Last Updated: September 8, 2020
Getting the right water softener is important because it is such a big investment.
If you buy the wrong water softener, you won’t just be wasting money, you’ll be wasting something more precious: your time.
This comprehensive water softener buying guide will go through everything you need to know before you buy. Why you need one, how to decide which one is right for you and alternatives you might like to consider.
These water softener reviews will also include a look at the top models and compare them in a chart.
- What Is Hard Water?
- What Causes Hard Water?
- Is Hard Water Bad For You?
- Water Hardness Map USA
- How To Test For Hard Water?
- What Is A Water Softener?
- How Do Water Softeners Work?
- Types of Water Softeners
- Are Water Softeners Worth It?
- Water Softener Buying Guide
- Water Softener Reviews
- Best Water Softeners Comparison Chart
- Water Softener Buying Guide
- Electronic Water Softener?
- Water Softener Brands
- What Size Water Softener Do I Need?
- Common Water Softener Problems – Troubleshooting
- Water Softener Problems FAQ
- Eddy Electronic Water Descaler
- So, Which is the Best Water Softener?
What Is Hard Water?
The usual culprits are calcium and magnesium. Many homes suffer from this problem.
Hard water affects over 85% of households in the US alone.
What Causes Hard Water?
Did you know that rainwater is naturally soft? It only becomes “hardened” when it goes through nature and picks up a bunch of stuff. For instance, rainwater picks up things like chalk, lime, magnesium and calcium from rocks and underground sand mineral.
These minerals then remain in the water when it reaches your tap. Water can also pick up lots of mineral ions from your pipe and tap faucet. The only way to remove these extra ions is to soften the water again.
Is Hard Water Bad For You?
It is the cause of those white, hard to wash off limescale residue.
If you are constantly seeing limescale on your faucets, in your washing machine, in your kettle – then you most likely suffer from hard water.
If you use hard water every day you might notice dry hair and skin, as well as rough clothes.
You can measure water hardness in 2 ways:
1) In parts per million (PPM)
2) Grains per gallon of water (i.e. GPG).
If your GPG is below 3.5 GPG then you probably wont see many negative impacts of hard water. However, most cities in the world have a hard water level of between 3.5 and 10.5 GPG – which is very hard.
Water Hardness Map USA
How To Test For Hard Water?
This is a quick and easy way to test if you have hard water.
These kits will help you test for the exact issue(s) you have with the water in your home. Rather than just rushing out to buy a water softener or water filter, know what you need first.
The results might surprise you.
Some people think they have a hardness issue. Only to learn that the problem is in fact highly contaminated water. If this is the case then your money is better spent on a whole house filter system.
What Is A Water Softener?
These minerals and ions are naturally absorbed from the earth.
If you don’t stop using hard water then you will have to deal with lots of issues. The most annoying is the build up of residue like limescale on your appliances and pipes.
Hard water also makes it more difficult for detergents and soaps to lather properly. This leads to build up on your hair, clothes and dishes.
Advantages Of Soft Water
- People prefer drinking soft water because you are not drinking a bunch of unnecessary “hard” minerals in your water.
- Softening your water provides you with water that has good flavor, smells better, tastes fresher.
- Removing water hardness reduces incidents of limescale.
- Many people also report that soft water improves their hair, skin and laundry.
How Do Water Softeners Work?
Water softeners work by removing calcium, magnesium, and other hard minerals that naturally occur in water. It does this by creating an environment that causes the minerals to “get stuck” inside the softener machine.
The video blow does a great job of explaining how water softeners work:
Types of Water Softeners
There is just one type of water softener, the standard type.
I say this because all water softeners perform the same function. They remove minerals from hard water with either potassium chloride or sodium (salt) to make the water soft.
So the question now becomes what other types of water treatment devices are there? Well you have salt-free water softeners, magnetic and electronic water softeners.
- Salt-free water systems. If salt is an issue for you then you might want to try using a salt-free system. However, the result of this is usually a device that only conditions and descales the water. So they shouldn’t really be called a “water softener” as such.
