Water Softener - How it Works

When a water softening system is providing soft water, it is called "service." During service, hard water flows from the house main water pipe into the water softening system. Inside the softening system is a resin tank which is a bed of thousands of small plastic resin beads.


As hard water passes through the resin bed, each bead attracts and holds the minerals in the water that make it "hard". This is called "ion-exchanging" and works much like a magnet attracting and holding metals. Soft water (water without hard minerals) then continues to flow from the water softening system to the house water pipes.


After a period of time, the resin beads get coated with hard minerals and need to be cleaned. The cleaning process is called "recharge". Recharging consists of five stages:

  1. Fill - Salt dissolved in water is called brine. Brine is needed to clean the hard minerals from the resin beads. To make the brine, water flows into the salt storage area during the fill stage.

  2. Brining - During brining, brine travels from the salt storage area into the resin tank. Brine is the cleaning agent needed to remove hard minerals from the resin beads. The hard minerals and brine are discharged to the drain. The nozzle and venturi create a suction to move the brine, maintaining a very slow rate to get the best resin cleaning with the least salt.

  3. Brine Rinse - After a pre-measured amount of brine is used, the brine valve closes. Water continues to flow in the same path as during brining, except for the discontinued brine flow. Hard minerals and brine flush from the resin tank to the drain.

  4. Backwash - During backwash, water travels up through the resin tank at a fast flow rate, flushing accumulated iron, dirt and sediments from the resin bed and to the drain.

  5. Fast Rinse - Backwash is followed by a fast flow of water down through the resin tank. The fast flow flushes brine from the bottom of the tank, and packs the resin bed. After fast rinse, the water softening system returns to soft water service.


During recharge, the softener is automatically put in bypass mode, allowing hard water to be available to the home during this process. Once the softener is recharged, water is again directed through the resin bed to be conditioned (softened).


All GE Appliances water softeners are programmed from the factory to recharge at 2:00 AM. Recharge takes approximately 2 hours to complete. The frequency of how often the water softener will recharge depends on factors like water hardness level and household water usage. The water softener has a reserve capacity of 20 to 25% before it regenerates; this means that it regenerates when the resin beads are 75 to 80% saturated.


During recharge (regeneration), it uses approximately 35 to 65 gallons of water, depending on the size of the water softener. While going through regeneration, the motor will not run constantly, it will go through several starts and stops.


Note: "Recharge" is sometimes referred to as "Regenerate"