Every year or 2, I buy a bulk quantity of water softener salt. I always get 25kg bags and I buy 20-40 bags in order to get them at the best price.

I'm then left with a problem. I have space to store them in my attic room (where they need to be, alongside the water softener), but that means I have to transport all of the bags up a flight of stairs (just one, thankfully), to the attic room.

Carrying just one of them by hand is just about doable; doing it 20-40 times is impossible.

I've considered some form of winch, but any permanent/expensive equipment is overkill given the fact that it will only be used every year or 2.

Any ideas for how to move them without back-breaking effort?

Yes, smaller bags would work, yes a smaller quantity would work but both would cost more money. Opening the bags and dividing them is impractical because I would have to reseal them all afterwards. Leaving them downstairs and spreading the work is also a non-starter due to space constraints.

EDIT: although a diagram is overkill, here is a description of the "landscape" within which this needs to take place: 1) the stairs are a straight, single flight of 13 steps, 2) there is a large area of clear floor-space at the bottom of the stairs within which to work, 3) there is a doorway about 1 metre opposite the top of the stairs i.e. useful for bracing a pulley mechanism against, 4) this gives about 5 metres of working space at the top of the stairs, 5) the ceiling above the stairs follows the slope of the stairs from bottom to top, 6) the stairs are carpeted but 7) I wouldn't want to damage it.

  • Would need a diagram for a winch / pulley design but that would not be a lifehack. It is work to get that much weight up a flight of stairs. I doubt there is a lifehack around that.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 10:43
  • @Paparazzi I very much doubt that Amazon sell a "salt bag stair lifter winch", so surely anything that can be suggested here is a hack of some form? That hack may be a new way of lifting - like Jeremy's yoke - or an electric winching system, but it will definitely have to be bodged together in some way to suit my problem. If I knew how to hack it myself, I wouldn't be asking for help on here, so it's clearly not a trivial solution.
    – Lefty
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 15:03
  • I bet they don't sell a brick bucket winch either. Using a winch to lift / drag an object is not a hack, that is the intended use of the device. Not trivial is not the same as a hack. VTC
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 15:13
  • @Paparazzi that is true - but I haven't specified I need a winch/pulley mechanism, I have pretty clearly specified that I DON'T want a winch/pulley in fact - unless I can do it for free or nearly free. I'm looking for creative suggestions here - like Jeremy Nicoll's yoke. Just because neither you or I can think of a clever solution, doesn't mean it doesn't exist, hence, my appeal to the clever people of Lifehacks SE.
    – Lefty
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 17:16
  • 2
    Please don't delete this question. Other people might have the same problem and they will be happy to read it.
    – Alina
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 17:33

7 Answers 7


Consider using the laws of physics as your ally.

If you don't lift the sacks but pull them up a slope, you need a lot less strength and eliminate the risk of stumbling on the stairs.

So you need first a slope: A few sheets of thin plywood will do. You need enough to cover the length of your stairs plus a few strips of duct tape or similar. If you are really crafty, you can even create something that can be folded accordion-style and stored for future use. (Or go all the way and do something with hinges?) But make it narrow enough so that you can still walk up and down the stairs.

Then something that is robust enough to slip or roll up that slope - as your original bags appear too flimsy. Either a very robust sack or a little cart - think "oversized skateboard", perhaps with an additional upright board at the bottom end. The former is cheaper, the latter probably easier to operate due to the reduced friction and could be used to maneuver the salt to its final storage place.

Add a long rope and - optional - a ring or hook at the doorway at the top, load the salt bags on your sliding element and you are good to go.

You will spend a bit more time for the initial setup, but you will always walk the stairs without a heavy load and the only lifting will be when you place the salt bags in and out of the sliding sack or cart - that might be even done by rolling them instead of true lifting.

  • 1
    Stephie, this is the best answer and is very much the way I am erring towards. I would upvote your answer but there's little point since I will be deleting the question soon. I found an old sled which I intend to use, rather than a wheeled device, I will attach something at the back, as you suggest, since the bag will definitely slide off the back without this. Initially, I will just try dragging the sled up the stairs, but there is much scope for using some $8 pulleys to gain mechanical advantage in future iterations. I wanted to thank you for your answer before deleting the question.
    – Lefty
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 15:07
  • This is exactly what I first thought of. Should be pretty easy to implement. Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 6:47
  • Instead of a slope and/or sled, you can also use a 'stair climber hand truck' which has wheels. Advantages: no need to create a slope, less damage to the stairs than a sled. And you can use a pulley system and/or have someone assist.
    – Hobbes
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 14:35
  • 1
    Don't delete questions once they have answers. They are here as a community resource, not just for the benefit of the original poster.
    – owjburnham
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 0:14

How much worse would the price of the salt be if you bought 10kg bags?

I dunno how old you are and whether you'll be in this house for years, but it seems to me that this job is barely possible now, risks your health - imagine if you fell on the stairs - and will inevitably get worse as time goes on. Maybe you just need to pay the extra.

Also you discounted winches as too pricey... they're not that expensive and possibly useful for getting other stuff into the attic? (Though easier if you have a hatch above a floor rather than a stair.) I've something like this above my attic hatch:


I built a strong wooden frame that's suspended from wooden roof beams; on that I have a 1m long 40mm diameter steel bar and the hoist hangs on that. It's like that so the hoist can slide sideways depending on where exactly I need it to be. I also lengthened the cable between hoist and control box (using 4-core 16A cable normally used for electric heater circuits) so that it's possible for the person controlling the hoist to be downstairs (not under the load though!) rather than right next to the hoist.

