Winterizing your water softener is an essential maintenance task that prevents damage from freezing temperatures. Neglecting to properly winterize can lead to cracked pipes, flooded basements, and costly repairs. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the steps for winterizing your water softener to ensure it survives the winter unscathed.
Why Winterizing Your Water Softener is Critical
Water softeners contain water year-round, so when temperatures drop below freezing, the water inside can freeze and expand which often causes pipes and other components to crack and break. The resin bed inside the tank is also susceptible to damage from freezing.
Failure to winterize is one of the leading causes of water softener repairs and replacements in cold weather climates. The consequences of freezing include:
- Cracked mineral tanks – Replacing the entire tank is expensive.
- Broken control valves – Valves can fracture from frozen water expanding.
- Flooded basements – Burst pipes or tanks can leak hundreds of gallons of water.
- Loss of water softening – Damage means the system can’t soften water until repaired.
- Contaminated drinking water – Bacteria and minerals can infiltrate broken components.
Avoiding these negative impacts can be achieved through proactive winterization. A small time investment in properly winterizing saves you money, protects property, and delivers peace of mind.
When to Winterize Your Water Softener
Ideally, you should aim to winterize your water softener before the first hard freeze which often occurs in late fall. Scheduling annual winterization maintenance in October or November ensures you beat cold snaps.
Watch the weather forecast closely as winter approaches and take action when extended freezing temperatures are predicted. A water softener can survive a night or two below freezing before winterization is mandatory.
Procrastinating until freezing has already struck can be risky if a sudden cold snap sneaks up. Give yourself a buffer of a few weeks before your area typically gets the first freeze. Waiting too long often means having to winterize your softener in frigid conditions.
Step-by-Step Guide to Winterizing a Water Softener
Follow these key steps to properly shut down and protect your water softener for the winter:
1. Turn Off the Water Supply
Locate the shutoff valve for the water line that feeds the softener. Typically found near the inlet fitting on the bypass valve or control head. Turning off the water supply eliminates pressure on the system.
2. Drain the Water Softener Tank
With the water supply turned off, open the drain spigot at the bottom of the mineral tank to drain out any remaining water inside. Allow several gallons to drain until it’s empty. You can also use a wet/dry vacuum to suck out any standing water in the bottom of the tank.
3. Drain the Brine Tank
The brine tank containing salt solution must also be drained. Locate the drain port on the exterior wall of the brine tank. Remove the safety float and then unscrew the drain cap to empty out all liquid. Flush with clean water if the salt bridge has solidified.
4. Disconnect Hoses and Bypass the System
Remove the inlet and outlet hoses connecting to the bypass valve or control head. Separate the control head from the mineral tank if needed. Engage the bypass valve to redirect water flow away from the softener when turned back on.
5. Add RV Antifreeze
Pour non-toxic RV antifreeze into the mineral tank and brine tank to displace any remaining moisture. Add enough to fill tanks 1/3 full. Add antifreeze to the control head inlet/outlet ports as well. This prevents residual interior condensation from freezing.
6. Insulate Exposed Pipes
Wrap insulation around any exposed inlet/outlet pipes and fittings. Foam pipe sleeves or heat tape provide excellent protection. Insulate drain hoses as well. Secure with tape and ensure connections are sealed.
7. Plug the Overflow Pipe
8. Remove Water Softener Valves
If your climate reaches extreme sub-zero temperatures, removing and storing electric/mechanical control valves in a heated area may be prudent. This eliminates any inner frigid condensation risks.
9. Cover and Insulate Tanks
Encasing softener tanks in insulating covers adds another layer of freeze protection. Ensure you follow the steps above first. Use only breathable softener covers to avoid moisture buildup.
10. Keep an Eye on FREEZE WARNINGS
Periodically check on the water softener when freeze warnings are issued during winter. Ensure insulation remains intact and components appear in working order. Address any problems immediately.
Tips for Safely Winterizing a Water Softener
Follow these additional tips to get the most protection when winterizing:
- Add extra insulation around the softener and piping in severely cold climates.
- Pour 1⁄2 gallon of antifreeze in the brine tank for every cubic foot of capacity.
- Store electronic valves someplace climate controlled like a basement or closet.
- When re-commissioning in spring, sanitize components and flush lines thoroughly.
- Always follow your manufacturer winterization and operating instructions.
- Investing in a freeze-resistant outdoor-rated unit can eliminate winterization entirely.
Proper winterization truly is the key to avoiding seasonal water softener damage. Taking the right precautions before freezing weather allows your system to survive the winter and provide soft water for years to come.
Water Softener Winterization FAQs
Should I shut off my water softener before winterizing it?
Yes, you need to shut off the water inlet valve and shut down power to the unit before taking any winterization steps. The system needs to be isolated and drained of water completely first.
What temperature should I winterize the water softener at?
Ideally, before sustained temperatures reach 33°F (0.6°C) or below. In northern climates prone to sudden cold snaps, get it done by late October or November at the latest.
What kind of antifreeze is best for winterizing a water softener?
Use only propylene glycol, RV/plumbing antifreeze. It’s non-toxic. Never use automotive antifreeze due to toxicity risks from contaminating your drinking water.
Where should I store my water softener valves in winter?
Keep electronic control valves and other components in a heated indoor location like a basement, closet, or utility room where temperatures remain above freezing all winter.
Is it okay to leave my brine tank full of salt over the winter?
No, the brine tank needs to be emptied of salt solution before winterizing so there is no risk of overflows from ice expansion if any fluid remains.
Do I need to add more salt after winterizing the softener before using it again?
Yes. Always replenish the salt level to the manufacturer recommended volume when restarting your water softener in spring.
Winterizing your water softener properly before sub-freezing weather hits is crucial to avoid cracked plumbing and costly repairs. Following the steps outlined in this guide allows you to safeguard your system from freeze damage so it continues working smoothly for years of service. Take action at the first forecast of prolonged freezing so your softener is protected.