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If you’re shopping for a new water softener, the first thing you’ll notice is how drastically their prices vary. You can find cheap, salt-free models for as little as $300, or spend enough to buy a used car for a premium, highly efficient model.
The key is to choose one that can handle your household’s water demands without going overboard. Keep reading for a rundown of what to look for in a water softening system and what price ranges are reasonable.
How Much? What Water Softener Prices to Expect
No one likes to get ripped off, and it’s hard to tell if you’re getting a fair deal on a product you don’t know much about. $800 would probably be overkill for a salt-free system, but for a dual-tank ion exchanger that would be a steal!
Confused? There are several factors that contribute to the price of a water softener. Let’s break it down.
The SIZE of a water softening system is a big one. You wouldn’t expect to get a 7-passenger SUV for the same price as a compact sedan, right? The same goes for water softeners; the larger the system, the pricier it’s likely to be. To assess what size you need, consider your water hardness, how many people live in your home, and how often you run multiple appliances or faucets at once. For example, a family of 6 living in a home with 4 bathrooms will require more water and a higher flow rate than a couple living in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo. (To clarify, the higher the flow rate, the more water you’ll be able to use at once without losing water pressure.) The same applies if we compare an area with extremely hard water to one with medium hardness.
The TYPE of water softener you choose is an even bigger element. Salt-free water softeners are less complicated (and less expensive!) than salt-based systems. For another car analogy, a car that uses standard fuel is rarely the same price as an electric vehicle of the same size. They use different technology with components that are different in price, and that’s reflected in the finished product.
Oh, and don’t forget about BRANDS. The more well-known and reputable the brand, the more the company tends to charge. That doesn’t mean they’re ripping you off, necessarily. It could just mean that you’re also paying for the assurance of better warranties, higher quality materials, and top-notch customer service. You don’t need to choose the most expensive brand, but choosing one that’s been around for awhile and has a long list of positive reviews is a much safer bet than purchasing a discount softener from a brand no one’s ever heard of.
Last but not least, FEATURES have an influence on price. There’s no need to spend extra on fancy gimmicks, but there are two features that are worth splurging on. First, a digital control head. This convenient addition will help you to set up your system quickly and easily. More importantly, it takes the headache out of checking to see if the system needs maintenance.
Second, metered regeneration. Salt-based water softeners are the most popular type, but they also need to regenerate to continue doing their job. Especially older models expect you to do this manually. The next step up is timed regeneration. Timed regeneration works well, but it tends to waste water and salt. Metered regeneration systems monitor water usage, only running a regeneration cycle when it’s really needed. In the long run, this leads to lower water bills and less wasted salt.
Typical Prices by Water Softener Type
|Water Softener Type||Price Tag|
|Standard water softener||$300.00 – $900.00|
|Portable water softener||$100.00 – $350.00|
|Salt-free water conditioner||$300.00 – $750.00|
|Magnetic water descaler||$100.00 – $200.00|
|Commercial water softening system||At least $1,000.00|
|Water softener tank||Up to $100.00|
The Traditional Choice: Salt Based Ion Exchange Whole House Water Softeners
Like we’ve said, salt-based ion exchangers for the whole house are by far the most common choice. They’ve been around for a while, so the technology they use is proven and reliable. Prices start around $300.00 and go all the way up to $900.00 or more, so what’s the difference?
Low-end water softeners with a 20,000 to 30,000-grain rating are a good place to start on the budget, but they won’t perform well for large households. While they will most likely do a decent job for a smaller home, they won’t soften water as well as a more expensive model. They will also be more prone to leaks and other mechanical breakdowns, and the warranties are rarely as comprehensive.
If you can, save for something that will last. 48,000 to 64,000 grains should be plenty for most household sizes. An 80,000-grain system will serve any home no matter how large with a seemingly endless supply of soft water. If money and space are no object, a dual tank model can give you unlimited softened water around the clock. That said, even for a dual tank softener, if it costs over $2,000.00 it’s safe to say you’re overpaying.
You can find reviews of our favorite water softeners here:
For Your RV: Portable Units
Portable water softeners are exactly what they sound like; small, inexpensive units intended for use on the road. While they’re not powerful enough to serve an entire home, they’re perfect for an RV or even a small apartment. For one of these, you shouldn’t need to shell out more than $350.00.
No Salt? No Problem: The Salt-Free Water Conditioner
Salt-free systems don’t work quite as well as salt-based ones, but they’re much better than nothing and a solid alternative for those on a strict, low-sodium diet. These usually range between $300.00-$750.00.
You will find a few magnetic water conditioners that are much cheaper, often only about $100. While these may be able to help reduce scaling and prolong the life of your appliances, they should never be relied upon if you’re looking to fully soften your water. Reviews are also mixed, so buy with caution.
If You Own Either a Business or a Mansion: Commercial Softeners
They’re called commercial softeners for a reason, so it’s unlikely that most homeowners will need a model this large. For certain businesses, however, this is a must-have purchase. Commercial water softeners can take on an incredible volume of water. The prices vary, but $1,000.00 is just the starting point.
