7 Steps to Add Salt to Your Water Softener System

After I installed my water softener I saw an instant increase in my water quality. My showerheads and coffee maker no longer became crusted with scale. Plus, my dishwasher was twice as effective. Then, the salt ran out.

After a few days, the faucets and appliances became crusted with hard water scale again. So, I became an expert in maintaining my water softener to ensure I always have the best water. Here’s how to keep your water softener system fully charged at all times.

7 simple steps to add salt to your water softener system.

1. Purchase Salt Pellets

To fill your water softener, first, you need the correct salt. Water softener salt is sold as pellets, in large bags. You can find these products at your local hardware store.

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Use only water softener salt pellets in your system. Table salt, rock salt, and deicing salt can damage your water softener systems. Plus, many alternatives to water softener pellets aren’t safe for human consumption. Remember, the water you drink and cook with comes from your water softener, so you should only use clean, food-grade salt.

2. Remove the Lid from Your Brine Tank

Begin by locating the brine tank for your water softener system. Usually, this is a plastic barrel that is three to four feet tall (90–120 cm). Remove the lid by unscrewing it and lifting it off the top of the brine tank.

Man lifting the lid off a brine tank to replace the water softener salt.
Most brine tank lids can be lifted straight off, like mine shown above. However, some need to be unscrewed for removal.

Put your brine tank lid aside in a clean area. Don’t set the lid down on a dirty floor. Any dirt that clings to the interior of your brine tank lid could end up in your drinking water.

3. Check the Salt Level

With the lid off your brine tank, look inside the tank. If you see water above the salt level in your brine tank, it needs to be refilled with water softener salt.

A water softener brine tank with low levels of water softener salt.
When the water in your brine tank is above the salt, you need to add salt to your water softener.

If your water softener salt pellets are above the level of the water in the tank, your tank does not need any additional salt at this time. However, before you put the lid back on the tank, it’s a good idea to check if a salt bridge has formed.

4. Test for Salt Bridges

Even if your brine tank shows salt above the level of water, it may still be low on salt. This is because a “salt bridge” can form in your brine tank. A salt bridge is a hard layer of salt pellets that have fused together above the water level. This makes your tank look like it is full of salt even when the water below isn’t being softened.

Man breaking up water softener salt to check for salt bridges forming below the surface.
Break up salt pellets that are “glued together” to prevent a salt bridge from forming.

To test for a salt bridge, attempt to move the salt pellets in your brine tank until you see water. If the salt pellets are stuck together, this is a sign of a salt bridge. In this case, use your hand or a clean cooking tool to break up the salt until it all falls into the water in the tank. Then, you can check the true salt level.

5. Add Salt to the Proper Depth

If the water level in your brine tank is above the salt level, add more salt. Open a bag of salt pellets and pour it into the tank. Continue adding bags of salt until the water level is just below the salt level.

A man puring Morton Water Softener Salt Pellets into a water softener brine tank.
Add salt pellets until the salt is above the water level.

Do not add extra salt once the pellets are above the water level. Adding too much salt at once causes salt bridges.

6. Put the Lid Back on Your Brine Tank

With your water softener system recharged, put the lid securely back on your brine tank. Do not leave the tank open, since this could allow dust and debris to enter your water supply.

If your lid was placed on the ground or in another dirty area, clean it with warm water and dish soap. Then, rinse, dry, and put it back into place to keep your water clean.

Check Your Water Softener Monthly

Each month, check your water softener system to see if it needs additional salt. For most households, a monthly check-up will prevent your water softener from running out of salt.

A water softener brine tank full of water softener salt pellets and a calendar with a reminder to check your home's salt levels monthly.
Checking the salt level once per month will prevent your water softener from running out of salt.

Your water softener system will use salt faster the more water your household uses. In large family homes, you may go through salt more quickly. If you notice the salt is extremely low when you check on a monthly basis, check your system twice per month instead.

How Do Water Softeners Work?

Water softeners pull calcium, magnesium, and other minerals out of your water to prevent hard water. Your water softener replaces these minerals with the sodium or potassium found in your salt pellets.

This exchange of minerals is essential for soft water. So, your water softener won’t work without salt.

What Happens if Your Water Softener Runs Out of Salt?

If you allow your water softener to run out of salt, your water will become hard again. This results in mineral buildup that can partially clog faucets, showerheads, dishwashers, and appliances.

If your softener runs out of salt, add more salt as soon as possible. The softened water will help to break down any hard water scale that formed while the system was out of salt.

Can You Use Table Salt in Your Water Softener?

You cannot use table salt in a water softener system. The small crystals of table salt can clog your water softener and do expensive damage to the entire system. Use water softener pellets only.

Water softener pellets are the safest choice for your system. Plus, salt pellets are far less expensive than table salt. So, you’ll save money and get the most out of your water softener by using the right product for the job.

How Do You Refill Water Softener Salt?

To refill your water softener with salt, follow these steps:

  1. Purchase salt pellets designed for water softeners.
  2. Remove the lid from your water softener brine tank.
  3. Check the water level—if the water is covering the salt, it’s time to add salt.
  4. Break up any hard “salt bridges” that have formed in your brine tank.
  5. Add salt until the salt level is just above the water level.
  6. Put the lid back on your brine tank.
  7. Check the salt level in your brine tank once per month.

These simple steps will keep your water at top-notch quality. Plus, you’ll avoid the common pitfalls that can cause water softeners to stop working.

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