When it’s time to replace the resin in your water softener, these are the best options available.
Purolite SST-60 Resin
Tier1 Ion Exchange Resin
Nelsen Cation Resin
A good water softener can offer a quality performance for up to 20 years – but not without proper care and attention. While some water softener resins can last throughout the entire lifespan of the water softener, others will need changing after around 10 years, depending on the quality.
Finding a good quality resin is essential if you want to minimize maintenance. But how do you know which resins are a worthy investment and which ones aren’t worth your money? My water softener resin reviews and guide will help you spend your budget wisely.
WaterFilterGuru.com aims to help people like me, who care about their water quality, choose the best products available on the market today. With around 3 million yearly readers, I share guides, reviews and blog posts covering everything you could ever want to know about the water treatment industry.
I created this list of the top softener resins after closely assessing the products on the market today. I compared quality, lifespans, price and customer satisfaction, eventually producing this list of softener resins that offer the best overall value for money in the long run.
This guide will cover:
- Reviews of the 6 best water softener resins in 2023
- The ins and outs of buying a softener resin
- Answers to your frequently asked questions
Table of Contents
- 🥇 Best Water Softener Resin
- 📊 Comparison Chart of Water Softener Resin
- ⭐ Softener Resin Reviews 2023
- 🧾 Water Softener Resin Buyer’s Guide
- 💭 What is Resin?
- ⏱️ When Should I Replace My Water Softener Resin?
- 🔎 What Are The Causes of Ineffective Resin?
- 🤔 What Does Crosslink Mean and What Percentage Do I Need?
- 📝 Types of Resin
- 📌 Considerations When Buying Softener Resin Replacement
- 🧠 Frequently Asked Questions
🥇 Best Water Softener Resin
- Best Salt-Saver: Purolite SST-60 Resin
- High-Quality Resin: Tier1 Ion Exchange Resin
- Good Value for Money: Nelsen Cation Resin
- Budget Choice: AFWFilters High Capacity Resin
- Residential & Commercial Use: Aquatrol Water Softening Resin Softener Media
- Long Lasting: LiquaGen Ion Exchange Resin
📊 Comparison Chart of Water Softener Resin
|Product||Purolite SST-60||Tier1 Ion Exchange||Nelsen Cation||AFWFilters High Capacity||Aquatrol Water Softening||LiquaGen Ion Exchange
|Quantity||1 cu. ft.||1 cu. ft.||1 cu. ft.||1 cu. ft.||1 cu. ft.||1 cu. ft.|
|Weight||50 lbs.||50 lbs.||50 lbs.||50 lbs.||50 lbs.||50 lbs.|
⭐ Softener Resin Reviews 2023
Purolite SST-60 Resin
The Purolite C 100E SST-60 is a strong acid cation softener resin that’s designed to reduce salt consumption by up to 50% and limit wastewater production by up to 50%. It can also reduce iron levels and organic fouling in water. This high-quality resin for water softeners has a life expectancy of between 10 and 15 years, depending on your water source.
What makes the Purolite C 100E SST-60 one of the best water softener resins is that you’ll be able to save money on salt. That’s because this water softening ion exchange resin helps to ensure a more efficient system operation, prolonging running time from one automatic regeneration to the next. This, in turn, will help you to save water waste, because fewer regenerations will be needed on a weekly basis.
This high-efficiency strong acid cation softener resin uses a technology called “shallow shell”. What this means is that the diffusion path is shorter, which allows for a faster water softening ion exchange process. It also reduces the amount of penetration that is needed to cleanse the water softener resin during regeneration, which enables regeneration to be more complete, ultimately allowing for a more efficient salt utilization.
Comparing the Purolite SST-60 to other softening resins, it offers salt reduction of up to 2.4 pounds per cubic feet of resin per regeneration. All this is possible without sacrificing the capacity of the system or increasing the likelihood of leaking inside the system. In total, this can help you save between 700 and 1,400 pounds of salt per cubic feet per year – though this is dependant on your water usage.
👍 What I Like
- Highly efficient
- Relatively good price
- Reduces the likelihood of leaking
👎 What I Don’t Like
- Not ideal for high levels of iron
Tier1 Ion Exchange Resin
The Tier1 IER 100 Ion Exchange Resin is a strong acid cation exchange resin that’s made of high-capacity gel polystyrene. This premium water softener resin is available in various quantities, with the common option being 1 cubic foot bags.
