How often to regenerate water softener? Daily? Weekly? This varies based on several factors but can range from multiple times a day to once every two weeks, and everything in between. Somehow, newer, more highly efficient softeners regenerate most often; they potentially regenerate daily or even several times a day. However, a conventional, average-sized water softener for the average family of four with a water hardness level of 7 to 10 gpg (grains per gallon) may regenerate once every 10-14 days.
The most important things are that you familiarize yourself with the style of water softener you have and how it works and that it is set to regenerate regularly.
What affects water softener regeneration frequency?
Here are some things that affect how often ion exchange water softeners regenerate.
Household water usage
The more water is used, the more frequent the water softener regenerates. The average water consumption in the U.S. is about 80 gallons per person per day.
The harder your water, the more frequent the water softener regeneration.
Higher iron levels require more frequent water softener regeneration. Be sure you have the right type of resin and salt for water high in iron. You can also purchase resin cleaner specifically for water high in iron to help maintain your resin’s performance.
Resin tank capacity
The size of your resin tank matters because the more resin is there, the more minerals it can trap, the longer it takes to become exhausted before needing to be regenerated.
Age of your system
Resin degrades over time with use, especially in the presence of chlorine. Resin can last as little as 5 years to as much as 15-20 years – potentially as long as your water softener system itself! Read our previous blog on water softener resin to get a better idea of how to maintain your resin bed and how to choose the right resin to replace it with should you need to.
Resin also degrades over time with constant friction, although a high-quality resin should last more than 5 years before turning to mush. Older systems typically regenerate less often (once every week or two) which could mean less wear and tear on your resin bed, while modern water softeners often regenerate more frequently (daily or every 2-3 days) which could increase the wear and tear of your resin. So as your system ages, more frequent regenerations will be necessary.
Chlorine, chloramine and other chemicals will degrade your ion exchange resin more quickly over time, making it less effective and resulting in more frequent regeneration. Water that’s higher in chlorine may require more frequent regeneration over time.
As your system ages, you’ll also need to increase the pounds of salt setting over time as you’ll need more concentrated brine water to recharge the resin sufficiently. A lower salt setting might require more frequent regenerations.
The control valve tells your water softener when to trigger a regeneration process. Water softeners that use time initiated regeneration typically regenerate less often (once every week or two). A metered water softener or demand-based water softener often regenerates more frequently (daily or every 2-3 days). Most modern water softeners are metered water softeners that work on a demand regeneration schedule.
How do water softeners work?
Before we get into more details, let’s look at how water softeners work so that you’ll understand why the above factors are significant.
A water softener works to remove hardness minerals, such as calcium and magnesium ions, from your water and replacing them with soft water minerals such as sodium or potassium.
A resin tank contains ion exchange resin made out of divinylbenzene (DVB) wrapped in polystyrene strands, forming a crosslinked plastic. These resin beads attract cations, or positively charged ions.
A brine tank contains salt and water and creates a brine solution to rinse and recharge the resin with during the regeneration cycle.
When brine, or salt water (or potassium-rich water), is backwashed through the resin tank, the resin attracts the sodium or potassium ions. Then, when hard water enters the resin tank, the resin is more strongly attracted to the higher-charged cations, such as the calcium and magnesium ions, and it releases sodium or potassium in favor of trapping the stronger cations. This is called an ion exchange process.
Eventually, the resin has trapped all the hard water minerals it can. The regeneration process then begins. The backwashing cycle flushes brine into the resin tank, and the highly saturated salt water forces the ion exchange process, releasing the hard water minerals into the water while the sodium or potassium once again takes its place on the resin beads. The wastewater is then flushed away, and the resin is recharged or regenerated, ready to attract more hard water minerals.
Types of water softeners
The type of water softener you have will also affect how often your water softener regenerates as well as how efficient the softener regeneration process is.
Single tank water softeners
Single tank water softeners have one resin tank and one brine tank. These are usually separate, although you can find cabinet-style systems where these two tanks are built into one housing to fit smaller spaces.
