Why & How to Drain Your Water Softener Brine Tank

How to Drain Your Water Softener Brine Tank? Your brine tank needs draining for cleaning once a year for sanitization purposes, to keep your water softener functioning properly, and to enhance the longevity of your water softener (although some say up to every 5 years, but we don’t recommend waiting that long!). However, if you notice salt buildup inside your tank, you might want to do it more often.

The brine tank may also need to be drained for troubleshooting, such as overfilling issues and checking for clogged lines. Read on to learn more about the when, why and how to go about draining the brine tank on your water softener.

Salt choice impacts maintenance

Your water softening salt choice makes a difference. To keep maintenance to a minimum and reduce salt mushing and salt bridging, purchase evaporated sodium chloride salt pellets with a high purity level (99.8% or higher) or potassium chloride salt pellets.

Some purchase salt crystals or rock salt with a lower level of purity (99.7% or less) because they’re more natural and don’t contain additives. However, these salts have more water insoluble matter which doesn’t dissolve but accumulates on the bottom of your tank over time. This is known as salt mushing. It can even clog lines or grow mold!

When to drain & clean your water softener brine tank

If you’re draining your brine tank to clean your water softener tank, then the best time to do it is when you’re low on salt. This way, the tank is lighter and easier to move around and there’s less water and salt to remove, and therefore less work and less mess.

Of course, if you’re troubleshooting, then the best time to do it is as soon as possible to resolve your issue. And if you’re going to the trouble of draining your brine tank, you might as well clean it while you’re at it to save yourself a bit of time and effort in the near future.

Why you might need to drain your water softener brine tank

Cleaning

As discussed already, you’ll need to drain your water softener brine tank annually to clean it of undissolved matter and to sanitize it.

Mushing

Mushing can occur at the bottom of your brine tank when dirt, impurities or water insoluble matter accumulate. It can also occur when dissolved salt recrystallizes into a sludge at the bottom – this can happen when the salt has sat in your brine tank too long.

Mushing can eventually cause the water level in the brine tank to rise higher than the salt level, making a diluted brine that ineffectively regenerates your resin, leaving you with hard water.

Mushing can also eventually clog your lines.

Unclogging

Water softeners have various lines and valves that can become clogged:

Brine line

The brine line connects the brine well to the resin tank and is responsible for drawing brine from the salt tank to the resin tank. If this becomes clogged, then the brine line flow control valve won’t be able to properly control the flow of water into the resin tank, the regeneration process will be ineffective, and you’ll have hard water and fouled resin. You may also end up with a brine tank full of water.

But before you go draining your tank, check that the brine line is properly attached to the brine tank and the safety float. Also check that the control valve isn’t clogged (particularly a problem with water high in iron) and that you don’t have a torn seal, as both of these can affect brine draw and refilling.

Venturi valve/Injector valve

You should also clean the venturi valve or injector brine valve (whichever your water softener has, as water softeners have one or the other) about every 6 months or so, as they have a mesh screen over them and can become clogged as they help draw brine into the brine line and resin tank. Water high in iron is particularly problematic in clogging valves.

Before attempting to clean these, use your water softener bypass valve to put it into bypass mode, and run a manual regeneration to suck water out first.

Drain line

The drain line is your brine tank’s overflow hose that helps excess water drain properly from the brine tank. If the drain line flow control develops a salt clog, you’ll end up with too much standing water in the salt tank or possibly an overflowing tank!

Incoming water line

The incoming water line or water intake can become clogged, blocking the flow of water into your brine tank. This can result in a low brine level and an insufficient water softening process.

How to drain brine tank on water softeners

There are several ways you can drain your water softener salt tank.

Manual regeneration cycle method

This is the easiest and cleanest way to drain your water softener’s brine tank. Of course, it only works if you are performing a routine cleaning, not troubleshooting a clogged line.

To do this, push the button to initiate a manual regeneration. When the cycle begins, skip the brine cycle by pushing the button a second time. Once the brine tank is empty, push the button again to return to the regular settings, skipping the other cycles.

Scoop and bucket method

Get a scoop and a bucket and scoop the water out of the salt tank into the bucket. Discard any remaining salt. You might choose this method if you want to put the water back in afterward.

Reusing is a great philosophy. However, if you’ve just cleaned and disinfected your tank, this might not be the most sanitary method.

Wet vac method

A wet vacuum is the easiest method to use. Just remove the filter first, and be sure not to overflow your wet vac! Discard the salt water down a drain.

Lift & dump method

If there isn’t much water in your brine tank and you’re strong, you might be able to manage lifting your brine tank and dumping the water down a drain. But water is very heavy, as is wet salt. If you plan to do this, chances are you’ll use the bucket and scoop or wet vac method first.

If you’re going to lift and dump your brine tank, you’ll first need to remove any removeable parts that could fall out. These include the safety float, the overflow elbow (if your water softener has one), the brine well (the cylinder or tube that contains the safety float inside), and the fill tube.

Once you’ve emptied your tank, you can go about cleaning and/or troubleshooting any clogged lines or valves you might have.

