How Much Water Should Your Water Softener Brine Tank Have?

Your water softener works around the clock to produce “soft” water for your home. Tucked away in your basement or garage, it removes minerals that could damage your pipes, fixtures, appliances, skin, and hair. But if your softening device hasn’t been performing up to scratch lately, the brine tank likely doesn’t have enough water.

Just like a car needs fuel or electricity to run, your salt-based softener requires a mixture of water and salt to work its magic. Perhaps you already know the best type of salt to use in your water softener but aren’t sure exactly how much water should be in its brine tank.

This article explains how to determine the ideal water level and why having enough water matters. But first, let’s try to understand what the water in the tank does.

Why is Water Needed in Your Water Softener Brine Tank?

Most traditional water softeners have two tanks: a resin tank and a brine tank. As the water gradually flows into the brine tank, it mixes with salt to create a concentrated solution known as brine. This brine solution is crucial in the ion exchange process that turns hard water into soft water.

Here’s a closer look at how the process works:

  • The softener’s resin tank is where the ion exchange process occurs. This tank contains tiny beads that are covered in sodium ions. When hard water flows through the resin tank, the beads attract calcium and magnesium ions that make water “hard.” The calcium and magnesium ions are positively charged, so they are attracted to the negatively charged sodium ions on the resin beads and trade places with them.
  • The water from the resin tank is now “softened” because it contains a higher concentration of sodium ions and lower levels of calcium and magnesium ions. However, the resin beads become saturated with calcium and magnesium ions over time. A regeneration cycle must flush them out to become negatively charged again and continue softening efficiently. This is where the brine tank comes in.
  • The brine tank contains a concentrated salt (sodium chloride) solution that has two duties: to clean the resin of trapped minerals and to recharge it since sodium naturally has a negative charge. During the regeneration cycle, the softener draws the salty water from the brine tank and flushes it through the resin tank. The high concentration of sodium ions in the brine displaces the captured calcium and magnesium ions on the resin beads.
  • After the regeneration process, the excess brine solution and the displaced calcium and magnesium ions are flushed out of the system, leaving the resin beads recharged with sodium ions and ready to continue softening water.

So, without water to help create this salty brine solution, your softening system can’t reactivate the beads. And without adequately softened water, scale gradually builds up in your pipes and appliances, clogging and potentially damaging them. Plus, you’ll miss out on the incredible benefits of soft water for your skin and hair.

Learn more: How Hard Water Damages Your Plumbing and Appliances | Hard Water: The Sneaky Culprit Behind Your Crunchy Hair and Dry Skin?

Wet vs. Dry Brine Tank: How Does the Type of Brine Tank Affect How Much Water Is Needed?

If you have a salt-using water softener, the brine tank will need a certain amount of water to help create the brine solution. Whether or not you add the water yourself and the amount of water you should add depends on the type of tank you have—a wet brine tank or a dry brine tank.

A Wet Brine Tank

Old-school softeners, like many of those manufactured before 2015, usually come with a wet brine tank. These softeners don’t use automated brine-making technology, so you might need to add water between regeneration cycles to dissolve the salt and have enough brine to go again. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the right amount of water to add and when to add it.

A Dry Brine Tank

Most newer water softeners have a dry brine tank and built-in computers that measure how much brine is needed to clean the system and recharge the resin. These tanks don’t need water constantly, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be completely dry. When the regeneration cycle begins, the softener will automatically fill the tank with just enough water to prepare a brine solution, saving you from adding it yourself.

How Much Water Should Be in My Brine Tank After the System Regenerates?

After regeneration, the ideal amount of water in your brine tank only applies to wet brine tanks. Depending on your manufacturer’s instructions, you’ll want to keep 3-6 gallons or 6-10 inches of water in the tank. This ensures enough water is available to create the brine solution needed for the next regeneration cycle.

The rules are different for dry brine tanks. As established earlier, newer water softener models with dry brine tanks have a computerized process determining the amount of water the system should add to produce the brine solution. With this softening device, your tank shouldn’t have water for an hour or two before the system regenerates. Apart from that, no water should be inside the brine tank, neither between nor after the regeneration cycles.

What If Your Brine Tank Contains Standing Water?

