A water softener is a wonderful convenience to have in your home, especially if you live in an area with particularly hard water. Naturally, you expect your investment to give you good, drinkable water, but what if this isn’t the case?
We expect drinking water to be palatable, so it’s frustrating when it has a taste that makes it difficult to drink. As great as water softeners are, there can be problems with these systems that make water taste salty.
The most common reasons why softened water tastes salty are faulty brine valves and a poorly draining brine tank. Other reasons behind softened water tasting salty are a poorly timed regeneration cycle and low water pressure in the resin tank.
Here, we will go over these issues, how to troubleshoot them, and ways to fix the problems. There are many working parts to these water softeners, but with a bit of information, you should be able to fix the problem causing your water to taste salty.
What Exactly Does a Water Softener Do?
Before we try to troubleshoot, it’s important to understand exactly what a water softener does. There are a lot of working components in these systems, and pinpointing the problem takes a little bit of background knowledge.
A water softener system consists of two tanks-a resin tank and a brine tank. The resin tank softens the water, and the brine tank supplies the sodium that is necessary for the softening process.
In the resin tank, hard water is passed through resin beads that have been enriched with sodium. This facilitates the exchange of the problematic minerals in hard water for sodium ions.
The brine tank holds a saltwater solution that replenishes the resin beads once their sodium has been depleted. This is known as the regeneration cycle.
How Should Softened Water Taste?
Now we understand the basics of how a water softener works, but what does the end product taste like? Like we discussed before, the heavy calcium and magnesium ions are exchanged for sodium ions, and we all know what salt tastes like.
Generally, softened water should not have any taste. The ion exchange only puts trace amounts of sodium into the water-not enough to change the taste.
If there is a taste to your softened water, it means that there is some element present that does not get filtered by the water softening process, or it could mean that there is a problem with your water softener system.
In the event that your softened water tastes salty, the most likely reason is that there is a problem with your water softener. Like with all major appliances, parts eventually break down and malfunction, requiring maintenance.
Why Does My Softened Water Taste Salty?
Now that we know that softened water shouldn’t taste salty, it’s time to figure out why this is happening. Here are the most common reasons why softened water tastes salty, and how to determine which one is causing the problem.
Your tap water has a high sodium concentration
Sometimes the problem isn’t your water softener at all, but the local water supply. Before it even gets to your home, water can be impacted by several factors.
If the groundwater runs over salt deposits, this can lead to a high sodium content in your water. Or, if you live near a coastline and seawater makes it into the local water supply, that could be the culprit.
A few other outside factors can cause this, like salt runoff from roads and agricultural or industrial waste. It may be impossible to determine exactly why your water supply has a high salt content, since these things are out of your control.
What you can do is test the salinity of your water supply, and react accordingly. It’s very easy and inexpensive to do this, so it might be a good idea to measure salinity before you start troubleshooting your water softener.
All you have to do is test unsoftened water with a hydrometer. You can get this sample from the main water line, or an outside spigot if that line doesn’t run through the water softener. Ideally, there should be a reading of 1.000.
Low water pressure
To function correctly, there should be a minimum amount of water pressure going into and out of the resin tank. In most water softener systems, this minimum pressure is 45-70 psi.
When the water pressure is too low, the water has contact with the resin beads for too long, and too much sodium is taken up by the water. This, in turn, leads to salty tasting water.
Most of us can’t measure psi by feel, so there are pressure gauges to help us with this. These gauges are attached to spigots to measure the pipes internal psi. This is an easy process, and gauges are readily available at home improvement stores.
Using water during the regeneration cycle
We briefly discussed the regeneration cycle, but here’s a refresher. This is when the salty solution in the brine tank is flushed through the resin in the resin tank. After a certain amount of hard water passes through the resin, the sodium is depleted and needs replacing.
Depending on your system, there can be a mechanical timer that initiates regeneration at the same time every day, or there is a digital control that triggers regeneration once a certain amount of water has passed through the resin tank.
If you happen to drink water at the time of regeneration, you might get a sip of the salty brine flushing through the resin tank.
