Water Softener Continuously Running

water softener controls

You may have heard your water softener operating at night. Most softening systems are designed to work this way, so if you hear your water softener in the middle of the day, something might be wrong. Water continuously draining from your water softener is definitely a warning sign that you're experiencing a malfunction.

Water Softener Problems

When a water softener's in good condition, it should run for a few hours, then shut off at an appropriate time. A few different malfunctions can cause the flow to stop too soon.

For example, because water softeners use water to regenerate their softener resin and discharge the resulting fluid, water can stop flowing through them if anything happens to this part of the system.

Similarly, if a softener gets stuck in the backwash position or its seal fails to hold, water can stop flowing.

If a water softener is generating a continuous flow, the problem probably stems from one of the following causes.

Timing Malfunction

Softeners are programmed to regenerate when water usage is low. This means regenerating mostly happens in the middle of the night. This means you probably won't hear your water softener regenerate, because hopefully, you'll be asleep.

If you hear the water softener draining during the day, the system is operating at the wrong time. The system might be fine—it's possible that you only need to reset the clock.

Is resetting a water softener clock difficult? Not at all! Resetting the water softener is as easy as resetting a digital clock. However, every brand of a water softener is slightly different. If the controls aren't obvious, check the owner's manual or look up your model's specs online.

Most water softeners have a computer system that controls their cycle. If your home has a power interruption in the middle of the regeneration process, your water softener won't have any way to know it shouldn't continue using water. In that case, the water softener might continue draining water until power is restored to the computer system. The same thing can happen if the system is put into bypass mode so no water goes through the unit.

Leaky Seal

Faulty softener piston seals can leak water, either into the drain or into a valve in the control head. This can result in a piston not closing or opening properly, which might mean the system no longer stops water from flowing through.

Generally, a water softener doesn't know if water is running through it consistently, so it won't stop by itself. This results in water continuously draining through the softener until the problem is fixed.

Power Failure

If your water softener is draining and you find the computer display blank, there's probably no power supply to this unit. In that case, check to see if there is electrical power on the relevant outlet by plugging in any electrical appliance you know is working.

Ensure that it is working properly before proceeding with the setup. If the test device works, you know there's a power problem with the water softener.

water softener controls with no power

Crashed Computer System

As mentioned earlier, a water softener depends on a computer system to function. If anything happens to the computer system, the water softener can stop working, and potentially start draining.

Check the computer system by adjusting some controls to see if they're working. You might need to upgrade the software or reboot the system.

How Often Should My Water Softener Regenerate?

Water softener regeneration refers to the time when the system resets its resin bed to keep it active. Regeneration occurs regularly to ensure the system remains effective.

Without regeneration, the water softener could become virtually useless. Ideally, a water softener that runs on a daily basis should regenerate in two to three days. However, this is not always the case. There are some situations in which a water softener may even regenerate two times in a day.

A few factors determine the frequency of your water softener's regeneration. One is the level of water hardness. If your water isn't very hard, it can take longer for the surface of the resin bed to be covered with salt. As a result, it may take a long time before regeneration. On the other hand, hard water quickly coats the resin bed with salt, requiring regular regeneration.

The other factors that determine the regeneration cycle are the amount of iron in your water, the amount of water used daily, and the tank capacity. Although all water softeners come with recommendations on how often to regenerate, you must remember that the number of people in your home matter. A home with five family members will require more regeneration than a household of two inhabitants.

Further, as your system ages, its capacity to suck salt out of water decreases. An old water softener should be set to regenerate more frequently than a new one. The capacity of the device degrades over time and the degradation should be taken into account.

hands adding chemicals to a water softener device

How Does the Valve Affect Regeneration?

The frequency with which you regenerate the water softener largely depends on the type of control valve you are using. There are two main types of control valves used in water softeners—the clock valve and the metered valve. The closing and opening of these valves are controlled by the computer system.

The clock valve is set to open after a certain amount of time for regeneration. Once you set it, the valve will open whether the resin is saturated or not. Depending on how often you use the water softener, you can set a time that will ensure your resin never gets saturated.

The metered valve, on the other hand, is based on the amount of water used. The meter gauge can be set to open the valve for regeneration when a specific amount of water has been used. This type of system seems to be more accurate, since regeneration is based on the actual amount of water used and not time.

Most people who use the clock water softeners have the advantage of choosing when they want the softener to regenerate. Ideally, the water softener should be set to regenerate at night. However, if you happen to get your water softener to regenerate during the day, make sure you know what timing you've set so you don't get alarmed.

How Long Should a Water Softener Drain?

The regeneration process should take between one and two hours. This depends on the type of system being used and the level of salt that has to be cleaned out. During this process, the system draws saltwater from its storage tank and pumps it backward.

The brine goes through the treatment medium to clean out all the salt and chemicals. It is through this process that unwanted minerals are removed from the resin into the discharge pipe. If the system is not very dirty, it can get clean in 50 to 60 minutes. However, most systems run up to two hours just to ensure that all the dirt is well-cleaned out.

How Do I Tell If My Water Softener Is Working?

water softener with control panel

Figuring out whether a water softener is working can be tricky. As long as it's still running, most people just assume their system is working. On the contrary, continual operation often suggests that a water softener has become virtually useless. Especially when its resin is saturated with salts, a water softener might seem like it's working while in reality, it's just passing water.

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

One is checking to see if your softened water lathers well. When your softener is working, water will lather much better, so laundering your clothes will be easier.

You may also want to check for other signs of hard water around the house. For stance, you may notice dirt in pipes and faucets if your water softener stops working. The build-up of scum in your water system is another warning sign that the device may have stopped working.

Make sure your device is conducting regular regeneration cycles. If your device runs for more than three days without regeneration, chances are it's not working right. When this system stops working, you may start experiencing low-pressure water.

What Happens If You Run Water While the Water Softener Is Regenerating?

Ideally, you should never run water while the softener is regenerating. While water will run as well as it usually does, it won't necessarily be soft water. In fact, the water will collect more salts from the softener, leading to harder water flowing through your pipes. The result will be that your pipes may accumulate buildup.

The water softener regeneration process typically only takes a maximum of two hours. This shouldn't be too long time for you to wait, especially at night.

Is It Ok to Drain Water Softener into a Septic Tank?

During regeneration, the water softener gives out discharge water that's high in salts and chemicals. There's always been a debate on the appropriate way of handling this discharge.

Several studies have found that the water discharged during regeneration can be emptied into a private septic tank. However, the septic tank should be properly installed with a clear treatment plan.

If you don't have a septic tank, you may discharge the water into the main sewer line.

Can a Water Softener Drain Outside?

Some people drain water from their softener tank into their backyard. This is a mistake you shouldn't try, especially if you have a garden.

The water from the water softener tank is usually high in salts and chemicals. These chemicals will quickly choke your grass and flowers. If you don't have a septic tank, you should try and find a way of draining the water discharge to the main sewer line.

How Much Water Does a Water Softener Use during Regeneration?

One of the downsides of softeners is that they use lots of water during regeneration. If you're not careful, this can add significantly to your utility costs.

Ideally, a water softener should use between 35 and 65 gallons of water for regeneration, depending on how heavily you use your home's water. The system may use even more if the regeneration process is inefficient, which might be a sign that it's time to replace your water softener.