Water Softeners

The Water Softener Facts website is a great resource on water softeners. Learn how water softeners work, research the right water softener for you and find the water hardness in your area.

Most drinking water in Waterloo Region comes from groundwater wells. Groundwater is typically considered "hard" water due to the minerals the water picks up while it travels underground. Although it is safe for drinking, the minerals contribute to scale build-up in pipes and appliances. Many residences use water softeners that replace the minerals with salt, resulting in softened water.


Water Softener Plumbing Rebate Program

The Region of Waterloo launched a pilot rebate program in July 2020 for households to change their water softener plumbing to treat hot water only. We'll offer a one-time rebate of $50 per household for the plumbing change. The program aims to help to reduce salt from entering local rivers and conserve drinking water.

The rebate program is open to residents of single-family homes and semi-detached or townhouses. Businesses and large apartment buildings are not eligible. The rebate is for homes that switch their salt-based softener to soften hot water only. Non-salt technologies are not eligible for this rebate. Residents installing a new water softener can receive the rebate if they now soften hot water only and were not previously doing so.

Special offer! For a limited-time, the Region is giving away a free 200-litre rain barrel to the first 10 households that complete a plumbing switch in 2022 through our Water Softener Plumbing Rebate Program. These rain barrels retail for $100 or more. To get both your rain barrel and the normal $50 rebate, simply complete the Water Softener Plumbing Rebate program as described on this webpage.

Visit page 115 of the December 3, 2019 Planning and Works Committee agenda to learn more about the program. Or watch our "Smart about Water Softeners" webinar from Sept. 23, 2020. We discuss how softeners work, how they impact our environment, and how to soften efficiently to save water, salt and money.

How to get your rebate

Step 1: Resident registers for program

  • Option A: Resident can register online. After you register, the Region's Water Efficiency staff will mail you a simple test kit to test your home's water hardness. The test takes only a few minutes and is done by holding a test strip under running water. Residents will submit their water hardness results to complete registration for the program
  • Option B: Resident can request a free WET Home Water Review with Reep Green Solutions. During the visit, Reep Green Solutions will test the home’s water hardness and complete the resident's program registration

Step 2: Region confirms rebate requirements are met

  • Option A: Resident can emailsubmit online or mail plumbing receipts to the Region's Water Efficiency Team to confirm the plumbing changes have been made. Images, hardness results and receipts can be uploaded to the online form
  • Option B: To check that hot water only is now being softened, your water hardness can be tested as part of a WET Home Review. If you have not had a WET Home Review before, residents can schedule their visit to complete the water softener program, and also receive a free review of their home's water use

Step 3: Region issues rebate to resident

  • Resident can emailsubmit online or mail a void cheque or direct vendor deposit form to the Region's Water Efficiency Team. We will forward payment information to the Finance department
  • Region's Finance department issues $50 rebate via direct deposit to resident

Frequently Asked Questions

Softening hot water only has advantages and some disadvantages. Benefits include saving money on water and salt bills, and lowering chloride pollution in our environment. Drawbacks might include increased cleaning or maintenance to keep scale from building up on toilets, showers and appliances. Without proper care, your fixtures and appliances may not last as long. Keep in mind, those costs will be offset by lower water and salt bills, and your smaller environmental footprint.

Each homeowner can decide for themselves which advantages are important to them and their level of tolerance for hard water.

Click a topic below to view our Frequently Asked Questions. Questions and answers will be added or edited as we gather new information. 


Question: Will softening hot water only void my washing machine’s warranty?
Answer: Unlikely. Most common manufacturers’ warranties do not require soft water for their machines. Check your owner’s manual to be sure. Keep in mind, scale will happen slower when you use cold water to wash instead of hot.

Question: Will the colour of my clothing come out less bright from hard water?
Answer: We have no evidence that hard water affects colours. Use a fabric softener and a good quality laundry detergent. Anecdotally, some people have told us that hard water works fine for laundry.

Question: Will hard water change how much detergent I need?
Answer: It’s possible you’ll find you need more laundry detergent with hard water (see this 2011 study). But your own results may vary.

Question: Will I need to use more shampoo? Will my soap not lather as well with hard water?
Answer: Soap and shampoo will lather less with hard water, so you may need to use more. But your own results may vary. You can also look for soaps and other products that are designed for hard water.

Question: Will my shower water feel different?
Answer: Some people notice a different feel on their skin with hard vs soft water. Soft water can feel "slippery" and hard water can feel "dry." Some people prefer one or the other – or you may not notice the difference.

