How to Install a Water Softener: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Install a Water Softener: A Step-by-Step Guide

Do you have hard water? A water softener can fix this problem but installing one can be a daunting task. That’s why we prepared this comprehensive guide.

In our guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about installing a water softener. We help you decide between a whole-house system and a small point-of-use unit. We discuss the benefits of professional installation versus DIY. We provide a step-by-step process to demystify the installation process and give you the confidence you need to install your water softener.

So, whether you’re a seasoned DIYer or this is your first time installing anything other than a light switch, read on for tips and advice on how to install a water softener.

How to Install a Water SoftenerWater Softener System - dual tank

If you have hard water, installing a water softener is an excellent way to improve your quality of life. Not only will your clothes and hair feel softer, but you’ll likely see a decrease in the amount of soap scum and lime scale build-up around your home.

There are two main types of water softeners: whole-house systems and small point-of-use units. If you have a large home with multiple bathrooms and appliances, you’ll likely need a whole-house system. If your home has limited space or you only want to soften the water for one appliance (like your dishwasher), then a small point-of-use unit is perfect for you.

Tools you’ll need

You’ll need a few basic tools for this project:

  • Level
  • Tape measure
  • Tube cutter
  • Pipe wrench
  • Hacksaw
  • Socket wrench set
  • Channel lock pliers
  • Soldering torch (if you have copper pipes)
  • Compression tool (if you have PEX or plastic pipes)

Materials and parts

Every project is unique and has its own requirements. Check the installation manual that came with your water softener for guidance. In addition, your home’s plumbing configuration will require fittings and adapters to allow the water softener to connect properly.

The following list is a general guide of the materials you’ll need:

  • Teflon tape
  • Copper or plastic fittings (Tee, elbow, reducer)
  • Plumber’s putty
  • Shut-off valves (if needed)
  • Flux and solder
  • Wire brush

Where to Install Your Water Softener

Once you’ve determined the type of water softener you need, it’s time to decide where to install it. The best place for your system will depend on your home’s plumbing configuration and the location of your water main.

If you have copper pipes: If you’re installing a whole-house water softener, it should go right after

Well or public water supply

If you have a well, install the water softener immediately after your pressure tank. This means your tank is exposed to hard water, but it simplifies the installation process and eliminates the need for a second booster pump.

If you get your water from a public water system, install your water softener right after the water meter. The closer you are to the point of entry, the better.

Whole house water softener installation

For a whole house system, you’ll want to install the water softener as close to the point of entry for the water as you can. It’s especially important for it to be upstream (i.e., before) of the water heater. The water heater is the most vulnerable appliance when it comes to hard water. Installing the softener before the heater will help protect it and prolong its life.

Many homes use un-softened water for outside use. If you don’t want to treat the water you use on your lawn or garden, you’ll need to install a bypass loop and connect it to your hose spigots.

Zone or point-of-use installation

Installing a small under-the counter unit for specific rooms where you want soft water is an easy way to address hard water. This option will work well in kitchens and bathrooms as it can be installed without disrupting any other part of your home’s plumbing system.

Inside or outside

If you live in a warm area where it doesn’t get too cold, you have the option of installing your water softener outside. This can be a great solution if you don’t have much indoor storage space.

If you choose to install your water softener outside, it’s important to make sure it’s in an area that is protected from the elements and where it won’t be damaged or vandalized.

General connection – power and plumbing

Most water softeners require electrical power for the timer and backwash control system. The power cord should be long enough to reach an outlet near the softener. Replacing your discharge line on an upgrade may be necessary.

The water inlet and outlet hoses must be connected to plumbing system using fittings made of the same material (copper or plastic). Make sure the spot you choose for the water softener is close to the plumbing, so you don’t have to install long pipe runs.

Water Softener Installation – Step by Step Process

There are a few basic steps you need to take when installing a water softener in your home. I’ll outline them below but be sure to consult the installation manual for your specific model of water softener.

