Hard Times: How Much Does It Cost to Install or Replace a Water Softener?

Fallen on hard times? Having a run of hard luck? Struggling with hard water in your home? Sometimes it just seems like life is hard.

And while I don’t have any suggestions about how to turn your luck around, I can offer you something for your hard water.

A water softener can strip the hardening minerals from your water supply, leaving your water silky smooth and utterly soft. The minerals in hard water – mainly calcium and magnesium – will dry your skin out in the shower, they’ll get stuck in your pipes and appliances. They also absorb soap, meaning your dishes never get quite as clean.

Hard water can cost your household a fortune – when you’re replacing calcified appliances and spending over the odds on soap, it starts to add up. But water softeners aren’t cheap either. So are they worth it?

In this article we’ll wade into the world of water softener costs: how much does it cost to purchase a water softener? And how much does it cost to install a water softener or to replace a water softener?

We’ve got a wide range of salt-based systems, electronic descalers, and portable models to choose from: there’s something for every budget.

Installing a water softener is a great idea – after all, 85% of Americans have hard water.

So if you’re not the one in six Americans with soft water in their homes, you’ll need a softener to get the goods. It’s time to play hardball with hard water.

So How Much Does It Cost to Install or Replace a Water Softener?

A water softener can cost anything from $700 to over $3000. That’s a pretty big ballpark here.

And if you include electronic descalers, which mimic the effects of a water softener without actually removing the menacing minerals, you could spend around $100.

With such a wide range, we’re obviously talking about a lot of different products here. Let’s take a closer look at the cost of installing a water softener.

Water Softener SystemTypical Price Range
Ion-Exchange System$700 – $2,000
Dual Tank Ion Exchange$1,500 – $3,000
Salt-Free Water Conditioner$1,000 – $2,000
Electronic Descaler$50 – $250
Portable Water Softener$150 – $400
Commercial Water Softener$2,000 and up

Which Factors Determine The Cost Of A Water Softener?

Water softener systems vary dramatically – in terms of price, but also in terms of style and performance. Let’s take a look at the factors that determine the cost of a water softener.

Water Softener Style

The major determining factor of the cost of a water softener is the style – how it has been designed to soften water. There are three main types of water softeners in this category:

Ion-Exchange

Sometimes called salt-based systems, these water softeners use an ion-exchange process to swap out the hard-water minerals with sodium. They’ll dramatically reduce the GPG (grains per gallon) count of your water, leaving you with truly soft water. These are the only systems that produce truly soft water, and they’re the most expensive option in general.

Water Conditioners

Water conditioners replace the salt-based system with a salt-free water softening system. They mostly rely on a method called template assisted crystallization (TAC) which has proved to be very effective. TAC doesn’t actually remove the minerals from your water, but rather it converts them into micro-crystal forms which remain suspended in your water supply and are unable to attach themselves to your pipes and appliances.

Electronic Descalers

The cheapest option, but the jury’s out on the efficacy of electronic descalers. Electronic descalers work similarly to conditioners, but they reshape the calcium and magnesium ions through electrical pulses, theoretically reducing their ability to attach to your plumbing and appliances.

Softener Size/Capacity

When it comes to water softeners, size does matter. And you’ll need to take into account not only the water consumption of your household but how hard your water is to start with.

Water hardness is measured in GPG: grains per gallon. Anything up to 3 GPG is considered soft water, 3.5 GPG and up is moderately hard and 7 GPG is definitely hard water.

Ion exchange systems measure capacity in grains, and this number tells you how many grains of hard water your system can remove. They tend to go up to around 80,000 grains.

If your household has exceptionally hard water, or high water usage and a demanding flow rate, you’ll need to opt for a larger model whether you’re going for a salt-based softener or a salt-free system.

Added Features

Whilst the style of softener you choose and the size you opt for is largely based on necessity, you can save money on installing a water softener by choosing something with fewer extra features.

But what you should be looking out for is a digital display head that lets you optimize your system and monitor its function. In the long run, having this data about your softener’s performance can save you from wasting water and salt – ultimately saving you money.

Another feature to look out for is metered regeneration, which bases the system's regeneration cycles on usage rather than time. These systems are much more efficient and, again, can save you money in the long run despite costing a few hundred dollars more at the outset.

Nowadays, you can get smart systems that connect to your wifi and BlueTooth and offer a ton of data at the touch of a button. Whilst these kinds of features might be an added bonus, they’re often an unnecessary extra.

The Brand-Name Price Bump

One last thing that goes into determining the price of a water softener? It’s the brand-name bump. Some brands are capitalizing on market share and reputation to add a premium to their products.

