Looking to buy a water softener? The regeneration cycle is an essential criterion to consider as the way you set it up will directly impact the household. In this article, I will explain what water softener regeneration is, and things to watch when deciding on the softener.
Water softener regeneration is the process when the resin full of magnesium and calcium ions is flushed and ions replaced with sodium ions to generate soft water again. Usually, this regeneration involves at least three stages.
Let me explain how does water softener regenerates more in-depth.
Before I get into any details about the regeneration process, I want to explain why it is important for the softener to regenerate once in a while.
Water softeners are using a process called “ion-exchange” to make water soft. Now, this method involves a special resin. Magnesium and calcium ions adhere to the resin, and sodium ions replace them. The output of this is soft water you desire so much.
Now, what role does the regeneration play in this?
The thing is that, the resin has its limits. By limits, I mean the capacity of ions it can hold at the time. By regular use, the softener resin will reach its capacity until it cannot hold ions of hard minerals anymore. This obviously, reduces the efficiency of the softener. In extreme cases, softener even stops to soften water.
This is the time when the softener needs to regenerate, or in other words, recharge.
So, let’s have a look at the regeneration process itself.
When the resin has reached its capacity, the regeneration process starts.
You have probably noticed that most of the salt-based softeners have a separate container called “brine tank.” You need to fill salt into that tank regularly.
Essentially, the regeneration process flushes the resin with salt water from the brine tank. The reason why you need to use brine water is that sodium ions replace the magnesium and calcium ions adhered on the resin.
It could be explained in three simple steps:
Step #1: Backwash
The resin is backwashed with water to remove any accumulated sediment or broken beads of resin.
Step #2: Regeneration
This is the primary process where the resin slowly replaces the ions of hard minerals with ions of sodium. This process lasts until the water in the brine tank is completely used.
Step #3: Rinse
Now, there are two rinse types: slow and fast.
Both are equally important as they ensure that there is no salt water and hardness minerals left in the softener. Without this step, salty water could reach out to you through the tap after the regeneration.
Slow rinse is rinsing the resin with regular water at the slow flow rate, which is the same or similar to the flow in the second stage. Slow rinse is good because it gives enough time for remaining brine water to replace hardness ions within the resin bed, as it slowly pushes brine water away.
Fast rinse is a quick flush of any remaining salt water and hardness from the softener and resin, so it won’t get into the plumbing.
The whole regeneration process takes about 60 to 90 minutes. This is determined by the water hardness and the type of softener.
Here is a quick video to summarize everything I have said earlier, but in more detail.
Once the regeneration is complete, the resin is once again full of sodium ions and softens water, until the next regeneration cycle.
Speaking of cycles, let’s talk about the frequency of regeneration.
Although it seems obviously easy, the regeneration frequency is not as straightforward as you might have thought. There are two main types of cycles set on most softeners.
- Scheduled regeneration
- On-demand regeneration
Let’s talk about both of these cycles, more in depth.
Scheduled regeneration is probably more common type because it is easier to set up and to be fair the control valve with timer is cheaper than in the second case.
Basically, you just schedule the time of regeneration and how often this needs to be done. Usually, it is weekly, but really it depends on the volume of softened water, so it is not rare that regeneration happens every couple of days.
Generally, plumbers recommend that softener shouldn’t work for more than seven days without regeneration.
This is pretty much it and every week at the same time the process begins.
The problem with this type of regeneration is that it’s not flexible. I mean, for someone who has a small household and is not at home very often, frequent regeneration might not be necessary, and the cycle could be longer. In the other case, it might be vice versa.
This is when you need to take into account your daily water usage and capacity and size of the softener to determine the cycle time.
On-demand regeneration doesn’t have this problem. This type of regeneration is triggered when a particular volume of water has passed through the softener.
Now, it comes with the benefit that it is easy to set up, but on the other hand, it might trigger the regeneration at a not suitable time.
The bottom line:
In both cases, then the rule applies that the more water you use, the more frequently softener needs to recharge. In the first case, though, it is a more tedious job at the beginning to determine how long should the cycle be.
Can You Use Softener During Regeneration?
Now, the short answer is no.
The control valve changes the flow of water, and during the regeneration, it creates a bypass route to ensure that you have access to water. Softener is not in use during this time.
However, the problem is that the water you will be using during the regeneration time won’t be softened.
I mean this shouldn’t be an issue to use hard water for an hour, but I would recommend to schedule regeneration in the night time to avoid this.
I mean, when you need to use water, you will fill the plumbing with hard water again. Once the regeneration cycle is finished, you still need to flush the remaining water in plumbing, so it takes time.
For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend using water during the recharging, but you are not cut out of the water if you still need it.
How To Tell If Softener Is Regenerating
The problem occurs when you want to know how well is softener regenerating.
Let me tell you straight away that it is not so obvious.
Probably the best way to tell that softener is regenerating, is to check the hardness of the water.
When regeneration wasn’t good enough, the performance of your softener could be low. So, you will be able to tell that water is not soft while taking a shower or you can start seeing limescale on your appliances again.
This is the point when you need to examine what is happening and why your softener is not regenerating.
Troubleshooting When Softener Is Not Regenerating
Really there could be a few things that most likely cause that softener is not regenerating.
First of all, check if you have added salt into the brine tank. Although, most of the modern softeners will make you aware of this by making a noise.
If there is enough salt, the second thing to check: Have a look at the control valve. If it is battery operated, chances are that battery has died.
At this point, you would need to replace the battery and check if the setup has remained the same. If not, you will need to set the softener up again.
I would encourage you to check the manual and see the troubleshooting section.
Another issue that could cause that softener is not regenerating properly is clogged drain line. This could cause that water isn’t flushed and as a result softener won’t regenerate properly.
How Much Water Is Discharged While Regenerating?
In all fairness, this is a difficult question to answer. Simply because there are softeners of different shapes and sizes. This creates it’s own issue as they will have different regeneration needs and the amount of water used.
The safe bet is to say that it is anywhere between 50 to 100 gallons per recharge.
Why that much?
Well, if you remember me describing the process, there is a lot of rinsing involved in it. Thinking about it, it is not actually that much, and this number is quite reasonable.
Is Regeneration Loud?
I think this is a piece of important information to know.
Let me explain…
Imagine you set up the softener to regenerate at night. Obviously, you want to have a good and uninterrupted by any noise sleep.
Here is the deal:
Some softener might make some noise during the regeneration. The good thing is that most of them won’t be loud during the whole cycle. Softeners are more likely to make a sound during the flushing stage at the beginning and the end of the cycle.
Now, I have done some research on this.
What I have found that softeners that use Autotrol valve controller are prone to make a rattle. The problem appears to be with the valve switch itself, and replacement seems to help most of the users.
The bottom line is:
During the normal regeneration conditions, a water softener shouldn’t be very noisy, although you should prepare yourself to hear a sound.
As you can see the softener regeneration is so simple, but it comes with lot’s of considerations beforehand.
Hopefully, by now, you know what a regeneration cycle is and if you are looking to buy a softener, here is the article you need to read.
If you are not sure whether softener is what you need, read this article.
It is your turn to tell me what you have learned!
Share your answers and other questions below.