How to Install a Water Softener

Written by: James Smith

Updated: October 28, 2019

If you want to install a water softener yourself to save on what can be expensive plumbing services, here are all the steps you need to take to make sure your household has soft water in no time!

Plumber installing a water softener

Perhaps you are looking at how to install a water softener to decide if this is a task you can take on yourself for your household. Maybe you would at least like a basic understanding of what should be done so you know what questions to ask your tradesman, or maybe you are a technician learning new skills. Whatever the reason, here are the steps involved.

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Do you really need a water softener installed?

Before you even think about the first step when looking at how to hook up a water softener, you need to decide whether you actually need a water softening system. Having hard water flowing through your pipes can cause all sorts of problems for you, your family and the day-to-day running of your household.

If you’ve noticed that your skin is dry and itchy and that you can’t get much of a lather from your soap or shower gel, if you see white spots of residue on your plates and cutlery after washing or if your clothes aren’t particularly clean even after being washed, you may well have a hard water problem.

How to test for hard water

If you aren’t sure if you need to soften your water, you could always get a DIY testing kit. But, a quick and simple test you can do by yourself at home which will give you a good idea is to add some washing up liquid and some water into a clear bottle.

Shake it vigorously and see what happens. If you get lots of soap suds quickly and the water below them is clear, you probably have soft water already. If, on the other hand, you don’t get much foam and the water underneath is cloudy, the chances are the water in your home is hard.

For a more detailed guide to testing, don’t miss our guide!

water softener installation

Which type of water softening system is best for me?

If you are intending to do your own water softener system installation, it may be wise to choose a system that is easier to install than its competitors. For instance, if you are looking for the simplest DIY project, then it is best to opt for a magnetic system, as these are widely considered to be the easiest to install, whereas salt-based systems can vary in terms of difficulty.

Be warned that these magnetic and electronic systems aren’t strictly water softeners. They don’t actually make your water any softer, they just inhibit hard water particles from bonding to pipes and appliances. So, they don’t offer all of the benefits of an actual salt-based water softener.

Recommended Reading: So how does a water softener actually work?

Weigh up whether you can definitely do it

As with any job where you might usually employ a tradesman to carry out the work for you, you need to be really honest with yourself about whether you have the capabilities to carry out the work yourself.

Yes, it can be tempting to think you will save costs. But, you might actually end up spending more in the long run if you start the job and then are unable to finish it. You will need some mid-level plumbing knowledge in order to hook up a water softener and you need to bear in mind that you need to be comfortable cutting some pipes. Make yourself a detailed checklist before you even start your task to make sure you are completely clear on the steps you need to work through.

All being well, the installation of your system should not take you more than half a day, if you are thorough and methodical. If you don’t feel you are able to install yourself, or you don’t have the tools or the time, you could look at whether the retailer you purchase from can also include installation, or you could choose a plumber who comes recommended and who you trust to do the job properly.

water softener in warehouse

Do you have the right tools?

One factor you need to consider when thinking about how to install a water softener is whether you have the correct tools at home in order to be able to do so. If not, is there someone you can borrow them from, or are you prepared to purchase them before you get started?

Depending on the system you decide to install, you are likely to need a tape measure, so you can be precise in your work, specialist pipe cutters and a wrench, tee and gate valves, compression and union fittings, tubing, a solvent such as PVC as well as tape and a torch to make sure you can see what you are doing. You may also need to do some soldering work.

How comfortable are you using these tools? Do you have access to them?

Water softener system installation – salt-based systems

So, presuming you have established that you have hard water and you have chosen the system you want to use, here is how to plumb a water softener. These are the steps you will need for a general salt-based system, which can be a good option if you have particularly hard water.

But read on and you will also find advice on installation for a magnetic system, which can be easier, and for a reverse osmosis system, which can be a more complex task for the amateur plumber.

two water softeners

Step 1: Read your instructions and turn off your water

It goes without saying that you should thoroughly read the instructions which came with your water softening system to get the installation process clear in your mind before you start, and to make sure you have all tools that could be necessary.

You will also need to turn off your water before you hook up your water softener, to make sure you don’t have any leaks. So, warn members of your household that the water will be off until you finish so they can do any tasks requiring water before you begin. You will also need to make sure that your water heater is switched off before you start.

Step 2: Where will you position your water softener?

There are lots of issues to bear in mind when thinking about where to position your water softener, so you may find that you need to consult a professional. Plus, the matter is further complicated because not every system needs to be in the same place. If you want to install a system that will provide soft water to your entire house, for example, you will need to make sure your water softener is as near as it can be to the place your water supply comes into your home.

You also need to make sure that not just your cold water but also your heated water benefits from your new soft water because it could suffer the effects of hard water build-ups if you don’t. Your system must also be placed upstream from your water heater because it could sustain heat damage otherwise. You may also have to make sure you position your water softener close to a drain if you are putting in place a system that uses salt or a reverse osmosis system.

