Everything You Need to Know About Water Softeners

Stephanie Shaykin
Updated July 26, 2021
A woman washing her hands in kitchen sink
interstid - stock.adobe.com

Save your appliances (and your skin) with a water softener

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

It’s hard to miss the telltale signs of hard water: maybe your appliances are eroding, there’s calcium deposits covering your faucets, or your skin and hair are so dry that not even the most expensive moisturizers are helping.

But don’t stress—a water softener will save your appliances (and your skincare routine).

What Is a Water Softener?

A water softener is just what it sounds like: a device that softens hard water in your home. It does so by removing minerals found in hard water, such as calcium and magnesium, and replaces them with softer minerals: sodium or potassium. This minimizes clogs and corrosion, and also leaves behind less soap scum on surfaces. There are a few different types of water softeners, but they all work to make the water feel smoother.

The U.S. Geological service has a scale that measures the level of grains in water. When water has a higher level of grains, it can erode and deteriorate appliances more quickly. Anything between 120 to 180 mg/L (milligrams per liter) to be hard and anything over 180 mg/L to be very hard.

If you live in an area with hard water, adding a water softener is an easy fix—your laundry is brighter and softer, your hair stays manageable, your skin is soft and smooth.

Generally speaking, water softeners cost between $1,000 and $2,800 with installation, about $1,500 on average. But water softeners can last up to 15 years, and even double the life of some of your appliances. Did you know you can rent a water softener, too?

How Does a Water Softener Work?

Interior of bathroom
poligonchik - stock.adobe.com

Water softeners’ secret weapon is salt—not standard table salt, but sodium chloride. The device is connected directly to your home’s water system and, as the water softener cycles, salty water resin runs through the brine tank.

When you flush your water softener, the calcium and magnesium molecules are removed from the water in the tank, leaving your water soft and ready to use. 

Should You Go Saltless?

Some people choose a salt-free water softener in place of the traditional. The general impact is the same, and (bonus!) you don’t have to constantly replenish the salt. But salt-free water softeners are more expensive and can be less efficient.

Other Types of Water Filters

If you're not into a traditional salt-method water softener, there are other options out there for you.

Water Conditioners

Water conditioners are often mistakenly called water softeners, but they’re actually an alternative to salt-added softening. Typically, a water conditioner costs between $700 to $4,000, depending on the size of your home.

Water softeners use a lot of water and energy, so they often require draining to save resources. Conditioners are perfect for those looking to avoid the hassles that come with salt systems—not only will there be minimal maintenance, but you'll save money on the unit as well.

Reverse Osmosis Water Filters

Reverse osmosis removes more than 95% of contaminants found in tap water. This type of treatment removes contaminants from water by using pressure to force water molecules through a semipermeable membrane. Installing one at your home costs about $500 to $1,000 on average.

What to Know Before Buying a Water Softener

Research various local water softening service companies before you make a decision. Look for any certifications or other credentials before you hire them, and always make sure they’re a member of the Water Quality Association.

If you're not sure whether you have hard water, some simple testing will let you know. Some water conditioning companies often offer free testing, too.

Should You Buy a Water Softener?

If you live in an area with hard water, a water softener is definitely something you should consider—but it is an investment. 

To lengthen your water softener’s life span, you’ll need to perform routine inspections and keep up with routine maintenance.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.