Step one: Preparation

  1. Shut off the water. Find the main water shut-off valve for your house and turn off the water.
  2. Shut off the water heater. Turn off the electricity to the water heater. If your heater uses gas, turn off the gas valve.
  3. Drain water from pipes and water heater. Find a drain valve and allow the water in your water heater and water supply piping to drain. Clean up water to avoid slipping.

Step two: Connecting the softener to your plumbing

  1. Cut the main water supply line. Using either hack saw or tube cutter, cut the main water line. Remove burrs and rough edges from piping.
  2. Install bypass valve and piping. If you are planning to have a bypass for the water softener, install the Tees, piping, and bypass valve.
  3. Place softener in position. Put the water softener in place.
  4. Place brine tank in position. Put the mineral tank in its final position.
  5. Install inlet and outlet piping. Connect the water softener inlet and outlet fittings to your house’s plumbing. This will require the most time and effort. Be sure to note the required flow direction so the water moves through the softener correctly. You can use hard pipe for all connections, but flexible hoses on the inlet and outlet make servicing your unit much easier. If you don’t use hoses, be sure to include unions or other disconnects so you can remove the tanks for cleaning and repairs.
  6. Connect the drain line. You need a way to easily drain the water softener for service and repair work. Some units include a drain valve and hosing that you can use. Others require you to provide these fittings. Install all of the components and route the drain line to a floor drain or other suitable spot.
  7. Hook up the overflow line. Your brine tank should have an overflow line. Install these fittings and connect the drain line to a floor drain or other suitable spot.
  8. Connect brine tank to softener. Most water softeners provide the fittings and hardware required to connect the brine tank and softener. Connect these fittings to complete the piping work.

Step three: System start-up

Clean and sanitize water softener before starting
Clean and sanitize your water softener before starting it.
  1. Fill the brine tank with salt. Install the brine tank piping, foot valve, and other components in the tank. Add the amount of salt as noted in the manual.
  2. Sanitize the tanks and piping. Use a sanitizing solution such as bleach to clean and disinfect all wetted surfaces of your water softener.
  3. Fill the unit with water and check for leaks. Open the water supply valves and allow the water softener to fill with water. Check all new fittings and piping for leaks. Repair as necessary.
  4. Connect to power. Plug the timer/control panel into the electrical receptable and check for proper operation.
  5. Manually start regeneration cycle. Initiate a manual regeneration cycle. This will introduce water into the brine tank and regenerate the resin to begin treating water.
  6. Set timer and backwash valves. Read the user’s manual and set the timer and backwash valves.

Your water softener is now installed and ready to use! Be sure to follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions for proper system operation.

Professional Installation versus DIY

One important decision every homeowner has to make when installing a water softener is whether to do it themselves or hire a professional. If you’re confident in your plumbing skills and have some free time, doing it yourself can save you some money. However, if you don’t feel comfortable with the installation process or don’t have the necessary tools, hiring a professional is definitely the way to go.

Let’s review each approach in detail so you can decide which one is right for you.

Professional installation Pros and ConsProfessional installation of water softener

When it comes to water softening equipment, professional installation is always the best option. A pro will have the knowledge and experience necessary to ensure that your system is installed properly and functioning correctly.

The benefits of having a plumber or other professional install your water softener are:

  • It will be installed correctly the first time
  • It will be properly calibrated for your home and water supply
  • Any warranty work or repairs will be handled by the pro-installer
  • You may not have all of the necessary tools or know-how to install a water softener on your own
  • If something goes wrong with your system, it’s likely that the pro-installer will be the one held responsible
  • A professional will usually be able to complete the work faster than you can

Some of the drawbacks of hiring a pro to install your water softener are:

  • It costs more than doing it yourself
  • You may have to wait a while before the professional can start the work
  • An unscrupulous installer may overcharge you

DIY benefits and pitfalls

If you’re comfortable with basic plumbing tasks, you can likely install a water softener on your own. Before you start, there are a few things to keep in mind.

