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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 replenish the resin bed.
But is there such thing as too frequent?
If you’re wondering, “how often should my water softener regenerate?” this guide will answer your question.
I’ll be discussing the regeneration process and the factors affecting the frequency of regeneration. I’ll also answer some additional questions you may have about water softener regeneration.
➰ 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 bed, while sodium ions are released to replace these minerals in water.
The resin beads can only contain so many sodium ions.
When all sodium has been used up in the tank, and the media bed is saturated with calcium and magnesium, the unit must regenerate, or recharge.
When a water softener is regenerating, calcium and magnesium ions are flushed out of the unit. The resin is then replenished with salt from the brine tank, and the system is ready to work 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. If your water softener does regenerate in the day, you can set your water to bypass the unit. This would give you access to water, but it wouldn’t be softened.
🕓 How Often Should My Water Softener Regenerate?
There’s no clear timeline for water softener regeneration. The answer depends on several factors, discussed below.
However, 2 to 3 days is generally considered the standard timeframe before a water softener will need to regenerate. The regeneration process can be manually scheduled by you, but many water softeners nowadays will automatically regenerate when the resin’s sodium levels drop.
Don’t believe the idea that the more often a softener regenerates, the better. If you program an initiated regeneration too regularly, you’ll end up wasting salt and using unnecessary water and electricity.
💬 Factors Affecting Regeneration Frequency
The hardness of your water can affect how often your water softener regenerates. The more calcium and magnesium your water contains, the harder the softener system will have to work to remove them.
More salt will be used during the regeneration process, and the resin bed will require replenishing more regularly.
Your system may need to regenerate daily if you have particularly high water hardness. This will help maintain a constant supply of soft water to your household.
Questions like how often should your water softener regenerate are easier to answer when you know your current daily water usage. If you have a larger family and use a higher volume of water per day, your system will be needed more regularly to soften your 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 water. This means that the resin will take longer to become saturated, providing effective water treatment over a number of days, rather than needing to regenerate daily.
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.
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 hold onto the same volume of minerals. This means that the system will have to start the regeneration process more regularly as there will be fewer available sodium ions available for ion 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 my 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.
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 started off at, it will lose quality over its years of service. The average water softener can last for between 15 and 20 years if installed and maintained properly. But there will come a time when it loses function, 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, you 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 be 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 set 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, depending on your water usage. 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.
Likely, your softener will regenerate every 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 you have a bypass valve.
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 set up manually in the first place, and you might have to input your information into the control panel to determine how much salt and water will run through the tank every day.
Once the unit has figured out an average, it will decide how often it will have to regenerate to provide optimum hard water treatment.
Typically, softeners will regenerate 2-3 times a week, usually during the night.
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. 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 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 benefitting from soft water 24 hours a day, making your investment worthwhile.