When water contains high levels of mineral content, it’s referred to as hard water. It’s common for water hardness to occur when a substantial amount of dissolved magnesium and calcium have contaminated the water. If you live in an apartment or home that doesn’t contain some kind of water softener, you may notice hard water when you wash your hands or take a shower.
While the effects mainly depend on the exact amount of water hardness, your hands may not feel completely clean after you wash them because of how soap interacts with the calcium in the water. After washing dishes, any glasses you use may have spots or a film of residue on them, which means that the water contains high levels of calcium and magnesium.
To combat water hardness, it’s important to use a water softener that can get rid of the water’s calcium and magnesium concentrations. A water softener is any kind of filtration system that’s capable of removing these minerals from the water. Once you install a water softener in your home or industrial facility, the system works by taking water from a mineral tank and sending it through resin beads.
Before the water gets sent through the beads, they are charged with a basic sodium ion, which ensures that they have a negative charge. On the other hand, any magnesium and calcium minerals in the water consist of a positive charge. When the negatively charged beads come into contact with positively charged minerals like magnesium and calcium, the beads will hold the minerals in place before releasing a harmless sodium ion. Once the hardness minerals have been removed from the water, the water is naturally softened.
The majority of water softeners utilize a regeneration process while the softening process is ongoing. When looking specifically at ion-exchange water softeners, these systems need to use the regeneration process because of how they operate. As mentioned previously, hard water passes through resin beads before getting distributed throughout the home or industrial facility.
Once the magnesium and calcium minerals come into contact with the resin beads, they will be held in place, which means that they eventually start to accumulate around the beads in question. The regeneration process is designed to clean the beads periodically to ensure that the water softener continues to work efficiently.
While the regeneration process is ongoing, the resin beads in the water softener are flooded with saltwater, which ensures that the hardness minerals are taken off the resin beads and sent down a nearby drain. Now that the resin beads are cleaned, the water softener can once again function without issue. The regeneration cycle tends to occur on a weekly basis. This article offers an in-depth look at water softener regeneration and all that this process entails.
The Water Softening Regeneration Process
The water softening regeneration process occurs over five primary stages, during which salt brine gets sent onto the resin beads to effectively remove all of the accumulated hardness minerals. The five main stages of this process include:
- Fill – The water softener is outfitted with a salt storage container. To begin the regeneration process, water will flow directly into the storage container, after which the salt will become dissolved in the water and form a brine solution. A brine solution is necessary if you want the water to be able to get rid of the hardness minerals that have accumulated on the resin beads.
- Brining – During the brining stage of this process, the brine solution is sent from the salt storage tank to the resin tank, which is where the resin beads are housed. At this stage of the process, the salt brine will pick up the hardness minerals.
- Brine rinse – Once a certain amount of the brine solution has been used for the regeneration process, the brine valve will close. From here, the water will continue to flow down the same path but without the brine solution. The minerals and brine are properly discharged to a nearby drain from the resin tank.
- Backwash – This stage of the regeneration process involves water traveling upwards and through the large resin tank at a quickened flow rate, which helps to flush the leftover sediments, iron, and dirt from the system.
- Fast rinse – Once the backwash process has been completed, a fast rinse will occur, which involves water flowing quickly down the resin tank. Any remaining brine that exists around the lower portion of the tank will be picked up by this water and taken through the resin beads, which ensures that the brine sticks to the beads. Only when this stage has been completed can the water softener begin its standard softening process again.
As mentioned previously, the main treatment that’s used during this process is a salt brine solution, which is a basic combination of salt and water. When done properly, the regeneration process typically takes around two hours to be completed.
How Does the Water Softener Know to Regenerate?
If you’re wondering how a water softener knows when to regenerate, the answer is that it depends on the type of regeneration that the system uses. In most situations, a water softener will choose to start the regeneration process once the control valve indicates that it’s time to do so. The two forms of regeneration that a water softener can use include:
- Demand regeneration – When a water softener uses demand regeneration settings, the control valve will keep track of how much water is being used before starting the regeneration process. This process only begins after a set amount of water has been sent through the water softener. While hard water can contain different levels of contaminants, using demand regeneration ensures that the regeneration process always occurs at a set time, which means that the resin beads should never become too inefficient before they are properly cleaned. If you use a higher amount of water during a given week, the regeneration process may occur more often. It’s common for water use to increase when you have guests or family members stay at your home.
- Time-initiated regeneration – The time-initiated regeneration process begins only after a specific period of time, which means that water use isn’t taken into account. Even if you’ve hardly used any water during the week, the regeneration process will continue to occur at the same interval. The control valve will be outfitted with a clock that tells the water softener exactly when the regeneration process should start. There are two settings that you’ll need to take into account. For instance, you will need to determine the number of days between each regeneration cycle. It’s also important to set the time of day during which the regeneration process will occur. Likely the best time of day for this process to occur is when water use is low, which means that it should take place overnight. As touched upon earlier, this entire process takes around two hours to finish.
Even though both of these processes will properly soften any hard water that’s being sent to your home or industrial facility, the demand regeneration process is considered to be the more reliable, efficient, and effective one. Demand regeneration allows the water softener to be cleansed only when the softening capacity of the resin beads has been used up. On the other hand, the time-initiated regeneration process could filter the water well before or after the resin beads have been used up.
Length of Time a Water Softener Regenerates
The majority of water softeners are designed to begin the regeneration process at 2AM, which means that the process will likely end around 4AM. It’s important for the regeneration process to occur at this time because the household likely won’t be using any water. The time between each regeneration depends on household water use and overall water hardness levels.
Keep in mind that the water softener must have a water reserve capacity of around 25 percent before the regeneration process can take place. At this reserve capacity, the resin beads will be at a 75 percent saturation rate, which means that the beads contain around 75 percent of the total amount of hardness minerals they can accommodate.
The exact amount of water that’s used during the regeneration process depends mainly on how large the water softener is. If the water softener is designed to accommodate a family of four, you can expect the regeneration process to use anywhere from 35-70 gallons of water. However, the number of hardness minerals in the water will also determine how much water is used during regeneration. If your water doesn’t contain high levels of hardness minerals, the softener may only use 20-25 gallons of water.
Even though the regeneration process requires a substantial sum of water, this process allows you to reduce your water usage. When you continue to use hard water that hasn’t been softened, you could waste some of this water. It’s also possible for hard water to damage home appliances, which can be costly to replace. Installing a water softener in your home ensures that the water never leaves mineral deposits on your glasses or soap residue on your hands even after you’ve washed them.