- Electronic water “systems”. This type of machine uses electric wires to change the charge of the hard mineral ions. The electronic system is similar to the salt free units because they neither remove hard minerals nor soften the water. Their key benefit, however, is that they stop hard minerals getting attached to the plumbing fixtures and pipes. This means it saves you money on maintenance etc.
- Magnetic water “system”. These work in a similar way to the electronic water softening devices. They are called magnetic softeners because strong magnets are attached to the pipe of this device. The magnets then disrupt how hard mineral ions are charged. This prevents clogging in the plumbing fixtures and pipes.
Are Water Softeners Worth It?
If you have hard water then you should consider getting a water softener system.
Especially if any of the following statements are true for you:
- I get lots of limescale in my kettle and it’s really annoying because it’s difficult to remove/wash away.
- I don’t like the smell or taste of my tap water.
- I’m noticing lots of limescale residue build up around my sink, dishwasher, bathtub, shower head and they are difficult to wash away.
- We are spending too much money on bottled water and filtering devices. I just want nice water directly from the tap.
- The water in my home is already quite clean, it doesn’t need filtration but just needs to be softer.
- I or my children / partner suffer from dry skin, hair etc and it gets worse after a shower.
Hard water can cause many problems to your household. It is not just inconvenient but could also prove to be unhealthy too as it affects your skin and hair. It might cost you lots of money in the long run to not get hard water properly treated. This is because hard water can shorten the lifespan of home appliances.
If any of these things are a problem for you then getting a water softener is your best bet. Although it can be quite expensive upfront, you will actually save money in the long run. Your health and quality of life will improve as well.
Water Softener Buying Guide
3 Softener Mistakes That Make You Look DUMB
If you are looking for the best water softener here is a quick 3 step plan of things to avoid when buying a water softener. The following are 3 of the biggest mistakes people make when buying a water softener machine.
- You buy a water softener that is too powerful for your needs. Yes, you need a water softener that can provide enough softening water for the whole household. But is the unit you’re interested in have the right capacity for you? Most units will tell you how many people they can cater for e.g. “3-4 person household”. Just make sure you get one that is powerful enough but not too powerful because that will only waste your money.
- Have you worked out if you have enough space for the water softener. It seems like an obvious question to ask but where will you put it? Find the right space in your home where the water softener will go. It can not be somewhere with a fluctuating temperature and ideally has easy access. Remember that you will also need enough space to perform regular maintenance checks and clean out the unit.
- You don’t know if you actually need a water softener OR a water filter. The best way to find out is to do a comprehensive test on your water. Do a test to see how hard your water is and another to see if your water is contaminated. The results will help you decide what you actually need.
Water Softener Reviews
Fleck 5600 SXT 48,000 Grain Water Softener
Fleck’s 5600SXT water softener is one of the top rated water softeners. It comes with a digital on-demand control valve. This allows you to have control over the meter based regeneration cycle.
This means that you can decide to only regenerate if you need to. Thereby saving you lots of money, water and electricity – which is good for the nvironment.
However, on the flip side, you can decide to regenerate more often if you have a large household or capacity.
The digital controller that comes with the 5600SXT has many great features. One of the best is the touch pad control that has an LCD display. Also, the a user display is very easy to use and it has an internal power backup of up to 48 hours. The Fleck 5600SXT comes with a a tank that is made from durable poly glass, which has a 10 year manufacturer warranty. While its brink tank can hold up to 250 pounds of pelleted salt.
- Safety features like the safety float which stops overfilling and overflow of the drain.
- Suitable for a 3-6 person household.
Dimensions: 10″ x 54″ tank, 14″ x 17″ x 33″ brine tank
meter based regeneration
Nuvo DPMB Manor Salt Water Softener System
This model from Nuvo is one of the best water softening products on the market period. It is very effective at removing sediments AND salt from even the hardest of water.
It as a water flow rate of 15 to 18 gallons per minute through 1.5-inch ports. This means that this unit will not slow down your water supply.
But all the water will be free from impurities and softened at the same time.
