Photo of a home water softener systemWater Softeners / Water Conditioners

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Water Softeners, operation, maintenance, adjustment, and repair home page:

This water softener (water conditioner) article series explains how to inspect, diagnose, and adjust or repair water softeners or water conditioners.

We describe how to adjust the water softener (water conditioner) for proper operation to minimize damage to a septic system, to set the correct salt dose, brine tank water level, and regeneration time

Here you will find answers to just about any question about water softeners, water conditioners, hard water, water treatment & water testing.

The articles in this series explain what hard water is, describe how water softeners work, and tell readers how to be sure that the salt used by most water softeners does not become a problem for people drinking the water nor a problem for the septic system. Where septic systems are already in trouble, we describe how to reduce the load on the septic system by making some changes to how the water softener is used and how its discharge is handled.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

Water Softeners & Water Conditioners: Water Hardness, the Need for Water Softeners

LARGER VIEW of the USGS table of water hardness in the United States

Water "hardness" refers to the level of unwanted minerals, principally calcium and magnesium, found in your water supply.

Hard water is an aesthetic issue (poor lathering, spots on dishes) and a mechanical issue (clogged pipes, expensive repairs, poor washing machine performance) but it is not a health concern. Hard water is found only in certain neighborhoods and usually only on private water supplies from a local well or wells.

[Click to enlarge any image]

"Water hardness varies throughout the United States. If you live in an area where the water is "soft," then you may never have even heard of water hardness.

But, if you live in Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, or Indiana, where the water is relatively hard, you may notice that it is difficult to get a lather up when washing your hands or clothes."--"Common water measurements", USGS - see "More Reading".

Municipal water is required by federal law to be treated and tested for sanitation, hardness, corrosivity, and other features.

You may sense that water is "hard" in a building if you find that you can't get a lather in the shower when shampooing, if you find lots of spots on dishes after washing them, poor performance of a washing machine, mineral deposits on plumbing fixtures such as a mineral ring around the tip of a faucet or in a toilet bowl, and mineral clogging of the tankless coil if you make your hot water using such a device.

Photo of hard water effects on water supply piping

Minerals dissolved in "hard" water precipitate out in building plumbing pipes and fixtures where they form a hard calcium/magnesium deposit which can severely clog piping and fixtures.

The photo at left shows a cross-section of scale build-up in a building water supply pipe.

What a Water Softener Does to the Water Supply

Water softeners remove unwanted minerals, principally calcium and magnesium,. from a hard water supply (correcting "high mineral content") by using one of several water conditioning or water treatment methods discussed here.

The most common water softener methods uses an ion exchange process that swaps low levels of salt (sodium ions) into the water causing other minerals (mostly calcium and magnesium and some iron) to precipitate out of the water supply.

Watch out: water softeners are not designed to remove other water contaminants such as bacteria, chemicals, odors, or sediment, though some softenes can reduce low levels of some odors. Your water system may need other water treatment equipment such as filters to remove sediment (TDS or total dissolved solids) or odors or sanitizing equipment to handle bacterial or chemical contaminants.

See WATER TREATMENT EQUIPMENT CHOICES for details.about other types of water treatment equipment besides water softeners or water conditioners.

Water Softener suggestions for minimizing the impact on septic systems, and suggestions about salt in drinking water

LARGER VIEW of minerals from hard water accumulated on a dripping pipe

The mineral deposits on the dripping water pipe in the photo at left are evidence of both a protracted leak and hard water. But if a water softener is improperly adjusted, or if it is not working properly, excessive salt or softener backwash discharge, if sent into the septic tank and leach fields, can damage or reduce the life of the septic system.

Our photo shows a close-up image of mineral deposits (and some corrosion) on a faucet where the water supply was high in mineral content.

How do we Measure Water Hardness - Table of Water Hardness Grains

Hard water is generally taken to mean water containing minerals over 121 mg/L, micrograms per liter of water, or over 7 grains of hardness per gallon. The following table is based on information from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC.

