How often should a water softener regenerate

Last updated on: April 1, 2024.

The intelligent thing to do is regularly keep an eye on the water softener to make sure that it is working properly. It is especially necessary when you start hearing loud noises.

Sometimes, the water softener may be regenerating too often or not often enough. Whatever the condition, it would help to know if the unit is regenerating.

How do you know if your water softener is regenerating? [Check these Signs]

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Water softeners use an ion exchange process. The hard water gets passed over a resin bed that traps the magnesium, calcium, and other minerals that cause the hardness. Eventually, the resin bed gets saturated and must be regenerated or recharged. Salt pellets are used for this process, and they help remove the hard minerals from the resin beads. This is a cyclical process that refreshes the unit and makes it work efficiently.

Water softeners must regenerate regularly. Some of them regenerate daily, while others regenerate a few times each week. Some even regenerate once every two weeks. The frequency of regeneration in water softeners depends on the water usage in your household, hardness levels, and the volume of the tank.

Signs that water softener is regenerating

To know if the water softener is regenerating, check for noises such as running water and the humming sound of a motor. These noises tell you that the brine solution is doing its job by washing over the resin bed. Usually, this process will take place when there is the least amount of water usage, i.e., at night. You may not be awake to hear these noises.

What are the stages of water softener regeneration?

Regeneration in a water softener that has reached capacity follows four stages – backwash, drawing brine, slow rinse, and a fast rinse.

1. Backwash

Water gets directed to the bottom of the tank to remove the solids that are accumulated in the resin bed. Then, the water is moved through the resin bed and out from the top and into the drain. It flushes the solids and expands the resin bed.  

2. Brine draw

Once the backwash is complete, the brine solution is directed to the top of the resin bed, and it flows down through the bed. It helps with the exchange of hardness ions for sodium ions.

3. The slow rinse

After the brine draw is completed, fresh water is directed through the resin bed to complete the ion exchange process, which pushes the brine from the resin bed and into the drain. This is the slow rinse stage. 

4. The fast rinse

Finally, a fast rinse is directed to the top of the resin bed and into the drain, completely flushing the hardness and brine out of the resin bed.

How many times a week should a water softener regenerate?

How many times a week a water softener regenerates depends on the water hardness level, the water usage by people in the household, and the capacity of the tank. Naturally, the first step is to ensure that you have the right size of unit installed in your home.

Time-based water softener

If you are using a timed water softener, you will find that it regenerates on a predetermined regeneration schedule, irrespective of the amount of water that has been used. This type is only effective if you have consistent water usage and hardness level.

Demand-initiated water softener

However, if you are using an on-demand water softener, you will find that it regenerates on its own by calculating the water usage. These systems use a high-efficiency technology that monitors water usage and starts the cleaning cycle as soon as the resin is at capacity for hard mineral collection.

They only regenerate when necessary, saving money, water and preventing over and under regeneration of the water softener.

How to set the water softener to regenerate? [Our Step By Step Guide]

If you are a family of four in a three-bedroom home, the average regeneration takes place about once every 12,000 gallons. Most new models of water softeners have a settings panel with digital displays with default settings.

The water softener regeneration cycles may be set from one to seven times each week. If your water’s hardness level is very high, the settings may need to be adjusted.

Step 1 – Regeneration cycle

Selecting the right time of day is essential as it impacts the amount of water output you get. Even if most water softeners have a regeneration cycle of 30 to 60 cycles, you may have options in your settings to make adjustments. But, the longer the cycle lasts, the more time you go without softened water. And, if the cycles are too short, the resin beads may not be as effective as they should be.

Step 2 – Salt dose

Now comes the setting for salt dosage. You may need to test your water for hardness levels if the default settings do not supply enough soft water.

Step 3 – Press the ‘regen’ button

Most modern water softeners have a ‘regen’ button. You have to press this button and hold it down for three seconds for the regeneration cycle to begin. You won’t be able to cancel it once the cycle starts. 

Step 4 – Manual Regeneration

However, if your water softener does not have the ‘regen’ button, you will need to push down the softener’s valve screw. Turn the screw clockwise toward the ‘brine’ option. Check if the water has started flowing. The water flow may continue for around 90 minutes. You can return the screw to its original position after the water stops.

Know these 5 Factors that Affect Regeneration Frequency

Regeneration frequency in water softeners depends on the volume of the tank, water usage, water hardness levels, presence of iron in the water, the age of the unit, and control valve.

The volume of the tank and water usage

If the water softener has a big tank and treats more water because of a high level of water usage, it may need to regenerate daily. This is especially the case if you have guests and the water consumption is higher than usual.

Water hardness levels

You may find that you are not getting enough soft water because of high hardness levels. Testing your water for hardness is always a good step to take. Your water softener regenerating may be as frequently as two or three times per week, depending on the hardness.

Presence of iron in the water

Some regions have an excess amount of iron in the water. Removing iron along with calcium and magnesium will mean that your water softener needs to regenerate more frequently.

Age of the water softener

Over time, single tank water softeners will lose their capacity through wear and tear. Another factor that will decrease the capacity is the chemical deterioration due to chlorine in the water. For it to work efficiently, it will need to regenerate more frequently.

Control valve

There are two types of control valves in water softeners. One is a demand-initiated valve, and the other is a timer-controlled system. The demand-initiated control valve is also called a metered valve. It uses a meter to measure water usage. The on-demand regeneration is a pre-set threshold, and when it is reached, it triggers the process. This type of control valve saves water and salt. 

The time-initiated control valve depends on the clock. It is set to start the regeneration process after a fixed number of days and at a specific time of day. This means that it will begin the regeneration process regardless of water usage or any other factor.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can you use water while softener is regenerating?

No. You cannot use water while the water softener is in the regeneration stage because the water cannot undergo the softening process during regeneration. Any water that flows out will be hard water.

How long does it take for water softener to regenerate?

Typically, it takes around two hours for water softeners to regenerate. It is best not to use water at this time, as hard water will fill up, and there could be a mineral buildup in the system.

How to Replace Your Water Softener Resin or Media

Generally, resin beds or other media can be expected to last around ten years. If the media is exposed to high levels of iron or chlorine, they may last around five years. 

You can clean the resin bed or other media with iron removing chemicals. 

If cleaning does not suffice, you have to replace the resin.

  • Measure the resin tank to know how much resin is needed, and buy high-quality resin.
  • Turn off the main water valve.
  • Start a manual regeneration process to remove the internal water pressure.
  • Disconnect the unit.
  • Dump the old resin and gravel.
  • Cut the new riser tube and insert it into the resin tank. Make sure that the height of the tube is the same as the old one.
  • Reinstall the valve head and reattach to the bypass valve.
  • Switch the valve on and check if there are any leaks.

That’s it. Your unit will start the water softening process with the new resin bed or media in place.

How do you dispose of water softener salt?

You can dispose of the water softener salt by sprinkling them in an area that has overgrown weeds. You can also save the salt for winter months when you need to use it on icy patios or driveways. Another option is to simply put it into the trash bag and throw it out with the rest of your garbage. 

What happens if water softener does not regenerate?

If the water softener does not regenerate, you will find the resin bed saturated with hardness minerals, resulting in an inefficient water softening system. Regeneration is essential because it removes the accumulated hard minerals trapped by the resin bed and releases them into the drain.

Should a water softener regenerate every night?

Regular regenerations are ideal for keeping the resin bed active. It is recommended that regeneration takes place every two or three days. But, some water softeners regenerate every day or once a week. The frequency depends on the household water usage and the hardness levels. 

How to stop water softener regeneration

You will need to bypass the water softener for the regeneration process to end or unplug the unit. 

How to stop Culligan regeneration?

Culligan uses three different types of bypass valves. You can locate the bypass valve behind the control head of the unit. It may be a ‘push to bypass’ or ‘turn to bypass’ or a ‘3 valve bypass’. The three-valve bypass is found more in commercial systems. 

‘Push to bypass’ is the red one that needs to be pushed. You may need to apply firm pressure as it may have some built-up sediment on the o-rings.

The ‘turn to bypass’ is a blue one. You will have to turn it clockwise to bypass. It must be turned all the way till it stops moving. When you want the water softener back in action, turn it counterclockwise. 


Finally, regeneration is integral to water softeners. Therefore, it is imperative to know all about the regeneration process and the factors that determine its frequency. Armed with the relevant information given here, you should be able to monitor your water softener carefully. You can also ensure that the system regenerates effectively to keep the resin bed active and supply soft water without interruption.

About The Author

Our Web Producer

Judith— a passionate water treatment specialist — is a waste water management enthusiast, clean drinking water advocate, and someone with deep personal experience and knowledge about various water equipments. Her work was mentioned in countless notable water associations. Previously she was an editor at Water Alliance.