Fixing a Water Softener Salt Bridge

Closeup of water softener salt bridge

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Did you ever check your water softener salt level only to find that the salt level looks like it never goes down? Or does your water softener run but fail to soften the water? If so, then you may have a problem known as a salt bridge. A salt bridge is a situation in which the salt forms a surface crust spanning the water in the brine tank. Viewed from above, it may look like a normal layer of salt pellets, but this crust is on the surface only—below it is open space.

This over-crusting of the salt layer causing a salt bridge can be caused by high relative humidity, or by using the incorrect type of salt. Or, it may occur when you have overfilled the tank with salt.


It's always wise to have a maintenance service contract or have the unit periodically inspected to prevent salt bridges.

Symptoms of a Salt Bridge

Sometimes, the indication that a salt bridge is present is when you notice that the water softener is no longer correctly conditioning the water. If your water softener appears to be running correctly, but you notice that the water is hard to the touch and feel—or you notice a change in how detergents and soaps perform—you know that something is stopping the water softener from performing its normal regeneration cycle. The regeneration cycle of the resin bed is where the water conditioning occurs.

Assuming you are not out of salt, there are only a few likely causes of this problem:

  • A crusted plug of salt or some other form of blockage has occurred between the brine tank and the resin tank.
  • There may be a problem with the control valve (if you have an automatic water softener).
  • A salt bridge has occurred, causing the salt to bond together in a surface layer rather than settle down into the brine tank as it is supposed to.

Although any one of these causes can be to blame for causing the water softener to fail to enter its regeneration cycle, the most common reason is a salt bridge.

Removing a Salt Bridge

Here is an easy method for eliminating a salt bridge in your water softener:

  1. Turn off the water to the water softener, either at the incoming faucet or by using the bypass valve.
  2. Using a long-handled tool, such as a broom or mop, tap the salt bridge with the handle until you break the crust.
  3. Scoop out the loose salt pellets from the top of the tank using a plastic container.
  4. Lightly hammer at the edges of the salt crust, being careful not to damage the walls of the tank. Avoid hammering at the sides of the tank.
  5. Remove all the small chunks of salt with a plastic container.
  6. Vacuum out the water in the bottom of the water softener using a wet/dry vacuum.
  7. Turn the water back on and follow the water softener instructions to regenerate your softener. Refill the brine tank with salt, but no more than 2/3 full.
Turning off water access to the water softener

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Tapping the salt bridge with a broom handle

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Scooping out loose salt pellets

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Hammering at the edges of the salt bridge

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Collecting loose salt chunks in a container

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Vacuuming the water out of the bottom of the water softener

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Turning the water softener back on after cleaning

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo