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What Is a Salt Bridge?

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Salt-Bridge

If you're a homeowner with a water softener, you may have heard of the term "salt bridge." Knowing what a salt bridge does, how it affects your water softener, and what you can do to prevent a salt bridge can help you keep your water softener working efficiently. 

Know How Your Water Softener Works

Hard water contains excessive amounts of calcium and magnesium, which can leave behind a coat of scale on plumbing, glass, and fixtures in the home. To soften the water, your water softener must remove the extra minerals.

Water softeners work by flushing water with a sodium-saturated brine. When the water is flushed in this way, the water softener exchanges the extra magnesium and calcium for sodium. In order to keep the water softener functioning, homeowners must periodically add more salt to the tank so the softener can continue to make brine. 

Know What a Salt Bridge Is

A salt bridge is a crusty layer of salt that sits above the water level in the water softener tank. Between the salt and the water is a space filled with air. This space prevents the water and salt from mixing together to make brine and ultimately prevents the water softener from doing its job. 

Know the Signs That Your Water Softener Has a Salt Bridge

When a salt bridge develops, the effects may not be immediately obvious. Over time, however, most homeowners notice that their water softener has a problem. 

One of the first signs of a salt bridge is a return to hard water in the home. People who have lived with soft water for a long time will notice the difference when they shower, wash their hands, or take a bath. Soft water helps hydrate the skin and hair and can leave hands and hair feeling slightly slick or "soapy" after a bath or shower. (To be clear, this feeling of soapiness is not soap at all but is caused by a lack of minerals and impurities on the skin.)

In addition to the slightly soapy feeling on the body, dishes and plumbing fixtures may start to develop hard water stains. These stains are caused by the minerals left behind after hard water touches the surface of an object and then dries up. 

Finally, homeowners will start to notice that the amount of salt in the water softener tank never goes down. The top of the salt may appear crumbly and normal because salt water bridges form beneath the surface of the salt. However, the salt level never goes down because the bridge stays at the same level all the time. 

Know How to Break Up a Salt Bridge

Breaking up a salt bridge is easy. To do this, simply turn off the water softener at the water inlet valve. Next, remove the lid from the saltwater tank and use a long-handled broom or shovel to tap at the surface of the salt. Never use an awl or anything sharp, as this could easily puncture a hole in the tank. 

Tapping the top of the salt should be enough to crumble the salt bridge. Once this is done, the salt will fall back into the water. Following this, you should be able to mix the salt back into the tank. Use the broom handle to stir the salt and the water together. Remove any big chunks of salt that don't break up after the salt bridge is dissolved. 

Know How to Prevent a Future Salt Bridge

Salt bridges can form for a variety of reasons. Humidity in the air can cause salt to stick together, forming a crust. Filling your tank too full can also cause a salt bridge to form. To avoid future salt bridges, never fill your soft water tank more than is recommended by the manufacturer. You should also do what you can to reduce the humidity in the room where the water softener is located. 

You can reduce the humidity in the room by running a dehumidifier, running your home's climate-control system, and removing wet things (like wet laundry) from the area. 

If doing these things doesn't solve the problem, the problem could be in the type of salt being used. Evaporated salt and processed pellet salt are purer and thus less likely to cause problems with a water softener. Switching to evaporated salt or processed pellet salt can help solve the problem. Also using block salt will eliminate this potential problem.

If your water softener continues to have problems even after you have taken these steps, talk to your water softener technician. He or she can help you troubleshoot and prevent salt bridges in the future. 

At DuPage Water Conditioning, we help homeowners get the information they need to keep their water softeners functioning properly. To find out more about water softener functionality or to work with a technician, contact us today.