Water Softener Bypass Valve Operation & Repair Guide:
This article explains how to use & repair the water softener or water conditioner system bypass valve. We explain what is the bypass valve on a water softener & where to find it, and we describe when & how to position the valve to take the water softener/conditioner in or out of service.
We detail how to shut down or turn off a water softener - avoid leaks, wasted water when not in use and we answer the frequent question of Which way do I push or turn the water softener bypass valve? Examples are given of various water softener bypass valve types including Autotrol, Culligan & Kinetico water conditioner bypass valve operation as well as standard plumbing valve arrangements.
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The water softener bypass valve is normally included as part of the control valve assembly on top of the water softener media tank (the smaller tank that handles the actual ion exchange that is the real work of a water softener).
[Click to enlarge any image]
If your water softener has a manual bypass valve (photo at page top and sketch at left), you can temporarily take the water softener "out of operation" - that is, you can put the the valve into bypass position so the water softener is not in the piping loop at all.
When the water softener is on "bypass" water used in the building is not passing through the water softener - the unit will not be treating the building water supply.
Bypassing the water softener and turning it off when the building water supply is not going to be in use removes one more possible source of freeze and or leak damage and it also isolates the water softener equipment from the rest of the building water supply piping.
In the Culligan sketch at above left and in our photograph at left the water conditioner bypass valve is that horizontal tube at the left side of the sketch. (Other water softener brand bypass valves are discussed in the article below.)
Culligan calls this the Cul-Flo-Valve® and suggest that when you are using the valve it should be pushed slowly. Pushing in the blue knob on the valve is turning the water conditioner on and allows water to enter and fill the media tank - thus putting the unit in use.
The Culligan bypass valve shown above is operated simply by pushing in on the valve end whose valve stem is visible - or in the "out" position. Our pen is pointing to the valve stem.
When you push horizontally on this bypass valve end (the black knob in our photo) the valve slides - in this case from right to left. You will see that a corresponding valve or knob on the other end of the bypass valve will move "outwards" at the same time.
Most water softener models using this "push-push" style of bypass valve include colored knobs on each end of the valve as well as text on the knob that indicates whether or not the valve is in "on" position or "bypass" position.
To restore the water softener bypass valve back to its prior position (such as restoring the water softener to in-use) simply push on the now protruding knob found on the other end or other "side" of the bypass valve.
In our experience these manual bypass valves work pretty well on most water softeners, but on occasion we find one that is leaking. Usually the valve was just fine (not leaky) until we disturbed it. You may need to ask for bypass valve repair assistance from a water conditioner service company, but a few repair details below may help.
If the valve is difficult to operate it may need lubrication. Inside are o-rings that permit the valve to operate without leaking.
If these parts appear to need lubrication, use a silicone-based lubricant, not a petroleum-based lubricant which could damage the control.
Leaky Water Softener Bypass Valve? the bypass valve shown in this sketch from a Culligan water softener installation manual includes replaceable o-rings that may be needed if your bypass valve is leaky.
The process of returning a water softener to service in a winterized building is detailed at Restoring Water Treatment Equipment - How do We Return the Water Softener to Operation & Use at the End of Winter?
Some water conditioners such as the Autotrol Series 255 use a different (and optional) bypass valve that has two individual knobs that must be turned to switch between in-service and bypass modes - shown at below-left.
The sketch at above left shows the optional Autotrol Series 255 Valve / 460i bypass valve. Adapters are available to permit connections to various sizes of copper, NPT (threaded), plastic, and brass water piping.
The second sketch (above right) shows the position of the Autotrol bypass valve handles when the water softener is placed in service "Not in Bypass" and "out of service "In Bypass".
Remember that if an additional external manual bypass valve is "open" (on bypass or in bypass) you will need to also close that valve when the water softener is returned to service ("off bypass").
Other water softening equipment may not use the Push-Push type of bypass valve we illustrated above on Culligan Equipment.
The Kinetico water conditioning equipment Mach Series uses a rotating bypass valve shown in our photo at page top and again at left.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Look closely at the photo and you'll see red and green labeling instructions that explain which way this valve is turned to place this water conditioning equipment on "bypass" and which direction the valve is turned to restore it to operation.
See that white arrow to the right of the valve handle (the handle is in a "vertical position)? The tiny green arrow showing in the window pointed-to by the white arrow shows that this unit is in operation.
If the bypass valve is turned until the yellow arrow is showing in the indicator window, this water softener is in "bypass" position.
The water softener shown above, installed in a Surprise Arizona home, was placed by Pro-Tec Water Softeners (Pro-TecWater.com).
This bypass control valve is plainly marked as "Service" and "Bypass" - just turn the red handle to point to "bypass" to take the water conditioner out of service. Our photo of the water softeners control dial shown below also includes an "In-Service" indication on its control dial. [Click to enlarge any image]
As this sketch from a Culligan water conditioner installation manual shows, a water conditioner, or any water treatment equipment for that matter, can be installed with piping that includes a manual bypass valve (top center in the sketch). We use this piping arrangement at water filters, for example, not just water conditioners.
The small cost of installing that extra manual bypass valve (and the two service valves shown as outlet valve and inlet valve in Culligan's sketch) means that you can service, repair, or even completely remove the water softener (or other water treatment equipment) when needed, without interrupting water supply to the building.
The Outlet valve and Inlet valve are both closed (turned clockwise) and the bypass valve is opened to achieve this condition.
Watch out: do not leave off the water softener indefinitely. As we explained at SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS, a water softener is not there just for fun.
If your water is hard and you leave the water conditioner off completely, you can expect to face expensive plumbing repairs when the water supply piping, water heater, or tankless coil become clogged with minerals.
[An exception might be if your building is converted from using a private well with hard high-mineral content water to a municipal water supply hookup whose water is low in mineral content. In that case you might no longer need the water conditioner.]
What's the difference between using the water softener bypass valve and simply pulling the (electrical) plug to turn off power to a water conditioner?
Functionally either step is about the same, but when you turn off electrical power (or pull the plug) to a water softener, water is still passing through the equipment.
So, for example, if your water softener is leaky and needs repair, or if you are shutting down the system in order to clean it, you might be better off using the bypass valve to stop water from flowing through the system.
Also see our advice on using the water conditioner bypass valve during winterizing or de-winterizing a water softener when taking steps to protect building plumbing from freezing. See these details on water softener bypass valve use at Winterize Water Softener & Treatment Equip and at Restoring Water Softener & Treatment Equip.
Continue reading at SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
Or see WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS - home
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On 2017-01-14 19:09:28.986017 by (mod)
I suspect that the bypass valve has broken internally so that even pushing the bypass into the open position may not actually open the valve. That's a bit unusual. Have you tried opening and closing the valve again? Have you done that while running water to confirm by feel (temperature change) that water is nor is not running through the softener? If problems remain the issue, if not in the bypass valve, may be in the control head.
On 2017-01-14 18:08:46.057576 by Paul
I have a culligan medalist water softener. I put it on bypass for a short time and when I took the bypass off it is still acting like its on bypass. The readout shows that its regenerating and the controls turn like normal but no water is running through the softener.
On 2016-10-23 23:46:59.123206 by (mod)
If your building has water pressure when the softener is in bypass mode and no water pressure when you return the system to operation (out of bypass mode) then I suspect a probelm within the bypass valve, or you've not fully changed its position.
On 2016-10-23 23:45:27.313067 by Anonymous
turned off vaule schocked well turned vaule back on no water pressure
On 2016-10-15 18:46:28.603921 by Anonymous
water is continually flowing out of hose
On 2016-09-16 14:57:08.001602 by (mod)
Typically pushing the RED side of the bypass valve IN will put the system into bypass mode - omitting the softener. But check the instructions for your specific brand and model.
On 2016-09-15 23:33:07.095720 by terry
Should my red push button be pushed in or out if I want the softener to work
On 2016-04-03 04:36:22.451757 by (mod)
Anon if this leak is not at a pipe connection nor within the control head, the resin tank probably needs replacement. But first dry off the leak area and inspect carefully: the leak may be at a piping or control head connection that can be repaired.
On 2016-04-02 23:31:25.186599 by Anonymous
Resin tank is seeping water through the resin wrap near top of tank
On 2016-03-12 20:42:04.769485 by firstname.lastname@example.org
the regen keeps flashing and cant get the led to show the TOR mode or the regeneration mode to come on the led
On 2015-12-28 18:10:27.618630 by (mod)
Replacing salt doesn't sound right to me; if you have hard water and minerals clogged pipes, a cleanout or pipe replacement will be needed. Salt is not normally "replaced" = it's replenished as it is used.
If you suspect a problem with the water softener start diagnosing by putting it on bypass so that the sofener is not affecting water flow.
On 2015-12-28 18:02:56.470283 by Albert
Water flow in house very low pressure. Turn on two faucets and get only a trickle of water. Noticed it started last time they replaced the salt. What can I do to restore proper water flow into house.
On 2015-11-19 01:56:48.021312 by Anonymous
is not regenerating
On 2015-10-07 12:14:25.072427 by JP
We've lived in or home for almost 2 years and have never used our water conditioner. It's a culligan mark 29 model. At 4 this morning the "push for soft water" valve blew out of the housing and flooded my basement. There are no service valves so i had to shut the main off to stop the flow. Do I need a whole new bypass valve assembly or could it be something else?
On 2014-08-19 14:55:07.349000 by (mod)
I hate that rattling pipe noise too.
Take a look at our article on diagnosing and fixing water hammer
On 2014-08-19 05:22:03.397320 by Greg Ladd
We have the "Piping Arrangement & Valve Location for Manual Water Softener Bypass Valves" pictured above. If I bypass it to take a shower, the pipes throughout will start rattling with water use soon after. What can I do to prevent this?
On 2014-07-22 13:01:58.493540 by (mod)
Use our CONTACT link to send me photos of your system bypass valve and the softener brand and model and we can then answer in detail.
On 2014-07-21 23:23:58.178630 by Anonymous
How to turn off water softener with bypass dial?
On 2014-07-21 15:46:51.392020 by (mod)
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently posted comments, questions & replies.
(Jan 29, 2013) Skyler said:
If you leaving the cold line alone (RAW WATER) and only use hot line will your house still have hard water mixed in when cold and hot are on?
(Mar 29, 2014) Anonymous1said:
when bypass water softener is on water very slow and low
(May 23, 2014) Anonymous2 said:
after you bypass the water softer do you turn the knob back to green
Skyler: for the piping system you describe at which the water softener softens only water entering your hot water heating system, at the tap or faucet when both cold and hot water are turned on you will indeed have a mix of hard water coming through cold water lines and sofened water through the hot water lines - a mix.
Anon1: your bypass valve may be clogged, damaged, or not fully switching over to bypass mode.
Anon2: yes you restore the "green" position of the bypass valve when you are restoring the water softener to service.
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