Top Causes of Brown Water From a Water Softener

Brown water is generally not dangerous for your health, but it’s unappealing and not something you want to see after installing a water-softening system. Fortunately, it’s usually easy to correct when the issue is in the water softening system. Continue reading to learn the top causes of brown water from a water softener.

Sediment Buildup in the Brine Tank

Accumulating sediments in the brine tank can turn your treated water brown. Rock salt is a low-cost option for water softeners but has a high dirt and sediment content. In addition to sodium chloride, rock salt can carry sulfates, borates, and other compounds that don’t help with water softening.

The chemical makeup of rock salt makes it more likely to cause sediment buildup in the brine tank than other salt types. Rock salt can decrease the system’s softening efficiency and leave more impurities in your water supply, defeating the purpose of installing a water softener.

Evaporated salt pellets have the highest purity rate of salts in water softeners, but they’re also the most expensive. Solar salt pellets, which come from evaporating sea water, are less pure and more economical.

No matter the salt you use, you typically need to clean the brine well once every three years. Follow your system manufacturer’s instructions to prevent brown water and make your water softener last longer.

Iron Buildup on the Resin Beads

The next top cause of brown water from your water softener is the iron buildup on your system’s resin beads. Hard water has an excess of minerals, typically calcium and magnesium. Water softeners work by exchanging calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions.

In addition to filtering out calcium and magnesium, water-softening systems can sometimes remove iron. But if your water has a high iron concentration, the metal can build up in the mineral tank.

Iron fouling is when iron accumulates on or within the resin beads and reduces the beads’ efficacy. Iron is the likely culprit if you notice red sludge on the resin beads or an orange tone in your water. Flush out the resin tank using your system manufacturer’s instructions, and use a resin cleaner product to remove the buildup.

Deposits From Pipes

Less common than iron or sediment buildup within the water softening system, deposits of sediment and rust can accumulate in your home’s pipes and cause water to turn brown. Since water flows through the pipes before entering the salt tank, it can appear as if the problem is with the softener.

Construction near your water main can dislodge rust or sediment. These contaminants can also come off the pipes during a sudden surge in water flow, such as when a fire department opens a hydrant. Damaged pipes can also corrode, causing the metal to flake off and enter the water.

Put your water softener in bypass mode to divert the water away from the softener. Your system’s bypass valve has a handle, knob, button, or lever. Consult your owner’s manual or water softener company for information about your system.

After bypassing the softener, turn on a water faucet to see if the water is as brown as in the brine tank. If it is, the cause is likely your water pipes and plumbing rather than the water softener.