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.


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.


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.


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:




What is an Err3. Is this an easy fix

Error Code 3

Err3 means motor inoperative, or wiring harness defective, or switch defective, or switch position wrong, or Valve stuck and causing high torque.

The motor is the small electric thing on top of the valve. See if the harness or wiring is disconnected. You should be able to see the Valve position under the right edge of the motor housing. Should show a S which stands for Service or soft water to the house.

Check your owner's manual.

Kenmore UltraSoft 275 Water Softner Problem

My water softner stopped working several weeks ago. I have conducted the diagnostics in the manual and it appears that the softner does not draw brine. The brine level is at max float level and does not go down. I have cleaned the venturi, taken apart the brine valve and cleaned all screens, taken apart the rotary valve it looks good (no scratches on the rotor and all seals look good)the motor rotates and the display indicates that all modes are activated. The only thing I found was a broken up o ring in the top distributor from the resin tank tube. I also verifed that the drain is not blocked. Any suggestions?

Kenmore Water Softner

How did you verify that the drain is not blocked? If you found a broken up O ring, the pieces will clog the system and no flow will occur. There are three small rubber restrictors #57 #78 #84 that have to be unobstructed and right side up. The brine level should be 10 inches on the float (about where the 1 is on the salt level). Look in the brine well and see if there is salt crusted on the float. Remove the tube and float( it just lifts out) Pour water into the brine well and then vacuum it out with a wet/dry shop vac. If you used vasoline, clean that all out and use silicon grease only. Parts from

Ed: I was able to recover

Ed: I was able to recover all pieces of the broken up O ring from the top distributor basket. I cleaned the flow restrictor plugs with a toothpick and also cleaned out the cone screen. I will disassemble the float assembly and check it again today. The brine level is currently at 3 on the salt level scale. I have not used vasoline on any of the parts only food grade silicone grease. BTW the drain is working during backwash (as water gushes out) and is connected to my home drain (with washer and sink). I connected a garden hose to the drain and no problem. Thanks for your help, will keep you posted.

Tank still flooding after replacing parts and cleaning float

I replaced my venturi gasket (70 duro gasket) since it was imprinted with the nozzle disk. I also cleaned and verified that the float is working. I replaced the o-rings and seals in the valve. When I regened the salt tank still flooded. I removed the valve assembly and found that an o-ring (North star 7, Sears 23)that was on on the distributor tube popped off and was pushed into the valve. When I installed it I first put the top distibutor basket over the distibutor tube then placed the o-ring over the tube and then installed the valve assembly. It this correct?

Model 420 will not stop recharging

Our Kenmore Elite 420 will not move out of the regeneration cycle. After going through a few different modes, I came up with an error code #3.
I'm fairly handy with all the tools and would like to try and fix it myself, but cannot find a parts manual.
Any suggestions would be appreciated.

See post above: "Err3 means

See post above: "Err3 means motor inoperative, or wiring harness defective, or switch defective, or switch position wrong, or Valve stuck and causing high torque.

The motor is the small electric thing on top of the valve. See if the harness or wiring is disconnected. You should be able to see the Valve position under the right edge of the motor housing. Should show a S which stands for Service or soft water to the house."

I had the same problem on

I had the same problem on mine and fixed it with a new micro switch. (position switch)
Very easy to change.