How to clean your water softener’s brine tank, step by step

There are two types of brine tanks. The first is a wet or post-fill brine tank where the water level is replenished after each regeneration cycle so there is water in it all the time. The second is a dry or pre-fill brine tank where it contains little to no water most of the time but fills with water a couple of hours before the next regeneration cycle.

While both types of brine tanks require an annual cleaning, parts of this process will only apply to the wet or post-fill tank type.

Step 1

Put your water softener in bypass mode so that water can bypass your water softener and still provide water to the house during the cleaning.

Step 2

Disconnect any lines between the resin tank and the brine tank.

Step 3

Empty your brine tank. This can be done with a scoop and a bucket, a wet vacuum, or pick it up and dump the water (you’ll need to disconnect everything first and remove the brine well and safety float). More on this below though before you decide which method to use.

Step 4

Remove and discard any leftover or encrusted salt. Some sources say that you should discard any salt below the screen or plate at the bottom (called a brine grid or grid plate) but that you can reuse any salt that’s above it. We recommend not reusing salt for sanitation purposes. Why put something dirty back into something clean?

Step 5

Remove the screen at the bottom of the tank if there is one – the brine grid or grid plate – and clean it with soapy water, along with any other pieces you’ve removed.

Step 6

Clean out the tank with soap water (dish soap will do the trick), scrubbing the insides of the tank. Dump the soapy water and rinse with clean water.

Step 7

This is also a good time to check that your safety float switch isn’t encrusted with salt and moves freely. You can soak it in hot water to help remove salt. A stuck float can allow excess water into the brine tank and cause an overflow!

Step 8

Next, disinfect the brine tank from any mold or mildew, diluting a quarter cup of bleach into 2-3 gallons of water in the tank and letting it sit for 15 minutes. Any pieces that you took out to clean earlier should also be disinfected, such as the safety float, overflow elbow, brine well, fill tube, and grid plate. You can soak these in your brine tank with the bleach solution. Then scrub, drain and rinse.

Step 9

Check your lines and valves for clogging with salt debris. If there are any clogs, clear them out and clean them with soapy water and then bleach solution before rinsing and reconnecting them.

Step 10

Reassemble everything, reconnect the brine tank and take it off bypass mode.

Step 11

Add 3-5 gallons of clean water to your tank and add enough salt so that the brine tank is at least half full of salt and up to two-thirds to reduce the risk of a salt bridge forming. This should be at least one bag of salt if not two or three. Don’t worry too much about the specific amount of water. Just remember that the salt level should be a few inches higher than the water level. Your water softening system will self-adjust with time.

Step 12

After cleaning the brine tank, wait at least 2 hours to do a regeneration cycle (or set it for that night after you go to bed), as the salt needs some time to dissolve to a sufficient concentration to clean the resin adequately.

Cleaning your resin bed

While you have your brine tank empty, you may as well clean your softening tank too. It’s recommended to clean your resin bed every 3 to 12 months for sanitation purposes, to maintain adequate water pressure and to maintain your system’s softening capacity. This can often be done with a resin cleaner that helps clean fouled resin beads.

Resin can become fouled with the presence of sulfur, iron, manganese or other contaminants in the water supply. In fact, if you have iron in your water, be sure to get a resin cleaner with iron remover specifically for water high in iron.

However, your resin beads occasionally need to also be disinfected with a mild bleach solution to kill any bacteria, mold, mildew or other microbes that might be lurking in your water supply or pipes.

A mild bleach solution is safe to use on your resin beads. You can actually add bleach (about a quarter cup per cubic foot of resin) to the brine solution just before the backwash cycle. Then let that bleach brine solution sit in the resin tank for one hour. Be sure to rinse the resin bed well afterward. This might require a few regeneration cycles to do effectively.

Fouled resin is more of an issue with well water than with city chlorine water. However, chlorine will degrade your resin over time, so it’s a good idea to check the condition of your resin from time to time, even if you don’t clean it as often.

Wrapping it up

The actual “how” of draining your water softener brine tank is simple – just choose your method (manual regeneration or wet vac are the easiest). It’s the “why” and “when” that can be tricky to diagnose. When in doubt, always check your manual or call in an expert. But many water softener issues can be solved DIY with a bit of patience and perseverance.

FAQs

Q: What’s the easiest way to drain the brine tank on my water softener?

A: The easiest methods are to do a manual regeneration or to use a wet/dry vacuum.

Q: How do I know if I have a clogged water softener line or valve?

A: You’ll notice the telltale signs of hard water (taste, rust, soap residue, water spots) or you’ll have too much or too little water in your brine tank. Or you might even have an overflow!

Q: My water is high in iron – how can I minimize my maintenance issues?

A: Be sure you’re using the right water softener salt, resin, and resin cleaner that are made specifically for water that’s high in iron.

Q: What’s the best salt to reduce salt bridging, salt mushing and maintenance issues?

A: Evaporated salt pellets are best. They are highly pure and contain a small amount of additives to help keep your water softener system running in peak condition.

Q: How often should my brine tank be cleaned?

A: Annually is the best general recommendation, although it may need cleaning more often or less often depending on your water quality. Be sure to check your water softener manual.