The Importance Of Using The Right Salt For Your Water Softener

Hard water can be a pain for those that have to deal with it. It causes soap scum and mineral buildup on shower heads and faucets, as well as dry, itchy skin and damaged hair.

Many of us use water softeners to help remove the minerals that cause hard water. This removal is done by a process called the ion exchange process, in which hard minerals are swapped with a softening agent, typically sodium or potassium. This ion exchange removes calcium and magnesium and leaves the water much less harsh.

In this article, I wanted to go over the different kinds of salt available for water softeners as well as the role that it plays. I also wanted to touch on maintenance and I’ll wrap up with some tips for prolonging the life of your water softener system.

Salt Being Added to a Water Softener

What Are The Different Types Of Salt For Water Softeners?

The main salt types that are used by water softeners include rock salt, solar salt, and potassium chloride. Each has their own pluses and minuses and it’s very important that you use the correct salt that your water softener recommends.

Using the wrong salt can lead to issues such as reduced efficiency as impurities build up over time. This buildup can clog the resin beads that are inside of your water softener which can end up damaging your system. Here are the main types of salt and some info about them.

Rock Salt

Rock salt is a natural mineral that is harvested from underground mines. It is the most traditional and economical type of salt used in water softeners. It is composed mostly of sodium chloride, which is the active ingredient that is used in the ion exchange process.

The biggest advantage of rock salt is that it is the most widely available and cost-effective option. However, it can leave sediment in the water softener tank and can also be harder to dissolve than other types of salt.

Solar Salt

Solar salt is a type of salt that is produced by evaporating seawater. It is composed of both sodium chloride and other minerals. It is also known as evaporated salt.

Solar salt is more pure than rock salt, which means it is less likely to leave sediment in the water softener tank. Additionally, it is typically easier to dissolve than rock salt. However, it can be more expensive and harder to find than rock salt.

Potassium Chloride

Potassium chloride is a type of salt that is made from a mineral called potash. It is a potassium-based alternative to traditional sodium-based water softeners. It’s a good option for people with high blood pressure or other sodium-restricted diets.

Potassium chloride has the advantage of being a healthier option than sodium chloride, as it does not increase the sodium content of the water. However, it can be more expensive than traditional salt and is not as readily available.

Type of SaltProCon
Rock SaltWidely Available and Cost EffectiveCan Leave Sediment
Solar SaltLess Sediment and Dissolves EasierPricier and Harder to Find
Potassium ChlorideNo Sodium Increase in WaterExpensive
Chart Listing Pros and Cons of Various Salts Used in Water Softeners

How Does Water Softener Salt Work?

In general, the salt that goes in a water softener works by a process called ion exchange. As water flows through the tank, calcium and magnesium ions are attracted to resin beads and are exchanged for positively charged ions of sodium or potassium, depending on the type of salt used.

Salt that is added to the water softener system is used to recharge the resin beads and maintain the effectiveness of the ion exchange process.

The Ion Exchange Process

A water softener system works by exchanging hard minerals like calcium and magnesium with more helpful ones, such as sodium or potassium. This process is made possible through the use of special resin beads inside a tank that attract ions depending on the type of salt used in order to create softer, fresher-tasting water.

Role Of Salt In The Ion Exchange Process

Softening hard water with a salt-based ion exchange process helps protect your pipes and appliances from mineral build up caused by calcium and magnesium. To keep the system functioning at its best, regeneration is necessary to replace these ions that have been exchanged for sodium or potassium ones through salty brine flushing. 

This cleverly maintains the effectiveness of the resin beads while preventing them from becoming saturated over time due to their natural reaction with hard water minerals.

The Regeneration Process

The regeneration process is done automatically using a control valve, it will happen periodically depending on the setting and the water hardness. 

During the process, the resin beads are cleaned and restored to their original state, which allows the water softener to continue to remove hard minerals from the water. 

The regeneration process can be set to occur at specific times, or it can be triggered by a sensor that detects the need for regeneration based on the water hardness and the amount of water used.

Proper Maintenance And Troubleshooting Of A Water Softener

To properly maintain a water softener system, you need to regularly add salt to the brine tank. The exact amount of salt needed will depend on the size of the system and the water hardness. 

It is important to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific guidelines on how much salt to add and how often.

Regularly check the salt level regularly and add more when it’s low. Running out of salt during the regeneration process can damage the resin beads and decrease the efficiency of the water softener system.

Common Problems And Troubleshooting

Growing up with hard water allowed me the opportunity to learn a bit about some of the primary pitfalls of water softener systems and how to troubleshoot them.

  • System Not Regenerating – A multitude of problems may be the culprit behind your issue- from a malfunctioning control valve to simply needing more salt in the brine tank. While troubleshooting, keep an eye out for these potential issues.
  • Water Hardness Not Reducing – An issue with your water softener could stem from several root causes…a clogged line, an unresponsive control valve, or even trouble within the resin beads.
  • Inconsistent Water Pressure – If your sprayer isn’t working correctly, it could be due to a pesky blockage in the nozzle or venturi. If that’s not the cause of your troubles, there may be an issue with the control valve.
  • High Salt Usage – This could be caused by a malfunctioning control valve or the system regeneration frequency set incorrectly.

Prolonging The Life Of Your Water Softener System

To prolong the life of your water softener system, you should make sure to regularly maintain and clean the system. This includes checking the salt levels, cleaning the brine tank, and making sure that the control valve is functioning properly.

Additionally, it is important to use the correct type of salt for your system and to use the correct amount of salt during the regeneration process.

It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, keep track of the system performance and call a professional if necessary. By taking good care of the water softener, you can help ensure that it continues to effectively remove hard minerals from the water and prolong the life of your appliances and plumbing.

Final Thoughts

Hard water can be a nuisance to deal with, but luckily there’s an appliance that helps make it easier. Water softener systems are designed to tackle hard minerals and keep your plumbing in top-notch condition…if maintained properly. 

Keeping up regular maintenance will extend the lifespan of both your system and appliances; by using the right type of salt for ion exchange processes (rock salt, solar salt or potassium chloride), maintaining proper levels of said salts, you’ll save money on costly repairs down the road!


Hi, I'm Chris. Who knew there could be so many interesting things about salt?!

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