We've all heard that strange noise in our utility closets or mechanical rooms. Sure, it could be your furnace, but it could also be your water softener regenerating. Once you hear it, you wonder if your water softener is regenerating too often, or not frequently enough. Then you ask yourself, how often should my water softener regenerate?
What is Regeneration?
Water softeners work by a process of ion exchange. Hard water is passed over a bed of resin, which captures the hardness-causing calcium and magnesium ions. Over time, the resin becomes saturated and must be recharged or regenerated. Salt is used to accomplish this process of removing the minerals from the resin. This cycle refreshes your water softener so it can continue working as efficiently as possible.
How Often Should My Water Softener Regenerate?
It is generally agreed upon that regular regenerations are the best, because they keep the resin bed active. This should be every two to three days, although highly efficient softeners may generate every day or even multiple times a day. There are several factors that go into determining when your water softener needs to recharge:
- The hardness of your water
- The amount of iron in your water
- How much water you use. Obviously, households with more people will use more water in a given period of time than homes with fewer water users. But, if you have houseguests, your water usage will change and that will affect your water softener’s need to regenerate.
- Resin tank capacity
- The age of your system. If you have a single tank electric water softener, it loses its capacity over time, which means it will have to regenerate more often.
- Chemical deterioration caused by oxidants such as chlorine (municipal water supplies) also decreases capacity.
It’s All in the Valve
The frequency in which your water softener recharges also depends on the type of control valve it has. One type has a clock, so you can set it for a specific time period — say, weekly. In this case, recharging takes place whether the resin in your tank is fully saturated or not. Recharging is done during low water use because treated water is unavailable during the regeneration of single tank water softeners. You are trying to eliminate sending untreated water out to the home, so you could set your system to do this in the middle of the night. (No wonder you hear that sound as it kicks in.)
Another valve type is called “metered” and it is based on water usage. The valve uses a meter to monitor your usage. When the pre-set threshold is reached, that triggers the regeneration process. Because demand regeneration is more flexible, only taking place when it’s triggered, it conserves both salt and water compared to a timer-controlled system.
The final valve type is “True Demand”. This demand-operated, non-electric valve regenerates the resin based on actual water use rather than a timer or computer, so you save on salt and wastewater. This is different from “metered” because it is strictly as needed- “metered” can be triggered but not actually needed.
You can further control how much salt is used by altering the “pounds of salt” setting. These salt settings will generally need to increase as single-tank systems age because of the damage done to the resin structure. Changing these settings should be done by a professional water treatment company. If your water is very hard — something that’s common for us here in Minnesota — your water softener may have to regenerate two or three times a week. More frequent recharging is also likely if your water is especially high in iron.
What About Twin-Tank Water Softeners?
The regeneration process is different (and more efficient) for dual-tank water softeners. Besides providing softer water, twin softening tanks allow the system to regenerate with soft water, which is good news for you because this extends the life of your softener. When one tank needs to regenerate, service automatically switches to the other tank. That means there is always soft water available for your use, even during the regeneration process. It also increases the life of the system while reducing both salt and water usage.
Want to double-check to be sure your water softener is set up for optimal regeneration? Give us a call. Knowing all is well will give you peace of mind the next time you hear your system kick in, no matter how often or the time of day.