Brown Sludge in Water Softener Tank? Reasons And Solutions

Water Softener is an expensive and important purchase for your whole home water.

It provides softened water and prevents your water appliances, and other appliances from damage, not only that, it can be detrimental to your health as well.

If you see that there is blown sludge in your water softener tank, you have every right to be worried.

Not just because a water softener is expensive but because, maybe you have been consuming impure water, and brown sludge appearance is the extreme of the situation.

Brown water coming from the softener can be due to more than one reason.

It can be due to iron and manganese build up in the tank, sediment building up in the pipes, or because of the flushed remains of the water.

Well, there is no clear or simple answer for that. We will try to learn the most common reasons for Brown sludge in the water tank, and try to help you fix the issues to make you get the most out of your water softener.

Brown Sludge in Water Softener Tank?

Common Reasons of Brown Sludge

Brown sludge in your water system is definitely not a good sight, it is alarming, but there can be more than one cause of that.

It can be because of iron build-up somewhere in your water system, you should prevent yourself from not only drinking it but using it for other household purposes as well.

These can be the reasons for brown water in your water system:

1. Rusty Pipes

Rusty or kinky pipes can be a reason for brown water. Maybe you have recently replaced an old pipe which had iron built upon it, that iron build up can dislodge in your system and in that way, you can get brown water output.

Or maybe the pipes you are using are very old, and iron build-up in them is leading to brown water.

I have seen many times that sometimes you get brown tap water from the municipal government.

Yes, sometimes, Municipal pipes are rusty, or there is an issue in their system which is making us worried that our water softener is not working and producing brown water.

In real it was tap water you get from the local government. In this case, you should use the Bypass water softener valve, to bypass that water and get your water system to drain all the water so that you don’t get any brown water.

And if it was your pipes, either you replace the pipes, if they are recently replaced, maybe clean them using a detergent.

If possible, you should switch to PEX piping, they are more environmentally friendly and less prone to corrosion.

2. Sediment Build up in the brine tank

I have seen many a time that sediment builds up in the brine tank leading to not only brown water output but blockage of the brine tube.

Yes, this happens usually when you use cheap salts such as rock salt which contains high sediment content of impurities.

Well, if you clean your brine tank or maintain it regularly, it would not gather in the brine tank.

But if you are lazy like me, it gathers in the brine tank and can start mixing that brown content mixing in your water leading to brown water output.

I would like to recommend two things for this particular issue. The first is, to change your salt right away, replace the rock slat with Evaporated salt, which got the highest purity ratio.

Second, start taking care of your home appliances like a Water softener. Clean and maintain it regularly, and have a close eye on the brine tank especially.

3. Flushed Water mains

Those who have been getting hard water and softening it using a softener would know that every so often local government service your underground water main by providing increased pressure water.

This increased pressure sends water through the pipes at the highest pressure, which dislodges sediment in the pipes and sends corroded materials.

Local government notifies this usually if you were not notified and you are worried why your system is outputting brown water maybe this is the reason.

So, if it is the reason, bypass that water from your water softening system, don’t use that water not only for drinking but for other household purposes as well.

You can still get the right use of that water. Use it for your plants, plants like high mineral water and it increase their growth.

Plus, you can use that for cleaning and washing your cars, vehicles, and even your homes.

4. Iron Pollution

In groundwater, Iron is the most found mineral. It is the most abundant element found in the earth’s crust and its oxidation capabilities are not hidden from the world.

Due to that oxidation capability, iron is considered one of the top issues for those who own wells and, the most common cause of brown or tinted water you experience in your homes.

Over time, if the iron quantity in your water is high, that iron starts accumulating on the resin beads.

To make those beads work, for the task they are designed, to capture the mineral particles such as magnesium and Calcium, you will have to rinse those iron particles out.

If you don’t rinse those iron particles, due to oxidized iron molecule size, they are around 20times bigger than dissolved, calcium, and magnesium particles in the water, you will decrease the efficiency of the resin beads, and you will start getting hard water.

What to do when the water in your water softener Brown?

Now comes the fixing part. In this section we will try to fix the issue, to help you get the softened water all over again, and to get rid of the brown water outputting issue.

1. Clean the water softener

If you have been taking care of your water softener well, you would not get the brown water issue at all.

The brown water outputting is the obvious sign that you have not been in the cleaning, neither you had hired any expertise to maintain your water softener.

Now you are getting the brown sludge in the water tank, you are forced to clean the water softener.

Whether it is the sediment build-up, iron pollution, brine tank issue, or any other issue, cleaning the water softener can fix the problem.

2. Clean the brine tank

You already know that a water softener consists of two tanks; a brine and a mineral tank.

The brine tank or the brine solution tank holds up the solution, which flushes the brine solution to the mineral tank, where resin beads get a positive charge by the salt positive ion.

Here, the positive ion beads replace the contamination or dissolved mineral particles and soften your water to make it good not only for drinking but for other household purposes.

Most of the time, whether it is leaking, overflowing, or any other issue, the problem starts from the brine tank.

