Getting your water softener setting adjusted to its optimal performance is a relatively simple procedure. Unfortunately, simple does not mean quick and easy, and it will be a time-consuming operation. You will need to do some water testing with a hardness indicator and taste-testing for salt content. A proper water softener setting will increase its efficiency and reduce its maintenance needs. You should expect many years of trouble-free service from your water conditioner if you use the proper setting.
The first thing you will need is a test method for water hardness. Test strips are the easiest and quickest to use. These should measure hardness or alkalinity in parts per million (ppm). Check with your water softener system supplier or your local hardware store for these. You might want to keep notes on your activities, recording initial settings, hardness readings and changes made.
You should read your owners manual for the proper method of making any adjustments on your system. These might vary from one unit to the next. If your system is a Demand Initiated Regeneration (DIR) type, timer settings will not be an issue.
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Your first step will be to measure the hardness of your water before it enters the water conditioner, in order to establish a baseline. Municipal water supplies commonly run about 8 ppm, and well water in most localities will be from 22 ppm to 26 ppm. The output of your system should be near 0 ppm. If your system has cycled recently and its output is not at 0 ppm, you will need to increase salt input. Divide the output hardness by the baseline to get the percentage by which you should raise salt input.
If your water softener setting was done by a professional installer, you probably are using more salt than you need and should reduce salt input in small steps. You should wait for a regeneration cycle to happen on schedule rather than immediately forcing regeneration. The previous salt charge will not be expelled totally. Do this until you register water hardness above 0 ppm in your output, and increase salt levels to your previous setting. Now you can force regeneration if you wish.
You can reduce rinse time as you are reducing salt input, or you can wait and do it after salt adjustment is complete. Again, use small steps. When you can taste salt in your water you have gone too far. Regeneration should not be necessary. Taking a shower or washing dishes probably will clear up the excess salt, but be sure to increase the rinse time to the previous setting in order to avoid this in the future.
If you have an electronic DIR system, you are all set. If you have a timer system or a DIR usage-based system, you can try increasing time between regenerations to suit your household requirements. For a timer system, this might be tricky because household usage can be variable. If laundry, dish washing and showers are done on a set schedule, you should be able to get the most efficient use from your water softener setting. If these tasks are on a varied schedule, you might need to let your system run more often than is necessary to cover all situations.
After increasing the time on your regeneration cycle, you will need to check water hardness. You can wait the number of days that regeneration happened before your adjustment. Check water hardness after that number of days. Keep increasing regeneration time until you get a water hardness reading greater than 0 ppm, and go back to your previous setting.