Your water softener is a complicated piece of technology, with several essential processes that help it function efficiently, not the least of which is the regeneration cycle, which flushes trapped minerals so that your water softener can keep softening your hard water.
Even if you don’t completely understand how your water softener works, you still want a basic comprehension of the process, especially how long it all takes. Since the regeneration process is essential to the proper working of your water softener, you should understand what it is and how long it takes.
What Is Water Softener Regeneration?
The water softener regeneration process involves the elimination of hard minerals that have accumulated in the softener’s resin bed through ion exchange. During the regeneration process, the water softener flushes the resin beads with brine water to remove hardness minerals and flush them down the drain.
Before the regeneration process can commence, the water softener must have a water reserve capacity of around 25%. At this reserve capacity, the resin beads will be 75% saturated, meaning they contain approximately 75% of the entire quantity of hardness minerals they can hold.
In order for this process to occur, salt is initially added to the softening system’s tank. When water enters the salt-storage area (also called the brine tank), a solution of salt and water known as brine is produced. The brine solution is then introduced into the resin tank, rinsing the resin beads and exchanging the newly collected sodium ions for hard minerals. Once the brine solution and hard water minerals have been flushed down the drain, the resin beads are recharged and prepared to collect hard water minerals once again.
How Quickly Does a Water Softener Regenerate?
Typically, a full water softener regeneration cycle will take around two hours to complete. However, this depends on the model, age, and size of the system. Also, older water softeners often regenerate more quickly due to their simplified regeneration process.
There are five main stages in the water softener regeneration process, during which the salt brine solution is sent to the resin beads to effectively eliminate the accumulated hard minerals. Here are the five stages of regeneration:
1. Filling the brine tank (5–20 minutes)
In the first regeneration cycle, water is pumped into the brine tank to break down salts and create the brine solution needed to refresh the resin beads.
It is essential to maintain the optimal water level in the brine tank, thus first-time water softener owners must be cautious in this step.
Always keep the water level slightly below the salt level. If there is an excessive amount of water in the brine tank, the salt pellets cannot be absorbed effectively. The water resting over the salt will not have the correct concentration of brine.
2. Brine-draw cycle (30–60 minutes)
The duration of the brine-draw cycle depends on the age, type, and model of your water softener. Some units may complete the process in less than half an hour, while others might take up to an hour.
The brine solution generated in the brine tank passes through the resin bed, where it floods the resin that has attracted the calcium, magnesium, and iron minerals present in your home’s water supply. The mineral ions attach to the sodium ions in the brine, “cleaning” the resin beads of all minerals as the brine is flushed out of the resin tank.
3. Brine-rinse cycle (5 minutes)
During the brine-rinse cycle, the brine valve closes after a predetermined amount of brine has been utilized. Water then flows in the same direction as it did during the brining process, but without the brine. This ensures that the tank is free of any remaining residue or hard minerals.
4. Backwash cycle (5–30 minutes)
The treatment tank is promptly refilled and flushed to remove any lingering hardness minerals that may have become trapped in the resin beads. This process causes the resin bed to expand by up to 50%.
It is important to note that the flow rate of this cycle must be controlled to prevent resin loss.
The backwash cycle duration is normally set at 10 minutes but may be adjusted anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes.
5. Fast-rinse cycle (10 minutes)
After the backwash cycle is complete, the resin tank will undergo a rapid rinse in which water will rapidly flow down the tank. This water will pick up any residual brine in the lower section of the tank. After this stage is complete, the water softener may resume its usual softening operation.
Types of Water Softener Regeneration
Well, you now know how long a water softener takes to regenerate, but what about how often it needs to do that? The truth is, it depends. There are two distinct types of water softener regeneration cycles: scheduled cycles and on-demand cycles. Let’s take a closer look at each cycle:
This type of regeneration features a control valve with a motorized/digital clock that allows you to schedule when your water softener will be cleaned. Some water softeners can regenerate every two to three days, but the majority are programmed to regenerate once per week.
It’s important that you don’t fiddle too much with your water softener’s schedule unless you’re particularly knowledgeable about the device. Each preset schedule is determined according to the needs of the machine, and altering it too much could affect your water softener’s efficiency.
