Water Softener Won’t Stop Draining (Find Out How to Fix It) 

Although many people don’t realize it, water softener systems are actually pretty complicated. It can be easy to be intimidated by the system’s many components, as well as understand how these components are supposed to perform when they’re working properly.

Even so, these systems are truly amazing. They effectively treat hard water while also taking care of scale in both appliances and pipes. But if your water softener isn’t working properly and won’t stop draining, that’s not a great sign.

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about water softeners, address the most common issues we see with water softener systems, and offer some reasonable solutions that’ll fix your water softener issues in a jiffy.

Water Softener

Water softeners are made to remove the minerals — like magnesium and calcium — from hard water. That way, the water’s more suitable for cooking and drinking. However, water softeners aren’t supposed to drain constantly.

There is a multitude of specific reasons your water softener is draining continuously, from power source interruptions to a malfunctioning computer and abnormal water pressure levels. Luckily, you’ll be able to use some simple troubleshooting to fix this issue.

In the worst-case scenario, you’ll have to call a licensed professional.

Let’s break down the water softening process a bit since it can get pretty confusing.

What Does Water Softener Draining Mean?

If you’re unfamiliar with water softener draining, you’re not alone. Many people are unfamiliar with this process, as it’s a bit complex.

When it’s working normally, your water softener system can use anywhere from 20 gallons of water to up to 65 gallons, depending completely on the system type you have as well as the hardness of the water and the size of the resin bed or salt tank. How old or young your water softener system is can affect how much water it uses as well. That’s because newer, more modern water softeners are much more economical and typically need lower amounts of water in comparison to some of the older versions.

When hard water meets the water softener, it comes across beads or resins. These beads have a negative charge. However, the magnesium and calcium ions have a positive charge. As a result, the calcium and magnesium stick to the resins while water passes through them.

Next, sodium ions take the place of the positive ions. This is what gives you the softened water process.

The softened water flows through the residence’s pipes. However, once the beads have magnesium and calcium ions, the softener starts regeneration. Something called brine comes into play. Brine is a solution that is highly concentrated and is born from the salt that “washes” beads and pushes the beads’ minerals out. The resin minerals are then exchanged for sodium ions.

Because there’s such a huge concentration of sodium ions with a positive charge, they’ll remove the magnesium and calcium ions from the resins that have a negative charge. As a result, the ions are forced to drain out of your softener.

Let’s take a look at some more in-depth information about water softener systems, including when they’re supposed to run, for how long, as well as the amounts of water needed for these water softeners.

Does a Water Softener Drain Itself?

Water softeners are actually automatically set to run at specific times. For example, most water softeners are programmed to run during the early morning hours since water is usually used less in the early morning, around 2 or 3 a.m.

Usually, you can expect your water softener system’s automatic regeneration to take between 85 and 90 minutes to complete its process. For more specificity, you can look at your system’s respective user manual, which will give you your system’s regeneration times.

But how often should your water softener be draining, and what’s considered “normal”?

How Often Should My Water Softener Drain?

Typically, your water softener should drain every couple of days. The longest your water softener should go without draining is about a week. For the most efficient water softener draining, it should drain every three days.

You’ll know you have a problem when the water softener doesn’t stop draining.

Water Softener Won’t Stop Draining: Common Causes

If your water softener won’t stop draining, that’s not a great sign. Continuous draining isn’t sustainable and, as such, you’ll want to fix it as soon as possible. But to fix it, you’ll need to know what caused this continuous draining. We’ll go over some of the most common causes, including:

  • A power source interruption
  • Electrical outlet is controlled by a switch
  • Malfunctioning computer
  • A non-functioning drive motor
  • A non-functioning timer
  • Water pressure that’s too high
  • A control valve’s main piston that has seized
  • Seals on your water softeners’ main piston that may not be working as they should

Let’s get into it.

1.  You have a power source interruption.

The majority of water softeners work by relying on a computer to let the water softener know which cycle to revert to and when to end a cycle.

Let’s say, in the middle of the regeneration process, the power to your residence is interrupted, like during a power outage. Unfortunately, since the water softener needs the computer to know where it is in a cycle, it won’t know that it shouldn’t be using water any longer.

So, if you have a power source interruption, your water softener will probably keep draining water. To stop draining water, you’re faced with two choices. You can either restore the power source or put the system into bypass mode. That makes sure that no water will flow through the system.

Take a look at the computer display. If the screen is blank, it’s pretty likely that there’s no power reaching the system.

