Water softener leak

Wet socks told me about the water on the floor around the drain pipe from the kitchen and the laundry tubs, near the water softener.  It took moving a kitty litter bucket full of long scrap, mopping up the water, and toweling the floor dry before I found the leak.  It was coming from a brine tank overflow hose fitting I didn’t know about (or more likely, had long since forgotten about) on our Kenmore Micro Max 625.348460 softener.  Shouldn’t ever be needed, so was never connected.

It produced a juicy drop maybe every 5 seconds.  I put a container under it, and the wet floor symptom was fixed in the short term.

In the only slightly longer term, I plugged the softener transformer back in and ran a recharge cycle.  The water level was noticeably lower after that, as expected.  Interestingly, there were two definite scum rings inside the tank.  After the recharge cycle, water was at the lower one.  The upper one – 10 cm higher – was at the overflow fitting level, and clearly water had been at that level for some time (over the years).

But while I had the tank open to check the water level, I heard a regular drip.  Checked the overflow fitting, and it was dry (and the water level was way below it anyway).  When I put my head back into the tank, I could see ripples in the water with each drop.  Craning my neck a little, I found the source: the upper part of the softener (valves, timer, etc).  OK – maybe it’s slow enough to not overflow before the next recharge.

But now what?

I discussed the drivers and options with Lauren.  The main driver was reducing soap scum in the tub and lime deposits various places (including the humidifier pads).  Less dry skin and maybe nicer hair are additional plusses.  We get lake Michigan water, and while even softer (than lake) water does give the desired results, most people around here don’t bother with softeners.

a) We could join them.  The softener has been out of salt a lot of the time, (or unplugged) so if we just dumped and bypassed it, we’d see little change.  Free is a plus, but not a big concern here.

b) We could get a new softener (and be more faithful keeping it full of salt).  I couldn’t find a drop in replacement, so some copper piping would need to be done to match the new inlet/outlet configuration.  Not a complete show stopper, but I’d much rather have a drop in.  Yeah, I could contribute to the economy and hire a plumber to do it, but that’s a little embarrassing.

c) I could fix up the existing one.  Whatever the leaky part is should be fixable.  I’m sure its 15 year old resin tank is shot, but Sears Parts Direct doesn’t have the part.  I couldn’t find it in a quick search, either.  So a proper rebuild is probably out.

d) We could pass on a softener and get an electromagnetic descaler.  Those seem to have gone from “Snake oil!” to “Well yeah, they do reduce scale buildup, as they claim (except the ones that incorrectly claim to be a softener), but they don’t soften the water or get rid of the calcium and magnesium.”  So that might help a little, but probably won’t stop the soap scum.

e) We could switch from bar soap to “shower gel” or liquid “body wash”.  Those seem to be detergent based rather than fatty soap based, and so apparently greatly reduce soap scum.  Of course the detergent is said to be less friendly to your skin.

f) Oh yeah – we could squeegee the walls and tub and dry them off with a towel after each shower like some people somehow manage to recommend with a straight face.  Does anybody actually do that?  C’mon – I’m not a slob, but that’s just crazy talk.

Too many choices.  No decision was made. (Surprise!)

The leak

Checking a few hours later, I found the water level a couple of inches higher.  Rats.  I pulled the top off the unit (a couple of plastic spring clips) and could hear drips there, too.  There was a steady drip from the outlet connector.  That connection is a push-in plastic tube with an O-ring, held in with a big nominally finger-friendly black plastic circlip (red arrow).

Water was dripping from the bottom where the black clip went thru the outside housing to engage a slot in the push-in tube.  I used the shutoff and bypass valves conveniently provided, and tried to get the connection apart.  Unfortunately, the black clip broke when I tried to remove it.  The silver/gray part (green) threads onto the plastic push-in pipe, pulling a raised collar on a special copper stub up against an O-ring.  I took that apart first, but was dismayed at how much water was coming out of the “turned off” copper pipe.  I put my thumb over the end, and water very promptly sprayed out.  The valve on that outlet pipe (arrow) doesn’t seal well, even after being tightened with a pliers on the hand wheel.  Boo.  Fortunately, I’d put a big bucket under there.

The obvious thing to do was replace the O-ring on the push-in tube.  Sears didn’t have the 0900535 part, but did have a sub STD302213 pack of 5 for 5 bucks.  Fine – but nobody within 50 miles has it.  I found them (pack of 50?) at McMaster Carr, and I was just about to put an order in there anyway, so that would work.  But before I pulled the trigger on that, I thought I should at least look at the old one.

With the copper pipe disconnected, the rest of the black clip came out easily, and the push-in pipe also pulled out easily.  Its O-ring looked fine (though that doesn’t mean much) so I decided to give it a chance.  I wiped down that pipe and the housing it fit into, smeared them all generously with waterproof silicone grease and put it all back together.  If anything, the original leak was worse.

The fix

I manhandled the softener unit to alter the alignment of that push-in tube, and with the whole thing leaning back, the drip stopped!  I leaned it back and forced a piece of 1×2 under the front edge.  No drip!  I cleaned and dried out under where the drip was, and a couple of hours later it was still dry.  Success!  Well, OK – kind of half-assed, redneck success, but it will buy us some time to decide what we want to do long term.  During which time I can walk in that part of the basement without any wet sock surprises.

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