Fixing a Sears Kenmore Water Softener

I have been struggling with the Water Softener for a few months now. I got it fixed by Sears for about 165$Cdn two years or so ago. A few months ago, it started having problems again. So I decided to try and fix it myself.

What is a water softener?

First a little background.

In North America city water is locally produced from underground water, not from a river like in Egypt. Deep under the ground there are aquifers, and the city taps into it, treats it and make it available to the inhabitants. If the bedrock has a lot of calcium, .e.g limestone, in it, then the water is often said to be "hard water".

Hard water causes a lot of problems: dishes would look cloudy, the tea kettle will have white residue in it, soap will not rinse from your hand (no squeaky clean feeling), your hair will clump if you use soap in the shower instead of shampoo, and the water heater efficiency will decrease as the calcium from the hot water precipitates on its walls. Soap and detergent use is also increased.

How does a water softener work?

So, there is a market for water softeners in places that have hard water.

A water softener works by having a tank that is filled with salt, and a tanks full of a special resin. The resin can remove the hardness from the water, but requires that it be regenerated by washing it with salt brine during regeneration. Water softener are either demand based (after a certain number of gallons have been processed), or time based (e.g. twice week). Regeneration happens in the early hours of the morning, depending on how you set it. It goes through several cycles, which are basically:

  • Fill: Water is passed to the salt tank
  • Brining: Water is left in the tank to form brine
  • Rinse: The brine is used to rinse the resin, remove the calcium that it has removed in the past, and make it able to remove calcium again
  • Back Wash: The resin tank is flushed for residues and iron deposit
  • Fast Rinse: The resin is rinsed from all the above
  • Service: This means that the water softener is serving soft water for the house

There are many brands of water softeners out there in the market. Many are rebranded. For example, Sears Kenmore, Ecoline and General Electric (GE) are the same. Culligan is also similar.

About my handyman's skills

Before I start, I should say that I am not at all handy with maintaining a house. Part of it is due to the fact that in Egypt most people live in concrete apartments, and not woodframe and drywall houses with lawns. Part of it is that I never got the hang of being mechanically adept, whether it is plumbing, carpentry, car maintenance, and such. So, fixing a water softener, which involves mechanical, electrical and plumbing aspects is quite a challenge.

Symptoms

Many things can go wrong with a water softener. The basic complaint is that "there is no soft water". Another is high water level in the salt tank. Yet another is salt level that does not go down as the weeks pass.

Solutions

The manual for a water softener often has some comprehensive diagnostics that can be done to see

Start with cleaning the nozzle and Venturi. This should not require any tools, and can be disassembled and assembled by hand. Take note on how things fit before you remove them. Wash the components in water. Use some vinegar. Make sure there is no deposits, salt, rust, calcium or debris.

Then check the float in the salt well in the tank. The float should be able to move up and down, and the hose should be able to inject water in the tank and suck it again.

Then shut the water supply, drain the house (open the lowest lying faucet in the house), then disassemble the cam gear and rotor from the valve head. Check all the seals and gaskets and that there is no wear on the smooth side of the rotor.

Run the diagnostics as per the manual, and make sure that the cam gear moves well. If the motor is skipping and making a clicking sound and failing to move the cam gear, then replace it.

Replacing all the gaskets, the rotor, the cam gear and the motor should solve most problems, and only cost me 74$ Cdn. That is provided that the nozzle/venturi are clean, and that there is no obstruction to the float assembly.

Check for the formation of a salt bridge, specially in humid environment. Tap the side of the tank and see if there is a hollow sound at some spot under a solid sound. Use a broom stick to break it.

Once every six months, get a water softener cleaner (basically a sulphite powder that removes iron deposit. You can buy it at Canadian Tire or other hardware stores. It is more expensive at Sears, so avoid buying it there.

Every year or 18 months, try to remove all the salt from the tank and wash it. You can use warm water, and a wet/dry vacuum to remove it.

Conclusion

Fixing a water softener is easier than you think. Save your money and do it yourself. Get the manuals online, go buy the parts, and do it.

The morale of the story is: If I could do it, anyone can do it.

