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6 Best Salt for Water Softeners of 2020

best water softener salt reviews

Table of Contents

One of the best water softeners, and most effective, is a salt-based softener. This type of softener removes hardness-causing minerals like calcium and magnesium from the water through a process called ion exchange.

In this instance, the calcium and magnesium minerals are completely eliminated from the water and replaced by sodium.

In order for this to happen, you must use water softener salt with your system.

What is water softener salt and what does it do?

Water softener salt is the sodium that is needed for the ion exchange process to take place.

The salt is stored in a tank in the system, then broken down during water softening, leaving just sodium (note that salt in its complete form is referred to as sodium chloride).

The ion exchange process takes place in a tank containing negatively charged resin beads. Because the calcium and magnesium minerals in hard water have a positive charge, they are attracted to the resin beads. The resin beads pull the minerals through and trap them, facilitating ion exchange.

Once the resin is full of hard water minerals, the water softener salt can get to work.

Salt water, which is also positively charged, runs through the resin tank. The sodium breaks free from the chloride and binds to the resin. This forces the calcium and magnesium ions to break away from the resin, where they’re flushed away out of the tank’s system.

What’s left is water that contains only sodium ions and no calcium or magnesium: soft water.

Sodium doesn’t cause any of the hard water issues that calcium and magnesium are known for, and there’s only a very minimal amount added to your water during the ion exchange process.

All water contains varying amounts of sodium to begin with, but the amount that’s needed for salt-based softening depends on the hardness of your water. Hard water that contains more calcium and magnesium minerals will require more sodium for ion exchange.

Best Water Softener Salt

  • Morton Clean & Protect
  • Morton Clean & Protect Rust Defense
  • Morton Pure and Natural
  • Diamond Crystal Solar Naturals
  • Diamond Crystal Bright & Soft
  • Morton Potassium Chloride Pellets
  • Nature’s Own Potassium Solution
ProductDetails 
Morton Clean & Protect
Morton Clean & Protect review
Weight: 50 lbs


Morton Clean & Protect Rust Defense
Morton Clean & Protect Rust Defense review
Weight: 40 lbs


Morton Pure and Natural
Morton Pure and Natural review
Weight: 40 lbs


Diamond Crystal Solar Naturals
Diamond Crystal Solar Naturals review
Weight: 50 lbs


Diamond Crystal Bright & Soft
Diamond Crystal Bright & Soft review
Weight: 50 lbs


Morton Potassium Chloride Pellets
Morton Potassium Chloride Pellets review
Weight: 40 lbs


Nature's Own Potassium Solution
Nature's Own Potassium Solution review
Weight: 40 lbs


When do you need to use water softener salt?

Without adding salt to your water, hard water minerals would not be removed. There are sodium-free water softeners on the market, such as magnetic water softeners, but these don’t actually remove the calcium and magnesium.

They just change their composition so that they won’t cling to surfaces and cause limescale. This means that the calcium and magnesium can still cause hard water issues, and you won’t get the full benefits of a standard water softener.

Salt is necessary for the ion exchange process. There are no other minerals besides salt and potassium chloride (which we’ll cover in more depth later in this review) that can be used as effectively to bind to the resin in place of calcium and magnesium.

You’ll need to purchase salt that’s designed for water softener use to get the best softening experience from your system. Using standard salt or salt designed for culinary use won’t work in a water softening system, as this type of salt has a different make-up to water softener salt.

salt in water softener brine tank

Things to consider when buying water softener salt

Household water hardness

The type of water softener salt you purchase might depend on your household’s water hardness.

If your water contains a higher density of hard-causing calcium and magnesium minerals, you’ll need more salt to replace these minerals in the ion exchange process. This means that you will use more salt at a faster rate than the average household during one water softening cycle.

While there’s not really a lot you can do about your household’s water hardness, you might want to look for deals on bulk-buying water softener salt, or the slightly less costly salt options, if you want to stick to a certain budget while still achieving your water softening requirements.

Purer salts also give a better value for money, as you get more out of the salt than you would from a salt that contains a larger amount of insoluble matter.

Type of water softener

The best water softening salts can be used in all types of water softeners, but always read product descriptions before making a purchase to be certain. If you have a salt-based water softener, you can use evaporated salt, solar salt, rock salt, and sometimes block salt for your system.