Setting a scheduled softener correctly may be difficult and typically results in more wastewater being discharged into the environment than is necessary. The average American consumes 80 gallons of water per day; however, water consumption fluctuates throughout the year. In addition, some municipalities seasonally adjust the hardness levels of their water. A scheduled softener is only efficient when water consumption and hardness levels are consistent.
In general, a water softener should be recharged when no one is using it, which is often late at night when everyone is asleep. By default, this automatic process is often set between 2 and 4 a.m.
On-demand water softeners are the most effective way to eliminate hard water. This type of cycle keeps track of how much water is being used prior to the regeneration process. It does this by measuring the amount of water that flows through the system. In other words, the water softener regenerates when it needs to.
With demand-initiated settings, you don’t have to worry about regenerating your water softener too soon or too late. Once the resin beads’ capacity to soften has been used up, the regeneration process begins.
If you are cautious about the amount of water you use on a daily basis, then an on-demand system is best for you. It prevents too much or too little regeneration, even if there is a fluctuation in water usage. For example, if you use more water than usual in a week, the process of regeneration may happen quicker than expected.
How Much Water Is Discharged When a Water Softener Is Regenerating?
When using a water softener, you may have water usage concerns. It is only natural to wonder how much water a water softener discharges during regeneration. The expelled water will not be used in your home and may cause your utility bills to rise if it occurs too frequently. Depending on the unit size, the amount of water that reaches the drain during the regeneration process will vary.
So, what is the water consumption during regeneration? Some highly efficient water softeners use between 20 and 25 gallons of water, while those designed for larger homes or offices use between 35 and 65 gallons.
The unit’s manual should specify how much water the regeneration process uses. If you don’t have access to this information, you can consult a professional who can provide you with the details.
What Happens if Your Water Softener Doesn’t Regenerate?
Water softeners must undergo regeneration. The same principle applies to your water softener and your mobile device: frequent use requires charging. But what do you do when your water softener does not regenerate?
There are numerous reasons a water softening system could malfunction. You need to initiate a regeneration cycle manually and retest your water’s hardness level to determine if a faulty or improperly configured timer is causing an insufficient supply of soft water. You may need to add salt or increase the frequency of regeneration. If you have set your system to regenerate daily, but you do not hear or see it start its cycle, you may need to replace the timer.
If your brine tank is not properly filling or emptying, your water softener will not produce softened water. In order to regenerate the resin, water is pumped through the bottom of the tank, where salt dissolves and brine is sucked into the resin tank. When no water enters the brine tank, it is impossible to restore softening capacity. A clogged brine line or valve prevents brine from entering the tank and may affect water pressure. To remove any obstructions, flush and clean with water.
A properly functioning brine tank should not be filled to the brim with water. A tank with too much water may be low on salt, or the injector may need to be cleaned. Overfill can also be caused by a valve stuck in the open position or a clogged injector. Another cause of improper water softener regeneration is salt mushing. Mushing occurs when salt dissolves but then recrystallizes to form a thick layer of sludge at the brine tank’s bottom.
Salt mush can normally be dissolved with hot water or by using a broom handle to break up the salt before scooping it out.
How Long Does It Take a Water Softener to Regenerate? Final Thoughts
Depending on the type, size, and age of your water softener, the regeneration process can take anywhere between 90 and 120 minutes on average. A water softener that fails to regenerate properly won’t soften your water effectively, so make sure it’s functioning properly and try the troubleshooting methods I shared if it doesn’t.
If you can’t decide between a scheduled and an on-demand water softening system, I recommend the latter. On-demand water softeners are the most advanced solution for hard water issues. These systems are dependable and are ideal for anyone who needs clean, soft water at any time or in any quantity.
When you are on vacation, you don’t have to remember to turn off your softener. An on-demand system will do all the work for you. These systems eliminate the guesswork in soft water supply and demand.
If you want to find out more about how a water softener works, the type of salt used in the softening process, and how to use your softener efficiently, read this article that tells you all about water softeners.