To see if this is the problem, simply check to see when your tank is programmed to regenerate. If the time coincides with when the water was salty, you’ve found the problem.
High water level in the brine tank
As we mentioned before, components break and malfunction over time. The parts in a water softener are no exception-over time, these will likely need maintenance or replacement.
There should be a certain amount of water in the brine tank, and if the water level is too high, chances are it isn’t draining properly, leading to the sitting water taking on too much sodium.
To see if this is your problem, check with your manufacturer to determine how much water should be in your brine tank. If there’s too much water, check the brine line and drain line. Clogs in either of these lines will cause brine to sit in the salt for too long.
Faulty Parts in Brine Valve
If any of the components in the brine valve are faulty, this could cause the brine solution to leak into the resin tank before regeneration is supposed to take place.
To check if your brine valve is working correctly, remove the brine tank’s drain and brine elbow. If you see any water in the valve after removing those two parts, you probably have at least one faulty component in your brine valve.
The most common culprits are a bad piston or spacer stack. If it is not apparent which part is faulty, it’s best to consult a professional.
How to Fix Softened Water That Tastes Salty.
Now that you’ve figured out what the problem is, it’s time to fix it. Most of these fixes are simple, but if these fixes don’t work or you’re dealing with a complicated or older system, it might be best to consult a professional. Before you spend money on a professional plumber, see if any of these fixes will work for you.
Reduce water sodium levels
If your incoming water supply is salty, this is really an external problem and there’s not much you can do. In these cases, you might want to have your water professionally tested, then submit the results to your water supplier.
In the event that you use well water, you might want to consider installing a reverse osmosis or distillation system. These systems can be costly, so it might be best to consult a professional plumber to see what options would be best for your home.
Increase water pressure
In most water softener systems, there is a flow control valve that allows you to increase the incoming water pressure. Check the manufacturer’s instructions on how to adjust the flow valve, as this varies by system.
If this does not work to increase the pressure, the problem could be with the incoming water line. In this case, it’s best to consult a professional plumber, since this is a bigger issue that could require a lot more work.
Proper timer setting
If you find yourself using water during the programmed regeneration cycle, it might be time to reprogram your system for a different time.
Usually, this can be done by simply turning a dial, but this varies by design. It’s always best to check with the manufacturer’s instructions before reprogramming the regeneration time, so you do it right the first time and don’t damage any components.
Reduce the water level in the brine tank
If you have discovered that one or more line servicing your brine tank is kinked or clogged, it may be best to replace them. This is usually a simple replacement, but like with most things, it depends on the design. Consult the manufacturer on how to replace these lines yourself.
Replace faulty components in bad brine valve
If you’ve determined which part is bad, replace it according to the instructions. Like we mentioned before, if you are unsure, it is best to consult a plumber. In some cases, the entire valve assembly needs to be replaced, and this can be a more complicated repair job.
When Should I Call a Professional?
If none of the problems we discussed here seem to be the issue, or there seems to be a bigger problem with the plumbing system, it is best to get a professional plumber involved.
Likewise, if there are no clear directions from the manufacturer on how to fix your specific water softener, a professional has the training and experience to handle the repair. If you do a repair incorrectly, you risk damaging your system and costing yourself more than it would have been to hire a plumber.
In some cases, it’s best to avoid the headache altogether and let someone with expertise handle the problem.
It’s never a nice surprise to discover that your water tastes salty, especially if you’ve invested in a water softener system. But, like with all of our other appliances, these systems need maintenance over time and exhausted parts need to be replaced.
Most of these fixes are straightforward and inexpensive, but there are professionals available who have years of experience, and who typically guarantee their work.
With a bit of troubleshooting and research, your salty water will be a problem of the past.
Ruben has a diverse background in the home services industry, with experience running a construction company, a kitchen and bath showroom, and a moving and relocation company. This breadth of experience has provided him with a wealth of knowledge and expertise in various areas of home improvement in general and specifically in the heating and plumbing niche.