Installing a Water Softener Isn’t So Hard: A 6-Step Guide

by Kim Causey
close up of a blue residential water softener

Hard water is a term used to describe water that contains a high level of dissolved minerals of— mostly calcium and magnesium. Hard water can be damaging to your appliances and your plumbing. It can also cause issues when you’re washing clothes, taking a bath or a shower, and can even affect the taste of the water you’re drinking and cooking with. When you have a mild hard water problem it’s normally nothing to be concerned about, but in more severe cases, it’s time to take action. Installing a water softener is the most common solution for your hard water issue.

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Read on for a step-by-step guide to installing a water softener.

When Does Hard Water Require a Softener?

The state health department recommends that water softeners are only advisable when testing shows the mineral content to exceed 7 grains per gallon. Before you install a softener in your home, you’ll want to get your water tested.

You may be able to call the local water utility company and have them tell you the precise measurements of the mineral hardness in your water. DIY test kits are also available, and can be purchased at any home center or hardware store.

How to Install a Water Softener

When installing a water softener, there are a few tools and materials you’ll need.


  • An adjustable wrench
  • Channel-lock pliers
  • A hacksaw
  • A propane tank
  • A screwdriver


  • A water softener with a bypass valve
  • Plumbing pipe fittings
  • Flexible supply tubes
  • Solder and flux
  • Half-inch diameter flexible drain tubing
  • Pipe clamps
  • Air gap fitting

The Steps

The first thing you need to do is find a location that is flat and accessible on all sides. All water softener systems make use of tanks — a mineral tank, and a brine tank. In some models, both tanks are combined into one unit. Make sure the location you choose provides access to an electrical outlet for the power needed, and to a drain for water discharge.

Step 1: Install the Bypass Valve

If you want a bypass valve on the unit, you can install one. Some units include one that allows you to shut off the water going through the water softener if repairs or temporary shutoff is needed. Push the bypass valve into place on the back of the unit and secure the valve with the clamp provided.

Step 2: Tie Into the Water Supply

A water softener can be hard-piped into the water supply system or it can be tied in using flexible supply tubes. Flexible supply tubes are normally the better of the two since they make it easy to remove or even bypass the softener in the future, should you need to.

To connect the water heater using flexible tubing, first shut off the water to your home and drain the pipes. Cut out a section of the water supply line and install an adaptor that will accept the flex tube fittings. The type of adaptors you’ll use will solely depend on the type of water supply pipes used in your home.

Connect the flex lines to the water supply pipes and then into the back of the water softener unit. Make sure the supply-side pipe is connected to the intel port on the water softener and the house-side pipe to the outlet port. Tighten the fittings using an adjustable wrench or channel-lock pliers.

Step 3: Connect Tubing Between Tanks

If your water softener has two tanks that are separate and stand apart, connect the brine tank to the mineral tank with the tubing included with the water softener. With most of these, the tubes are secured with hose clamps.

Step 4: Connect the Drain Tubes

Most water softeners will require that you have two drain tubes. One of the drain tubes connects to the control valve and is used to void the backwash water during the regeneration cycle. The other tube connects to the brine tank and serves as an overflow drain. Both lines then should run to the home drain — but they should not be connected together.

There are multiple ways to meet drain requirements. Often, homeowners run the drain lines to a floor drain, but you could also extend the drain line into the standpipe that also drains a washing machine, or into a utility sink or sump pit.

In most communities, you’re not permitted to connect the water softener drain directly into the home drain system without an air gap. There are special air gap fittings that allow you to connect the water softener’s drain tubes directly to a drainpipe or standpipe if you choose to go this route.

Step 5: Start the System

Now that you have the water softener installed, it’s time to turn on your home's water supply by opening the main shutoff valve. When you’re filling the water supply system, you need to make sure it’s done slowly, as sudden pressure can damage fittings, if you’re not careful. Open a cold-water tap somewhere in the house and allow air to escape as you’re refilling the pipes.

Next, you’ll need to follow the startup steps for your water softener, which will include plugging in your appliance, then setting the time of day and the water hardness level. The final step is to add the salt (or potassium chloride) and start the system. Make sure you read the manufacturer's recommendations about the type and quantity of salt or potassium chloride to use.

Step 6: Run a Backwash Cycle

You should also follow the manufacturer's instructions on running a backwash cycle on the water softener. This process is used to purge air from the system and loosen the plastic resin beads in the mineral tank and ensure the system is running properly. Check for leaks during this cycle. When it’s complete check the water level in the brine tank and make whatever adjustments are recommended.

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After this, your water softener should be good to use.

Installing a water softener can be a relatively simple do-it-yourself project if you have some basic plumbing knowledge. Should you doubt your ability to take on the project or you run into some trouble, call a professional to finish the job for you.

Since we’re all home now more than ever, being prepared for unexpected home repairs with a plan from HomeServe is important. Having a plan in place gives you the peace of mind knowing that you can simply call our 24/7 repair hotline for covered breakdowns. See what plans are available in your neighborhood.