How often should a water softener backwash? You’ve probably been startled at one point on an ungodly hour as you hear strange noises escape your utility room. Before you jump to any conclusions of the supernatural kind, let us tell you that it’s likely nothing to worry about. It’s just your water softener backwashing.
If you have no idea what that is, read on as we discuss water softener backwash: what it is, why it happens, and how often.
How Often Should A Water Softener Backwash?
This is the central question we need to answer in this discussion. To do so, we first need to understand what it means for a water softener to undergo a backwash cycle and why it needs to. Then, we’ll go through several factors that affect the frequency of this cycle for your softener.
What Is Water Softener Regeneration?
Water softeners work by implementing a process called ion exchange. Through this process, hard water becomes soft water, as the resin bed (containing sodium or potassium ions) removes the hardness minerals (calcium and magnesium ions) from the water. This process occurs in the water softener’s mineral tank or resin tank.
Water softener regeneration occurs when the bed of resin, made up of resin beads, reaches its softening capacity. Once reached, the beads no longer have enough potassium/sodium ions to exchange with the mineral ions.
To recharge or regenerate this capacity, brine solution (containing potassium/sodium ions), coming from the brine tank, passes through the bed of resin to remove the mineral ions in the resin beads.
Why Does A Water Softener Regenerate Or Backwash?
The regeneration process (backwashing) is necessary to keep the resin bed active. Softeners will remain efficiently producing soft water so long as the process continues undisturbed. If your water softener fails to regenerate, you will receive untreated water instead of soft water.
What Happens When A Water Softener Regenerates?
A water softener regeneration cycle boils down to three stages:
Brine or brine solution is water softener salt (in the form of crystals, pellets, or cubes) dissolved in water. Softener salts are either made up of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, or calcium chloride. This solution makes for highly concentrated salty water.
Now, the brine cycle or brine draw is the movement of brine from the water softener’s brine tank (aka salt tank) and down through the water softener resin in the resin tank. As the brine water flows through the resin, the salt it provides replaces the calcium and magnesium ions, which the softener resin caught from the hard water, with sodium ions.
After passing through the water softener resin, the water drawn from the brine tank goes out the water softener drain.
In this cycle, water from the building supply flows through the softener’s valve up through the water softener resin and out through the water softener drain. The descaler cycle is responsible for removing any mineral buildups (aka scale), sediments, and debris from the softener resin tank.
The recharge cycle is when the brine tank is refilled. Water flows from the building’s water supply into the brine tank. Once in there, it dissolves salt to create the brine, which will serve as the new supply of sodium ions when the softener needs to recharge on another regeneration cycle.
“How often should my water softener regenerate?” The short answer to this question is weekly since the optimal days between each softener regeneration cycle is seven. But in truth, this is in general and will not apply to all water softeners.
Some sources dictate that two to three days in between is more efficient. Meanwhile, highly efficient softeners can regenerate every day or multiple times a day.
This brings us to the long answer: how often your softener regenerates depends on several factors. These undeniable factors make the optimal days between regenerations differ from one household to the other.
The Hardness of Water
Water hardness affects not just what size water softener you need but how often your water softener should backwash as well. The number of hardness minerals dissolved in your water determines water hardness.
Very hard water can exhaust your resin tank’s capacity faster than slightly hard or moderately hard water. With that, the harder the water, the more often softener regeneration needs to occur to keep the resin bed active.
Amount of Iron in Water
Having iron in your water supply doesn’t only increase the water hardness rating by 3 grains per gallon. Iron is also among the three most common causes of damaged resin beds. That’s because iron can coat the outside layer of resin beads, making it harder for calcium and magnesium ions to bind to the beads.
So, if your water supply is high in iron content, you can expect your softener to regenerate more frequently.
Household Water Usage
Water consumption or water usage per household will vary. A household of two will consume several gallons of water less than a household of four. With fewer water users, your resin tank capacity won’t peak as fast and water softener regeneration won’t need to occur as frequently. And as you can surmise, the inverse is true for when your household receives an influx of guests in any given period of time.
Resin Tank Capacity
Water softeners come in various sizes. The size of softeners is marketed in terms of grain capacity (GR). This is the amount of hardness that the resin tank of a water softener can remove before the beads need to undergo the regeneration process.