If you take good care of it, maintain and clean it regularly, I am sure your whole water system would be working just fine.

Here, due to poor quality salt, grimes and sediments build-up, which sometimes makes a hard crust, which leads to sometimes crystallization, and stops the softening process.

And sometimes, the grime and salt build-up turn the water color to brown. And in our incumbent case, we are suffering from the same.

So, clean the brine tank. It usually shares a foamy build-up on the sides, which due to the sediments can turn the water brown.

So, first, turn off the water softener system. Use the bypass valve, to bypass tap water your water softener.

Disconnect the plastic tubing connecting the tank to the softener. Clean those tubes thoroughly, also remove the salt grid, for cleaning.

And take off the brine tank, rinse it off thoroughly, use some detergent, don’t be very rigorous, or you will make a hole through it.

The best way to clean the brine tank is to take 4 to 5 gallons of clean water and mix the bleach in it.

Scrub the tank, fill the tank with the bleach mix and let it sit in the tank for at least 15 minutes. Rinse off the tank, and drain all the water.

Use clean water for one more cleaning iteration, if you follow this type of cleaning and maintenance, I am sure you would not get any problem in the brine tank at all.

Now, use a quality salt, don’t go with rock salt, as it comes with impurities that gather in the brine tank which leads to further contamination or brown water issue.

3. Sediment Filter

You are getting brown water accumulating in your tank or getting its output, which means you have not installed a sediment filter.

If you have one already installed, probably it is expired and you should buy a new one and install it to get things to roll smoothly.

If you don’t know about the sediment filter, it is the filter that prevents sediments from going into your mineral tank.

Sediments are collecting in your brine tank and giving the water a brown tilt, so don’t be lazy and install a sediment filter now.

You would say, the water softener already comes with a filter screen, why install a new filter?

Yes, the water softener comes with a filter screen which prevents the debris from going into the resin tank when the water is pumped into the resin tank.

But it is not enough, you still have one more filter in your brine tank, to catch tiny impurity particles.

4. Removing oxidized Irons from the resin

If you get brown water anywhere, it is the oxidized iron the main culprit behind. It turns the water tint brown and makes it hard, unusable for drinking as well as other purposes.

So, if it is the resin tank turning your water brown, rinsing it off from the iron would be the right way to go.

If there is a huge accumulation of iron in your resin beads, your resin beads would not be available for capturing minerals.

So, it is good to rinse off the resin beads with a top-quality cleaner that cleans the beads chemically before the iron particles rinse off in the softening system.

Most of you would say that the regeneration cycle also involves cleaning off the system, why the iron particles are not flushed during the regeneration cycle?

Actually, the regeneration removes or flushes the iron particles, but not all. The remnants of the iron particles get rust to form and stick to the beads, turning water muddy or brown.

So, they would only be flushed off when you clean the resin beads with a good quality resin beads cleaner.

Sometimes, if you don’t pay attention to this problem, it can clog the resin beads and even stop the regeneration cycle.

As, there would only be the iron particles accumulated on the resin beads, leaving no space for the other minerals, which leads to softening water.

The best way of cleaning the resin beads is during the regeneration cycle. As you already are into the process, the extra step would only be to add a rust remover.

Mix the rust remove it in the cold water, put it in the brine tank, and initiate the regeneration cycle.

I am sure this would remove the metallic substance gathered on the resin beads.

Is Brown Water in My Water Softener Dangerous?

No. Usually, the most dangerous particles mixed in the water are colorless and odorless.

Still, you should not use brown tint water for drinking, unless you get it tested from a verified laboratory.

If it is not usual, you should follow the ways we mentioned in our guide to fixing the brown water issue.

But one thing we can say is, brown water is not good for drinking, neither for bathing or other regular households.

How Can I Stop Iron from Damaging My Water Softener?

Brown water, or water with a high level of iron, might not be as dangerous as it looks.

It still causes many problems including malfunctioning or decreasing the lifespan of your water softener as well as other appliances.

So, to get rid of that iron mixed in your water issue, you can clean your brine tank as well as resin tank with an iron cleaner.

You can mix an iron cleaner into cold water and pour it into the resin bead container during the regeneration cycle to remove the iron collected or gathered on the resin beads.

But if the iron has taken the shape of rust, it will be hard to remove it, and you may have to repeat the cleaning process with an iron cleaner.

To prevent rust, build-up, you need to maintain and clean your water softener on regular basis.

And if the iron level in your water is higher, maybe you will have to install a whole home iron filter.

You can install this additional filter before your water softener to remove all the iron from the supply line.


If your water softener is turning your tap water tinted brown, or your water softener has discovered sludge, buildup, or grime, the best thing you can do is clean the entire system.

Clean your entire system with a good cleaner can help you get rid of the all issues.

If the iron level in your water is higher than usual, then you might have to install a whole iron filter system that filters the tap water even before it gets your water softener.

This is what you do when you face the brown water issue, but to prevent it issues from the building, the best would be to clean your water softener on regular basis.

Maintenance and regular cleaning are the only things that can prevent your system from brown sludge as well as brown water.

Emily Davis

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