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HARD WATER - SOFTENERS
HEAT TAPE USAGE GUIDE
MUNICIPAL WATER PRESSURE IMPROVEMENTS
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PLUMBING SYSTEM ODORS
PRESSURE CONTROL SWITCH ADJUSTMENT
REVERSE OSMOSIS CONCENTRATE DISPOSAL
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WATER HEATER SCALE REMOVAL
WATER HEATER SCALE PREVENTION
WATER ODORS, CAUSE CURE
WATER PRESSURE & FLOW MEASUREMENT
WATER QUALITY TESTS, CONTAMINANTS, TREATMENT
WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS
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WATER SUPPLY & DRAIN PIPING
WATER TANK: USES, TROUBLESHOOTING
WATER TESTS, CONTAMINANTS, TREATMENT
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
Water Softener Operating & Maintenance Instructions: 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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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 Questions and Answers about repairing water softeners and at SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS.
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.
Because 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.
How 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.
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. email@example.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,
How to Set the Water Softener Brine Control or Salt Dosage
Water softener brine control or salt dose and regen frequency as well as other settings vary depending on the type of water softener control on your machine. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.
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.
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.
How to use the Salt Dial Setting Table Above: Set the Water Softener Salt Dial Control = setting the Salt Dose
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.
Brine refill control Valves in Water Softener Tanks
As we describe at Questions and Answers about repairing water softeners, 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 Too Much Water in the Brine Tank - Diagnosis and Cure
Just below we give the details of setting the brine level control float and valve.
Question: How do I set the float level in my water softener brine tank?
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.
Reply: Set the "A" dimension or float distance from filter screen top to float bottom in the brine tank according to required salt dosage and brine tank dimensions
Brine Valve "A" Dimension: Salt Tank Float Height
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: the water in our house feels slick and slimy and soap is hard to rinse off - do we even need a water softener?
Hi We just moved into our house and never had a water softener before, my question is should the water leave your body feeling slick and hard to rinse off the soap? Also the water has a salty taste to it? One more thing if you have city water do you really need a water softener? Just some questions I has I hope you have some answers for me. Thanks!
Reply: your water softener can be adjusted to reduce the salt dose and make rinsing in the bath more satisfactory, but you probably do need the system
Kelly, if it is just too darn hard to rinse off soap and your skin feels kind of slimy and slick in the shower, it's possible that the water softener is not adjusted properly.
Try reducing the salt dose by 20%, keeping the regeneration cycle frequency the same.
Or to be more precise, you can test your water for hardness and then read in the water softener instructions (here or in your softener manual) just what should be the salt dose settings for your water condition. See How Much Salt to Use in a Water Softener for details.
Question: how full should I keep the water conditioner salt tank?
How full should I keep my salt tank? - Linda
We fill the salt tank to near the top but not so full that salt falls into the float tube. For details about adjusting the rate at which your water softener actually uses salt, see SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS . Also within that article take a look at How Much Salt to Use in a Water Softener.
Question: How do we figure out the settings for our Autotrol 255/460i water softener? Our water hardness is 30 gpg and we have 2 ppm of iron.
How do I set the regeneration push pins on my Commers Model 24C?
We are trying to figure out what to set our softener at. We have a 60,000 Autotrol 255/460i. Our hardness is 30gpg, we have 2ppm of iron, and we have 5 people in our home. Can you help me out in trying to figure out the capacity setting, and the salt dial? - Krystine / Deloras
Hey there, thanks for the awesome website!
There is another dial that is 1-16, and I set it in the middle to 8 just now, though I have no idea what to do. Could you please tell me how to set this water softener please? Note: I have 5 people, we use lots of water, and right now it is totally hard. - Tim
Krystine, and Tim: in the article above at SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS we describe how the water softener is typically set based on water usage and grains of hardness, and we include tables that show suggested salt doses and recharge frequency for hard water.
In a separate article DIAGNOSE WATER SOFTENER PROBLEMS we discuss what to do if the water softener is not working.
In general, adjust the water softener capacity setting according to your manual and our examples discussed throughout the article above. If you don't have a manual for your Autotrol, let me know and I can help you find one. Autotrol water softeners are produced by GE Osmonics (see GEWater.com). A sketch of your control is shown at left.
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).
The softener regen cycle may need to be more frequent depending on your actual water volume use - you'll know that your softener is not regenerating often enough when you can't get a shampoo lather going in the shower.
How the Push-Pull "Skipper" Pins work on a water softener regen cycle control
Tim: about those pushpins on the water conditioner control dial:
On some water softener controls such as yours and the example we show in the photograph (above left), the push pins or levers (Autotrol manuals refer to these as Skipper Pins mounted on the Skipper Wheel) are mounted on a round dial that rotates under control of the water conditioner timer or "clock". There may be seven such pins, corresponding to 7 days of a weekly cycle, or (on the unit above) 12 such pins, giving control of the water conditioner on a 12-day cycle.
