How Long Do Water Softeners Last?

Today we’re going to discuss one of the more oft-asked questions we get: How long do water softeners last?

We’ll tell you how how long your water softener is likely to last, based on a few factors. It depends on, for example, your household’s water usage and how severe your water hardness problem is.

Apart from those key aspects, there’s another crucial one, and that’s how well you’ve maintained and cared for it over the years.

Let’s get right to it!

How Long Do Water Softeners Last

Introducing How Long Do Water Softeners Last?

A quality water softener may last for 10-15 years. But without adequate care and maintenance, it will not last as long as that.

Taking good care of your water softener can extend its lifespan to its maximum capacity.

If you really push us for an estimate we’ll saying the following:

CircumstancesLifespan Estimate
Very hard water, very high water usage (eg. 6-8 person household), average maintenanceApprox. 7-9 years
Quite hard water, moderate to high water usage, good maintenanceApprox. 10-12 years
Slightly hard water, low to moderate water usage, excellent maintenance13-16 years

Of course there are many sub-variables apart from these main considerations, but the above table can be used as a very rough guide.

No idea how much water you use? Here’s a quick guide to water usage.

What affects a water softener’s lifespan?

Water softeners are built for frequent, everyday use. But here are the factors that affect how long your softener will last:

1) Hardness of the water being treated

The higher the levels of magnesium and calcium in the water, the harder your water softener has to work to remove it.

The mineral deposits being higher puts your water softener through more extensive, rigorous processing every time its used.

So, other factors being equal, a water softener in a house with slightly hard water will last longer than one in a house with very hard water.

2) Amount of water being treated

As with every physical item in existence, the more it’s used, the more wear and tear it experiences. The more people in a household, the higher the water usage is likely to be. In the vast majority of cases, a family of 5 will use more water than a household of 2 or 3 people.

As we said, water softeners are built for highly regular usage. But the higher the volume of water usage by the household, the more frequently the water softening process will need to be run. And over time, components and materials in the unit will degrade. Therefore, the harder your water softener has to work each day, the shorter its lifespan will be.

3) Maintenance

Taking good care of your water softener will make it last longer. Poor maintenance will shorten its service life.

Water softeners are far from difficult or time-consuming to maintain. Just the occasional checks and actions like the following are all that is needed, and they can lengthen the lifespan of your water softener.

Some tips for maintenance:

  • Make sure to replace the salt when needed. Why is salt needed? Well, check out how water softeners work.
  • Clean the brine tank when necessary, once per year is normally enough.
  • Check the water softener casing, valves, wires on occasion, keep them clean and in good working order.

When should I replace my water softener?

There’s no need to consider replacing it after any particular amount of time.

Because each water softener is different, and has a different lifespan, depending on the quality of the softener you have, the hardness of your water supply, your volume of water usage, and of course, just plain luck!

So you should look at replacing your water softener when it looks like it’s failing. In other words, then it’s showing signs of weakening effectiveness.

If you’re considering a replacement, we’ve reviewed and listed the UK’s top water softeners.

How to tell if my water softener is failing?

Of course, sometimes it may simply completely stop working, and it’s plain and obvious to see when you check the unit itself.

More commonly, there will be some subtler events that suggests its starting to fail.

Here are some of the signs of potential failure:

1) Your salt needs to be replaced more often

2) Your water seems to be less soft than before

How can you notice this?

a) You can taste the difference in your drinking water

Hard water has a clearly different taste than soft water.

If your drinking water has been softened for some time, then you’ll notice the difference if it’s becoming hard water again.

Soft water has been described as smooth, silky, and even slimy. Hard water can be a fuller taste -which is due to the relatively high amounts of minerals like Calcium carbonate (chalk) dissolved in the water.

If the taste of your water changes in a noticeable way, it may well be that your water softener is showing is starting to fail.

Should you even drink it? That’s what we discussed in: Is it safe to drink from a water softener?

b) Your laundry is becoming duller than before

Hard water is not your laundry’s friend. It can leave your clothes duller looking, less brightly coloured and less soft to the touch.

If you notice this difference in your washing, it may be that your water softener is failing and so your water has returned to the hardness it had before.

Of course, you’d only notice this change if you’ve set up your water supply / filtration system so that your tap water (which you drink from) has been softened. Some people prefer to leave the tap they drink from as hard water.

c) Your soaps lather poorly

Hard water is notorious for needing lots of soap to get the lather you need to wash properly.

So if this change happens, it’s likely that your water softener is no longer successfully making your water as soft as it should be.

d) Duller, less shiny hair, irritable skin

If you notice your skin is not as healthy and is perhaps irritable or itchy, it may be your water. Likewise, if your hair seems duller and more lifeless.

These results may well indicate that your water softener is acting up.

e) Limescale on taps, sinks, kettles, dishes, glasses etc.

If scale develops on bathroom and kitchen items, then it’s a clear sign that there is too high an amount of minerals in your water. If you see a buildup of scum on these items, your water has probably become hard. And so you can identify that your water softener is having problems.

If you notice some of these things, then they’re likely to gradually worsen over time. It’s up to you to decide whether to take proactive action to fix or replace your water softener (more on that below) or whether it’s not causing too much hassle or inconvenience and you reckon you can wait a little longer.

What are some signs that your water softener needs replacing or servicing?

  • sand or dirt particles in your water. This indicates the softener has stopped working as it should be
  • the softener is no longer regenerating correctly – that means its no longer cleaning itself as its supposed to
  • the softener is constantly regenerating – this is a clear sign that the softener is no longer able to clean and remove the unwanted minerals as it should be.
  • changes in water pressure- higher or lower pressure than normal is a hint that your water softener is no longer working efficiently
  • The water softener unit is running constantly – this is evidence that your softener has a severe issue with its ability to deliver softened water. You must have this examined by an expert, or if its out of warranty or quite old, then it will need to be replaced.

