Water softener controls showing adjustment pins (C) Daniel FriedmanWater Softener Settings
Guide to Water Softener Controls, Adjustments & Maintenance

  • SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS - CONTENTS: How to adjust a home water softener / water conditioner control settings. The four basic adjustments required on every water conditioner; six detailed water softener settings. How to set the softener regeneration cycle frequency. Recommended water softener settings if you don't have other information; Salt dose table for water conditioners; salt dial setting procedure. How to calculate the required salt dose; how to adjust the brine tank float; how to set the water softener clock; how to set electronic controls on a water softener.
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about water softener controls, adjustments, timers, salt dose setting, regeneration frequency setting
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Water Softener Operating & Maintenance Instructions:

How to set & adjust a water softener or water conditioner. Here we provide an owner's guide to water softener controls, what they are, what they do, how to set them - for water softener or water conditioner maintenance, including water softener adjustment of the regeneration or backwash cycle frequency and the water softener salt dose.

We explain the salt dose, regen cycle, hardness setting, and brine tank float level adjustment. We also discuss setting the water softener timer or clock.

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Homeowner's Guide to Water Softener Settings & Adjustments - how to set the water softener controls

Water conditioner control valve (C) D Friedman B B Article Series Contents

[Click to enlarge any image or table]

Four Basic Adjustments or Tasks Necessary to Use a Water Softener

Water softener control using dial & pins (C) InspectApedia & CLB 2013 details pendingBecause the hardness and volume of water used both vary from one building to another, a water softener or water conditioner includes controls that allow the installer or building occupants to adjust the system to work properly.

Water conditioner or water softener controls typically include either analog-type dials with pins, buttons, or levers (control at left)( or electronic controls operated by pushbuttons (discussed later in this article at Electronic Water Softener Controls).

The two principal adjustments on any water softener, whether they are done manually by an owner or automagically by water hardness sensors, are listed below, followed by two basic maintenance chores.

  1. Set the Regen or Backwash Frequency: The frequency of water conditioner regeneration cycle or the "backwash" cycle.
  2. Set the Salt Dose: The amount of salt (or salty water) that must be run through the water conditioner during each regeneration cycle or "backwash" cycle.
  3. Add salt: because a water conditioner (or water softener) consumes salt during each regeneration or backwash cycle, you will need to buy and add salt to the brine tank from time to time. You can determine when to add salt by visual inspection - salt gets low inside the brine tank, or you can if you prefer hire a water softener maintenance company who will deliver and install the salt for you.
  4. Clean the Water Conditioner: As we explain at  SOFTENER CLEANING & SANITIZING, water softener brine tanks also need to be emptied and cleaned from time to time.

Clock Settings for a Water Softener

Water softener controls showing adjustment pins (C) Daniel FriedmanHow to Set the Water Softener Clock & Regeneration Cycle Frequency

Because water conditioners and their controls vary among manufacturers and models, below we discuss several methods for determining and actually making the necessary settings or adjustments on this equipment. And there is a third maintenance task for building owners who have a water conditioner: setting the clock

Guide to Setting the water softener controls: Our photo above shows the standard controls on a water softener, permitting the user to specify the days on which a recharge/backwash cycle will occur, the salt dose, and also the time of day.

  • Set the water softener clock: Setting the clock on the water softener control is important for two reasons: first, you won't be bothered by hearing it run if it recycles when you are asleep or out of the home, and second, since the water softener recharge cycle uses plenty of water, it's a good idea to send that discharge to the septic system at a time when other plumbing fixtures are not in use - thus spreading the wastewater load on the septic system out over a longer period.

    Set the clock dial to the accurate time of day and set the water softener regeneration time to an hour when the building occupants are least likely to be using water, such as at 2AM - the standard factory pre-set regeneration hour. On units with a clock dial, the silver colored section corresponds to daytime hours and the black colored portion corresponds to night time hours.

    Usually the "clock dial" is adjusted by lifting it up and turning it to the proper position, or turning a dial to line up the correct hour of the day with an indicator arrow (lower right in our photo).

Question: Where is the "Clock" on my water softener and how do I set it?

Extremely well written and done !! Thank you. But, i still can not identify my softener system or control clock. It was here when i bought the house. Is there anywhere some pictures identifying different controllers. bugrubert@hotmail.com


Bugrubert, you are welcome to send me photos of the equipment and all labels you can find including inside the control cover - use the email address found at the CONTACT link shown at the top, left, and bottom of all of our web pages.