- It can soften up to 65,000 gallons of water (enough soft water for a family of 6).
- Cartridges are easy to replace.
- It doesn’t just prevent the build up of scale and sediments (like other softeners) it does more. The Nuvo actually works to remove existing scale in your pipes. There by helping you if you already have damage caused by hard water.
- The compact design is easy to maintain.
- You will not lose any pressure when installed.
- Grains: 65,000
- Dimensions: 8 x 8 x 29
- Price: $$$
WaterBoss 220 is for whole house efficiency. It has a 22,000 grain removal capacity. It will provide enough soft water for a 2-4 household.It is very small and compact so ideal if you don’t have a lot of space. It is also designed to be easily installed into small and tight spaces.
It is able to process soft water in as little as 18 minutes with a 2.5 salt setting. The fact that it takes less time to regenerate soft water also means it uses less water.
Despite being so small and efficient, the WaterBoss 220 softens up to 70 grains per gallon. And it also filters sediment and contaminants down to 20 nominal microns. This is rare because not all water softeners also filter the water.
- This machine is very easy to install and comes packaged with everything you need to install it.
It includes additional dirt and sediment filters.
- Dimensions: 18.8 x 14.8 x 25.8
The first thing you need to know is that if comes with a 20-year manufacturer warranty and 6 month cartridge life.
Even though the cartridge has a 6 month lifespan, you wont’ need to change the filter too often. This is because it has a 40,000 gallon cartridge already included when you buy it. This is capable of supplying water to a family of 4 for 1 year.
Being salt-free means that it is not strictly a water softener as such. However, it works as an excellent descaler. This means it can remove existing hard water build-up that is already in your water supply as well as conditioning the water.
The Aquinos FS-220 does not need to be plugged into your electricity supply and it requires no maintenance other than replacing the cartridge once each year. (This of course, will depend on the amount of water you use).
Even though it does not soften like a regular water softener, it will remove impurities and chlorine from your water supply.
Dimensions: 27 x 10 x 8.
All-in-one system that conditions, filters, removes scale.
Iron Pro 2 has a meter based regeneration system and treats very hard water (up to 16 GPM). Its resin is made from fine mesh, which means it is better at filtering and will last longer. This also means that it will effectively remove hard water and prevent scale buildup.One of the best features is that the Iron Pro 2 is able to remove magnesium and iron.
Another great feature? It only regenerates when you need it to. This means that you can easily increase your water or reduce it when necessary. It is a feature that will not just save you money but water and electricity too.
Iron Pro 2 comes with the Fleck 5600SXT digital controller built on a 5600 valve. The controller is backlit with an LCD display, touch pad controls, an easy to use interface and 48 internal backup power.
Meter based regeneration.
- Dimensions: 12 D x 48H.
Best Water Softeners Comparison Chart
Water Softener Buying Guide
Electronic Water Softener?
An electronic water softener can keep automatic track of the water that you use, the frequency of regeneration AND control both for optimum efficiency. Although they are quite expensive to by you save more money in the long run because the machine will last longer.
Water Softener Controls
There are 2 main controls on water softeners: Time Controls. The timed controller system will regenerate soft water at a pre-specified time each week. At first this seems like a very convenient method to control and time your water softener. But it is also very wasteful. You might not actually need the water to always be regenerated at that specified time.
Automatic Controls. If you want to make sure that you only regenerate water when you need it you should choose the metered or volume controlled system. This type of setting will automatically detect how much water has already passed through the system and only regenerate when needed.
Portable Water Softener
It is possible to get a portable water softener for times when you’re outdoors. Let’s say you are going out camping and need to a place with hard water then you can take a small machine with you.
Portable water softeners are much cheaper than whole house systems. Below is one example of this. It is 1/3 cheaper than the average whole house water softener system.
It also has 4.5 out of 5 stars from over 120 verified customers that I have seen online.
Watts RV PRO-1000 water softener is sometimes called M7002. It is portable and perfect for you if you love good water while outdoors.If you are the type of person that lives in a travel camp, RV or motor home and have water issues. You should consider getting a portable water softening machine.