You’ll need some basic tools, like a soldering torch and tube cutter. If you don’t know how to solder copper pipes, you’ll have to learn or get help from someone who knows how to do it.

It’s important to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before starting the installation process. There are a few different ways to install a water softener, and the instructions will tell you which one is right for your home.

The benefits of DIY installation are:

  • You’ll save money on labor costs
  • You’ll know exactly how the system works and be able to troubleshoot problems
  • You get the satisfaction of doing the work yourself

The drawbacks of DIY installation are:

  • It can be tricky, especially if you’re not familiar with plumbing
  • You may not have all the necessary know-how to install a water softener on your own
  • If you don’t have an extensive set of tools, you’ll have to buy them
  • If something goes wrong with your system, you may not be able to troubleshoot or correct the problem

Big box store installation services

In addition to hiring a local plumber, you can also get water softener installation services from big box stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s. These stores usually have their own installers who are familiar with the products they sell and can get your system up and running quickly.

The benefits of getting a water softener installed at a big box store are:

  • You’ll save money on labor costs (compared to a plumber)
  • The installers will be familiar with the product and how to install it
  • Any problems are the responsibility of the big box store and their installer

The drawbacks of getting a water softener installed at a big box store are:

  • You may not get as much personal attention as you would from a plumber
  • The installation process may take longer than if you hired a pro

Training to learn how to install water softener

If you’re not confident in your ability to install a water softener on your own, you can attend a training class or watch online videos that will teach you how to do it. There are a few different ways to go about this, so find one that fits your schedule and learning style.

Lowes and Home Depot both offer water classes for DIYers. Keep an eye open for classes offered in your area.

If you’re more of a self-starter, there are plenty of online resources to teach you how to install a water softener. These range from step-by-step guides to videos that show the entire installation process. YouTube is a great place to start.

Costs of Installing Water Softener

The national average to install a water softener is $1,600. The cost can range from $650 to more than $6,000.

Read my article on the water softener costs.

Water softening equipment costs

The sort of water softener you pick has the most influence on the price you pay. Furthermore, the size of the home or plumbing system being treated affects pricing.

You can purchase a water softener at your local hardware store for as little as $350. If you add options like a digital control system with flow-initiated backwashing, you can spend more than $2,500.

Professional installation costs

Having a professional install your water softener for you can be expensive. Depending on the installer, rates may start at $75 per hour and go up from there.

The average cost of professional installation is around $500. The range can vary from $300 to more than $1,000, depending on the unit you buy and your home’s plumbing configuration. Many professionals also include a warranty with their services.

DIY costs

If you install the softener yourself, you’ll still incur some costs for materials and special tools that you don’t have. Expect to pay about $100.

Strategies to Make Water Softener Installation Easy

Anytime you install equipment in your home, there is always a chance for something to go wrong. However, there are some things you can do to minimize the chances of a problem and make the installation process as smooth as possible.

Plan ahead

Planning ahead can save headaches down the road. Make sure you know what kind of softener you want and how much it will cost before getting started. This will help you avoid any surprises and make sure you’re getting the right equipment for your needs.

Gather all of the tools and materials you’ll need before starting the installation process. This will save time (and stress) later on.

Check local codes. Before beginning the installation, be sure to check with your local building department to make sure you’re following all of the proper codes.

Water softener installation is a big job, but it’s not impossible to do on your own. If you take your time and follow these tips, you’ll be able to get the job done without any problems.

Buy a water softener installation kit

When installing your own water softener, you may find that purchasing a water softener kit is a helpful way to have everything you need in one place. These kits include everything you need.

They usually include the following:

  • Flexible hose connector
  • Fittings of various sizes
  • Shut-off valve
  • Bypass valve

Installation Considerations and Strategies

When you’re planning your water softener installation, there are several features and configurations you may want to consider.

Bypass valve

A bypass valve allows you to bypass the water softener when needed. This is helpful if you need to use untreated water for any reason, such as filling a pool or watering plants.