Do your research and don’t pay extra for a premium brand that doesn’t offer a premium product. Or you could let us do the research for you – brands like Springwell, Fleck, and Pentair always offer robust products alongside value for money.

How Much Does It Cost To Install An Ion-Exchange Water Softener?

Ion-exchange systems are the only water softeners that give you truly softened water, with a reduced grain-per-gallon count. These salt-based systems typically cost between $700 – $2,000 for a single tank system, whilst a dual-tank system will cost in excess of $2,000.

Capacity – from 24,000 to 80,000 grains, flow rate, and added features typically determine the price of an ion-exchange system. A dual-tank system, which uses a second tank to eliminate downtime during regeneration adds an additional premium.

SpringWell SS Whole House Water Softener – Best All-Round Water Softener

Springwell’s SS system comes from a trusted brand name who are innovating to make salt-based systems more efficient than ever. You can tailor this whole-house system to whatever capacity and flow rate your household requires.

Pros:

  • Effective for city and well water
  • Capacity ranges up to 80,000 grains
  • Flow rate up to 20 GPM
  • Exceptionally efficient use of salt
  • Limits wastewater
  • Customizable performance for your water habits
  • Lifetime warranty

Cons:

  • The only real downside is the hefty pricetag

Fleck 5600SXT – Best Water Softener On A Budget

Here at Dripfina we’re insistent that water products are for everyone and Fleck have produced an impressive whole-house system that suits those on a budget. With a capacity ranging from 26,000 to 70,000 grains and metered regeneration to improve efficiency, this is perfect for those who want to keep the budget under four figures.

Pros:

  • Affordable price tag
  • Digitally metered regeneration to improve efficiency
  • Capacity can be customized up to 70,000 grains
  • Easy installation In-built capacitor maintains programming settings in the case of a power loss

Cons:

  • Warranty for valves is just 5 years
  • Valves are plastic, rather than steel

SoftPro Elite City Water Softener – Best For City Water

For city water, SoftPro Elite’s ion exchange system is an impressive choice thanks to the bolt-on extra filters offered. With the affordable KDF filter, chlorine and heavy metals will be removed alongside the scourge of hard water.

Pros:

  • Capacity goes up to 96,000 grains!
  • Lifetime warranty and 6-month money-back guarantee
  • Exceptionally efficient
  • Smart system optimizes itself based on your water supply
  • Additional filters tackle chlorine and heavy metals – perfect for city water

Cons:

  • Hefty price tag
  • Some extra filters cost a fortune!

How Much Does It Cost To Install A Water Conditioner?

Water conditioners aren’t necessarily a budget option: premium conditioners applying the latest template assisted crystallization technology can cost up to $2,000 rivaling the top-end ion-exchange models.

In fact, the typical price for a water conditioner will be between $1,000 and $2,000. Again, the price of a water conditioner will primarily depend on the capacity – and the reason to opt for a water conditioner over an ion-exchange system would be to avoid sodium, rather than to find a cheaper price.

Springwell FutureSoft Water Conditioner – Best Salt-Free Water Conditioner

Springwell’s salt-free offering can give any salt-based system a run for its money with a 99.6% scale reduction. It eliminates scale without the use of sodium and by reducing wastewater it’s also good for the environment.

Pros:

  • 99.6% scale reduction without the use of salt
  • Sized for up to 7+ bathrooms
  • No loss in flow rate
  • Good for the environment
  • Super low maintenance

Cons:

  • Requires prefiltering for well water
  • High price tag

How Much Does It Cost To Install An Electronic Water Descaler?

If you’re really on a budget and need a fast solution, an electronic water descaler will cost between $50 and $250.

But electronic descaling is far less effective than either ion exchange or TAC, hence the price tag. Descalers will work to some extent, but they won’t completely reduce the mineral content of your hard water, or completely remove the effect of scale in your pipes and appliances.

Eddy Electronic Water Descaler

As a budget option, this little electronic water descaler is worth its salt. It’s super easy to install, requires zero maintenance and the only running cost is the little electricity it uses to run.

Pros

  • Affordable on any budget
  • Really easy to install
  • Works with hard water up to 20 grains per gallon
  • Around 50% scale reduction
  • Lifetime warranty

Cons:

  • Doesn’t completely remove scale
  • Effects may vary based on your water’s hardness

How Much Does It Cost To Install A Portable Water Softener?

If you’re on the go, a portable solution to hard water might be called for. Portable water softeners can cost between $150 and $400.

