What Does Water Softener Regeneration Sound Like?

The only way to know that a water softener is doing its job, aside from testing your water hardness, is to listen for regeneration.

When a water softener performs a regeneration cycle, it tells you that the system is properly using salt in the resin tank, and replenishing the salt when it runs out.

You’ve heard your water softener making a few random noises, but what sounds should you look out for that tell you the system is regenerating?

TL;DR

If you’re looking for the short, quick answer, it’s this: during regeneration, a water softener produces a low, humming sound (the motor), and the sound of water flushing or running at a fast rate. Clicking is also a normal sound during regeneration, caused by the moving impellers and gears inside the water softener valve.

Each stage of regeneration has its own unique sounds. In this guide, we’ll be sharing the noises associated with every step of the regeneration process, so you know exactly what to listen out for.

🔊 The Sounds of the 7 Stages of Regeneration

Water softeners move through multiple stages during the regeneration process. We’ve broken down the stages, and the sounds they make, to help you determine whether your water softener is regenerating as it should.

Stage 1: Filling the Brine Tank

What you will hear: the sound of water filling a container

The first stage of regeneration is to fill the brine tank with water, allowing salt in the tank to dissolve in the water, forming a brine solution. Brine is needed to flush and replenish the resin bed.

The brine fill cycle is either the last stage or the first stage of regeneration, depending on whether your water softener is programmed to empty the brine tank after regeneration. The process lasts for just a few minutes, depending on the size of the water softener and how much water is needed.

A tube connecting to the water softener brine tank fills the tank with water until the tank is full enough. Once the water stops running, the softener will be silent for a couple of hours as the salt dissolves in the water, forming brine.

Brine tank slowly filling with water

Stage 2: The First Backwash Cycle

What you will hear: the sound of rushing water

A standard soft water system performs a first backwash to send water through the resin tank. The back flowing water flushes debris and sediment out of the resin beads, “fluffing up” the resin and preventing it from being too compact.

The first backwash produces the sound of rushing water, as water flows at full force through the system. If you hear this cycle, you’ll know that regeneration is beginning – the first backwash cycle is often the loudest.

Most water softeners are programmed to perform this cycle within 10 minutes. And yes, a noisy water softener is normal – as long as the sound doesn’t continue beyond regeneration!

Stage 3: Brine Draw

What you will hear: quiet trickling water

The brine draw stage is when the hardness minerals are removed from the water softener tank and flushed down the drain.

This stage of regeneration is the quietest, with a medium flow of water. You’ll probably only hear a trickle of water, rather than gushing. The process is longer than the backwash cycle stage to allow for thorough removal of the hard water minerals from the resin bed.

Stage 4: Brine Rinse

What you will hear: quiet trickling water

Once the hardness minerals have been removed from the water softener resin, the control valve will program the brine rinse cycle to begin. During the rinsing process, clean water is rinsed through the resin to remove most of the brine that was used to get rid of the hardness minerals.

You’ll hear similar, fairly muted sounds of running water during brine rinse as you heard during the previous cycle. Brine rinse lasts for about 30 minutes, depending on the programming of your water softener.

Stage 5: The Second Backwash Cycle

What you will hear: the sound of rushing water

In the second backwash, the water softener sends fast-flowing water into the resin tank. This removes any leftover salt from the resin bed and “fluffs” the resin bed once more, ensuring it can evenly regenerate in the next regeneration process.

This second cycle of backwash isn’t as long as the first cycle, usually taking around 5 minutes – but it’s just as loud. You’ll hear the sound of the brine solution washing through the system.

Stage 6: Fast Rinse

What you will hear: loud gushing water

The fast rinse stage of the regeneration process rinses the softener in the direction that water would usually flow through the system. The control valve will prompt the system to force water through the resin tank at a high pressure to settle the resin, which is still “fluffed up” from the reverse backwashing.

Fast rinsing takes about two minutes. During this water softener regeneration stage, you’ll hear the loud sound of flowing water. After the resin has been rinsed a final time, soft water production can begin again.

Water softener fast rinse

Stage 7: Refilling the Brine Tank

What you will hear: the sound of water filling a container

The brine refill cycle is the final stage of the water softener regeneration process.

