How Do You Program the Different Settings on a Water Softener?

Marwa Hasan
Written by Marwa Hasan
Updated June 14, 2022
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Turn on and adjust the water softener system yourself with these easy steps

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Many homes have hard water that contains high concentrations of iron, calcium, and other minerals. While hard water is mostly safe to drink, it can affect the lifespan of your appliances, not to mention that it leaves scum stains and it makes laundry feel rougher.

How Does a Water Softener System Work?

Hard water has high concentrations of calcium and magnesium. Water softeners remove these minerals by filtering the water before it flows through plumbing. Negatively charged resin beads work like a magnet to attract positively-charged hard water minerals, cleansing your water and preventing build-up in your pipes.

How to Know If I Have Hard Water

Hard water has high mineral content—calcium, magnesium, and lime. Hard water leaves scale, spots, or films on your dishes, it may also leave crusty lime buildup around faucets and drains, and will leave your hair and skin feeling dry and itchy. If you recognize those signs, you can use a home hardness test kit to measure water hardness.

Before You Turn On Your Water Softener

Whether your water softener hasn't been in use for a long time or your newly bought home came with one, contact your local water supply pro to inspect your water softener system, make sure it’s not leaking, and ensure it’s well maintained.

The brine tank contains softener salt to regenerate the system once it has absorbed hard minerals. To maintain a water softener, you should never fill the tank. The brine tank should have enough salt to keep it at least one-quarter full at all times. 

Be sure your brine tank is clean, put the required salt amount in the tank, and adjust the settings correctly according to your household needs. If you have a salt-free water softener, skip this step.

When you’re sure the system is working just fine, here is how to start using it.

Turning on Your Water Softener System

Close-up of a man washing his hands at sink
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To turn on your water softener, plug it in and open the bypass to allow water to flow through the system. 

Adjusting the controls properly on your water softener will ensure that your pipes remain clear and that you're receiving softer, cleaner water for your family. Check the manual for the settings, as most water softener owners’ manuals include a table of recommended settings. Here is how to program the water softener system in your home.

What to Program in a Water Softener

There are a few settings to program in any water softener. It will depend on the type of water softener. But, generally, you may need to program clock, regeneration, and hardness settings.

Clock Settings

Setting the clock on the water softener systems is important because it allows the water softener to recharge the cycle when other plumbing fixtures are not in use. It’s also important to set the water softener regeneration to a time when your family is least likely to be using water during nighttime. Typically, regeneration time is set at 2:00 AM.

Usually, the clock dial is adjusted by lifting it and turning it to the proper position or turning a knob, depending on the machine.

A man’s hand making settings to a water softener
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Water Softener Regeneration Settings

Regeneration is when a water softener flushes out the minerals from the hard water to reset itself and continue to soften new hard water. Not all water softening systems are the same, but generally, water softeners have two kinds of control systems:

  • Timer: You set a day and time for regeneration, and when the day arrives, the regeneration of the softener carries on. A typical setup might be every week, regardless of the amount of water used in your home. 

  • Metered: Counts the gallons of water that pass through the softener, then starts the regeneration. If you only use a small quantity of water, regenerations are less frequent, and vice versa. 

As a rule of thumb, a family of four with a water softener would have their unit regenerate about once every 12,000 gallons. 

The timing, duration, and frequency of the cycle depend on the water hardness and water usage. But most systems have a regeneration cycle length of 30 to 60 cycles.

Check the manufacturer's instructions before proceeding with the regeneration settings.

Salt Dosage Setting 

During the water softener regeneration cycle, salty water from the brine tank washes the hard water minerals captured by the resin beads. The harder your water, the larger salt dose you need to regenerate the softener. If you use a lot of water in your home, your water softener will regenerate more often and, thus, require more salt. 

Calculating the proper salt dose varies by softener and is set by the manufacturer. Check your system, or have a pro check it, to ensure your softener maintains the correct dose. 

Hardness Setting

It's important to adjust the hardness setting for your water softener to get the best results.

The water hardness ranges from 1 to 99 grains per gallon. First, figure out the hardness in your water supply—You can test your water at home using a water hardness test kit or send it to the water department to provide a detailed report.

To change water hardness stated in parts per million (PPM) to grains per gallon (GPG), use this formula: Parts per Million / 17.1 = Grains per Gallon. 

If it's time to install a water softener in your home, there are many different systems with additional features that will surely suit your budget. Be sure to keep water softener installation fees in mind.

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