Hardness of Water Before Treatment Mineral Content - Hardness of Water
Soft Water
less than 17 mg/Liter - 0-1 grains/gallon
Slightly Hard Water
17.1 to 60 mg/L - 1.1 to 3.5 gpg
Moderately Hard Water
61 to 120 mg/L - 3.6 to 7 gpg
Hard Water
121 to 180 mg/L - 7.1 to 10.5 gpg
Very Hard Water
more than 180 mg/L - over 10.5 gpg

Water Softeners or Water Conditioners Impact on Septic Systems - US EPA Information

Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Special Issues Fact Sheet 3 - EPA 625/R-00/008

Description of the Effect of Water Softeners on Septic Tanks & Drainfields

Home water softeners, which periodically generate a backwash that is high in sodium, magnesium, and calcium concentrations, can affect wastewater treatment processes and the composition and structure of the infiltration field biomat and the underlying soil. However, attempts to predict whether impacts will occur and to estimate their severity are difficult and often inconclusive.

Water softeners remove "hardness" (dissolved calcium and magnesium) through ion exchange processes. Incoming hard water passes through a tank of containing high-capacity ion exchange resin beads supersaturated with sodium. The calcium and magnesium ions in the water attach to the resin beads, replacing the sodium, which is released into the water. The softened water is then distributed for use throughout the house.

Over time, the ion exchange resin beads become saturated with calcium and magnesium ions. When this occurs, the tank must be recharged by flushing with a salt brine solution. Sodium ions reclaim their position on the resin beads, and the calcium and magnesium ions are released into the backwash water.

The backwash water then exits the tank and is discharged to the wastewater treatment system. The number of times the tank is recharged and the amount of wastewater generated depends on a number of factors, including the hardness of the water, the amount of water used, the size of the water softener, and the capacity of the resins to remove calcium and magnesium.

The wastewater generated during the recharge phase of the water softening process mixes with other household wastewaters, enters the septic tank, and eventually moves to the soil adsorption field.

Studies conducted by soil scientists at the University of Wisconsin and the National Sanitation Foundation conclude that the wastewater effluent generated from properly operating and maintained water softeners will not harm onsite systems that are designed, operated, and maintained appropriately. Specifically, the studies conclude the following:

Regarding the last conclusion, some people have the misconception that the salt brine that enters the ion exchange tank also exits the tank as wastewater. In fact, the influent with its high concentration of sodium ions is very different than the effluent, which has a high concentration of calcium and magnesium ions. Consequently, the potential for chemical clogging of clayey soil by sodium ions is reduced. The calcium and magnesium input may even help improve soil percolation.

Risk management issues Regarding the Effect of Water Softeners on Septic Tanks & Drainfields

The human health impacts of ingesting softened water are increasingly discussed in addition to the traditional benefits of reduced use of surfactants and plumbing repair requirements. The choice of the homeowner to soften or not to soften will factor into all arguments.

Also, the preceding descriptions are predicated on whole-house-supply softening. Today point-of-use devices designed for use with specific features in the house make the traditional advantages and disadvantages less clear.

Also see WHAT CAN GO INTO TOILETS & DRAINS?, a guide which explains how to extend the life of the septic system by being careful about what goes into it.

Common Water Softener Questions & Answers

Reader Question: Can You Help Identify Our Water Softener Brand and Get an Operating Manual so we can Set the Controls?

Water conditionre Aqua Maid or Crystal Quest Maybe (C) Daniel Friedman B B

Attached are two photographs of our water softener. We do not know what type of softener we have or how to set it. Can you give us a clue to the manufacturer and where we could get a manual?

We are guessing what the different knobs are? We can't seem to set it to run on the timer. We set it to "in service" and the time of day, but it won't run on its own at that setting.

So we have been setting it to regenerate to get it to run manually. We would like to get it to run automatically. We need help. - B.B.


I don't know this specific brand for sure but doing some research on stainless steel water conditioner brands I found that

So your unit may be a Crystal Quest or an Aqua Maid POE (Point of entry) water conditioner or water softener similar to their models CQE-WH-01127 or CQE-WH-01128 but with an older control head.

The Water Conditioner Control Valve is the Key to Setting & Using a Water Softener

Water conditioner control valve (C) D Friedman B B

It is the control head or water conditioner "valve" mounted on top of the unit that controls the system's regeneration cycle and salt usage. So that part is key.

