What Happens if I Unplug My Water Softener?

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For whatever reason, if you’re considering unplugging your water softener, you’re probably wondering exactly what will happen when you do.

Will you still get soft water? Will the resin still be regenerated? Is an unplugged softener safe to perform maintenance on? We’ve answered all these questions and more in this guide.

πŸ“Œ Key Takeaways:

  • When you unplug a water softener, the softener will shut off.
  • This means the water softener will stay in its current cycle and won’t regenerate.
  • Unplugging a water softener may also cause the control head to lose its settings for water hardness, regeneration time, and so on.

πŸ€” What Happens When You Unplug A Water Softener?

Unplugging a water softener causes the system to remain in the cycle that it’s currently in.

Here are a few facts to know about what happens when you unplug your water softener:

1️⃣ Unplugging a softener won’t stop the system from working altogether.

As long as the softener isn’t mid-way through regeneration mode, it will continue to deliver soft water until the resin beads are depleted of sodium. At that point, the system will need to regenerate (which, on most water softeners, can only take place when the unit is connected to a power supply).

2️⃣ Unplugging a water softener won’t stop water from entering the tanks.

So, if you’re unplugging a water softener to conserve water or stop a leak in the system, it won’t work. The only way to prevent water from flowing into a water softener is to disconnect it from the water supply, put the unit into bypass mode, or switch off your main water supply valve.

3️⃣ Prepare to lose programmed settings.

Many water softeners reset themselves when they’re unplugged, which means that you’ll need to reprogram the settings when you plug the system back in. Take a picture or make a note of your settings beforehand if you don’t know them by memory.

4️⃣ Eventually, you’ll end up with hard water.

Water softeners need to regenerate every few weeks. If you leave your softening unit unplugged for days on end, the system will stop producing soft water.

Unplugging a water softener system

βœ… When Should You Unplug A Water Softener?

You might want to unplug a water softener if:

  • You’re having electrical work done on your property and need to unplug your appliances as a precautionary measure.
  • You hear or smell something that suggests an electrical malfunction in your water softener (very rare).
  • You’ll be away from home on vacation (you should bypass the water softener too).
  • You need to perform a repair or maintenance on your water softener (also switch off your main water supply).

🚫 When SHOULDN’T You Unplug A Water Softener?

In any of the following occasions, you shouldn’t immediately unplug it – you should bypass it first:

  • Your water softener is leaking.
  • The brine tank is overflowing.
  • You want to use water for gardening or yard work and don’t want to waste salt since it doesn’t matter whether the water is hard or soft.
  • You’ve run out of salt or need to repair the water softener, but you still need access to water in the meantime.

πŸ†š Unplugging Vs Bypassing Water Softener

Most water softeners can be put into bypass mode. Your unit may have up to three valves (which can be found where your water softener pipes connect to your copper water pipes) that you’ll need to turn to put the system into bypass.

What exactly is bypass mode?

It means that water is diverted around the water softener system, straight through your plumbing. If you need to perform repairs or maintenance on your water softener, or you just want a break from soft water, you can put the unit into bypass by engaging the water softener bypass valve (or water softener shut-off valve).

You can switch your softener back into service mode at any time – just turn the three valves in the opposite direction to send the flow of water back into the softener.

πŸ“Œ Note: Your home won’t be protected against hard water damage while you use water that hasn’t been treated by your water softener.

How does bypassing a water softener compare to unplugging a water softener?

When you bypass a water softener, it stops water flowing into the unit. The water that comes out of your faucets is ordinary hard water because it has flowed straight through your plumbing.

On the other end, when you unplug the machine, water still flows through the softener – you’ve just taken away the machine’s ability to regenerate, which means you’ll eventually end up drinking hard water.

water softener bypass valve

🚱 How to Turn Off A Water Softener

Turning off a water softener involves unplugging and bypassing the system. You want to disengage the water softening function and prevent water from flowing into the unit.

To turn off a water softener installed at your home’s point of entry (upstream of your hot water heater), follow these steps:

  1. Turn the bypass valve to shut off the water. There may be up to three valves for you to turn. This will isolate your water softener from the water supply.
  2. As an extra precaution, shut off the water supply to your house. You should find your main water valve somewhere near your water meter.
  3. Unplug the unit from the power outlet. The softener can now no longer regenerate or receive water from the main water line.

Check your owner’s manual for the exact steps involved in safely shutting off a water softener system.

⚠️ Does Unplugging A Water Softener Damage The System?

Wondering whether you can get away with unplugging a water softener every now and again?

The answer is it depends – on how long the water softener is unplugged, and whether or not you unplug the machine during the regeneration process.

If you leave a water softener unplugged for too long, it’ll suffer the side effects of lack of regeneration, including hard water buildup in the resin, and an increased likelihood of bacteria accumulation in the tanks. You’ll also end up drinking water that contains hard minerals.

If you unplug a water softener on regeneration mode, it’ll get stuck in that mode until you plug it back in. That could damage the unit over time.

So, unplugging a water softener for a few days while you’re away from home shouldn’t cause any damage, but don’t make a habit of unplugging the system on a regular basis.

programming water softener regen cycles on electronic control head

❔ Unplugging a Water Softener: FAQ

Will my water softener stop producing water if I unplug it?

No, a water softener won’t stop producing water if you unplug it. It’ll still be in service mode; simply unplugging the softener will just prevent it from regenerating. If you want to stop the flow of water into the water softener, you’ll need to turn the three valves on your water softener in the opposite direction, to bypass mode.

Can I stop a leak if I turn off a water softener?

If you’ve noticed leaking around your water softener, or the brine tank is overflowing, you won’t stop the flow of water by unplugging it. If you turn off a water softener, water can still get into the unit. To address a leak as quickly as possible, you’ll need to engage the water softener bypass valve (or water softener shut-off valve) to put the unit in bypass mode. Then you should unplug the softener in case the leak has damaged any electrical components. Don’t put the system back into service mode until you’ve fixed the cause of the leak.

What happens when water softener is unplugged?

When a water softener is unplugged, it’ll continue to soften water until the resin becomes depleted of sodium ions. When that happens, the unit will stop supplying softened water, and you’ll use ordinary hard water in your home until you plug your softener back in and allow it to regenerate.

Will unplugging my water softener cause it to reset?

Yes, on many water softeners, unplugging the unit will cause it to reset. More modern systems, however, are designed to remember settings if they’re unplugged or there’s a power outage. We recommend making a note of your settings before you turn off a water softener, just in case.

Can I safely perform maintenance on an unplugged water softener?

Unplugging your water softener will switch off any moving electrical parts, making it safe to perform maintenance. However, you should also bypass your water softener to cut off the water supply and prevent leaking or flooding during maintenance.

Can I improve my water pressure by unplugging a water softener?

No, if you unplug or turn off a water softener, it won’t improve your water pressure because water still flows through the system. The only way to improve your water pressure is to engage the water softener bypass valve, which will send water around the system. It’s normal for water softeners to decrease water’s flow by several GPM, so bypassing the water softener should improve your flow rate. However, you won’t get softened water if you do this.

Will a water softener still regenerate if it’s unplugged?

It depends on whether or not you have an electric water softener . Most water softeners need to be plugged into a power outlet, and if they’re not, they can’t regenerate. But some timed water softener systems regenerate according to a timer that doesn’t need electricity access.

  • Laura Shallcross
    Senior Editor

    Laura is a passionate residential water treatment journalist who holds an undergraduate degree in Print Journalism and a master’s degree in Creative Writing. Over a span of 5 years she's written on a range of topics including water softening, well water treatment, and purification processes.

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