Water softener diagnosis FAQs © Daniel Friedman Water Softener Salt Dose Setting
Water conditioner salt quantity settings, water hardness table, salt dose calculations, brine tank float adjustment & repair

  • WATER SOFTENER SALT DOSE SETTING - CONTENTS: how to set the water softener salt dose & regeneration cycle frequency. How to determine how much salt is needed by the water softener using a water hardness table or calculations.
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Water softener salt dose settings:

Tthis article explains why a water softener or water conditioner consumes salt and describes water softener setting adjustments of the salt dose or quantity to be used during a water softener regeneration cycle. Depending on the water softener type and model, there may be several settings and adjustments to be made to control salt dose and regeneration cycle frequency.

The article provides both a table and a calculation method to determine how much salt is needed for a given level of water hardness. This article also explains how to repair or adjust the brine tank float - a device that determines the quantity of salty brine to be produced for use during water softener regeneration.

This article series describes procedures for diagnosing and repairing water softener or water conditioner problems including water conditioner control settings and adjustment or repair, brine tank and brine tank float cleaning and repair, and the proper amount of water softening or conditioning that is needed.

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Water Softener Salt Types & Salt Dosage Procedures

As we explain at how water softeners work, salt is used in the water softener to remove other minerals, typically calcium and magnesium that cause hardness in water. The minerals removed by the water softener accumulate inside that device and must be periodically removed by a water conditioner / softener regeneration cycle.

During the water softener regeneration cycle, salty water (produced in the brine tank) washes calcium and other minerals out of the water softener while at the same time salt molecules are captured by the resin inside the water softener.

  • The harder your incoming water supply is, the larger is the salt dose that will be needed to regenerate the water softener itself.
  • The larger the water quantity you use in your home, the more often the water softener will need to run through a regeneration cycle.

Article Contents

How to Set the Water Softener Brine Control or Salt Dosage

Autotrol salt control dial Water softener brine control or salt dose and regeneration cycle frequency as well as other settings vary depending on the type of water softener control on your machine.

Here we describe various types of controls: dials, pins, buttons, and electronic or digital water conditioner controls. If you cannot find information you need contact us by email.

Here are illustrations of a similar water conditioner control from a Culligan System 19 or System 23 Installation Manual.


The Brine Control: how to set the water softener salt dose

Your water softener's instructions (available from the manufacturer or from a local water softener service company) will tell you what salt dosage to set on the softener as a function of how many grains of hardness your water supply shows.

The salt dose scale on a typical water softener indicates the number of pounds of salt to be used in each water softener recharge cycle. Shown at left, the pointer knob is set to between 14 and 15 pounds of salt on an Autotrol salt dose control (a high setting by the way).

On many water softener models where the salt dose is readily adjusted by the consumer/owner, a set-screw is loosened on the salt dose dial and the dial is rotated to line up a pointer with a numeric salt dose on a scale on the dial. Then re-tighten the screw. Do not change the salt dose that is already set on your water softener by your installer unless a new water test report indicates that a different level of salt treatment is needed.

How the water softener salt dose really works

When you set the brine control or salt dose on a water conditioner, you are actually setting the volume of salty water that will be pumped through the resin tank during a regeneration cycle. Because water will absorb salt only until it is fully saturated, the amount of water that can be placed into a gallon of water is more or less fixed. So to set the salt dose for water softener regeneration, we are really setting the volume of salt-saturated water that runs through the water softener during regen.

Of course since sending more water into the salt tank to absorb salt will also consume more salt, indirectly by setting the volume of water we are setting the salt dose in pounds. So salt doses in water conditioner settings are given in pounds of salt, not gallons of salty water. That's the number you need to know anyway, since you will be buying salt by x number of bags of water conditioner salt, each bag containing some particular quantity of salt in pounds.

Set the water softener recharge frequency

Water softener recharge frequency - CulliganYour water softener's instructions will tell you how often the system should be recharged as a function of your estimated daily water usage in gallons.
See Water Quantity Requirements for some general water usage numbers.

At left is a typical water softener recharge frequency chart for a Culligan System 19 or 23 Water Conditioner.

[Click to enlarge any image or table]

Typically a water softener control includes a seven-day recharge frequency dial with tabs that can be pushed-in or pulled out to cause the water softener to use a recharge cycle on that day. Harder water and higher quantity of water usage means more frequent recharge cycling is needed.

If your water softener has an automatic sensor of the hardness of water leaving the treatment tank (such as the Culligan Soft-Minder®), it can decide for itself when a recharge or regeneration cycle is needed.

