Water softener salt dose settings:
Tthis article explains why a water softener or water conditioner consumes salt and describes water softener setting adjustments of the salt dose or quantity to be used during a water softener regeneration cycle. Depending on the water softener type and model, there may be several settings and adjustments to be made to control salt dose and regeneration cycle frequency.
The article provides both a table and a calculation method to determine how much salt is needed for a given level of water hardness. This article also explains how to repair or adjust the brine tank float - a device that determines the quantity of salty brine to be produced for use during water softener regeneration.
This article series describes procedures for diagnosing and repairing water softener or water conditioner problems including water conditioner control settings and adjustment or repair, brine tank and brine tank float cleaning and repair, and the proper amount of water softening or conditioning that is needed.
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As we explain at how water softeners work, salt is used in the water softener to remove other minerals, typically calcium and magnesium that cause hardness in water. The minerals removed by the water softener accumulate inside that device and must be periodically removed by a water conditioner / softener regeneration cycle.
During the water softener regeneration cycle, salty water (produced in the brine tank) washes calcium and other minerals out of the water softener while at the same time salt molecules are captured by the resin inside the water softener.
Here we describe various types of controls: dials, pins, buttons, and electronic or digital water conditioner controls. If you cannot find information you need contact us by email.
Here are illustrations of a similar water conditioner control from a Culligan System 19 or System 23 Installation Manual.
Your water softener's instructions (available from the manufacturer or from a local water softener service company) will tell you what salt dosage to set on the softener as a function of how many grains of hardness your water supply shows.
The salt dose scale on a typical water softener indicates the number of pounds of salt to be used in each water softener recharge cycle. Shown in our illustration at above left, the pointer knob is set to between 14 and 15 pounds of salt on an Autotrol salt dose control (a high setting by the way).
On many water softener models where the salt dose is readily adjusted by the consumer/owner, a set-screw is loosened on the salt dose dial and the dial is rotated to line up a pointer with a numeric salt dose on a scale on the dial. Then re-tighten the screw. Do not change the salt dose that is already set on your water softener by your installer unless a new water test report indicates that a different level of salt treatment is needed.
When you set the brine control or salt dose on a water conditioner, you are actually setting the volume of salty water that will be pumped through the resin tank during a regeneration cycle. Because water will absorb salt only until it is fully saturated, the amount of water that can be placed into a gallon of water is more or less fixed. So to set the salt dose for water softener regeneration, we are really setting the volume of salt-saturated water that runs through the water softener during regen.
Of course since sending more water into the salt tank to absorb salt will also consume more salt, indirectly by setting the volume of water we are setting the salt dose in pounds. So salt doses in water conditioner settings are given in pounds of salt, not gallons of salty water. That's the number you need to know anyway, since you will be buying salt by x number of bags of water conditioner salt, each bag containing some particular quantity of salt in pounds.
While it is possible to dissolve as much as 3 pounds of salt (NaCl) in one gallon of water, a typical gallon of brine produced in the water softener brine tank will contain about 2.6 pounds of salt. That's because adding salt to water increases the volume of the resulting solution a bit.
Setting the water softener salt dose to 3 pounds of salt (not much) will produce about 1 gallon of brine that is to be sent back through the water softener. Just how high the brine solution will be in the water softener's brine tank depends on the shape and diameter of the brine tank.
Each gallon of brine solution will raise the liquid level in a 24-inch round brine tank by about 1/2 inch. So if you see three inches of brine in the brine tank bottom (before allowing for the volume of undissolved salt) that would be about six gallons of brine. 60 pounds of salt in this brine tank will bring the water plus undissolved salt level in the brine tank up to about 30 inches. If the salt inside your salt tank has been filled to a height of more than 30 inches you won't see the water. If the salt inside your brine tank has been mostly-consumed, you'll see liquid above the physical salt tablets or crystals and the liquid level will be somewhere below 30 inches.
