Installing a whole-home water softener costs an average of $1,500 but could range between $500 and $6,000. Water softeners remove the minerals from hard water, giving your water a more pleasant feel and taste right out of the tap. We’ll break down the cost of a water softener system, types of water softeners, and money-saving tips below.

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Typical Price Range: $500 - $6000
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Water Softener System

A water softener system can cost $500–$6,000, depending on the type of system.

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Water Heater System

Water heater replacement costs can range from $820–$3,500.

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The average plumbing job costs $150–$500.


What Is a Water Softener System?

Hardness or softness refers to the concentration of dissolved minerals—namely calcium and magnesium—found in water. Hard water has a high proportion of these minerals. Though they aren’t dangerous to your health, they leave behind a residue called scale. Scale can build up in pipes and leave a film on your hair and skin. Hard water can also make soaps and detergents less able to lather, leave sediment behind in your water heater, and dry out your skin.

Water softeners work by removing or neutralizing these minerals from your home water. An ion exchange water softener uses a water filtration system with magnetically charged resin beads to attract minerals. Alternatively, some systems use conditioners, magnets, or reverse osmosis to create soft water.

Water Softener System Cost

The average price to professionally install a whole-home water softener is $1,500, including both materials and labor. Depending on the type of system you choose, the process could cost as little as $500 or as much as $6,000. You’ll also need to budget between $10 and $50 per month for system maintenance.

Water Softener System Cost by Type

The most significant price factor is the type of water softener you choose. The most popular type is an ion exchange system, which can have one or two tanks and must be refilled with sodium or potassium salts periodically. 

There are also salt-free water softeners that can service a whole home. Reverse osmosis systems and distillers are typically only used to create drinking water, but proponents say they dramatically improve the taste of tap water. Find price ranges for different units minus the installation cost below.

Cost by Type of Water Softener System

Type of SystemCost
Ion exchange (single tank)$400–$1,700
Ion exchange (double tank)$1,000–$2,500
Reverse osmosis (point-of-use)$100–$500
Reverse osmosis (whole house)$4,000–$11,000
Salt-free conditioner$500–$3,000
Water distiller$1,200–$4,000

Water Softener System Cost by Capacity

The larger the system, the greater the volume of hard water it can soften and the higher the price. Capacity is measured in the number of grains of hard minerals the system can remove. The capacity you need depends on how many people live in your home, how much water they use, and your water’s hardness. 

The grain capacity of whole-home systems usually starts at 24,000 grains. Smaller units of about 16,000 grains are available, but they aren’t substantially cheaper. Note average price ranges by grain capacity in the table below.

Cost by Grain Capacity

Grain CapacityCost
Up to 24,000 grains$300–$600
32,000 grains$400–$1,000
48,000 grains$500–$1,200
64,000 grains$1,000–$1,500
80,000 grains$1,200–$1,800
96,000+ grains$1,500–$2,500

Cost Factors for Water Softener Systems

Your home size, region, and selected brand can also impact water softener pricing. When evaluating these factors, it’s important to know that water hardness is measured in either parts per million (PPM), milligrams per liter (mg/L), or grains per gallon (GPG) of calcium and magnesium. The GPG figure is a number between 0 and 20, and anything at a seven or above is considered hard water. PPM and mg/L are two ways of saying the same thing, and one GPG equals about 17.1 PPM or mg/L.

Home Size Costs

Your home’s square footage affects price less than the number of people who live there and the amount of water they use. The average adult uses about 90 gallons of water per day for drinking, bathing, cleaning, and more. Review your home’s water bill if you want a more specific estimate. Most four-person households need a water softener system with about a 24,000-grain capacity, but this can depend on where you live. See the section below to calculate your home’s water softening needs.

Hardness LevelMilligrams per LiterParts per MillionGrains per Gallon
Moderately hard61–12061–1203.5–7
Very hard180+180+10.5+

Regional Costs

The hardness of your home’s water supply is regional, as water in different areas contains different trace minerals. Water hardness varies between states and even counties. The U.S. Geological Survey maintains a map of water hardness across the U.S., but you can get more specific information about your area by contacting your city’s water department. If your home uses well water, you can purchase a test kit for $10–$20 and test its hardness yourself.

