Do Water Softeners Need Regular Maintenance?
Water softeners are beneficial because they can extend the life of your water-using appliances, plumbing and clothes. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Kevin F. of San Antonio.)
Dear Angie: I have well water for my residential water and use a water softener for it. I have not had the water softener system serviced for the past two-and-a-half years. How often should I have it serviced? What should an inspection/service include and how much will it cost? What can happen if I don’t schedule regular water softener service? – S.P., Fair Lawn, N.J.
Dear S.P.: Most water softeners are fully automatic; so, provided they are properly sized and installed, they can operate for years with minimal maintenance.
The most important routine water softener maintenance is, of course, adding the right kind of water softener salt to the system as it’s needed. This typically can be done on a quarterly basis by the homeowner or by a water conditioning company qualified to work on your equipment. As always, it’s important to follow the specifications set forth by the product manufacturer.
There are certainly instances, though, when your softener could require periodic service. For example, if you notice changes in your water quality; the softener salt levels stay the same from day to day — a sign that it’s not consuming the salt as it should; it’s not going through the regeneration cycle — or it gets stuck in that cycle; or you notice hard water symptoms — spots on your dishes and laundry, clothes, hair and skin are not as soft as they normally are with conditioned water, then it’s time to have it professionally inspected.
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Because most homeowners with water softeners are quick to notice if their water gets hard, they don’t have the softener inspected on a regular schedule other than having a water conditioning company deliver salt and spot check the unit for general function. If you are the one replenishing your salt, you should do a visual inspection for leaks and other out-of-the-ordinary things each time you replenish.
If you’d rather not deal with any of the upkeep yourself, most water conditioning companies do offer some sort of water softener maintenance program. I know of a company in New Jersey that offers quarterly inspections. For about $250 a year, the customer gets four visits, which include the company technician inspecting the unit and adding salt. If the technician suspects an issue, he or she might take a water sample for further testing.
If you’re concerned about the quality of the water in your well, experts recommend having a comprehensive water test performed by a state certified testing laboratory. Some well water is of good quality, but some, either because of natural occurrences or accidentally introduced contaminants, would benefit from testing and treatment. Many companies that install the water softener will also test the water for free or for a nominal fee. Depending upon the results, you might need to enlist the help of a reputable, experienced water conditioning company for recommendations to correct any water quality problems.
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Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Jan. 28, 2013.