How to Clean a Water Softener

Cleaning your water softener regularly is crucial to keep it functioning properly and maximizing its lifespan. Softened water provides numerous benefits like cleaner laundry, dishes, and skin, but over time the resin bed that removes minerals can become coated with sediment, scale, and bacteria. Performing basic maintenance helps optimize performance, prevent early breakdowns, and improve water quality and flow. Follow this guide to learn how to clean a water softener in a few straightforward steps.

Why Should You Clean Your Water Softener?

There are several important reasons to periodically clean your water softener:

Extends the Softener’s Lifespan

Regular cleaning helps prevent early failures and breakdowns. By removing built-up sediment and scale, you allow the resin bed to regenerate properly. This optimizes ion exchange capacity, ensuring the softener provides years of reliable service.

Improves Efficiency

Softeners work by exchanging hardness minerals like calcium and magnesium for sodium ions. Over time mineral scale, dirt, and organic matter reduce the resin’s effectiveness. Thorough cleaning restores maximum ion exchange capacity.

Prevents Foul Odors

Sediment and residue accumulating in the brine tank can cause foul rotten egg smells. Cleaning eliminates odor-causing bacteria and organic matter.

Enhances Water Quality

Built-up sediments like sand, silt, clay, and dirt can pass into your water supply. Regular maintenance flushes out these contaminants providing cleaner, clearer softened water.

Saves Salt and Water

Scale-coated resin requires more regenerations, wasting salt and water. Cleaning removes scale buildup, allowing for efficient ion exchange, saving salt and water during backwashes.

Improves Water Flow

Mineral deposits, sediment, and slime can eventually clog softener components like control valves, resin screens, and backwash flow restrictors. Proper maintenance prevents reduced water pressure and flow issues.

How Often Should You Clean a Water Softener?

Most manufacturers recommend cleaning water softeners every 3-6 months. However, optimal service intervals depend on water quality and usage levels.

Hard Water Areas

Hard water with high levels of calcium, magnesium, and iron require more frequent cleaning, like every 2-3 months. The minerals in hard water rapidly coat the resin bed, decreasing effectiveness.

High Water Usage

Homes with above average water use or large households should clean more often, around every 3 months. The more water you use, the faster sedimentation occurs in the brine tank and resin bed.

Well Water

Well water contains more sediment and bacteria than municipal supplies, causing quicker fouling of softener components. Clean well water softeners every 2-4 months to maintain optimal operation.

Age of Softener

Older water softeners have had more time for scale and residue to accumulate, so should be serviced more frequently than newer models. Increase cleaning to every 1-2 months for softeners over 5-10 years old.

After Service Disruptions

Events like plumbing work, well repairs, frozen pipes, and city water main breaks can disrupt water softeners. Always do a thorough cleaning after such service interruptions to flush sediments from lines.

Supplies Needed

Cleaning a water softener is a straightforward process. Have the following supplies on hand:

  • Protective gloves, goggles, and mask
  • Cleaning brush and scrub pad
  • Vacuum with hose attachment
  • Non-sudsing household cleaner
  • Water softener cleaner formulated to break down minerals
  • Large bucket or sink for cleaning parts


  • Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum for brine tank
  • Funnel for adding cleaners to brine well

Step-by-Step Guide

Follow these steps to thoroughly clean your water softener:

1. Turn Off Water Supply and Power

Locate the shutoff valves for the water supply lines connected to the softener’s bypass valve. Turn these OFF to prevent water entering the softener during service. Unplug the softener from electrical outlets so it does not cycle during cleaning.

2. Open and Inspect Brine Tank

Unscrew the brine tank lid and set aside. Visually inspect the interior. Look for accumulated salt bridging, sediments, dirty or discolored water, and slime growth on tank walls. Use a wet/dry vac to remove any standing water or grime.

3. Clean Out Brine Tank

Remove any remaining salt blocks or residues using a plastic spoon or blunt tool. Avoid gouging plastic tanks. Thoroughly rinse interior walls with a garden hose. Vacuum out any remaining water and sediments.

