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How Often Should My Water Softener Regenerate?

By: Craig Smith
Last Updated:
How Often Should My Water Softener Regenerate?

If you own a salt-based water softener, you are now enjoying being free from the many different problems that having hard water-causing minerals in your household water creates.

You are probably even aware that once in a while your water softener will come on and wastewater will start flowing out of its drain port. That’s part of what’s called your water softener’s regeneration cycle.

It’s a process that many water softener owners are aware of but do not fully realize the importance of, how often this cycle should take place, and what are some factors that can cause a regeneration cycle to be needed more or less frequently.

That’s where my 26-years in the water treatment business can help you out. I will not only answer those important water softener questions but will also provide you with some other useful water softener-related information.

By the time you are done reading, you will have a much better idea as to ‘how often should my water softener regenerate’.

What Is Water Softener Regeneration?

Fleck5600SXTWaterSoftenerWholeHouseSystem

To best understand how often should my water softener regenerate, you first need to know more about how a water softener’s regeneration cycle works. 

The term regeneration cycle as it pertains to a water softening device can also be loosely referred to as its cleaning process. Something that will become a little clearer to you as I briefly explain how a salt-based water softener works.

These helpful water treatment devices use a process called ion exchange to remove minerals such as calcium and magnesium that cause difficult to clean limescale buildup on kitchen & bathroom surfaces and can lead to a host of other problems too.

water-softener-diagram

The best water softeners are twin tank water softeners that use ion exchange to eliminate hard water-causing minerals. As you can see in the diagram above, this consists of a resin tank and what’s known as a brine tank.

This brine, or sometimes called a salt tank, makes a salt solution that when transferred to the resin tank coats the many special resin beads that are present in that tank.

Positively charged sodium ions in the brine solution from the brine tank are attracted to the negatively charged resin beads and because of that, they stick to them easily. 

Magnesium, Calcium, and other hard water-causing minerals also have ions that are positively charged. The positive charge that they have is even more strongly attracted to the resin beads than those of the sodium ions that are now sticking to them.

Because of their stronger positive attraction, the negatively charged resin beads will ‘exchange’ the sodium ions for the hard water ions. This is how calcium, magnesium, and other hard water-related minerals are removed from the water flowing through your water softener.

Dual-tank water softeners are very good atchanger hard water into its much preferred softer form. Don’t be fooled by the term single tank water softeners either. They are two-tank softening systems encapsulated by a one-piece shell. 

ion-exchange

Eventually, the resin beads will have so many positively charged hard water ions sticking to them that the resin beads are no longer effective at removing new hard water-causing minerals that enter into the water softener.

A water softener’s regeneration cycle rinses the hard water minerals off of the resin beads and out of the drain port on the device.

To complete the regeneration process, new sodium ions will be transferred from the salt tank so a water softener can once again effectively remove hard water-causing minerals.

How Often Should My Water Softener Regenerate?

Unfortunately, I do not have a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. That’s because many factors go into how often your water softener will need to go through the regeneration process to help keep it working efficiently.     

While one household may experience their water softener going through regeneration cycles daily, another household might only witness regeneration cycles taking place every few days or even on a weekly or longer basis.

As a general rule, most water softeners need to go through a regeneration cycle every two to three days to operate efficiently.

Very few of these water treatment devices can go longer than a week without a regeneration cycle being performed and still be counted on to work efficiently.

Factors That Affect Regeneration Frequency

Here are some of the factors that go into determining how often a water softener needs to go through a regeneration cycle in order to change hard water to soft water:  

  1. Water Usage

It only stands to reason that the more water that passes through a water softener the more minerals that its resin beads will get coated with. So, the more water usage that you have in your household, the more water softener regenerating will need to take place.

  1. The Mineral Content in Your Water

You can see in the chart below that water is classified by its total hardness concentration after testing.

water-classification

This means that if your water falls into the hard or very hard classifications that your water softener will need to go through the regeneration process much more frequently than a household that has water classified in the slightly hard to moderately hard ranges.

Most people with soft to moderately soft water will not need to use a water softener.  

  1. Resin Tank Size

The bigger your resin tank is the longer it will take for hard water causing minerals to completely coat its resin bed. That means that the larger your resin tank is, the longer it can go before it needs a regeneration cycle to clean its resin bed to get the system working optimally again.

  1. System Sophistication

There are three main ways that a regeneration cycle can be initiated. These are manual, time-initiated, and demand regeneration processes. 

Which one your water softener uses will impact the frequency that it goes into its regeneration cycle so that it can more efficiently perform changing hard water to soft water.

FAQs

Here are some questions about softener regeneration cycles that I regularly get asked about:   

How Does A Water Softener Know When to Regenerate?

Here are the three main ways that water softeners use to know when to regenerate so they can better produce soft water:

  • Manual Regeneration

You very seldom nowadays will you find water softeners that have a regeneration cycle that is manually initiated. These are very common on older water softener systems.

These only perform a regeneration cycle when you go to your water softener’s physical location in your home and initiate the process yourself.

  • Time-Initiated Regeneration

Since most people do not want to bother with manually initiating their water softener regeneration phase, manufacturers then started designing systems with an electronic control valve.

This type of control valve allows homeowners to program regeneration cycles into the system that are done automatically at specific time intervals.

  • Demand Regeneration (Water Usage)

Modern water softeners have control systems that take some of the guesswork out of when their regeneration cycle needs to take place.

These more sophisticated water softening devices monitor how much water has passed through them (water usage) since the last regeneration cycle. When a certain water usage gallonage is reached, they will once again start the system regeneration process.

How Long Does Water Softener Regeneration Take?

For most water softeners the regeneration process takes between 60 to 90-minutes.  While this is the norm, you must also be aware that there are exceptions to these regeneration times. So, if your model water softener takes two hours to complete its regeneration cycle its no cause for alarm.

How Do I Know When My Softener Is Regenerating?

There are a few different ways that you can tell if your water softener is currently undergoing regeneration. The most obvious of which is this being indicated by a message on your system’s control head.

If you are standing next to the unit during a regeneration cycle, you will probably hear sounds like water is running and the small hum from your water softener’s electric pump motor.

Can I Use Water While My Softener Is Regenerating?

The answer to the question of whether I can use my water during my water softener’s regeneration phase is yes, that is if it has a bypass valve for the system (most do).

Just be aware that all of the water that is now coming into your home will once again have calcium, magnesium, and other minerals in it as long as your water softening system is being bypassed.  

Do Water Softeners Regenerate Automatically?

When asking if your water softener regenerates automatically, if you mean that once the regeneration cycle starts it will complete this operation itself, then the answer is yes. 

Once a water softener’s regeneration cycle has been initiated it carries out the entire process on its own.    

A Clean Water Softener is a More Efficient Water Softener

The only drawback to having your water softener go through a regeneration cycle is that it produces wastewater. This is why some individuals that prefer to live a greener lifestyle prefer to use salt-free water softeners.

Other than that, water softener regeneration cycles help to keep the resin beads in their main tank cleaner and freed up to attract and capture the next wave of positively charged minerals that enter into the system.

That’s why the importance of having your water softener go through the regeneration process at a regular interval is so important.

Over time, you should be able to come up with a regeneration schedule that keeps your water softener working efficiently while at the same time is not causing you to waste water needlessly.

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AUTHOR
Craig Smith
Craig got his start in water working in the swimming pool and spa industry. Water treatment would grow into his main career but he ended up working in the pool industry for over 26 years where much of his time was spent balancing the water in customer's swimming pools and installing water filtration equipment. Craig offers an abundance of water treatment knowledge after helping homeowners get pure water for 26 years.

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