Question: Will my showerhead warranty be voided?
Answer: No, manufacturers do not require softened water for showerheads. You may get scale build-up on your showerhead affecting water pressure, which can be removed by soaking in vinegar.

Question: Will I have spotty dishes? Will scale ruin my dishwasher?
Answer: No. Dishwashers are usually connected to hot water only, so their water supply will still be softened. You should not notice any difference with a dishwasher from softening hot water only. If your dishwasher is connected to the cold water line, consult your owner's manual before switching to hard water.
Question: Will hard water create scale build-up inside my toilet tank?
Answer: Yes, over time the flapper and fill valve inside the tank can develop mineral build-up. Build-up may need to be cleaned off the flapper seat or the flapper. These can be cleaned with vinegar (once per year). Flappers can also be easily replaced (and should be regularly replaced to avoid toilet leaks). The jets that release water into your toilet bowl may sometimes get clogged on older models. This can be brushed away or cleaned using vinegar.

Question: Will hard water create scale build-up in the toilet bowl?
Answer: Yes, this can happen. Scale is cleanable with vinegar or baking soda. Brownish-red build-up comes from iron in your water, not calcium or magnesium. You can also wash this off, or consider getting an iron filter if needed.

Question: Will my pipes get clogged with scale build-up from hard water?
Answer: Modern pipes don’t develop scale the way older galvanized pipes did. It would take a long time to build up significant scale. Again, hard water will develop scale much slower when cold compared to hot.
The environment
Question: What are the benefits of softening hot water only?
Answer: Your water softener will use approximately 65% less salt and water when you soften hot only. An average family of three would save 108 kg of salt and 8,800 litres of water per year by switching to soften hot only. That’s an $84 value.

Question: Why should I use less salt?
Answer: Chlorides from salt are not removed during our wastewater treatment process the way organic and other impurities are. All the salt from people’s water softeners ends up in our local rivers. That builds up and is harmful to plants and animals. Combined with road salts, chlorides are threatening our waterways.

Question: Why should I use less water?
Answer: The Region of Waterloo relies on groundwater for most of our water supply. Conserving water helps make sure we have enough for future generations, and avoids the need for expensive new infrastructure or even a costly pipeline to the Great Lakes. Pumping and treating water also requires energy, so conserving water lowers our community’s environmental footprint.

Hard water and health
Question: Will hard water affect skin conditions like eczema?
Answer: We are not aware of any evidence that soft water is better for eczema or other skin conditions. But consult with your doctor.

Question: Is it better to drink hard or soft water?
Answer: Softened water does have a higher salt content, which is why many homes prefer to run an unsoftened water line to the kitchen tap. This small amount of salt, however, is not generally considered harmful to health. If you require a special low-salt diet, consult your doctor about drinking softened water.

Qualifying for the $50 Water Softener Plumbing Rebate
Question: How much will the plumbing change cost me to soften hot water only?
Answer: Plumbing costs will be unique for each home, depending on your layout. Early program participants have typically reported plumbing costs of $300-$400.

Question: Can I get the $50 rebate if I install an NAC unit or another alternative water treatment technology?
Answer: No. At this time, our program is only for salt-based water softeners. But choosing a salt-free technology might be the right choice for your home... let us know how it goes!

Question: Can I apply for the rebate if I rent my water softener?
Answer: Yes, renting your water softener does not affect your eligibility for the Region’s program. You may want to check the terms of your softener rental contract.

Question: Can I get the $50 rebate if I’m buying a new softener?
Answer: Yes, as long as you install the new softener on hot water only (and were not previously softening hot only). This applies if you’re buying a replacement water softener or your first one.

Question: What about concerns I'm hearing from my plumber or water softener salesperson?
Answer: Plumbers and water softener retailers may raise valid points for you to consider. Keep in mind, though, that water softener companies are in the business of selling you water softeners. They may emphasize the concerns with hard water to improve sales. There are pros and cons to both hard and soft water. We have a growing list on our website of plumbers and water softener retailers who will help customers who wish to soften hot water only. You'll find the list in the menu titled "Click for our list of participating plumbers and water softener dealers."

Question: Can I still get the $50 rebate if I install a bypass valve so I can choose when to soften cold water or not?
Answer: We hope you will commit to softening hot water only and enjoy the water and salt savings. However, at this time we will still provide the $50 rebate if you install a bypass valve as part of the plumbing changes you make for the Water Softener Plumbing Rebate.

Question: Can I still get the $50 rebate if I just disconnect my water softener?
Answer: You cannot get the rebate just for turning off your water softener, because the rebate is intended to help with documented plumbing costs.