The most common softening capacity for water softeners falls between 24,000 GR and 80,000 GR. But it is also possible to find softeners of up to 110,000 GR. The higher the capacity, the less frequent need for a regeneration cycle.
As a softener system ages, its softening capacity lessens. This decline towards inefficiency is due to several factors, including the degradation of the resin structure. At some point, a water softener unit will need repairs, like changing damaged resin beds, to have the system regenerate at an acceptable rate.
If nothing is done to maintain old systems, they will need to undergo regeneration more often than before.
Chemical deterioration caused by oxidants like chlorine also affects the softening capacity of your water softener. That’s because chlorine breaks the glue that holds resin beads together. The damage to the resin structure makes for a less efficient softening process from your water softener.
If you’re on municipal water supply, it’s highly likely your water will have chlorine. In that case, expect to have your water softener regenerate more frequently than the general consensus.
The Two Types Of Regeneration
The frequency of water softener regeneration is determined by one of the main parts of a water softening unit: the control valve. This valve serves as the central processing unit that determines when the next regeneration cycle needs to begin.
Softeners will differ in the type of control valve they have. Each valve will use a different type of regeneration, and these two types are the following:
1. Time-Initiated Regeneration
In this type of regeneration, the valve has a clock where you can have your water softener regenerate after a predetermined time. The clock is usually set to regenerate after several days and at a time of the day when water usage is low (typically at 2 AM by default). This regeneration process repeats itself at least once a week at a minimum.
The clock-based setting makes it a timer-controlled system. To have your water softener regenerate most efficiently and accurately, you should leave the customization of the setting to a water treatment professional.
2. Demand Regeneration
A control valve with a demand regeneration setting tracks your water usage. After the softener processes a predetermined amount of water, the valve sends the water softener into regeneration mode.
You can liken this setting to any rechargeable device—if you use the device often, you’ll need to charge it more often. That’s how this regeneration setting works. The more water you use, the more often your water softener recharges or backwashes. So, if you find yourself hosting guests, you’ll have your water softener regenerate more often compared to when you have fewer water users.
Time-Initiated VS Demand Regeneration
Both regeneration settings have worked for years. However, the general consensus leans toward demand as the most efficient of the two. This regeneration process makes efficient use of salt and water usage since it will have the system regenerate only when the resin tank capacity has been used up. Compare this to a timer-controlled system that simply starts a regeneration cycle on a given day and time, disregarding whether the unit needs regeneration or not.
In The Case Of Twin Tank Water Softeners
Twin tank water softeners (aka dual tank water softeners) are designed to be more efficient in many ways compared to single tank water softeners.
Firstly, twin softeners provide softer water. These highly efficient softeners are capable of removing all sorts of contaminants from your water.
Secondly, they have their system regenerating using soft water. A regeneration process using softened water extends the life of softeners greatly. That’s because water contaminants and hardness minerals will have less contact with your unit.
Lastly, the twin tank system allows for soft water to always be available. When one tank needs to go through a regeneration cycle, the service automatically switches to the other tank. Compare this to single tank water softeners where you’ll usually get untreated water while the softener regenerates.
What If Your Water Softener Regenerates Too Frequently/Infrequently?
Once you have a water softener installed, it’s fairly easy to begin understanding its regeneration schedule. If you notice a change in your softener’s regeneration, don’t panic. The reason behind this could be simple. Check the following before jumping to conclusions:
- If your water softener system is demand-based, it could be that your water usage has been less or more in the previous days.
- If your water softener has a timer-controlled system, check if you have the correct water softener settings. Also, a power outage of more than an hour can mess with your system. When that happens, you’ll need to reset the control valve’s regeneration settings.
- Check if the brine tank has enough salt. Having little to no salt when your softener needs to recharge will disrupt the regeneration process.
Some problems with your softener could be better addressed by contacting a professional water treatment company. In some cases, having a water treatment professional drop by could save your unit from becoming inoperable. For more info on when to repair versus replace, check out our post.
From our discussion, hopefully, you’ve gotten the answer to the question “How often should my water softener regenerate or backwash?” Though the general standard for optimal days in between a regeneration cycle is seven, the six undeniable factors we discussed will certainly affect this. Consider these factors in assessing your water softener’s regeneration process. Also, be sure to browse our other posts for more info on water softeners.
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