How To Decide Whether You Should Rent or Buy a Water Softener

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated March 22, 2022
Couple doing laundry in their apartment
Photo: PeopleImages /iStock / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Water softeners save you energy by reducing limescale and mineral buildup.

  • Renting a water softener saves you upfront costs but costs more over time.

  • Owning a water softener is best for homeowners who have no plans on moving.

  • Tenants should check with their landlords before installing a water softener.

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If you’re tired of seeing the effects of too much calcium in your tap water on your appliances, clothes, skin, and hair, chances are you’ve considered switching to a water softener. But not every water softener is equal, and you also have to factor in whether you want to rent or buy your water softener. Here’s what you need to know to help you decide which option is right for you.

What Is a Water Softener?

Water softeners are energy-efficient filtration systems that remove or neutralize hard water that damages pipes, appliances, and even your body. Calcium, magnesium, and chlorine in tap water are the biggest culprits, with calcium especially leaving limescale in pipes, lowering your appliances’ performances and costing you money and energy. 

4 Types of Water Softeners

Residential water softener machine in a boiler room
Photo: Kinek00 / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

There are four main types of water softeners out there, so before buying a water softener rental or new system, know your options.

1. Ion-Exchange Water Softeners

Water enters a tank containing negatively-charged resin beads that attract positively-charged minerals. These minerals swap with sodium molecules through a water softener regeneration cycle.

Ion-exchange systems can cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000, depending on the size of the system you need, and their only main downside is that your tap water will contain more sodium, although you can use potassium molecules instead.

2. Salt-Free Water Softeners

Salt-free water softener systems use polymeric beads to pull minerals in and convert them into neutralized crystals in template-assisted crystallization. But don’t let these technical words dissuade you; salt-free systems are a simple yet effective way to keep limescale buildup away from your pipes and appliances.

The downside to this softener is that it has a higher cost than ion-exchange systems ($800 to $4,000) and a less powerful system, making it more suitable for smaller homes.

3. Magnetic Water Softeners

Also called electric water softeners, these softeners hook to a single point in your home, like the water pipe leading to your kitchen sink or showerhead. Through electromagnetic coils, this softener neutralizes heavy minerals in tap water. 

Magnetic water softeners are ideal for smaller homes because they take up little room and don’t require a water line for the installation process. Since they’re smaller, they’re also more affordable than other softener types ($200 to $600). On the other hand, this water softener type doesn’t remove the minerals that it neutralizes and requires access to electricity.

4. Reverse Osmosis Water Softeners

Reverse osmosis water softeners are the crème de la crème of the water softener world. This water softener removes most minerals and heavy metals from your tap water using a semi-permeable membrane. You can install a reverse osmosis system to a single water point or choose a whole house water softener to protect all of your appliances and possessions from mineral damage.

However, keep in mind that this softener comes at a higher cost point than some of the other options ($1,500 or so) and requires new carbon filters approximately every 12 months

How Is Renting Different from Buying a Water Softener?

Renting a water softener might not be the first thing you think of when you’re considering your options for a water softener, but it is not uncommon for water specialists near you to offer rentals as part of their services. With a rental, your water treatment company might ask you to sign a year-long contract at a fixed rate. 

When you rent your water softener, maintenance and repairs are often included in the price of your rental, making it a good option for anyone planning to only temporarily live in the home that will have the rental water softener. 

Pros and Cons of Renting vs. Buying a Water Softener

There’s a reason Shakespeare writes that roses have thorns and Poison sang a heartfelt tribute to this unavoidable allegory: almost every good choice we make comes with pros and cons, even the best of choices! 

Deciding on whether to buy or rent a water softener is no different, so here are key advantages and disadvantages to both options.

Renting Pros and Cons

Advantages of a Water Softener Rental

Noteworthy benefits to renting a water softener instead of purchasing your own water softener include:

  • No major down payment. You don’t need to put down a lot of money to rent a water softener.

  • Your maintenance and repairs are included. If the softener stops working or needs repairs, you usually don’t have to pay anything extra.

  • You don’t have to commit. If you don’t see a major improvement, need to move, or your local laws change, you can simply cancel your renewal.

Disadvantages of a Water Softener Rental

At the same time, there are some cons to renting a water softener for your home, including:

  • Limited choices. Rentals are often older, select models, meaning you have fewer options for which system gets installed.

  • May save you less than buying. Since you have to commit to paying monthly, renting costs you more in the long run. 

  • May require more repairs. If you receive an older softener system, it’s likely less efficient and can cost you in appliance and plumbing repairs.

  • You have to get permission if you’re a tenant. Your landlord might not allow you to rent a water softener in your rental home.

Buying Pros and Cons

Advantages of Buying a Water Softener

As with a water softener rental, there are key benefits to buying a water softener:

  • You save money over time. Your new water softener may have a higher upfront cost, but you’ll use less soap in your dishwasher and washing machine unit when you choose a water softener system.

  • You get to choose your system. When you buy a system, you aren’t limited to the rental company’s availability and limitations and can select the best water softener for your home.

  • It’s more energy efficient. Because your water softener is new, you’ll have a more efficient system that ends up saving energy.

  • Once paid off, it’s yours. Unlike rental water softeners, which require you to continue investing in a monthly or yearly payment plan, once you’ve paid off your water softener, the only expenses you’ll have to pay are maintenance and repairs.

  • Fewer repairs and issues. Even though rentals tend to include maintenance services, it’s no fun having to request maintenance orders on a unit that isn’t brand new. However, with a new system, you’ll have fewer of these inconveniences because the system will perform better. 

  • Don’t forget the warranties. Most new water softeners come with a one-year warranty, though you can sometimes extend this warranty to three years. Some systems, like electronic parts, have a three-year warranty, while other parts, like the tank, might have a 10-year warranty. 

  • Payment plans may be available. For homeowners who want to own a water softener system but are on a tight budget, you might be eligible for financing options that allow you to pay monthly installments towards ownership.

Disadvantages of Buying a Water Softener

Plumber repairing a water softener with a wrench
Photo: Photographee.eu / Adobe stock

On the opposite hand, purchasing a water softener system can also be a disadvantage for some households, such as:

  • High upfront costs. You’ll have to pay around $1,500 for your water softener system.

  • You have to pay for repairs. If your warranty expires, you’ll have to pay for the cost of water softener repairs and maintenance fees.

  • Tenants may have a harder time. If you’re renting a home, you won’t be able to install a water softener system if your landlord doesn’t permit it.

Cost of Renting vs. Buying a Water Softener

You’ll pay anywhere from $20 to $50 a month on average for a water softener rental, depending on your local going rates, the size of the system, and other features such as water softener type. This amounts to $240 to $600 a year

Meanwhile, a new water softener installation costs around $1,500 on average, though you might pay anywhere from $500 to $6,000 depending on which system you choose and the size of that system. 

When to Rent vs. When to Buy a Water Softener 

Though renting may seem more affordable initially, you have to continue to pay a rental company for as long as you use their services, never working towards ownership of the system—unless you opt for a rent-to-own plan. Some companies do offer this type of plan, which typically involves a higher rental rate with a plan to own the softener over time. Either way, renting a water softener system is more costly than owning one. 

For residents looking for a temporary water softener system, renting can be a good option. Still, if you’re a homeowner and plan on living in your home for years to come, it’s more cost-effective to buy a water softener.

Switching from Renting to Owning a Water Softener

For anyone who already decided to rent a water softener instead of making that initial investment to purchase one, take a look at your monthly bills and calculate how much you’ve paid in rental fees. You may have already spent more money than necessary if you’d purchased the water softener. In which case, consider making the switch to water softener ownership.

Buying a Water Softener

A common misconception is that a water softener system becomes a permanent part of the house once installed, but this is a myth. 

A licensed, professional local water softener company can disconnect and reinstall a water softener for customers when they move. In other words, the investment that you made in a water softener can travel with you to the next home to continue giving you a return on your investment.

The only main concern is if you’re a renter, as you may need to obtain permits and permission from the homeowner or property manager before installing or removing a water softener system, so always give your property manager a call before making any changes to your rental.

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