How Often Should a Water Softener Regenerate?

How often should a water softener regenerate?
How often a water softener will regenerate or recharge, is controlled by the valve of a water softener system. The valve or “control valve” is the ‘brain’ of the softener unit, since it gives the commands as to when the softener regeneration process will occur. But first, let’s discuss WHY regeneration occurs.

Why does a water softener regenerate or backwash?

In ion exchange water softeners, hard water is passed through a bed of softening material called resin.  As the hardness minerals in water come in contact with the resin, the resin is attracted to the hardness minerals and holds onto them.  

With the hardness minerals trapped in the resin and removed from the water, the water becomes “soft”.  Over time, water softener resins get completely covered with hardness minerals and need to be cleaned. That’s when backwashing takes place– to make the system “regenerate” or ready to start the softening process again.

What happens during the regeneration process?

During the regeneration process, the water softener floods the resin with brine water, thereby “cleaning” the hardness minerals off the resin and sending them down the drain.

The softening resin in the water softener is now clean and ready to soften water again. This cycle is repeated approximately weekly, depending on water usage, allowing your home to have consistently soft water.

How does a water softener know Watertech Reionator with Triton Valvewhen to regenerate?

There are a wide variety of softener makes and models–and a number of different valve types, as well. But a water softener regenerates when the control valve tells it to start the regeneration process. There are two different types of regeneration used in water softening, depending on the type of valve you have: time-initiated regeneration and demand regeneration.

  1. In “time-initiated regeneration”, the clock on the control valve is typically set to have the system regenerate after a certain number of days and at a time of day with low water usage (default setting is often 2 am). This process will repeat itself at least once a week, at minimum. A water treatment professional will determine the valve’s settings based on the quality of your water, the size of your resin tank, household water usage, number of people living there, etc. If there is a demand for water while the system is regenerating, untreated water is available through an automatic internal bypass feature.
  2. With demand regeneration settings, the valve keeps track of water usage and sends the softener into “regeneration mode” after a predetermined amount of water has been processed through the softener. It’s sort of like your cell phone–if you have a lot of apps open and are using your phone a lot, you’ll have to charge the phone more often.  Demand regeneration works the same way. The more water you’re using, the more often it will need to backwash. For example, if you have guests staying at your home and are using more water than normal, your unit will need to regenerate more often.

Both types of regeneration have worked well over many years.  Demand regeneration is often considered more efficient in both salt and water usage because the system only regenerates when it has used up it’s softening capacity instead of simply regenerating on a given day, whether it needs regeneration or not (could happen with time-initiated).

When should I check my softeners’ control valve?

If you experience an extended power outage (over an hour in length), you may need to reset the time of day on the control valve. Most valve’s internal batteries are designed to retain the time of day for up to 24 hours. Refer to your softeners’ installation and maintenance guide for more details. 

When should I call a Water Treatment Professional?

Change in Water Quality: If you experience a change in water quality

If you’ve ruled out these three factors, then call your local water treatment professional ASAP. We recommend that you have your water softener serviced annually. This is important because:

  1. A water treatment professional can test your water to make sure that the constituents in your water have not changed in the past year. Although our public water supply is carefully monitored to ensure water regulations are being maintained, there can be changes at your local municipal plant.  Based on water test results, a professional can modify your system settings, install a prefilter, or whatever is needed to ensure you continue to have outstanding water.
  2. Having your water softener serviced annually will ensure the settings are optimized to save you money.
  3. If it seems like your softener is regenerating too often, a professional can modify the settings or make needed repairs. If service and/or parts are required, make sure to have your softener manufacturer’s warranty handy. Keep in mind that regenerating more often than needed is costing you money in water usage as well as extra salt.
  4. A water treatment professional can sanitize and clean your system to make sure your system continues to produce the best possible water for your home.

Looking for a professional who really knows water? WaterTech has authorized water treatment dealerships throughout the country. Find one near you.