Finding a pool of water inside the brine tank can set off alarm bells, but sometimes, a bit of standing water is perfectly normal, depending on where your softener is in its cycle.

The extra water could be part of the regeneration or brine production process. But if you know your softener isn’t working correctly, and that water is just sitting there randomly, a few issues may be at play:

  • Clogged brine lines. To flush the brine line, disconnect it from the softener and use water pressure or a plumbing snake to clear out any debris or buildup. Reconnect once fully cleared.
  • Salt buildup in the tank. Clean out the salt tank by scooping out any remaining salt/residue. Use water and a scrub brush to remove mineral deposits or grime, then rinse thoroughly.
  • A malfunctioning drain line. Check the drain line visually for any kinks or crimps blocking the flow. Also, inspect for foreign material like dirt or salt buildup. Remove any obstructions.
  • A faulty safety float valve. If the safety float is malfunctioning or letting in too much water, replace it with a new float valve matched to your model.
  • An injector blockage. Remove the injector assembly and soak/flush it to clear salt or mineral deposits. Check any gaskets or O-rings while removed. Reinstall after cleaning.

Usually, your brine tank will be about half full of water. However, if your water is still very hard or tastes salty even after being softened, this could mean there’s too much standing water in the brine tank. You’ll need to diagnose and fix this issue ASAP, as brine tank issues can impact the system’s softening performance and prevent premature damage.

Before calling in the pros, use the manual to troubleshoot a few of the issues above. Otherwise, reach out to the manufacturer for assistance. They may help you identify the cause and resolve the issue.

Checking and Adjusting the Water Level in Your Water Softener Brine Tank

Keeping your brine tank filled to that “sweet spot” level is crucial for regenerating your water softener. Inspecting and monitoring levels now and then can help prevent issues from having too much or too little water in the tank.

So, peek into your brine tank. Can you see the water level? Visually checking it and measuring it with a dipstick will let you know if you need to add or remove any liquid, particularly if you have a wet brine tank.

If the water level is too low, top it up carefully. If there’s too much water inside, use a siphon pump or turkey baster to draw out the excess. Also, salt crystals and saturated brine can be corrosive, so wear gloves and proper eye protection when handling the tank water. Avoid splashes while filling, sampling, or pouring.

How to Ensure the Best Water Quality for Your Water Softener Brine Tank

The quality of the water entering your brine tank also matters as it can influence the system’s softening performance and the tank’s lifespan. The water should have a balanced mineral content, neutral pH, and little to no contaminants. Why? Because:

  1. Very hard water makes it difficult for salt to dissolve fully and reduces hardness in your water supply. And if the water is too soft, it may be corrosive to metal tanks and other components. So, test your water and measure its hardness level. A hardness level between 3 and 8 grains per gallon (gpg) should be okay.
  2. Acidic water (with a pH of less than 7) can also corrode the brine tank. On the other hand, alkaline water (water with a pH of more than 7) can reduce the effectiveness of salt, potentially hindering the softening process. If you notice signs your water is acidic or you suspect it’s alkaline, use a water test kit to check your water’s pH and treat it with chemicals or a calcite pH neutralizer if needed.
  3. Sediment, heavy metals, bacteria, and other contaminants from the raw water can get concentrated in the brine solution. So, pre-filter water with a sediment filter, activated carbon filter, or other system to remove impurities before they reach the brine tank.

Learn more: How to Treat Low pH Acidic Water Using a Calcite pH Neutralizer System | Activated Carbon Filters: What Do They Remove from Water?

Final Thoughts

Getting the most out of your water softener isn’t just about filling it up with bags of salt. Depending on the type of softener, you might also need to ensure enough water in the brine tank. A good balance of water and salt helps create the brine solution that cleans and recharges the resin—which is crucial to the softening process. You also need to monitor the quality of the water entering the brine tank, as issues like excess hardness or softness, acidity, alkalinity, and contaminants can hinder the system’s softening capacity and performance and cause the brine tank to corrode prematurely.

By paying attention to and preventing these issues, your softener can continue producing good-quality soft water for years, protecting your home’s plumbing, fixtures, and appliances while keeping your skin and hair healthy.