Water Softener Regeneration: A Brilliantly Discreet Method for Removing Hard Water

Becca Stokes
Written by Becca Stokes
Updated November 12, 2021
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Water softeners go to to work while you go to bed

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Treating hard water is a continual process—for your water softener, that is. Most water softeners have a full-time, third shift job. Their main task? Regenerating and removing hard minerals from your water every night. The regeneration cycle is critical for maintaining your plumbing system and your water quality. Let’s break down how it works and all the good things the softener system is doing for your water.

Water Softeners Explained

Water softeners are installed in homes to remove minerals like calcium and magnesium (to name a few) from so-called hard water. They transform your water using a filter exchange process and redirect the hard mineral waste down your drain.

Water softeners are an essential home appliance for homeowners plagued by hard water. That said, not many fully understand what they do, how they do it, and why having one in your home is essential if you have hard water.

How Does a Water Softener Work?

Each water softener contains resin beads which trap all the hard water-generating minerals and replace them with softer ones like potassium. This replacement process is also known as an exchange and gives water softeners their other name, ion exchange units.

Why Is Hard Water Bad?

Hard water won’t negatively affect your health, but you don’t want it running through your pipes. The minerals found in hard water will leave behind serious residue, which can build up in your pipes, decrease water pressure, and clog your system.

Hard water doesn’t play nice with soap or shampoo either. The minerals prevent soap from dissolving and leave behind a film on your body. If you have sensitive skin, the residue can make you feel itchy and exacerbate skin issues. Your skin, your clothes, and your dishes will all benefit from a water softener.

If you think your home might benefit from softer water, read on to understand how the regeneration cycle works.

The Water Softener Regeneration Cycle: Your Solution to Hard Water

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What Happens During the Water Softener Regeneration Cycle?

Resin beads inside the softener trap the calcium and magnesium present in your drinking water and exchange them for sodium or potassium (soft water minerals). A highly-concentrated salt solution flushes the beads clean as the resins trap byproducts. After passing through the beads, the resulting chloride solution waste flows out of your drains leaving softer water behind.

The average water softener regeneration cycle runs between one and a half to two hours. During this automatic cycle, you should try to avoid using your water. If you do, the hard water (and the corresponding buildup) could start to fill your water heater and ironically render the softener useless.

Should the Water Softener Regeneration Cycle Really Run at 2 a.m.?

Since we tend to use water during our waking hours, most water softener regeneration cycles are pre-programmed to run at about 2 a.m. when fewer people are awake and less likely to use the water. Night owls or late-night shift workers aren’t out of luck, though. You can adjust the cycle’s run time to fit your schedule.

Most water softeners have a reserve capacity to keep you in soft water, though the limit will vary according to the type of unit you own.

Do I Need to Soften My Water?

There is no requirement to soften your water, and the decision is simply a personal choice. If a hard water test shows your water hardness is greater than 7 grains per gallon or 120 mg/L, you might need a water softener to ensure your appliances run well and improve the taste, smell, or look of your water. Some other advantages to water softeners include:

  • Prevents buildup of minerals (scale) in your pipes, fixtures, and water heaters

  • Lengthens the life of some appliances

  • Increases water pressure

  • Reduces or prevents mineral spots on glassware

  • Increases the effectiveness of soaps and detergents

  • Prevents or reduces soap films in sinks, bathtubs, and washing machines

If you notice higher energy bills, decreased water pressure, or film on your skin and glassware, these could be signs that your water softener needs maintenance or repair.

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