If you really aren’t sure, but you want to carry out the installation process yourself, then opt for a magnetic system because these don’t have as many restrictions on where they can be sited.

installing a whole house water filter

Step 3: Cut your main line

Now it’s time to get started with the actual work of installation. You will need to decide where on your main line you want your water softener to be.

Choose a point before the main line gets to your hot water heater. Then, you will need to cut into your pipe using a specialist pipe-cutting tool. Just make sure you have a bucket to hand so that you can catch any residual water in the pipe. That way, you won’t create too much of a mess.

Step 4: You need to put an elbow fitting in

The next stage is to fit an elbow-shaped pipe fitting into the cut you have made in your main line. If you aren’t familiar with elbow fittings, it really is what you would expect. This is a pipe-shaped like an elbow, or into a bend, which means that you can add another fitting at an angle. In this case, the elbow fitting will allow you to feed your water softener system filter.

Step 5: Measure your pipes

Now you need to make sure you take measurements accurately of the pipes which will go to your system’s bypass valve. You need to be precise when you cut your pipes to the correct size, soldering on any fittings necessary before actually connecting up the pipes onto your existing bypass valve.

Step 6: Attach pipes and clamp hose

You should have compression fittings already supplied with your water softening system. Use these to attach your pipes to the unit you have chosen. You then need to make sure that you direct the hose you attach from the unit at the very least two inches above the place where you will be draining your water away.

You may have chosen a drain in the floor, for example, or the sink in your utility unit. Just make sure not to put the hose too close to the drain you opt for because you could have problems with back siphoning. Check that you have attached your hose very securely to avoid any leaks.

Step 7: Connect your overflow tube

There are just a few more steps to go to finish hooking up your soft water system. Take a look at the instructions you have to see how high and where you need to connect your overflow tube to your brine tank before making that connection. Then, you will be in a position to turn your valve around to the “bypass” setting so that you can check your system by running the water through it to make sure there is no sediment remaining.

Step 8: Plug in your unit

Finally, it is time to plug in your water softening unit. You need to set your valve so that the position it is in is backwash mode. Make sure that you very gradually open up the valve. Don’t do it too quickly or you might find that air gets stuck in your pipes. Then, you can simply take a look at your instruction manual to determine how to add salt to your tanks so your water softening system can begin doing what you want it to and providing you with soft water.

water softener system
A typical water softener system

A simpler way

This is a general guide to how to install a water softener. But the exact process could vary depending on the system you choose and how much of your household you want it to provide soft water for. If this sounds too complicated, you may wish to choose to ask a professional for help, or you could decide on a magnetic system that has fewer steps.

To install a magnetic water softening system, you will still need to decide where you want to place it, but a magnetic softener will give you greater flexibility. You will also find that magnetic systems tend to be smaller than their counterparts as they are designed to simply sit on top of your pipes, which makes them a good option for smaller spaces.

Just follow the instructions which come with your magnet system to open up the box and fit it so it circles your pipework in your chosen spot. Make sure the water is flowing through your system in the right direction to provide soft water to your home. Then, you can just secure the box using the screws which you should have received with your system.

Just remember that a magnetic system is nowhere near as effective as a salt-based water softener.

Do I need to install it before or after the water filter?

This is a tough question that tends to have different answers depending on who you ask.

The dilemma is this:

The water softener will protect and prolong the life of your water filter as it will protect it from harmful scale build-up. Limescale will make your water filter less efficient, less effective, and reduce its lifespan.

The water filter will protect the water softener resin from large particles that render it less effective, reduce its lifespan, and make it less efficient.

However, there is a sweet spot where you can find a balance between the two contradicting statements. The answer is to run a sediment pre-filter before the water softener. This protects the softener from large particles like dirt and sand. Then, run the larger water filter system after the water softener.

It’s important to note that you want a sediment pre-filter with as high a water flow rate as possible. The effectiveness of the water softener’s backwashing (how it replenishes) depends on the incoming water flow rate. We don’t want to throttle the water pressure here.

The Rusco Sediment Water Filter is ideal for this purpose and allows large water flow rates and high water pressure.

Time to enjoy your soft water

Just because you live in an area where there is hard water, that doesn’t mean that you have to put up with using hard water in your home. Once you have installed your soft water system, you can enjoy the benefits which come with having soft water. While hard water has not been found to be harmful to your health, some people do prefer the taste of soft water as it does not contain as much sediment and mineral content.

Plus, now that your new water softener is in place, you are likely to start noticing big changes to how clean you, your home and your clothes feel. You should now be able to use far less soap and detergent to get a good lather in order to be able to wash your skin and your laundry. Plus, your water softener should ensure that you spend less money on any plumbing problems and appliance breakdowns because it will reduce any blockages in your pipes.

Now that your water softener is installed, you can sit back, pat yourself on the back for a job well done and enjoy the benefits soft water brings. You might even want to do the bottle test again with some washing-up liquid and water to see the difference you have made to the hardness of your water by installing a new water softening system in your home.

About the Author James Smith

James is the chief water geek here at His mission is to empower the consumer and allow people to take control of their health. His passion for water health is contagious, hopefully unlike your tap water!

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