POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about how to diagnose water softener operating problems: how long the softener runs, how much water is in the brine tank, how much salt, how salty or soft is the household water, more.
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Water softener regeneration cycle time period:
What is the normal duration or length of a water softener regeneration cycle? What determines the length of the softener regen cycle? Can the regen cycle duration be adjusted? How to diagnose & fix problems with a water softner that runs too long or not long enough. How much water does a water softener consume to regenerate its ability to remove minerals from the water supply?
Diagnose & Fix Water Softener Problems: 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.
Reader Question: how long should the water softener brine flush (regeneration cycle) last?
Is it normal for brine flush to be an hour long ? - D.C.
Reply: normal water softener regeneration cycle duration
DC it could be an hour - as long as it stops you're ok. The length of the regen cycle is controlled by the timer/control on your equipment and will vary by water conditioner size and salt dose. It would not be unusual for the total regen cycle to take more than an hour, comprised of these steps:
Typical Water Conditioner Regeneration Cycle Time Components
Backwash cycle - wash out the brine tank
Water Softener regen cycle - brine is pumped slowly through the water conditioner tank including a "slow rinse"
Brine tank refill - water is pumped into the brine tank to dissolve salt to be available as salty water for the next regen cycle
Total Water Conditioner Regen Cycle Time (sum of above)
Fast rinse/refill cycle on a water conditioner
Question: Why does my Water Softener Keep Running Longer Than it Should?
My water softener continues to run when no water is being drawn from anywhere in the house. Why is this happening? - Joe Hernandez, Brighten MI
Reply: What's the difference between normal water softener backwash regen cycle running and "stuck on" running?
The table below lists common causes & cures for a water softener that cycles continuously or that keeps draining continuously.
Causes of Long Water Softener Run or Regeneration Cycles or Continuous Water Softener Draining
Water Softener "Stuck On" Problem
Water Softener Problem Cause
Water Softener Repair Procedure
Water softener control cycles continuously
Broken or shorted water softener control switch or timer
If the water softener timer or control switch is defective it can cause the softener to remain "stuck" in regeneration mode, causing the water sofener to cycle continuously.
Replace the timer, switch, or if necessary replace the entire water sofener control head.
Water softener drains continuously
Water softener control valve not programmed correctly
Check Timer Program and Positioning of Control.
Replace Power Head Assembly if not Positioning Properly.
Water softener control valve clogged by debris
Remove the water softener power head assembly and inspect the bore. Remove foreign material and check the control in various regeneration positions.
Water softener valve internal leak
Replace the seals and piston assembly in the softener control head.
Water softener regeneration cycle inadequate
Various causes in the article cited at right
Insufficient salt dose or brine tank problems can cause the water softener regen cycle to be too short or can cause the softener to fail to produce enough soft water.
See BRINE TANK WATER TOO LOW
Water Softener fails to draw brine from the brine tank
Stuck water softener runs continuously: Emergency Steps:
If the water softener actually seems to "run" or to be "stuck" in regeneration mode, running continuously, then its operating control needs to be repaired or replaced. Don't leave the softener running forever - doing so wastes water and if your home is connected to a private septic system it will also flood and damage the drainfield.
In an emergency if the water softener is "stuck" running water continuously I'd just unplug it and also perhaps set the control to bypass while (see BYPASS VALVE) waiting for a water treatment company to perform the needed control repair.
Adapted from a review of multiple water softener installation and repair manuals. See REFERENCES in this and other water softener repair articles at InspectApedia's More Reading section.
Normal Water softener regen cycle usually occurs when household water is not being drawn by occupants
What you describe might be normal if the water softener runs when no water is being used in the house but later stops itself. The water softener itself does not deliver water to your home. That is done by the water pump or incoming water supply. So when a water softener "runs" it is in its regeneration or "backwash" cycle during which the softener pumps water into a salt tank to make brine, then flushes the brine backwards through the water treatment tank, then flushes the brine out of the treatment tank.
