Hard water can damage your clothes, appliances, pipes, and more. Stop hard water in its tracks by installing a water softener. Here's how.
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By definition, hard water contains large amounts of minerals such as iron, calcium, and magnesium. These additions aren't necessarily dangerous for your health, but they can wreak havoc on clothes and home fixtures. Telltale signs of hard water include reddish stains, white mineral buildup in pipes and fittings, reduced cleaning ability of soaps and detergents, and soap-scum buildup. Hard water also can damage faucets and appliances.

Eliminate hard water with a water softener. This tool uses salt to capture minerals and periodically flush them away. The most efficient softener is one that flushes according to the amount of water used or the amount of minerals detected, rather than one that uses a timer. The more often it flushes, the more often you need to change the salt.  

A water softener can be installed in a day. And you don't need any special skills, just the ability to cut and join copper or steel pipe. Plan to install the water softener where water enters the house, usually in a basement. 

Editor's Tip: Softened water contains sodium, sometimes at levels undesirable for people with high blood pressure. You can install a bypass line for drinking water, drink bottled water, or install a whole-house filter.

What You Need

  • Groove-joint pliers
  • Screwdriver
  • Tubing cutter
  • Propane torch
  • Flux brush
  • Sandpaper
  • Wire reaming brush
  • Water softener
  • Flux
  • Solder

Step 1: Install Bypass Valve


Install the bypass valve provided by the manufacturer. Lubricate the O-rings, push the valve into the ports, and slip on the clips.

Step 2: Shut Off Electricity and Water


Shut off gas or electricity to the water heater and turn off the water supply at the main shutoff valve. Open faucets on the lowest floor to drain the line. Provide a stable, level surface near the main water line for the softener to rest on so it's easily accessible. Position the unit.

Step 3: Install Elbows


Break into the main supply line and install elbows. Make sure that hard water will enter the inlet and soft water will exit via the outlet. If the main supply pipe is larger than 3/4 inch, use reducer elbows. Local codes may require that you install three valves.

Step 4: Install Pipes


Install pipes leading down toward the bypass valve. Install the connecting parts supplied by the manufacturer and attach them by soldering a coupler on each line. Do all the soldering before installing any plastic parts.

Step 5: Connect Drain Hose


Connect the drain hose to the softener unit using the clamp provided. The drain hose must end at a point at least 1-1/2 inches above a drain, and it must be clamped firmly in place. Also connect the brine tank's overflow line.

Step 6: Check Grounding


If your electrical system is grounded to the cold water pipe, the water softener will interrupt the path to ground. Install the jumper strip supplied with the unit (shown) or use grounding clamps and an 8-gauge or heavier copper wire. If you're unsure how the house is grounded, call an electrician.

Step 7: Expel Air


Carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions for expelling air from the water softener. Usually this involves running water past the softener with the valve on "bypass," then pulling the valve out to the "service" position, which runs water through the softener and expels air.

Step 8: Check for Leaks


Check for leaks in all the pipes. Attach the transformer to the wires for the unit. Plug the softener into a GFCI electrical receptacle. Open the softener's lid and follow the manufacturer's directions for filling with water and salt.

More Water Softener and Installation Tips

How to Set Up a Three-Valve Installation


A three-valve installation allows you to shut off water at several points and is required by some local codes. The shutoffs allow you to bypass the water softener so you can easily turn off the water to it when making repairs.

How to Install Without a Drain Nearby


Where there is no nearby drain, run the drain tube to a utility sink. Firmly attach it, making sure the tube end is 1-1/2 inches above the highest point to which water could rise. If the hose end were to become immersed, wastewater could back up into the softener.

How to Program the Softener


Many water softeners have programmable controls that allow you to adjust the hardness of the water as well as the time when the recharging takes place.

To find the hardness level recommended in your area, consult with your building department or call the manufacturer for a water testing kit. If you find that the water is too hard or too soft, adjust accordingly.

Set the softener to recharge when your water use is low; while the unit is recharging, water in the house will be hard.

How to Maintain a Water Softener


If the water shows signs of becoming hard, the softener's line might be clogged. With the valve set to "bypass," disassemble the nozzle and venturi housing. Remove the screen filter and clear any debris by soaking the parts in clean water and brushing them with a toothbrush.

Sometimes the salt becomes crusty and forms a "bridge," either on top or at the bottom. Stir the brine with a broom handle or piece of wood; make sure the handle reaches the bottom. Break apart any congealed salt. A salt bridge may be caused by high humidity or by using the wrong kind of salt.


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