Common water problems & solutions

There are many ways your home's water can be contaminated whether its the soft working water you use to clean and bathe with or the high quality drinking water your family needs.

Soft Working Water

Clean conditioned soft water for your household cleaning, laundry, and bathing needs.

Water hardness, the build-up of magnesium and calcium, as well as types of iron contamination can threaten your family's health and decrease your overall quality of life.

Is your hair sticky, lifeless, difficult to manage?

Does your soap not lather properly?

Does it effectively wash your clothes, help you cook and clean?

Are dishes spotted or streaked, spots on silverware?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, the water in your home should be considered hard.

What is hard water?

Water described as "hard" is high in dissolved minerals, specifically calcium and magnesium. Hard water is not a health risk, but a nuisance because of mineral buildup on fixtures and poor soap and/or detergent performance.

Water is a good solvent and picks up impurities easily. Pure water - tasteless, colorless, and odorless - is often called the universal solvent. As water moves through soil and rock, it dissolves very small amounts of minerals and holds them in solution. Calcium and magnesium dissolved in water are the two most common minerals that make water "hard." The degree of hardness becomes greater as the calcium and magnesium content increases.

Hard water interferes with almost every cleaning task, from laundering and dishwashing to bathing and personal grooming. Clothes laundered in hard water may look dingy and feel harsh and scratchy. Dishes and glasses may be spotted when dry. Hard water may cause a film on glass shower doors, shower walls, bathtubs, sinks, faucets, etc. Hair washed in hard water may feel sticky and look dull. Water flow may be reduced by hard water deposits in pipes.

The amount of hardness minerals in water affects the amount of soap and detergent necessary for cleaning. Soap used in hard water combines with the minerals to form a sticky soap curd. Some synthetic detergents are less effective in hard water because the active ingredient is partially inactivated by hardness, even though it stays dissolved.

Bathing with soap in hard water leaves a film of sticky soap curd on the skin. The film may prevent removal of soil and bacteria. Soap curd interferes with the return of skin to its normal, slightly acid condition, and may lead to irritation. Soap curd on hair may make it dull, lifeless and difficult to manage.

When doing laundry in hard water, soap curds lodge in fabric during washing to make fabric stiff and rough. Incomplete soil removal from laundry causes graying of white fabric and the loss of brightness in colors. A sour odor can develop in clothes. Continuous laundering in hard water can shorten the life of clothes.

In addition, soap curds can deposit on dishes, bathtubs and showers, and all water fixtures.

Hard water also contributes to inefficient and costly operation of water-using appliances. Heated hard water forms a scale of calcium and magnesium minerals that can contribute to the inefficient operation or failure of water-using appliances. Pipes can become clogged with scale that reduces water flow and ultimately requires pipe replacement.

The hardness (calcium and magnesium concentration) of water can be approximated with a home-use water testing kit, or can be measured more accurately with a laboratory water test. If you are on a municipal water system, the water supplier can tell you the hardness level of the water they deliver. If you have a private water supply, you can have the water tested for hardness. Shop Kenmore products for hard water.

Do you notice rust-colored stains in tub, basin or toilet?

Do your clothes stain after washing?

Does your water come out of the tap rust-colored or turn rust-colored after coming out of the tap?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, the water in your home could be contaminated with clear water iron or red water iron.

What are clear and red water iron?

Red water iron may be present when water comes out of the tap rust colored. It can cause rust colored stains in the basin, tub and toilet and staining of clothes after washing. Water affected by clear water iron is clear when drawn, but when exposed to air develops a rusty or red color.

Iron is commonly treated with automatic iron filters, which can remove both, dissolved and oxidized iron compounds. Iron is generally not thought of as toxic, although there are some studies that show liver toxicity to men at low levels. Limited amounts of clear water iron can be removed by a water softener. Red water iron must be removed by filtration.Shop Kenmore products for clear and red water iron

High Quality Drinking Water

Crystal clear good-tasting water free of chemical contaminants and other impurities for cooking, drinking, beverages, and baby formula.

The water you drink and cook with is the most important water in your home. Contaminants can compromise its quality and put your family health at risk or give it an off-putting taste or odor.

