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:

Contents: 

Comments

This happened to my softener

This happened to my softener several months ago and I'm finally trying to figure out what's going on. The website http://www.kenmorewater.com/ troubleshooting section says to put two gallons of water in the brine well (not the tank) and run a recharge. After doing this a few times supposedly the "salt rock" will be dissolved or something. But this didn't work for me, at least not yet, as the water level in the brine well failed to go down after the recharge. I appear to have low suction at the venturi nozzle but I'm not sure why. I replaced a gasket in the venturi and cleaned everything but still getting low suction and inability to get water level down. I'm stuck.

This happened to my softener: part II

A repairman/plumber friend of mine came over and he determined that the mechanics and electronics of my 6 year-old unit appear to be working fine. Apparently what has happened however (in his opinion) is that iron has built up in the resin tank and has kept the softener from working properly - so hence my salt has just been sitting in there over time not being used and just formed into a solid mass. He says that for Sears to come and clean the resin tank is going to run probably $400, so at this point I'd be better off getting a whole new unit and use the salt that is formulated for iron-rich water.

thats bs!! run ironout

thats bs!! run ironout through it its as clean as its going to get

solid mass of salt in bottom

solid mass of salt in bottom wont hurt anything, it is normal. salt bridge would be better called salt cave. if solid salt above allows a cave below with no salt nothing will soften if you see water you have no bridge

Salt Brick -- not Bridge

As anyone here who has been dealing with solid salt/calcium/iron buildup at the bottom of their water softener can tell you, it is nigh impossible to break it up all in one try. There are no shortcuts nor is there any easy solution except to 1) Keep pouring warm water into the tank to help dissolve the build-up. 2) Keep a wet/dry vacuum to pull up the excess water and the smaller, broken up pellets. It will take you several times doing this before you reach the bottom of the tank.

It is absolutely imperative to get it ALL up, otherwise you have defeated the purpose of your water softener. Leaving any mass at the bottom will interfere with the efficiency of your softener. If I had it to do again I might buy a better, more expensive, softener. But it is what it is.

for low brine draw. make sure

for low brine draw. make sure all parts inside the venturi are clean if the flat gasket little bigger than a Quarter isn't black (Ie. red or red and green) replace it. check for good flow out the drain. if they are ok probably needs a new Disk and disk seal

Cleaning out hardened salt from brine tank

First of all, the reason you have this mess is because you no doubt are using pellet salt....NEVER use pellet salt. I know it is recommended by the manufacturer, but what do they know? Seriously, never use pellet salt, use SOLAR SALT only....that is the natural salt crystals. Pellet salt melts in the brine water and creates a slurry, sludge like salt soup that hardens into the mess you now have. It it very difficult to remove, but it can be done with warm water, a putty knife, a wet/dry shop vac, and a lot of elbow grease and patience. Add the warm water, scrape the surface of the salt with the putty knife until it loosens, then suck it up with the shop vac. Repeat process until you get it all out. I hope this helps....sorry there are no easy fixes for this kind of problem. I am a water service tech, and I've had to clean a few of these messes up. Eventually, because it was so labor intensive, we began telling customer's we would no longer do this type of clean up...instead we instructed the customer how to do it. After all, they created the problem...let them take care of it.

water softener

Jeff, you were so right regarding the clean out of the Sears water softener. It took me the better part of the morning to vac out all the salt then break up all the hardened salt on the bottom. I used plenty of warm/hot water to break it all up. It cleaned up really good. I then did a new start up by adding about 3 gallons of water and three bags of pellet salt. I didn't read your post until a day after I put in pellet salt rather than solar salt. Anyhow, I did a regen and then noticed a puddle of water coming from the bottom of the salt tank. My in and out connection on top are fine and dry--no leaks so I'm thinking I may have poked a hole in the bottom while breaking up the hardened salt or from using very hot water versus warm water. Is it worth a service call or should I bite the bullet, pull it out and purchace a new one? If the latter, since this one lasted more than ten years would I be safe in purchasing the Sears current replacement of what I have. Thanks in advance for your help. Mike in Boise

Kenmore Genius - please help

Hi there,

I've replaced all the parts of my Kenmore Genius II but there is still a slow leak under the cam and gear. Actually, the cam and gear is the only part I haven't replace but its metal and so I don't think it suffers from wear. I replaced the rotor and all the washers. I'm sure there is a simple solution that I'm just not seeing. Please help!!

Pages