Luckily, it’s not very difficult to check to see if there’s electrical power getting to the electric outlet of a water softener. In fact, you can actually just plug in any old electrical appliance (as long as you can be sure it’s working properly!). For example, you can try anything from a radio to a table lamp or a desk fan. Just test these appliances by plugging them into an outlet you know already works.

As long as you’re sure it works, try plugging in the chosen appliance to the water softener’s outlet. If the fan, radio, lamp, etc., works when you plug it into the outlet, you’ll know that the power interruption isn’t from your residence’s electrical system. Therefore, the power interruption has to be in either the computer that operates the water softener or the power cord of the water softener.

2. You’ve got an electrical outlet that’s controlled by a switch.

Sometimes — though it doesn’t happen in most cases — a typical light switch being shut off can, in turn, shut off the power to the electrical outlet that your water softener is plugged into.

In this case, you might’ve just moved into a new residence and aren’t familiar with the electrical wiring. Or, maybe a guest didn’t know to leave the switch on to the electrical outlet your water softener is connected to. Whatever the case, it’s possible that the switch was flipped during the regeneration cycle of the water softener.

If that scenario turns out to be true, your water softener will keep on draining until you’ve turned the switch back on. Turning the switch back on will allow the computer to alert the system to move forward to the next regeneration cycle.

If you suspect the outlet is controlled by a nearby switch, you can test your theory. Try plugging in an electrical device, such as a lamp, into the outlet for your water softener. Then, turn off all the nearby switches you see.

If the lamp remains on, then the switches that you checked don’t control the electrical outlet.

3. Your computer has malfunctioned.

Like any other electronic device out there, computers don’t have an unlimited lifespan. Sometimes, they malfunction.

If your water softener’s computer experiences a loss of power, the water softener won’t veer from what it was doing at the time the power was lost. In other words, if the water softener goes through its regeneration process at the same time as the computer malfunctions, the softener will continue to regenerate.

Something like a spike in power or a power surge can make the computer crash or otherwise affect the programming that tells the water softener how long it’s supposed to be regenerating for.

As a result, your water softener might regenerate more frequently than it needs to, leading you to believe it’s continuously regenerating.

4. The timer or drive motor is no longer functioning.

With the majority of water softeners, a tiny motor powered by electricity is used to move the internal piston of the control valve forward in order to manipulate the flow of water through the valve. It’ll control the water flow as it goes through the various cycles needed for the process of regeneration.

Normally, the electric drive motor will work properly for years. However, if you experience something like a power surge, the motor can short out.

In addition to that, if the piston doesn’t move cohesively due to hard water or iron build-up, the motor will be forced to work especially hard in order to move the position of the piston. If that’s the case, chances are the motor will become overworked and burn out.

Your water softener is going to remain in whatever step it’s in when the timer or drive motor stops working. So, if your water softener is in the process of regeneration and is moving water down the drain at the time, it’s not going to stop draining water until the timer or drive motor is replaced (or until the system is bypassed).

It is important to take care of each piece of your water softener. If it is not looked after properly it can lead to unnecessary noise as well.

5. The water pressure levels are too high (or too low).

Usually, a water softener valve isn’t going to have any issues from water pressure. However, sometimes, the municipal water source’s water pressure is high enough that it makes the water leak out and move past the water seals.

As you can imagine, if these water seals can’t prevent the high water pressure from that municipal water source, the water will flow straight past the valve and will keep on flowing down the drain, leading to continuous draining.

However, it’s possible that the water pressure is actually too low. Here’s what happens when your home’s water pressure is too low. Because of the lack of pressure, you likely won’t have the right amount of water for the water softener system to go into its regeneration process. As a result, the water softener system might get trapped in a continuous regeneration because it’ll be attempting to pull sufficient amounts of water into the resin tank. 

Ideally, you’ll want your water pressure to be around 40 to 50 pounds per square inch (PSI). This is the range where water softener systems will perform best.

If you’re unsure of what your water pressure level might be, consider buying a water pressure meter. Another option if you find that you need to improve your water pressure is to purchase a booster pump. However, that would require a connection to an electricity source in order to function.

6. The control valve’s main piston might have seized.

In order to create the necessary watertight fit, the channel that the control valve’s main piston moves forward and backward in needs to fit tightly around said piston. However, even though it has to fit pretty snuggly, this inevitably leads to an issue: the build-up of materials.

It’s due to this tight fit that minerals such as iron build up in either the control valve’s main piston seals or in the channel itself, which leads the piston to get clogged.

