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How to Install Water Softener

by Carl Jensen

Plumber, Welder, Contractor

> 2 min read

Old and new water softener tanks in a utility room waiting for replacement to remove minerals from hard water

Water softeners remove harmful minerals from water and make the supply easier on pipes and appliances while improving the drinking water quality for better health.

Hard water has a high mineral content, specifically in magnesium and calcium. While these ions are beneficial in small quantities, they can stain sinks, cause build-up in pipes, and be harsh on the skin and clothes.

In hard water areas, many people have a water softener appliance to extract these harmful ions. If you’re considering investing in one, read on to discover how to install your own water softener.

View of the valve assembly of a water conditioner

Installing a Water Softener: Instructions

Before purchasing a water softener, there are testing kits you can use that determine the mineral levels. This test allows you to decide what kind of water softener you will need, the capacity, and whether you need a model with additional features, such as a sediment pre-filter or carbon block filter. For example, if you require a low-sodium diet, you may need a salt-free filter that won’t add additional sodium to your water supply when removing harmful minerals. You should also consider the size of softener you're getting and try to estimated the dimensions fit to your available space.

Many water softeners come with a bypass valve that needs to be assembled and attached to the appliance. In some areas, local plumbing codes require you to fix shutoff valves to the pipes that lead to and from the bypass valve. This is so the water flowing to and from the softener can be easily switched off. You should follow your manufacturer's instructions if your softener comes with a bypass valve.

Step 1: Clear the area 

  • Before you begin the first step of how to install a water softener, you should clear and sweep the area where you are going to be placing it.
  • Position the softener and measure the connecting pipes.
  • Ensure the unit’s orientation is correct: the INLET valve should be connected to the water supply, and the OUTLET valve should be positioned toward the water heater.

Step 2: Turn off the water supply valves in the house

  • An essential step before installing your water softener, you should make sure you turn off the heater’s water supply along with the power to the water heater.
  • If you have an electric water heater, you should turn off the circuit breaker. If you have a gas water heater, you should turn off the gas valve. 
  • Drain the pipes by opening either the hose bibbs or bottom-floor faucets.

Step 3: Cut into the water supply line

  • Use a pipe cutter to cut into the water supply line.
  • Install the elbow fittings to run two lines to the OUTLET and INLET parts of the bypass valve.
  • It’s important you pay great attention to detail when it comes to the orientation of this part. This is because hard water needs to run into the softener INLET, with soft water flowing out to supply the home’s fixtures.

Step 4: Cut and install the pipes

  • Next, cut and install the pipes that lead toward the bypass valve.
  • Fasten the fittings before you attach them to the plastic bypass valve.
  • If your pipes are too big, you should use a reduced fitting so you can build the correct size ones in.
  • Your softener will have compression fittings supplied, so use these to attach the pipes to the appliance.

Step 5: Clamp the drain hose to the water softener

  1. Once you’ve clamped the drain hose to the unit, you should run it into a utility sink or drain. 
  2. Ensure the end of your hose is at least 2” above the drain hole and is clamped securely. This stops wastewater from bleeding around the edges.
  3. You should also size your drain hose up in relation to the INLET height and the distance of its run. For example, a ½” interior diameter line can run up to 15’ if its discharge is smaller than the INLET. If the discharge is slightly higher than the INLET, you’ll need ⅝” interior diameter for the same distance. 
  4. You should also ensure that the drain line is not positioned over 10ft. above the floor.
  5. For this step, consult your manufacturer’s guidelines.

Step 6: Connect the overflow tube to the brine tank

  • If there is any additional assembly to this part, be sure to consult the water softener instructions.
  • You should make sure that the discharge of the overflow is positioned below the overflow fitting.

Step 7: Set the bypass valve to the position titled ‘‘bypass’’

  • Once you’ve set the bypass valve, turn the water back on and run it through the softener for a few minutes. This will flush any sediment from the valve and evacuate any air from the pipes.
  • Next, open the valves to the water heater to recover its power, or turn your gas valve back on.
  • While doing this, you should check for any leaks and address any issues accordingly.

Step 8: Set the valve to “backwash”

  • Plug your water softener unit in and set the valve to the backwash position.
  • Next, press and hold the button titled regenerate until the backwash setting advances. 
  • However, this next step is optional; however, if you want to keep the setting from advancing further, unplug the power.

Step 9: Open the INLET control slightly

  • When opening the control on the bypass valve, ensure you do it slowly. This is so you can bleed off any air buildup. 
  • Once there is a steady flow of water running to the drain and the spluttering of the appliance ceases, you should open the INLET and OUTLET bypass controls fully.
  • Next, follow your manufacturer’s instructions and fill the tank with salt and water.

Step 10: Plug the power cord back in

  • The last step in the how to install a water softener process, you should re-press the regenerate button.
  • This will allow the unit to cycle to the next stage, repeating the process until the service setting is reached.
  • For the final step, program the controls of your water softener.

Enjoy Healthier Water With Your New Water Softener 

Understanding how to install a water softener makes it easier for you to construct and plumb in your very own appliance.

With these units extracting harmful minerals and replacing them with softer water, you’ll notice many positive differences when it comes to showering, drinking, washing up, and using your faucets.

Carl Jensen

About the Author

Carl Jensen is a plumber with over 50 years of experience in the industry, as well as related jobs like underwater welding. He runs a successful plumbing practice in Tampa, Florida, and contributes his plumbing expertise to our DIY articles, and helps to fact check and consult on most of our other stuff to boot.