Cost of the Tanks Alone
The tanks themselves are inexpensive in comparison to the cost of a new water softening system. Whether you need a brine or resin tank, both can be found for under $100.
If You’re Stuck Between Two Models, Choose the Upgrade
A good water softener will last for years and serve your home well. It’s always better to overestimate your water consumption than underestimate it. Each additional person in the house adds to your home’s water demands, so choose a properly-sized water softener that will be able to handle your water usage even if your family grows or your friend needs a place to crash.
In all likelihood, the price jump will be worth it. A higher end model will reduce scale, lower plumbing bills, improve the efficiency of heat exchangers, and even get cleaner clothes using less detergent!
Average Water Softener Installation Cost
When your wallet is feeling sore after spending a nice sum of money on your dream water softener, it’s understandable that you’ll want to avoid the added expense of hiring a plumber. Unless you have some plumbing experience yourself, however, forget about it! Some brands will even void your warranty if you try to do the install yourself, so save yourself the headache.
Most of the time, the installation costs range between $200-500, including all materials, labor, equipment, and cleanup. If you need to replace and get rid of an old softener, factor in an extra $50-100 or so for disposal.
Occasionally, plumbing expenses can be higher than this. If the softener needs to be installed in a hard-to-access location or if you have an older home that isn’t pre-plumbed, the install will be more complicated. In these cases, estimates will start around $750 and range all the way up to $3,500. Installation of a commercial unit can be nearly triple that.
For those who are particularly confident in their DIY skills, installation kits can be purchased online for $100 or less. Even with a kit, you’ll still need tools and know-how, so if the idea of cutting and joining pipes sounds foreign to you, leave it to a professional. Magnetic descalers are the one exception to the no-DIY rule.
To cut costs, consider going to an in-person retailer and asking them about water softener packages that include delivery and installation.
Don’t Forget to Factor in Maintenance
The maintenance of water softeners won’t usually break the bank, but it can come as a surprise if you don’t add up the costs ahead of time. Depending on the type of water softener you purchase, here’s what to budget for.
|Cost Factor||Price Tag|
|Softening salt||Up to $25.00 per month|
|Softening agent||Up to $20.00 per month|
|Water||$16.00 per month|
|Servicing||$10.00 – $15.00 per month|
Salt: Up to $25 Per Month
The primary of a salt-based water softening system is, you guessed it, salt. Sodium chloride or potassium chloride is stored in the brine tank and used to regenerate the resin bed when saturated with hard water buildup. How often regeneration will be required depends on how hard your water is and how much water you use. The more frequently the softener regenerates, the more you can expect to spend on salt.
A metered system will use less salt, as will models with a larger resin tank paired with partial regeneration. While there are a few other factors at play, they aren’t that significant. An average family of four usually goes through one 40-lb bag of salt each month. The price depends on the brand and how pure the salt is, but it’s not a major cost; at Home Depot, you can pick up a standard sized bag for less than $7. The upper limit is $25 per bag.
Other Softening Agents: Up to $20 Per Month
Water conditioners don’t use salt like traditional water softeners do, but they may use other conditioning agents. For example, some use citric acid in cartridge form that will require replacement every few months. Those usually cost $50+ per cartridge.
Water: About $16 Per Month
Traditional water softeners that rely on salt also use water during each regeneration cycle; an unfortunate but necessary side effect. The amount of water wasted during each cycle depends on the model, but your water bill will rise slightly. It’s hard to guess exactly how much, but a general average is around $200 a year.
Electricity: Don’t Even Worry About It
The amount of electricity that a water softener uses is so small that it’s negligible.
Servicing: Almost Free
Servicing your water softener is one job you’re definitely capable of doing yourself. Companies tend to recommend annual, professional servicing, but as long as you can read and manage the digital control head you can handle it just fine. Tip: Follow the instructions in the included manual for free!
Every few years, it’s a good idea to clean out the tanks and test your water. If any of this sounds like a headache, there are services available to help. For less than $150 a year, you can hire someone to deliver salt on a monthly basis, service the system, and make sure everything is running exactly as it should be.
Before You Buy
It’s impossible to find an exact figure, but before you make your final purchase do a few quick calculations. Add up the cost of the unit, installation, monthly salt/softening agents, and water expenses to get a rough idea of how much you’ll really be spending. For extremely hard or dirty water, you may need to factor in the price of extra pre/post-treatment.
Where to Buy a Water Softener
We always recommend buying water softeners online for a few reasons.
- For one, you can see a wide selection of water softeners at every price point without leaving your living room.
- The reviews are the real benefit; you can read in detail what other customers liked and disliked about the unit and weigh the pros and cons. Amazon is always a great choice for shopping around!
For those who just have to see something in person before they buy it, be sure to visit more than one supplier to be sure you’re getting a good deal. In some cases, you may be able to talk the price down or get a discount on installation.
We hope this guide helped you understand water softener system cost and narrow down your options! Questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments.