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What Happens if Water Softener Runs Out of Salt? (5 Facts)

Writen by Ronald Brown

Fact checked by Natalie Bridges

what happens if water softener runs out of salt

Homeowners face numerous household problems and predicaments that can feel like a daunting chore for most of them. One of these is maintaining domestic appliances like a water softener which is an integral investment for our home.

There are many things about a water softener that some of you may not know about, like, what happens if water softener runs out of salt? Salt serves as a fuel in salt-based water softeners. Without it, there will be no brine solution; No brine solution, no soft water.

No salt in water softener could adversely affect its performance and lifespan. It is because the resin tank could no longer remove hard minerals from brine and rock saltwater. Find out more damaging consequences of leaving a water softener out of salt below.

Table of Contents

Consequences of Using a Water Softener Without Salt


A good rule of thumb is to avoid filling up the salt to the brim. The salt content should never exceed 4-6 inches below the top of the brine tank. However, in some instances, we forget to top off our water softener and it’s quite normal.

When my water softener ran out of salt months ago, it made me cautious about my salt refilling frequency (old water softener units consume more salt than newly installed ones).

After the incident, I immediately noticed the inevitable aftermath :

1. Iron In Water and Control Valve

The absence of salt in your water softener means that the control valve will be coated with iron and other hard minerals. How does it happen? The control valve is an apparatus in a water softener that manipulates the flow of untreated water as it goes through the main chamber of your water softener.

If you don’t have enough salt in your system, iron and other hard minerals present in your water can clog the control valve. When this happens, the valve can lose its ability to create suction for the brine cycle.

Moreover, when you let your water softener not use salt for a long time, the dissolved iron will accumulate on the tank’s resin bed and decline the backwashing process in the regeneration cycle, causing it to leach into your drinking water supply.

2. The Softening Resin Will Be Saturated and Exhaust Shortly

For instance, if you didn’t add salt to your water softener, the water softening resins won’t be able to facilitate the process of ion exchange once the unit regenerates. The resins will become saturated with hardness ions.

If there’s no salt, no sodium ion discharge will be used to create the brine solution to flush out the hard minerals (mostly, calcium and magnesium ions) trapped in the resins. Every few days, a water softener must replenish them; Failure to do so may lead to untimely exhaustion.

Although most resin manufacturers claim that the resins have a 10-year life expectancy, it will still depend on the residential conditions in which the resins are subjected.

3. The Brine Tank Could Overflow

Traditional water softener models utilize one safety shut-off valve. Typically, this valve limits the amount of water allowed into the brine tank. However, if your water softener runs out of salt, this valve can get confused, and the brine float will not be able to restrict the water flow when it should. Hence, overflowing occurs.

4. Your Plumbing System May Fail Together with Your Water Fixtures and Appliances in No Time

Hard water is the main culprit for premature failure in your water pipes at home. Without sodium chloride, your water softener can’t eliminate high concentrations of minerals in your water, resulting in scale buildup.

Your plumbing system will slowly lose its maximum efficiency: low water pressure, sluggish flow, and clogged drains. In worst-case scenarios, hard water shortens the lifespan of your water-consuming appliances such as water heater, coffee maker, dishwasher, washing machine, and the like.

Your water fixtures are at risk too! After running out of salt for quite some time, you might notice chalky deposits in your showerheads, toilets, sinks, and tubs. Don’t you hate it when these white stains ruin your lovely interiors? Therefore, you must check the level of salt inside the brine tank regularly.

The latest water softeners feature salt-level monitoring technology, which automatically generates the level of salt inside the brine tank. There are LED salt-level wall plate monitors too, which display a 10- color bar graph that alerts you when it’s time to refill the salt.

If you own an older model, you have to track the salt level manually but don’t worry, it’s a sweat-free task. All you have to do is to lift the lid of the mineral tank. If there’s water underneath the tank, it’s a tell-tale sign that you need to add more salt pellets.

5 Alarming Signs that Water Softener’s Salt Run Low


  • Your soap doesn’t lather up when you take a bath, leaving soap scum on your skin.
  • Bathroom doors and tiles are coated with cloudy, white mineral deposits.
  • The water that comes out from the water softener leaves hazy stains on your glassware and kitchenware.
  • If there’s no salt, hard water can’t be softened. It means that the hard minerals can clog up the pipelines, making the drainage and hydronic system inefficient.
  • Your clothes and dishes aren’t getting cleaned.

Watch out for these warning signs. You must schedule your brine tank inspection so your water softener won’t run out of salt unexpectedly. I highly recommend checking the salt level in the brine tank every month.

Generally, you must take note of these four factors that affect how often you add salt to your water softener: Water Hardness Level, Water Softener Models and Age, Brine Tank Size, and Water Usage.

These factors vary from one family to another, so don’t forget to keep track of your water softener’s overall condition to ensure that it is working at its optimum performance.

4 Easy Tips On How To Properly Add Salt To Your Water Softener

Tip 1: You have to loosen any encrusted salt that may be sticking to the corners of the brine tank before you add new salt pellets.

Tip 2: Use a broom handle or any long object of your preference to break down any large pieces of salt left in the tank.

Tip 3: If you notice a solid mass of salt (salt bridge), use a broom handle again and chip away at the formation to break it apart. It can prevent your system from regenerating accordingly.

Be careful not to puncture or crack the tank. If it doesn’t work, pour the tank into hot water. After cleaning up the tank, you may now refill it with salt.

Tip 4: Please don’t buy table salts because they are made of much smaller crystals compared to normal softener salts. You will most likely face salt mushing in the water softener, which will slowly destroy it.

Use salts that are specifically designed to use for water softeners such as sodium chloride and potassium chloride.


Today you have discovered life-saving facts to one of the most nerve-racking questions for homeowners, “What Happens If Water Softener Runs Out Of Salt?”. To sum it up, you shouldn’t let the water softener operate with insufficient salts because it can wreak havoc on water quality and plumbing fixtures.

Cleaning a brine tank can be a daunting task for some people, but it won’t hurt to give it a try. You don’t even need special tools to do it! Always check the salt level on your brine tank regularly to guarantee that the water softener is regenerating appropriately.

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