Water softeners are highly effective at eliminating hardness and scale – but only when they’re operating properly. It’s very important that your system regenerates frequently enough to recharge the resin bed.
But is there such a thing as too frequent?
Water softener regeneration depends on a number of factors, however a system will typically regenerate once per week.
Read on to learn more!
Table of Contents
➰ What is Water Softener Regeneration?
Salt-based water softeners use the ion exchange process to soften water. In this process, magnesium and calcium ions are attracted to the resin beads within the resin bed, while sodium ions are released in “exchange” for these minerals removed from the water.
The resin beads can only contain a finite amount of sodium ions.
When nearly all of the sodium ions within the resin bed have been exhausted, and the media bed is saturated with calcium and magnesium, the unit must regenerate, or recharge.
When a water softener “regenerates”, calcium and magnesium ions are released from the resin bed by saturating the bed with sodium ions, reversing the exchange process. The resin is replenished with salt from the brine tank, and the system is ready to remove hardness again.
Most water softeners can be scheduled to regenerate when there is a low demand for soft water, such as the middle of the night. When most residential water softeners regenerate, they allow untreated water to bypass the unit. This will give you access to water, but it wouldn’t be softened.
🕓 How Often Does a Water Softener Regenerate?
There’s no clear timeline for water softener regeneration. The answer depends on several factors, discussed below.
However, once per week is generally considered the standard timeframe before a water softener will need to regenerate. This can vary significantly depending upon the source water chemistry and the size of the unit.
The regeneration process can be manually scheduled by you on a timeclock unit, but many water softeners nowadays will automatically regenerate at a preset ‘gallons to regen’. Some units employ a sensor that will trigger a regeneration when hardness reaches a predetermined level within the resin bed.
The idea that the more often a softener regenerates the better, is a false notion. If you program a system to regenerate too often, you’ll only end up wasting salt and using unnecessary water and electricity.
💬 Factors Affecting Regeneration Frequency
The hardness of your water is the most significant factor in determining how often your water softener will require regeneration. The more calcium and magnesium that your water contains, the greater the ion exchange rate.
Thus, more salt will be required during the regeneration process, and the resin bed may require replenishing more regularly. In rare instances, your system may need to regenerate daily if you have unusually high water hardness and the unit is not sized correctly. This will help maintain a constant supply of soft water to your household.
Questions such as how often your water softener should regenerate are easier to answer when you know your average daily water usage. If you have a larger family and use a greater volume of water per day, your system will need to regenerate more often to maintain a consistent supply of softened water.
Because the system is treating more hard water per day, the resin beads will become saturated at a faster rate, and more frequent softener regeneration will be required.
Resin Tank Capacity
The capacity of your resin tank also affects how often your softener regenerates.
A larger tank will hold more resin beads, which in turn can hold a higher volume of sodium. More space for sodium also means more space to hold calcium and magnesium ions when they’ve been removed from the water.
This means that the resin will take longer to become exhausted, providing effective water treatment over a longer period of time.
Of course, this may not be the case if you have a large number of people living in your household. In that instance, the amount of water used may be higher, so although you have a larger tank capacity, the system still needs to regenerate regularly.
Employing a water treatment specialist possessing the knowledge and ability to take all pertinent factors into consideration will ensure that you are provided with a properly sized, applied and installed system.
New softening resin is in its peak condition and offers the best performance. But over years of salt and water usage, as the resin’s structure starts to deteriorate, it may be unable to retain the same volume of minerals.
This means that the system may have to regenerate more often to provide softened water as there will be fewer available sodium ions available for exchange.
Most water softening resins last for upwards of 8 years. Some can even last for longer than 15 years. If you’re looking for a high-quality resin that will keep your water softener working at its optimum for longer, check out our best water softener resin guide.
Iron is a contaminant that can be particularly damaging when left in water. Luckily, most water softeners are capable of removing low-to-medium levels of this mineral. Iron is treated just like magnesium and calcium minerals, and is exchanged for sodium in the softening tank.
Note that if your iron levels are particularly high, your water softener may not be capable of removing it completely.
In fact, too much iron can actually damage your water softener, so it’s worth testing your water for this contaminant – especially if you use a private well. There’s a small but growing market of water softeners for well water that can tackle rust more effectively. Find out more in my guide about these systems.
The type of control valve your water softener uses will determine the regeneration settings. If your water softener has a valve with a built-in clock, it follows a specific schedule and regenerates according to a pre-set timer.
Metered softener systems are a little different. They regenerate based on how much water has been used.
This can be useful if your level of water usage is sporadic, such as if you’re in your house for several days at a time before working away from home for a period of several days. Check your user manual if you’re unsure what menu settings your softener’s control valve uses.