It’s more likely that this will happen when the water softener is in its regeneration process. That’s because that process takes place when the control valve’s main piston is position so that there will be an accumulation of materials, as opposed to when it’s in the “in service” position (AKA, the control valve’s main piston is in a position where water doesn’t flow over it).

7. The seals on your water softeners’ main piston may not be working as they should.

The majority of standard water softeners will rely on a cylindrical piston in order to move water through the control valve and, therefore, through the various openings to go through the cycles required for the process of regeneration.

These pistons are heavy-duty, with watertight, heavy-duty seals that encircle it to keep the water flowing past it in check. However, these seals don’t last forever. After time, they won’t be watertight, thus letting water get past them, running through areas the water shouldn’t ever reach.

Unfortunately, the water is going to keep draining if the seals are letting water move down the channel of the water softener control valve, even when it’s not supposed to be.

But what can you do if your water softener won’t stop draining? Luckily, we’ve got a few troubleshooting solutions to run you through.

If your water softener won’t stop draining, you’ll want to nip this problem in the bud immediately. Here are seven troubleshooting options for a water softener that won’t stop draining.

How to Fix a Water Softener that Won’t Stop Draining

The first thing you’ll want to do is diagnose the water softener issue based on the potential causes we discussed above.

Find and open your water softener system’s user manual. That way, you’ll be able to easily locate and identify the various parts that make up your water softener system. This is an important step since every water softener will vary slightly, meaning any tips or information you read on the internet might not match up exactly. 

Locate your circuit switch and if it’s broken, replace it.

The circuit switch helps to control how the water softener system behaves. That’s why when they’re defective or broken, they lead to the water softener system constantly going through the regeneration process. The solution here is to either fix or replace the defective part with a brand-new one.

Check out the digital metered head

As long as the digital metered head is turned on and functioning properly, make sure you don’t see any error codes on the system’s display screen. You might as well make sure your timer and programming are working like normal too; if not, you can usually repair or replace the necessary parts. You can take a look at the water softener system’s settings and reprogram the timer if something looks amiss. The user manual might come in handy here.

Consider changing or replacing your main control valve (also called a control head)

The water softener system’s main control valve is meant to last as long as your water softener system’s lifespan. However, if you’ve had this system for a while, there’s a chance you’re witnessing the end of its lifetime.

To fix it, replace the faulty main control valve with a brand new one. Although you might be tempted to try to fix the component instead of buying a new one, it’s not very likely that you’ll be able to repair it once it’s lived past its time.

Evaluate your water lines and address any potential clogs.

Clogging in any of the water lines of your water softener system can trick your system into continuous draining. The lines you’ll want to check out include the venturi/injector line, the drain line, and the brine line. If there’s a blockage, the water can’t flow between the tanks (hence the constant regeneration cycle).

There are some factors that make you more likely to have to deal with clogs. For example, having increased levels of contaminants such as iron or having very hard water can, in turn, increase the likelihood that you’ll get a blockage of some sort.

Another fact that might affect this likelihood is if you use a low quality salt for this water softener system (for example, rock salt). To solve this issue, evaluate your water lines. Break up any clogs and the water should be able to move through.

Consider changing the filter.

Sometimes, a new filter can stop the issue. To change the filter, start by turning off any of the water supply valves connected to the prefilter. Depending on your exact model, the configuration might be different. Put something to catch the draining water underneath the prefilter, such as a bucket.

On the top of the filter compartment, there should be a red button. Press this button to pressurize the water softener. Next, you’ll want to unscrew the filter compartment cover. Turn it clockwise to remove it. Take out the old filter from the compartment and replace it with the new filter. Don’t forget to turn the compartment cover back into place.

Add regenerant when necessary.

Start by taking off the lid from the brine tank. From here, you’ll want to take a look at the salt level. Add some salt if you see water. But moving forward, whenever you see that the supply of salt is significantly decreased, you can add salt to it. You’ll want to put at least one bag of salt in the tank — potentially more, depending.

But it’s important to only put as much salt as you need to fill the tank. If your brine tank is empty, you can manually regenerate it. Look to find the bypass level and turn it to the “off” setting. This will help depressurize the entire system. Find a soft water faucet anywhere in the residence and turn it on.

Let the water run until the pressure clears, and then use a Phillips screwdriver to push on the water softener valve screw. Next, turn it clockwise until you’ve moved it to the “brine” position. The bypass valve will now need to be turned to the “service” position and, if all goes well, the system will begin to regenerate.

Having a water softener system problem can be extremely irritating, especially if your water softener won’t stop draining.

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