How Long Does Water Softener Regeneration Take

If you own a traditional salt-based water softener, there’s no avoiding the fact that the system needs to regenerate.

While the regeneration process is pretty inconvenient, it thankfully doesn’t take too long.

TL;DR

Most water softeners take between 90 and 120 minutes to carry out a complete regeneration cycle.

If you’re curious to learn more about regeneration, we’ve got you covered.

We’ve been researching, testing, and using water softeners for about a decade, so we know all the ins and outs of the water softener regeneration cycle.

With that said, we can’t provide specific information about your own water softener. So, once you’ve finished reading this guide, we recommend checking out your user manual to learn more about your system’s regeneration times.

🌀 What Is Water Softener Regeneration?

Water softener regeneration is the process of flushing the resin bed and replenishing it with fresh sodium ions.

Regeneration is a clever process – it means that you don’t have to replace the resin every time it gets saturated with hardness minerals, which would be an expensive business.

To understand the regeneration process, let’s look at the water softening process itself.

Salt-based water softeners use a process called ion exchange to soften water. In this process, sodium ions from the brine tank are transported into the resin tank in a salt brine solution (dissolved salt in water). When hard water flows through the resin beads, some of the sodium ions in the resin bed are released into the water in exchange for calcium and magnesium hardness ions.

Eventually, the resin bed becomes depleted of sodium and saturated with calcium and magnesium. When this happens, the resin needs to be flushed – removing all the unwanted hardness ions – and replenished with sodium ions. This requires regeneration.

When a water softener regenerates, water is sent through the resin tank, where it lifts the hardness minerals out of the resin bed and flushes them down a drain.

Ion Exchange Process
Ion Exchange Process

📰 What’s Involved in the Regeneration Process?

Wondering why on earth it takes a water softener so long to regenerate? It’ll probably make more sense when you know just how much is involved in water softener regeneration.

Let’s take a look at the 5 main stages that make up the regeneration cycle:

Stage 1: Filling

In stage 1 of the regeneration cycle, the brine tank fills with water. The salt in the brine tank dissolves in this water, creating a brine solution that will be used in the next stage.

Stage 2: Brining

Next up, the brine solution travels out of the brine tank to the resin tank. The brine is used to flush the resin bed in cycles, clearing the hardness minerals and washing them away. This process will continue until the resin beads are completely flushed and renewed with sodium ions.

This process can take between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the type of softener you own.

Stage 3: Brine rinse

After the main brining process, the brine is rinsed once more in a 5-minute brine rinse. This ensures that the tank is completely clean of leftover residue and minerals. 

Stage 4: Backwash

The system backwash flushes the resin tank for a further 10 minutes. This process involves quickly filling and flushing the tank – just in case any remaining hardness minerals are still caught in the resin beads.

Stage 5: Fast Rinse

Finally, water is flushed through the resin tank once more, ensuring that the resin bed is reset.

⏱ How Long is the Regeneration Process?

Now for the all-important question: how long does water softener regeneration take?

The overall time for regeneration is, on average, between 90 and 120 minutes.

Which factors affect how long a regeneration cycle takes, or how often regeneration occurs? We’ve shared a few of them below.

Water Softener Age

Generally, the older the softener, the less efficient its performance. A less efficient softening system takes longer to do everything, including regeneration.

Functioning Issues

If your softening system has suddenly started taking twice as long to regenerate, you may be facing an issue with the components in the system itself. For instance, if the brine draw line is clogged, and the softener can’t get salt brine into the resin bed, it may stall during regeneration.

Water Softener Size

The size of your softener can also affect the length of water regeneration. Large resin tanks have larger surface areas for the resin beads, which means there’s a bigger area to treat during brine flush and fast rinse.

ion exchange water softener in basement

Household Water Usage

If your water softening system treats a lot of hard water at a time, your softener probably won’t take longer during regeneration – but it’ll need to regenerate more frequently.

Water Hardness

Very hard water requires more work from a softening system than relatively soft water. Again, the hardness of your water supply is unlikely to affect regeneration time, but it will result in more frequent system regenerations.

Resin Damage

Finally, damage to the resin from contaminants like chlorine can cause the resin to lose its capacity over time, which can speed up regeneration because there’s less resin to flush and replenish.

💦 Can you Use Water During a Water Softener While It’s Regenerating?

Yes, depending on the system you can use the softener while it’s regenerating. Most softeners have a soft water reserve, which means you still have access to a limited amount of soft water during regeneration. If you just want to wash your hands or pour yourself a glass of water while your system is regenerating, you’ll most likely be fine (although, as we always say, check your user manual to be sure of how your own softener works).

If you plan to simultaneously run your dishwasher and washing machine, and take a shower while your system is regenerating – then you’ll probably get through so much water that you use up the soft water reserve pretty quickly. If you want to avoid hard water traveling around your home, make sure you don’t schedule your softener’s regeneration cycle for times of peak water use.

💬 Water Softener Regenerate FAQs

Why isn’t my water softener regenerating?

If your softening system isn’t regenerating at all, you might have an issue with the timer, or the regeneration schedule might not be set. Check your control valve for more information. Failing that, your softening system might simply have reached the end of its lifespan.

It’s important to fix this issue as soon as you notice it. No regeneration means that the softener isn’t transferring brine water from the brine tank to the resin beads, meaning that soft water can’t be produced. You probably bought the system so you could drink softened water, so this isn’t ideal. Plus, the resin beads may become fouled if they’re not being flushed out from time to time.

Setting water softer timer

Why is my water softener taking ages to regenerate?

A typical water softener takes up to 2 hours to regenerate. If you have a single-tank water softener, the regeneration cycle shouldn’t take much longer than this. If your softening system is stalling during regeneration, you may have an issue with the gallons of water flowing through your system, the water pressure, or the drain line. You may need to call a plumber to take a look at a water softener stuck in regeneration.

How often should my water softener regenerate?

The frequency of regeneration depends on the type of system you own. A time-based softener will regenerate at a set time every two or three days, while a demand-initiated water softener will regenerate based on how many gallons of water have passed through the system.

Should a water softener regenerate every day?

Following on from our above answer, no. Your softener might regenerate on a once-daily basis, but, more commonly, it’ll regenerate every two or three days, depending on the factors mentioned earlier in this guide.

Does a water softener regenerate automatically?

Typically, yes. You can program a regeneration cycle manually if needed, but the majority of water softeners are designed to regenerate automatically based on their regeneration schedule or water usage.

How do I know if my softener is regenerating?

You should be able to hear your water softener regenerating – but, of course, if regeneration is set to 2 AM, you probably don’t want to sit awake waiting for it. An alternative way to check your water softener is regenerating is to buy a water hardness testing kit online and use it to test your water supply. If the results show that your water is hard, there’s a good chance that your softener system isn’t regenerating, or it isn’t regenerating properly.

How do I get my water softener to regenerate more often?

If you don’t think your softening system is regenerating as much as it should, you can program the system to regenerate more frequently. Depending on the type of softener you own, you’ll need to either input the regeneration time or input how many gallons of water you want the system to use between regenerations.