With more than 30 years’ experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Mark Nelson is a Class 1 Drinking-Water Operator and a CBWA (Canadian Bottled Water Association) Certified Plant Operator. As founder and president of Nelson Water in Ottawa, Mark focuses on dealing with challenging water treatment system designs for problem water. He also heads the largest water bottling plant in the city of Ottawa with a delivery network throughout the Valley.

A water softener represents a significant investment in your water quality, but like any piece of complex equipment, it has a lifespan. The best water softeners that have undergone regular servicing can last for 10 or even 15 years. Taking care of your water softener can extend the useful lifespan to the upper end of the scale, but eventually it will fail and it’s time for a replacement. Making the decision can be tricky, if you’ve inherited a water softener in your new home or if you’ve never been through the process. Let’s take a closer look at some of the factors that will help you to make an informed decision.

The Quantity of Water Treated

When equipment is required to work harder, it tends to fail earlier and this is applicable to many types of systems including water softeners. When your water softener has to remove more minerals for a larger family that uses a higher volume of water each day, it takes a toll. The water softener may need to regenerate more frequently to deal with the volume of water that you need. This can be offset to a certain degree with regular professional maintenance but early replacement is likely in this case.

The Frequency of Treatment

The determining factor here is the hardness of the incoming water to your home. When the water is harder because it contains higher concentrations of minerals it causes wear and tear. Your water softener will be required to work harder to filter the water frequently and this can lead to an earlier than expected failure.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about an earlier water softener failure, if you have a larger family that needs more water. An annual inspection and regular maintenance from your local water treatment specialist can extend the lifespan. Well maintained equipment is less likely to fail when you need it most. But, any system that is worked hard will have a shorter useful lifespan and it’s a good idea to prepare for that eventuality. That being said, what are the common signs of a water softener failure that you can look out for in your system?

4 Signs of a Water Softener System Failure

A regular annual inspection from a water softener specialist can help to identify problems earlier when a simple repair may fix the problem. But, if the water softener is neglected or a problem is allowed to get worse it can lead to a more expensive repair or a replacement. Here are four common water softener failure signs explained in more detail.

1.   A Return of Scale

One of the most obvious signs of hard water in your home is the buildup of scale on your plumbing fixtures. But, it’s the scale that we cannot see which is more concerning because it can cause a lot of damage. Inside your water heater and other water using appliances, there may be scale accumulating on the heating elements and in the water carrying pipes. The buildup of mineral content is annoying because it’s hard to remove and it always returns unless the water hardness is removed. A fully functioning water softener will remove the mineral ions that cause scale and replace them with benign sodium (salt) ions. So, if you notice that chalky and crusty buildup of white or gray scale on your taps it’s time to think about the performance of your water softener.

2.   Poorly Lathering Soap and Detergent

An annoying aspect of hard water is that it inhibits the formation of soap suds which are needed to deliver the cleaning power we need to get clean. Creating a lather is important when showering, washing our hair, doing laundry, washing the car, cleaning dishes and any other cleaning activity. The mineral ions that make the water hard do not mix well with soaps and detergents but you can buy special formulas that work better. Many people attempt to compensate for this lack of cleaning power with the addition of more soap and detergent. This doesn’t work, it just wastes more soap and this can get expensive over time. The material created when soap mixes with hard water ions is known as soap scum. This is the waxy material that’s hard to clean around your sinks, tubs and shower stalls. Soap scum is a breeding ground for bacteria and if it returns it’s a sure sign that your water softener is not functioning properly.

3.   Laundry Day Woes

When clothes are washed in water, they tend to feel stiff, the colors are duller and the fabrics tend to wear out faster than normal. This is because the mineral ions that make the water hard are caught up in the fibers. Many people mistake this with a problem with their laundry detergent, but it’s the hard water that’s to blame. Another problem is longer washing cycles at higher heat that are required to get any cleaning performance. This consumes more energy and it’s a sign that the washer has scale inside the appliance. When soft water is restored the fabrics can be washed with less detergent at lower temperatures and they will be cleaner.

4.   Drinking Water Taste Changes

The most effective water softeners use an ion-exchange method to make the water softer and easier to use. This works by attracting the mineral ions that cause hard water (calcium, magnesium and iron) to be attracted to the resin media. The ions are exchanged with sodium (salt) on a very small scale that most people cannot detect. But, if you’re sensitive to salt, you may notice a slightly salty taste in your softened water. This is a sure sign that the water softener is not working as intended and it may be starting to fail entirely.

In Conclusion

A regular annual inspection is a great way to protect your investment and identify any potential problems at an earlier stage. Working on your water softener without training and experience is not a good idea because it’s easy to damage the equipment. If you suspect that your water softener is starting to fail or you want to schedule some essential maintenance, contact your local water treatment specialist today.