You’ll only hear this stage of softening if your water softener refills the brine tank at the end of the regeneration cycle, rather than refilling it at the beginning. Some softeners refill the salt tank at the end of regeneration so that there’s plenty of time for salt to dissolve in water, forming a brine solution, before the next regeneration can begin.

This cycle takes a couple of minutes, depending on the size of the brine tank and the flow of water into the tank. You’ll hear the sound of water filling a container until the right level of water is achieved.

📥 Two, Three & Four Cycle Regeneration Sounds

Most water softeners on today’s market have four regeneration cycles, encompassing all the stages of regeneration listed above. Some water softeners have three cycles, and some – especially electric water softeners – have only two cycles of regeneration.

Check your user manual if you don’t already know how many regeneration cycles your water softener performs. Then read on to learn how your water softener should sound based on its number of cycles.

Four-Cycle Regeneration

Four is the most common number of regeneration cycles in the majority of popular electric soft water systems.

The first of the four cycles is a backwashing cycle, producing the loud sound of flowing water, as the resin is rinsed and flushed. This cycle lasts for around 10 minutes, depending on your softener’s unique programming.

Next, the system will perform a brine draw cycle, lasting for around 90 minutes. This cycle produces a much quieter flow of water.

In the third cycle, the softener performs another backwash, rinsing the brine solution out of the resin and preparing the resin for ion exchange. This backwash is typically shorter than the first backwash, but just as loud.

Finally, in the fourth cycle, the water softener resin is rinsed quickly, before switching to service mode. You’ll hear flushing water during this cycle.

The last two cycles produce similar noises, so you may not be able to differentiate between the two.

Four cycle regeneration

Three-Cycle Regeneration

In an electric water softener’s three-cycle regeneration, the first cycle will last for about 10 minutes. You’ll hear the loud sound of water flowing as the system performs a backwash cycle.

The second cycle will be longer, lasting for around 60 minutes, but quieter, as the softener performs a brine draw.

In the third cycle, the system will perform a final backwash of about 5 minutes, and you’ll hear loud flowing water.

In a non-electric water softener’s three-cycle regeneration, all the cycles will produce similar sounds however in less time and utilizing less water and do not bypass during the process

Two-Cycle Regeneration

Non-electric water softeners are most likely to use two-cycle regeneration.

During the first cycle, you’ll hear the sound of lots of water flowing through the system and out of the drain line. This is the brine solution washing the resin.

In the second cycle, you’ll hear a very similar sound of running water as the system performs a brine rinse.

⚠️ Unusual Noises to Listen Out For

You now know that the sound of running water is very normal during the water softener regeneration process. But what if your water softener is making noises when it shouldn’t be regenerating? Or what is it making noises aside from a low motor hum and running water?

Some unusual sounds in a noisy water softener are:

  • High-pitched stretching noises – a sign of clogged valves
  • Clunking or banging sounds – a sign of broken gears or sticking pistons or valves
  • Ticking or grinding noises – a sign of a failing motor, worn valves or gears, or broken gears
  • Moaning or squeaking noises – a sign of cracked gears
  • Alarm noises – some water softeners have alarms that warn when the salt is running low

If you notice any of these noises, switch your water softener into bypass noise and unplug it, then work out the cause of the noise. You may need to replace a part before you can use your system to produce soft water again. If in doubt, record a video of the unusual noises and send it to the manufacturer for advice.

If your soft water system is simply making regeneration noises when it shouldn’t, check that the system’s regeneration schedule is still correct.

water softener backwash rinse override

❔Do All Water Softeners Sound the Same During Regeneration?

Not all water softeners make identical noises when they’re regenerating. There are several factors that affect the sounds a water softener makes during a regeneration cycle:

  • The brand (i.e a Culligan water softener may sound different from a SpringWell water softener during regeneration)
  • The model
  • How the water softener is programmed (some softeners have different regeneration cycle orders)

If you’re unsure whether your water softener is regenerating or you’re concerned about a noise your system is making, consult your user manual or reach out to the manufacturer’s customer service team. Proper regeneration is essential for a properly functioning water softener. If you have any doubts or concerns, reach out to an expert.