Water conditioners (water softeners) may work differently on which way to push or pull the pin (see your manual or instructions printed right on the control cover) but on most, pulling the pin out skips that regen day or period while pushing the pin in (towards the control) means a regen cycle will occur at that day or period. The skipper pins or tabs are a small metal tab mounted on the control wheel. When a pin is pushed in (towards the control), as the dial is rotated by the timer, the tab comes into contact with a mechanical switch that actually starts a regen cycle.
So on a 7 day control you can have a regen cycle every day (push in all the pins) or every other day, or once a week, etc. The 12-pin dial is allowing you to set the regen cycle less often, to as little as once in 12 days. Below, using an older Culligan water conditioner illustration as a model we illustrate:
Even without the instruction manual (I'd ask the manufacturer to send one if you don't have it), you can figure out which way the push-pull pins operate by manually rotating the dial. You'll see that a pin trips the softener to run through a regen cycle as you rotate the dial.
Follow-up from Kristine / Deloras:
I Wrote a question on 10/20/11 about my Autotrol 255valve/400 series. That water keeps flowing out of the drain hose. The book said to change the valve stem return spring. Where do I find this spring, the manual does not show where this is located on a diagram.
Deloras or Kristine: because you are describing a water softener that seems to be stuck in regen cycle, endlessly pumping briny water thorough the resin tank, I suspect a problem in the control mounted on the softener itself, not the brine refill control in the salt tank. (If it were the brine refill control that were stuck your salt tank would fill up with water). The valve stem return spring will be inside the primary control. It is not a part that you are expected to replace yourself. You will need to contact your Autotrol dealer for service.
Is it normal for brine flush to be an hour long ? - D.C.
DC it could be an hour - as long as it stops you're ok. The length of the regen cycle is controlled by the timer/control on your equipment and will vary by water conditioner size and salt dose. It would not be unusual for the total regen cycle to take more than an hour, comprised of these steps:
Question: how do I fix a stuck salt float on my Kinetico model 50 water softener? Kinetico stuck in regeneration?
The water level in the water softener brine tank is higher than the salt level by about an inch. Is that right?
I have a Kinetico Model 50 water conditioner. The float seems to be stuck and the brine tank sis filled with water and overfills causing a flood. Any suggestions would be helpful. - Anon
Anon: see Diana's question & our answer just below.
I set my time and left the tabs as is as I am renting the house. The tank where the salt is has water in it about 1 inch higher than salt level which is half way up. I also do not know if i was to do something other than set time and turn dial to in serv? any help is appreciated. - Diana
Diana, your salt tank sounds as if it's got too much water - or else your salt level must be near the tank bottom in which case just add salt. You can also send the softener through an extra regen cycle (see the control panel and the article above) to see if it seems to be working. In the article above you'll see a sketch and discussion of the "Brine Refill Control" that you'll find in your salt tank.
Usually if there is too much water (above the top of the salt in the tank) either
I don't usually expect the water conditioner control itself to be at fault, though I guess that's possible too.
On a conventional water softener the brine refill control is basically a float-operated valve that opens or closes a water supply valve that allows water to enter the salt tank. The float mechanism can get stuck due to caked on salt, due to someone pouring salt inside the plastic shroud that is intended to allow the float and switch to move freely up and down ad water level rises, or due to mechanical damage. I'd start by taking a look at the float assembly to see if its parts are moving freely.
Sometimes I can just grasp the upper end of the vertical float rod and manually move it up and down a few times to free one that's stuck. Better, but more trouble, is to completely empty and clean out the salt tank and then remove, clean, and reassemble the brine level control assembly. Details about the float control in brine tanks are found in the article above.
Question: Can we Use Water in the House During the Water Softener Regen Cycle?
I have heard that while the recycling is taking place you cannot run your water or take a bath. Is this true, and if so why, Second, about how long should the recycling take place before it completes its cycle - Dan
We should distinguish between can you and should you run water during a water softener regen-cycle. It is absolutely physically possible - so you can. But the water you receive will not be treated by your water conditioner or water softener - as during softener regen cycle the house water supply will "bypass" the softener.
So while I wouldn't hesitate to run some water during a water conditioner regen period, for example to flush a toilet if needed, it's better to avoid running water if you can, especially hot water where a tankless coil or tankless water heater is installed - because the un-treated water will be higher in mineral content and over time, depending on the amount run, you risk clogging up water supply piping.
