How to Bypass a Water Softener (Diagram Included)

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A water softener bypass valve lets you divert water away from the softener, running water directly from your underground water line or well straight through your home’s plumbing. Most bypass valves are U-shaped, and are located on your water pipe, close to where they’re connected to your water softener.

Keen to learn how to bypass a water softener for maintenance or for any other reason? We’ve covered everything you need to know in this guide.

🤔 How Does a Bypass Valve Work?

A bypass valve has two inlets: one that allows your water supply to access the valve; and one that sends this water either into the water softener or straight through into your home’s plumbing system (depending on which way the valve is turned).

Bypass valves also have two outlets: one that allows soft water from the water softener to enter the valve; and one that sends this water from the softener into your plumbing.

When you turn, switch on, or activate a bypass valve, it prevents water from entering or leaving the water softener, and sends it directly into your home’s plumbing. That’s why it’s called a “bypass” valve – it allows water to bypass the softener.

Water Softener Bypass Diagram

Water softener by-pass diagram

📑 Types of Bypass Valves

There are three types of bypass valves for water softeners that you might encounter. Most valves can be turned, but there are also push-in and lever-style valves available.

Different water softeners have different bypass valve types. Look at the back of or on top of your unit to identify which bypass valve you have:

  • A “push-in” or “push-push” bypass valve has a simple button that you press to activate the inlet and outlet valves.
  • A “turn” bypass valve has a handle or a knob that you can turn to activate the inlet and outlet valves. There may be a separate knob or handle for each of the two valves.
  • A “lever-style” bypass valve has a lever that can be moved to activate the inlet and outlet valves.

📤 How to Bypass a Water Softener With a Handle Bypass Valve

To bypass a water softener with a handle bypass valve, follow these steps:

Step 1: Locate the Valve

Locate the bypass handle or knob on the water softener. This is usually found on the left or right side of the unit.

Step 2: Turn the Handle

Turn the handle or knob in the direction of the arrows, or clockwise, until you can’t turn it any further.

If it’s been a while since you bypassed your water softener or you’ve never bypassed it before, the handle may be stiff. Try turning your kitchen faucet or shower on full to relieve some pressure if you’re struggling to turn the handle.

Step 3: Turn the Handle Counter-Clockwise

When you want to send water back into the softener, turn the handle counter-clockwise or in the opposite direction.

📖 How to Bypass a Water Softener With a Button Bypass Valve

If your water softener has a button bypass valve, follow these instructions:

Step 1: Find the Button Valve

Check the top and sides of the softener for the bypass button.

Step 2: Press the Button

To activate the valve, simply push the button firmly until it presses in fully. This might be difficult if you’ve never bypassed the system or you haven’t done it in a while.

You can use a rubber mallet to tap the button if you can’t press it yourself. Just don’t use a regular hammer because this is likely to damage the valve.

Button bypass valve

Step 3: Re-activate the Valve

When you want access to soft water again, firmly press the button on the other side of the bypass valve until it is fully pressed in.

🔩 How to Bypass a Water Softener With a Lever Bypass Valve

If your water softener has a lever valve, follow these steps to put it into bypass mode:

Step 1: Locate the Valve

Find the lever bypass valve. It should be on, or near to, the softening unit.

Step 2: Move the Lever

Move the lever into bypass. The valve should have arrows or instructions telling you which way to move it. Usually, you’ll need to move it from left to right.

Lever type bypass valve

Step 3: Move the Lever Back

Once you’ve done what you needed to do, move the bypass lever back into its original position.

❔ Why Bypass your Water Softener?

Now we know how to bypass a water softener, let’s consider some of the reasons why you might want to do this.

You’re Performing Maintenance or Servicing Your Softener

Certain maintenance tasks, like topping up the salt, cleaning the brine tank or resin tank, or replacing the resin, all need to be done when the softener is in bypass mode. Not only will this keep you safe from moving parts during the task, it’ll also make your job easier, preventing potential leaks and flooding.

You Don’t Need Soft Water

Some jobs simply don’t call for soft water. If you need a lot of water to wash your car or water the lawn in the summer months, it probably seems wasteful to use softened water. It doesn’t make a difference whether you wash your car in soft or hard water, and many plants actually thrive if they’re watered with mineral-rich hard water. Bypassing your water softener in these instances will help you reduce your energy use and preserve your water softener by only using it when it’s needed.


You’ve Noticed a Problem

If you notice leaking, an odd noise, or any other problem with your water softener, you might need to activate the bypass valve to prevent potential damage to your home or the system itself. It’s especially important to turn the bypass valve if your water softener is leaking. This will prevent any more water from getting into the unit, potentially helping you to avoid a catastrophic flood.

🔧 How to Replace a Softener Bypass Valve

Bypass valves don’t last forever. If you need to replace an old or faulty bypass valve, the job should take about 15 minutes. Follow these steps:

  1. Close your main shut-off valve to prevent water from flowing into your home. Open your faucets to reduce water pressure in the softener.
  2. Unplug your softener from your power outlet.
  3. Find your bypass valve and make sure all valves are closed.
  4. Unscrew and unclip the valve to disconnect it from the unit.
  5. Allow your softener to drain and let the plumbing dry.
  6. Attach the new bypass valve to your existing plumbing. Make sure the valve has a tight seal to prevent leaks.
  7. Open your main shut-off valve to allow water back into your pipes, then check the valve for leaks.
  8. If there are no leaks, plug your softener back into your power socket and switch it back on.
Changing water softener bypass valve

🧠 Bypassing a Water Softener FAQs

How do you turn off a soft water system?

To turn off a softening system, you should either press or turn the bypass valve to the opposite side, and unplug the softener from the power outlet.

What position should my water softener bypass valve be in?

It depends on the design of the valve, but it will usually be pointed left. A valve that’s in bypass will usually be turned clockwise.

Will water softener regenerate if bypass is on?

Yes. In fact, a water softener automatically goes into bypass mode during regeneration, sending unsoftened water through your water heater and around your home while the softener is out of action.

How do you bypass a Kenmore water softener?

Kenmore softeners use a bypass handle, so move the handle in the opposite direction to bypass the softener.

How do you bypass a Fleck water softener?

Most Fleck softeners use a lever valve, so turn the lever to bypass the softener.

How long is it safe to keep a water softener in bypass mode?

You could technically keep your softener in bypass indefinitely as long as the unit was drained, but your home would no longer be protected from limescale.

  • Brian Campbell
    Founder, Water Treatment Specialist

    Brian Campbell is a water treatment specialist and water expert based in Denver, Colorado. He's always been obsessed with water quality, and has spent years testing all kinds of treatment devices from simple pitchers and portable devices to complex whole home systems.

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