Can You Get a Water Softener for an Apartment?

Can You Get a Water Softener for an Apartment?

While installing a water softener system requires no special permissions for homeowners, renters may have a more difficult time softening their building’s water. What options are available to renters with hard water? And is it possible to soften water in a rented apartment?

A building-wide water softener system cannot be installed by a renter, but an apartment complex may permit renters to install small water softener systems under the sink or in the showerhead after permission is granted. Other options for softening water apart from installations may be easier for renters.

Keep reading to learn how to soften water in your apartment, how to seek permission for an in-unit water softener system, and alternatives to installing these systems.

Related articles:
Ultimate Guide to Water Softeners: Everything You Need to Know

Can You Have a Water Softener in an Apartment?

Installing a point-of-entry water softener system will likely be impossible in an apartment, as you don’t own the building. But a point-of-use water softener system or device may be allowed in an apartment.

A point-of-entry water softener system softens all water in a home or building, while a point-of-use water softener system attaches to a single water source (such as a showerhead) making only this water soft.

It is also possible to soften water in your apartment by using a dedicated water filtration pitcher, which will be easy to take with you should you move, and requires no special installation or plumbing adjustments.

You’ll need to ask permission for these point-of-use systems, but they can be a simple and economical solution for renters who need their water to be softer. How can you determine if your apartment water needs to be softened?

Check out this video about water softeners that can be installed in an apartment.

Do You Need a Water Softener for Your Apartment?

So, does your apartment need a water softener? What issues does hard water cause, and how do you know if you need a water softener system in your apartment?

Hard water is water that has especially high levels of calcium and magnesium, along with other minerals. While minerals are vital to human health, an excess of minerals in your water can have several unpleasant effects.

Hard water from a tap or shower head can

  • Cause drinking water to taste funny
  • Cause nausea or vomiting in those sensitive to minerals in the water
  • Leave spots on your dishes and glassware
  • Cause skin to dry out
  • Cause skin irritation
  • Make soap less effective
  • Cause hair to fall out

Test the water in your apartment to determine if it contains high levels of calcium and magnesium. These hard water test kits are available at many hardware stores and can even be bought online.

Whether or not you need a water softener in your apartment depends on how deeply hard water bothers you, and how sensitive your skin is to present minerals. If you’re noticing a lot of loose hair in your shower, hard water could be to blame.

Once you’ve decided to soften the water in your apartment, who should you speak with to ask permission?

Do I Need to Ask My Landlord’s Permission to Install a Water Softener?

Something to keep in mind about an apartment is that you don’t own the building or the unit. So any modifications to plumbing, even small ones, will have to be reviewed and green-lighted by the building’s manager or owner.

Before asking permission to install a point-of-use water softener system in your unit, review your rental contract. The contract may state that no modifications are permitted to the unit after a renter agrees that conditions are satisfactory and moves in. Other contracts may contain clauses stating that alterations to the unit require permission.

Know exactly what your rental contract says before making the request and go into the conversation with a humble and flexible attitude. Would your landlord be willing to permit installation? Where would he permit a water softener system to be installed? Will he permit you to install it himself, or would he require a plumber to attach the system?

Then there is the cost of the unit and installation. Be willing to pay for the water softener, the installation, and any future repairs that the water softener unit may require. This brings us to the question of how much such units will cost.

How Much Will It Cost to Soften Apartment Water?

How much these units cost depends on how many of them you buy, how expensive they are, and whether or not you are asked to incur the cost of professional installation. A water softener unit for your shower, for example, should cost you anywhere from $30 to $80.

A unit for the kitchen sink can cost between $50 and $300 or more, depending on the complexity and durability of the device.

If you are asked to incur the costs of installation, the professional who hooks your system up will likely bill by the hour. Expect an expert plumber to charge an average of $100 an hour for his service and factor these costs in as well.

How much this will cost depends upon how many and what type of water softener system you have installed. So what options are available for an apartment’s water softener system?

What Kind of Water Softener Equipment is Available for Apartments?

While water softener units come in all sizes, those used in a rented apartment are likely to be small and easier to use. The three most common types of water softener equipment used by renters are

  • A shower head replacement water softener
  • An attachment for your bathroom’s existing showerhead
  • An under-sink kitchen water softener
  • A free-standing countertop water softener unit

The third option is available as an entire replacement shower head full of materials that soften water as it passes through the unit, while other models simply attach to an existing shower head.

Under the sink, units remain out of sight under your apartment’s kitchen sink and hook up to existing plumbing. They may have two or more separate canisters through which hard water flows before making its way to your faucet.

Another option for renters is a countertop reverse osmosis filtration machine, which simply plugs in and is filled with hard water. It filters your apartment’s hard water and dispenses it by the cup, or into a carafe. These units can cost anywhere from $200 to $500 but are advantageous in that they are free-standing and portable, and if you have paid for the unit, it can be taken with you once you leave the apartment.

Any of these units can be beneficial to a renter, and you can install as many as your landlord will permit. But is it necessary to soften all the water in your apartment unit?

Should I Soften All Water in My Apartment?