Because during the regeneration cycle the water softener is on "bypass", any household water used by occupants during that interval is not treated or softened during the regeneration cycle. Therefore we usually set the water softener timer to process its regeneration cycle in the middle of the night - when no one is using water. That may be what you are hearing.
How much water does a water softener use during the regeneration cycle?
Reader question: how much water is being wasted during each water softener regen cycle?
2016/06/20 John said:
how many gallons of water being wasted during each regeneration cycle?
Reply: Here are the basics for computing how much water a water softener "wastes" during regen
Thanks for asking an important question, John.
"Waste" is perhaps not perhaps the best term to use when discussing water use during a water softener regeneration cycle. The water softener is treating as much as 2000-3000 gallons of hard water depending on water softener size, model, and the hardness of the water supply. That treatment is more than aesthetic, as it's also keeping plumbing piping, water heaters, and fixtures working rather than clogging from scale. Water hardness even determines the amount of detergent needed to wash clothing.
To regenerate - that is removing calcium and magnesium that has accumulated in the water softener the regen cycle may use between 30 and 100 gallons of water over 1-2 hours of the regenration cycle, again depending on softener model, size, water hardness (1 grain of hardness is about 17 ppm of calcium/magnesium in the water), salt dose and similar parameters.
Another data point for cross-checking claims about water softener water consumption during regen coming from a different source suggests that: typical mid-sized water softeners regenerate at about 0.3 gpm during the regen cycle. Over two hours that's 120 x .3 or as little as 40 gallons of water being consumed. The lowest regen flow rate I've seen is about 0.18 and the highest 0.8 gpm, putting the upper end of water consumption by this approach at 0.8 x 120 or 96 gallons of water used over two hours.
I would agree, however, that more sophisticated water softeners that measure the hardness of water and the volume of water passing through the unit are more efficient at both salt and water usage than softeners that operate strictly by a clock-timer approach to setting the regeneration frequency and time.
As water softener efficiency varies that means the amount of salt needed and thus flush-water or brine needed varies too. A good standard is that an efficient water softner should use no more than 5 gallons of regeneration cycle water per 1000 grains of hardness removed from the water supply. Actual water usage is between 1.3 and 5.6 gallons of regeneration water per 1000 grains of water hardness, depending on softener model, design, and efficiency.
This tips us off that there isn't a single "right" answer to your question. As Mark Cramer says, .... it depends. In this case on the hardness of your water supply, the volume of water being consumed, and the efficiency of your water softener.
Resouces & research on water softener consumption rates:
Apell, Jennifer N., and Treavor H. Boyer. "Combined ion exchange treatment for removal of dissolved organic matter and hardness." Water research 44, no. 8 (2010): 2419-2430.
Clifford, Dennis, Suresh Subramonian, and Thomas J. Sorg. "Water treatment processes. III. Removing dissolved inorganic contaminants from water." Environmental science & technology 20, no. 11 (1986): 1072-1080.
DeBoer, Lloyd M., and Thurston E. Larson. "Water hardness and domestic use of detergents." Journal (American Water Works Association) 53, no. 7 (1961): 809-822.
NSF/ANSI Standard 44 - Residential Cation Exchange Water Softener efficiency ratings.
Pentair Water Solutions, "Achieving Brine Efficiency In Softening", [web article], retrieved 2016/06/20, publisher: Applied Membranes, Inc., original source: http://www.watertreatmentguide.com/achieving_brine_efficiency_in_softening.htm
"How Water Softener Controls Work", [web article], Pure Water Products, LLC, retrieved 2016/06/20 original source: http://www.purewateroccasional.net/hwmeteredsoftener.html
Van der Bruggen, Bart, H. Goossens, P. A. Everard, K. Stemgee, and W. Rogge. "Cost-benefit analysis of central softening for production of drinking water." Journal of environmental management 91, no. 2 (2009): 541-549.
More Questions about How a Water Softener Regen Works
Question: Why does the water conditioner take longer for drawing brine from the salt tank than for refilling the salt tank?
