Water softener-related water colors, debris, stains, slime, odors:
What are the causes & cures for building water supply colors, odors or stains & debris that may be traced to a water softener, water conditioner or other water treatment equipment?
Water softener / water conditioner most-commonly-asked questions: these frequently-asked questions & their answers help troubleshoot water softner problems. This article series describes procedures for diagnosing and repairing water softener or water conditioner problems including water conditioner control settings and adjustment or repair, brine tank and brine tank float cleaning and repair, and the proper amount of water softening or conditioning that is needed.
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I was renting a house with a water softener. Softener was working properly and maintain it with salt pallet but when i move out of the house the owner want's to charge me for the repair and labor. They claim that the softener has black stuff coming out of it. Please advice. Thank you Diana - 9/15/11
I'm sorry Diana, but from just the Information in your message, I don't know what to advise. Perhaps if you review our articles on water softeners you will be able to make clear to the owner just what you did and just what was the condition of the system when you left it.
If there is "black stuff" coming out of the water softener then it is probably dirt and that probably means that the brine tank needs to be cleaned. Your rental contract should make clear just who was responsible for softener cleaning and maintenance.
See SOFTENER CLEANING & SANITIZING for details about how to clean out a water softener.
After regeneration cycle discolored water gets in the service lines to home. Clears up after the water is used for a little while - Rodger 7/31/12
Rodger, have you checked inside the brine tank to see if it's filthy - you may need to remove salt to see the crud collected at the tank bottom. See SOFTENER CLEANING & SANITIZING
water softener giving orange water will cleaning resin with acid hurt control or resin - Zane Bianucci, 6/22/12
Zane by NO MEANS would I use acid or any potentially toxic material to try to clean a water softener resin tank; you risk poisoning the building occupants as well as damaging the system. Instead, see SOFTENER CLEANING & SANITIZING [link given above] details about how to clean out a water softener.
In that article be sure to read the section that article titled WATER TREATMENT SOLUTSIONS with IRON REMOVING CHEMICALS (Super Iron Out).
We have LOTS of iron stains everywhere...the well is a salt water well and the test at Sears was 2.5 iron and 18 grains of hardness...we do not want to add any salt to the water because of this. What do we use to get the RUST out of the water?
[Our photo, at left, illustrates iron and other stains in a bath tub - Ed.]
Kathy there are several treatments that can remove iron from water as alternatives to using a salt-based water softener/water treatment device.
But because you have hard water as well, if you only remove iron you'll still suffer from hard water issues down the road, such as clogged pipes. Nevertheless we summarize these treatment methods that focus on iron removal from well water: 
Polyphosphate treatment can remove 0-3 ppm of soluble iron
Greensand Filters (using glauconite, a green clay mineral as ion exchange media glauconite, a media that is backwashed periodically using potassium permanganate) can remove 0-10 ppm of iron from water (and are great at removing sulphur odors as well). If your well water pH is less than 6.8 this approach doesn't work well.
Chlorination + charcoal filtration: for higher levels of iron in water (not your case if your test was accurate) a chlorinator combined with charcoal filter can remove higher levels of iron and manganese dissolved in well water, and are also typically rated as 0-10 ppm. The charcoal filter removes the residual [and potentially harmful carcinogenic thrhalomethanes (THM) produced by use of chlorine, residual chlorine, and thus and chlorine odors.
Ion Exchangers (a water softener) can remove 0-10 ppm of soluble iron, but frankly water softeners are not designed primarily for that purpose. Professionals usually install one of the other iron removal methods upstream (ahead of) the water softener. That also means you won't need to set the softener to use more salt than necessary to deal with hardness just because you're trying to remove iron from your water.
See OTHER SOFTENER METHODS for additional details.
There is hardly any water coming out of all my bathroom sinks, toilets, and showers. When a little water is disbursed there is a little of brownish yellow stuff that comes out with the water. What is the problem? - TJ 9/10/12
TJ - with so little information any guess would be wild arm-waving. Try cleaning the faucet strainers, any water filters in the system should be replaced, check water at a tap closest to the input; if you are on a private well we want to start there: is the incoming water clean or dirty? Thus, is the problem part of your pluming system or is it due to the water source itself?
i have been renting a house with a water softer for 6 months and the water pressure in the house has been slowly declining until finally there was no water coming out of any taps on investigation the plumber found the taps were blocked with little brown balls which we now believe to be ion exchange resin .on inspection of the water softer i discovered that it was not turn on to power but was still connected to the water can you tell me if this is toxic to us as i think we have been drinking it for long time thanks sam - 12/13/11
It sounds as if your water conditioning equipment and controls are damaged - it is not normal for resin from the water softener or conditioner to leave that tank. I suggest that you:
Water softner just put in action after three years of sitting idle!cleaned filter"!now water smells like rotten eggs. - Terry 8/9/2011
Terry, if water coming from your well smells like rotten eggs there is a problem with sulphur in the water supply and you probably need a separate water treatment system for that problem.
But if water from the well does not smell like sulphur, then the problem could be iron & bacterial contamination in the water softener itself.
See SOFTENER CLEANING & SANITIZING for the steps to solve this problem.
Hi We just moved into our house and never had a water softener before, my question is should the water leave your body feeling slick and hard to rinse off the soap? Also the water has a salty taste to it? One more thing if you have city water do you really need a water softener? Just some questions I has I hope you have some answers for me. Thanks!