How do I know if my water softener needs to be replaced or if it simply needs maintenance?

If you’re having issues like the ones mentioned above, then it’s likely that your water softener needs to be a) serviced or b) replaced.

But which one?

Well, the problems mentioned above are the same symptoms that will appear when you need to simply replace the salt.

If it’s been a while since you replaced the salt, it may well be that replacing the salt will fix these issues.

It’s a good idea to replace the salt at regular intervals, when necessary, to keep your water softener in good working order.

If these symptoms occur even after you’ve replaced the salt, then it’s possible that your water softener needs maintenance (if it’s not too old), or needs replaced (if you’ve already had it for 10 years or more).

Some maintenance tips:

  • Check that the brine tank is not too dirty; cleaning it will keep your water softener working efficiently
  • Check for salt bridges in your salt

What action should I take if my water softener has problems?

  1. Check the water softener unit itself and make sure it is looking and performing as normal.
  2. Make sure you’re using the right type of salt.
  3. Check the hardness setting – make sure the hardness is at the right level for you. It may be that you need to alter this to make the water soft enough for your needs and for your level of water hardness.
  4. Make sure your brine tank is nice and clean.

If I’ve performed the above checks, what further action should I take?

It depends.

If your water softener is just a few years old, and is still covered by warranty then you can contact the manufacturer for further advice.

Or you can contact a plumber (who has experience with water softeners) or another expert. They may be able to identify and fix issues like a valve that has become jammed, or perform a more industrial standard of cleaning that can resolve the issue.

If it’s 10 or more years old, then it may be that general wear and tear have taken it to the point where it’s useful serviceable life is over, and you’ll need to replace it with a new water softener (check out why the BWT water softener is the best on the market).

If so, prices for a quality water softener, while still not cheap, have fallen considerably compared to a few years ago, due to increased competition.

We’ve prepared an in-depth analysis of whether a water softener is worth the money.

Are there any other reasons to replace my water softener?

If you have not suffered any of the negative symptoms mentioned in this article (indicating your unit is still working well), is there any reason to replace your water softener?

Capacity & Efficiency Concerns

If you have a growing family (in size, or even in numbers!), you may consider taking pro-active action by getting a new water softener with higher capacity.

If it’s still working well, but is 10 years old or more, it’s possible that the unit is not working very efficiently any more.

Environmental Concerns

Even if it still provides softened water, it may be that it produces an excessive amount of waste water.

Many people are now becoming highly conscious of water wastage, particularly anyone that lives in areas that frequently have water shortages and bans.

Recent development in technology have ensured significantly less water is wasted than ever before, and work with greater efficiency in terms of energy usage. And all components and materials will be state-of-the-art. Improvements in environmental impact are now crucial in almost every industry in the world, and the market for water softeners is no different.

Taking Proactive Action Before It Fails

When it gets to 10-15 years old, it becomes a case of when, rather than if, something will start to work less effectively. Components may break, electrical issues can arise, and the softener may stop working entirely. Taking pro-active action to replace the water softener before this happens (ie. before symptoms like limescale on appliances, skin irritation, and duller laundry start to occur) may be a good idea.

The higher your household’s water usage and the higher the hardness of your water, the more stress the water softener will have been put through over time. So it may be that problems start to occur closer to 10 years than to 15 years.

What if the only symptom I have is a change in the taste of the water?

If your laundry is still bright, your hair and skin are as healthy as ever and there appears to be no limescale or increased difficulty with cleaning appliances, taps and sinks, but your water taste has changed, then it may be that your water softener is still working efficiently.

Water softeners are not a one-size-fits-all solution to all kinds of water issues. Rather, their sole job is to cure water hardness, by removing excess unwanted minerals, like calcium and magnesium, from your water.

If water has increased acidity, too much iron, hormones (they’re the best system to remove hormones), viruses/bacteria, nitrates or other contaminants, it may be that you need other types of filtration to ensure the health and safety of your water.

A reverse osmosis system is the best type of filer in the world for removing harmful contaminants like those mentioned above. A semi-permeable membrane and several stages of filtration results in almost all possible contaminants being removed. They’re the best filter system for removing hormones, for just one example.

The best filters of this kind (here are the UK’s best reverse osmosis filter systems) also have a filter that adds back some essential minerals, like magnesium and calcium, but to the most beneficial, safe quantities. Leaving you with better tasting, healthier water.

Summing Up How Long Do Water Softeners Last

Now you should have a better of idea about how long water softeners last.

For most people, it will be between 10 to 15 years.

If you’re in an area with particularly hard water, your household has high water usage, and you don’t maintain it as well as possible, your water softener’s lifespan could be less than that.

If your water hardness is not too severe, you don’t use that much water, and you do a decent job with maintenance and replacing the salt, then maybe you will get even more than 15 years.

There are a few signs to look out for that indicate your softener is coming to the end of its useful life. If some of the typical symptoms of hard water (such as limescale issues, a change in the taste of your drinking water and hair/skin problems) start to appear, then perhaps its not working efficiently any more.

If that does happen, there are a few things you can try; for example, make sure the salt has been replaced and that it’s the right type of salt. Also check the softener unit itself for signs of issues like salt bridges, jammed valves and unclean brine tanks.

If so, you can either have the manufacturer or a professional fix it, or if the water softener is approaching or more than 10 years old, it could be time to replace it with a new one.