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55 Responses

    1. When a softener goes into regeneration the system goes on bypass, meaning that the water being used at this time in the house has bypassed the water softener and is not softened water. This is why softeners are usually programmed to regenerate at 2am, when it’s unlikely anyone will use the water. If you do happen to use your RO unit while the softener is in regeneration, you will be drawing water from your holding tank. As you use water from the tank the shutoff valve to the system will open and water will start flowing through your RO system to refill the holding tank. If the softener is in bypass your RO system will be filtering non-softened water and thereby will take the brunt of calcium and iron in the water which will exhaust your membrane quickly if non-softened water is used for an extended period of time and if you have high levels of calcium and iron.

  1. I have a water softener that is approximately 9 years old. I recently had the
    unit serviced. He replaced the valve in the top of the unit, It is a Whirlpool.
    I have the time set at 10:00 pm so I can monitor the unit. When the unit
    turns on it begins the cycle. The water level does not come up to the #1
    mark. And, it has used very little salt in the last two weeks. I was also sold
    2 cans of Acid (at $25,00 a bottle). I was told that once a softener get to be
    about 8 or 9 years old it is not worth having it repaired. So, for in the month
    if November I have spent over $350.00, $100.00 the first call when he said
    the float was stuck and $250.00 the second trip when I was charged another
    $100.00 Service call, $100.00 to install the new kit in the upper unit and two
    cans of Acid. I feel I was ‘ripped off’ and should have been told the unit was

    1. We’re not too familiar with Whirlpool softeners. But because it appears that a new Whirlpool unit would run about $500 (at Lowes http://goo.gl/VT2Q9q), perhaps enjoy your system a while longer, and the next time it needs parts and service, consider moving to a new system. Of course, we’re a little biased, but we feel like the softeners at Big Box Stores (http://blog.watertech.com/why-not-buy-a-water-softener-from-a-big-box-home-improvement-store/) aren’t built with the same quality components as systems like the Reionator (http://www.watertech.com/product/reionator-water-softeners/). We’ve replaced many of these lower-priced systems over the years.


  2. So all water softeners operate in this same way or are there some that are different? I would assume that they would be mostly the same. In regards to that, the one that I have seems to be giving me some trouble. It will make a noise as if were working but I don’t think it is. Do you think I should call someone?

    1. There are a variety of different water softeners out there but if your softener is giving you trouble and making noises–we would recommend contacting a water treatment professional asap.

  3. I have a new Water Right Impression series metered water softener that was installed a week ago. I don’t notice any difference it my water. How long before I notice the difference? How often should the system regenerate and should the brine tank be full of water to the top of the salt?

    1. HI Mike: by now you should have softened water flowing through your home. If it seems like nothing has changed, call your system manufacturer and they can talk you through your control valve settings to ensure they’re set correctly for your household. How often your system regenerates will depend on whether your system is time-initiated regeneration and demand regeneration, but a softener should regenerate at least once a week. If you suspect things still aren’t right, ask for a water hardness test so you can see for yourself if the softener is indeed softening the water or not.

  4. A couple of years ago I started having an issue with the water coming out of the house brow it can range in color from light diluted coca color to dark slightly deluted cola. Never black. It can go on for an hour or a day. I have a Rayne water softener. My unit seems to go through an hour for a total regen after 10 min of backwash. Is there a reason it would only go through the backwash and nothing else? Would that be normal? What is it doing for the rest of the hour? Thanks!

    1. It sounds like there is a problem with the resin in the tank. It may possibly be breaking down and coming into the house. I would call a service technician to come look at the unit.

    1. A water softener will generally regenerate at least once a week. But if it’s regenerating every night, you may want to have a water treatment professional check your valve settings or call your softener’s manufacturer for support. It may be on a timed regeneration setting which would make it recharge at that time every night. But if you don’t hot of people living in your household, then the settings can be changed for less frequent regeneration. Again, check with your system’s manufacturer as they can help you better determine exactly how often regeneration should occur for your household.

