What happens if water softener runs out of salt? To fret or not to fret

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What happens if water softener runs out of salt

Hard water can be pretty destructive to your home. This mineral-heavy water can be harsh on your pipes, make self-care routines more difficult, and ruin house appliances.

Hard water is prevalent in many areas worldwide, so a water softener running in the background is necessary to remove the high mineral contents of hard water and reduce mineral build-up on your pipes and appliances.

Turning hard water into soft water through a water softener is quite simple, but it is easy to forget to refill the brine tank with water softener salt. Without adequate salt in the water softener’s brine tank, the machine stops softening the water coming into your home.

What happens if water softener runs out of salt?

When your water softener runs out of salt, it will no longer produce soft water for your home. This will cause hard water build-up in your pipes and appliances and cause efficiency issues with your water heater system.

What Does Salt Do In Water Softeners Anyways?

Water softeners remove calcium and magnesium minerals from the water entering your home. These two minerals are the main culprits that cause water hardness.

The reason water softeners work at all is because of the salt and through a process called ion exchange. The salt (sodium) deposited in the brine tank is turned into negative sodium ions. These negative ions (anions) are attached to the ball-like resin beads in the brine tank.

As the hard water enters and flows through the mineral tank, the oppositely charged calcium and magnesium ions (positively charged) are attracted to and attached to the negatively charged resin beads.

Once the resin beads catch the mineral ions, sodium ions are then released in their place. This action removes the calcium and magnesium minerals from your water.

When the softener runs out of salt, the ion exchange process stops. The water softener will carry on running but won’t be softening the water entering your home.

Does Running A Water Softener Without Salt Damage It?

Operating your water softener without the very thing it needs to accomplish its goal should not cause any significant damage to the machine or the equipment connected to the machine.

However, there are some things to be aware of when a water softener continues to run without salt.

Mineral Deposits on Resin Beads

The main thing that should be of concern is the water softening resin that could start accumulating calcium and magnesium deposits.

Since the water softener uses the salt to remove these minerals, an inability to take this process to completion could potentially cause clogging within the machine because of the growing mineral deposit.

However, there really shouldn’t be any damage to the equipment caused by the resin bed being unable to regenerate and be flushed out.

It should simply stop working without any permanent issues and should resume normal functioning once there’s salt in the water softener brine tank and you run the regeneration cycle.

Brine Tank Overflow

Another thing that could happen is that the brine tank could overflow with water. Since there’s no salt to absorb the water, it will just sit in the tank and eventually reach a point where it starts overflowing.

While this isn’t a damage concern, it is more of a nuisance that you’ll have to deal with. If this does happen, you’ll need to empty the brine tank and refill it once more with water softener salt.

Hard Water Build Up in Pipes

Without enough water softener salt in the brine tank, your machine cannot produce softened water. This means more hard water will be running through your pipes. 

This will cause a build-up of hard water minerals in your pipes, appliances, and water heater system. While not catastrophic, it will cause efficiency issues down the road.

Control Valve Hard Water Build up

After the process is completed, softened water usually passes through the water softener control valve. When the machine runs out of salt, more hard water passes through this valve and, in turn, may collect hard water minerals. 

This excess build-up may cause efficiency issues in your unit down the road.

How To Tell If Water Softener Is Running Out Of Salt?

The easiest way to tell if your water softener is running low or without salt is to check the brine tank yourself. This is easy to do as it simply involves opening the brine tank’s lid and inspecting the salt’s level.

The brine tank should usually be about half full. If you lift the cover and find that the salt in the tank doesn’t reach the halfway mark or that the salt left is looking dry, you should run to half-full.

You might also find that the salt is looking wet with the water above the salt level, then you should also refill with more salt up to the halfway mark.

How Often Does Salt Need To Be Replenished In Water Softener?

Before moving on with anything, we must clarify that the salt never needs replacing but only refilling. You should never have to remove salt from the brine tank to replace it with “fresh” salt.

You should only be concerned with when to add more salt into the water softener. Since salt is consumed in the regeneration process, knowing how often your machine does this should help you understand how often you should be adding more salt.

Typically, if a water softener goes through this regeneration once a week, it will consume about 35 pounds of salt a month. This means that you should have at least a bag of salt in storage so that you aren’t caught off guard when you run out of salt.  

However, this figure varies depending on the water usage. The figure can go up to around 50 pounds a month for some houses with moderate water usage. 

The amount of salt you add varies depending on the water usage, but it can also be different because of the water hardness in your area. This varying water hardness can change the frequency of replenishing the salt from the typical one month to up to 3 months.

The best way to make sure your water softener does not run out of salt is to check it once a week. 

Adding More Salt In Water Softener

Use the salt advised by the water softener manufacturer to get the most out of your water softening process. If you have only now realized that your water softener has been running without salt, you will need to add salt immediately.

However, once you have bought and added your salt halfway up, the salt still needs time to dissolve in the water. This means that the water softener will not immediately start softening; it will need at least 4 to 6 hours so that the salt first dissolves.

You will need to wait for the minimum time before manually regenerating the machine. Otherwise, the machine will be regenerating without being able to use the salt.


If you’ve noticed that your water softener has been running out of salt more frequently, it might be due to hard water minerals, more water usage, or just regular water softener salt consumption. 

To prevent this from happening and maintain the efficiency of your system, make sure to replenish the salt in your brine tank regularly.

To add more salt to your water softener, follow the steps outlined above. Always use high-quality salt recommended by your machine’s manufacturer for optimal performance. With regular maintenance, you can ensure that your water softener continues running smoothly for years to come!​

​Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How often do you need to replace salt in your water softener?

You should never have to replace salt in your water softener; only refill it as needed. Depending on the water usage at home, you may need to refill your brine tank once a month or every three months. 

Regularly inspecting the salt level in your tank will help you track when it needs to be refilled.

Can a water softener run without salt?

A water softener will not run properly without salt in the brine tank. Salt is necessary for the regeneration process that removes hard water minerals from your water supply and is consumed as part of this process.

You should always have at least one bag of salt stored in your home so that you are never caught off guard when the time comes to add more salt.

The H2Home Lab team is dedicated to helping you find the best solutions to your specific water needs, as well as provide troubleshooting tips and guides for water filtration, heating, softening and plumbing. We hope you will find the info you need on our site from any one of our buying guides or subject matter articles.

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