On dial type (non LED or LCD type display) water softeners or conditioners, you may not see a dial that looks like a clock with hands. In the water conditioner control photos below, from left to right,

  • The clock on this water conditioner control is set by turning the knob marked "Time of Day" that has numbers on it so that the current AM or PM hour is opposite the arrow point (lower right corner of our first photo at below left). You will see a similar "Time Set" button on Autotrol water conditioners.
  • The clock on the next water conditioner control (below right) is set by turning the AM (white area) or PM (black area) hour to be opposite the black pointer to which our red arrow is pointing.
Water softener controls showing adjustment pins (C) Daniel Friedman Culligan water softener control dials (C) D Friedman
  • On an electronic display water softener such as the Autotrol 460i, for example, to set the time of day you may have to set a jumper next to the word "TIME" on the control (blue arrow) and then push the "Time Set" button (red arrow) until the correct AM and PM time of day is indicated on an LED display.
Autotrol Timer on Water softener controls photo

Water Softener Control Adjustment Procedure Details - 6 Easy Steps to Soft Water

Water hardness strip test (C) D Friedman
  1. Measure the hardness of your water using a test kit or by asking a service tech to do it for you.

    The number you get should be expressed in either GPG (grains of hardness per gallon of water) or in PPM (parts per million of minerals in your water)

    Our photo (left) illustrates a simple water hardness test that also measures other water parameters.
  2. Adjust the water softener "Hardness" setting. Adjust the water softener "hardness" to the same number as the hardness that you measured for your own water supply. For example if you measured your water hardness as 30 grains per gallon (30 GPG), then the "hardness" setting will be "30". If your water hardness was measured in parts per million (PPM),

    Divide PPM by 17.1 to get hardness in grains per gallon: PPM / 17.1 = GPG

    Or to convert from hardness in PPM to hardness in grains per gallon,

    Multiply grains per gallon GPG by 17.1 to get hardness in PPM: GPG x 17.1 = PPM
  3. Set the water softener "Capacity": Adjust the water softener capacity setting according to your manual and our example discussed earlier. Typically capacity for a water softener is a number from 1 to 99 kilograins. Suppose your water conditioner capacity setting is adjusted to 30 kilograins (1st column at left side of the salt dose able)
  4. Determine softener treatment tank size: Let's assume your water softener treatment tank is a 1-cubic foot capacity unit. Notice the table column under 1.0 Ft3. (4th column from left in the water softener salt dose table). The water softener tank size is it's resin volume in cubic feet, typically a number between 0.75 cu ft and 2.0 cu ft.
  5. Read the recommended salt dose in pounds: reading across from 30 kilograins of hardness in column 1 to our 4th column (the 1 cubic foot softener size) we see that the manufacturer recommends 15 pounds of salt.
  6. Set the salt dose - the brine control: set the dial to 15 pounds of salt. If your equipment is in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or another country that measures and marks equipment using the metric system your salt dose will be measured in kilograms or kg of salt. If you need to convert pounds to kilograms or kg, divide pounds by 2.2. More examples of how to determine and set the water softener salt dose can be read at
    What Settings Should I Use on My Water Softener?

Watch out: follow the instructions in the right maintenance manual for your own equipment. And in the salt dose table, don't confuse kg of salt (numbers in the table body) with kilograins of water hardness (numbers in table column 1).

Also, remember this setting is adjusting only the salt dose, not the frequency of regeneration cycle.

Another Approach to Water Conditioner Settings for Salt Dose & Regeneration Frequency

If you don't have a manual and can't find instructions for your unit, (and don't want to call a qualified service technician) leave the salt dose alone, then send the softener through a regeneration cycle and measure the hardness of your water again.

Then monitor water hardness on the days between your regen cycle and the next automatic regen cycle, during a period of your best guess at average water quantity use. If your water shows unacceptable hardness before another softener regen, you'll need to increase the frequency of regeneration cycle.

Typical frequencies for manually-set water softener regeneration as a starting point are are once a week, once every 3 or 4 days, every other day, and daily. If you are running the system daily and water is still too hard you may need to increase the salt dose. But don't overdo the salt or you may have salty water - a health and aesthetic issue.

Subjective judgment of water hardness:

It's best to measure the hardness of your water - kits are inexpensive or some services will perform the test at no charge.

If you can't get a lather using shampoo on your head in the shower, either you're bald, or the water is still pretty hard. If your water feels slimy and you have trouble rinsing off soap, your water might be more soft than necessary (though other problems can also cause this symptom).