      1. also, if it is regenerating every night, two things can happen. 1-you will end up using way more salt than you need to and 2-you may experience oxidation or salt deposits on your fixtures from getting in and brining too often.

  5. We have a Whirlpool Water Softener and I began to notice a white powdery residue on my dishes.
    Thinking it was my dishwasher soap (had used the same kind for yrs) I switched to another brand,
    to no avail. Then I began to notice the same kind of residue in the bath tub drain and basin drain.
    Aha, coming from the water source. Our softener is only 2 yrs old I may add. So we checked into
    the softener and after adding more salt (flashing low salt content) we were unable to re-program
    the unit.The signal light kept flashing instead of a steady light. Had a pro look at it and he began
    to condemn our unit as a cheap one….but wanted to sell us a new EcoWater for 1295.00 + tax.
    What if anything can be done with the old one, is it repairable or should we just invest in a new
    one to the tune of over $1000.00……

    1. Hi Marge, we can’t speak directly to the quality of other brands, but there really is something to be said about purchasing a high-quality system. Many water softeners sold at home improvement stores come with a low price tag, but often have a short life span or require costly repairs. A well-built, high-quality water softener should last you 10+ years. Be sure to examine the systems’ warranty before you make the purchase.

    2. Marge you don’t need to replace your water softener. You should be able to push the button (it looks like a light with rays around it) that tells the water softener at what level the salt is and the light should stop flashing. You can also find information on the internet-youtube as to how to fix those particular water softeners.

  6. I have an older hydro quad hq1054. I’ve been looking for a manual to check the settings on the control unit.

    1. We do not have any information about the Hydro Quad. We recommend contacting the systems’ manufacturer directly for a copy of the manual.

  7. I’m glad that I found this article. My wife and I just moved into a new home, and we need to take regular care of the water softener. I never would have known this stuff about regeneration so thanks for helping me out with this!

  8. my question is i have an culligan mark 89, which i lease, and have a problem, one of my outlet’s outside is inline with the softener and i need to run it in by-pass when watering the plants, OK so i forgot to put it back in service that night and it just so happened it was the same night it was to regenerate. so it regenerated while in bypass, and when i took it out of bypass the next morning i heard a whoose sound, so i came in and started to do the dishes, but the water was foaming and had a real salty taste, now should i have ran an manual regenerate first ? can’t figure out why the salty taste, bad part was my hot water tank was loaded with it, beings i had laundry going right after i took it out of bypass,

    1. Hi Bob: I’d recommend that you check with your plumber. It sounds like you may have a backflow issue.

  9. Hi I have a question about my Iron filter I have that has a separate tank where I have to mix water with bleach. Lately the half of the water left in the tank looks bad it has a dark orange color. I believe that would be from the iron. But I don’t think that’s supposed to be like that. Do you know why this would be happening? I’ve only had this for a couple years. And when it draws it draws half the tank at a time than the other half sits for a long time.

  10. Nice Blog! Thank you so much for sharing this one, really well defined all thing. I really appreciate to blogger who has wonderful sharing.

  11. Hi Issac,

    I have an Waterite resin tank with a control on it that allows me to set backwash/regen times. I also have a brine tank (GE) with a control on top that allows me to set the Recharge time. Should these cycles be set to the same time? Are they doing the same thing or are they different and need to be set at different times. I think they are both the same thing and should be set at the same time.
    Thanks for your time

    1. Those sound like the same thing, so I’m not sure why you have two resin tanks with control valves. And can’t say I know much about these brands. I’d recommend you call Waterite. I’m sorry I can’t be much help.

  12. Hi, i jave a few questions about my water softner, I am not sure of the brand, but any way I have had it for a long time and been having issues with it using so much salt. It generates 3 times a week. Also the tank where the salt goes in has had some brownish scum on top of the water, the water itself in the tank doesnt have an odor, I have cleaned it out about 2 months ago, and it was ok for a little while now the brownish stuff is back floating on top of the water. what could be the problem with the excessive salt use and that brownish stuff ? I have also used resin cleaner and tryed the cleaning it with clorox.