Start by looking carefully on all sides and under covers or the control head cover and back for a manufacturer or brand, or if you cannot find any such labeling, you could try contacting local water softener distributors, since your unit was most likely installed by a local supplier.

You can also try contacting the water conditioner manufacturers we list below. Since the control valve on your water softener matches photos of units at the Aqua Maid website I'd start by contacting Aqua Maid and asking for (or downloading) the installation and operation manual for their equipment.

Aqua Maid can be contacted at 3375 Hwy 98S Suite B-1 Lakeland, Fl 33803 Phone: 1-888-925-0213 Fax: 863-665-9595

Crystal Quest 2130 Northwest Pkwy S.E. Suite - i Marietta, GA 30067 1-800-934-0051 1-770-951-5600 1-800-716-7718 1-770-953-1600

From just looking at your photo of the control valve I see that you can set

Reader Question: how do I identify the model and brand of my water softener? Where do I get water softener operating instructions.

How to identify a water softener brand and model (C) InspectAPedia

Attached is a picture (shown at above left) of the control for the water softener that came with the house three years ago. I just started running the water softener after cleaning the brine tank and filling it up with salt. I left the settings as is.

The unit has a separate tank for the brine with a float inside. (tank size is 18" x 33") Unfortunately, I don't have any manual on the system and on top there is no manufacturer's name, model no.

Except there is hand written note "TT 948 56 AE". S/N 12671 Could you please help me identify the maker of this machine or how should I proceed to set it up correctly?

Reply: how to identify a water softener brand and obtain operating instructions

KD: the water softener control that is shown in your photo (above left) appears to be widely used across a variety of water softener brands and models, as you can read in the FAQ text just above.

That's because some OEM manufacturers of water softener controls and parts sell those components to a number of companies who then sell and install water softeners under their own brand.

How to identify a water softener brand and model (C) InspectAPedia

For example in Sun City Arizona and other parts of that state, the water softener you show above is widely distributed under the Pro-Tec Water Equipment brand. Depending on where you live, choose and try calling one of the water conditioner distribution & sales companies listed just below, as all of them sell water softeners using the control shown in your photograph:

Some of the water conditioner's operating instructions are printed right on the front of the control. On many models, basic water softener adjustment procedures and guidelines are printed inside of the control cover or lid. But best is to obtain the installation and operating guide book from your equipment's manufacturer.

Make a note of your water softener's model and serial number if you can find it. Your note contained some of that information; Often, as our photo illustrates, the back of the water softener control includes a sticker with water conditioner model and serial number information. That information can help assure that the manufacturer whom you contact can provide you with the most accurate water softener operating instructions.

Please also see WATER SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS where we explain how to adjust and set the controls on water conditioning and water softener equipment.

Reader Question: Water-Rite 740 water softener has brine tank full of water - what's the normal liquid level in the brine tank?

Hi, can you tell me how much water should be in a brine tank of a water rite softener under normal use, now it is full of water all the time, is this normal. I think this will just melt all the salt in the tank all the time. It is a model 740 - M.C., Canada

Reply: you should not normally see liquid in the brine tank unless it's about out of salt

The most common causes of a flooded water softener brine tank are

  1. A stuck brine tank float that is not properly controlling the water entry to the tank. Details on freeing the float are given just below.
  2. The brine tank drain line is restricted, crimped, bent, or clogged
  3. The water softener venturi or nozzle (usually at the control head) is clogged. Take apart and clean the nozzle and venturi assembly, replace any damaged parts, take care to assure that the O-rings are intact.
  4. The water softener valve-rotor disc or seals are damaged. Check the rotor assembly for gouges or scratches and replace it if necessary.

A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem or in this case just what's wrong with your water softener. That said, here are some things to consider:

We don't know specifically by quantity, but in general, you should not see water in the brine tank unless salt has been used up to the last 6-12 inches in the tank. So we suspect that the brine tank float level control valve that sets the water level in the tank is not working properly.

Check the brine refill control valve in your water softener brine tank

Photo of a water softener salt tank ready for cleaning

The BRINE REFILL FLOAT CONTROL VALVE device is found in the vertical tube in your brine tank. Typically it incorporates a float, vertical rod, and a switch that controls the water level in the tank during a brine generation cycle. The part is also called the brine refill control valve.

