What To Do With A Water Softener While I'm On Vacation? November 28, 2022 13:59

If you're getting ready to go on a long vacation you're probably working your way down the checklist of things to deal with before you depart and you're stuck on the "water softener" action item. Knowing what to do with your water softener while you're on a long vacation is important because mishandling the softener can lead to softener resin damage and this will decrease the effectiveness and longevity of the machine. This article can also be used for softener owners with a recreational property who are wondering what to do with their water softener during extended periods of non-use. We explain in detail below how to properly handle the softener, but there are a couple of key concepts that will help you to understand why we make these recommendations:

  • water softener resin (the stuff inside the machine that does the softening) doesn't like to be be idle
  • leaving a softener in the clean, regenerated state is much better than leaving it with the resin loaded with hardness
  • the more iron or manganese in the water, the more important it is to make sure the resin is clean before you leave it.

A critical factor in determining how you'll handle the softener on a long vacation is whether or not you'll be turning off your water. If you're not going to be turning off your water then you can likely just leave the softener as-is and it will take care of itself. The majority of modern water softeners are "demand regenerated", meaning they measure the amount of water you use and regenerate based on water usage. But pretty much all of these systems (every single one we sell) also has a Day Override (DO) setting. This setting defines the maximum number of days the softener will go without regenerating. So if your water softener DO value is set to "7", and you leave your water on while you're away, the softener will regenerate itself every 7 days and this will keep the resin is good shape while you're gone.

If You'll Be Shutting Off Your Water

Most people will choose to shut off their main water supply before departing for a long vacation. If this is what you're planning, the softener won't be able to regenerate itself and you'll need to take some other measures to make sure the softener is handled properly. The duration of time for which you'll be gone is going to play a big part in determining what to do:

If You'll Be Gone For 4 Weeks Or Less

If you're going to be home within four weeks of leaving then the strategy is quite simple:

  • just before you leave, manually force the system into a regeneration and allow that process to complete before you shut off your water
  • if you know that you have extremely hard water or high iron or manganese, then you may want to add an extra 2 or 3 gallons of water to the brine tank, then wait 3 hours, then force this manual regeneration (this will ensure a very thorough cleaning of the resin)
  • as soon as you get back force another regeneration

For all of the water softeners that are sold by Aquatell, you can leave the control valve powered on while you're gone. This will make sure that the programming settings on the control valve are maintained. If the control valve tries to regenerate while you're gone it won't be able to flow any water (since you shut it off) but this will not do any damage to the control valve mechanism at all.

If You'll Be Gone For More Than A Month

For really extended periods of non-use the strategy is a little different. In these cases you'll want to follow the steps above to clean the resin, but then you'll want to "pickle" the resin so it can be stored inactive without damaging it at all.

The idea here is that softener resin likes to be in a salty brine solution. This is the exact same salty brine that is used to regenerate it. But instead of flowing the brine solution into and then out of the brine tank, we're going to interrupt the regeneration so that the tank is left full of the brine solution. Here are the steps to follow. Please note that these steps are representative of the softeners that we sell (Fleck and Clack based systems). Other softeners will be similar but you may have to reference your manual to learn how to skip from one stage to the next.

  • do the first regeneration (aka resin cleaning) as described above
  • wait 3 hours
  • force another regeneration
  • the first stage of the regeneration will be a backwash stage (may be BW or B1 on many machines) and this stage will be accompanied by a countdown timer on the screen
  • press the same button you pressed to force the regeneration (but don't hold it down) to advance to the next stage which will be the Brine Draw (BD)
  • The BD stage will usually have a 60 minute countdown associated with it
  • Through this stage the system will slowly draw out the brine solution in the brine tank. When all or most of the brine solution has be drawn out of the tank (usually 20 - 30 minutes into the Brine Draw), unplug the power the softener.

At this point the softening tank (where the resin lives) is now full of concentrated brine solution. The resin is effectively "pickled" and can stay in this state for months. Exactly how long is hard to know, but we've had customers store their softeners like this for a year without any apparent detrimental effects to the system. It is recommended that you also put the softener into the bypass mode (usually two valves or a single-handled valve on the rear of the softener). Putting the softener in bypass ensures that when you return back from vacation if somebody flows water without thinking about the softener, it will prevent the salty brine solution from being drawn into your plumbing.

When you come back from your extended absence and after you've turned your water back on, you will plug the controller back, put the softener in "service" mode (aka take it out of bypass) and force a manual regeneration.  Make sure you force the regeneration immediately after taking it out of bypass so nobody accidentally draws water and pulls that salty brine into your plumbing.

Please Keep This In Mind

The instructions given here are based on our experience and may or may not align with what softener component or resin manufacturers recommend. Since the conditions of everybody's water, softener components, and especially the health of the softener resin is different, we can't make any guarantees about how well these techniques will work. These techniques will always work best on newer resin or resin that has not been subject to a high level of foulants such as iron or manganese.