Learn how contaminants can threaten your drinking water and health

Learn how contaminants can affect your drinking water's taste and odor

Drinking water: health risks
Cysts (Cryptosporidium and Giardia)

A Cyst is a closed pocket or pouch of tissue; a cyst can be filled with air, fluid, pus, or other material. Common water-borne microbiological cysts are Cryptosporidium or Giardia cysts.


Cryptosporidium is a parasite that enters lakes and rivers through sewage and animal waste. It causes cryptosporidiosis, a mild gastrointestinal disease. However, the disease can be severe or fatal for people with severely weakened immune systems.


Giardia lamblia is a parasite that enters lakes and rivers through sewage and animal waste. It causes gastrointestinal illness (e.g. diarrhea, vomiting, cramps). Giardia outbreaks can occur in communities where water supplies become contaminated with raw sewage. It can be contracted by drinking water from lakes or streams where water-dwelling animals such as beavers and muskrats, or where domestic animals such as sheep, have caused contamination. Shop Kenmore products that filter cysts

Chemical Contaminants


Atrazine is a widely used herbicide for control of broadleaf and grassy weeds, used in corn and soybeans and commonly found in drinking water. The risk of it showing up in drinking water, dramatically increases during flooding. It may be found in some public private drinking water supplies.

It may cause health problems if found in amounts greater than the health standard set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


Lindane is used primarily for treating wood-inhabiting beetles and seeds. It is also used as a dip for fleas and lice on pets, and livestock, for soil treatment, on the foliage of fruit and nut trees, vegetables, timber, ornamentals and for wood protection. Lindane enters surface water as a result of runoff from agricultural land and from home and garden applications where it is used as an insecticide.

It may cause health problems if found in amounts greater than the health standard set by the EPA such as: high body temperature and pulmonary edema or liver and kidney damage. Shop Kenmore products that filter chemical contaminants


Arsenic occurs naturally in ground waters and in some cases is introduced by certain industrial pollution. Some people who drink water containing arsenic in excess of EPA's standard over many years could experience skin damage or problems with their circulatory system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer. Shop Kenmore products that filter arsenic


Although nitrates can occur naturally from decaying organic material such as on-site septic systems, the greatest source of nitrates in most areas is crop fertilizers. These fertilizers produce excellent crop yields, and conversely, they produce elevated nitrate levels in ground water in many rural areas.

Industry emissions (high levels of nitric oxide) are also a culprit. Emissions are converted to nitrate and introduced to the water supply when it rains.

Because healthy adults can consume high nitrate water with little or no effect, a nitrate problem can go unnoticed for a long time. Very young children, however, especially infants, are susceptible to nitrate poisoning which causes blue baby syndrome.

Boiling water, unfortunately, increases the nitrate level rather than decreases it. Concerned parents who boil their infant's water should be aware of its nitrate level, since boiling two quarts of water down to one quart will double the nitrate level.

Nitrate levels are affected by rain patterns and fertilizer application by local farmers. Heavy rainfall can increase or even decrease nitrates in a well, and nitrate results, like other parameter results, can vary greatly. Therefore, regular testing for nitrates is recommended. Shop Kenmore products that filter nitrates


Dissolved solids (atoms) are extremely small, usually less than 8 ten thousandths of one micron in size. Some dissolved solids (e.g. hardness minerals, alkalinity, sulfate, etc.) are harmless but may cause objectionable taste and scale problems. Others, such as lead, nitrate, sodium, fluoride, arsenic, mercury, etc., can be harmful. The amount of these contaminants allowed in drinking water is limited by government standards. Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) refers to the overall amount of all dissolved solids found in any one tap water sample. Shop Kenmore products that filter total dissolved solids


MTBE (methyl-t-butyl ether) is a fuel additive, commonly used in the United States to reduce carbon monoxide and ozone levels caused by auto emissions. Due to its widespread use, reports of MTBE detections in the nation's ground and surface water supplies are increasing. Shop Kenmore products that filter MTBE


Typically, lead gets into your water after the water leaves your local treatment plant or your well. That is, the source of lead in your home's water is most likely pipe or solder in your home's own plumbing.

Lead is a very toxic metal, and causes serious cumulative damage to the brain, organs and blood cells over time. On average, it is estimated that lead in drinking water contributes between 10 and 20 percent of total lead exposure in young children. Infants, whose diet consists of liquids made with water - such as baby formula, are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning.

