How to Tell If Your Water Softener Is Regenerating: Tips for Homeowners

How to Tell If Your Water Softener Is Regenerating: Tips for Homeowners

Wondering if your water softener is working properly?

We know it can be confusing to try and figure out all the different aspects of water softening. That’s why we’ve put together this article on how to tell if your water softener is regenerating. It includes everything from tips for homeowners to a list of what factors determine frequency of regeneration.

Once you’ve read through our guide, you’ll be able to tell whether or not your water softener is doing its job properly – and if it’s not, you’ll know exactly what to do about it.

Continue reading to learn more about how to tell if your water softener is regenerating.

Read these related articles about water softener regeneration:
Why is My Water Softener Not Regenerating Automatically?
How Long Can a Water Softener Sit Without Being Used?
The Water Softener Regeneration Cycle Explained!

Water Softener Regeneration

Water Softener Regeneration Cycle Stages

Water softeners remove hardness through a process called ion exchange. During ion exchange, calcium and magnesium ions are removed from water with a special resin. This resin does this by exchanging (i.e. replacing) sodium or potassium ions on its surface with the hardness ions in water. These replacement ions come from the salt that is added to the water softener.

Over time, the capacity of the resin to remove calcium and magnesium decreases as it becomes saturated. When this happens, it’s time for the water softener to regenerate the resin.

What is regeneration

During regeneration, a brine solution is used to replace the hardness (calcium and magnesium) on the resin with sodium. Potassium ions can also be used by switching the type of salt used.

The water softener flushes the resin with salt water to remove the calcium and magnesium to restore it. Once the hardness ions have been removed, the system flushes the resin with fresh water to rinse away the salt.

What determines frequency of regeneration

The frequency of regeneration depends on the following five factors.

1 – Water usage

The amount of water you use is a major factor in how frequently your water softener has to regenerate. As you use more water, the resin beads become filled with hardness ions and need to be flushed out more often.

2 – Water hardness

The second most important factor controlling the regeneration of your softener is the hardness of your water. The harder your water, the more quickly the resin will become saturated and need to be regenerated. This is a direct relationship – doubling the hardness of your water means you have to regenerate twice as fast.

Water hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg) or milligrams per liter (mg/L). Depending on the amount of calcium and magnesium in your water, it is rated as soft or hard.

Water hardness is classified into four categories:

  • Soft water: 0-60 mg/L (0-3.5 GPG)
  • Moderately hard water: 61-120 mg/L (3.5-7 GPG)
  • Hard water: 121 to 180 mg/L (7-10.5 GPG)
  • Very hard water: greater than 180 mg/L (>10.5 GPG)

3 – Resin tank capacity

Water softeners are often rated by their capacity to remove hardness. This is usually given in grains. A typical water softener has a treatment capacity of 35,000 grains.

If your resin tank is small, it has less capacity to remove hardness. This will require more frequent regeneration than a larger tank with more treatment capacity.

4 – Iron and manganese levels

Iron and manganese are metals that are often found in water. These compounds dissolve in groundwater as it percolates through the soil.

While these metals are not considered hardness, they are removed by the ion exchange resin and reduce its capacity to remove hardness. As a result, water softeners that treat water with high levels of iron or manganese may need to regenerate more frequently.

5 – Age of system

The resin in your water softener has a service life of 10 to 15 years. As it removes calcium and magnesium, the resin swells. When it is regenerated, its diameter decreases. This expansion/contraction damages the resin over time and reduces its capacity to remove hardness.

Resin can also become fouled with biological growth and mineral deposition. As the surface of the media is coated, its ability to remove hardness decreases.

As the system ages, it will require more frequent regeneration to maintain its performance.

All of these factors make the resin less effective and reduce its capacity. The net result is your water softener must regenerated more frequently. If your water softener is more than 15 years old, it is probably time to replace the resin.

What triggers the regeneration process?

Water softeners automatically regenerate to restore the capacity of the resin. The regeneration process is initiated in one of three ways.

  1. time-initiated
  2. demand-initiated
  3. manually initiated

1.      Time-initiated

Time-initiated controller

The older, first-generation water softeners used a clock to control the regeneration cycle. The timer is programmed to regenerate at a certain time of day or night, typically when water usage is low. This type of regeneration is often used in commercial applications where water demand is relatively constant.

Time-initiated regeneration has the advantage of being very predictable. However, it can be wasteful if the system regenerates when it is not necessary.

Time-initiated regeneration is the least common type of regeneration, as more sophisticated methods are now available.

2.      Demand-initiated

Demand-initiated controller

Most modern water softeners use some type of demand-initiated regeneration. This means the system regenerates only when the capacity of the resin is spent.