    1. Hi Teresa: We’d suggest having your water tested. It sounds like you may need to install a prefilter. Keep in mind that even if your water comes from a municipal supplier, the water source and/or water quality can change over time. So there might be new constituents in your water that are causing the issue. As far as your system regenerating too often, it’s best to call the manufacturer of your softener and they can talk you through changing the settings for your specific model.

  13. We purchased a home that has a 3-year old Envirotec ET50H installed. The water seems soft. Supposedly it is a demand – initiated metered system, yet the control valve is programmed to regenerate every 15 days. Why is it programmed for 15 days if it is metering actual demand to determine when to regenerate? I’ve manually regenerated it a couple times but have never heard it regen otherwise, nor have I seen the “regen tonight” code light up on the valve. I did a test and manually set it to regen tonight, and it did work, but something doesn’t seem quite right. I’m not sure if it’s regenerating on its own or not, as the salt level doesn’t change much. Only two of us in the house so water usage is not extreme. Any thoughts?

    1. Hi Chris: We can only suggest that you call Envirotech directly. Most softener valves have similar functions, but we can’t speak to Envirotech since we’re not the manufacturer and don’t know much about their system or setting capabilities with their valve.

    2. Unfortunately, their manual isn’t very informative. They simply say that they have several pre-set automated systems.

      Here’s a guess, based on the softeners I’ve owned:

      * The every-15-days is likely a maximum-interval. People do this usually in areas with a lot of iron in the water — it ensures the iron never fully encrusts the resin bed.
      * If you have a very efficient softener, water that’s not all THAT hard, and don’t use too much water… it’s quite possible that you simply are not triggering the demand-regeneration in anything less than 15 days!

      Bottom line: may be nothing at all wrong.

  14. I have a RainSoft system about 3 years old it’s electronic system easy to set. They pluged it into an RFI outlet when it was installed. Every once in awhile the RFI pops and shuts the system off, this is a big problem when I don’t know it happens because our water is very hard so it runs re-gen every night. Can I plug it into a regular non RFI outlet without damaging the unit?

    1. Hi David, I’d definitely call Rainsoft with that question. We wouldn’t want to tell you to do something that could potentially damage your system. Who knows, this issue may fall under Rainsoft’s warranty since you’ve only had it for 3 years.

  15. Hello, great blog,

    I have a water softener, when it regenerates it outputs quite a bit of water. I thought that instead of wasting this water I would “reroute” it to water our plants on that side of the yard. Will the water kill the plants rather than help them?


  16. I just moved into a house with a where system but they left no manual on operating the system. My son started last night and water filled into the tank but this morning it’s flashing “regen today” and the time is set but not sure how to change it to am vs pm

  17. I have a GE Avantapure salt water purification system and a well. In the recent weeks, the water regeneration has been coming on at exactly 4:25 a.m. once a week. This would not be a problem, except that each time it comes on, I hear a loud rumbling noise in my attic that awakens me and everyone in the house. What causes this noise? I have had the purification system service and talked to them, but they don’t have any answers.

    1. Hi Peggy, I wish we had answers for you on this one. You’ve contacted GE, correct? Or hired a plumber? I’d definitely find a really competent plumber or water treatment expert in your area to help you figure this out. I have a Reionator Water Conditioner myself, and can only tell that the regeneration process has begun if I happen to walk out into the garage at that time. Otherwise, it’s very quiet.

  18. I am a tenant. I moved in about 8 days ago and there is not a manual for the water softener. It says Resin Source on the tank. The side that holds salt is 3/4 full. It is flashing SALT…. Is there something I am suppose to do here?

    1. Hi Mary, if your salt tank is 3/4 full, you should be fine. I would google the name of your softener manufacturer and call them to find out how to get a pdf of the owner’s manual. That way, you can turn off the flashing light. It may simply need a confirmation that salt has been added.

