Water Softener: Fix a flooded brine (salt) tank that doesn’t drain
I have literally spent weeks trying to fix a flooded brine tank in my Kenmore water softener. It took me a while to understand how the darn thing worked, but once I figured it out, my problem and, more importantly, the fix seemed obvious. NOTE: I’m pretty sure that most water softeners work very similarly, so even if you don’t have a Kenmore, the information here should be helpful.
Very Simple DIY Repair
When I first set out to repair my water softener, I was expecting to find a complex set of pumps and valves and such. I was surprised to find none of that. The whole thing just uses water pressure to do it’s magic of passively circulating water around. The only mechanized part is a clock-like component whose purpose is to change the flow of water for the various connections. If that part is working, nearly everything is easily self-serviceable without using any special tools.
It’s sort of easy to understand how the device can fill and flush out the various tanks with water. What amazed me was the ingenious way it uses water pressure to create a vacuum to suck the water from the brine tank reversing the flow of water using the same hose! To me, this is the most complex portion of the water’s journey through the system and probably why most problems occur here.
One thing you will definitely need is a small paperclip or toothpick. I would also highly recommend a headlamp. This way you can use both hands and still have good light to see inside the mechanism. I use the HEIMDALL Led Headlamp Flashlight. The light tilts up and down and is very compact. Comes with a nice case and only uses a single AA battery.
Fill and Brine Stages
Now, there are several stages to the water softening process, but the two most important with respect to the flooding problem are Fill, which just fills the brine tank with water, and Brine, which moves the salty water from the brine tank to the resin tank where the water “softening” happens. (If you want to know more, the How Your Water Softener Works section in the user guide was extremely helpful.)
Examining the Venturi
There is an indispensable interactive animation at kenmorewater.com [NOTE: The original site stopped working. This one does not work in Chrome]. Click on Symptoms and then Check Flooded Salt Tank. The animation will walk you though a bunch of steps; however, it’s likely that the problem is in the venturi assembly so, click No when it asks if you cleaned it.
Basically, you first bypass the softener by pushing in the Bypass Valve plunger, take the hood off the water softener and then disassemble the venturi housing. You’ll want to inspect and clean the nozzle and venturi parts inside. I’m not going to go thorough all the steps since the animation covers it quite nicely, but I’ll elaborate on some important things that are missing or glossed over.
The venturi housing top just unscrews. No tools needed. Hold the base so you don’t crack anything, while twisting counterclockwise. A paperclip and small screwdriver are helpful to get the some parts out without dropping and potentially losing them. You may want to take photos with your phone for reference later.
IMPORTANT: The two small black flow plugs are different! Make sure you keep track of them and remember which goes where! There is writing imprinted on the plugs to help you identify them. There is also a tiny screen screen filter which often gets stuck to the large gasket, so be careful not to lose it.
In the Brine stage, water is sucked from the brine tank through the same tube used to fill the tank. The way this happens is that water moves through the venturi housing creating a vacuum. You want to make sure no foreign particles are in there messing things up, particularly on the venturi (blue part above). A paperclip can be used to clean the holes on the small black flow plugs. Warm soapy water can be used on all of the parts.
Examine the large gasket closely. Aside from dirt particles messing with the water flow, this gasket is the likely problem for a flooded tank. If it has grooves in it or is falling apart, replace it. I got mine on Amazon for $19. It sits on top of the venturi which has really tiny canals in it and over time the gasket will conform to them creating the grooves. As a result, canals in the venturi will start to close impeding the flow of water.
Put it Back Together
When you reassemble the venturi housing, make sure you do it in the correct order and get the small black plugs in their correct spots. As stated above, The flow plug with the smaller hole goes in the venturi (blue part below) and the other one goes in the bottom of the housing.
I had a lot of water in the tank so I siphoned most of it out. I tried to use a cut off garden hose, but got sick of all the salt water in my mouth so I bought this siphon.
What Else Can it Be?
If it isn’t a bad gasket or dirt in the venturi, make sure the tube to the brine tank is clean and doesn’t have kinks or is broken. Also, take the float mechanism out and make sure it’s working properly. This is all covered in the animation. (This was another helpful site)
The mechanics of a water softener are pretty straight forward once you understand how it works. As long as the main clock mechanism is working, it should be pretty easy to fix. I hope this little post helps someone! If you have questions, please post comments, but I’m not plumber and don’t know much more than what I’ve written above ;-)