that is in the tank. Once you’re down to the salt, scoop out as much of it as you can as well.Your goal is to make the brine tank as light as possible because the next step is to disconnect it from the softener control valve and carry it outside. Once you’ve located a place where you don’t mind washing away the remaining salt, use the garden hose to completely wash out the inside of the tank.
Be sure to blast some water down the brine well where the brine wand is located. The one area you need to ensure is completely free of any residual salt is at the bottom of the brine well. Depending on your model, there will either be a series of slits cut into the plastic tube or there will be a platform with a series of small holes in it. Either way, be sure to wash away all the remaining salt.
Take the brine tank back indoors and reattach to the control valve. Dump in a few bags of clean, new salt and then pour in enough clean, fresh water to fill the tank up to about 1/4 – 1/3 full. Manually start the water softener into a regeneration cycle. When the cleaning cycle is done, the cold water will be conditioned again and completely soft. Depending on the size of your hot water tank and the size of your family, the hot water will be completely soft again in a few days.
If problems still exist after you’ve cleaned out the brine tank, the water softener might need some additional service.
To avoid having problems again in the future, get in the habit of letting the salt run low in between fill ups. Instead of always keeping the salt tank more than 1/2 full, let it run down until there is only 6″ of salt left in the bottom. At that point, add enough bags of salt to bring it back up near the top. By doing this, we’ve found that our customers have a lot less problems with bridging and clumping.