How Long Does it Take for a Water Softener to Work?

🤝 Our content is written by humans, not AI robots. Learn More

If you’ve bought a water softener, you’re probably keen to get it working as soon as possible. But how long does it take for a water softener to start working after you’ve installed it? How quickly will you get soft water?

Let’s find out.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • It takes between 60 and 120 minutes for a water softener to work after being installed in your home.
  • Factors affecting how long it takes for a softener to work are the type of water softener, the water softener size, and the water softener’s age.
  • You may not notice all the benefits of a water softener until 2 weeks after installing the system.

⏱ How Long Does A Water Softener Take To Work?

💡 Your water softener will work – produce soft water – within 60 to 120 minutes (1 to 2 hours) after installing it. This is the average time it takes for a water softener to regenerate.

Most water softeners will regenerate immediately after installation to load the resin beads with sodium ions (needed for the ion exchange water softening process).

As soon as the softener has regenerated, it should be ready for use, and you’ll enjoy softened water in your home.

You might not notice the benefits of a water softener immediately. It takes up to 2 weeks for the softening process to make enough of an impact for you to see reduced or no scale and enjoy the other soft water benefits (like better skin and hair health, less soap required to lather with water, etc.).

You’re more likely to notice that your cold water is soft first. If you have a hot water heater with a large tank, the remaining hard water might need to be used up in the tank before the soft water can be used.

Using water while water softener regeneration takes place

📊 Factors Affecting How Long It Takes For A Water Softener To Work

Some of the factors affecting how long it takes for a water softener to work are:

The Type of Water Softener

Salt-based water softeners are the fastest to be effective at producing soft water and reducing scale because they’re the only softening systems that remove hard minerals entirely.

You should notice immediately that your water has a different taste and a silkier feel, due to the lack of hardness minerals and the presence of sodium ions.

On the other end, it might take you a few more days to notice any differences after installing a salt-free water conditioner.

Your water quality will still be the same, and the only way to know whether or not this system is working is to check for new scale formation. When mineral deposits no longer form on surfaces that come into contact with water, your conditioner is working.

Find out more in our full guide on the different types of water softeners.

The Water Softener Size

The size of your softener has an affect on the regeneration process, and therefore how long it’ll take for the softener to work after installing it.

Any water softener installed in your home will need to perform a regeneration cycle before it can operate. You’ll need to schedule this first regeneration cycle manually.

The water softener regeneration process sends salt brine (from the loaded brine tank) into the resin tank, where the sodium ions are flushed into the resin beads. This prepares the resin bed with salt, ready for softening.

A typical water softener will take 1-2 hours in this initial regeneration cycle. Once this time has passed, your softener will be ready to use.

However, the size of your softener determines the length of water softener regeneration. Large systems have bigger resin beds, and the bigger the resin bed, the more salt is needed, and the longer the brine rinse will take.

This means it might take an extra few minutes for a large softener to work due to a slightly longer regeneration cycle.

Water softener installed in a shed

The Water Softener’s Age

Your water softener’s age might also affect how long it takes to work after installing the unit.

👨‍🔧 Older water softeners tend to be less efficient at everything – from the actual softening to water softener regeneration.

The less efficient the system, the longer it takes to get the job done. It might take longer for your softener to start working properly between regenerations if it’s old and not as efficient as the newer softener models available today.

Your Existing Scale

Finally, the amount of existing scale in your home may also affect how quickly your water softener starts to properly work in your home.

The more existing scale you have, the longer it’ll take for this scale to clear after installing your softener. When this scale is dissolved, it’ll leach hardness ions back into your softened water, affecting its quality.

Showerhead with limescale buildup

🔎 How to Tell If A Water Softener Is Working

You might be waiting for your softener to work without knowing exactly what to look out for. Signs your softener are working are:

  • No more scale buildup on your faucets, shower heads, coffeepot, shower screens, and other water-using appliances.
  • Silky-feeling water due to the sodium content.
  • Slightly different-tasting water due to the lack of hardness minerals and the presence of sodium ions.

You can tell if a traditional salt-based softener is working by testing for soft water.

In a properly functioning unit, the water softener’s resin beads will release dissolved sodium into hard water, exchanging this mineral with calcium and magnesium.

So, if you test your water after softening, it should contain no hardness minerals.

You can use an at-home water test or pay for a laboratory test if you want the most accurate results.

Another quick, easy way to test for soft water is to conduct the soap test:

  1. Fill a clear bottle with water from your faucet and add a dash of dish soap.
  2. Put the lid on the bottle and shake it for 30 seconds.

Clear water with bubbles on the surface is soft. Cloudy water with no layer of bubbles is hard.

water testing with tap score

🚱 Why Isn’t My Water Softener Working?

So, you’ve waited a few hours after installing a water softener for it to start working, but it seems like nothing has happened. There are a few reasons why this could be:

  • You haven’t turned on your water supply. It’s a simple mistake and easily done! If you’ve just finished installing a water softener, you might have forgotten to turn the water supply back on. A water softener can’t work if it has no water to soften.
  • You haven’t plugged the softener in. Another easy mistake that’s worth checking. Most modern water softeners need electricity to regenerate. Make sure your softener is properly plugged into a nearby power outlet.
  • See if you can manually start a regeneration cycle. If you can’t, there’s likely a mechanical issue that may need professional troubleshooting.
  • There’s a problem in the brine tank. You might not have enough salt in the tank for the softening to take place, or the salt pellets might have clumped together and clogged the bottom of the tank, preventing brine from leaving.
Water Softener Not Working

❔ How Long Will It Take For A Water Softener To Work? FAQ

How long does it take for salt in a water softener system to work?

It takes between 60 and 120 minutes for the salt in a softener to work. During this time, softener regeneration takes place, sending salt from the brine tank into the resin bed. The salt in a softener will only work once it has been sent into the resin tank; this is the tank that hard water flows through for softening.

Why is my water still hard with a water softener?

If you’ve installed a softener but you still have hard water, check that the salt level in the brine tank and make sure there are no clogs or salt bridges. Check also that the softener is plugged in and your water supply is turned on. Finally, check your softener’s regeneration schedule -it might not be regenerating frequently enough for your water usage or hardness.

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

You’ll know if your softener is working properly because you should start to notice the benefits of soft water, including no scale formation, better lathering, silky water, and better water pressure. You could also test your water hardness to confirm that the system is doing its job.

Why does a water softener regenerate?

Why exactly does a water softener regenerate? A typical single-tank water softener eventually runs out of sodium in the resin tank. The only way to replenish this sodium is to draw it out of the brine tank during regeneration. The regeneration process allows a softening system to provide soft water for years on end without any manual input from you.

  • Brian Campbell
    President & CEO, CWS, CWR

    Brian Campbell, a WQA Certified Water Specialist (CWS) and Certified Water Treatment Representative (CWR) with 5+ years of experience, helps homeowners navigate the world of water treatment. After honing his skills at Hach Company, he founded his business to empower homeowners with the knowledge and tools to achieve safe, healthy water. Brian's tested countless devices, from simple pitchers to complex systems, helping his readers find the perfect fit for their unique needs.

Scroll to Top