Water Softener or Water Equipment Adjustment Tip: Most water treatment companies will be glad to send a representative to your building to test water hardness (or other contaminants) and to advise you on the condition and settings of the water treatment equipment you have in place, or to suggest alternatives if you are shopping.

Regeneration Cycle Frequency on Water Softeners

How Often does the Water Softener Need to Run a Backwash & Regeneration or "Recharge" Cycle?

Your water softener manufacturer will provide a Salt Dosage/Frequency Chart along with the softener's installation and maintenance instructions.

A water softener recharge frequency and salt dose example is provided by Culligan:, "If four individuals live in the household, and the water has a total hardness of 18 grains per gallon, the salt dosage per recharge for the water conditioner will be 5 pounds (2.5 kg) and the recharge frequency will be 3 (or every 2 days). Monthly salt usage can be estimated, using these figures, at about 75 pounds (37.5 kg).

IBC in Australia provides this simple formula that can calculate the regeneration cycle for a water softener if you know all of the required parameters:

Number of Days Between Water Softener Regeneration Cycles = N

Maximum capacity of the treatment tank in grams of CaCO3 or NaCL = C

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

N = C / (H x Q)

This should be taken only as a rough calculation - set your backwash frequency to this number of days or less.

Water softener regeneration cycle frequency vs. cycle duration time

Above we discussed the frequency of water softener regeneration cycles: how often the equipment should run through a regeneration cycle.

Frequency of water softner regeneration is not the same question as duration of the regeneration cycle.

See WATER SOFTENER RUNS TOO LONG for a discussion of abnormally-long water softener regeneration cycle time duration.

Recommended Settings for Water Softeners

So What Settings Should I Use on My Water Softener?

How to Set the Water Softener Salt Dose

Question: What salt dose should I use on my water softener?

I have a Autotrol 460i water softer. The water hardness going into my house measures 10. What settings do I need set in order to create water hardness setting out of my faucets to read around 1or 2? - Walter Schwartz

Reply: The salt dose for your water conditioner depends on some variables. Here is an example and a water softener salt dose table for reference

Some water conditioners (water softeners) automagically track water quantity usage and water hardness and adjust themselves without you having to do a thing. But lots of models require a manual adjustment based on water hardness and water quantity used.

The necessary water softener settings depend not just on water hardness but on your brand and model of water softener equipment and how much water you are using. Here are some remarks about setting the salt dose and regen frequency on a water softener:

Most water softener owners manuals include a table of recommended settings. Start there. If you don't have an owner's manual call the manufacturer's tech service and give them the model number and ask for a manual as well as their setting advice.

Water Softener "Hardness Setting"

Here is a copy of the manual for your Autotrol Water Conditioning Control System, Installation, Operation, and Maintenance Manual. On this water conditioner you can specify the time of regeneration (factory is set to 2:00 AM) to be sure it's running at a time when you are not using water in the building. Here are instructions on adjusting the hardness setting for this equipment: [Quoting]

Water Conditioner Hardness Setting: Move the jumper to the set of pins next to the word HARDNESS (Figure 11). Press the black TIME SET button until the correct hardness is displayed. The hardness range is from 1 to 99 grains per gallon. To change water hardness stated in parts per million (PPM) to grains per gallon (GPG) use this formula:

Parts per Million / 17.1 = Grains per Gallon

Water Conditioner Capacity Setting: Move the jumper to the set of pins next to the word CAPACITY (Figure 12). Press the black TIME SET button until the correct capacity value is displayed. The capacity range is 1 to 99 kilograins. Refer to the Suggested Salt Dial Settings table [shown below].

Return the jumper to the top set of pins next to the word TIME and replace the access door. The next three sets of pins are used for factory testing and are not used in normal operation. The jumper must NOT be left on any pins other than the top pair next to the word TIME. Otherwise, the unit may not function.

Note: A spare jumper is located on the bottom set of pins.

In the event that the hardness or capacity setting must be changed, simply follow the appropriate steps described above.

Note: We have tried to translate these mysterious and unclear instructions into understandable English, at Water Softener Control Adjustment Procedure Details so CONTACT us with suggestions.

Like some other advanced water conditioners on the market, the control module for the Autotrol water softener includes a microprocessor that monitors your level of water usage, adjusting the regeneration cycle accordingly.

How to Set the Water Softener Salt Dosage

Complete details about adjusting the water softener salt dose are found in these separate explanations:

Excerpts summarizing water softener salt use are just below.

