Kenmore Water Softener: The Ultimate Troubleshooting Guide

If you own a Kenmore water softener by Sears, the chances are that at some point, you will come across an issue that needs resolving, even if it is just minor. 

Kenmore Water Softener

There are a wide variety of issues that can arise with a water softener system so it is important to know how to troubleshoot so you can get your water softener up and running properly.

Troubleshooting a Kenmore Water Softener

In order to troubleshoot your Kenmore water softener, you need to locate the problem, look at each plausible cause, determine which cause is creating the issue, and work through each solution to resolve the problem. 

Having an understanding of the common problems that can occur with a water softener is beneficial as the owner of a water softener system. It allows you the opportunity to troubleshoot and resolve the issue in a timely manner.

The information in this guide has been provided by not only Kenmore but professionals in the industry. It has been proven to be accurate and the best way to resolve issues with your Kenmore water softener. 

Kenmore Water Softener Overview

Kenmore produces three different types of water softener systems, each with their own individual and unique features. 

Kenmore has created three different types of water softener systems in order to cater to different households, different needs, and different budgets. They are made to fit into apartments, single family homes, and even mobile homes

Each system has its own benefits for a household and will provide a high-quality water softening system for a home. 

Kenmore 350 Water Softener

This Kenmore 350 water softener is great for households of 1-4 people and has many features that homeowners will find appealing.

  • This is a 32,000-grain system. It will effectively reduce water hardness of up to 90 gpg and 8 ppm of clear water iron.
  • It is designed with intuitive technology, which offers great cost savings. The Intellisoft technology that is built-in helps the system to monitor and adjust the soft water usage, which will save you money in the long run. 
  • It regenerates beforehand, which means that it will only use the salt and water that is absolutely necessary. 
  • Simple to install and maintain. 
  • Compatible with both city and private well water. 
  • The electronic controls allow you to monitor multiple things within the system including water flow and the salt level within the salt tank. 
  • With a high-flow valve, your water pressure will not be reduced as can happen with some water softener systems. 
  • A tank light helps to see inside the tank to detect issues that may arise.
  • Comes with standard factory warranty which includes 1 year for parts and labor, 3 years for electronics, and 10 years for tanks. 
  • Certified by the National Sanitation Foundation

Kenmore 420 Water Softener

The Kenmore 420 water softener is better suited for a larger family of up to 5 people. It has a few more features available that make it a step up from the Kenmore 350 water softener.

  • This is a 40,000-grain system. It removes up to 120 gpg of water hardness and up to 10 ppm of clear water iron. 
  • This system regenerates beforehand instead of on a timer-based system so it only uses the exact amount of water and salt.
  • The advanced electronic controls allow you to monitor daily water usage, current water flow, and current salt level. 
  • This Kenmore system has a 1” ultra-flow valve to ensure the highest water pressure is still flowing through your pipes. 
  • This water softener system will work with a public water supply or private well and will reduce hard water minerals, clear water iron, radium, and barium.
  • The system comes with a factory warranty which includes 1 year for parts and labor, 3 years for electronics, and 10 years for the tank.
  • The tank light is also included with this system to ensure that the inside of the tank is visible.
  • Certified by the National Sanitation Foundation 

Kenmore Elite 520 Hybrid Water Softener + Filter

This Kenmore Elite 520 water softener is unique in that it is a water softener and filter in one. It can support an entire household and has features that the other water softener options do not offer.

  • It is a 31,000 grain water softener system and water filter. It can remove up to 100 gpg of water hardness and up to 3 million ppm of clear water iron. 
  • Reduces sediment and improves chlorine taste in water while softening the water at the same time.
  • Regenerates beforehand to save water and salt usage, which in turn saves money on energy, water, and salt costs.
  • The advanced electronic controls allow you to monitor daily water usage, current water flow, and current salt flow.
  • The system self cleans after regeneration, which means that there are no filter replacements necessary. 
  • Provides softened and filtered water through your entire home.
  • It features a 1” ultra-flow valve to allow the maximum water pressure.
  • This system features a screen which protects against larger particles that can damage appliances.
  • The “Water Use” button is great for those that are wanting to monitor their water usage and may be trying to conserve water. 
  • This system comes with a factory warranty of 1 year for parts and labor, 3 years for electronics, and 10 years for the tanks. 
  • The tank light will allow visibility into the tank in low-light conditions.
  • Certified by the National Sanitation Foundation

Troubleshooting Your Kenmore Water Softener

There are many different situations that can arise with your Kenmore water softener systems that will require troubleshooting.

It is important to know how to troubleshoot some of the most common issues in order to resolve the problem immediately and to potentially eliminate the need for a repairman. 

No Soft Water Coming Out Of System

If you notice that your water system is not pushing soft water through anymore, it is typically caused by no salt in the brine tank. To fix and repair this issue is simple. You need to add salt to the tank and then use the “RECHARGE NOW” feature to get the system back up and running.

No Soft Water and Blank Display

If you notice that you do not have any soft water, but your display is also blank, this can be caused by two different situations. 

The first is that the system has become unplugged, the power cord is disconnected directly from the system, or there is a power supply malfunction.

To correct this, you need to check the power supply from all locations and reprogram the electronic control. You can then have the system utilize the “RECHARGE NOW” feature.

The second reason that you could have no soft water and a blank display is due to a fuse that is blown, a circuit breaker that has been tripped, or a circuit that has been switched off. To resolve this issue you may need to replace the fuse or reset the circuit breaker. 

Then the system can use the “RECHARGE NOW” feature. 

No Soft Water and Salt Levels Staying the Same

This issue can be caused by one of two things. The first is that the salt storage tank is “bridged.” This happens when a hard crust forms in the brine tank. 