Note that if your household uses a lot of water at the same time—for example, if all four members of the family shower in the morning—you may want a system with a higher capacity to be sure it can keep up with surges of heavy use. Here’s a rough estimate of pricing for a four-person household with average water usage based on local water hardness.

Cost by Water Hardness

Water HardnessNecessary CapacityApproximate Water Softener Cost
6–9 GPG24,000 grains$300–$600
10–12 GPG32,000 grains$400–$1,000
13–18 GPG48,000 grains$500–$1,200
18–20 GPG64,000 grains$1,000–$1,500
20+ GPG80,000 grains$1,200–$1,800

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Brand Costs

The brand of water softener system you choose also plays a role in your total cost. Most brands offer a range of sizes, with larger units being more expensive. High-end water softeners with large capacities or sophisticated technology are also pricier than smaller, traditional models.

Cost by Water Softener Brand


Additional Costs for Water Softener Systems

The same system may require different installation costs for different homeowners. Here are some factors that may raise or lower your water softener installation cost.

Labor and Installation Costs

The labor costs to install a water softener depends heavily on the type of system you select, your plumbing’s accessibility, and the installation’s complexity. Point-of-use water softeners that attach to a single appliance or faucet may only cost $100 to $300 to install. Whole-home systems usually start at $300 and can cost as much as $1,000 or more. 

Licensed plumbers typically charge $50 to $200 per hour. If the area near your home’s water main is difficult to access, water softener installation will take additional time and cost more than average.

Water Testing

Simple DIY water test kits are usually cheap, costing less than $50. However, if your home has its own well or you have concerns about water quality, you might want to hire a water treatment specialist to perform a more in-depth test. Professional water testing can cost up to $500.


Some water softeners can work with a home’s existing plumbing systems. Others require a new plumbing loop that directs the softened water only to the necessary indoor areas of the home. A soft water loop has multiple long-term benefits, including extending the life of the water softener and preventing mineral buildup. On the other hand, a loop requires up-front plumbing costs of $500 to $2,000.

Inspections and Permits

Your city or county may require an inspection or permit to install a whole-home system. Contact your local permit office for costs and guidelines before starting your project.

General Contractor

In most cases, you don’t need a general contractor to oversee water softener installation. However, if the installation is a part of a larger home improvement project, a general contractor will add about 20% to your total labor costs.


If you’re replacing a water softener rather than installing one for the first time, your home’s plumbing may already be prepared for installation, reducing overall costs.

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Five Types of Water Softener Systems

There are various types of water softener systems that each address water hardness differently. Nearly all commercially available water softeners fall into one of the five following categories.

Ion Exchange Systems

Ion exchange systems, also called salt-based water softeners, are the most popular. They require sodium or potassium pellets  and may have one or two tanks, depending on the system’s capacity. Dual-tank systems can handle a greater volume of water but are more expensive than systems with a single tank. In ion exchange systems, water flows into a mineral tank full of negatively charged resin beads. These beads attract calcium and magnesium and trap them, softening the water.

A control valve determines when the resin beads in the first tank are fully saturated with minerals. When this happens, the first tank is backflushed of debris. Next, the salty water from the second tank, called the brine tank, is released and recharges the resin. The brine tank must be stocked with sodium or potassium, which coats the resin beads and restores their negative charge. In a single-tank water softener, both of these tanks are housed in one cabinet.

Ion exchange systems have some drawbacks. First, they need monthly refills to keep their charge. Secondly, this type of system adds trace amounts of salts to your drinking water, which can be a problem for people on low-sodium diets. Potassium is recommended for ion exchange water softener system, but it’s also somewhat expensive. It’s typical to use one or two refill bags per month, which cost $5 to $10 for sodium and $35 to $45 for potassium.

Salt-Free Systems

The term “salt-free water softener” usually refers to a type of treatment that doesn’t actually remove calcium and magnesium from water. Instead, these systems use water conditioners to chemically treat the minerals so that they don’t stick to things and form scale.

Water Distilling Systems

Distillation heats water to a high temperature near boiling point to create steam. Minerals and other contaminants can’t vaporize along with the steam, which is then cooled and condensed back into clean liquid water. Due to the lengthy wait for heating and cooling, water distillers are only useful for small-volume tasks like creating drinking water.

