Is the Water Softener Connected to the Sprinkler System?

Is the Water Softener Connected to the Sprinkler System?

So you just got a new home water softener system and have some questions. While you’re happy with the quality of water coming out of your taps, you may be wondering if your sprinkler system, too, is using softened water. Is your new water softened connected to your sprinkler system?

Whether or not a water softener is connected to a home sprinkler system depends on where the water softener is installed. If the water softener unit is installed upstream of connected outside piping, sprinkler water will likewise be softened. However, there are some risks involved in watering a yard with some types of softened water.

Keep reading to learn more about how water softeners are installed, whether your system hooks up to outside piping, and how softened water may harm your grass.

Related articles:
Ultimate Guide to Water Softeners: Everything You Need to Know
Can You Get a Water Softener for the Shower Only?

Will Softened Water Find Its Way to My Sprinkler System?

Does this mean that the water coming out of your hose or sprinkler system is softened, as well? Or does the water you use in your garden still have the same old rates of calcium?

This all really depends on where the water softener unit was installed, and how your outdoor water supply fits into this layout. If your outside piping is separate from the main line, this means it is entirely disconnected from the rest of your home’s water system.

In this case, no matter where your water softener is installed it won’t affect your sprinkler’s water. It will still be hard and contain the same levels of calcium and magnesium that untreated water would contain.

However, if your outside water line is connected to your main line and is downstream from your newly installed water softener unit, this means that your sprinkler water is being treated, as well, and is now “soft”.

Tracing Your Piping Can Pin Down Soft Water Output

One of the simplest ways to understand where your water goes is to look at the piping in your basement or cellar. While many new homes are built with a water softener in mind (keeping the outside and inside water lines separated), older homes may not have this feature.

Make sure you know where each and every pipe is, and where in your home or on your property each pipe delivers its water. Understanding where your exterior water system is located will help you understand if this water, too, passes through your softener tank, and can help you decide where to install a brand-new unit.

New Piping Can Be Added to Bypass Water Softening

If you find that your outside line is connected downstream of the water softener unit, a simple reroute of the plumbing can take care of this. The line can be split, and the hose line connected to your home’s water with a new pipe that connects upstream of the water softener.

This is something you will likely want to outsource to an experienced plumber. It’s not a complicated job for them, though, and allows you to keep your water softener system intact while a workaround is put in place.

This will be especially helpful if your water softener unit does not come with a bypass valve or any way to temporarily halt treatment. A physical plumbing bypass will also ensure that your sprinkler water is neutral, and safe to use on all plant types.

Water Softener Can Harm Plant Life

Depending on the type of water softener unit you have installed, the treated or softened water can, in fact, harm your yard. Water-softener systems that are free of sodium won’t harm your yard. Soft water that has passed through salt to remove its calcium and magnesium deposits now contains a higher level of chloride, which can harm delicate grasses, flowers, and other plant life in your garden.

The sodium or salt in softened water can dehydrate grass and harm the long-term health of your garden. While using soft water is not as immediately harmful as watering your lawn with seawater, elevated levels of sodium in treated water can harm your lawn with prolonged use.

You may notice your garden struggling to thrive, refusing to grow as beautifully as it should or even dying. If you’re noticing poor growth, shriveled plants, or dying flowers, your treated water could be to blame. So, apart from calling a plumber, what options do you have?

In Lieu of Soft Water, Rainwater is Great for Plants

One option to keep your lawn water healthy is to irrigate it using rainwater. A rain barrel is fairly inexpensive, and can help collect naturally distilled, plant-safe water for later use in watering cans. Rainwater is also free and saves you quite a bit of money over expensive plumbing work.

This is an easy fix for your lawn if your water softener unit doesn’t come with a bypass valve. Most modern systems have a valve, button, or lever to temporarily exclude salt from your home’s water flow.

Your Water Softener May Have a Bypass Valve

Check your home’s water softener unit for a bypass valve. This may also be a button, or a metal lever. Pulling this lever or pushing the button will cut off your home’s water from the sodium being used to treat it. This will allow untreated, hard water to flow through your pipes again until the valve is returned to its normal position.

Activate this feature, and then feel free to water your lawn salt-free. Once you’re done, return the valve to its normal position, and your home’s water will be treated once again.

This is a great fix for those who realize that their exterior water pipes are downstream from their treatment unit, and who don’t have the extra money to spend on expensive plumbing solutions.


If your exterior and interior water lines are connected, and if your exterior connecting pipe is located downstream from your water softener unit, your sprinkler system water is now treated, as well. This softened water, while good for dishes, contains amounts of sodium that can harm plants.

Workarounds for this problem include using rainwater to water your garden and lawn, hiring a plumber to redirect piping upstream of the treatment unit, or simply using the unit’s bypass valve to halt softening while you water the yard.

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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