Whirlpool Water Softener How-to and Troubleshooting Guide

Whirlpool Water Softener How-to and Troubleshooting Guide

The Whirlpool water softeners efficiently remove water hardness, acidity, high iron levels, and excess sediment from your water supply. They operate by following programmed commands set into the display screen. However, since it is an appliance with electrical components, it is prone to developing issues over time, either from poor use and maintenance or the normal wear and tear.

Some commonly reported problems with the Whirlpool water softeners include clogged parts, overflowing brine tank, power issues, hard water, and programming issues. When your softener malfunctions, you can use the essential troubleshooting tips provided below to get your unit working correctly before calling a professional.

How do you use a Whirlpool water softener?

Water softeners help soften hard water to counter all the harmful effects of hard water using resin beads. The saltwater cleans the resin beads during the regeneration cycle to ensure efficient water softening. Here is how to use your water softener after the first installation to get your soft water.

  • Plug the water softener into a standard electrical outlet.
  • Open the bypass valve to allow water to pass through the water softener and into your home.
  • Pour about 20-80lbs of pure pellet or nugget salt into the brine tank. Leave about four to six inches from the top of the brine tank for optimal performance. Check the salt level periodically, ensuring it is not less than a quarter of the brine tank.
  • Check the regeneration time and ensure it is as desired.
  • Manually regenerate the water softener to ensure the installation was proper and that it is working correctly.

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

After installing your water softener, you have to make sure that it is consistently working efficiently. Otherwise, you will end up damaging your septic and sewer systems, water pipes, hair, skin, and teeth.  So there are two ways to know if your water softener is working; checking the status of your water softener and looking for hard water signs.

  1. Check the settings on the softener’s display screen. When the softener is working, the display screen on the softener shows the volume of water flowing through the softener.
  2. Check the amount of salt on the display screen. If the reading does not reduce or you hardly refill the salt, the softener is not using salt; hence, it is not working.
  3. During the regeneration cycle, you will hear a low humming sound. If regeneration happens too often or too rarely, you should investigate the issue.
  4. Test the water using a hard water test kit to show you the difference between your water supply and the faucet water. Soft water is between 0-17.1 mg of minerals per liter of water, while anything that exceeds that is hard water.
  5. Perform a soap test. Fill a bottle with tap water, add about ten drops of liquid soap and shake the bottle. If the soap lathers and bubbles, then the water is soft. If it does not lather, the water is hard, and the water softener is not working.
  6. Hard water will start to taste salty.
  7. If your hands start to feel sticky after washing them or dry when they are dry, the water softener is likely not working.
  8. You will also notice a white residue on the utensils, sink, and tap handle when the water dries. It is because hard water leaves a white residue of the minerals when it dries up.

How much salt do I put in my Whirlpool water softener?

Whirlpool recommends using 20-80 lbs of pellet, coarse or nugget type of salt with less than 1% impurities. Check the salt level every two to three weeks and ensure it is less than a quarter full and not more than four to six inches from the top to maintain optimal performance. Also, the salt level should always be a few inches above the water level. When using potassium chloride, do not fill above level 4 on the brine tank.

How to clean a Whirlpool water softener

You have to keep your water softener running smoothly and efficiently by removing sediments, dirt, and limescale buildup that can block the softener. We recommend cleaning your Whirlpool water softener every four months or when necessary for optimum performance. Follow the instructions below on how to clean your water softener with resin cleaner.

  • Wait until the salt levels in the brine tank are too low.
  • Ensure the bypass valve is in the “Service” position.
  • Lift the brine tank cover.
  • Pour 16 ounces of Whirlpool softener cleaner into the brine well.
  • Return the brine tank cover and close the water softener lid.
  • Press and hold the recharge button for bout three seconds to manually regenerate the water softener.
  • Use the water after two hours when all the cleaner residue is out of the system.

How do I adjust my whirlpool water softener?

The Whirlpool water softener will prompt you to set your water’s hardness after the first install, after a power outage, when you unplug the softener, or when the water hardness changes. Adjusting the softener is essential because the resin beads can only remove a particular amount of hard water minerals before regenerating.

So the hardness settings tell the water softener how many gallons of water it will use before recharging the resin beads. The water softener will also use the hardness setting to control the system’s salt dosage to recharge resin beads in your water softener.