Whilst these systems aren’t suitable for your home due to their limited capacity, they’re quite affordable and they’re perfect for an RV.

On The Go OTG4-DBLSOFT Water Softener

The OTG4 is a robust and compact portable softener with an efficient system that gives you great bang for your buck (and salt). The 16,000-grain capacity should be adequate for short runs in the wild with moderately hard water, and it’s quick and easy to get set up wherever you are.

Pros:

  • Compact size for easy transportation
  • Perfect for RVs
  • Regeneration relies on easily-accessible table salt
  • Resin will last for around 5 years
  • Easy set up on the road

Cons:

  • Lifespan will be reduced with very hard water
  • Requires a bit more maintenance than other models

Water Softener Installation Costs

Both ion exchange systems and water conditioners need to be plumbed in, a job with varying degrees of complexity depending on the model. Whilst most water softeners advertise easy installation without the need for a plumber, it’s important to read the small print: often self-installation will void the warranty.

And if you’re not the handy type, then sometimes installation might be more trouble than it's worth. A plumber offers peace of mind so you know there’ll be no costly mishaps along the way.

If you opt for self-installation, an install kit will cost between $50 and $100. For anyone experienced in plumbing and DIY, it’s a job for an afternoon.

Professional installation can cost anything from $300 up to $1,000. The main cost will be labor as hourly rates range from $45 to $200 – and it will take a plumber two to three hours to get the job done.

Additional costs for water softener installation will be determined by:

  • Plumbing supplies needed
  • Equipment used
  • Whether an old water softener is being removed
  • Whether any debris or waste requires removal.

Top tip: You can often add installation when you purchase your water softener and get it at a discounted rate.

How Much Does Water Softener Maintenance Cost?

As well as making showers unpleasant, appliances dirty and our tap water taste funky, hard water also costs us money. But all water softeners require some long-term maintenance – so these costs need to be factored in.

Water softeners will require regular salt top-ups and infrequent resin replacement. Meanwhile, water conditioners sometimes require added chemicals such as citric acid, siliphos, and a chelation agent.

Ion Exchange Maintenance Costs

Ion exchange systems require salt and resin top-ups and create wastewater as an additional cost. Annually, this should amount to between $200 and $400.

FactorCost
Salt$6 – $25/month
Wastewater$100 – $200/year
Resin$200 – $400, every ten years
ElectricityNegligible

Water Conditioner Maintenance Costs

Water conditioners also have some associated maintenance costs. Water conditioners will occasionally require a top-up of the chemicals used in the template assisted crystallization process.

Whether that’s a chelation agent such as citric acid or a compound like silphos, a replacement cartridge will be required every 3 to 6 months and will cost between $50 and $70. That’s an annual cost of between $100 and $280.

FactorCost
Chelation agent$50 every 3 – 6 months
Silphos cartridge$60 – $70 every 3 – 6 months

Electronic Descaler Maintenance Costs

The only cost associated with running an electronic descaler is electricity. These systems have low wattage – around 6 watts for the Eddy Electronic Water Descaler, so the electricity cost will be negligible.

Water Softener Servicing Costs

Although many brands recommend that you have your water softener serviced as often as every year, you can tell if your softener is working properly without any expert intervention.

The control head of your water softener allows you to configure the valve settings as well as providing information about whether the system is working as intended. If you pay attention to the control head, as well as how often your system is regenerating, your water softener system should never require an annual service.

Routine cleaning and the breaking up of brine bridges in your water softener will ensure your system runs smoothly for years, without the need for professional attention.

Wrapping Up…

Installing a whole-house system can cost a pretty penny. And if you have a full house using water 24/7 then maximizing the capacity and flow rate starts to add up.

But with the majority of water softeners, you get what you pay for. Powerful systems can dramatically reduce the hardness count of your water, saving your appliances and plumbing for years to come.

For a whole house system you can expect to pay $1000 or more, but shop around and you might find a bargain in the $700 range.

If you want to go budget, then try an electronic descaler. Although they’re not as effective as alternative systems, you can pick one up for under $200.

And when you step into your first soft shower and enjoy the silky-smooth experience, you’ll know it's money well spent. Life doesn’t have to be hard.

Eric Phillips

Hi, I’m Eric, a Plumber, Home Repair Expert and Chief Editor behind Dripfina. I first became interested in water purification and water safety when I spent a couple of years traveling the world. I not only learned the importance of keeping my own water fresh and pure (yes, sometimes the hard way…) but I also saw how important water is as a resource worldwide. Read more about me...

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