You can quickly install this water softener resin in your system, and it’ll get to work straight away in treating your home’s water system, greatly reducing scale buildup and soap scum and extending your appliances’ lifespans.
The Tier1 IER 100 resin for water softeners is suitable for most systems – check with the manufacturer if you want to be 100% sure – and can be used in both a residential water softener and commercial applications. It’s sold at a pretty great value for money, and is backed by the Tier1 no worries guarantee, which protects your purchase if you’re not satisfied with the product.
There’s not much information offered by the manufacturers on what sets this particular water softener resin apart, but with Tier1 being one of the most popular and trusted water softener manufacturers, you can rest assured that you’re buying a legitimate, high-quality resin.
It lasts for 10 years, which is pretty average for any strong acid cation product – while it’s not mind-blowing, it’s a realistic number that should be relatively accurate regardless of your water quality.
👍 What I Like
- Offered by a reputable water softener brand
- Quick and easy to install
- Immediate cleaning properties
👎 What I Don’t Like
- Some customers claim that the product had a much lower lifespan than expected
- Limited information available on Tier1’s website about the product
Nelsen Cation Resin
For greater iron filtration and a more durable system, the Nelsen Mesh Cation softener resin is one of the best water softener resins to consider. This strong acid cation exchange resin is high-capacity, using convention gel polystyrene that can be used in both industrial and residential water softeners.
With the Nelsen, it’s typically best to use 15 pounds of resin per cubic foot to obtain the maximum capacity of approximately 33,000 grains per cubic foot.
This standard mesh resin offers an economical softening solution, and – a big bonus of this product – comes with a WQA Gold Seal certified for NSF/ANSI Standard 61, which ensures that municipal water systems “meet regulatory requirements across North America”. That’s the reassurance you need that it’s one of the best water softener resins in terms of quality.
Being an 8% resin, the Nelsen is relatively affordable, and is most popularly available in 50-pound bags. While it won’t last as long as some resins on the market, it’s still set to last up to 10 years before it needs replacing.
Again, Nelsen’s website is lacking information on what makes this particular water softener resin unique, but if you have specific questions before making a purchase, it’s very easy to get in touch with the manufacturer by contacting online support or giving them a call.
👍 What I Like
- Comes with a WQA gold seal certification
- Good value for money
- Economical softening resin
👎 What I Don’t Like
- Could do with more information about the product online
AFWFilters High Capacity Resin
AFWFilters offers a conventional gel polystyrene sulfonate cation exchange resin in bead form, suitable for both household and industrial use. This resin’s primary role is to remove hard water ions and replace them with sodium ions in a typical ion exchange process.
You can buy the AFWFilters resin in a number of quantities depending on the size of your tank, and you’ll be pleased to know that order sizes are clearly laid out on the AFWFilters website.
- For a 9″x48″ tank, you’ll need the – 1 cu ft (cubic foot) bag – 32,000-grain.
- A 10″x54″ tank requires half a size up from the 1 cu ft – 1.5 cubic feet – 48,000-grain.
- Tanks of 12″x48″ in size need the 2 cubic feet – 64,000-grain.
- If you have a 13″x54″ tank, this is the biggest you can buy for, and you’ll need the- 3 cubic feet – 96,000-grain.
While there’s nothing extra-special about this water softener resin, it’ll get the job done, and it’s fairly low in price. With an 8% crosslinking rating, it should last for between 10 and 15 years, depending on your water source. It’s approved by the NSF and FDA, which is a big bonus, because it means you can confidently use it in your water softener without concerns that it may do more harm than good.
The AFWFilters resin softens water well in normal circumstances, but it’s not the best choice for water with high chlorine or iron levels because of only being an 8% crosslinking softener.
👍 What I Like
- Affordable price
- Good lifespan of 10 to 15 years
- Good chemical and physical stability
👎 What I Don’t Like
- Not suitable for high levels of iron or chlorine – only crosslink 8%
Aquatrol Water Softening Resin Softener Media
The Aquatrol Water Softening Resin media is a premium quality resin, made from polystyrene and DVB beaded with an 8% crosslink (or cross linked) rating. It has been FDA approved for treating water for safe human consumption, which means none of the materials used in its makeup will negatively impact your system’s ability when softening magnesium and calcium in hard water.
While the Aquatrol is advertised as being suitable for use in treating magnesium and calcium hard minerals with any residential water softening application, it’s best to check your softener’s specifications in the user manual if you’re unsure. Its hydraulic characteristics ensure that your water softener will work at peak flow rate, including backwash flow rates.