It also goes without saying that you’ll only need salt if your water softener is salt-based. Salt free water softeners, as the name suggests, don’t use salt. Most of them work by using a TAC media that changes the composition of these calcium and magnesium ions to prevent them from depositing limescale.

Saltier water taste

Salt based water softeners only add a very small amount of sodium to your water, but if you’re pickier with the water you drink, you might not enjoy the taste of sodium-softened water. In this case, you could consider potassium chloride salt, which doesn’t have the same salty taste as sodium chloride.

Note that potassium chloride generally costs at least three times more than sodium chloride, as you pay for the benefits of softening your water without using sodium.

Your budget

The brand of salt you use for your water softener may depend on how much money you can contribute to regular salt purchases.

Generally, the bigger the quantity of salt you buy in one go, the cheaper it is per pound. Some brands offer more expensive softening salt without necessarily giving a reason why. You’ll also expect to pay more for different forms of salt that work better in homes with high-volume water usage.

You might be more comfortable buying softening salt from the manufacturer of your water softener. Look out for customer deals your manufacturer might be offering, like discounts and money off savings. No matter where you choose to buy from, make sure you’ve found a trusted seller and a legitimate product.

Softener maintenance & upkeep

Once you’ve filled your sodium tank, you’ll need to schedule regular refills to keep the system working as efficiently as possible.

It’s also important for your tank to regenerate whenever needed, and you should get into the habit of checking your system regularly.

Some forms of softener salt lead to bridging, or the build-up of salt in the bottom of your brine tank. This can prevent water softening from taking place efficiently. You’ll need to break apart the build-up yourself to allow salt to properly absorb into the brine water.

adding water softener salt to brine tank

Softener Salt vs. Softener Potassium Chloride

Although salt is the more preferable mineral option for salt based water softeners, you can also choose to use softener potassium chloride. Both compounds work in the exact same way inside the water softener resin, but there are notable differences in price and health factors that are worth exploring.

Sodium chloride

Sodium chloride is the scientific term for standard softener salt. You can usually buy it in three different forms: crystals, pellets and blocks. Because sodium chloride is a lot more common than potassium chloride, you’ll be able to purchase it at a far cheaper cost, and choose between a much wider range of options.

Let’s take a look at the four different types of sodium chloride that you can purchase for your water softener:

  1. Rock salt – As the name suggests, rock salt takes on the appearance of small rocks or pebbles. Rock salt tends to have a high amount of calcium sulfate, which doesn’t make it the best option for water softening. Many people find that rock salt isn’t great at dissolving in water, and can actually leave behind a residue. It’s quite economical –  but you get what you pay for.
  2. Evaporated salt – Evaporated salt usually comes in pellet form, and has the highest purity rate of all salt types. For this reason, it tends to be the most expensive to buy, and is the recommended option for your salt-based water filtration system. The biggest benefit of pure evaporated salt is that it contains very little other minerals that might lead to a build-up of insoluble matter in the resin tank and affect the efficiency of the water softening process.
  3. Solar salt – You’ll find solar salt in either crystal or pellet form. The evaporation of seawater forms solar salt, which is naturally highly pure. However, solar salt hasn’t proven to work very well on water with a high level of water-hardening minerals, so it’s not the best option for people with harder household water.
  4. Block salt – It’s very rare that block salt should ever be considered as an option for water softeners. Block salt is how it sounds – a literal block of salt – and is usually only recommended by plumbers in certain situations. If you are using block salt in your water softener, you’ll need to make sure your resin tank’s water levels are high enough to fully submerge the block.

Potassium chloride

If you’re looking for a salt alternative for your salt-based water softener, your only other option is potassium chloride.

You’ll be able to use this as a salt replacement, and still get exactly the same quality of softened water from the ion exchange process. In some cases, potassium chloride might be the better water softening option for you.

Something to note from the start is that potassium chloride is a lot more expensive than sodium chloride. This is because it’s a less common option on the market, and it also provides the benefits of salt-free water softening while still removing calcium and magnesium minerals from the water, which puts it in high demand.

Potassium chloride is about as close to being sodium-free as you can get (around 99.9%). If you’re on a low sodium diet, or you don’t like the salty taste of sodium in your water, potassium chloride is a convenient, albeit costly, solution.

