How much water softeners cost depends on the type, size and features of the product. Prices can also vary significantly from one brand to another, and even between retailers selling the same water softener. In figuring out the cost of a water softener, customers should also consider any installation costs, as well as fees for maintenance and supplies.
The cost of a water softener primarily depends on the type of softening method it uses. The three main types of water softening methods include salt-based, salt-free and magnetic water softeners. In general, salt-based water softeners cost about $400 to $2,700, depending on the model. Salt-free water softeners range in price from about $1,300 to $3,000. Magnetic water softeners may cost just under $100, or as much as $800. Most water softener manufacturers recommend having a professional plumber install the equipment, which can add as much as $600 to the initial cost.
The type and size of water filter, and therefore the cost, also depends on how hard the water is and how much water the household uses. Water hardness is measured in grains per gallon (GPG), and can be measured using a test kit. Water with 5 to 10 GPG requires a 32,000 grain system for most households. Water with 11 to 20 GPG requires a 32,000 grain system for households with one to four people, a 40,000 grain system for five to six people, and a 48,000 grain system for seven to eight people.
Salt-based water softeners are available in both timer-based and on-demand versions. Models that use a timer, and soften the same amount of water each day, often cost less to buy, but may cost more to operate over the long term than on-demand water softeners, which adjust the amount of water softened as needed. Timer-based water softeners may cost anywhere from $50 to a few hundred dollars less than on-demand models. Salt-free water softeners also use less water than salt-based models, because they do not require extra water for backwashing.
In addition to the costs of the water softening unit and any installation costs, water softeners may also have monthly maintenance costs, and costs for supplies. Salt-based water softeners, which are the most common type, require the owner to periodically add salt to the brine tank. Owners can purchase salt for about $6 per 40 lbs., with the cost of salt and extra water estimated at $200 per year. Some owners prefer to hire a water softening company a monthly fee to add salt and maintain the system for convenience. Salt-free and magnetic water softeners generally have no ongoing monthly costs, since they do not require additional supplies unless they need repairs.
Since the water softening process can make water unsuitable for drinking or for watering plants, customers may also want to consider the cost of adding a water filtration or reverse-osmosis system, which will remove the added salt from the water. Alternatively, customers may want to consider the cost of buying bottled water for drinking, or having a professional plumber set up the system so that some areas of the house, such as the kitchen sink and garden hose, receive water that is not softened.
Kate Lee's how-to articles have been published in "Sew Simple," "Craft Stylish" and "Soft Dolls & Animals" magazines. She has been sewing for more than 20 years and has a master's degree in technical writing.