You cannot see, taste, or smell lead dissolved in water, testing is the only sure way of telling whether or not there are harmful quantities of lead in your drinking water. Generally, water that is first drawn, after sitting for several hours in piping that contains lead, is much higher in lead, than after the pipes have been flushed. For this reason, when one is testing for lead, the water should be allowed to sit in the pipes over night, so a first draw, or worst case scenario can be determined.

Testing is especially important in high-rise buildings where flushing might not work. You should be particularly suspicious if your home has lead pipes (lead is a dull gray metal that is soft enough to be easily scratched with a house key'), if you see signs of corrosion (frequent leaks, rust-colored water, stained dishes or laundry, or if your non-plastic plumbing is less than five years old.

Shop Kenmore products that filter lead


Chromium is ubiquitous in the environment, occurring naturally in the air, water, rocks and soil. It is used in stainless steel, electroplating of chrome, dyes, leather tanning and wood preservatives. It occurs in several forms, depending on pH, the most common being chromium VI. Natural sources of water contain very low concentrations of chromium. It is a micronutrient.

High doses of chromium VI have been associated with birth defects and cancer. Plants and animals do not bioaccumulate chromium; therefore, the potential impact of high chromium levels in the environment is acute toxicity to plants and animals. In animals and humans this toxicity may be expressed as skin lesions or rashes and kidney and liver damage. Shop Kenmore products that filter chromium VI

Drinking Water: Taste and Odor


Many water suppliers add chlorine, a disinfectant, to drinking water to kill germs such as giardia and e coli. Especially after heavy rainstorms, your water system may add more chlorine to guarantee that these germs are killed. Chlorine can contribute some adverse effects, such as bad taste and odor.

Some people who use drinking water containing chlorine well in excess of EPA's standard could experience irritating effects to their eyes and nose or stomach discomfort.Shop Kenmore products that filter excessive chlorine


Sediments include dirt, rust, and particles of plant or animal matter that are suspended in water. Sediments are the largest water-borne impurity, although most are too small to be seen. Colloidal sediments can be 1/100 of a micron while large particles can be 200 microns or more in size. Sediment problems include cloudy, unappealing water and clogging of water passages in appliances. Shop Kenmore products that filter sediment

frequently asked questions

To understand how Kenmore Water Softeners work and for installation and troubleshooting tips, view our animations.

"How much sodium will be added to the water after installation of a softener? The amount of sodium added is dependent upon the hardness of the water being softened."

Example: If the water hardness is 20 grains per gallon, the softener will add 150 milligrams of sodium to each quart of water. 150 milligrams of sodium is equal to eating one slice of white bread.

"Will a water softener harm a septic system?"

Studies conducted at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, and the National Sanitation Foundation confirm that softener regeneration does not harm the bacteria in the septic system.

"Where can the water softener be drained?"

Drain to a laundry tub, standpipe or floor drain, providing an air gap for all installations. The drain field should be able to handle small amounts of brine regenerant.

"How does a Kenmore Water Softener know when to regenerate?"

The electronic controller is programmed to know the water softener"s capacity. It uses the softener capacity, the hardness setting and the water usage from the meter to continuously adjust to the customer"s water using habits.

"Why does my new demand water softener seem to be regenerating so frequently, or not regenerating enough?"

The electronic controller is searching for a water usage pattern and may seem to regenerate more frequently or not enough for the first few weeks of installation.

"What is a Salt Bridge and how do I remove it?"

A salt bridge is a hollow area below the salt in your softener. To remove: hold a broom handle or similar tool up to the softener. Make a pencil mark on the handle 1" or 2" below the top height of the rim. Then carefully push the broom handle straight down into the salt. If a hard object is felt before the pencil mark gets to the top of the tank, it"s most likely a salt bridge. Carefully, push broom handle into the bridge in a few places to break it up. Do not try to break the salt bridge by pounding on the outside of the salt tank, as it may damage it. If necessary, you may also use a small amount of warm water to soften the bridge.

"Why is my softener not using any salt?"

There could be a number of reasons, such as:

  • Kenmore units are very salt efficient and do not use much salt to regenerate.
  • You possibly have a salt bridge.
  • The nozzle and venturi could possibly be plugged.

"Why would my Kenmore Water Softener run out of soft water?"