We usually measure water hardness in grains per gallon (gpg). Water with a hardness of 0-3gpg is soft water, 3-7gpg is moderately hard, and 7-11 is hard. Adjusting the hardness on your Whirlpool softener is quite simple, but it varies depending on the model. Follow the steps below.

  • Perform a water hardness test and an iron test to know your water supply’s exact hardness level and iron levels.
  • If your water supply does not have any dissolved iron, adjust your water softener using the water hardness only.
  • Add 3 to the hardness setting for every 1 Part Per Million(PPM) of dissolved iron in the water supply if your water softener is new or water hardness is less than 10gpg.
  • Add 4 to your hardness setting for every 1 Part Per Million (PPM) of dissolved iron if the water hardness is above 11gpg or the water softener is less than ten years old.
  • For instance, if the water hardness level is 20gpg and contains 6ppm of iron. Add 3 to the hardness level for every ppm of iron. That is;

6ppm × 3 = 18.

20gpg + 18 = 38 hardness setting

  • After determining your hardness setting, press “Program” on your water softener.
  • Press the up and down arrow keys to set the hardness setting.

NOTE: Do not increase the hardness setting to compensate for the iron levels if you have the Whirlpool model WHES48. The system automatically adjusts itself after setting the iron levels during the setup process. For Whirlpool models WHES40, WHES44, and WHESCS, you must change the water hardness level according to the iron levels.

Whirlpool water softener cleanser ingredients

According to the Material Safety Data Sheet(MSDS), Whirlpool water softener contains phosphoric acid, but they withhold the exact percentage as a trade secret. The Whirlpool cleaner minimizes limescale buildup, iron, and other minerals from the resin beads and maximizes efficiency. It also cleans the valve, pipes, and the rest of the water softening system to reduce clogging.

Whirlpool water softener cleaner alternative

You often have to clean and sanitize your water softener because the backwash cycle does not remove all the scale, bacteria, and mold. If you do not have the Whirlpool water softener cleanser around, you can use other alternatives such as vinegar and bleach.

Here is how clean your softener with a cleaner alternative.

  • Remove the brine tank lead.
  • Ensure the salt level in your brine tank is very low. Do not use bleach if you have a significant amount of salt, as it may be difficult to rinse it out.
  • Verify that the bypass valve is in the “service” position.
  • If your tank has a 9-inch diameter, pour one cup of unscented household bleach. If you have a 12-inch diameter brine tank, pour in two cups of unscented household bleach. Alternatively, you can replace the bleach with white vinegar.
  • Replace the brine tank lid.
  • Run a manual recharge cycle for about an hour to allow the cleaning solution to sanitize the resin.
  • Run an extra manual regeneration cycle for about two hours to rinse out any bleach or vinegar residue.
  • Refill the brine tank with clean pellet salt.

Other water softener cleaner brands we recommend include:

  1. EcoPure Water Softener Cleaner
  2. Res-Up Water Softener Cleaner
  3. OUT Filter Mate Water Softener Cleaner and Salt Booster Powder

How to recharge a Whirlpool water softener

Follow the instructions below to recharge your Whirlpool water softener manually.

Model WHES48

  • Press the recharge button at the bottom of the display screen.
  • Press “Recharge now.”
  • Recharging will commence, and a countdown timer will show on the screen.
  • When recharging is complete, press the return button.

Models WHES40, WHES44 and WHESCS

  • Press and hold the recharge button for about three seconds. “RECHARGE” will start flashing on the screen.
  • The regeneration cycle will start, and a countdown timer will show on the screen.

How to drain a Whirlpool water softener

There are several ways you can drain water from your water softener. They include;

1. Use a shop vac

A wet/dry vacuum will conveniently suck out water from the brine tank. Connect the shop vac to an electrical outlet, dip the nozzle into the brine tank and turn the vacuum on to suck up the water.

2. Overturn the brine tank

If the brine tank is portable and not heavy, you can dump out the water by overturning the brine tank. Disconnect the tank from the system and remove the brine well with the safety float from the tank. Find a good place to dump out the water away from plants and other water bodies and then overturn the tank to dump the water out.

3. Use a bucket

If the brine tank is too heavy to carry, use a small bucket that fits inside the brine tank to scoop out water. The downside to the bucket method is you may not be able to scoop out all the water.

