What is Water Softener Regeneration? – How Does it Work?

Water softener regeneration is a common term used in the water softening process.

What is Water Softener Regeneration?

What is water softener regeneration?

In any ion exchange water softener (such as a traditional-style water softener, cabinet-style water softener, or a twin tank water softener) hard water pass the resin tank which contains resin beads.

The resin beads, which are negatively charged, attract minerals that make your water hard. (It should be noted that resin does not filter but rather attracts.) The hard water minerals, which are positively charged, stick firmly to the resin beads, therefore allowing only soft water to flow through to the kitchen faucet.

Over time, the resin beads get overly coated with hard water minerals, causing them to not soften the water.

In such a case, the resin beads need to be cleaned to remove the minerals that have been entirely covered.

The process of cleaning the water softener resin to regain its effectiveness is called water softener regeneration.

Most people confuse water softener resin cleaning, backwash cycle, and regeneration.

Regeneration is the process of cleaning off hard minerals that have entirely coated the resin beads.

Resin cleaning also happens to the resin beads, but this is different.

Let me explain. Water softener resins are meant to remove the hardness present in your water, but there are contaminants present in your water that resins are not able to clear.

Such contaminants include iron, manganese, silt, metal particles, and organic compounds.

When the above contaminants enter your resin tank, the resin beads are not capable of removing them from the water.

Over time, they will coat the resin beads, causing failure or inefficiencies.

In such cases, the resin beads need to be cleaned to restore and peak their efficiency, which can only be done using water softener cleaner, also known as water softener resin cleaning. 

That’s why it is advisable to install a water filter before a water softener to remove contaminants that resin beads cannot reduce.

Backwash cycle

During the backwash cycle, the water flows to the resin tank at a high-speed rate to flush out the accumulated contaminants (iron, sediments, and dirt) on the resin beads and into the drain. During the backwash cycle, no chemicals are used, just plain water, but when the contaminants become stubborn, that is when you need a resin cleaner.

Why does a water softener regenerate?

The water softener regenerates to remove hard minerals that are stuck on the resin beads so that you can always have soft water for use.

How do you know it is time to regenerate?

Nowadays, most water softeners have a control valve that is programmed when to regenerate.

How to set the control valve is dictated by various things, such as water softener capacity, the number of hard minerals in your water, and the number of people in your household.

 The control valve has two different features on how to set it to regenerate. The water softener features include:

  1. Timed regeneration

During the timed regeneration, the control valve is set to regenerate after a certain number of days. The timed initiated regeneration can be a problem on days when you have visitors. During those days, you may have more laundry, more dishes cleaned, or lots of showers. By the time the regeneration occurs, all the soft water could have been finished and started delivering hard water from your faucet.

In another case, you might have traveled, or you have less water consumption. The system will regenerate when the day you have set reaches even if you were not using water, leading to loss of salt and water.

It is advisable you set the water softener in bypass mode in case you are traveling to reduce wastage.

  1. On-demand regeneration or metered

On-demand regeneration is set to regenerate after a specific amount of water has been softened. It is the most economical because the valve keeps track of the amount of water softened and regenerates when needed.

The on-demand regeneration saves over or under the regeneration process when water usage varies.

What do you need for regeneration?

During the regeneration process, you only need a brine solution which is in the brine tank.

The brine solution is prepared using a water softener salt, either potassium chloride or sodium chloride. Some people use potassium chloride solution; this is useful for people on a low-sodium diet or if you don’t need sodium in your water at all. Others use sodium, which is common in most homes.

Step-by-step on how to prepare the brine solution

The brine solution is prepared in a water-softener brine tank.

The brine tank is filled with water softener salt and water to make the brine, which takes 10 minutes to do.

Water softener regeneration steps

Usually, a water softener has two tanks—a brine and a resin tank. The brine tank is where the brine solution for the regeneration is stored, while the resin tank is where resin beads that attract hard minerals (calcium and magnesium) are stored.

When the water softener reaches the time for regeneration, the brine solution in the brine tank travels to the resin tank. The brine solution has a high concentration of sodium that overwhelms the hard minerals coated on the resin beads. The hardness ions on the resin beads are cleaned off by the strong concentration of brine solution.

When the hard minerals are flushed out from the resin beads, the brine tank valve closes, and water starts to flow the same path as during brining but without brine. The water flushes out the hard minerals and brines out of the resin tank using the drain pipe.

After this, you can run the backwash cycle to flush out other contaminants on the resin beads (read above what the backwash cycle is).

Lastly, rinse out the resin tank using the fast flow of water and return the water softener to its service mode (back to its normal operation).

Bonus video on how to program your water softener

How long does it take for the water softener to regenerate?

The regeneration process takes 50–60 minutes, depending on the distance of the piping.

What is the best time to do the regeneration?

Most systems come with a default setting of 2 am. The regeneration time should be set to happen late at night, probably between 2 am and 4 am. At this time, when water is not being used in your home. If you have a dual-tank water softener, you can regenerate it at any time of the day.

Water softener regeneration noise

When the water softener is regenerating on its own, it will make a noise.

Water softener regeneration frequency

Ideally, a water softener is supposed to be sized so that it does not regenerate frequently. In standard cases, it should regenerate every three days to reduce water and salt waste, and no longer than 14 days. If it takes longer than that, it can cause the resin to compact and become contaminated with sediment or iron. Seven days between regenerations is the best regeneration frequency, mainly if iron is present.