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A Breakdown of Water Softener Cost Considerations


If you’re ready to add a water softener system to your home, you likely have a lot of questions — and many of them lead back to cost. What should you expect to pay for soft water?

When it comes to water softeners, there’s a huge range of potential prices. You can expect anything between $500 and $10,000 — although a more standard cost for a professional-grade water softener might land closer to $5,000. However, as with most things, you get what you pay for: More advanced features, increased lifespan and reliable local service all add value to the overall water softener system.

With so much variation, how can you know what to expect in terms of cost? The truth is that, no matter which system you choose, the same few considerations will always determine the total price tag.

Here’s how to break down every water softener system cost.

Already know you need a softener? Schedule your free in-home water test and consultation to get professional recommendations and service from Culligan.

What is a Water Softener?

Before you can understand all the costs associated with a water softener, it helps to know a little about how softening works and what these systems are capable of.

Water softeners come in plenty of shapes and sizes, but they often look like a pair of large metal tubes or tanks. That’s because your standard salt-based softener has two main components:

  • Brine tank: This holds a saltwater solution.
  • Resin tank: This holds tiny resin beads.

Your water supply runs through the resin tank, where those tiny beads attract and trap hard water minerals like calcium and magnesium. This works like a magnet: The beads have a negative charge, while the minerals are positive. After that, soft water flows out to your taps.

Over time, calcium and magnesium can build up on the beads. That’s where the brine tank comes in. The saltwater solution is used to “rinse” the resin tank in a process called regeneration, which can happen automatically based on water usage or time intervals. (Hint: The best water softeners have smart features that help make regeneration more efficient.)

Consideration #1: Water Testing

Once you know what a water softener is and how it works, your job is to find the hardness level of your water supply. There’s only one problem: Unlike with other water issues, you can’t run your tap and “see” hardness. Instead, you need specific hard water measurements that provide an answer in the proper format.

That’s because water softener systems have a rating called grain capacity, which essentially tells you how hard the system can work. The harder your water is, the higher grain capacity you’ll need. As such, you can’t rely on guesswork when it comes to water hardness levels; you need exact numbers in grains per gallon, parts per million or milligrams per liter.

So, how do you get those numbers? Professional water testing is the best way to go.

Although DIY test kits are readily accessible, one misstep in the process could potentially throw off your results — and on top of that, you would have to interpret those findings yourself. Professional testing, on the other hand, lets you sit back and relax. Your local water expert can have all the answers you need in 30 minutes or less, and they’ll help you understand what the results mean, too. After your water test, you’ll get personalized recommendations that help you decide which water softeners to research.

The best part about professional water testing is that it can be free. That means this crucial first step doesn’t add a dollar to your overall water softener system cost.

Consideration #2: Water Softener System

A water test and your local water expert might tell you what your options are, but you still get the final say when it comes to the best system. This is also where the first big cost comes into play.

Remember, water softeners themselves can range in price. It’s easy enough to compare the numbers — but if you want a complete evaluation, you need to know what those numbers represent.

Here are just a few variables that determine the cost of a water softening system:


The most basic consideration is the type of water softener. This determines how the system works, what it does and — of course — how much it costs. The most common types include:

  • Smart vs. standard: A smart water softener comes with additional features and technology, while a standard system may be more bare-bones by comparison. However, even a standard setup should provide softened water; the difference should mostly be in features, not performance quality.
  • Well vs. municipal: Some softeners are specifically labeled as well water solutions. That’s not because you strictly need different kinds of softeners for well and city water, though. This is more often a way to bring attention to features that might benefit one or the other.
  • Softening vs. softening plus filtration: Although water filtration and softening are two different processes, some softeners have built-in mechanisms to address certain contaminants like iron.*
  • Salt vs. salt-free: A standard salt-based softener is the right fit for most homes. However, if you live in an area with brine restrictions, you may need a salt-free system, sometimes called a water conditioner.


One of the biggest considerations in water softener price is features. Think of these like heated seats or a sunroof in your car: The system works without them, but it may not be the best or most efficient experience.

The top features are:

  • Certification: The most reliable softener choices have been third-party tested and certified for the effective reduction of hardness (calcium and magnesium). Some may also be certified for barium and radium as well. Look for systems certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 44, NSF/ANSI Standard 372 and CSA B483.1.
  • Efficiency: Certain softeners give you more control over regeneration and therefore, can use less water and salt. Some Culligan® water softeners even have proprietary Aqua-Sensor® technology that monitors the condition of the resin beads and starts regeneration only when necessary.
  • WiFi connectivity: Some softeners connect to your phone via for mobile control and visibility.
  • Alerts: When you need a salt refill or even water softener repair, smart systems can alert you automatically.
  • Tracking: Learn about your water usage and set conservation goals with tracking options.
  • Programming: Want to use softened water more efficiently? Some features allow you to bypass certain areas, like your front lawn, so you can use soft water in the right places.


Larger, harder-working softeners will generally be more expensive. This considers both size and grain capacity. Keep in mind that you don’t strictly need the biggest water softener just because it works harder; the right size will depend on your water usage and hardness levels.


Remember, when it comes to water treatment solutions, you get what you pay for. Top water softening systems may be more expensive upfront, but they’ll generally last longer due to better manufacturing and parts. These same systems also tend to have a lower maintenance cost over their entire lifetime — which means you save plenty of money in the big picture.

