Help with Fleck 5600 Water Softener

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Phoenix, AZ
This forum seems to be the most knowledgeable about water softeners, and I'm looking for some help. We bought this house a few years ago and it had a water softener in it already. We were/are new to owning a water softener and all I know is to add salt when it gets "low" and to use Morton's Clean and Protect pellet salt when I do.

I'm on city water. All I know about the softener setup is that I have a Fleck 5600 Ecominder that has the People and Grain wheels on it, the resin tank, and a separate brine tank; I do not have any sort of carbon/whole-house filter. That's all hooked up to a soft water loop that feeds everything except the cold water in the kitchen (which is stupid IMO, but apparently normal here). The resin tank has a sleeve over it and so I can't see any markings or anything. The prior owner (or installer) left the (not helpful) manual for the valve, but didn't bother to make not of anything in it, such as grain settings or how much resin is in the tank.

Anyhow, the past few months the water has been soft some times and hard other times, but lately wasn't soft at all, to the degree that my skin started hurting this week; I mean I was literally uncomfortable for 2-3 days and stopped showering. I forced a regen the other night to see if that would help, but it hasn't so far; I suspect because the hot water tank is still full of hard/unsoftened water.

So I browsed this forum and bought a Hach hardness test which I did yesterday. My results:

1) Kitchen sink cold water (unsoftened): 21 gpg
2) Direct from water softener (I have a hose bib on the out line from the water softener): 2 gpg
3) Cold water from sink next to water softener: 1 gpg
4) Hot (only) water from primary bathroom sink: 10 gpg
5) Mixed water from primary shower: 7 or 8 gpg (purple at 7 drops but pure blue at 8 drops, but not sure if "purple" is considered "blue")

In trouble shooting, I realized that the brine tank had a salt bridge or salt mush. The bottom of the tank was like a solid block of salt. So I cleaned that out last night. Washed down the tank with dish soap, including the brine well and what I'm assuming is a float valve, and threw out all the salt that was in there. I filled the brine tank with about 5-6" of water, then dumped in two 40# bags of the Morton's (all I had on hand). I'm still well below the line that the prior owner (or installer) drew on the brine well for salt (see photo). I have *not* done a manual regen yet because I wasn't sure if I had enough salt in there to do one.

So, my questions:

1) How much salt should I really put in this? Should I fill to that line the prior owner had? I always assumed yes, because the prior owners had 2 people living here, same as us and I just figured it should be the same (understanding that our usage may differ). And internet forums are contradictory; some people say to have salt just above the water line, some say to always have it just below; only thing they all agree on is not to fill it to the top.

2) Are my settings correct? I can't tell how to interpret these wheels and have no idea how big my resin bed is, so while I understand there is a calculator I can use, I don't even know the inputs. While I've watched a bunch of YouTube videos, none of the Fleck 5600 videos explain these extra hardness or people wheels mine has. I've gathered on these forums that the people wheel basically adds some sort of reserve, but more basically I don't even understand how to change that setting on the dial. I have no idea how much water we use. Sure, I've looked at our water bills, but they include pretty big fluctuations due to our irrigation system and a pool autofill, neither of which are connected to the soft water.

3) After filling it last night and letting it sit, I woke up this morning to find black flecks and a black line in the water. Is this just dirt/impurities in the salt? I'm assuming it's not coming from the resin, since I didn't backwash or regen. Is it something else to be concerned about? When I cleaned out the salt last night, the bottom inch or so of the salt block was black/brown. It didn't seem like mold and I did not use bleach when I cleaned the tank last night.

4) At this point, our system is 9 years old. Can/Should I rebed the resin at this stage?

5) Can/should I replace the valve with something else like a Clack without having to replace the whole setup? I find these mechanical controls on the Fleck to be unintuitive and that's one reason I never really looked into it; I much prefer digital controls and if there are smart controllers out there that let me monitor the water usage from the softener (or provide some other beneficial function I'm not thinking of) that'd be nice to have, but not required.

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