Hard water scale is annoying at best and incredibly damaging at worst, and you’re certainly not the only homeowner to consider installing a water softener.
But if you’re on a private well, where does a water softener go – before or after your pressure tank? And are there any dangers of putting the softener in the wrong location?
Read on to find out.
📌 Key Takeaways:
- A water softener should always be installed after (downstream of) a well pressure tank.
- If you install a water softener before the pressure tank, the water flow through the system might be inadequate, and the softener may struggle to regenerate properly.
- Installing a water softener after a well pressure tank also allows the pressure tank to work properly.
Table of Contents
- 🤔 Should You Install A Water Softener Before Or After A Well Pressure Tank?
- 🔎 What Does A Well Pressure Tank Do?
- 🚫 Problems With Installing A Water Softener Before A Pressure Tank
- 📉 Water Softener, Pressure Tank, & Whole House Water Filter Install Order
- ❔ Water Softener Before Or After Pressure Tank? FAQ
🤔 Should You Install A Water Softener Before Or After A Well Pressure Tank?
You should always install a water softener after (downstream of) a pressure tank.
Why? Because installing a water softener before (upstream of)a pressure tank puts it at risk of clogging, collapsing, reduces its regeneration capabilities, reduces water flow in the system, and much more.
On the other hand, installing the softener after the pressure tank means that the water flowing into the system is consistent and has a regulated pressure, so these issues shouldn’t arise.
🔎 What Does A Well Pressure Tank Do?
To understand why it’s a bad idea to install a water softener before a pressure tank, we need to know what a pressure tank does.
The pressure tank works by filling with water, then exerting pressure on the water when a faucet or appliance in your home is switched on. This provides enough pressure for water to flow uniformly through your plumbing to supply your appliance or fixture with a constant, sufficient amount of water.
There are a couple of purposes of a well pressure tank:
- To give you constant access to a water supply, without having to switch the well pump on and off every time you turn on a faucet or appliances (which burns the pump out and shortens its lifespan).
- To regulate water pressure, meaning that you get consistent water pressure in your home’s plumbing systems, without the fluctuations you’d experience if you drew your water straight from the well pump.
Knowing what you now know, you can probably already imagine the potential problems with installing a water softener before the pressure tank.
We’ve elaborated on these problems below.
🚫 Problems With Installing A Water Softener Before A Pressure Tank
Let’s look at some of the issues you might face if you install a water softener before the pressure tank.
Clogging Affects Pressure
Water softeners are designed to remove calcium, magnesium, and low levels of iron, and many water softeners have a sediment pre-filter for sediment removal.
But even though they’re designed to remove certain impurities, water softeners may still become clogged with various minerals and contaminants in your well water.
This is more likely if the water softener is installed before the pressure tank because there isn’t consistent water pressure to send water through the resin tank at a fast, continuous rate.
The result is that none of the softener’s processes can work properly, including the regeneration process, leading to mineral clogging inside the resin and reducing the output water pressure. This could end up shutting down your entire supply system.
Installing the water softener after the pressure tank will prevent this issue. Your water softener will have access to consistent, normal water pressure, reducing the likelihood of clogs.
Reduced Backwashing Capabilities
Let’s look in more detail at a water softener’s backwashing requirements.
All water softeners need to regenerate. A regeneration cycle sends brine solution from the salt tank back through the resin beads, flushing out the collected calcium and magnesium (hardness) minerals and replenishing the sodium ions.
Most softening systems need a pressure of at least 50 PSI to regenerate. The regeneration process takes about 2 hours, and consistent pressure is needed from start to finish.
Installing a water softener before a pressure tank means that the pressure supplied to the system will be inconsistent. The softener’s flushing ability will be limited, and it won’t be able to perform a proper regeneration cycle.
You won’t have this problem if you install the softener after the pressure tank. It’ll have the consistent supply of water needed to regenerate the resin bed properly.
Continuously Running Pump
Another potential issue with installing a water softener upstream of the pressure tank is that it could decrease your water pressure to the point that the pump ends up running continuously.
In a normally functioning well pump and pressure tank setup, the pump will only run for a short amount of time, until the tank reaches a certain pressure and the pressure switch triggers the pump to switch off.
However, if you install a water softener between the pump and the pressure tank, it could cause the pump to work much harder, and for longer, because it needs to supply the water for your softener to function – including for regeneration cycles, which use a lot of water – before it even reaches the pressure tank.
It’s possible that you can resolve this issue by installing a second cutout pressure switch, but we still say it’s best to install the softener after the pressure tank to avoid the issue altogether.
📉 Water Softener, Pressure Tank, & Whole House Water Filter Install Order
So, now you know that it’s best to install water softeners after pressure tanks. But where do whole house water filtration systems fit into this setup?
Generally, the order for installing a pressure tank, a whole house water filter, and a water softener are:
- Pressure tank
- Whole house water filtration system
- Water softener
However, the ideal location of your whole house water filter system depends on the particular system.
For instance, a dedicated sediment filter protects all the other water treatment systems in your home, so it’s best installed as early as possible – before the water softener, certainly. Some people install a sediment filter upstream of the pressure tank, too. Certain types of sediment filters will protect the components of the pressure tank, especially the pressure switch, from clogging and sediment damage.
Another common type of whole house water filter for wells is the air injection oxidation system, an iron filter that needs a consistent flow of water to backwash, so it should be installed after the pressure tank. Install it before your water softener to protect the softener from high iron levels.
There’s no definite order of water treatment in most scenarios. We recommend making an informed decision for installation based on your water quality and treatment needs.
👨🔧 Find out more in these articles:
❔ Water Softener Before Or After Pressure Tank? FAQ
Where is the best place to put a water softener?
The best place to put a soft water system is close to the main water line’s entry point into your home, upstream of the water heater, usually before any whole house water filters. Homes with well pressure tanks should install their softener after the pressure tank, which will maintain the overall pressure without the fluctuations you’d get upstream of the pressure tank.
Does a water softener have to be next to the water heater?
A water softening system doesn’t have to be next to the water heater – it just needs to be somewhere upstream of the heater. Installing the system at your home’s point of entry (as close as possible to where water enters the property) is more common, since it allows the maximum amount of your home’s plumbing system to be protected by soft water. However, some plumbers recommend installing the softener close to the heater to keep it as centralized as possible.
What PSI does a water softener need?
Most water softeners need a minimum pressure of 20 PSI and a maximum pressure of 70 PSI to operate properly. The exact water pressure needed by a water softener depends on the system’s size and flow requirements. If your pressure is too high or too low, the softener may fail to regenerate or become damaged by the flow of water.