What Happens If Water Softener Runs Out Of Salt?



Don’t you hate it when glassware comes out of the dishwasher covered with streaky stains?


Or your laundry comes out of the washing machine all stiff and scratchy?


You may have tried swapping detergents which can help but do not eliminate the issue. Those who have dealt with these problems will go as far as removing the appliance entirely... which does not make much of a difference sadly.


The fact is, the blame for stiff laundry and streaky glassware is not your detergent or computer–it's your tap water.


While it can appear crystal-clear, there are various minerals in your tap water including calcium and magnesium.


When the concentration of these minerals is high, it can have a significant effect on plumbing and appliances in your house, including the laundry and dishwasher disorders that we have just discussed.


How a Water Softener Works


Most water softener systems have two main parts:


  1. The resin tank or mineral tank, which contains small, plastic beads called water softening resin.

  2. The brine tank, which contains a rock salt and water used to “clean out” the resin tank every few days. 

Some water softeners have two separate units of these tanks, but some newer, high-efficiency water softener models house the two tanks in one unit.


We also believe salt is used in the water to 'neutralize' or dissolve hard minerals, which is not exactly accurate. The actual method is completely fascinating.


Water softeners use a process called ion exchange: 


1. Water reaches the resin tank, where it flows over thin, plastic beads charged with a sodium ion negatively. 


2. This charge helps the beads to 'grab' mineral ions from magnesium and calcium, which are attracted to sodium because they have a positive charge. If a bead catches hold of a hard stone, the sodium ion is let go. 


3. The hard minerals stay in the resin tank while the soft water flows anywhere it is needed: the faucet, showerhead, dishwasher or washing machine!


In other terms, by exchanging them for sodium, a water softener pulses unwanted hard minerals out of the water. 


You will note the difference immediately. Softened water generally doesn't taste different than hard water, but dissolving dirt and grime is much stronger, making the dishes far easier to do. It leaves a cleaner, lighter and softer at the laundry. You can also find that your skin and hair benefits, as hard water is known to make dry skin and hair worse!


Why You Need to Top Up Your Water Softener Salt


Eventually, the resin beads inside the water softener become saturated with hard minerals and need to be ‘regenerated.’  


This is where the second tank comes in. 


To cause a reverse ion exchange, water from the brine tank flows into the resin tank-the beads give up their mineral ions and capture a fresh sodium ion. Then, the mineralized water drains out of the tank.


Modern water softeners automatically run this 'regeneration process' every few days...... until salt runs out of the brine tank. 


When you fail to top off your water softener, the resin that softens water will remain saturated. It brings in a screeching halt to the ion exchange and causes hard water ions to penetrate the tubing, fittings and appliances.


What Hard Water Can Do To Your Plumbing System


We listed a couple of the hard water up top problems: streaky glassware, stiff washing and a general feeling that things just don't get as clean as they should be.


These are frustrating things, of course... but when it comes to hard water problems, they are just the beginning.


Whether hard water will impact your plumbing system is the main concern.


You've seen firsthand how minerals on your faucets, tub, and showerhead create scale build-up. You know how hard it is to wash those deposits off after they have collected.


The same thing happens on the inside of the plumbing tubing, without a water softener.


Scale build-up is outwardly invisible, but its consequences can not be overlooked. The more rocks they build-up, the less space there is for flowing water. Your water pressure decreases, and your devices that use water start consuming more energy just to do their job. 


As your hydro bills rise and your water pressure drops, piling up behind your walls is an even worse problem: the health of your plumbing system. Hard water is one of the main culprits in water pipes for premature breakdown and can cause thousands of dollars in water damage in no time.

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