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Question DetailsAsked on 11/27/2015

why would water softener keep running but get no soft water and do not know where water is going,

can hear water running, but can't see where it is going. My water bill was quite high so it's somewhere. No soft water tho, so we shut it off, don't know what to do

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2 Answers


Assuming you don't have a water line leak that you are hearing at the softener but might be somewhere else in the system, almost certainly a stuck/failed backwash cycle valve. The system backflushes/washes out the accumulated sediment and contaminants on a timer system - typically one or twice a day for about 2-5 minutes. If this fails/gets stuck, then water continuously flows through that valve to the drain tubing/pipe, which goes to the household drain lines (commonly a flex tubing rather than rigid pipe). You should be able to figure out just from the configuration where the incoming and outgoing main water line is - the third line connected to the system (excluding those going between parts of the system) would be your drain line - hold your ear by it and you should hear the water flowing through it. Most have a manual flush position - try setting to that and then back to AUTO (or similar phrasing) or if that does not stop it, to OFF.

If you have a bypass to the softener (which you should have installed if you get a service rep to come and you do not have one already - almost all come with it built-in), you shut off the inlet and outlet valves on the softener system (and the power, if powered type), then open the bypass valve on the piping that bypasses the softener - that will give you household water, albeit unsoftened, till the unit is repaired by a Water Treatment technician.

Check your owner's manual for location of flush valve and bypass valve - here is a link to an article with pretty clear instructions, including typical piping diagram with valve locations as the last image on the article -

Note what it says - with most units, shutting off the power does NOT stop the flow of water through the unit (and hence out the flush valve) - you have to shut off the water valves. No real way to damage the system if you shut the wrong valve - pressure stays the same regardless - wrong valve closed or bypass not opened would just cut off all water to the house (except for unsoftened exterior hose bibs/pool) till you reopen it.

If you shut off the bypass valve and the sound of water running stops (with everything else off in house), then it clearly is the softener losing water - pretty much impossible to leak without being seen, so that leaves the flush valve. If you shut it off and STILL hear the water running, then go around putting your ear to faucets and pipes till you track down the loudest point, which should put you in the vicinity of the leaking item.

One other possibility - if you have hydronic heating or a newer high efficiency furnace (with exhaust flue fan) or high-efficiency or heat-pump model water heater, they can continuously or intermittently make noise too. To tie them down, listen at a faucet to hear what the sound is like, then turn a different faucet on just a bit and listen - if there is a dramatic difference in sound in the pipe then water pipe leak is probably NOT the source - listen at heating system ducts or piping and water heater to hear if coming from those systems and is actually a pump or fan sound you are hearing.

All else fails, if definitely not at the water softener, call a Plumber is loudest in pipes, or Heating and A/C contractor is loudest at furnace/boiler. (Perhaps plumber if hydronic/steam heat system and you normally use plumber for its maintenance - depends on local licensing laws and practice which normally services them.

Note - if you had a dramatic spike in water bill, many water utilities will give you a full or partial credit for the increased bill amount over your normal usage if you present them with the invoice for the repair and it specifically states something like "fixed leaking pipe" or "replaced water softeaner flush valve which was stuck open" or such, indicating you located and repaired the leak.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD


When a water softener runs but does not soften water, that could be a sign that a salt bridge has formed. A salt bridge occurs when the salt in your brine tank forms a hard crust. This crust prevents your water softener from regenerating, meaning you will have salt but the salt isn't able to flush out the softener and regenerate the resin bed due to the salt bridge/crust. When this happens, the resin beads in your softener are not flushed out and they essentially stay full/at capacity and can no longer soften water as it passes through the softener.

If a salt bridge is the problem, you can identify it by taking a broom stick and pushing down on the salt in your brine tank. If a salt bridge formed somewhere within the tank, the salt will collapse in on itself once you have broken through the bridge.

That could solve why the softener is not softening. But if the the water softener is constantly running, even when you are not using water, that is another issue in itself. You didn't specify your brand of water softener, but I know some companies, like Culligan, will come out and repair all makes and models of water softners - even if it is a competitor's brand. So you may want to give your local water softener company a call and see if they will come and take a look for you.


Answered 4 years ago by ArdenM

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