Common Water Softener Problems and How to Solve Them
An industrial water softener can become an expensive and ugly statue when not properly monitored and maintained. Here are some of the top failures that our experts see in the field:
Problem 1: Not having the training to troubleshoot motors and valves that burnout.
Softeners have complex controller heads that contain solenoid valves and motors to automate the regeneration and rinse cycles. Problems with any one of these components can cause the softener to fail or underperform. Often, problems go undiagnosed for significant periods.
Solution: Here are some troubleshooting and diagnostic steps you can take:
- Check Brine Draw: Manually put the unit into the brine cycle. Remove the tubing at the brine tank and check for suction. If there is no suction, then the brine valve is bad.
- Manually Regenerate the Unit: Watch that the valve goes through each step properly. If the steps are off, then the motor could be bad. For solenoid valves with stators, check that water is going to and being relieved from the various diaphragms. Lack of flow is either a bad stator or a rusty diaphragm. Replace them. Also check the spacers and seals are present, intact and not pinching.
Problem 2: Never recalibrating control head settings for rinse and regeneration cycles
There are many reasons why control head settings (which govern things like the length and frequency of each regeneration, rinse, and backwash cycle) need to be periodically adjusted.
First, and depending on your location, the incoming water quality to your site can fluctuate dramatically throughout the year. This can change how often and how thoroughly you need to regenerate.
Second, degradations in your hardware and resin media (see Problem 3) over time can cause cycles to need to be lengthened or shortened to maintain adequate hardness removal capacity.
Third, Murphy’s Law is always in effect. You never know what gremlins can fat finger a change in controller settings, or why settings magically deviate. It’s always good to verify.
Solution: Run a salt elution study with your water treatment vendor when you notice a rise in salt consumption or an uptrend in hardness readings leaving the softener.
This study uses a salometer to measure the actual concentration of salt leaving the softener over 45-90 minutes versus the theoretically optimal curve. Depending on the shape of the curve of observed readings, a trained expert can tell what adjustments in brine draw speed, rinse speed and time, contact time, and brine strength are needed to achieve regeneration requirements using minimal salt.
Problem 3: Resin beads are being destroyed
Over time, if your water softener is not maintaining the same hardness removal efficiency as its younger years, there may be a degradation of the resin beads or throughput restriction. Common issues include:
- Damaged or compressed beads
- Beads passing through the resin tank outlet
- Resin media is over or under moisturized
- Changes in bead size distribution
- High chlorine content reducing ion exchange potential
- Dirt clogging or metallic fouling
Solution: Once you have ensured that the brine valve is drawing proper suction (see Problem 1), and you’ve performed a salt elution study to make sure you’re getting the right concentration and contact time (see Problem 2), ask your softener or water treatment vendor to take a resin sample for a microscopic lab analysis to rule out the above issues.
Problem 4: Brine tank problems & salt bridges
A brine tank, with salt constantly being poured, mixed, and drained, can quickly become a real mess if you don’t stay on top of it. One of the most common problems we see is “salt bridging”. This is where a crust of salt crystals forms in the middle of the brine tank, separating the mixing water below from the rest of the salt, above. This is often the result of high humidity environments or adding too much salt. The opposite of salt bridging can occur at the bottom of the tank when salt recrystallizes and forms a thick paste, known as salt mushing. Salt build up can also lead to a clogged brine line. This can seriously impair the regeneration cycle.
Solution: At the very least, you should be regularly rinsing your tank annually. In between rinses, use mechanical force (such the good, old-fashioned broom handle) to break apart the salt bridge. When selecting a softener design, it is usually worthwhile to add grids inside the brine tank to mitigate bridging. Lastly, ensure that you are using the proper salt purity grade, coarseness and amount recommended from a professional water treater. Otherwise, dirt and organic matter will build up.
Problem 5: Not actively monitoring hardness of outgoing water
This problem is rarer than some of the others, but when it does occur, the results can result in a disastrous, and sometimes rapid, scaling event for cooling towers and steam boilers. This occurs because controllers have conductivity-based set points for makeup and bleed that are calibrated for soft water. Inadvertently feeding hard water will quickly put the system in a scale-forming state.
Solution: Facilities team should manually perform a water hardness test at least once per day to ensure the softener is working properly. Some facilities instead may opt to automate this by investing in an online hardness sensor that connects to the controller. When connected with remote monitoring, this can be a great safeguard.
If you do not have an automated sensor, we recommend you also take “composite” hardness samples several times a year. These samples measure accumulated hardness leaving a softener over 24 hours rather than a single point in time. This ensures hardness removal is not rapidly fading after regeneration. To perform, attach plastic tubing to the softener sample point and allow a slow flow to fill a 5-gallon bucket over 24 hours before testing.
While this article does not list every problem that we see with softeners, these are certainly the most common and some of the most severe. Regular maintenance and monitoring by a knowledgeable expert can prevent or mitigate many of these issues. Contact us to learn more about softener hardware and service options.