With demand-initiated regeneration, the control system monitors your water usage. It calculates the amount of capacity used based on the volume of water processed and your water’s hardness. The hardness concentration is entered manually during system setup.

When the system calculates that the resin is exhausted, it initiates a regeneration cycle. This type of regeneration is much more efficient than time-initiated regeneration, as it only regenerates when necessary.

3.      Manual option

Manual regeneration

You can also regenerate your water softener manually. This is typically only necessary if the system has not been used for an extended period of time, such as when you are away on vacation.

To manually regenerate your water softener, follow the directions for your unit. For most systems, you simply press the “regenerate” button on the control panel. The system will then go through the regeneration cycle.

Most systems have a manual regeneration option, even if they use demand-initiated regeneration. This is a useful feature if you know you will be away for an extended period of time and want to regenerate the system before you leave.

How long does regeneration take?

The regeneration process can take anywhere from 60 to 120 minutes. The actual time will depend on the size of your water softener, the setting you have chosen, and the particular brand and model you own.

How Can I Tell if Water Softener is Regenerating

There are several ways you can tell if your water softener is regenerating.

Listen for regeneration

What does regeneration sound like? When your water softener is regenerating, you should hear water flowing through the resin tank at a high flow. You should also hear water discharging to the drain (or wherever the backwash water is discharged).

One problem with this test is that the water softener was probably programmed to regenerate when water usage is low. This is usually in the middle of the night. Unless you’re willing to stay up late (or wake up very early), this isn’t a very pracical test.

Check the salt level

Every time your softener regenerates, it uses salt. As a result, the salt level in the brine tank will go down when regeneration occurs. Keeping an eye on your salt usage will allow you to know when regeneration is taking place.

To check the salt level, simply open the brine tank and look inside. If the salt level is low, it’s a good indication that regeneration has occurred recently.

Test your water’s hardness

The best way to find out if your water softener is regenerating normally is to check the hardness of your water. You can do this with a water hardness test kit.

Most water softener manufacturers recommend testing the water hardness once a month. Compare the hardness concentration to previous sampling results to see if the level is increasing.

A sudden increase in hardness is an indication that your system is not regenerating properly.

Manual regeneration test

You can also manually initiate a regeneration cycle and see if it completes properly. To do this, simply follow the directions for your unit. For most systems, you press the “regenerate” button on the control panel.

Once regeneration is complete, test your water’s hardness to see if the level has decreased. If it has not, then there may be a problem with your water softener.

Is My Water Softener Working Properly

Your water softener has to regenerate periodically to remove the hardness from your water. But how do you know if it’s working properly? The best way is to assess how well it is reducing your water’s hardness.

The following are a few ways you can tell if your water softener is regenerating properly:

Measure water hardness routinely

The best way to evaluate how well your water softener is working is to measure the hardness of your water on a regular basis. You can do this with a water hardness test kit.

Qualitative signs

You can also tell if your water is being softened properly by observing some qualitative signs. For instance, if your water is no longer leaving spots on dishes or glasses, that’s a good sign the system is working properly.

If you notice the soap doesn’t lather very well when washing your hands, that could be an indication that your water softener needs to regenerate.


How can I manually start the regeneration cycle on my water softener?

Most water softeners have a manual regeneration cycle that can be initiated by pressing the “regenerate” button on the control panel. Consult your water softener’s owner’s manual for specific instructions.

Can I shower or drink water during the regeneration cycle

When your water softener is regenerating, you should not use your water because it will bypass the unit. This means that untreated, hard water will be flowing through your plumbing system. If you use a lot of water, then you may get scale build-up on fixtures and in appliances.

How can I tell if my water softener is working?

If your water softener is working properly, then your water will be soft. You can tell if your water is soft if it no longer leaves spots on dishes or glasses. Another sign that your water softener is working properly is if the soap lathers better when you wash your hands. You can also test the hardness of your water with a water hardness test kit.


If you’re a homeowner with a water softener, it’s important to know if it’s working properly. An important part of this is the regeneration process. Do you know how to tell if it’s regenerating?

In this blog post, we outlined the three ways that regeneration can happen – time-initiated, demand-initiated, and manual option. We also reviewed the regeneration process and how to tell if your system is working properly. Finally, we gave tips on how to measure water hardness and determine frequency of regeneration based on factors like water usage and resin tank capacity.

The Filter Guy

Scott Birch is a water filtration installer and designer. He has worked in the industry for many years and is very familiar with and knowledgeable about residential water treatment equipment. Scott enjoys helping people get the most out of their water filtration systems and ensuring that their homes are getting the best possible quality of water.

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