Your water softener hardness setting should be based on your water supplies water hardness level and its iron concentration, for example a water hardness level of 25 grains per gallon (gpg) and 0.3 parts per million (ppm) of iron would result in a water softener hardness setting of 27.

The higher the water softener setting number is the softer your water will become while your water's iron content and the age of your water softener system can negatively influence your systems performance and therefor its optimal setting.

In this article we will look at all these factors as well as provide a useful calculator which allows you to easily determine the right setting for your water softener!

What Hardness Level Should A Water Softener Be Set At?

To avoid any of the disadvantages of hard water you will want to set your water softener to a level where it results in the softest water possible. However, setting your water softener level above that number will result in your water softener system using too much salt thereby hurting both your wallet and the environment.

To start determining the right water softener setting you will first need the hardness level of your water supply. This value might have been provided by your installer or can sometimes be acquired through your local water department.

If these options are not available your water hardness level is easily found through using a simple water hardness strip. These strips will give you a rough estimate of what your starting setting should be at.

More accurate and precise digital testers are available but can be pretty expensive, the cheaper digital tests are not recommended as their results can easily be distorted by other contaminants.

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When using the water hardness strips you can get a rough estimate on what water softener hardness setting to start out with. After setting an initial (lower) value you can use a new strip to test whether your water is at the desired water hardness level.

If it is still too high simply increase the setting and retest your water until you get your water as soft as possible.

Be sure to test cold water as your water heater tank after your water softener might still contain hard water. Your safest bet for a good result is to wait a full regeneration cycle to ensure your system has enough time to adapt to its newer settings as it can take some time for all hard water to be flushed out of your plumbing system.

Alternatively you could trigger a manual regeneration to speed up this process, however this is a very wasteful process in terms of salt and water usage.

Iron Levels Can Influence The Efficiency Of Your Water Softener

After you've determined your water hardness level it is important to check whether your water supply contains any iron. If your water supply comes from a well, or you are unsure whether there is any iron in your water there are a couple of tests you can do.

Pour a glass of water to see whether there are any visible particles in your water, when particles are visible you will need to look at actively removing iron from your water for example with an iron filter since these particles in time will not only hurt your water softeners performance but could destroy it.

If the water is clear it could still contain dissolved iron, to check for this let the glass stand for 15 to 30 minutes. Water containing iron will in time turn cloudy or even a yellow brown color.

This iron will interfere with the process of softening your water. Therefor the amount of iron in your water will have to be taken into account when setting your water hardness level.

For every 1 ppm of iron in your water, your water hardness level should be increased by 5 points. For an accurate iron concentration you can use these test strips.

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Most water softeners can handle a bit of iron and can actually remove it. However, for higher concentrations iron may start building up within your system, over time this can hurt your systems' performance.

Therefor, it is important to regularly clean your water softeners resin for example with Iron OUT, you can read more about safely using iron out here.

Make sure to closely monitor your iron levels at least twice a year to ensure the right performance of your water softener system.

Water Softener Hardness Setting Calculator

Now that you know the hardness level and iron concentration in your water you can easily calculate the optimal water softener hardness setting by using the water softener hardness calculator or referencing the water softener hardness setting chart below that.

To use the calculator simply put in your water hardness level either in gpg or ppm (same as mg/L) as well as your iron levels in ppm, the optimal water softener hardness setting will automatically be displayed below.

Water Hardness
Iron Levels
Water Softener Hardness Setting:

Water Softener Hardness Setting Chart

Water Softener Hardness Setting Chart For Iron Concentrations In Your Water Supply Between 0-3 ppm

How To Set Water Softener Hardness Level

Now that you know the optimal water hardness setting for your system it is time to set your system to the right value.

If you have a digital system from i.e. GE, Morton, Kenmore, Whirlpool, or Culligan your systems' menu will contain a section where you can set a water hardness level or number. Input your value here and confirm.

Your system is now setup correctly and from now on you can enjoy soft water!

Higher Or Lower Number For Softer Water?

The higher your water softener setting the softer your water will become. So if you are fine-tuning your system it is better to start at a lower setting level, and slowly work up towards the right setting level.

How Many Ppm Should You Expect After A Water Softener Installation

After setting your water softener to the right level, your water hardness should be down to 0. You can use water hardness strips to see whether your water softener is working as expected.

Keep in mind that depending on the size of your water heater tank and things like existing scale build-up it could take several days for all effects to be fully noticeable.

Can A Water Softener Level Be Set Too High?

Since there are no real disadvantages to soft water it is impossible for your water to be too soft. You would therefor think that your water softener level could not be set too high.

However, when setting your water softener level too high, although, functional actual running costs of your system could rise substantially as both salt and water consumption will rise unnecessarily.

Setting your systems' level to high will just hurt your wallet and the environment.

Do I Need To Adjust Water Softener Hardness Over Time?

Nothing in life is constant, your water supply might change over time, and your systems' performance will eventually get worse through the years. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind.

Seasonal Effects

Your local water department might source their water from different places throughout the year, for example due to shortages. Keep in mind that not all these sources might have the same hardness and iron levels.

Inform with your local water supplier for the most up-to-date information, or perform regular water quality tests to ensure your system is optimally set.

Water Softeners Get Less Efficient Over Time

After a couple of years of continues use your water softener can lose its efficiency. A water softeners life expectancy is generally around 10 to 15 years, however with the right maintenance, your water softener can potentially last up to 20 years.

The biggest influence on the efficiency of your water softener is the quality of the resin beads that are in your water softener. As the resin gets older it gets clogged with contaminants and looses it binding efficiency.

So before you decide get rid of your system, you might want to consider cleaning your resin, or even dispose your old resin and replacing it.

Besides the quality of the resin sudden drops in your systems' performance could be caused by issues with your brine tank. Make sure to check whether your system isn't clogged due to salt mushing or whether there is a salt bridge in your brine tank.

This will make sure that your water softener keeps performing at the expected level.