There could be a number of reasons, such as:

  • The unit is not sized properly
  • The unit is not programmed correctly
  • A leaky toilet or faucet is using up the softener's capacity
  • A salt bridge may be present in the tank
  • Hot water is being used during regeneration time
  • There is no salt in the unit

Why does the water feel slippery after the installation of a water softener?

The slippery feeling is due to the absence of the hardness minerals removed by the water softener and the natural feel of the oils in the skin.

How much water should be in the salt storage tank?

Approximately two to five inches.

What is Intellisoft™?

Intellisoft™ is a software technology that is exclusive to certain Kenmore Water Softeners including the Kenmore 350 Series Water Softener, Kenmore Series 370 Water Softener and Kenmore Series 420 Water Softener. Intellisoft™ provides salt and water efficiency during water regeneration. In fact, softeners equipped with Intellisoft™ are up to 24% more salt efficient and up to 17% more water efficient than other leading brands (based on 200 gallons per day and 15 grains hardness).

Sears can test and analyze your water

To help identify some of your home's water problems, bring a water sample to your local Sears for FREE tests for hardness, acidity and clear water iron.

How to take a water sample

A Sears sampling bottle, available free of charge at most Sears stores, is the most accurate method for transporting a sample of your home's water for testing. Simply fill the sampling bottle with tap water and return to Sears for your free in-store analysis.

A glass jar (plastic is not recommended) with a secure lid can also be used for samples. Fill the jar with 4 ounces of tap water and bring it to Sears for testing.

Why a water sample is important

Before your water reaches your home, it goes through many changes. For example, it collects impurities, picks up sediments, minerals and contaminants and is treated by municipalities with various chemical disinfectants. As a natural solvent, water also dissolves and collects whatever it touches, which can lead to a host of natural water problems, in addition to the numerous man-made threats your home's water faces.

And different types of household water problems require different methods of treatment that are offered by different Kenmore water products. In order to determine which Kenmore water treatment system is right for your water supply, a water test is absolutely essential.

How to understand your water test results

There are three main criteria by which your home's water is tested: hardness, clear water iron and acidity.

  • Hardness

    Measured in grains per gallon (GPG), hardness is the amount of calcium and magnesium in a water supply. The Water Quality Association classifies degrees of hardness as shown:

    Soft Water 0 to 1.0 GPG
    Slightly Hard Water 1.1 to 3.5 GPG
    Moderately Hard Water 3.5 to 7.0 GPG
    Hard Water 7.1 to 10.5 GPG
    Extremely Hard Water 10.6 and more GPG
    US Water Hardness Map

    These hardness minerals are responsible for soap curd, bathtub ring and numerous other household cleaning problems. The extent of these problems will depend on the level of hardness impurities in the water. Softening of the water will reduce or help eliminate these problems; help lower water heating costs, provide soap savings and ease household cleaning problems.

  • Clear Water Iron

    Water effected by clear water iron is clear when drawn, but when exposed to air develops a rusty or red color. Clear water iron in water is measured in parts per million (ppm). Iron is most commonly found in three forms: clear water, red water and bacterial. When present at levels of 0.3 ppm or higher, iron may cause yellow or rusty staining on fixtures and clothing. Iron is found in two forms: ferrous (clear), or ferric (red). Limited amounts of clear water iron can be removed by a water softener. Red water iron, on the other hand, must be removed by filtration. High amounts of iron can be treated by water filtration, using either an oxidizing filter or a solution dispensing system-feeding chlorine followed by a clarifying filter.

  • Acidity

    Acidity in water is measured as a pH scale. The pH value is measured on a scale of 0 to 14 with 7 being neutral. Degrees of acidity are:

    Slightly Acidic 6.8 to 6.9
    Moderately Acidic 6.0 to 6.7
    Extremely Acidic 4.0 to 5.9

    Waters having a pH value of less than 7.0 are considered acidic. Acid water, or low pH water, shortens the life of iron and copper plumbing, and causes rusty or blue/green stains on plumbing fixtures. A pH of 6.8 to 6.9 is slightly acidic and can be treated with a phosphate crystal cartridge. A pH of 6.0 to 6.7 is moderately acidic and can be treated either with a neutralizer filter, a solution dispensing system feeding a neutralizing compound, and a blending tank.

Water Terms Glossary