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).
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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.
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.
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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 the More Reading links shown below.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: questions & answers about using the Bypass Valve on a water conditioner
(Jan 29, 2013) Skyler said:
(Mar 29, 2014) Anonymous1said:
(May 23, 2014) Anonymous2 said:
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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