Water Softener Salt Tank Has Brown Water? (Possible Causes & Fixes)

Stacy Randall
by Stacy Randall
Water softeners can and will clean your water, but it is disconcerting when you spot brown water. This is generally caused by the accumulation of minerals such as iron or manganese. Whether it be minerals in the water or pipe erosion, let’s take a look at why there is brown water in your water softener.

Water softeners are necessary for homeowners with a high mineral content in their water. However, it can be off-putting to find brown water in the salt tank. So, why is it that your water softener salt tank has brown water?

Sediment and dirt in the salt can cause the water in your salt tank to turn brown. Pipe erosion from iron and copper plumbing can also discolor the water within the salt tank. A flushed water main can send minerals into your water supply that can turn the water brown.

Your best bet is to upgrade to a cleaner salt and clean your water softener salt tank. Follow along as we explore what you should do when your water softener salt tank has brown water.

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Why Your Water Softener Salt Tank Has Brown Water

There are several reasons why your water softener salt tank has brown water, such as sediment and pipe erosion. It doesn’t always indicate that there is a problem with your water supply itself. Let’s take a look at the main reasons why your water softener salt tank has brown water.

1. Sediment

Sediment can accumulate in a water softener’s salt tank and turn the water brown. This happens when you use a salt that has a high dirt and sediment content. Salt rock in particular can carry dirt that can discolor the water in your water softener’s tank.

The water in your can become browner over time if you continue to use salt rock. It is largely unavoidable that the water in your salt tank will become dark if you use salt that contains lots of dirt and sediment. Sea salt is one of the most common reasons that your water softener salt tank has brown water because of the sediment.

2. Mineral Content

Water softeners exist to reduce the mineral tank in your water. However, water that has a high mineral content can easily turn brown and discolor the salt tank. Minerals such as manganese and iron can accumulate within the salt tank and turn the water brown.

Water softeners cannot always keep up with a high mineral concentration, especially if you have a well. You are unlikely to get brown water from a traditional municipal system, but it can happen. Test your water to find out what minerals are in it.

3. Water Mains

Water mains are subject to mineral accumulation, and they can become backed up. Municipal sewer workers often flush water mains with extra water to dislodge the clumps of minerals within them. That is good news for the water main but can cause water in your salt tank to turn brown.

The water within the water mains can wind up in your water supply and ultimately your softener. Local authorities are supposed to notify you before they flush a water main in most places. However, this doesn’t always happen and it can be shocking when the water turns brown.

Luckily, it only takes 2-5 hours for the water to return to normal color in most cases when this happens. Otherwise, you will need to call your local municipal water professionals if the brown color persists.

4. Iron Plumbing

Iron plumbing is common in many households, and it can erode over time. Pipe erosion is mostly unavoidable if you have iron pipes, and it can turn the water in your water softener salt tank brown. There is typically a combination of several metals at the solder joints that sometimes contain copper.

Copper and iron can both turn the water in your salt tank brown. The best solution is to upgrade to PEX pipes which won’t erode and discolor your water. Otherwise, there is no way to fix eroding plumbing unless you replace it.

5. Tannins

Tannins are fermented organic materials that form when vegetation breaks down. When water comes in contact with these materials, it can turn a yellowish or brown color. Tannins in your water won’t cause any health risks, but they give your water an unappealing color and musty odor.

Additionally, they can leave a bad aftertaste in your mouth when you drink the water. Plus, tannins in the water can stain clothing and other materials. Getting rid of tannins in your water can be tricky and needs a certain filtration system. Consult with a professional for your best options.

Perform a Water Test To Determine Cause Of Salt Tank Brown Water

If you’ve yet to discover the cause of the brown water in your salt tank, it is time to perform a water test. A water test will analyze your water quality and help you identify the cause of your brown water.

You can purchase a home water test from Amazon, though prices and purposes for these kits range greatly. State-certified laboratories also offer water testing for a more accurate reading than at-home tests.

If you suspect tannins are the culprit you can perform a simple test with a glass of water. Fill a water glass and let it sit overnight. If in the morning most of the brown color has settled at the bottom of the glass, it’s likely not tannins. Instead, it’s more likely iron, since these particles are heavier. However, if the entire glass of water still has a brown color, you can be more certain tannins are to blame.

How Do I Get Rid of Brown Water in My Water Softener?

Empty the salt from your salt before you clean it to clear the brown water. Bypass the water softener system so that no more water enters it while you work on it. Disconnect the salt tank, bring it outside, and place it on a towel over the grass.

The towel will prevent the remaining salt from killing your grass. Rinse the tank with hot water to break up clumps of salt that remain. Mix 5 gallons of water with ¾ cup of bleach and scrub the inside of the tank. Pour the rest of the mixture into the tank and let it sit for 15 minutes.

Empty the tank, rinse it with cold water, and reconnect it to the system. Turn your water softener back on and check to see if the brown water persists.

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Related Questions

Should the water in my brine tank be dirty?

While brown water isn’t normal, it is typical for a layer of dirt and grime to appear in your tank. You’ll likely notice it if you look at the water before you filter it for use. Only filtered water will return to your water supply for use. There may also be some impurities in your salt, but this is also completely normal and not a cause for worry. 

How do I know if my water softener is working properly?

If you’re concerned your water softener has damage from the cause of the brown water, you can do a soap test. A soap test helps to determine if a water softener is working properly. Wash your hands with liquid soap. If your water softener is functioning, the soap will lather and bubble. Hard water will prevent bubbling, meaning your water softener is not working. 

Should there be water in my salt tank?

There should be several gallons of water in your salt tank, but not more than twelve inches at a time. If you notice brown water in your salt tank, the first step is figuring out the cause. Removing the cause of the brown water and cleaning your salt tank will leave you with crystal clear soft water.

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Stacy Randall
Stacy Randall

Stacy Randall is a wife, mother, and freelance writer from NOLA that has always had a love for DIY projects, home organization, and making spaces beautiful. Together with her husband, she has been spending the last several years lovingly renovating her grandparent's former home, making it their own and learning a lot about life along the way.

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