  • If your water softener has a manual or clock driven backwash control, you can install a flow meter or hardness meter to determine when the system needs to be backwashed.
  • Adjust the backwash frequency and salt dose to the lowest level necessary.
  • Watch out: do not leave off the water softener indefinitely. It's not there just for fun. If your water is hard and you leave the water conditioner off completely, you can expect to face expensive plumbing repairs when the water supply piping, water heater, or tankless coil become clogged with minerals. [An exception might be if your building is converted from using a private well with hard high-mineral content water to a municipal water supply hookup whose water is low in mineral content. In that case you might no longer need the water conditioner.]

Details about the water softener regeneration frequency setting are at SOFTENER REGENERATION CYCLE FREQUENCY

Water Softener Salt Dose Table & How to Use the Table to Set Your Water Softener

Salt dosage frequency guide tables consider the following parameters

  • The number of people in the household
  • The average daily water usage per person (in gallons), or an assumed usage, e.g. of 75 gallons per person per day
  • The total hardness of the water supply, measured in grains per gallon or Mg/L of water
  • [possibly] the model and operating properties of the individual water softener or water conditioner

Watch out: this water softener salt dose table [below] may not be correct for your water softener model or level of water quantity usage. Consult the manual for your specific water softener brand and model.

But it is somewhat general. We found that this identical table was used in water softener maintenance manuals from both Autotrol, Aquatell / Nelsen Corp and also A.I. McDermott Co., Inc.'s AquaSoft for their Pro-Plus 460-series water softeners, possibly because the control, manufactured by General Electric is used on more than one model and by more than one manufacturer.

[Click to enlarge any image or table]

Salt dose table for water conditioner - Autotrol

Table of salt dose frequency shown above, courtesy Autotrol, Aquatell / Nelsen Corp.

Here is another salt dosage frequency table, courtesy of Culligan Water Conditioners based on an assumption of daily water usage of 75 gallons per person.

Here is another similar salt dosage frequency table, also courtesy of Culligan Water Conditioners based on an assumption of daily water usage of 75 gallons per person for the Culligan System 23 Water Conditioner.

How to use the Salt Dial Setting Table Above: Set the Water Softener Salt Dial Control = setting the Salt Dose

Several readers have found the table above and water softener instructions in general confusing, and we agree. The instructions read as if they were written by someone who built the control and knows it so well they can't imagine how a normal person will be confused. You will want to carefully read the instructions in your owner's manual for your water softener. Even reading the instructions it's still confusing to lots of folks.

You might want to call your manufacturer directly for help - most have a toll-free help number. But here we also take a stab at how to set these controls.

As the product literature for this control explains, the amount of salt placed into the salt storage tank has nothing to do with the salt amount used during water softener regeneration cycle. The "salt dose" for a water softener regeneration cycle is set by choosing a "salt dose" number on the salt dial. The dial determines the amount of brine (salty water) that will be pumped through the water softener during its regeneration cycle.

To use the salt dose table you need to know the size of your water softener treatment tank (not the salt holding tank) in cubic feet. This data is given in your model's owner's manual or on a data plate on the equipment itself. Or ask your installer or ask the manufacturer, after giving them your equipment name, model, and model number.

The "salt dial" is typically set by turning a knob, or using a screwdriver to turn a pointer knob, or using a screwdriver to loosen a set screw that then allows the knob to be turned (then re-tighten the screw) - depending on your water softener. But how do we decide what salt setting to use?

How to Calculate The Amount of Salt to Use in a Water Softener Regeneration Cycle

We recommend taking a look at the table of salt dose and backwash frequency provided in the installation manual for your water softener. If you want to check their table or generate your own salt dose numbers for comparison here is a formula from IBC.

Total number of grains of hardness to be removed, measured as grams of CaCO3 or NaCL = A

A = N x H x Q

Number of Days Between Water Softener Regeneration Cycles = N

Volume of water passing through the treatment tank per day = Q (Kiloliters per day) or (Gallons per day)

Hardness of the incoming water measured in micrograms/Liter (mg/L) or in PPM = H

Salt Dose: How to Adjust the Float Level in the Water Softener Brine Tank

Brine refill control - CulliganAnother method for adjusting the salt dose or the amount of salt used during a water conditioner backwash/regeneration cycle [on some water softener models] involves adjusting the float level inside the brine tank.

Brine refill control Valves in Water Softener Tanks

On many water softeners (Such as Culligan 1989 vintage water conditioner systems) there is a brine refill flow control valve inside the salt storage tank that needs to be changed or cleaned for proper operation.

Shown at left: the brine refill control and the refill flow restrictor found in the salt tank for a Culligan System 19 or System 23 water conditioner.

The lever at right in the figure connects to the vertical rise rod that in turn connects to the brine tank float (discussed below).