  • Besides using an electric motor for the host, you could use an old fashioned block and tackle, which can often be found much cheaper second hand and allow you to pull up quite big weights with relatively little power.
    – Willeke
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 19:59
  • The hoist (at least my one) when stopped holds whatever is hanging from it at that height. With a block and tackle you also need somewhere that you can tie off the rope so the load stays put, if there's only you doing it, and if you're pulling on the rope from below, unless it has some sort of brake? You have to be able to load the hoist at the bottom then raise it then get upstairs yourself then get the thing off the hoist. It's not as easy as you'd hope. My hoist slides sideways depending on whether my attic ladder is in position or not. Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 20:12
  • The main disadvantage of a hoist or block & tackle setup in this scenario is the fact that depending on the steepness of the stairs there is not just the vertical, but also a significant horizontal distance to be covered. For trap doors or lifting the sacks along the exterior wall of the building this would be the best answer. For a stairway, it has the aforementioned drawbacks.
    – Stephie
    Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 9:54

Do you have any local friends or relatives with kids around 15-18 years old?

They would likely do the work for a small fee and everyone would be happy.

Hopefully you would still be saving money by buying in bulk.


Can the attic really support a tonne of salt? Buildings are not magic holders of arbitrary things, you absolutely can break a building. I would absolutely not keep any salt in the attic that didn't need to be there.

Make room downstairs by de-hoarding, or moving lighter stuff to the attic.

Don't lift the salt, lift the brine!

Right next to the softener is a barrel full of water, into which you put the salt, and it leaves water in that tank to become brine slowly. The brine it uses is already in the tank, it only uses a few gallons/litres per cycle (brine contains 2-3 pounds of salt per gallon, or 250-400g per litre). Why does the brine barrel need to be next to the softener?

No reason I can think of. The only problem is the softener may not be able to draw much head, it's expecting the brine barrel to be adjacent, not a floor below. Good time to consult with the factory.

So if the brine barrel needs to be at the softener, you have a pony barrel there, and put the main one downstairs. The pony barrel has two pipes going to the main barrel: an overflow on the barrel goes down a big fat line (say 1"), it's huge so there's no way the pony barrel can overflow in the attic. Then it has a much smaller pipe for pumping the brine upstairs.

This pump would run when either a) the pony barrel's water level is below a setpoint, or b) the water softener is drawing water from the pony barrel, to assure circulation when the softener is on cycle.

The main trick is making sure the water softener doesn't add too much water to the pony barrel and overflow it, eventually overflowing the downstairs barrel also. I have no earthly idea why water softeners don't overflow their barrels. I see no apparent mechanism. If it's strictly done based on head, that will take a different approach to running the circulation pump.


How big is a 25kg bag of salt?

You can't reduce the effort (unless you install eg an electric winch) but you could make gripping the bags easier, if eg you put them into a canvas bag with handles on it.

If you put a very long loop of webbing on a single bag you could maybe get the loop over your shoulder and have it reach down almost to the ground where the canvas bag was. You'd only have to put your shoulder into the loop and straighten up a little to lift the bag maybe 6 inches from the floor.

You might even find that you could lift two bags, one behind you and one in front (or one on each side of you), using two bags connected by a long piece of webbing. It't be like a loose form of 'shoulder yoke', as used by peasants everywhere to carry heavy loads more easily.

  • He can barely handle 1 once.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 12:46
  • @Paparazzi - I understood that, but it's not all about weight. Gripping slippy bags is hard on the hands, lifting them high enough eg to waist-height is more effort than lifting them only a few inches off the floor which uses leg muscles. Also a balanced load of two bags front&back or left&right, despite weighing more, doesn't put the same strains on your back muscles as a single load. Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 13:11
  • Not buying a balances 110 is easier than an unbalanced 55. One flight you can lean forward and the hard part is the legs.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 13:16
  • @JeremyNicoll The bags are about 60cms high, 35cms wide and 20cms deep. The only workable technique to carrying them is to lift from the floor and up onto the shoulder, then, climb the stairs and crouch back DOWN again to lower it gently the floor. I quite like your yoke idea as it eliminates the hardest part - lifting to shoulder height then lowering from shoulder height. I will have a think about whether I can turn this into something workable.
    – Lefty
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 14:59
  • @Lefty - ok, they're bigger than I thought. I've moved very heavy sound-recording equipment around in the past by putting stuff into a rigid box, then turning the box end over end to sort-of roll it across a floor, and I have done that taking stuff up stairs too. It's still hard work but as one corner/edge of the box is always on the ground you don't have to lift the whole weight. It's quite tricky on stairs getting each roll upwards to engage with either the next stair or the next but one. One advantage is that you can stop on any step (with the load balanced on a step) for a rest. Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 15:15

What you need here is a stair climbing sack truck - these are specifically designed for carrying heavy objects up stairs, and look like a conventional sack truck, except that each 'wheel' is actually three wheels revolving around a central pivot. As you pull them up the stairs, the central pivot rotates and each wheel climbs onto the next step.

An example (no connection to the supplier, but I can't find a royalty-free image to include directly): stair-climbing sack truck


Currently, you store all the bags in the attic, near the water softener. However, it sounds as though you use the salt gradually throughout the year. If it is possible to store the bags on the ground level of your house, you could avoid the "back-breaking effort":

  1. Store the 20-40 bags of salt on the ground floor.
  2. Each time you need to go into the attic to add more salt, just bring with you the small amount that you need.
  • Leaving them downstairs and spreading the work is also a non-starter due to space constraints.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 16:43
  • This was the approach that I tried in the beginning, and it does make sense on the face of it. Unfortunately, due to the space constraints that @Paparazzi has reiterated, I actually had to spread them around in many different locations throughout the house and garden. This meant that I was having to handle them a lot more, which is a problem!
    – Lefty
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 17:06

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