Magnetic Systems

Magnetic water softeners use electromagnets clamped around water pipes to prevent the minerals in the water from forming scale. Similar to salt-free systems, they don’t remove minerals from water but purport to treat them instead. Unlike chemical water conditioners, there’s limited evidence that they actually work. 

Reverse Osmosis Systems

Reverse osmosis systems are the most effective, the most complex, and the most expensive. As it travels, water passes through several prefilters to remove contaminants like chlorine, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and sediment. Then, these systems force water at high pressure through a very tight water filter called a semi-permeable membrane. 

Just like distillation, reverse osmosis doesn’t happen at the speed of a faucet. Small volumes of water must be prefiltered, so reverse osmosis systems are usually only used as a single-point system for creating drinking water. You would only need a whole-home system if your water was severely contaminated. Additionally, the process creates a great deal of wastewater that isn’t useful for most household tasks.

How To Save Money on a Water Softener System

Whole-home water softener systems can be costly, but there are some ways to save, particularly in the long term. The following tips will help you spend less on soft water:

  • Do your research: Shop smart, wait for seasonal sales, and take advantage of any manufacturer rebates. You’ll also want to choose a unit with a good warranty.
  • Consider renting: Some companies rent water-softening systems at a lower price than the cost to buy and install them. This may be a good option for renters. If you own your home and plan to stay in the area for multiple years, purchasing your system is likely more cost-effective.
  • Opt for metered control valves: If you’re purchasing an ion exchange system, look for one that has an on-demand or electric metered control valve. Systems with timer-based controls are often cheaper, but they tend to run recharge cycles before they’re needed, wasting sodium or potassium refills.
  • Know your home’s needs: Make sure you’re using the right size and capacity for your home to get the maximum benefits.

Pros and Cons of Water Softener Systems

✔ Your home’s water will work better for cleaning

✔ You won’t have to worry about water stains or soap scum

✔ You’ll save on plumbing and appliances by protecting them from mineral scale

✘ Whole-house water softening systems can be expensive to buy, install, and repair

✘ Ion exchange systems could cause problems by leaving salt deposits

✘ Creation and disposal of wastewater isn’t environmentally friendly

When To Buy a Water Softener System

Aside from actual testing, here are some signs that your home’s water is hard enough to require a water softening system.

  • Your water has an unusual or unpleasant taste or odor
  • You notice soap scum left behind when you use bar soap
  • Soap, shampoo, and other cleaners don’t form enough lather
  • Your hands still feel slimy or filmy after washing
  • Your hair and skin feel dry after washing
  • Your pipes, faucets, or showerheads frequently clog
  • Your clothes don’t feel clean, and the colors seem to fade quickly
  • You notice water leaving stains on countertops and appliances

DIY vs. Professional Water Softener Installation

Some point-of-use water softeners attach directly to faucets or the pipes beneath the sink. These are good for do-it-yourself (DIY) installation. Whole-home systems deal with such a large volume of water that they’re best installed by a licensed plumber. 

It’s also common for Local Departments of Public Health to have codes that residential water softening systems must meet. Therefore, we recommend professional installation for whole-home water softeners.

How To Choose a Professional Installer

Take the time to talk to and get quotes from at least three different professionals before hiring one to install your water softener. Here are some questions you can ask.

  • Is your license and insurance current?
  • Do you have experience installing water softeners?
  • What permits do I need to install my system?
  • What is your company’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating?
  • Where can I read reviews from your past customers?

Benefits of Water Softening

If you’re still wondering whether a water softening system is right for your home, here are the most prominent benefits.

  • Your drinking water will taste and smell better
  • Your hair, skin, and laundered clothes will feel softer
  • Soaps, detergents, and shampoos will be more efficient
  • Any fixtures and appliances that use water will run more efficiently and last longer
  • Your energy bills will likely be lower because of improved water heater performance
  • You won’t need to scrub away soap scum and water stains or descale coffee pots and kettles

Our Conclusion

If you’ve spotted signs of hard water in your home, on your skin and hair, or from water taste, you’ll likely benefit from a water softening system. Having minerals like calcium and magnesium in your water won’t hurt you, but they can make domestic life less pleasant and lead to unwanted expenses.

Research the type and capacity of system that’s right for you, and make sure it’s properly installed by a professional. Fill out this simple form or enter your ZIP code into the tool below to connect with local plumbers for professional water softener system installation.

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