4. Manually regenerate the softener.

Run a manual regeneration cycle on your water softener to drain the water out. During regeneration, the water softener draws the water from the brine tank into the resin tank and flushes the dirt and minerals out through the drain. Manually recharging the softener will rinse the resin bed and force the water out through the drain.

How to bypass a Whirlpool water softener

Bypass valves allow the user to turn off the water to the softener for maintenance when necessary but still have hard water in the house. When bypass mode is off, water from the water supply valve will not pass through the softener, and the faucet water will be hard. There are two types of bypass valves in most residential homes; push-to-bypass or turn-to-bypass. Here is how to engage bypass on your Whirlpool water softener.

1. Single valve bypass

  • Locate a large knob behind the control head.
  • Turn the bypass valve knob clockwise, all the way, until it stops turning. The system is not in bypass mode.
  • To return the system to service, turn the knob counterclockwise until it stops turning.
  • Do not over-tighten the valve in either rotation to avoid damaging it or getting it stuck.

2. Push bypass

  • Locate a large push button.
  • Press the button using firm pressure until it is flush with the copper housing.
  • If the button is stuck, turn it gently clockwise to loosen the dirt on the O-rings inside. Then try pushing it again to put the system on bypass mode. Do not turn the push-button counterclockwise.
  • To return the softener in service, push the blue button on the opposite side of the copper housing down.

3. The 3-valve bypass

  • This bypass style is not standard in residential homes unless it’s a unique situation. Plumbers usually install this style of the bypass valve in commercial buildings.
  • Locate your bypass valve. It usually has two valves on either side that are always open, while the middle valve is closed.
  • Turn the two outer valve knobs clockwise. Then turn the middle valve knob counterclockwise.
  • Now the system is on bypass mode, and water passing past the softener.
  • Turn the middle valve clockwise and turn the outer valves counterclockwise to put your softener into service.

How to turn off Whirlpool water softener

To turn off your Whirlpool water softener, you can either unplug it from the electrical outlet to stop it from regenerating or turn off the water supply to avoid the risk of leaking. You can also open the bypass valve to let water into your home without going through the softener.

How to program a Whirlpool water softener

The Whirlpool water softener is an electronic water softener that requires the user to program it into the system to work as desired. Not all models have the same features; therefore, the programming procedure may vary slightly. Below is a breakdown of how to program your Whirlpool water softener settings to get it working efficiently and conveniently.

1. Language

  •  Select your desired language by pressing the respective language button on the screen, then press “Next.”

2. Current time

  • Press the up or down arrow buttons to set the current time, then press “Next.”

3. Recharge time

The default recharge time for your water softener is at 2:00 A.M., but you can change the recharge time suitable for you.

  • Press the “Recharge” button on the status screen.
  • Press the “Right” (→) button.
  • Press the “Set recharge time” button.
  • Press the up and down arrow buttons to set the recharge time, then press “Return.”

4. Clean time

The Whirlpool clean feature allows an additional backwash and fast rinse after the regular regeneration sequence to clean the resin beds more thoroughly. This feature is excellent for water supplies with high iron or sediment quantities. To set the clean time:

  • Press “Setup.”
  • Press the left (←) button twice.
  • Press “Advanced setup.”
  • Press “Additional features.”
  • Press the right (→) button.
  • Press “Set clean time.”
  • Set the cleaning duration using the up and down arrow buttons.
  • Press “Return” three times to go back to the softener status screen.

5. Salt efficiency

This feature allows the water softener to run on salt efficiencies of 4000 grains of water hardness per pound of salt or higher to achieve maximum salt efficiencies. It means the softener will regenerate more often when it has less salt and water as required. In the State of California, this feature should always be on. To set this feature:

  • Press “Setup”
  • Press the left (←) button twice.
  • Press “Advanced setup.”
  • Press “Additional features.”
  • Press the left arrow button.
  • Press “Set salt efficiency.”
  • Press the “ON” button to activate the salt efficiency feature, then press “Return.”
  • Press “Return” three times.

6. Salt level

This feature will alert you when the water softener is running low on salt. You must set the salt level each time you do a salt refill.

  • Open the brine tank lid and level the salt inside the tank.
  • You will see a salt level scale on the inside wall of the brine tank that runs from zero to eight. Note the highest number closest to the salt level.
  • Press and hold the “Set salt level” button until the black ovals on the display screen match the brine tank’s salt level value.
  • The “Check salt level” indicator light will flash if the salt level is two or below.
  • To turn off the salt monitor, press “Set salt level” until “Salt level off” appears on the screen.