  19. i have a whirlpool WHSE30 model that came with my home when i purchased it. this model apparently regenerates nightly. My water bill is much higher than i would expect – is there a way to adjust this unit so it doesn’t recharge every night? i went through the settings but doesn’t give me an option for “days” just a time. thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Luis: Sorry to say, but you’ll need to contact Whirlpool directly for that question. (We manufacture the REIONATOR and other softeners, but are not connected to Whirlpool). They should be able to provide you with a pdf copy of your WHSE30 Owner’s Manual –which will walk you through the steps (and the various options available) for setting up the regeneration schedule.

  20. Hello, I have an avid NM model roughly 5 rears old. I don’t believe it is renege rating on its own. The 24 hr wheel is moving but the skipper wheel (the wheel with the paddles to engage the regen cycle) does not move. I drew a pencile mark on the wheel 4 days ago and checked it every day the line never moved. And the water test strips show progressive hardness increase since I manually regenerated it 7 days ago. I am usually up at 2 am out to let our puppy out and did not hear the softener regenerating at all. It used to wake me up when it cycled. What are your suggestions.

    1. Hi Charles, first I’d contact your system’s manufacturer to find out if this has been an ongoing issue with your model, and if they have any suggestions. It may be covered by warranty. If that doesn’t work, we’d recommend you call a water conditioner expert in your area who has experience in servicing many makes and models.

  21. I have an older Culligan water softener system which works fine (had it serviced) but it makes a loud humming sound during the regen cycle. Can I eliminate the auto timed regen cycle and regen it manually only when I want it to and at a time when we will not be in the house and annoyed by the abusive sound?

    1. Hi Maynard, that’s probably a question for Culligan. But trying to manually initiate regeneration can be tricky because you can’t gauge water usage the way a water softener valve can–thus you may end of up with hard water if you don’t regenerate at the right time or you forget. But call Culligan and ask what they recommend. Perhaps your system is still under warranty and they’ll fix that “abusive sound” :).

  22. I recently moved into a home with a 4 year old WaterTech SoftMax system. It seems to be working perfectly, too perfectly. The water is slimy, is there a way to turn down the softness? Maybe allow some hardwater to bypass the system?

    1. Hi Brian, The SoftMAX is exactly that–a softener and like most softeners, makes the water very “soft”. Our REIONATOR is our most popular product because it softens the water without the slimy feel. I suppose you could set the valve to not regenerate as often but that will only give you hard water at times and soft water at times.

  23. I just moved into this place at the end of May. The softener is a “Sears Best” and I do have the manual. My first encounter with a softener was an old school type which i had to set the days it ran my next was a display i set the hardness on and rebuilt a few time so the point here is I have a good idea how they work. This “Sears Best” is older and even though i have the hardness set to 3 as it 15 when I bought this place it still run ever 2 days. Starting to think it is the control board as it is from what I see 24 years old. You thoughts?

    Regards…..Bob Willar

    1. Wow! 24 years for a Sears unit is pretty great! The valve head might have issues and you could check into replacing. A newer type of valve will allow you to only regenerate as needed so you’ll save money on water and salt when your unit doesn’t automatically regen every 2 days. And keep in mind that tanks eventually wear out, too, so in the end you might find it’s more cost effective to start over rather than replacing part by part. Good luck!

  24. Hi Isaac,

    Thanks for your time in this blog. Very informative!

    I had just bought a house and I have a Kenmore Ultrasoft 150 installed in 2002. There isn’t a service log, is there any advice you can give for a 1st user and any maintenance suggestions? Also, it is set for 2am daily regen and for 2 people I think that is way overkill to my readings. Are you aware of a way to add a way for it to regen every so many days instead of nightly? I read the manual and it didn’t really make alot of sense or have any suggestions. Thanks for your time and help!

    1. Contact your local Kenmore dealer. 2 people in a house should only regenerate every 5-7 days in general but there are several factors that go into when the unit needs to regenerate, ie- hardness in water, water consumption, iron in water, etc.