When your home’s water pressure suddenly drops, often the first culprit you may look to is your water softener. Low water pressure is a frustrating issue, and like most homeowners, you want it solved fast!
But it’s important to understand the causes of a water softener pressure drop and the specific issues that can affect it. So, let’s take a look at how to diagnose the causes of a drop in water pressure and how to fix them.
Can Your Water Softener Affect Your Water Pressure?
Water softeners can contribute to a pressure drop stemming from two primary factors, the media resin or the control valve head. However, if a water softener is properly sized and maintained, there should not be a noticeable difference after installation.
Though many homeowners may immediately think of their water softeners when their water pressure drops, the fact is that when installed correctly, a water softener should only cause a slight decrease in water pressure. Generally, only 5 – 10 PSI at most.
However, this is true of any fixture you add to your home, even just a new faucet. After all, more piping means more friction and more area for water to travel.
If your water softener was just installed and the water pressure suddenly dropped, then it is quite possible that the unit or installation is at fault. On the other hand, if the water softener has been running without issue for quite some time, then there is a good chance that something else is at fault.
Start By Identifying The Issue
The first thing to do to begin solving the problem is to diagnose the source of the pressure loss. A good way to do this is to switch your bypass valve to its on position, allowing the water to flow around the softener. If this does not increase the water pressure, this means the softener is not at fault.
It could be that a supply pipe leading to the softener unit is at fault. For example, scale buildup from hard water may have clogged a pipe before the water softener, or a leak may be at fault. If either of these two issues is at fault, you may need a plumber to repair or replace the pipe.
Another possibility if you are on a municipal water supply is that your provider is at fault. If your neighbors’ water pressure has dropped, then this is a likely possibility. In this case, you will need to contact the utility company.
Reasons Why A Water Softener May Cause Low Pressure
If switching on your water bypass does restore your water pressure, then your softener is at fault. If this is the case, then here are a few possible reasons your water softener may be causing a loss of pressure:
- Undersized Unit: It is possible that your unit lacks the capacity to handle your household’s water usage. This can cause consistently low pressure. If you have this problem, you will likely notice it quickly because you should find you have low water pressure as soon as you get your water softener hooked up. Although, this could happen over time if you have a growing family. In either case, you will need a larger water softener.
- Resin Bed Has Clogging: If sediment is able to make its way into the media bed, it can create clogging. Many times either iron or scale buildup will accumulate in the tank and plumbing to restrict water flow. If this is not taken care of quickly, the media will begin to deteriorate. Small particles will then flow through your plumbing and impact your shower heads and faucets.
- Clogged Sediment Filter: If you use spring or well water for your house, it will likely contain a lot of sediment. This sediment can clog the appliances in your home, including your water softener. There are water-sediment filter cartridges you can use, but these are sometimes ill-fitting or may not be the right type of filter for the sediment in your water. If you have the right water sediment filter, there should only be a small drop in pressure.
How To Fix Low Water Pressure In Your Water Softener
When you find that you have a clogged water softener system, it is essential to clean out all of the clogged pipes in the system in order to solve the problem. Here are some steps you can take.
- Remove Debris From The Valve Injector: The valve injector can easily become clogged over time, which can make it more difficult for the water softener to sustain suction to perform the brine cycle. If this happens and the water softener does not properly regenerate, your water will not be softened. One indication of the injector being clogged is if the water level is high in the brine tank. To fix this, take pliers and remove the injector so you can examine it. Now, look to see if the hole in it is clogged. If it is, clean it out with a needle or pin. After it is free of any debris, you can try setting the regeneration cycle to a more frequent schedule.
- Replace The Resin Media: The softening resins in your system are what soften the water. The softening resins in your system capture the minerals found in your hard water so as to soften the water by using ion exchange technology. When your resins deteriorate over time, it can lower the capacity of a clogged water softener. The best solution is to replace the media and clean the tank. If iron buildup is the cause, you can add mineral cleaner to the media bed to help clean the tank.
- Reset the Water Softener Control Valve Unit. Your water softener may be regenerating or stuck in regeneration mode and not passing enough softened water through the system. Resetting the control head may be the simplest solution. If you are using a lot of water during the regeneration cycle, it will also decrease water pressure. In that case, you can simply wait for the process to complete.
- Scoop Out Salt Bridges and Salt Mushing. One of the most common issues water softeners develop over time are salt bridges. This occurs when your brine tank forms a hard crust over the water. When this happens, the salt does not dissolve into the water and creates brine. Salt bridges are caused by a variety of things, such as the humidity often present in and around brine tanks, impure salt, or seasonal weather changes. Salt mushing can also cause your water softener to perform poorly. This occurs when salt recrystallizes in the lower portion of the water softener’s brine tank, thus creating a salty “mush.” If your system develops salt clogs, use a large stick or mop handle and break the salt bridge up. Then, drain your tank, clean it thoroughly, and refill it with fresh salt.
- Clean The Brine Drain Line. In addition to clogging the water softener valve, salt can clog the brine line. So, check for any signs of visible deposits in your brine line that may be causing a clog in the water softener, and if you see any, have the brine line professionally cleaned.
- Add Pre-Filtration: If your water comes from a well, it is likely to have high sediment and iron levels. If you have city water, it may contain high levels of chlorine. Both of these can break down the media inside a water softener tank over time. The easiest way to protect your system is to add a pre-filter. Either a sediment filter for well water or a carbon filter for chlorine.
- Replace The Water Softener System: If all the above steps fail, it may be time to replace your softener system. In some cases, it may even make sense to update your system rather than spend time and money to trying to revitalize an outdated softener. Add up the cost to replace the media and any additional costs for professional help to weigh the pros and cons. You can even consider softener alternatives like a salt free water conditioner.
How To Measure Pressure Drop For Water Softener
To ensure residential cation water softeners adhere to certain performance standards, NSF/ANSI 44 allows for a 15 psi pressure drop at the softener’s maximum rated service flow rate.
In order to measure pressure drop for water softeners, a pressure gauge is attached to both the inlet pipe and the outlet to determine what amount of pressure is lost. It is important to ensure the regeneration cycle has just been completed and the sediment filter is clean before testing.
If there are no access points to attach a pressure gauge near the water softener, a plumber may be needed. However, it may still be possible to gain some idea of what pressure loss is occurring if there are any fixtures that are not receiving softened water. In this case, attaching a pressure gauge to such a fixture and to one downstream from the water softener can give some idea of the amount of pressure loss occurring.
The NSF 44 standard creates a benchmark to measure water softener performance for your home. Additionally, if you are looking to purchase a softener system, the NSF certification is a high mark of performance.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the typical pressure drop across a water softener?
If a water softener is correctly sized and installed, it should only cause a slight decrease in water pressure of 5 – 10 PSI at most.
How do I increase water pressure after softener?
To increase the pressure in your water supply, turn the valve in your main supply line clockwise. You can also adjust the pressure valve directly on your water softener as you do this. Note this will only work if there is a pressure regulator at your point of entry. As you make these changes, check the PSI at your faucet to ensure it is working.
Can a water softener cause low pressure?
A water softener can cause a decrease in water pressure if it is not properly sized, if there is mineral buildup, or if the pre-filter is clogged. The solution is to clean the filter and the tank to see if the problem is resolved. If not, it may be an issue of bad plumbing or water supply. To pinpoint the specific issue, you can bypass the water softener and see if the water pressure in your home increases. If the pressure does increase when the water softener is bypassed, the problem is with the water softener unit.