7. Salt type

This feature tells the electronic control what type of salt you will use, defaulting sodium chloride. Using Potassium Chloride increases fill and brine rinse frequency.

  • Press “Setup.”
  • Press the left arrow button twice.
  • Press the “Advanced setup” button.
  • Press the right arrow button.
  • Press “Set salt type.”
  • Select the type of salt you will be using and then press “Return.”
  • Press “Return” twice.

8. Hardness value

  • Select the “Setup” button on the display screen.
  • Press the right arrow button.
  • Click on “Set hardness.”
  • Use the up and down arrows to set the water hardness value in grains.
  • Press the return button to go back to the softener status screen.

NOTE: Do not increase the water hardness level to cover for the ion quantity in your water. The Whirlpool water softener has an electric control that will adjust the unit automatically.

9. Iron level

Setting the iron level will help the softener adjust cycle times to compensate for water-containing iron. If your water has no iron quantities, set the iron level as 0.

  • Press the setup button.
  • Click on right arrow button.
  • Press “Set iron level.”
  • Press the up and down arrow buttons to set the iron level in ppm.
  • Tap the return button once.

How can you tell if your water softener is clogged?

When a water softener removes the hard water minerals, the water will deposit these minerals in the pipes, and over time they will clog the system. The most obvious sign of a clogged water softener is the considerable change in the water softness. Here are other more signs to look out for that indicate your water softener is blocked.

  1. There will be a white residue on utensils, fixtures, and the sink when the water dries.
  2. The water will start to taste slightly salty.
  3. The soap will not lather quickly.
  4. If the drainpipe is clogged, the brine tank will start to overflow.
  5. There will be a drop in water pressure from shower heads and faucets to indicates clogged plumbing pipes.
  6. Hard water will leave mineral stains and spots on your laundry.
  7. The water will feel sticky feeling on the skin.
  8. Due to limescale buildup, other water appliances such as dishwashers, water heaters, and water dispensers will become less efficient.

Why is my Whirlpool water softener full of water?

The softener cleans the resin bed during the regeneration cycle and drains the water out of the system. If the water softener does not empty, the brine tank will eventually accumulate with water until the safety float engages. When the softener is full of water, the brine solution will be too diluted, and the system won’t regenerate correctly. There are several reasons for a water softener full of water.

  1. There could be a salt clog at the bottom of the brine tank, blocking the water from flowing out of the tank.
  2. The safety float is faulty or not moving. Dirt and sediment can make the float stick and prevent free movement. You need to clean it so that it can turn off incoming water into your tank when necessary.
  3. The injector has clogged with dirt and limescale. A clogged injector will not be able to draw water out of the brine tank.
  4. The drain line may be clogged, leaking, or kinked, preventing water from draining out after regeneration. Call a professional to replace the drain line.
  5. The brine line does not connect to the brine tank and the float, causing the float to work incorrectly. Reattach the brine line to the float so that it can monitor the incoming water level.
  6. The drain line flow control is faulty; therefore, it can’t regulate incoming water flow. As a result, the water softener will continue taking in more water than it requires.

All Whirlpool water softener error codes, their meaning, and fixes

The Whirlpool water softeners have an automatic self-diagnostic function that monitors the electrical components and circuits. If a malfunction occurs, an error code appears on the screen display. Below is a table that explains the error codes and possible solutions to the problems.

Error codePossible causePossible solution
E1: Control board does not sense motor movement.The motor is not seated correctly, or the wires are broken or disconnected.Unplug the unit from power.Ensure the unit is fully engaged.Inspect the wires for any damage or disconnect. Reconnect any loose wires and replace the damaged wires.Manually recharge the unit to re-synchronize the software. 
 The PC board is not plugging into the drive bracket securely.Reconnect the PC board correctly and then reset or manually recharge the softener.
 Faulty gearsReplace the gears
E2: Control valve motor is stalling from running too short and cannot get onto the next cycle.Debris has stuck in the control valve.Open the control valve and remove the piston assembly.Use a toothbrush to dislodge any dirt or debris, then reinstall it.
 The drive gear is too tight.Loosen the main drive gear.
E3: Control valve ran too long as it is unable to get onto the next cycle position.Motor failure during regeneration.Check the motor connections and reconnect any loose wires.
 Clogging on the piston and stack assembles creating friction and drag to stop the motor.Replace the piston and stuck assembles.
 Drive gear and reduction gear do not interface because the drive bracket is not well-positioned.Re-seat the drive bracket incorrectly.
E4: Control valve is not regenerating.There is an interruption to the non-volatile memory.Reset the softener to clear all programmed settings or power cycle it by disconnecting it from power for about five to ten minutes, then plug it back to power. 
E6 and E7: Problems with the MAV/AUX MAV/NHBP valve motor.Mechanical bindingDebris buildup in the piston and valve.NHBP motor is not fully engaged. Contact a water softener professional to fix the issue.