When the salt bridges, it will not dissolve into the water, which results in hard water coming from the system. An easy test to check for a salt bridge is to use a broom handle next to the system and measure the distance from the floor to the rim of the water softener. Mark this on the broom handle with a pencil.

Next you will use the broom handle and push it down into the tank. If a hard object is felt before the pencil mark on the broom handle is even with the top, then it is most likely a salt bridge. 

You can use the broom handle to push into the tank and carefully break apart the bridge. 

No soft water and stable salt levels can also be caused by the your water softener’s bypass valves being in the “bypass” position. If this is the case, you can simply move the bypass valves to the “service” position. 

No Soft Water and Salt Storage Tank Full of Water

One of the first reasons that this can happen is due to dirty, plugged, or damaged nozzle and venturi assembly. This is resolved by taking apart, cleaning, and reassembling the nozzle and venturi assembly. 

The other reason this can happen is due to the valve drain hose being clogged or restricted. You must check to be sure that the hose does not have any kinks, sharp bends, or water flow restrictions. 

Intermittent Hard Water

If you have intermittent hard water that comes and goes, there are a few things you can do to resolve the issue.

It could be as simple as having the incorrect time set. If this is the case, then you just need to check the time settings on your water softener and change them accordingly.

Another reason this could occur is that hot water could be being used when the system is regenerating. 

The solution to this is to simply be sure to not use hot water when the system is regenerating because this will cause the water heater to fill with hot water. 

The last issue could be that the water hardness has increased. If you believe this could be the case, it is important to check your water hardness levels. 

If the water hardness has in fact increased, then you will want to check the manual on your water softener to adjust the settings accordingly.

The Brine Tank is Flooded

The brine tank could be flooded due to a couple of things that can go wrong. The first is that the valve drain hose is clogged or restricted. You need to check to be sure that there are no kinks or water flow blockages in the hose.

If this is not the case, then this could also be happening due to a dirty, plugged, or damaged nozzle and venturi assembly. You will need to take apart, clean, and inspect the nozzle and venturi assembly.

Water Tastes Salty After Regeneration

If you notice that the water tastes salty after the regeneration cycle, then it could be that the backwash time as well as the fast rinse cycle time needs to be longer. 

You will need to increase the backwash and fast rinse cycle times to ensure that the salt is completely flushed through.

The valve drain hose could also be damaged or plugged so the next step is to ensure there are no kinks or water flow blockages in the hose that could be causing a problem.

Water Is Salty Without Regeneration

There may be times when you notice that your water tastes salty, but there may not have been a regeneration that happened. If the salty water happens without regeneration there are a few things you can try to troubleshoot the issue. 

A bad rotor valve could be the cause of salty water. It can cause the water to not be directed through the softener properly, which will result in salty water. If the rotor valve won’t move when the valve motor runs, then it needs to be replaced.

If this does not appear to be the issue, then you can check rotor valve seals for a leak. If this is the case and there is a leak, then the damaged seals just need replacement.  

Error Code Appears

If an error code such appears on the display, this could be caused by a fault in the electronic controller or wiring system. You should begin by unplugging the power cord, checking the wiring to be sure you do not notice anything visible, plugging the system back in, and then waiting 8 minutes. You can then power the system back on. If the error code still appears, then reference the common codes to see what the potential issue could be. 

Err1, Err3, and Err4 Code

These three codes all indicate a valve motor failure. The first step to resolving this error is to unplug the unit. 

Examine the valve motor wire harness to see if there is any damage or connections that are loose. If the valve motor wire harness is disconnected, then reconnect it. If it is damaged, then you will need to replace the valve motor wire harness. 

You may notice the motor is running, but the rotor valve has no movement. This would indicate replacement of the rotor valve is needed.  

If the rotor valve is constantly spinning while the motor is running, then the position switch may be defective. If it is not detecting the rotor valve position, then the switch will need to be replaced. 


If you are receiving an Err5 code on the display, this is caused by a defective timer. To resolve this issue, you will need to replace the timer. 

Manual Advance Regeneration Check

This manual check is a great way to check the system overall. It will allow you the opportunity to check the valve motor, brine draw, brine tank fill, and regeneration flow rates.

  1. Press the “REGENERATION” button and hold for 3 seconds.
  2. You will see “RECHARGE,” “Serv”, and “Fill” appear on the display and flash as the system enters the fill stage of regeneration.  
  3. Once the valve reaches the “fill” position, you can remove the cover on the brinewell to observe water filling the tank. 
  4. If you notice that water is not filling the tank, this is the time to look for a potential obstruction in a few different places. These include the nozzle and venturi as well as the fill flow plug. For the brine tank, you can check for obstruction in the brine tubing or the valve riser pipe.
  5. After observing the fill of the tank, if everything is okay, you can press the “REGENERATION” button to move the system into the brining process.
  6. Water will slowly begin to flow to the drain. You can verify brine braw from the brine tank by shining a flashlight into the brinewell and noting a drop in water level. 
  7. If for some reason the system is not drawing brine there could be a few different causes:
  • The nozzle or venturi is dirty
  • The nozzle and venturi are not secured properly on the gasket
  • The drain is restricted (check the drain fitting and hose)
  • The nozzle and venturi seal is not functioning properly
  • There could be other inner valve problems 
  1. Press the “REGENERATION” button again to enter the backwash phase
  2. You need to look for a fast flow of water from the drain hose.
  3. If the flow is obstructed, this means there is potentially a clogged part. It could be a top distributor, backwash flow plug, or drain hose.
  4. If all is okay, you will press “REGENERATION” again to move into the final rinse phase. 
  5. Look for a fast drain flow and give it a few minutes to fully rinse and flush out any brine.
  6. If everything is okay, you will push “REGENERATION” once again to resume the water softener system back to the service mode. 

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