One other benefit of potassium chloride soft water is that it can be used to water plants, whereas sodium chloride soft water isn’t recommended for plant watering. You can also give potassium chloride soft water to your pets for drinking.

Unsurprisingly, potassium chloride is harder to find than sodium chloride, and you’ll need to be prepared to pay extra for its additional benefits. You may also need to increase your softening tank’s programming settings by 10 to 15%, ensuring you get the same water softening benefits as you can from sodium chloride.

Crystals vs pellets

You might have looked at the different salt forms on offer and wondered why you’re given a choice in what to go for. Namely, it’s because different options are convenient for different budgets, as well as different system practicalities, like your softener’s water usage.

The form of the salt in your water softening system has more of an impact than you might think, so it’s worth knowing what’s on offer.

The two main forms of salt that are used in water softener systems are crystals and pellets. Other forms, like the ones mentioned earlier in this guide, are not normally advised for water softener use.

Crystals

Salt crystals, often referred to as softener crystals, are made in a process called solar evaporation. This happens when a mixture of salt, brine and water is exposed to the wind, which eliminates the water, leaving just the salt.

Salt crystals are hard and white in appearance, and they’re generally recommended for use if you have a lower monthly water usage, or use a two-part water system. If you use them on systems with a more frequent water usage, a salt bridge – a hard crust – may form in the brine tank, creating an empty space between the salt and the water and preventing the salt from dissolving into the water.

With no sodium-brine water, the resin beads can’t properly work in the ion exchange process.

water softener salt crystals

Pellets

Water softener pellets are made through evaporation, using water and steam to form crystals. Once the crystals and dried and screened, they are then formed into pellets.

Many forms of pellets come with something called citric acid added to them, which is a common cleaning agent that prevents the build-up of minerals in your pipes and water softening system, protecting them from damage.

Citric acid won’t alter the taste or quality of your soft water.

Pellets are the preferred option for homes with a higher water usage, so if you have an above-moderate volume water usage, you’ll get much more out of using pellets in your water softening system. If you have an all-in-one tank system, pellets are also the better choice.

water softener salt pellets

How can you tell if your water softener needs salt?

While it’s fairly obvious that salt-based water softeners need salt to perform properly, knowing when to add salt might not appear as straightforward. Don’t fret, though – it really is quite simple to find out when your brine tank needs refilling.

There might be some obvious factors to look out for when it comes to refilling your salt tank, but remember also that the size of your brine tank and the type of water softening system you own will determine how much salt you go through on a monthly basis.

Your household’s water hardness will also affect how much sodium is used, and how quickly it is needed. Consider these three factors when you’re determining how much salt to add to your water softening system, and how often.

No matter what type of salt-based softener you have, get into the habit of looking for the following signs that your salt needs replenishing:

Salt levels are visibly low

The simplest way to tell when your salt levels are low is to physically examine the brine tank by lifting the lid and taking a look inside.

Once the salt levels have dropped below halfway, it’s recommended that you top them up. Never let your salt levels fall beneath one quarter full if you want your system to effectively soften water.

Your water softener is older

An older water softener uses more salt to soften the same quantity of water than a newer system. This is because the water softeners being manufactured today are far more efficient at ion exchange, helping to reduce the need to top up with salt as often.

A newer model should last between 6 weeks and 2 months before it needs a top up. If you have an older model, you’ll need to check it regularly and top it up with salt whenever it’s running low.

There’s bridging in your tank

Sometimes, you might think your water softener needs more salt because it doesn’t seem to be effectively softening your water.

You may actually find that you don’t need more salt, but there’s a bridging issue in your tank that’s preventing ion exchange from taking place.

When a hard, crusty layer of salt forms at the bottom of the brine tank, it prevents the salt underneath it from being able to dissolve into the water, which means there aren’t enough sodium ions in the water to swap with the calcium and magnesium minerals.

You can avoid bridging by keeping your softener in an area of low humidity, using good-quality salt, and ensuring your brine tank stays consistently half-full.

How to add salt to your water softener

softener salt When there is enough salt in your water softener’s tank, it will naturally regenerate itself, which is when water flows back through the softener, clearing out any impurities and preventing rust and other tank issues.

The regeneration process is usually set for a time when you won’t need your softener, such as overnight. It normally takes between 10 and 30 minutes for a system to fully regenerate.