During the regeneration process, water cannot be accessed, let alone soft water – unless you have an automatic internal bypass feature, which means you’ll be able to use your water, but you’ll be using hard, untreated water. But these systems can be set to regenerate when there is a low demand for water such as in the middle of the night.
Dual tank water softeners
Dual tank water softeners have one brine tank and two resin tanks. Some of the benefits of a dual tank water softener are that:
- There is always soft water available, even while the water softener recharges.
- Water softener regeneration can occur at any time of day without inconvenient disruptions. This is especially useful during times of higher water usage, such as if you have guests visiting.
- The softening resin is regenerated with soft water instead of hard water, making regeneration a more effective process.
- They offer a higher softening capacity.
- The resin bed lasts longer, requiring less maintenance.
Time based water softeners
Time based water softeners have a set regeneration schedule based on time, such as once a week. The ideal setting can be calculated based on your household water usage, how many people live in your house, your water hardness, your iron levels, your water softener size, your calcium and magnesium levels, and possibly more.
The down side to these is that if your resin’s softening capacity is used up, your water quality may not be as soft as you’d like, or your system might regenerate unnecessarily, wasting salt and water.
Metered water softeners
A metered softener carries out demand-based regeneration, which often occurs every 2-3 days depending on the various factors discussed previously. This process might increase your salt and water usage, but it is more efficient in how well it maintains and delivers soft water to your household. Most modern systems use demand regeneration.
Most systems, whether older or newer, time-based or demand-based, allow for a regeneration to be manually requested. But if your system is functioning properly, you shouldn’t need to.
My water softener is regenerating more than normal – why?
If your water softener appears to be regenerating more often that usual, consider the following factors.
Change in water consumption
Has your water usage increased? Be sure your tank is the right size for your family size and usage.
Correct regeneration settings
Did you accidentally change the regeneration setting? Be sure it’s programmed correctly and is working as it should.
Have you added salt recently? Forgetting to add salt will cause your softener to regenerate constantly.
Has a salt bridge formed in your brine tank? If so, there may appear to be enough salt but the salt is not actually dropping into the water to dissolve and create brine.
Have you had a prolonged power outage recently (of an hour or more)? It’s possible that your system’s regeneration settings need to be reset.
Change in water quality
Have you tested your water lately? Perhaps something in your water supply has changed.
Water softener drains and valves can also become clogged, resulting in constant regeneration.
If you’re using rock salt or salt crystals, you might be getting more impurities in your salt tank which don’t dissolve and can clog your brine line. Switching to a pellet salt or potassium chloride can help here. Check out our previous post about different types of water softener salt.
Your ion exchange resin can also deteriorate into a mush, clogging up your drain line or mesh screen, causing problems with regeneration and flow. Replacing your resin can help here.
If you’re handy, you can try unclogging a clogged drain line, clogged brine line or clogged venturi valve, or you can call in an expert. Low water pressure or blockages elsewhere in the system can also cause issues that a professional water treatment company might be more knowledgeable about and better equipped to deal with.
So how often should your water softener regenerate? Regularly. And the frequency will depend on the style of water softener you have as well as several factors including water usage, water quality, tank size, and more. If there’s a change in how often it regenerates, try exploring some of the potential quick fixes or issues listed above. There are generally many solutions that can extend the life of a water softener beyond its expected years.
Q: How long does the regeneration process take?
A: The regeneration process can take up to 90 minutes.
Q: How much water is used in the regeneration process?
A: Up to 25 gallons of water are used during a water softener regeneration.
Q: My water softener regenerates daily – is this normal?
A: If you have a metered system with demand regeneration, it very well might be normal.
Q: My water softener is regenerating less than once a week – is this normal?
A: If you have a water softener system that uses time initiated regeneration, then yes, it might be.
Q: My water pressure has dropped – does this mean my water softener unit needs regenerating?
A: Not necessarily. Your brine line or drain line might be clogged, and your unit might need cleaning or servicing.
Q: My water softener is getting old. What is the best type of water softener to purchase?
A: Metered dual tank water softeners have the most efficient water softening process and are said to save salt and water.