Question: I live in an apartment building or a condo. Can I get this rebate?
Answer: No. This program applies only to single family homes and townhouses with their own water softener. The Region of Waterloo does have other water conservation programs to assist multi-residential properties, businesses and other organizations.

Question: I already soften hot water only. Can I get a $50 rebate?
Answer: No, our rebate program is to motivate people to make the switch and compensate them for plumbing costs. If you made the switch in the last six months and have the normally required documentation, you can still get the rebate.

Question: How long will it take for me to see the benefits of this program?
Answer: For an average family of three, softening hot water only saves an estimated $84 per year. Repayment time will depend on each individual home’s plumbing costs. If the plumbing change costs $350, the investment will repay itself in 3.5 years.

Question: Can you help me find a plumber to switch to softening hot water only?
Answer: We have a growing list on our website of plumbers and water softener retailers who will help customers soften hot water only. You'll find the list in the menu titled "Click for our list of participating plumbers and water softener dealers."


Check out our Water Softener Facts website for a more general FAQ about water softeners and how they work.

Info for plumbers and water softener professionals

Attention Waterloo Region plumbers and water softener retailers! You can work with people in our Water Softener Plumbing Rebate Program by joining the "W.E.T. Plumbers and Dealers" list. Fill out this online form after watching our “Efficient Water Softening for Plumbers” Zoom webinar (75 minutes) on the Region's YouTube page. Then, we'll share your contact information with Water Softener Plumbing Rebate Program participants who may be seeking a plumber or a new water softener.

Are your customers asking about softening hot water only through the Region's Water Softener Plumbing Rebate? We have a poster that describes the program and its benefits. Download a PDF of the poster or you can email us to request printed copies. 

Click for our list of participating plumbers and water softener dealers

The Region of Waterloo is collecting a list of plumbers and water softener retailers who support the Water Softener Plumbing Rebate program. These professionals have learned about the Region's program and are willing to help soften hot water only.

If you are a plumber or softener retailer interested in joining the WET Plumbers and Dealers list, here is the sign up form.

Name and companyAddressContact informationPlumber or water softener dealer?Offers water softener tune-ups?Offers non-salt technologies?
Stephen Harrington, Plumingo 21-55 Mooregate Cr., Kitchener



Licensed plumber  Yes No
John Botelho, Housing Cambridge 477 Burnett Ave, Cambridge



Licensed plumber Yes No
Taylor McCabe, Oakridge Plumbing Solutions 69 Trafalgar Ave, Kitchener



Licensed plumber Yes No
Scott Weinhardt, W.C. Weinhardt Plumbing Inc 199 Franklin St N, Kitchener



Licensed plumber  Yes  No
Roger Greene, WaterMD 504-20 Barrel Yards Blvd, Waterloo



Authorized softener dealer  Yes  Yes


Why soften hot water only?

Switching to soften only your home’s hot water will save you money on water and salt. It protects the environment too! Softeners use salt and extra water to remove the minerals that make our water “hard.” The more water that’s softened in your house, the more salty discharge water your softener sends down the drain. Softeners add 16,000 tonnes of salt to the Region of Waterloo’s waterways each year. This harms plants and animals and can even affect the taste of our drinking water when salt levels get high enough.

We estimate softening hot water only saves a household of three 108 kilograms of salt and 8,800 litres of water per year. That’s worth $84 back in your pocket, plus six heavy bags of salt you don’t need to haul around.

It shrinks your carbon footprint too! Softening hot water only reduces a household of three’s greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 48 kilograms per year.

Benefits to the home owner:

• Healthier drinking and irrigation
• Reduced backwash water and salt savings
• Fewer heavy bags of salt to carry!
• Increased life expectancy of water softeners
• Reduced chloride impacts on rivers
• Reduced greenhouse gas emissions through salt/water savings

Did You Know?

  • There are an estimated 142,000 water softeners in Waterloo Region homes. They consume an estimated 1.5 billion litres of backwash water each year
  • Commercial facilities, institutions and high-rise apartments do not typically soften cold water
  • Water softener backwashing accounts for about 7% of a household’s water use in Waterloo Region
  • Water softeners in Waterloo Region contribute an estimated 4,860 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year from water, salt and electricity use

Salt-free water conditioning study results

Between 2017 and 2018, Region of Waterloo and City of Guelph hired Metroline Research Group to complete a market research study that involved installing salt-free water conditioning units in 18 volunteer households. To see how well they performed in real world conditions and how people felt about the units after a year of use, read the study results.

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