Being high capacity, this water softener resin helps to promote thermal, physical and chemical stability, meaning it won’t alter in makeup when met with a high alkalinity or warmer or cooler temperatures (to some extent), and has a 95% minimum whole bead count. The Aquatrol’s main purpose is to produce soft water from hard water, but it can also be used in the pharmaceutical industry.
It’s easy to add the Aquatrol to your softener thanks to the bag’s easy-pour spout, which will prevent you from accidentally adding too much. The most popular offering size is a 1 Cu. ft (cubic foot) bag, which is ideal for 9″ X 48″ sized water softener mineral tanks. There’s no information on the lifespan of this softening media, but with it having an 8% crosslink rating, it’s most likely that it’ll last you between 10 and 15 years.
👍 What I Like
- FDA approved
- For residential and commercial use
- Good physical, thermal and chemical stability
👎 What I Don’t Like
- May not be suitable for high iron levels – only crosslink 8%
LiquaGen Ion Exchange Resin
One of the most durable, long lasting ion exchange resins available today is the LiquaGen Ion Exchange Softening Resin. It has a 10% crosslink and is food-grade, meaning the ingredients contained in this product are safe to use to treat water. Because these beads are more strongly bound together, they should last for a longer period of time, reducing the frequency of resin changes required.
If your water supply has high levels of chlorine or iron as well as hard minerals, you’ll be best off choosing a 10% crosslink water softener resin like the LiquaGen. This is particularly ideal for well water sources, which are typically high in iron and would wear down 8% crosslink beads at a faster rate.
Included with either 1/2 or 2 cubic feet of resin is a free funnel, which is handy, as you can use the funnel to more accurately pour the beads into your softener. The LiquaGen has thermotolerant characteristics, as well as excellent physical and chemical stability when softening hard water, and can be used for residential and commercial applications.
Because the LiquaGen resin beads are porous, they can spread out over a larger surface area, helping to trap the highest level of calcium, magnesium and iron during the ion exchange process. The 10% crosslinked design helps in this aspect.
👍 What I Like
- 10% cross-linked design equals higher durability
- Available up to a 2 cubic feet quantity
- Good chemical and physical stability
👎 What I Don’t Like
- The funnel doesn’t ship in the same package as the replacement resin, which confused some customers
🧾 Water Softener Resin Buyer’s Guide
💭 What is Resin?
Resin is an essential component of any salt-based water softener. To produce soft water, all softeners require a resin, which is the site for ion exchange. It holds sodium ions, which are swapped out for hard water minerals in this process.
Without resin beads, a salt-based softener wouldn’t be able to extract calcium and magnesium hard water ions from your home’s water, resulting in soft water. There would be nowhere for the sodium ions to sit in wait for the calcium and magnesium ions, nowhere for these ions to swap, and nothing to hold onto the hard water ions and prevent them from seeping back into your soft water.
⏱️ When Should I Replace My Water Softener Resin?
It’s not always obvious when your water softener resin needs replacing, so it’s wise to follow your manufacturer’s recommendations closely. If your water softener resin bed is advertised to last for 10 years, replace it after 10 years. Most have at least a 10-year lifespan, with some lasting even longer than that.
If you’re unsure how long you’ve used your original water softener resin bed, the best thing to do is a hard water test. It goes without saying that if you’re using a salt-based water softener, whether it uses a standard ion exchange resin or a fine mesh resin, your water should be soft when it comes out of your faucets. If you have relatively hard water, that’s the most obvious sign you’ll get that your water softener resin isn’t working as it should anymore, and it’s time to replace it.
🔎 What Are The Causes of Ineffective Resin?
There are a number of factors that can result in a water softener resin bed “going bad”. These mostly relate to the quality of your home’s water source, which will determine how much wear and tear your water softener is subjected to on a daily basis.
Note that all water softener ion exchange and fine mesh resin will become ineffective over time eventually, but some factors can cause it to degrade more quickly.
Some of the most likely causes of an ineffective water softener resin include:
High levels of chlorine
Resin beads are held together by a DVB agent, which acts as a glue and binds the beads in place. High levels of chlorine can, over time, damage this DVB agent, reducing its strength and durability. Eventually, parts of the resin bed may break off and pass into your water supply, and your water softener won’t be able to carry out the resin ion exchange process as effectively.