Water softener brine control or salt dose and regeneration cycle frequency as well as other settings vary depending on the type of water softener control on your machine. But the basic concept remains the same:

  • The harder your incoming water supply is, the larger is the salt dose that will be needed to regenerate the water softener itself.
  • The larger the water quantity you use in your home, the more often the water softener will need to run through a regeneration cycle.

Autotrol salt control dial

  • The Brine Control: how to set the water softener salt dose: 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 at 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).

[Click to enlarge any image]

Water softener recharge frequency - Culligan Set the water softener recharge frequency: 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.

At left is a typical water softener recharge frequency chart for a Culligan System 19 or 23 Water Conditioner.

[Click to enlarge any image or table]

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.

Water Softener Electronic Control Setting Procedure

Question: How do I set the Water Softener Controls on a Sears Kenmore Electronic Unit?

My water conditioner is a Kenmore model that uses an electronic control rather than dials, levers and pins. How do I set that control?

Kenmore electronic water softener control -example


To set a Kenmore water conditioner electronic control try these basic steps. If these instructions don't match your unit contact us by email with your brand and model number and we'll help you find those instructions. [18]

  1. Select button: Find the Hardness Setting by pressing the Select Button on your water conditioner control box until you see the control display flash the word Hardness and a number. The number is the current hardness setting of your equipment.
  2. Choose the control setting number: The default setting on a typical Kenmore water softener with this control type is 25. The electronic control setting number to which you should set the electronic control on your water conditioner is either
    1. Grains per gallon of hardness (if your system does not include an iron treatment component)


    2. Control Setting Number calculated as follows:

      For a typical Kenmore water conditioner instructions indicate

      Hardness Number = GPG of hardness (grains per gallon of hardness)

      Iron Number = Iron ppm x 5

      Control setting = Hardness Number + Iron Number

      If you don't know what hardness number you want, see our discussion about hardness numbers in the article above or use the test kits we describe to determine the hardness of your water supply. For Kenmore customers Sears offers a free water hardness and water iron test.
  3. Arrow Button: press the Up or Down buttons to change the current Control Setting Number to the setting you want

    To continue with other settings on this type of machine,
  4. Select button: press the Select Button again to show Recharge Time . T
  5. Choose the Recharge Time of Day: this setting determines the time of day at which the system will run through a regeneration cycle. The factory default is 2:00 AM - which we recommend unless you are often using building water at that hour. Use the up or down arrows to change the recharge time in one-hour increments.

    To continue with other settings on this type of machine,
  6. Select Button: press the Select button again to show Set Salt Level
  7. Choose the Current Brine Tank Salt Level: open the brine tank, note the yellow sticker that has numbers 0-8 imprinted on it. Choose the salt level to match the highest number on the decal to which the salt is actually present in the brine tank. This setting tells the water softener how much salt is in the brine tank and thus will allow the equipment to tell you (on its display) when the salt level is low - when you need to add more salt to the system.
  8. Select Button: use the Select Button once more to finish up setting the Kenmore water softener control by pressing it again to show the current time of day.
  9. Set the water softener clock to correct time of day: if the clock is not displaying the correct time, you can also use the Select Button to choose Set Time of Day, then set the correct time using the up and down buttons.

As we detail at DETECT HARD WATER, it's easy to see if your water softener is doing anything by using one of several water hardness tests including the strips shown at left. Or you may suspect a problem if you are no longer able to get your shampoo to lather when taking a shower.

If your water softener is not working, see DIAGNOSE WATER SOFTENER PROBLEMS.

Additional water softener diagnosis and repair questions and answers are at WATER SOFTENER DIAGNOSTIC FAQs

Also see Water Softener Bypass Valve for details how to put the water softener temporarily out of service.

Separately at  INSTALLATION of WATER SOFTENERS we discuss how this equipment should be installed.

At SALT OR WATER INTO SEPTIC we discuss the importance of using the proper settings that control water softener operation, and performing proper water softener maintenance will assure that the water softener is effective in treating hard water, it will avoid wasting water, and if a private septic system is installed it will significantly reduce the chances that a septic system will be damaged by flooding or by excessive salt due to water softener malfunction.

At REDUCE IMPACT of SOFTENER on SEPTIC we provide suggestions for reducing the impact of water softeners on septic systems. Below we provide the details of how to adjust and maintain a residential or light commercial water softener for proper operation.


Continue reading at SOFTENER CLEANING & SANITIZING or select a topic from the More Reading links or topic ARTICLE INDEX shown below.



If your water softener is not working, see DIAGNOSE WATER SOFTENER PROBLEMS

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