These heights will vary depending on the type of salt being used: larger salt crystals or tablets will afford more space for water. Smaller salt crystals will afford less space for water, so the water level may be higher in that case.
In a salt tank that uses a grid to separate
Your water softener's instructions will tell you how often the system should be recharged as a function of your estimated daily water usage in gallons.
See Water Quantity Requirements for some general water usage numbers.
At left is a typical water softener recharge frequency chart for a Culligan System 19 or 23 Water Conditioner.
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Typically a water softener control includes a seven-day recharge frequency dial with tabs that can be pushed-in or pulled out to cause the water softener to use a recharge cycle on that day. Harder water and higher quantity of water usage means more frequent recharge cycling is needed.
If your water softener has an automatic sensor of the hardness of water leaving the treatment tank (such as the Culligan Soft-Minder®), it can decide for itself when a recharge or regeneration cycle is needed.
Details about the water softener regeneration frequency setting are at SOFTENER REGENERATION CYCLE FREQUENCY
Salt dosage frequency guide tables consider the following parameters
Watch out: this water softener salt dose table [below] may not be correct for your water softener model or level of water quantity usage. Consult the manual for your specific water softener brand and model.
But it is somewhat general. We found that this identical table was used in water softener maintenance manuals from both Autotrol, Aquatell / Nelsen Corp and also A.I. McDermott Co., Inc.'s AquaSoft for their Pro-Plus 460-series water softeners, possibly because the control, manufactured by General Electric is used on more than one model and by more than one manufacturer.
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Table of salt dose frequency shown above, courtesy Autotrol, Aquatell / Nelsen Corp.
Here is another similar salt dosage frequency table, also courtesy of Culligan Water Conditioners based on an assumption of daily water usage of 75 gallons per person for the Culligan System 23 Water Conditioner.
Several readers have found the table above and water softener instructions in general confusing, and we agree. The instructions read as if they were written by someone who built the control and knows it so well they can't imagine how a normal person will be confused. You will want to carefully read the instructions in your owner's manual for your water softener. Even reading the instructions it's still confusing to lots of folks.
You might want to call your manufacturer directly for help - most have a toll-free help number. But here we also take a stab at how to set these controls.
As the product literature for this control explains, the amount of salt placed into the salt storage tank has nothing to do with the salt amount used during water softener regeneration cycle. The "salt dose" for a water softener regeneration cycle is set by choosing a "salt dose" number on the salt dial. The dial determines the amount of brine (salty water) that will be pumped through the water softener during its regeneration cycle.
To use the salt dose table you need to know the size of your water softener treatment tank (not the salt holding tank) in cubic feet. This data is given in your model's owner's manual or on a data plate on the equipment itself. Or ask your installer or ask the manufacturer, after giving them your equipment name, model, and model number.
The "salt dial" is typically set by turning a knob, or using a screwdriver to turn a pointer knob, or using a screwdriver to loosen a set screw that then allows the knob to be turned (then re-tighten the screw) - depending on your water softener. But how do we decide what salt setting to use?
We recommend taking a look at the table of salt dose and backwash frequency provided in the installation manual for your water softener. If you want to check their table or generate your own salt dose numbers for comparison here is a formula from IBC.
Total number of grains of hardness to be removed, measured as grams of CaCO3 or NaCL = A
A = N x H x Q
Number of Days Between Water Softener Regeneration Cycles = N
Volume of water passing through the treatment tank per day = Q (Kiloliters per day) or (Gallons per day)
Hardness of the incoming water measured in micrograms/Liter (mg/L) or in PPM = H
Another method for adjusting the salt dose or the amount of salt used during a water conditioner backwash/regeneration cycle [on some water softener models] involves adjusting the float level inside the brine tank.
On many water softeners (Such as Culligan 1989 vintage water conditioner systems) there is a brine refill flow control valve inside the salt storage tank that needs to be changed or cleaned for proper operation.