However, if you don’t have enough salt in your water softener, you might need to manually regenerate the system yourself. You’ll need a cloth or rag for this, as well as your salt for water softeners (one or two bags of roughly around 80lbs in total weight).

Start in your brine tank, and use the wet cloth or rag to scrub the build-up of brine and salt from the inside of the tank. Make sure the tank is as clean as you can make it before you add more softening salt to it.

You’ll then need to add more water to your brine tank. Remember that your water level should be set based on instructions in your product’s manual or as per your plumber’s recommendation.

Next, add salt into the brine tank. The amount of salt you’ll need depends on the size of the tank in your system, but you’re aiming to fill the tank just over half-full. Make sure the salt sits at 3 to 4 inches above the water level, unless your product manual directs otherwise.

As you’re adding the salt, ensure that it’s loose and free-moving. Break up any chunks of salt that may have formed during storage before you drop them into the tank.

Finally, find the control panel on your system and press the button for manual regeneration. The system will then get to work regenerating, which should take the standard 10 to 30 minutes to complete. You shouldn’t try to use water from the system until it has fully regenerated.

Even if you always remember to fill your salt tank for your system’s natural regeneration, it’s recommended that you regularly clean out the tank to enable your softener to work effectively and ensure it lasts for longer.

Brine tank maintenance info

Unfortunately, maintaining your salt-based water softener isn’t as simple as buying a batch of sodium chloride and adding it to the system when it’s needed. You’ll need to keep an eye on your tank to make sure everything’s working as it should, and interject if something’s wrong.

If you want to keep your softener in the best condition possible, helping to lengthen its lifespan and more efficiently soften your water, here’s the maintenance info you need to know:

  1. Check the salt level of your brine tank after every 30 days. You need to make sure the salt never falls too low, or there won’t be enough sodium in the system to replace the calcium and magnesium ions in your hard water. This means that some hard-causing minerals might be able to pass through the resin, making for ineffective water softening. Avoid this by adding salt to your system every time it regenerates.
  2. Make sure there is plenty of salt in your water tank. It might look excessive to you, but it’s recommended that your salt levels are at least 4 inches higher than your water levels at all times. If they fall below this, it’s time for a top up.
  3. For the best water softening experience, your salt needs to be at least 4 inches below the lid or top area of the brine tank. This means doing some careful calculations to make sure the water levels aren’t too high, which will also result in higher sodium levels.
  4. If the tank falls below one quarter full of salt, the system won’t work properly. It’s important to check the salt levels regularly to ensure they don’t ever drop too low.
  5. If bridging occurs, and a solid layer of salt forms in the bottom of your resin tank, it’s your responsibility to break this up to allow the salt and the water to mix properly. The simplest way to do this is to pour hot water over the solid layer, which should cause it to crumble apart.

There’s not really much to looking after your brine tank – it’s just a case of checking up on it regularly and adding salt when necessary. If you spot any issues, you’ll be able to sort them out before they turn into something bigger. In this way, you’ll have no problem maintaining your softener’s lifespan and ensuring effective water softening can take place.

Frequently Asked Questions

📅 How long does a water softener last for?

It depends on when you bought your softener, how much you paid for it, by which company it was manufactured, and the quality of the components. Newer water softeners are produced for better durability, which means that if you have an older model, it probably won’t last as many years as the current models on the market. The best water softeners can last for up to 20 years with good care and upkeep.

Note that the quality of your household’s water may affect the lifespan of your water softener. Water with a higher quantity of hard minerals will require more water softening salt to replace these minerals in ion exchange, which means the softening system will have to work harder in a single softening cycle. It’s natural that the more use you get out of a water softener, the more quickly it’s going to degrade.

🔀 Can I mix different salts in my brine tank?

You might find that month-by-month, you purchase different brands and types of salt for your water softening system, which means that when it comes time for a salt top-up, you’ll need to mix one type of salt with another.

Generally, this isn’t usually an issue. Manufacturers of water softeners and water softening salts don’t expect you to use a single brand or type of salt in your system throughout the system’s entire lifespan, so most salts are fine to mix, and won’t cause any issues. That said, on certain occasions, you’ll need to be a little more wary.

