Installing a water softener in your home is the best way to remove the dissolved minerals that make your water hard. But, in truth, they are not removed; it would be more accurate to say that they are exchanged for sodium or potassium ions. This is facilitated via an ion-exchange process, and the exchange takes place on a minute scale. This process needs water softening salt, and many new users wonder what happens if the salt runs out.

What is Hard Water?

Hard water is caused by an elevated level of dissolved mineral content, including calcium, magnesium, and iron. These minerals form scale inside the plumbing pipes, fixtures, and water using appliances. These systems are more prone to failures, and they tend to wear out earlier than expected, and replacing them is expensive. Hard water minerals clog skin pores, and they tangle in the hair causing damage and those dreaded “bad hair days”. The best way to deal with this problem is an ion-exchange water softener system.

A Brief Water Softener Primer

A water softener makes all the water coming into the home softer, and it’s usually installed at the point where the water enters the home. The water passes into a media bed filled with resin beads that carry a charge that attracts mineral ions. The charge is created with salt ions (sodium or potassium), and those ions are exchanged with the mineral ions. As the resin beads are coated with mineral ions, the surface becomes clogged, and they become less efficient. To fix this problem, there is a second tank which is filled with a brine solution that is used to flush the resin beads clean. During this regeneration cycle, a fresh layer of brine solution coats the resin bead surfaces. When the cycle has been completed, the system moves out of the bypass mode, and the water softener continues.

What Happens When a Water Softener Runs Out of Salt?

Without adequate volumes of salt added to the brine tank, the water softener cannot work efficiently. Over time, the water will become harder, and ultimately, it will be the same as it was before the water softener was installed. It is true that there are salt-free alternatives, but they are unreliable and less efficient. So, it’s important to check if the equipment needs more salt and add it as necessary. The salt level can be viewed if the brine tank cover is lifted and you look inside. The tank should always be at least half full, and if it’s lower or the salt is wet or below the water, it’s time to add more. Check the brine tank every month to ensure that the water softener can work at optimal efficiency.

Can I Add Too Much Salt?

Yes, the brine tank can be overfilled, which may lead to solidification and a buildup of salt in the tank. The brine tank should never be completely full because it can affect the regeneration process. Another problem is bridging when a large mass of salt creates a crust with empty space underneath, and this reduces the salt concentration. A salt bridge can be broken apart with a long blunt object such as a broom handle.

If you want to schedule some essential maintenance for your water softener, contact your local water specialist today.

By EcoWater Systems.
EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is the largest water treatment company in the state and is a member of Water Quality Association.