Bottom line: If you need to take a shower, or run water for other uses during a water softener regen cycle, go ahead. But regular consumption of large volumes of water during the regen cycle are likely to speed up mineral clogging of pipes, especially hot water piping or a tankless coil.
Question: We have too much iron in our water and don't want to increase the water softener salt dose - what can we do?
We have LOTS of iron stains everywhere...the well is a salt water well and the test at Sears was 2.5 iron and 18 grains of hardness...we do not want to add any salt to the water because of this. What do we use to get the RUST out of the water?
[Our photo, at left, illustrates iron and other stains in a bath tub - Ed.]
Kathy there are several treatments that can remove iron from water as alternatives to using a salt-based water softener/water treatment device.
But because you have hard water as well, if you only remove iron you'll still suffer from hard water issues down the road, such as clogged pipes. Nevertheless we summarize these treatment methods that focus on iron removal from well water: 
See OTHER SOFTENER METHODS for additional details.
Question: would lack of salt make our water softener regen or recycle too often?
If we have not kept salt in our tank, would the softener recycle more often than it should? The reason for my question is I got a call from the city about our culinary water consumption and it is extremely higher than normal which indicates either a leak in our home such as a toilet, or the water softener is recycling too often. How do I know how many times the softener is recycling? - Jamie 6/18/12
Reply: yes and no - it depends on softener type
Question: Water softener stuck in regen backwash cycle
we haven't used our culligan softner since we moved in 1999. when i plug the unit in it constantly discharges water down the main waste. is this normal? - Sal 6/21/12
Sal, it sounds as if your water softener is stuck in regen-cycle. Try cleaning it (see SOFTENER CLEANING & SANITIZING), then re-set the controls (see SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS) then try a manual backwash cycle.
If the system keeps running for hours, then the water the water softener control needs repair or replacement.
Question: brine tank & float question - tank is not filling
I have an autotrol system and a brine tank with float. The tank is no longer reliably filling. I have replaced screens and filter in the autotrol head unit , which has fixed it in the past. However it is still not filling. I think it may have to do with the float, it looks like when the level is too low, it stops flow?? Water comes out of the tube to the tank if i disconnect it. Slow or not sure when its connected to the float. Any suggestions? - Scott 7/8/12
Scott look over the brine tank float switch info in the article above. The float should move freely up and down and the switch operates on float rise. If yours is stuck, clean the float vertical tube and all float parts and switch and try again - or replace The switch if needed.
Question: how can I shut off the water softener?
water softner i unpluged the unit and it still runs water through it is there is there somethig i can do to shut off water from going through the system untill i can get someone to look at it - Robert Clem 8/1/12
Also see DIAGNOSE SOFTENER BACKUP / FLOODING.
Question: Culligan 50 series softener that is continually draining water
I have a Culligan 50 series softener that is continually draining water. There is a plastic tube out the top that goes direct to the main house drain and recently we noticed there is a steady stream coming from it.
See DIAGNOSE SOFTENER BACKUP / FLOODING for diagnostic & repair procedures for this problem.
Question: Culligan HE (with aquasensor), 9" model
Hi, I have a Culligan HE (with aquasensor), 9" model (1 cu ft of resin). The board on the control unit does all the calculations for salt dosage and even has default settings for backwash time, brine draw-rinse and fast-rinse times based on the hardness value I input (around 14 GPG in our city). The current (default) settings for backwash, brine draw-rinse and fast-rinse for 14 GPG is 5 min, 62 min, and 5 min, respectively. I want to ensure that enough time is set to a) backwash to clear the resin bed of any debris without fluidizing the resin and losing media, b) rinse out any excess regenerant solution (fast-rinse) and I am concerned that 5 mins for backwash and 5 min for fast-rinse is not sufficient. Can you recommend a better setting? We are currently set to Proportional Brining and both our flow meter and aqua-sensor can trigger regen. Thanks! - Julie 9/15/12
Julie, forgive me for not understanding, but if you know the water hardness and are using that input and then selecting the manufacturer's recommended settings, I'm unclear why you'd want to make a change - are you using recommended settings but seeing a problem?
Question: Ecowater Softener and Filter system large backwash quantities
I have an Ecowater Softener and Filter system. Both units use an incredible amount of water to backwash. I am on a very undependable well and every gallon counts. Can you collect and use backwash water rather than wasting it? Is the backwash water contaminated or salinated to the point where it could damage crops or flowers? - Ed 10/10/2012
I suspect it's a bad idea and that the salt level will be a bit high for watering plants, but I will research the question and update this Q&A. Meanwhile check your water hardness against the water conditioner regen settings to be sure you ar not wasting water unnecessarily.
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?
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. 
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