If you have an all in one softener with a single tank, it’s recommended that you only use salt pallets, so in this case, you’re best not mixing different salt types. Also be aware that water softeners with no salt screen on their base should use pellets and not crystals, which might clog up the salt pipe.

🔠 Can I use any salt in my softener?

When salt for water softeners costs substantially higher than, say, the table salt in your local supermarket, it’s natural that you might wonder whether there’s a cheaper alternative out there for you to use in your system. Unfortunately, table salt or any other salt for food use isn’t recommended for putting into your water softener. This is because these salt crystals or granules are far smaller than the salt that’s needed in water softening systems, and are more likely to form mushing inside the brine tank.

🚰 Is soft water safe for drinking?

Soft water is just your drinking water without the hard-causing calcium and magnesium minerals, so yes, it’s safe for drinking.

The main job of a water softener is to prevent the water from your home from causing limescale and rust issues in household appliances. Removing the hard-causing minerals from water may give it a slightly less alkaline taste, but won’t affect water quality. If you want to remineralize your tap water for drinking, there are options for doing this – you could use a remineralization filter or mineral drops.

📊 How much salt is in sodium chloride water softener?

Some people don’t like the idea of adding salt to their water in place of calcium and magnesium, but there really isn’t any cause for concern. You might be surprised to learn that all drinking water contains traces of sodium even before it is treated in a water softener, with the exact quantity of sodium varying depending on your local water source.

Water softeners add only a minimal amount of sodium to your water, Typically, you can expect to find about 12.5mg of sodium in an 8oz glass of softened water. Putting this into context, two slices of white bread contain roughly 1.4g of salt – so your soft water adds very little salt to your diet in comparison.

Note that your household’s water hardness may affect the amount of sodium in your softened drinking water. The more calcium and magnesium minerals in your water, the more sodium will be needed to switch with these minerals during ion exchange. This means that you’ll end up with a slightly higher sodium content in your water – but again, it won’t be notable.

If you’re on a low sodium diet, you might want to consider switching your sodium chloride for potassium chloride for salt-free water softening. As potassium chloride is 99.9% salt-free, your diet won’t be affected by ingesting potassium chloride-softened water.

📘 How do I know what setting to put my softener on?

The majority of water softeners will need you to adjust system settings manually to program how much salt is used in one water softening cycle. To do this, you need to find out your household water’s hardness, so that your system can use the right amount of salt to efficiently soften water in the ion exchange process.

Water hardness is measured in GPG, or grains per gallon. The softest water measures at 0, while the hardest can measure up to 35.

Water hardness test strips can easily determine your water hardness if you don’t know it already. You can buy these from your local DIY store or online, and they just require dipping in water and comparing the color of the strip to a water hardness color scale.

You may also be able to find out your water’s hardness through information provided by your local water provider. You should receive water quality reports for your area at a minimum of once a year, which provide all the details on the quantity of minerals in your water. If you don’t have a report to hand, check online or get in touch with your water provider directly.

⚪️ Can I mix salt pellets with potassium chloride?

If you’ve been using sodium chloride in your water softening system, but want to make the change to potassium chloride, there’ll be a point where your brine tank will contain a mixture of potassium and salt pellets. This is fine and shouldn’t cause a problem, although it’s best to try to match on pellet size and type as much as possible to avoid bridging.

🔶 Does salt for iron removal work better?

You might notice that some water softening salt products say they are designed specifically to remove iron from water. There is very limited information available on how exactly the salt is capable of removing more iron from a system, and you should be wary of spending more money on a product that may have little effect on your water quality.

No matter what type of softening salt you put into your water softener, the ion exchange process is always the same: the calcium and magnesium minerals are switched up for sodium ions. Ion exchange is not capable of removing the compounds in water that cause rust, like iron, which generally means that water softeners are not going to do much for preventing rust in your household appliances.

To remove rust-causing compounds from your water, you would need a water filter or a reverse osmosis system. These don’t just remove hard water-causing minerals from water, but also contaminants and impurities that can affect water quality and taste.

💲 Where can I get the best deal on salt for water softeners?

The price you pay for your softening salt depends on the type of salt you’re after, the quality of the salt, and the design of your softening system. Generally speaking, you might be able to get a good deal online from your softener’s manufacturer for being a customer. Otherwise, you might find online softening salt brands that offer discounts if you make a bulk purchase.