Whether you soften all water in your apartment depends upon the context in which you want your water to be soft. For example, if you don’t mind hard water in the kitchen but suspect that hard water in your shower is making your hair fall out, you may want to install a softening shower head and leave the kitchen alone.

Alternately, if drinking or cooking in hard water makes you nervous, but bathing in it doesn’t bother your skin or your hair, a kitchen sink unit can take care of your soft water needs, as would a free-standing countertop unit.

The only places you’ll likely get permission to install a water softener system in a rented unit are under the kitchen sink, or in the shower. Other types of units may be too complex, too costly, or too much of a burden to accommodate. So, decide where you want your water softeners, and budget accordingly. The more point-of-use units you install, the more expensive it will get.

How do these smaller units differ from what is typically installed in a home?

How Are Apartment Water Softeners Different from Whole-House Systems?

Whole-house systems are generally point-of-entry, whereas apartment water softener systems are point-of-use.

What are the differences between the two systems? A point-of-entry water softener system would attach to a home or building’s main water input to soften all water used in the home or address. These systems are often installed in a basement and can handle thousands of gallons of water. As a result, they tend to be bulky, and often reset themselves on a timer.

Point-of-use water softener systems simply attach to the piping of individual water sources in a home or apartment, such as a kitchen sink, showerhead, or extendable shower hose. They won’t soften all the water in your apartment but can help reduce or eliminate harmful minerals where you need them gone.

What’s more, point-of-use water softeners are quite a bit cheaper to purchase and install. They also require minimal supervision once installed and don’t need a refill of salt and laborious cleaning as would a sodium-based home system.

While the smaller point-of-use systems will eventually need to be replaced as the softening agent depletes, they are easier to manage, easier to uninstall, and are hence more landlord-friendly.

Despite these benefits, there are still some risks involved with installing a water softener system.

Where Should I Install a Water Softener System in My Apartment?

Install a point-of-use water softener system wherever you feel the greatest need for soft water. As mentioned, the most common units are installed under the sink or replace your existing shower head.

Install the system somewhere where it will be easy to access, fix, and repair. Keep your under-sink area clean of unnecessary materials to make installation and maintenance simpler, and be sure to have some basic tools on hand (like a wrench and a bucket for collecting water) should minor leaks occur.

If you’ve chosen a countertop water softener system, place it somewhere convenient but out of reach of toddlers and small children. Make sure your countertop water softener unit is not getting water too close to an electrical outlet or any wiring.

You’ll also want to notify your landlord of all water softener units that you’ve installed in the apartment and allow him to inspect them if he requests this. Such transparency can help you avoid quarrels, expenses, fines, and disagreements later on. As with any major decision made as a renter, there are risks and benefits associated with installing these units.


Risks and Benefits of an Apartment Water Softener

Installing an apartment water softener may be a simple task at face value, but it has a few more complexities than you’d face if installing the same units in a mortgaged home. 

For one, as you don’t own the unit, a question may arise as to who owns the water softener systems once they’re installed. Are they yours and your responsibility, or are they the landlord’s and his responsibility? Who pays for future repairs or replacement parts?

Make sure this is clarified in writing before installation, as having to sort this out later can be frustrating and strain the renter-landlord relationship needlessly.

If your water softener system is difficult or impossible to detach once you move out, you may have to pay your landlord a portion of your security deposit to have it uninstalled after you’ve moved away. Or, you may be responsible for its removal and the reattachment of original or replacement plumbing parts.

Aside from the caveats, having a water softener system installed in your apartment has several clear benefits. It can greatly improve water quality, making water gentler on skin, hair, and sensitive stomachs. Once installed, you won’t have to filter water every time you want a drink and can shower worry-free.

With a water softener system installed in your apartment, you’ll save money on bottled water in the long run, and can save money on shampoo and soap, as well. As hard water can make soap and shampoo less effective, you’ll be using less of each every time you shower. And with your soap and shampoo cleaning better, you can use less water in the shower, and save money here, as well.


While it will not be possible to install a point-of-entry water softener system in your apartment, point-of-use water softener units may be installed on shower heads, and under kitchen sinks. Alternatively, a freestanding countertop water softener unit can help filter minerals from your water for drinking and cooking.

Always ask permission from your landlord before installing any systems onto existing plumbing, and have a clear understanding of whom the units will belong to, who will pay for them, and who is responsible for fixing, replacing, and uninstalling them.

A shower head unit will average $30 to $80 in price, while an under-the-sink system will average $50 to $300, depending on the model and durability. Standalone units for the countertop will cost anywhere from $50 to $300 or more. Be sure to factor in the cost of installation, as your landlord may have to pay a plumber for the installation.

Softening water in your apartment can improve the taste of water, make water easier to drink for those sensitive to metals, and be gentler on your hair and skin in the shower. You may also save money on water, soap, and shampoo once your apartment’s water has been softened.

Chief Guru

Richard Boch is a chemical engineer responsible for designing water filtration systems for industrial and residential customers. He has more than 20 years of experience with ion exchange, activated carbon, and reverse osmosis. Richard's expertise has made him a go-to source for municipalities and businesses looking to improve their water quality. When he's not working, Richard enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children. You can also follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

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