Consideration #3: Water Softener Installation

Once you have your softener all picked out, it’s time to think about putting it in place. And for many, this is also where DIY money-saving solutions start to look tempting. After all, if you can cut down on the water softener installation cost by doing it yourself, why not give it a try?

As it turns out, there are lots of reasons not to try at all. The problem is that water softener installation can be a bit complicated and time-consuming. Unless you’re a plumbing expert with all the right tools and experience, you could risk permanent damage to your pipes, not to mention cross-contamination with septic or sewer lines.

That’s why professional water softener installation is always the way to go. Experts bring a lot of value to the table, including:

  • Experience: Most installers have been on the job plenty of times, which means they know how to work with softeners of all types and sizes. They’ll also know how the installation process differs depending on where your softener will be located in your home.
  • Expertise: Installers know all about pipes, water lines and other variables that the average person might not even consider. They’re also familiar with local regulations that might require a plumbing inspection or permit that you may not be able to access on your own.
  • Equipment: The chances are slim that you have every tool necessary for a full water softener installation, and that’s just fine. Your local experts can bring everything they need — and they know just how to use it all, too.

Essentially, the price of professional water softener installation covers speed and safety. Experts can get the job done without the risks that could make your entire project cost way more than you bargained for.

Remember to consider installation into the overall cost of your new softener system. In some cases, installation may be included with the price of the softener itself, so be sure to check the fine print and ask questions upfront.

Consideration #4: Water Softener Salt

Remember the brine tank that plays an important role in regeneration and helps the entire system efficiently remove hard mineral content? As you’ve probably guessed, this tank is full of salt — and that needs to be refilled regularly.

As such, water softener salt is another consideration in your overall price calculations. You can buy it yourself, often from the same supplier that sold your system and performed the installation. However, if you want to streamline the process and save yourself some trouble, it’s also possible to schedule water softener salt delivery. While this does add another cost variable, it comes with plenty of benefits — for example, not having to carry salt bags yourself and always having them right when you need them. This helps ensure an uninterrupted supply of soft water throughout your home.

Consideration #5: Water Softener Maintenance, Repairs and Fixes

When you buy a house, you can’t just consider the purchase price; you also have to think about ongoing maintenance and repairs. The same is true for a water softener — but the details might be surprising.

In truth, the biggest part of water softener maintenance is salt replacement, which can be solved with regular deliveries. Some systems even send alerts to your phone when it’s time to check salt levels. That means you generally don’t need to set aside much of your budget for long-term care.

However, that rule only works if you invest in a high-quality setup. The best water softeners are built to last and perform at high levels the whole time — but lower-end systems are manufactured differently. That means a smaller initial price tag could lead to bigger costs in the future. And if you didn’t purchase your softener from a professional water treatment company, you may have trouble finding someone to service your system.

Ultimately, it makes the most sense to buy a system that keeps its promises — so don’t forget to look for warranties that guarantee quality. You should also choose a manufacturer or provider with local service experts; that way, you can count on quick, knowledgeable help instead of having to look up DIY solutions.

Consideration #6: Replacing Your Water Softener

Water softeners can last up to 15-20 years in some cases. However, that depends on the type of softener you have — not to mention the maintenance and repairs it may need over time.

With that in mind, you shouldn’t need to worry too much about ongoing replacement costs as part of the total price of a new water softener – but again, that is the case only if you buy a reputable, well-manufactured system.

One thing you should consider, however, is whether you already have a softener. That’s because replacement is a different process from new installation and can change the overall price in some cases.

The Truth About Water Softeners: What You’re Paying For

Now that you know what you could be paying, it’s time to find out what you’re paying for. Why is a water softener worth the money?

Here are just a few top benefits:

  • Healthier-feeling skin and hair: Hard mineral content can build up in your hair and on your skin, causing dryness and irritation. A softener eliminates these issues and keeps you looking and feeling better.
  • Cleaner, brighter laundry: Hardness makes laundry dull and can trap fabric odors, but soft water is far kinder to your favorite clothes.
  • More efficient water-using appliances: Mineral buildup can make your water-using appliances less efficient and may even reduce their lifespan. Fortunately, softening stops that buildup and can prevent costly appliance repairs or replacements.
  • Easier cleaning: Soap lathers better with soft water and other cleaning products are more efficient, too.

Do these problems sound familiar?
Download our FREE Hard Water Solutions Handbook to learn more.


Water Softener System FAQs

Do you have more softening questions? Here’s what to know:

Does Every Home Need a Water Softener?

Hardness levels differ depending on your geographic location, among other factors. That means some homes may need softening more than others — and they may need higher-capacity systems, too. However, because hardness is so common across North America, it’s safe to assume that many homes could benefit from some level of softening.

Do You Pay for Resin Beads?

When you buy a softener system, almost everything is included — which means you don’t have to pay for resin beads, individual tanks or other parts on their own. Generally, the only “part” you buy separately is the salt.

Can You Have a Water Filter and a Softener?

Although some softeners have built-in filtration solutions for specific contaminants, complete filtration systems are separate and more comprehensive. Fortunately, you can have both in your home — and a water test will help identify the perfect combination of systems.

The Right Water Softeners at the Right Prices

Choosing a water softener can feel like a big responsibility, especially when there are so many price variables to consider. Fortunately, advice from a local water expert can get you on the right track — and that’s where a water test comes in.

Get started finding the right softener for your home. Schedule your free water test and consultation today.

*Contaminants may not be present in your water.

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