A Complete Breakdown on the Cost of a Water Softener

Ben Kissam
Written by Ben Kissam
Updated February 17, 2022
Water softner system
Lineas 1703 / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Installing a water softener system has a wide range—between $500 and $6,000

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“Hard” water means your water has a high mineral content. Although it’s safe, hard water can reduce the life of your water heater and increase water heating costs. It also tends to leave a nasty mineral buildup on surfaces in your home.

Installing a water softener system in your home helps reduce your water’s mineral content, which solves all these issues—and frees you from having to wipe residue off your sinks and showerheads every couple of weeks.

However, in certain regions of the U.S., water hardness is notoriously high. So it’s important to know which type of water softeners you should consider when shopping around. 

How Much Does a Water Softener System Cost?

A water softener system costs between $500 and $6,000 for the unit and installation. How much you spend will depend on the softening method of the device (i.e., reverse osmosis vs. ion exchange), bonus features (such as self-cleaning), size, and installation costs. 

High-end water softeners can be expensive. But they do offer money-saving benefits, such as improved longevity of your appliances.

If your home doesn’t need new pipes fitted for your device, installation is pretty quick, which will help keep labor costs low.

Average Cost for a Water Softener in Your Area

Your region’s water hardness could affect the price you pay for a water softener system.

Region

The hardness of your region’s water can help you determine which type of water softener system to install. Metropolitan areas such as Phoenix, Las Vegas, Tampa, FL, and San Antonio, for example, are known for having very high mineral counts.

For high mineral content areas, it’s best to go with an ion-exchange softener system, as they are proven to remove minerals and soften water.

To figure out your region’s water hardness, purchase a test kit or contact your local water supplier.

Having a water softener system shipped to a rural or remote area may cost a little extra, but not by much. In fact, some of today’s compact water softener models weigh less than 20 pounds. A small unit may only cost $10 to $20 extra to have it delivered to your door.

What Water Softener System Can I Get on My Budget?

Finding a water softening unit on a budget is definitely possible if your area’s water hardness isn’t excessively high (above 3 grains per gallon). Size and additional features factor in, too.

$500 or Less

You can find a basic ion-exchange water softener system that requires manual cleaning of sediment buildup in this price range.

Magnetic softeners are also available here, but not recommended for homes with high mineral content, as they do not actually soften your water.

$500 to $1,000

For under $1,000, you can get a self-cleaning salt water softener system or a lower-end dual tank or salt-free device. Compact models for smaller homes or limited use also tend to fall under this category.

$1,000 to $3,000+

At the upper end, you can get dual tank, salt-free, and reverse osmosis water softener systems. If your busy household uses lots of water, you may also need a larger device that uses salt or brine, which will fall in this price range.

What Will It Cost to Install My Own Water Softener?

If you’re a confident DIYer, you can cut out installation costs. You can expect to pay the price of your water softener system ($500 to $3,000) plus the cost of a few handy tools ($5 to $25). Tools you may need include:

  • Pliers

  • Plumbers tape

  • Tube cutter

If pipe installation is required, you may need to purchase new pipes or hire a local plumber to do the job before installing your softener system.

Pricing for Different Types of Water Softeners

You can classify different water softener system types by the method they use to lower mineral count in groundwater:

4 water softener system types compared by cost, with magnetic averaging $200 to $400
  • Ion Exchange: $300-$1,000

  • Salt-Free and Dual-Tank: $500-$3,000

  • Magnetic: $200-$400

  • Reverse Osmosis: $100-$1,800

Among these options, ion exchange units are the most commonly used. Some people consider magnetic water softeners to be controversial, as they don’t actually remove minerals, but alter them.

Water Softener Size: Regular vs. Compact

Home water softner
Lineas 1703 / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

The basic styles of water softener systems come down to size.

  • Regular: Full-sized units for homes

  • Compact: Miniature units for condos, apartments, small homes, and limited-use scenarios

Some compact models are designed to work with larger homes but may require more frequent regeneration cycles (flushing mineral buildup) to rid the unit of particles and more frequent maintenance.

What Factors Influence Water Softener System Cost?

How your device softens water, how powerful it is, and bonus features like energy efficiency could all increase the price of your water softener system.

5 cost factors for water softener system installation, including energy efficiency and labor
Catherine Delahaye / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Water Softening Method

Generally speaking, ion-exchanging devices ($300 to $1,000) are the most effective and common methods for at-home use. Ion exchangers swap sodium for minerals so your water has slightly more salt in it.

Units that don’t require salt or brine tend to cost the most ($500 to $3,000), although one of the advantages of salt-free water softeners is they require no maintenance—and who doesn’t like the sound of that? However, they do not actually remove all minerals; instead, they harden calcium deposits so your sink and showerheads don’t leave behind residue or buildup. 

Grain Capacity

Grain capacity refers to how much mineral content your machine can remove. Areas with higher water hardness levels require devices with higher grain capacity.

Water is considered hard when it meets or exceeds 3 grains per gallon (gpg). In states like Florida, Arizona, and New Mexico, water hardness frequently registers at 10 gpg or more.

Energy Efficiency

Water softener systems do require maintenance, at least for systems that use salt or brine. You’ll need to replenish the minerals in your tank every few months.

Devices that reduce maintenance costs and lower electricity usage cost on the high-end ($1,000+).

Additional Features

Some devices come with additional features, such as self-cleaning. This feature makes it so the homeowner doesn’t have to manually remove sediment buildup from the unit. 

However, this is standard on newer models, so you still might pay anywhere from $300 to $1,000.

Installation

Hiring a plumber or local water softener installation specialist will cost more than going the DIY route. 

Expect a pro to charge anywhere from $50 to $200 per hour. If it’s an easy job that requires a simple hookup to existing pipes, installation takes only an hour or two. Replacing an old water softener system also usually takes an hour or less.

FAQs About Water Softener System Costs

How do I install a water softener system?

To install a water softener system:

  • Turn off the water supply and drain water

  • Connect your device to the waterline

  • Fill your tank with the recommended amount of salt or brine (whichever your unit calls for; be sure to read instructions)

  • Turn the water supply on and check for leaks

  • Optional: let your water run for a few minutes, then test using strips

The process of inspecting your water softener system is similar. A local water softener company can also help with your installation.

Why should I pick a salt water softener system?

Ion exchangers use salt or brine to remove minerals from hard water. The result is clean drinking water with a small amount of sodium in it but less overall water hardness.

This method has been proven most effective by scientists for reducing water hardness. However, if your doctor has prescribed a low-sodium diet, you may want to consider alternative methods.

What should I consider when installing a water softener system?

There are maintenance costs associated with most water softener systems unless you install a salt-free tank with self-cleaning features. For most salt water softener systems, you can expect to pay between $100 and $250 per year to maintain your system.

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