How Much Water Does a Water Softener Use?

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If you currently use a water softener to treat hard water in your home, you’ll agree that water softeners are brilliant inventions. You can save money – and water – by using a softener to prevent limescale in your plumbing, fixtures, and appliances. But that doesn’t mean that water softeners are entirely efficient.

There’s no getting around it: all water softeners need to use water to regenerate. How much water does a water softener use for regeneration? It depends.

There are several factors affecting how much water is used during regeneration, including water quality, household water usage, and softener capacity.

On average, a water softener uses between 20 and 65 gallons of water to regenerate.

Read on to learn more about the softening system regeneration process, why water is needed, and how you can potentially reduce the amount of water used in your softener.

💭 Why Does a Water Softener Regenerate?

Water softener during regeneration

Water softeners contain a resin bed, which is where the ion exchange process takes place.

The water softener resin bed is saturated with positively-charged sodium ions. When hard water flows through the resin tank, calcium and magnesium ions are attracted to the resin beads, and equal amounts of sodium are released into the water – effectively exchanging the hardness minerals with sodium.

Eventually, all the sodium ions in the resin beads will be released, and the resin will be saturated with hardness minerals. At this point, the softener needs to perform a regeneration cycle to flush away the hardness minerals and replenish the resin with sodium.

In short, without regeneration, a water softener would have a very short lifespan. As soon as the resin depleted, you’d have to throw it out and buy a completely new resin. Imagine the price of that! It’s much more cost-efficient to flush the resin and replenish it automatically with more sodium.

⏱️ How Long Does Water Softener Regeneration Take?

The regeneration process is far from a fast one. That’s why most people set their water softener systems to regenerate overnight, so that they don’t have to clock-watch until they can use their water.

The average softener sets aside two hours for regeneration – usually between 2:00 AM and 4:00 AM.

Why does regeneration take so long? There’s a lot that goes into the process. I’ve highlighted the 5 water softener regeneration steps here.

The length of the regeneration process depends on several factors, depending on the system’s efficiency and size – both of which affect how many gallons of water are used for regeneration.

📅 How Often Does a Water Softening System Regenerate?

The frequency of softener regeneration also depends on several factors, including your water use and your water hardness level.

Most softeners have a reserve capacity of between 20 and 25%. This means that a typical water softener system won’t wait until the resin is completely depleted before regeneration. Instead, a water softener regenerates when the resin beads are between 75 and 80% saturated with calcium and magnesium minerals.

On average, water softeners regenerate two or three times per week.

Regeneration needs to happen at least once a week to prevent fouling of the resin bed, but excess regeneration can waste water.

🔎 How Many Gallons of Water are Needed for Water Softener Regeneration?

Amount of water used by a water softener during regeneration

Around 50 to 100 gallons of water are needed for a water softener to regenerate. This number assumes that the water softener is a typical single-tank system for a family of four.

There are a few things affecting the number of gallons of water needed for regeneration:

  • The hardness of your water. The harder your water, the more water is needed for regeneration.
  • The size of the system. If your water softener has a larger-than-average resin and brine tank, it makes sense that more water will be needed to regenerate the resin.
  • The system configuration. A dual-tank electric water softener has two resin tanks, meaning water is needed to regenerate each of these tanks in turn. A single-tank system uses less water for regeneration.
  • The efficiency of the system. Water softener manufacturers are getting better at designing systems that are more efficient than ever before, wasting less water during regeneration – but water will always be needed for this process.

Why does a water softener regenerate with water? It just makes sense – water is used to flush the resin, and is more effective than any other technique. Perhaps you could use another type of liquid to flush the resin tank, but water is the cheapest option, considering your water softener already has easy access to it in your home.

By the way, if you’ve ever wondered why your softener makes so much noise during regeneration, it’s because the motor starts and stops several times during the process, rather than running constantly.

🤔 Does Salt Level Affect Water Usage During Softener Regeneration?

No, the amount of water softener salt in your brine tank won’t affect how much water is used during regeneration.

Salt is an essential part of the regeneration process. Salt mixes with water in the brine tank to form a brine solution, which travels into the resin tank to distribute sodium in the resin beads.

If your brine tank is low on salt, the same amount of water will be used, but there will be less salt dissolved in the water. This means that the resin will contain less sodium required for the ion exchange process.

To reiterate: reducing the amount of salt in the salt tank won’t affect how much water is used during regeneration – it’ll just make the process less effective.

📉 How Can You Reduce How Much Water Water Softeners Waste During the Regeneration Process?

Rest assured that the water softening regeneration process adds very little to your water bill. You probably won’t even notice a difference in your water bill after installing a water softener that regenerates several times per week.

However, if you do want to prevent water waste, make sure your softening system is only regenerating when needed.

springwell water softener electronic conrol head and bluetooth app

Some systems give you the option to pre-set a manual regeneration time, known as time-initiated regeneration – let’s call this option A. The problem with this is, although the system will regenerate at a convenient time, it may end up regenerating before the resin beads are depleted.

This could mean that your water softening system regenerates when the resin bed is still 50% full of sodium, which isn’t just a waste of salt – it also tells you that the system is regenerating too frequently, needlessly wasting water.

The better alternative is to program the system to regenerate automatically, known as demand regeneration: option B. Many softeners allow you to input your average water usage and the hardness of the water in your home into the system. These softeners program regeneration cycles when they predict that the resin bed will be depleted, which tends to waste much less water and salt than option A.

🙋 Can You Use Water While a Softener is Regenerating?

Yes, you can use water while your system is regenerating. The problem with this, however, is that you won’t have access to soft water. If you’ve bought a water softener to provide your whole home – including your appliances and house water pipes – with soft water, you don’t want to use your softener while it’s regenerating.

Water softening systems are installed at your home’s point of entry, before your hot water heater. This allows them to provide softened water around your home. While the system regenerates, you won’t have access to this soft water. You’ll have to use your normal hard water, which could do all manner of damage to your home.

It’s best to wait until your softener has regenerated before using your water, so that only softened water is flowing through your pipes and plumbing.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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