Soft water loop

Many homes in hard water areas have soft water loops installed. This allows you to install a softener and connect it to the plumbing system with minimal effort. Most soft water loops have a pipe extension that you can connect the water softener to.

A nice feature of this setup is that your outside hose faucets are separate from the main line so you can use unsoftened water for irrigation. A common spot to find the loop is next to the water heater. If you’re lucky, you’ll also have an outlet with a drain line connection in the same spot.

Hose spigot – untreated water

If you’re installing a whole-house system, you should consider having a separate line for your hose spigots that isn’t softened. This will minimize your salt usage and ensure you don’t run out of water when you’re watering your lawn of filling your pool.

Pre-filter for hard water system

Many water supplies have rust or suspended solids that can foul your softener and shorten its life. Installing a pre-filter can help protect your softener from these contaminants.

Sample ports

If you want to monitor the performance of your water softener (read my article on this topic here), then I recommend installing a sample port on the inlet and outlet. The sample port can be as simple as a ball valve or hose bib. These ports will allow you to take sample of the untreated and treated water to determine how your softener is working.

Adequate space for maintenance and adding salt

When you plan the installation for your water softener, be sure to give yourself plenty of room to do maintenance and add salt to it. Many people try to minimize the amount of floor space they lose to the water softener, only to later regret not having enough room on the sides to replace a part of clean their appliance.

Platform for adding salt

All ion exchange water softeners require salt for regeneration. Most salt bags weigh 40 pounds – which is heavy for a lot of people. To add the salt to the brine tank, you have to lift the bag up above the sidewall and pour it in. This is very difficult.

I’ve found that having a platform to stand on next to the brine tank makes it much easier to add salt. The platform should be tall enough so that you can pour the salt from waist height into the tank.

and also keep rainwater from filling the salt bin.

Can I Install a Water Softener Myself

Most water softeners can be installed by the homeowner. However, if you’re not comfortable doing it or don’t feel confident in your abilities, then I recommend hiring a professional to do the installation for you.

To help you determine if you’re up to the job, answer the following questions.

  1. Can you solder (if your pipes are made of copper)?
  2. Do you know how to use a PEX tube compression tool (if you have plastic piping)?
  3. Are you comfortable cutting your home’s pipes to connect the water conditioner?
  4. Have you done any plumbing work?

If you can’t answer yes to these questions, then you should probably have a professional do the installation for you.


How long does it take a plumber to install a water softener?

An experienced plumber can install a water softener in about 2 to 6 hours.

Should I have Home Depot install my water softener?

Home Depot offers installation services for the water softeners they sell. The work is done by contractors who have been vetted by Home Depot, and their work is guaranteed as part of the installation contract. This is a great service if you aren’t comfortable doing the work yourself.

Read my article about the cost of having Home Depot install your water softener.

Should I have Lowes install my water softener?

Lowes has a water softener installation option where they will send a contractor to your home to do the installation. This service is also guaranteed by Lowes. If you’re not planning to do the work yourself, it’s a great way to get the installation done by a professional.

Read my comprehensive article about the cost of having Lowes install your water softener.

How difficult is installing a Spruce water softener?

Installing a water softener is not difficult, but it can be a little challenging for some people. If you’re not comfortable doing the installation yourself, I recommend hiring a professional to do it for you. Most water softeners can be installed by the homeowner with a few basic tools and some knowledge of plumbing.

Final Take – Article Wrap Up

Installing a water softener can seem daunting, but with the right tools and instructions, it’s a manageable task. In this article, we’ve outlined the steps you need to take to install your own water softener as well as some tips for making the process go smoothly. If you have any questions or run into trouble while installing your water softener, refer back to this comprehensive guide for help.

Thanks for reading and happy softening!

The Filter Guy

Scott Birch is a water filtration installer and designer. He has worked in the industry for many years and is very familiar with and knowledgeable about residential water treatment equipment. Scott enjoys helping people get the most out of their water filtration systems and ensuring that their homes are getting the best possible quality of water.

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