How to Reset Water Softener after Power Outage (Step-by-Step)

It’s never an ideal situation when you experience a power outage.

Most people’s thoughts immediately jump to the food in their refrigerators – and rightly so! Facing the prospect of throwing out all your stored food is anxiety-inducing.

Other appliances that require electricity, such as water softeners, end up being an afterthought.

It’s only when your power returns that you check on your water softener… and realize that all the settings are back to default.

What next?

Luckily, resetting a water softener after a power outage isn’t such a daunting task. We’ve done it a few times ourselves, and it’s pretty much like setting up your softener after first purchasing it.

In most cases, this is what you’ll need to do:

Once the power has returned, enter the “customer setting” mode on your water softener. Input the details required for system regeneration. These details depend on whether you’re programming demand regeneration or time-initiation regeneration.

For more info on how to reset water softener after power outage, read on.

🔌 What Happens if a Water Softener Loses Power?

When a water softener loses power, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, depending on the type of softener you own, you may still have access to soft water.

The smartest water softeners will continue to maintain their time and settings for up to 24 hours after a power outage. You’ll still be able to use soft water during this time.

Other water softeners aren’t so smart, and will lose their function – and forget their settings – immediately after a power outage. In this case, you’ll need to reset the entire system once your power has returned.

If you live in an area where power outages are frequent, consider installing a backup generator that will keep your water softener working for several hours after the outage – hopefully until you’re able to restore electricity in your home.

🔄 How To Reset a Water Softener

Now onto the important question: how to reset water softener after power outage?

You can’t predict when power outages will occur, and for what reason. If your power outage surpasses 24 hours, it’s unlikely that your water softener will remember its settings. That means that, when you switch the softener back on, it’ll be out of whack, not knowing what time it is, or when it’s supposed to perform a recharge cycle.

Before we jump into the stages of resetting your water softener system, take this advice: read your user manual!

The information in this article is based on our own experience and knowledge of water softeners, and the general reset process is accurate. However, your user manual may reveal some interesting tidbits about your own water softener that we won’t cover in this guide.

There are four key steps involved in resetting a water softener:

1. Reset your Water Softener Regeneration Timings

Your first job is usually to reset your water softener’s regeneration timings – or the time that the system will perform a regeneration cycle.

Manually resetting regeneration cycles is easy. Visit “settings” or “display” and find the setting for regeneration time. If you’re setting time-initiated regeneration, input the time that you’d prefer the softener to regenerate. Press the up or down buttons to alter the time, making sure you’ve correctly selected AM or PM.

The best time to regenerate is 2 AM, because most people are asleep at this time and don’t need to access tap water.

After you’ve selected the most convenient time, press “display”, “change”, “update”, or any button that will save your regeneration time.

Your water softener will then regenerate according to your scheduled time – job done.

Important note: if you own a softener that uses demand-initiation regeneration, you may not be required to input a time for the regeneration process. This is because the system will automatically regenerate based on your water hardness and water usage.

Twin tank water softeners
Setting the regen timing

2. Reset the Time on your Water Softener System

Once you’ve set the regeneration time, you need to make sure your water softener’s display time is correct.

Why is this important?

Let’s say that it’s 10 PM at night, and you’ve set your water softener to regenerate at 2 AM – but your water softener thinks it’s currently 4 PM.

What this means is that the water softener will regenerate based on its own perceived 2 AM – your 8 PM. You might still be using water to shower, wash the dishes, and so on at this time.

To make sure your water softener actually regenerates at 2 AM, check that the time display is right, and change it if it isn’t.

To do this, make sure you’re in the customer setting mode on the control panel and find the “set time” setting. Double-check that you’re changing the water softener’s time display – not the regeneration time, which you’ve already set.

Press the up or down button to change the time, matching it to the time on your watch. When you’ve set the time, press “display”, “update”, “confirm”, “save”, “change”, or any other button that saves the correct time on your softener.

reset time settings on water softener control head
Resetting the system time settings

3. Bypass the Regeneration Cycle

Bad luck if your power went out while your water softener was in the middle of a recharge cycle.

It’s unlikely that this will happen, considering that regeneration only takes around 90-120 minutes out of the entire day. However, if you are dealing with this situation, it’s easy to resolve.

In this case, the water softener may attempt to resume the regeneration process when the power comes back on. It’s best to bypass the recharge cycle and set the system to perform a manual regeneration, so you know that the resin tank has been properly flushed and recharged.

Side note: some water softeners are smart enough to regenerate even during a power outage. Isn’t modern technology handy?

water softener backwash rinse override
Setting a manual backwash regeneration cycle

4. Use the Bypass Valve

If the power goes out when your water softener is in the middle of a regeneration cycle, you’ll need to use the system’s bypass valve.