Kelly, if it is just too darn hard to rinse off soap and your skin feels kind of slimy and slick in the shower, it's possible that the water softener is not adjusted properly.
Try reducing the salt dose by 20%, keeping the regeneration cycle frequency the same.
Or to be more precise, you can test your water for hardness and then read in the water softener instructions (here or in your softener manual) just what should be the salt dose settings for your water conditioner.
See How Much Salt to Use in a Water Softener for details.
I have a 2 1/2 yr old water softener. We put it in when we built our house. In the past two months I have noticed laundry stains that are irremovable. They are large and look like they were poured on. On whites they look grey, on darks they look like a wet spot that won't dry, on colored clothes they are bluish.
I have changed washer/dryers, laundry detergent, etc. Could this be a problem caused by a water softener? I am out of options and don't know what else could be causing it. It has gone on now for 2 months. Our neighbors don't have this problem and we are all on the same city line. Thanks for your help! - Amy 9./19/12
If you suspect the water softener as a source of stains rather than pipe corrosion or a washing machine problem, in suggest cleaning and sanitizing the unit as described above, followed by an extra regen cycle to see if that helps.
Continue reading at SOFTENER CLEANING & SANITIZING or select a topic from the More Reading links or topic ARTICLE INDEX shown below.
Or see WATER STAINING CONTAMINANTS
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(Feb 11, 2013) Sarg s. said:
The city recently came in and changed our water reader and once they did our water consumption went from 10,500 gallons to 55,500 gallons of water in a 28 day cycle. The only thing running when we were notified was the water softener BUT I do not know for sure if it was in its cycle for the day or if it was the problem. The thing is the city just replaced their head in our basement a day before we started wasting water. WHat gives, if anything? Is this normal or was it just our luck? Any ideas would be great. Thanks
(Feb 15, 2013) Shannon - in New Castle said:
I'm new to having a water softener.. I don't know how to use this thing, don't know how to adjust it, and can't get it to cycle. How often should it cycle for 2 people living in the house? There are NO stickers or labels on it anywhere to tell me what make/model/mnfctr it is either. I'm pretty sure the dern thing hasn't run in over a week now, the water is starting to smell really strong... HALP!
(Feb 8, 2014) kawika said:
Similar to the question "discolored water after water softener regen cycle". I cleaned the brine tank but I still get discolored water afar regeneration. We have only noticed the discoloration in the 2nd bath toilet and tub, nowhere else. it clears up after 3 flushes.
Kawika, I'm just guessing, but it seems to me that if water looks different colors at different fixtures in the building I'd think the root source is not the softner (that all water passes through) but perhaps the piping or some other contaminant, or iron, or debris source.
If you see it mostly at a toilet it could be worth cleaning debris out of the toilet tank too.
he discoloration is only present immediately after a regeneration cycle. Why only in the toilet/tub is unknown. If it were the piping or other source it should be present at all times.
I agree with your reasoning, more or less; sometimes a fixture that runs water faster (like a tub) will stir up and show debris that slower running fixtures don't. A toilet would offer the opposite explanation: debris often accumulates in the toilet tank - in part because the relatively slow fill rate doesn't stir it up enough to flush out when the toilet is flushed.
Start (because it's easy) by taking a look in the toilet tank; look for deposits on the tank walls or crud on the tank bottom; that may point to a water supply debris problem; if there are yellow stains but no deposits more often that points to iron in the water;
With that simple look out of the way and assuming we want to pursue the water softener, I'd check the softner brine tank - in these articles we describe cleaning and disinfecting the brine tank. It's tempting to also run a disinfectant cycle through the water softner itself but I would not do that without knowing the brand and model and then checking the manufacturer's cleaning instructions.
1. checking and cleaning the brine tank
2. running the softener through an extra regen cycle
Toilet tank is clean. Cleaned brine tank, manually ran two regenerations…next scheduled regeneration had no water discoloration…latest regeneration (Today) had the discoloration back in toilet (cleared after 4 flushes).
are we certain that the incoming water from the source is not the origin of the discoloration you're seeing? Have you tested that water - ahead of any treatment equipment?
(Feb 16, 2014) stanley costello said:
i get a light powder like residue on my dishes after a dishwashing cycle
I've seen this deposit in more than one circumstance: using too much dishwasher detergent, very hard water supply, and on occasion, debris that needs to be cleaned from the dishwasher bottom.
(June 7, 2014) Ann said:
Just set up new digital water softener. finished settings and run regeneration cycle. It carried out regeneration adn then started cycle all over again ? what is wrong pleaase - what should I do?
(June 9, 2014) David Williams said:
have well water system. had a bad algae bloom. water co. said softener had to be replaced. could it have been cleaned, repaired instead?
I'm unclear why a dirty water softener would need replacement; someone is giving expensive advice that's safe for them and costly for you. Instead I would follow the water softener cleaning and disinfection procedure in your water softener's instruction manual or see our water softener cleaning procedure article at
(June 29, 2014) Dave said:
I cleaned my water softner tank and now I can't get the prime back. Please help!
If you mean your well pump has lost prime just search inspectApedia for "LOST WELL PRIME" or "HOW TO PRIME THE PUMP" to see procedural details.
If you mean the water softener is not filling the brine tank you will want to check for disconnected tubing, a clogged check valve, or a clogged or improperly set (e.g. on bypass) control valve.
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