Can someone explain why, during a regeneration cycle, the time for drawing brine from tank is five times longer than refilling water into tank. That part of the cycle is drawing all of the water from tank and continues that cycle long after the brine tank is empty.
This system was installed and setup by a water softener company who I'm assuming made all necessary tests. My new job is to maintain this system and insure proper operation. I had a stuck float in the brine tank which was repaired, than I forced a regeneration cycle and noticed the brine tank and cycle setup. - Bob
Reply: The water softener does not re-fill the brine tank with water immediately after drawing out brine
Bob, indeed it sounds as if the water softener control or perhaps the brine tank fill control is not working properly. Or maybe not.
Some water softeners do not pump water into the brine tank until the start of a regen cycle. In that case once brine has been drawn out of the tank you won't see water pumped back into the salt tank until the next regen cycle.
The water softener regeneration takes place by cycling salty water backwards through the treatment tank and out into a disposal drain, followed by some wash-out of brine from the treatment tank so that the household water is not full of salt.
So the regeneration cycle would be expected to run for the sum of the brine passage plus the flush out water passage - longer than just the time to remove the brine-water from the salt tank.
An abnormally long regen cycle past time that brine has been pumped out of the salt tank? Check the float.
But if the cycle is abnormally long compared to the exhaustion of the brine tank liquid, another possibility is the following: the softener is set to use a particular quantity of salt (in the form of brine water) based on water hardness and quantity used.
But if the float in the brine tank prevented sufficient water from entering the tank at the start of the regen cycle, then the softener control could find itself blithely pumping along, having exhausted the undersized salt dose but having no way to know that (the brine float is a mechanical device that has most often no direct communication with the actual electrically powered softener control).
So I'd make a double check that the un-stuck float in the brine tank is properly set in its height and free in its movement.
a crimped or clogged water softener drain hose or pipe
a brine tank float or control valve that is not shutting off water coming into the brine tank - see WATER SOFTENER BRINE TANK FLOAT LEVEL ADJUSTMENT - if your water softener brine tank is overflowing the float control may be stuck. You should be able to remove, clean and replace the float to fix the problem.
Question: backwash observed when water softener returned to service
I moved into a new house 3 months ago to find the softener to be "out of service" meaning my inlet outlet valves to softener were closed and bypass open. When I lined softener up I noticed that water was running out of my backwash line this continued for 15-20 min. It was not in a regeneration cycle? Any answers would be great thanks - Josh 10/5/12
Josh, I'm guessing you bumped an extra regen cycle switch on the control; But it's just a guess. If the system was put out of service and on bypass it might be because the system was stuck in regeneration mode and needs cleaning or repair.
Question: how can I shut off the water softener?
water softner i unplugged the unit and it still runs water through it is there is there something i can do to shut off water from going through the system until i can get someone to look at it - Robert Clem 8/1/12
Question: Culligan 50 series softener that is continually draining water
I have a Culligan 50 series softener that is continually draining water. There is a plastic tube out the top that goes direct to the main house drain and recently we noticed there is a steady stream coming from it.
I tried to put in by pass and can't move the spool. - NH 8/8/12
I'd need to see a photo to be sure we are talking about the same component but it sounds as if you are describing a leak at the water / brine line between the brine tank and the water softener.
That line might leak either when the system is pumping water into the brine tank to make brine, or when the system is in regeneration cycle and is pumping salty water back through the water conditioner. Take a close look to see exactly what's leaking and replace those parts - it should be an inexpensive "screw-together" repair.
Question: would lack of salt make our water softener regen or recycle too often?
If we have not kept salt in our tank, would the softener recycle more often than it should? The reason for my question is I got a call from the city about our culinary water consumption and it is extremely higher than normal which indicates either a leak in our home such as a toilet, or the water softener is recycling too often. How do I know how many times the softener is recycling? - Jamie 6/18/12
Reply: yes and no - it depends on softener type
No, if you have a basic softener that just runs the regen cycle by a timer. That sort does not know how salty the regen solution is.