The only issue with buying online is that salt is heavy, especially in larger batches, and you’ll usually be expected to pay quite a hefty fee for postage. This might mean that you’ll find a better deal at your local home improvement store.

💨 I added salt to my softener, and noticed a smell. What can I do?

If you notice a bad smell in your brine tank while you’re adding salt, it’s a sign that the tank needs cleaning. You should aim to clean your tank at least once a year, but it might be that you need to do it more frequently if your household water is significantly hard, or you get a higher than average use out of your system.

To clean out your tank, first alter your softener system’s settings so that water flowing into your home bypasses the system while you’re cleaning it. Then disconnect the lines between your brine tank and the rest of the unit. Carefully pour the water out of your brine tank, then remove and discard the remaining salt. Remove the salt screen and store it in a safe place. You can then fill the tank with warm, soapy water and scrub the inside walls of the tank.

When all the brine has been removed from the sides of the tank, you should find that the unpleasant smell has gone away. You can repeat this cleaning process as often as you like, adding a little bleach if you want to clean more thoroughly. Make sure to re-add your salt and water and alter the softener’s settings so that water can pass through the system once you’ve connected the tank back up to the main body.

◾️ What are the small black specs in my solar salt?

If you’re using solar salt in your water softener, you might notice the salt is interspersed with small, black specs. These are usually small particles of earth, pebbles and other natural materials, which mix with the salt during its harvesting process.

These particles are usually sized differently to your salt, so they shouldn’t be able to pass into your water during the ion exchange process. Usually, they’ll be left behind in the brine tank, and will eventually be flushed out of the drain when the system regenerates.

❌ I’ve put salt in my softener but my water is still hard. What’s going on?

This could be down to a number of reasons. First of all, check that you’ve got your system on the right settings for water hardness. It might be that your settings indicate that your water is softer than it actually is, which means your system thinks it needs to use less softening salt for the ion exchange process. As a result, there won’t be enough sodium to replace all of the calcium and magnesium minerals in your water, so some may remain.

Simpler than that, you might have put salt into your softener right before your system regenerated, which means that the salt didn’t have enough residence time. It’s also worth checking that you don’t have a bridging issue in your salt tank, where a build-up of a salt crust prevents sodium from absorbing into the brine water.

🧂 Can I use softening salt for other purposes?

No, it isn’t recommended. Just as you shouldn’t use other salt forms in your water softener, you should avoid using softening salt for other purposes. If you need to de-ice your drive, for example, you’re best using a product that’s specifically designed for ice and snow removal.

On the same note, while water softening salt is perfectly safe to consume in drinking water, you shouldn’t use its raw form for culinary purposes. Stick to your standard table salt and leave your softening salt for your water softener.

🔬 Does softening salt contain chemicals?

Some softening salt may contain additives, which prevent the salt from getting too hard during storage and use. Aside from chemicals, some softener salts may contain impurities like dust, metals and rust, which are picked up during the manufacturing process. These won’t affect your water quality, and should be flushed from your softening system during regeneration.

❓ What should I know about salt purity?

The purity of your softener salt is something to take into account when you’re adding it to your water softener. The higher the purity of your salt, the less insoluble matter, like earth, rocks and other natural compounds, are included in the salt mix. This means that buying higher purity salt will be better value for money, as more salt will be used for water softening, and less insoluble matter will be wasted in the brine tank.

Higher purity salt will help maintain your brine tank’s cleanliness for longer, while salt with a lower purity may lead to a faster build-up of deposits that will need to be flushed from the tank in regeneration. These deposits will leave staining on the inside of your brine tank, which you’ll need to clean regularly to prevent an unpleasant smell from forming.

Finally, higher purity salt makes for more efficient ion exchange for water softening, while preventing mushing or bridging in the bottom of the brine tank. Salt with a high purity dissolves easily into the brine water, improving the softening system’s efficiency.

💯 Which salts are the purest?

The purest salts available for a water softener system are evaporated salt pellets. Unsurprisingly, these are usually a more expensive salt to purchase, but they’ll generally last longer than rock salt and solar salt.

The evaporated salt manufacturing process doesn’t combine salt with other compounds and insoluble matter, which means it naturally consists of pure sodium chloride. If you want to get the best value for your money, evaporated salts may be best for your softening system.