4. Check and Clean Brine Well

Inspect the brine well for dirt accumulation, bacterial slime, and mineral scale. Use a small brush and household cleaner to scrub the well walls and screen. Rinse thoroughly. Pour a water softener cleaner into the brine well to de-scale.

5. Flush Brine Valve and Lines

Disconnect the brine line from the control valve. Place the line in a bucket, then briefly open and close the brine valve to flush sediments. Reattach the line once flow runs clear.

6. Inspect and Clean Resin Tank

Remove the control valve cover and upper distributor. Check for any obstructions or clogging of the upper distributor and outlet. Remove and clean resin tank screens and backwash flow controls.

7. Flush Resin Bed

Attach a garden hose to the softener drain line. Spray water down through the resin bed for 2-3 minutes in the backwash flow direction. This flushes any accumulated particles.

8. Sanitize System

Make a sanitizing solution of 1-2 Tbsp. household bleach per gallon of water. Pour carefully into the brine well. Reattach brine line. Initiate a manual regeneration to sanitize softener.

9. Add Clean Salt

Refill brine tank with fresh, high quality solar or pellet salt. Avoid using rock, ice melt, or old caked salt. Level salt below the waterline. Replace brine tank lid.

10. Restore Power and Water

Plug softener back in and restore water supply valves. Initiate a manual regeneration to purge sanitizers and packed resin bed. The softener is now cleaned and ready for service.

11. Schedule Next Cleaning

Make a note on your calendar when to perform the next softener cleaning based on your local water conditions and usage level. Every 3-6 months is recommended for typical households.

FAQs About Cleaning Water Softeners

How do I clean my water softener with vinegar?

Mix a solution of 1 cup white vinegar per 2-3 gallons of warm water. Use during resin bed flushing steps to help dissolve scale from brine tank and resin. Rinse thoroughly afterward to prevent resin fouling.

What is the white stuff in my water softener?

White sediment or scale inside softener tanks is usually calcium carbonate. Mild acid cleaners help dissolve mineral deposits. Prevent buildup by cleaning more frequently if you have very hard water.

Why does my water softener smell bad?

Foul odors inside water softeners are typically from bacterial slime growth or rotten organic matter in the brine tank. Thoroughly clean and sanitize the brine tank to eliminate smells.

How do I unclog my water softener?

Use a brush and vinegar solution to remove scale constricting backwash, brine lines, and control valves. Flush lines and resin bed thoroughly. Replace any malfunctioning backwash flow restrictors or brine valves.

Why is my softened water still hard?

Improper recharging, resin fouling, mechanical failures or bypass valve left open can leave hard water untreated. Clean resin bed, check components, and confirm softener is regenerating fully before seeking repairs.

How do you restart a water softener after cleaning?

After deep cleaning, plug unit back in, restore water supply, add clean salt, initiate a manual recharge cycle, and schedule any abbreviated recharge cycles recommended by manufacturer to fully refresh the resin bed.

Why does my water softener keep regenerating?

Excessive recharging is usually due to power outages, mechanical malfunctions, or improper programming settings. Cleaning may help, but contact a service technician if problems persist after maintenance.

How do I get the best performance from my water softener?

Optimizing your softener includes regular cleaning every 3-6 months, using high purity salt, keeping salt level above waterline, periodically sanitizing, and having an annual check-up by a qualified technician.

Key Takeaways on Cleaning Water Softeners

  • Regular cleaning every 3-6 months keeps water softeners working properly.
  • Clean the brine tank, brine valve, resin tank, and backwash flow controls.
  • Flushing the resin bed and sanitizing restores maximum hardness removal.
  • Proper cleaning extends lifespan, enhances efficiency, and improves water quality and flow.
  • After servicing, restore power, water supply, refill salt, and initiate recharge cycles.
  • Schedule next cleaning based on water hardness and household usage levels.


Routine water softener maintenance is easy to perform with basic household tools and supplies. Following detailed cleaning procedures like those outlined here will keep your system running at peak efficiency for years to come. Take time every 3-6 months to clean the brine tank, flush the resin bed, sanitize components, and optimize your softener’s performance and longevity. Consistent care translates to better water quality, efficiency, and reliability from this important water treatment appliance.