Activate the valve to allow water to drain from the tanks as soon as possible after losing power. When the power comes back on, the system should correctly perform a recharge cycle. You can set the system to manually regenerate if it doesn’t do it automatically.

Again, this is only needed if your water softening system actually cuts off while regenerating. Remember that some water softeners are smart enough to continue regenerating during a power outage. 

water softener bypass valves
Using the bypass valves

🔘 Resetting a Demand-Initiated Water Softener

Demand-initiated water softeners regenerate based on water usage and hardness. In some cases, you won’t even need to reset these softeners after a power outage. If they don’t use an electric timer, then they may keep running regardless of power.

However, if you do need to reset this kind of system for whatever reason, you’ll usually just need to input your water usage and your water hardness so that the system can accurately regenerate after so much water has been used. Follow your user manual for the steps you need to take.

demand initiated water softener regeneration setup
Om-demand system setup

💬 Water Softener Power Outage FAQs

Why do water softeners need electricity?

Most water softeners need electricity to regenerate. Softening systems use an electric time setting that tells them exactly when to regenerate. Without electricity, the system doesn’t know when to regenerate because it doesn’t know what time it is – so it can’t work properly.

Are there any water softening methods that don’t require electricity?

Yes, actually. Water softeners don’t need electricity for the majority of their processes, and there are a number of sustainable water softening systems on the market today that don’t use electricity at all.

Rather than using an electric timer, non-electric water softeners regenerate based on a meter that turns as the water flows through it. This can help you to reduce water waste and save salt because the softener regenerates based on water usage, rather than based on the time of the day.

You’ve probably heard of non-electric water softeners already. They’re called demand-initiated water softeners and they’re sold by a select few water softener manufacturers.

Are electric or non-electric water softeners better?

It depends on your needs.

For instance, if you like the convenience of a water softener that regenerates at a certain time, every time, you don’t get many power outages, and you don’t mind a bit of potential water waste, then electric water softeners are fine for you.

If you don’t mind when your water softener regenerates, you’d rather save money and salt with a system that regenerates based on water use, or you live in an area with frequent power cuts, then it’s worth looking at non-electric water softeners.

These softeners are more efficient and can help you save money, which makes them the better choice in our eyes. With that said, if you need constant access to softened drinking water, then it may not be convenient to buy a softener that regenerates at random times throughout the day. Some of these units bypass and others do not during the regeneration process so it is best to know from the manufacturer which is right for you.

Do I need to do anything to the brine tank when resetting my water softener?

No. Once you’ve reset your water softener, the system will draw brine from the salt tank as it usually would.

Still, it might be a good time to check your water softener salt levels, and see if more salt is needed in the brine tank. We all know the importance of adding salt for softened water, so we won’t go into it here. In short, your brine tank will be fine after a system reset – just keep doing what you’re doing.

What happens when a water softener gets unplugged?

You might hope that accidentally unplugging your electric water softener won’t require the same resetting process as after a power outage. Unfortunately, even a brief loss of power (even the five seconds it takes you to realize what you’ve done and hastily shove the plug back in the socket) can require a full reprogramming.

It depends on the type of water softener you own. As we discussed earlier in this guide, some systems will remember their settings for up to 24 hours. Others, however, aren’t as clever, and you’ll need to manually input the settings again.

How do I reset a Culligan water softener?

If you have a Culligan water softener that you need to reset, here’s what you need to do:

  • Press and hold the REGEN button on your Culligan water softener, waiting until the system beeps
  • Manually change and save the regeneration time, and the days between regeneration cycles
  • Manually adjust your water hardness and save the changes
  • Save the changes to your Culligan water softener by pressing the checkmark button

We’re a fan of Culligan and know a fair bit about their water softeners, but we still recommend that you check your user manual for more info and speak to the manufacturer if you’re unsure.

Can I use a water softener during a power outage?

Yes. In most cases, a modern water softener will still produce soft water during power outages. However, most systems will only be able to remember their settings for 24 hours, which means they won’t be able to perform a regeneration cycle as needed. For this reason, you’ll probably end up drinking hard water eventually, even if it passes through your water softener.

Check your owner’s manual to determine whether it’s safe to use your softener during a power outage. 

How long can a water softener be without power?

Most water softeners can safely be without power for a few days, even if they lose their memories after 24 hours. However, if the softener is unable to regenerate without power, the resin won’t be flushed and replenished.

When a water softener regenerates, it does more than just add more sodium to the resin – it also removes impurities that could cause fouling of the resin beads. After a week or two, bacteria could start growing in the brine and resin tanks. If water is still passing through the softener without regenerating, iron and hardness minerals could also foul the resin.