A portable water softener could be a convenient solution for healthier, better tasting, softer water when you’re outdoors.
The only drawback is that it is a little heavy and could take up some space in your luggage. Watts RV PRO-1000 measures at 8 x 22 inches.
- It uses normal everyday table salt (this means you don’t have to carry extra heavy bags of softener salt around with you). But note that you need about 2 pounds of salt each time.
- This portable device is very easy to use and works very fast.
- Regeneration process happens in under 20 minutes.
- This machine includes testing strips. This allows you to check the quality of the camp site water and see how well the machine works after installation.
- Grains: 10,000
- Dimensions: 21 x 9.5 x 9
Water Softener Brands
Below is a list of the most highly rated water softener manufacturers and brand:
Aquasana provides many different water products and technologies that will provide you with clean water and a healthier environment. They are known for being environmentally conscious and eco-friendly focused when it comes to their products.
- WaterBoss is a brand known for producing a wide range of water softening technologies. They have a particular focus on reducing your water wastage. This means that their units are more likely to use less water than other water softener brands.
- Fleck is a water softener brand that has been around for over 50 years. It has made many important innovations in advanced water softeners, control valves, water softeners and other filtration devices.
- Morton is one of the oldest water softener salt brands. It has been supplying salt for well over 160 years. Today, Morton is the leading salt producer in North America.
- Culligan has been producing water treatment products for over 75 years. They are a market leader but have recently has some problems. Read my article: Why Do People Hate Culligan So Much?
What Size Water Softener Do I Need?
In very simple terms, the size of the water softener you need depends on what you need it for. You need to consider how often you will use it and the size of your household.
Here is a simple way to think about how to get the right size:
Portable water softener = This is perfect if you need water when you’re outdoors. Think holiday camps, RV and motor homes.
These come in a tank style system that are portable and some even let you use standard table salt.
Portable water softeners are not suitable for your home but large enough to provide you with soft water for your RV appliances. Good for 1-4 people (maximum).
Water softener pitcher = if you just want to to soften your drinking water. You don’t want the hassle or expense of creating soft water in your whole house. However, a water softener jug will come with a filter that needs to be replaced every few months.
Common Water Softener Problems – Troubleshooting
Water softeners are complex system so it’s not surprising that things can sometimes go wrong. Most water softener manufacturers offer technical assistance when you call their helpline. Alternatively, you should check if you are still within your warranty to see if you can get free support.
Most problems that you will face with your water softener can be avoided if you maintain your system on a regular basis.
If you are struggling with something with your softener machine, then it is likely to be one of the following:
Water Softener Not Working
If your water softener has stopped working and you can’t work out why, check the following:
- Is the power OK. Like with most gadgets, re-starting usually fixes most issues. Check the power unit, plug, socket and make sure there is electricity flowing to the machine. Essentially make sure the unit has power properly supplied to it.
- Look at the bypass valve. The bypass valve is what keeps the water flowing through the water softener machine. If there is a problem, check this part of the machine and make sure it is open.
- Does the brine tank have enough salt?
- Do a regeneration cycle manually. Most water softener units have a lever on the control box. Push this lever to start manual regeneration.
If your water softener machine is still not softening the water after checking all this, then another common culprit is a possible salt bridge.
Water Softener Salt Bridge
The salt you use to soften water can sometimes create a large deposit of sodium build up in the brine tank. If this happens, they create an empty space between the water and salt. When this happens, it stops the softener’s regeneration cycle because the salt can not dissolve the water.
What causes a water softener salt bridge? It is most likely that you are using the wrong kind of softener salt. Or it could be the high humidity of the area where you have placed the device.
How do I fix water softener salt bridge issues? If the issue is a salt bridge, they can easily be fixed. Simply use something like a broom stick to break up the salt build up. Do this until it has all been dissolved. Once fully dissolved, clean out the softener machine to prevent this from happening again.
Water Softener Not Regenerating
As you would expect with such an appliance, the motor is important for the water softener to work properly. If the machine does not start and you have checked all the obvious culprits (e.g. power source), check the motor.