Related: How to set a water softener timer
How often will your water softener regenerate when it gets older? The likelihood is that it’ll regenerate more frequently – perhaps it’ll regenerate every day rather than every two to three days. This is especially the case for single-tank softeners.
No matter how efficient your softener was at the beginning, it will lose effectiveness over its years of service. The average water softener can last between 15 and 20 years if installed and maintained properly. But there will come a time when the end of its useful life arrives, and you’ll have to consider buying a replacement model.
Clogged Brine Line
The brine tank in your water softener needs to be working properly for the system to carry out proper regeneration. If your tank fails to empty or fill properly, the entire softening process will be affected.
For ion exchange to take place, salt must be dissolved in water, producing a sodium-rich substance called brine. This brine is then sent into the softening tank, where it regenerates the resin beads.
If a blockage in the brine line prevents water from entering or leaving the tank, or reduces the amount of water that passes through, your system may have to regenerate far more regularly – or it may even become stuck in a constant regeneration cycle.
You can resolve this issue by flushing the system to clear the blockage.
❔ Frequently Asked Questions
How Does My Water Softener Know When to Regenerate?
It depends what type of regeneration your water softener offers. The two most common types of regeneration are demand regeneration and time-initiated regeneration.
In time-initiated regeneration, the unit is set to regenerate a certain number of times a week, based on information provided by a built-in timer. This takes place at a specific time of day, usually overnight, when the demand for water is minimal.
If your softener uses demand regeneration, on the other hand, it will track how much water is used and signal the unit to regenerate once a specific amount of water has passed through.
Demand regeneration is more efficient, but it could occur at any time of day if the unit is not configured or programmed properly. However, you can usually schedule a recharge on the system’s menu.
How Long Does Water Softener Regeneration Take?
The water softener regenerate process isn’t quick. Softeners may take more than 2 hours to fully replenish the resin beads. That’s why it’s convenient to set your unit to regenerate overnight, whether that’s every day or several times a week.
If you don’t want to use untreated water in your home at all, setting regeneration around your own schedule is the best way to make sure only soft water is sent through your house.
How Do I Know If My Water Softener is Regenerating?
Noises like running water and a motor hum are signs that you have a water softener regenerating. These sounds indicate that the brine solution is washing over the water softener’s resin.
Most likely, your softener will be programmed to regenerate at night during low water usage, so you may not be awake to hear when it’s happening. But you will know if your system is failing to regenerate because the hardness level of your water will rise.
You probably will be familiar with soft water by now – it feels silkier and has a distinctive taste. If your softener hasn’t regenerated and you end up with hardness minerals in your water again, you should taste it – and you’ll also notice scale forming on your surfaces.
Can I Use Water While My Softener is Regenerating?
Yes, if your unit internally bypasses.
This will simply send water straight through your pipes without running it through the softener. Of course, you won’t be using soft water if you choose to do this, so if you’re trying to avoid hard water minerals damaging your home, it’s best to wait until the regeneration cycle has finished.
Do Water Softeners Regenerate Automatically?
The majority of modern water softeners carry out automatic regenerations.
Your softener may need to be initially programmed, and you might have to input information into the control panel to determine how much salt will be used during regeneration and how often regenerations occur.
Once the unit has compiled average water usage data, it will help determine how often it will need to regenerate to provide optimum hard water treatment.
Typically, softeners will regenerate once per week, usually during the night.
Related: How do I stop my water softener from regenerating?
How Do I Set the Regeneration Frequency on My Water Softener?
The latest water softener systems allow you to set regeneration frequency on the control valve.
When you scroll through the menu, how often regeneration is performed should be an option you can select and amend.
I would recommend reading your user manual and considering the factors above, including your water softener’s capacity, your water usage and your hard water level, if you want to keep your softener salt and water usage at a minimum.
What’s the Problem with Regenerating Too Often?
As I mentioned in this guide, most water softeners will only need to regenerate once every two to three days or less. In certain circumstances, your system might have to regenerate more often than this, but it’s important not to pre-set regeneration for twice a day if your system doesn’t require this.
If your water softener is regenerating too often, the resin could end up getting replenished with new sodium when it hasn’t yet become saturated with minerals.
This means usable sodium will be washed down the drain.
If this happens quite often, you could end up wasting salt, which means you’ll need to buy salt more regularly than you actually need it. You’ll also waste more water and electricity than necessary.
What Can I Do If I’m Still Unsure?
Some water softeners may function uniquely from others.
Though most regenerate based on water usage, glitches and faults within the valve or talk can affect the regeneration schedule.
I would recommend speaking to a water treatment specialist or a professional plumber if you need help understanding your system’s settings or user manual, or you think there might be a problem with your unit.
Getting professional advice can help ensure you’re benefiting from soft water 24 hours a day, making your investment worthwhile.