Resources and Links

Here are some useful links with more information:

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Comments

I have the same problem and

I have the same problem and it occurs where there is any kind of factory produced indentation. Rather than buying a new tank for $100+ I epoxied mine and set it into a plastic
storage container in case the repair did not work. A year later it still does not leak, the only problem I have now is no soft water and, yes, I have run all the diagnostic tests with no improvement.

water leak

Did you ever get a reply on the leaking . I have the same problem. would like to know if the tank can be repaired or how to stop the leak? Thank you.

simple things first

put food coloring in brine tank to see if its cracked,etc.then go from there,cloged drain tube,etc.etc.good luck,have to go back to try to figure out mine.george

Water Softener Minor Tank Leak Repair

Push by-pass valve to "bypass" on softener water inlet pipe. This will allow untreated water to to serve the house during repair interval. Empty as much salt as possible from the water softener. Remove top mounted hardware and electrical timer. The assembly will lift off when depressing horizontal locking tabs. Disconnect the water softener from the house plumbing by removing locking tabs at the softener by-pass assembly inlet. Lift brine tank out of water softener case. (The brine cylinder is quiet heavy). Get assistance or lay the softener tank assembly including cylinder down on the floor. Remove brine cylinder and hose clean.

Wash the softener tank out side and in. Clean all salt and dirt particles with a hose nozzle for clear water rinse. Dry the tank with bath towel, inside and out.
Have a second person hold a bright light outside on the bottom of the tank while another person looks for small holes or cracks looking from the inside. Apply light pressure, flex the bottom slightly and on the lower sides of the tank to open any very small cracks or holes to the bright light bulb.
When defect is located, mark it with small piece of plainly visible tape to be removed just prior to repair.
The repair process requires a small piece of similar type, thickness etc. plastic as the tank material. Cut a small piece of same type plastic to cover the hole or crack to act as bonding member and stiffener. Obtain a "flexible when dry" "Epoxy" (get advice from knowledgeable source which type EPOXY to use, usually a (resin and hardener) (two component type). Make repair on the INSIDE OF TANK. Apply liberal amount of EPOXY over under and engulf the crack/hole and plastic stiffener and let cure or dry as recommended.
Set tank on flat surface. DO NOT let repair area be stressed by uneven surfaces or objects. Fill tank "half full" of water and verify that patch has completely sealed the former leak. Inspect the inside
Reassemble unit in reverse order of disassemble being careful to protect new repair.
Perform new Softener unit start-up procedure.

Same problem here

What I have found is that the leak is coming from the main valve assembly, where the bypass valve connects via the O-ring seals and plastic clips. I have replaced the o-rings and the leak remains. I ordered the rings from Sears, and inspected the valve off of the unit, I did not see any cracks or evidence of anything that would prevent proper sealing. The only thing I can come up with is that with age the plastic has shrunk and the tolerance for the O-ring seal has changed and will no longer seal. I am thinking the next step will be to replace the main valve body, and the bypass valve to ensure new fit. Total cost about $100 for parts from sears

we had a similar situation,

we had a similar situation, thinking there may even be a hole in the bottom of the tank, found out an o-ring was leaking where the water tubes plugged into the valve, and dripped on the edge of the tank, and instead of going back into the tank, it could go down the outside. Pull out the tubes, replace o-rings, to be safe in the future, I made a dam/funnel out of some flashing and sli it under the valve to make the leak go back into the tank, in case it leaks again

Fixing a Kenmore water softener

When using a broomstick to break a salt bridge, I recommend not using a wooden one. When I did this, little wood splinters plugged the venturi in the days afterward.

if you place about a 3 - 4

if you place about a 3 - 4 ft length of 1 inch pvc pipe diagonally in the brine tank, it can help reduce that salt bridging. make sure the bottom of the pipe is not sharp(sand it a little to make sure)...that could damage the bottom of the brine tank.

recommend not breaking up

recommend not breaking up salt with anything but water. use a garden hose to add water above salt it will melt salt insead of breaking something that is plastic in the salt tank

Solid packed salt-not just a bridge-can't break up-please help

We tried to break up salt with broom handle and hitting side of tank with a rubber mallet but we don't just have a salt bridge-we have a solid, hard mass of salt in our water softner. Can you please let us know the steps we would use with your solution of using a garden hose to add water to the salt to melt it-do we need to disconnect everything and take out of the garage? how do we get the water out of it once the salt dissolves? do we have to dump the entire contents-salt and water, or what-please tell us what and how to do it and any warnings we need to not damage or ruin the machine-thanks a million-we can't afford a repair man right now-Also-how do we keep this from happening again-I know we haven't been paying enough attention to the machine like we should have

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