Yes, if your softener is a more advanced model that monitors water hardness. that type would see that the water remains too hard and keep running regen cycles fruitlessly.
Question: Water softener stuck in regen backwash cycle
we haven't used our culligan softner since we moved in 1999. when i plug the unit in it constantly discharges water down the main waste. is this normal? - Sal 6/21/12
Sal, it sounds as if your water softener is stuck in regen-cycle.
On a WaterBoss 900 if the unit stays in "regeneration" mode it may or may not be an obstruction.
Common causes of being stuck in regen include
1. The computer control is not properly attached. Check this FIRST. Be sure that the computer control is pushed all the way up onto the drive end cap.
2. Here you may be right: a foreign object (crud) may be stuck in the valve body. Look at the parts explosion and see my caveats below when disassembling to check or clean the valve.
3. Your Water Boss could have a broken valve assembly. If the motor runs and the valve doesn't turn this is probably the problem so I'd look for this condition before disassembling the valve.
If you don't already have an owners and installation manual for your Water Boss water softener, contact the company at the location I give below to obtain that document. That will give you a parts explosion and repair procedures specific to that machine.
Meanwhile I'd put the system on bypass and turn it off so you stop wasting water and perhaps flooding a septic system.
Watch out: I would NOT disassemble the unit one bit before having repair parts kit in hand. Going to all that trouble and finding that you've nicked or damaged an O-ring can leave you shut down while you have to wait for such parts, and chances are you need them anyway.
Contact details for WaterBoss Water Softeners
4343 S Hamilton Rd
Groveport, OH 43125
Continue reading at WATER SOFTENER REGEN CYCLE FAQs or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
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 North Dakota Standards for Water Softeners, North Dakota General Authority Law, Chapter 62-04-08, Water Softener Units http://www.legis.nd.gov/information/acdata/pdf/62-04-08.pdf. "The objective of this chapter is to provide a standard of quality, capacity,
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 Culligan Mark 10 Water Softener 1994-1998 Installation and Operating Instructions (covering models manufactured after 1995) (1-96) 01881948.pdf available from www.culligan.com
 Water Softeners, CMHC, Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/wawa/wawa_005.cfm - October 2008. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation acknowledges the contribution of Health Canada to the development of this document. For further questions regarding water treatment and water quality, contact Health Canada at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 613-957-2991 or 1-866-225-0709.
 "Commercial Water Softener Installation and Operating Instructions", IBC Filtration & Water Treatment Products (Australia) for commercial, industrial and residential application www.ibcwater.com.au (07) 3219 2233
 "Non electric water softener,
Installation and Operating Instructions", IBC Filtration & Water Treatment Products (Australia), op.cit.
 "Water Softener Twin Tank Installation and Operating Instructions", IBC Filtration & Water Treatment Products (Australia), op.cit.
 Our Water Hardness Table used at originated with but was edited and added to from http://www.bestfish.com/tips/110598.html and also from http://www.water-research.net/hardness.htm
 Thanks to reader Gail Sanchez for discussing water softener backups and floods after an electrical outage - August 2010
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Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
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Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
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"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
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Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
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Art Ludwig has cut to the core of wastewater issues. He's obviously done all of his homework, mulled-over the variables, and come up with a common sense, economically reasonable, environmentally responsible approach to wastewater. I expect to save money that I would have spent on a post-septic tank, aerobic unit that would seemingly have been ecologically responsible; but because of the technological overkill, ultimately that system would have defeated my altruistic environmental concerns.
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City eying home water-recycling technology; uses bath and washer water for irrigation., (ReWater Systems' equipment for greywater irrigation):
This is an article from: San Diego Business Journal [HTML] (Digital) available online in digital format. I have not (yet) reviewed it -- DF
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
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Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. (DF volunteers to serve as indexer if Burks/Minnis re-publish this very useful volume.)While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference
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Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill.
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* Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
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* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.
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