Whirlpool water softener has no power.

The Whirlpool water softener has a power backup feature that will maintain all the programmed settings for eight hours during a power interruption. When the power outage is too prolonged, you need to reset the clock, but all other settings remain the same. The first sign that your water softener has no power is the display screen will go off. Here is how to fix the issue.

  • Check the water softener securely connects to a working electrical outlet. If the adapter is loose, reconnect it.
  • Check the circuit box and ensure no breaker has tripped. If the breaker has tripped, reset it and watch the softener turn on.
  • Check the electrical outlet for any blown fuses. Disconnect the water softener and connect another electrical appliance. If the appliance does not work, replace the power outlet.
  • Check for a failed power transformer. Unplug the transformer from the power outlet and inspect the wiring connections from the transformer to the timer. Reconnect any loose wires. If the wires are well connected but damaged, replace the transformer.
  • Check for a faulty timer. The timer in a water softener is an electronic control board that allows the user to program the unit and powers the display. If the timer is faulty, you can replace it using the instructions below.
  • Unplug the softener from power.
  • Remove the water softener lid to access the control panel.
  • Disconnect the brine tank light.
  • Disconnect and remove the timer from the control panel.
  • Reinstall a new timer suitable for your model type to the control panel. Make sure the wire connections are correct.
  • Replace the lid and plug your unit into power.
  • Reprogram your water softener.

Whirlpool water softener buttons not working

Follow the guide below to troubleshoot the water softener if the panel buttons are not working.

  • First, check if there is an error code on the screen. When there is an error code alert, all buttons are inoperable except the program or setup button. Next, unplug the unit from power, fix the error code source then reconnect the softener.
  • Check the plug connectors to the control board are not loose or completely disconnected. Then, remove the control cover and reconnect all the plug connectors.
  • Check the position and seating of the control board. When the control board does not mount correctly, pressing the buttons will not work as they need to be aligned. Disassemble the control board and reposition it correctly and securely. Make sure all the fasteners that hold it in place are tight.
  • Ensure the buttons on the control panel are receiving power. Salt residue, dust, and dirt accumulating on the circuit board can cause a short circuit and prevent electrical power from reaching the buttons. Clean the metal contacts in the circuit board using the steps below.
    • Unplug the water softener, remove the control panel to expose the circuit board.
    • Use a dry lint-free cloth to wipe dirt and salt residue from the circuit board.
    • Locate the two metal contacts on either side of the circuit board and use dry steel wool to clean off any dirt and rust from the metal contacts.
    • Reassemble the water softener and plug it back in.
  • Power cycle the water softener.
    • Turn on the bypass valve.
    • Unplug the unit from power.
    • Leave the softener off for about two hours.
    • Restore power to the unit.
  • If all those solutions do not work, replace the control board.

How do I reset my Whirlpool water softener?

Resetting your water softener will return all the programmed settings to default using the steps below.

Model WHES48

  • Press the setup button.
  • Press the left arrow button twice.
  • Select “Advanced setup.”
  • Press the left arrow button.
  • Select “Restore factory settings.”
  • Press “Yes” and then click on the return button.

Model WHES33, WHES44, WHES40

  • Press and hold the program button until the screen starts flashing the model code.
  • Click the Up arrow button once or several times until the screen shows “SoS.”
  • Press the program button again to restart the system.

Check this too: Pelican Water Softener How to & Troubleshooting Guide


Using the troubleshooting tips we have provided above, you will be able to get your water softener working and save on repair costs by a professional. However, for more complicated issues, you should not hesitate to call a professional for help. Remember that proper use and maintenance of your water softener will reduce breakdowns and prolong its lifespan.