As we describe at WATER SOFTENER DIAGNOSTIC FAQs, a malfunctioning brine level float control (or other maladjustments) can cause abnormally high water level in the brine tank.

Other possible causes for too much water in the brine tank are listed at BRINE TANK WATER TOO HIGH

Just below we give the details of setting the brine level control float and valve.

Reader Question: How do I set the float level in my water softener brine tank?

I have read the excellent description of the required adjustments of a water softener. However, there was one adjustment I think that requires explanation that was not mentioned, is the setting of the brine tank float. For example, what is the connection between the amount of salt consumed, if any, and the height setting of the float? It would be helpful for me to know that answer. Thank you again for your article on this subject. - M.P.

Reply: Set the "A" dimension or float distance from filter screen top to float bottom in the brine tank according to required salt dosage and brine tank dimensions

Salt dose float adjustment - CulliganSome, not all, water softeners do indeed require that the brine tank float level be adjusted in order to provide the correct salt dose needed for the building served by the water softener.

Adjusting the float height in the salt tank in turn determines the volume of water injected into the tank and thus the "salt dose" used during a water softener backwash cycle. In turn, salt dose needed (or volume of salty water to be run back through the water softener during a regeneration cycle) depends on these variables:

  • the hardness of water supplied to the building
  • the volume of water being used in the building
  • the desired "softness" of water specified by the occupants

Other water softener models use different controls to manage for these same variables.

You will need to know in addition to the above information,

  • the model of your water softener,

  • and by consulting its installation manual you'll find whether or not the float level should be adjusted in your particular water softener brand and model. Here is an example of water softener salt tank float adjustment instructions.


[Click to enlarge any image or table]

Brine Valve "A" Dimension: Salt Tank Float Height

Water softener float height table - CulliganA 1989 Culligan water softener installation manual describes the Brine Valve "A" dimension: the distance from the top of the filter screen to the bottom of the float.

One sets the "A" dimension (in inches) based on the desired salt dosage in pounds and the brine tank size - this will be manufacturer dependent.

At left we are showing an example chart (for the Culligan System 19 or System 23 water softeners).

[Click to enlarge any image or table]

Example: for a System 19 Culligan water conditioner brine tank, the "A" dimension (distance filter screen to the bottom of the float) would be set to 14 1/2 inches if you needed an 11-pound salt dosage.

Note: this setting determines the salt dose amount (how much salt will be used, not the salt dosage frequency (how often the dose should be applied). The salt dosage frequency is set separately on the clock control for the water softener as we discuss above.

Watch out: the requirement to set the height of the float in a salt tank for a water softener, as well as the float height if setting is indeed required, is dependent on the variables listed above including your water softener brand and model. Be sure to consult the installation manual for your own water softener.

You could, in theory, adjust the height of the float and thus the salt dose on a water softener empirically by measuring the hardness of water provided by the system after a backwash cycle and perhaps daily for several days to see if you need to change the backwash cycle frequency or salt dose size - but it's best if you can find and follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Watch out: we have also found water softener brine tank floats that were "stuck" in their cylinder (the cylinder is intended to let the float rise and fall with water level without being obstructed by salt in the media tank) - usually we have been able to free the float by pulling the vertical rod up and down a few times.

Sometimes homeowners have accidentally spilled salt into the cylinder, especially if its top cover has been lost - in that case the salt crystals can obstruct the float.

Thanks to reader M.P. for discussing the requirement to adjust the float level in water softener brine tanks.

Water Softener Salt Products, Options for Use in the Brine Tank

The standard product used in water softener brine tanks is ordinary salt NaCl (Sodium chloride) - the same substance used in table salt.

Salt for water softeners is sold generally in two forms:

  • Salt pellets: a prepared salt product that is asserted to have been cleaned of extraneous debris and formed for easy flow in the brine tank
  • Rock salt: raw salt crystals also sold for use in the brine tank of a water softener

Watch out: some "rock salt" products sold for use in water softeners contain quit a bit of soil debris that accumulates in the brine tank, making perodic brine tank cleanout an important maintenance chore.

Water softener salt substitutes

As we discuss at SALT / SOFT WATER IMPACT on SEPTIC, PLUMBING, HEATERS, substitures for ordinary salt (sodium chloride) can be used in water softeners but some adjustments may be necessary.

Some water softener manufacturers such as for the Sears Kenmore electronic water softener recommend using potassium chloride "salt" (KCL) instead of standard sodium chloride (NaCL) which is standard or ordinary salt. and remark that potassium chloride salt will give longer equipment life and will permit lower hardness settings on the water softener control.

Kenmore explains that if you are not using KCL in their water softener you might need to increase the equipment's hardness settings by 25%:



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