Shown at left: the brine refill control and the refill flow restrictor found in the salt tank for a Culligan System 19 or System 23 water conditioner.
The lever at right in the figure connects to the vertical rise rod that in turn connects to the brine tank float (discussed below).
As we describe at WATER SOFTENER DIAGNOSTIC FAQs, a malfunctioning brine level float control (or other maladjustments) can cause abnormally high water level in the brine tank.
Other possible causes for too much water in the brine tank are listed at BRINE TANK WATER TOO HIGH
Just below we give the details of setting the brine level control float and valve.
I have read the excellent description of the required adjustments of a water softener. However, there was one adjustment I think that requires explanation that was not mentioned, is the setting of the brine tank float. For example, what is the connection between the amount of salt consumed, if any, and the height setting of the float? It would be helpful for me to know that answer. Thank you again for your article on this subject. - M.P.
Adjusting the float height in the salt tank in turn determines the volume of water injected into the tank and thus the "salt dose" used during a water softener backwash cycle. In turn, salt dose needed (or volume of salty water to be run back through the water softener during a regeneration cycle) depends on these variables:
Other water softener models use different controls to manage for these same variables.
You will need to know in addition to the above information,
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A 1989 Culligan water softener installation manual describes the Brine Valve "A" dimension: the distance from the top of the filter screen to the bottom of the float.
One sets the "A" dimension (in inches) based on the desired salt dosage in pounds and the brine tank size - this will be manufacturer dependent.
At left we are showing an example chart (for the Culligan System 19 or System 23 water softeners).
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Example: for a System 19 Culligan water conditioner brine tank, the "A" dimension (distance filter screen to the bottom of the float) would be set to 14 1/2 inches if you needed an 11-pound salt dosage.
Note: this setting determines the salt dose amount (how much salt will be used, not the salt dosage frequency (how often the dose should be applied). The salt dosage frequency is set separately on the clock control for the water softener as we discuss above.
Watch out: the requirement to set the height of the float in a salt tank for a water softener, as well as the float height if setting is indeed required, is dependent on the variables listed above including your water softener brand and model. Be sure to consult the installation manual for your own water softener.
You could, in theory, adjust the height of the float and thus the salt dose on a water softener empirically by measuring the hardness of water provided by the system after a backwash cycle and perhaps daily for several days to see if you need to change the backwash cycle frequency or salt dose size - but it's best if you can find and follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Watch out: we have also found water softener brine tank floats that were "stuck" in their cylinder (the cylinder is intended to let the float rise and fall with water level without being obstructed by salt in the media tank) - usually we have been able to free the float by pulling the vertical rod up and down a few times.
Sometimes homeowners have accidentally spilled salt into the cylinder, especially if its top cover has been lost - in that case the salt crystals can obstruct the float.
Thanks to reader M.P. for discussing the requirement to adjust the float level in water softener brine tanks.
The standard product used in water softener brine tanks is ordinary salt NaCl (Sodium chloride) - the same substance used in table salt.
Salt for water softeners is sold generally in two forms:
Watch out: some "rock salt" products sold for use in water softeners contain quit a bit of soil debris that accumulates in the brine tank, making perodic brine tank cleanout an important maintenance chore.
As we discuss at SALT / SOFT WATER IMPACT on SEPTIC, PLUMBING, HEATERS, substitures for ordinary salt (sodium chloride) can be used in water softeners but some adjustments may be necessary.
Some water softener manufacturers such as for the Sears Kenmore electronic water softener recommend using potassium chloride "salt" (KCL) instead of standard sodium chloride (NaCL) which is standard or ordinary salt. and remark that potassium chloride salt will give longer equipment life and will permit lower hardness settings on the water softener control.
