Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Soft Water Is Hard

So what am I supposed to do?

A couple months ago, I started noticing a little water on my basement laundry room floor.  From the washing machine, I thought, and since it wasn't bad and dried fairly quickly, I ignored it.

About two weeks ago I observed that the wetness was really coming from around my Sear's Kenmore water softener, a few feet up the basement floor slope from the washer.  I looked inside the tank, and it was full of water!  I've never seen that before.  Never, ever.  I tried regenerating right away, but the water only crept higher.  Not what one wants, right?

So I unplugged it, found out from the manual (which was hanging there in its plastic envelope) how to activate the bypass valve (good job for a rubber mallet), and went upstairs and called Sears.  Oh.  $65.00 just to come out and look, before parts and labor.  Not in the budget.  

I sent out a veiled SOS to my friends on Facebook.  Too veiled, obviously, because I got no response, not even one word of useless advice.  Oh, well, there's always the Internet.  So I Googled "Kenmore water softener full of water leaking."  And got advice there, yes, I did.  There were at least four different things various posters recommended be tried, each one of them looked complicated, and each one of them seemingly had to be done first.  

Please understand:  My water softener is in a dark corner of the basement, my eyesight is not very good, I never can see that stupid gray-on-gray display, and I couldn't find the place in the manual to show me where to find the venturi or the resin bed or anything else that needed to be cleaned or adjusted or whatever it was.  So I put it off.  

On the weekend, at the customary front porch gathering, I asked some of my neighbors if they'd ever serviced their water softeners.  No, they hadn't.  In fact, the guy across the street said they didn't even have one.

Well, if they can get along with hard water with a family of seven, I supposed I could for awhile, too.  And I left the softener on bypass the next ten days. 

But yesterday I think I spent a half hour or more rewashing supposedly clean dishes from the dishwasher.  I folded some white laundry last night and it looked yellow and dingy.  I can't get my shampoo to lather, and the water tastes funny.  Still I was putting off doing anything about it, until this afternoon after work.  

I have lots of laundry to do.  I'd really like it to come out clean.  Oh, phooey, I had to try cleaning the venturi at least.  I mean, come on, buck up.  Found the diagram in the manual (I'd been looking at the installation guide before--oops).  Found the venturi on the appliance.  Took it apart.  Barring a little red iron scum, it was clean.  Put it back together and turned the softener on.  Made no difference-- water level still high.  Found the page with the Manual Regeneration Check.  Put the softener through its paces: brining, brining rinse, backwash, fast rinse.  Water level actually went down a little bit, out through the drain hose-- then started filling up, higher, higher, scarily higher.  Oh, no, you don't!  Unplugged it and hammered the bypass back in place.

Back to the Internet.  No, sorry, the only way to get the water out is to siphon it or suck it out with the wet-dry vac.  OK, fine, I've got one of those.  After a few vacuum tankfuls (and a salty-wet basement floor), the water in the softener was gone.  But my vac was sucking up flakes of salt off the bottom.  Going by the mop handle that I use to distribute salt when I fill the WS, maybe 2" or 3" was hardened in there.  

Time for the hot water to melt it out. 

Hot water, hot water, hot water.  Ram it with the mop handle to break it up.  Ram, ram, ram.  

Take a look to see if I'm making any progress.  Poke the camera down in to document the event. Take a few pictures, using the flash.

Review the pictures to see what's going on, since I can't see down there very well.

Uhhhh, wait a minute.  There's this big cylinder in the back of the WS, that looks like it's made of heavy cardboard, but when you rap it, it sounds more like ceramic.  If I understand my manual correctly, that's the resin tank.  And there, down at about the 0.5 salt level, was what looked like a V-shaped rip in its side.

Did I do that damage right then, myself, with my plastic mop handle?  But no, the picture I took right after I got the water sucked out shows the crack already there.  And I haven't gone after a salt bridge for several months.  No, that resin tank cracked by itself.

I've been on the Internet (did I mention that before?).  I've learned that a cracked resin tank is doom for a water softener.  That if it ruptures, it can be doom for whatever's in your basement (especially if the water's still running through the WS).  That the resin in a broken tank can go running throughout your whole plumbing system, and while I haven't delved into what that means, it sounds bad.  And that replacing the resin tank and its contents can cost more than buying a new water softener.

My resin tank is toast.  I am not going to experiment with running the WS with the tank in that condition.  So what do I do?  This is not in the budget.  Do I stretch my credit even further and buy a new water softener?  Do I run hard water for the foreseeable future and ruin my clothes and coat my plumbing with lime? 

Blast it, what do I do?


dynochick (Jan) said...

Our resin tank sits outside the brine tank. It takes up more room that way, though.

In the long run not having a softener could do more $$ damage than just biting the bullet and buying one now.

How come stuff breaks when you can least afford (time and money wise)it to?

Kate H. said...

Just on spec, I'm looking at the two-part kind. Once I get all the data on my water I'll have an idea what capacity WS to price out. We'll see thereafter.

Karen Anne said...

There's very hard water where I live, and I don't have a water softener.

I don't have much white laundry, but I haven't noticed a problem. I use All Free and Downy Free.

I use Seventh Generation in the dishwasher.

If it's caused a problem with the pipes, I'm not aware of it. I've lived here about 7 years.

The only problem is white crud collecting around the faucets, but I can keep up with that if I wipe them down daily.

Kate H. said...

Karen Anne, any idea what the grain count is where you live? It's 23 here.

Karen Anne said...

I googled. I got nothing. I even read the memos that come with the quarterly water bills, and I've never heard of grain count...

I emailed the water department to ask.

Verna Griffin said...

Clean and soft water has an important part of our everyday life. That’s why water softeners are in-demand in some areas, because it can keep the water safe to use. So I understand your frustration upon finding out that it was broken. Add the fact that you had to wait for days before it was fixed. I hope you found a reliable repair guy soon after that. Take care!

Verna Griffin @ Axeon