We discuss how the brine refill control valve works and how it may be adjusted at WATER SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS.

More photos of this valve are at WATER SOFTENER CLEANING & SANITIZING.

How to fix the brine tank water level

First check the water softener settings (WATER SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS).

Try emptying the brine tank completely, cleaning all the parts, make sure that the brine control valve (the float actuated switch in the brine tank) moves freely up and down, then fill it at least 1/3 full of salt. For details about cleaning out the water softener brine tank see WATER SOFTENER CLEANING & SANITIZING.

Then send the water softener through a manual regeneration cycle (WATER SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS) and watch what happens.The volume of water that is pumped into the brine tank and then out back through the water softener is set by the salt "dose" setting on the water softener control.

The manufacturer of your Water Rite water softener, properly a Water-Right water softener, can provide you with the installation, operation, and maintenance manual for your water softener if you don't already have one.

Reader Question: our water softener brine tank never fills up with water but we do see the salt level dropping - what's wrong with our water conditioner?

Tank wont fill with water but salt level still goes down - Tom 11/27/12

Reply: probably nothing

Water softener brine tank view (C) Daniel Friedman


The water softener brine tank does not normally FILL with water. Rather, water is pumped into the bottom of the tank, water level rises under control of a brine level float switch usually found inside a vertical platic tube in the tank, then pumping stops, salt dissolves, and salty water is pumped back out.

So you won't see the water unless you've let the salt run out.

Sounds as if your system is working normally.

Reader follow-up: what is the brine tank on a water softener?

the tank that holds the salt is the brine tank? or is the small tube with the salt level numbers the brine tank? - Tom

Reply: photo above shows the water softener brine tank, brine level float control tube, and water/brine pumping tube


The tank that contains the salt crystals or salt pellets is the brine tank (red arrow in our photo above).

The small vertical tube is the location of the brine level float control and will be found in the salt tank at one side (blue arrow in our photo above).

Water passes from the water softener resin tank (at the right side in our photo) into the brine tank through the black tube (yellow arrow in our photo above) to dissolve salt, and salty water is pumped back through the resin tank through that same tube.

Reader question: my water softener is not making the water soft

Identify the basic parts of a water softener (C) Daniel Friedman at InspectApedia.comMy water softener seems to run through regen cycles but the water is still hard. What's wrong? - Anon.


The most common sources of a water softener not removing minerals and not producting soft water at all include:

  1. There is no salt in the brine tank
  2. There is salt in the brine tank but it is bridged - that is, a crust of salt has formed across the brine tank so that when you look into the tank the salt level always looks the same. Try poking the top of the salt to see if a crust has formed. Break it up or remove it.
  3. The water softener is set in manual bypass mode. Check the bypass control position.
  4. The water softener venturi or nozzle is dirty, clogged, damaged. Remove, disassemble, clean these parts, replace any damaged parts, check that O-rings are intact.
  5. The brine tank drain hose is plugged, crimped, or blocked.

The most common causes of a water softener that sometimes doesn't produce soft water or water that is not soft enough are these:

  1. The water softener is not properly set or adjusted: check the salt dose and regen cycle frequency against the hardness of your water and the water volume usage.
  2. You are using water during a water softener regen cycle. During regen the softener is automatically put in bypass mode. Change the regeneration cycle time to run at a time when you won't be using water. Allow about two hours for the regeneration cycle to complete.
  3. The water supply hardness level has changed. This can be a seasonal or permanent change. Test your water for hardness and compare that finding with your water softener hardness settings.
    See "


Continue reading at WATER SOFTENER REGENERATION CYCLE DURATION or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see WATER SOFTENER REPAIR FAQs for help with common water softener diagnosis & repair questions.


If your water softener is not working, see DIAGNOSE WATER SOFTENER PROBLEMS

Additional water softener diagnosis and repair questions and answers are at WATER SOFTENER TROUBLESHOOTING FAQs-3 and at WATER SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS

Or see these

Water Softener Installation, Diagnosis, Repair Articles

Suggested citation for this web page

WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.


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