If you have checked everything like the cables etc. but still conclude that it is 100% the motor, then there is only one thing to do. Contact the manufacturer and ask them to send a technician to come and fix the system. Alternatively, you can ask them to send you a replacement motor.
Water Softener Troubleshooting
Water softener systems require you to input certain settings. The exact settings will be detailed in your user manual. However, things can go wrong due to human error. The vast majority of water softener machines are user friendly and very easy to use. But some systems are more advanced and require more technical knowledge.
Do your best to avoid making any errors when you put in the settings from the manual. Follow the instructions exactly. And if you do get an error message, go back to the manual for troubleshooting instructions.
Water Softener Problems FAQ
Q. What is Regeneration?
A. The water softener regeneration process is when the system removes the calcium and magnesium from the water supply. In this process, the machine removes these minerals through the resin which draw out the ions like a magnet. During regeneration, the resin beads are maintained with a salt-water solution. The salt-water also keeps the machine working effectively and clean for many months at a time.
Q. When To Replace Water Softener Resin?
A. The easiest way to know when to replace the water softener resin is to look out for these signs:
- If you see fragments of the resin blocking the faucet OR if you spot bits of resin coming out of the faucet’s water stream. Either of these signs means it is time to replace the resin.
- Another clear sign to replace the resin is if you spot any algae growing on the resin bed. This is common in out door or portable water softener systems so pay attention to this.
On the other hand, resins can swell (and cover more area) if exposed to too much chlorine. This means that you can potentially leave the resin for 10 years before replacing it.
Q. What Kind Of Water Softener Salt Should I Buy?
A. The simple answer is choose the salt that dissolves well and is easy for the system to flush through after it has finished regenerating soft water. If you choose salt that is not easy to dissolve, it will eventually get stuck in the tank and create a problem.
Q. How Much Salt Does A Water Softener Use?
A. It all depends on how hard your water supply is and the number of people using water. The average amount of salt needed by a water softener is between 9 and 10lb per week. However, the important thing is that you add salt whenever you see the brine tank running low.
The best thing to do is to always have surplus salt in the home so that you never run out and have to go without soft water.
Also, bear in mind that if you have a water softener that regenerates often, you will need more salt. So if you’re intention is to save on salt then use less water.
Q. Is Water Softener Water Safe To Drink?
A. Yes, water softeners are designed to provide you with water that is clean enough to drink.
It is important to point out that water softeners do not necessarily filter your water.
That is why it is not advisable to soften very dirty and highly contaminated water. If you are faced with this type of water then you need to get a water filtration device.
Water softeners are ideal if you already have relatively clean water but it is full of “hard” minerals.
Q. Alternatives To Water Softeners?
A. There are many devices on the market today that are “alternative water softeners”. However, be careful because most of them don’t actually soften water.
Watch the video below to understand why.
One alternative to water softeners that actually softens water is called a descaler. They are a good alternative to salt based softener systems because they reduce the effects of calcium and magnesium. They do this almost as well as the salt-based water softening systems. This is right for you if you want to save on salt and don’t have a large home to produce soft water for. Perhaps you have a 1 -2 person household.
This is a eco-friendly and low cost alternative to standard salt-based water softeners.It uses electromagnetic waves to reduce the effects of magnesium and calcium ions. Thereby making hard water soft without changing its mineral hardness.
The Eddy electronic water descaler does not remove the hard minerals because it is not a water softener. But, it instead reduces their effects. It is also very good at preventing and removing scaling in pipes.
- Super easy to install – you won’t need any plumbing.
- It does not need regular maintenance.
- It is much cheaper than standard water softeners.
Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.6 x 3.5
Please note that is does not provide as good results as a standard water softener machine. If your water is extremely hard then you should consider getting a proper water softener machine. My top pick is below.
So, Which is the Best Water Softener?
You should expect to spend around $2500 for a softener / filter combination like the options presented below.
If hard water is a problem in your area then installing a water softening system will greatly improve the quality of your drinking water and stop any limescale issues.