Kenmore explains that if you are not using KCL in their water softener you might need to increase the equipment's hardness settings by 25%:
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(Feb 11, 2013) Sarg s. said:
The city recently came in and changed our water reader and once they did our water consumption went from 10,500 gallons to 55,500 gallons of water in a 28 day cycle. The only thing running when we were notified was the water softener BUT I do not know for sure if it was in its cycle for the day or if it was the problem. The thing is the city just replaced their head in our basement a day before we started wasting water. WHat gives, if anything? Is this normal or was it just our luck? Any ideas would be great. Thanks
(Feb 15, 2013) Shannon - in New Castle said:
I'm new to having a water softener.. I don't know how to use this thing, don't know how to adjust it, and can't get it to cycle. How often should it cycle for 2 people living in the house? There are NO stickers or labels on it anywhere to tell me what make/model/mnfctr it is either. I'm pretty sure the dern thing hasn't run in over a week now, the water is starting to smell really strong... HALP!
(Feb 8, 2014) kawika said:
Similar to the question "discolored water after water softener regen cycle". I cleaned the brine tank but I still get discolored water afar regeneration. We have only noticed the discoloration in the 2nd bath toilet and tub, nowhere else. it clears up after 3 flushes.
Kawika, I'm just guessing, but it seems to me that if water looks different colors at different fixtures in the building I'd think the root source is not the softner (that all water passes through) but perhaps the piping or some other contaminant, or iron, or debris source.
If you see it mostly at a toilet it could be worth cleaning debris out of the toilet tank too.
he discoloration is only present immediately after a regeneration cycle. Why only in the toilet/tub is unknown. If it were the piping or other source it should be present at all times.
I agree with your reasoning, more or less; sometimes a fixture that runs water faster (like a tub) will stir up and show debris that slower running fixtures don't. A toilet would offer the opposite explanation: debris often accumulates in the toilet tank - in part because the relatively slow fill rate doesn't stir it up enough to flush out when the toilet is flushed.
Start (because it's easy) by taking a look in the toilet tank; look for deposits on the tank walls or crud on the tank bottom; that may point to a water supply debris problem; if there are yellow stains but no deposits more often that points to iron in the water;
With that simple look out of the way and assuming we want to pursue the water softener, I'd check the softner brine tank - in these articles we describe cleaning and disinfecting the brine tank. It's tempting to also run a disinfectant cycle through the water softner itself but I would not do that without knowing the brand and model and then checking the manufacturer's cleaning instructions.
1. checking and cleaning the brine tank
2. running the softener through an extra regen cycle
Toilet tank is clean. Cleaned brine tank, manually ran two regenerations…next scheduled regeneration had no water discoloration…latest regeneration (Today) had the discoloration back in toilet (cleared after 4 flushes).
are we certain that the incoming water from the source is not the origin of the discoloration you're seeing? Have you tested that water - ahead of any treatment equipment?
(Feb 16, 2014) stanley costello said:
i get a light powder like residue on my dishes after a dishwashing cycle
I've seen this deposit in more than one circumstance: using too much dishwasher detergent, very hard water supply, and on occasion, debris that needs to be cleaned from the dishwasher bottom.
(June 7, 2014) Ann said:
Just set up new digital water softener. finished settings and run regeneration cycle. It carried out regeneration adn then started cycle all over again ? what is wrong pleaase - what should I do?
(June 9, 2014) David Williams said:
have well water system. had a bad algae bloom. water co. said softener had to be replaced. could it have been cleaned, repaired instead?
I'm unclear why a dirty water softener would need replacement; someone is giving expensive advice that's safe for them and costly for you. Instead I would follow the water softener cleaning and disinfection procedure in your water softener's instruction manual or see our water softener cleaning procedure article at
(June 29, 2014) Dave said:
I cleaned my water softner tank and now I can't get the prime back. Please help!
If you mean your well pump has lost prime just search inspectApedia for "LOST WELL PRIME" or "HOW TO PRIME THE PUMP" to see procedural details.
If you mean the water softener is not filling the brine tank you will want to check for disconnected tubing, a clogged check valve, or a clogged or improperly set (e.g. on bypass) control valve.
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