High levels of iron
If you’re using a standard ion exchange resin and your water source contains high levels of iron, your resin beads will most likely work less effectively. That’s because the dissolved iron ions will clog up the softener resin and take up all the space, preventing hard water ions from being able to stick to the resin bed.
This means that while your softener system will still be able to produce soft water, it won’t be able to do it at a high level of efficiency. You’re best opting for a fine mesh resin if your water contains high levels of dissolved iron that will be removed as well.
Water hammering is a common plumbing issue that’s so-named because of the specific “hammering” noise that’s made in pipes when the issue is present. It usually happens when you shut off a faucet and water is quickly brought to a stop, which sends a shockwave of water back through your pipes.
Water hammering can affect your softener’s resin because water will be sent at force back into the tank, where it will come into fast contact with the resin. Even the best resin can be affected by this.
Osmotic shock happens when the resin beads gradually inflate and deflate, growing bigger and smaller, as they attract and release minerals. Eventually, with normal wear and tear, this will result in the resin bed cracking or breaking up.
Reduced quantity of resin
Both water hammering and osmotic shock can cause the quantity of the resin to drop. Bits of resin may end up in your water or get washed away during regeneration. This decreases the available surface area, reducing the effectiveness of iron exchange.
🤔 What Does Crosslink Mean and What Percentage Do I Need?
Time for a quick science lesson about the makeup of resin. Strands of polystyrene make up a sphere-shaped resin bed, and the strands cross over one another in their design. When these strands cross over one another, or intersect, it’s known as a crosslink. The number of crosslinks present in a resin gives it its percent crosslink rating.
The higher the percent crosslink of a resin, the stronger and more durable this resin is. Typically, you will find resin available in two percent crosslink ratings:
- 8% crosslink resin
- 10% crosslink resin
If you’ve had your resin for nearing a decade now, it’s most likely 8% crosslink. 8% crosslink resin is still the most common form of resin sold in softeners now, but the higher crosslink resin of 10% is becoming more widely available and affordable.
You might want to consider upgrading from crosslink 8% to a 10% crosslink resin if your home’s water has a high chlorine content. This chlorine will cause the resin strands to gradually lose strength and efficiency, so buying the highest-strength resin available will work in your favor. It’s wise to test your water for chlorine, if you haven’t already, to determine whether you have higher-than-average levels in your water. If you do, you should definitely consider a 10% resin.
In any case, buying one of the high-quality 10% crosslink water softener resins available today, rather than a crosslink 8%, will give you more time before resin replacements, and some 10% resins have double the lifespan of 8% resins. However, if you get your water from a private well, it’ll be much lower in chlorine than municipal water, so a 10% crosslink resin isn’t necessary.
📝 Types of Resin
Even if you’ve only briefly looked for water softener resin online, you’ll probably know that there are two common types of water softener resin available today: fine mesh resin and ion exchange resin.
Fine mesh resin is more commonly available in well water softeners. It’s the best water softener resin for treating well water because it tends to be more effective at removing iron. Typically, with a standard resin, you’d also have to include an iron filter in your softening setup if you were dealing with an iron problem in your home. But because of how a fine mesh resin works, this isn’t necessary.
What exactly is it that makes a fine mesh resin better at removing iron is because the resin is much more tightly packed together. Each individual resin bead is also smaller, which gives the resin a much larger surface area, helping it to capture the highest iron content as water flows through the system. Generally, fine mesh resin works effectively at filtering around 5 ppm of iron – and when the conditions are right, some can even filter up to 10 ppm.
If a fine mesh resin is advertised to remove both iron and hydrogen sulfide in water softeners, it’s likely that it has been combined with an activated carbon media. Sulfur is another common well water contaminant, and a resin that can also remove sulfur will help to further improve the taste and smell of water.
You’ll usually find that a fine mesh resin, while being the best water softener resin for well water, has the disadvantage of affecting water flow rate more than a standard resin. This is because of its design – with the resin beads packed so closely together, it takes longer for water to pass through. That’s why this type of resin typically isn’t used in standard water softeners for municipal water.
If you currently own a standard whole home water softener, it’s likely that your system contains a standard ion exchange resin. This type of resin is otherwise known as a cation style resin. It hosts the swapping of positive and negative ions on its surface.
A standard ion exchange resin still naturally removes iron in water softeners – up to 5 ppm at the very maximum. It’s more efficient at treating ferrous, or soluble iron. You may find that your water softener doesn’t work so smartly if you’re dealing with high levels of ferric, or insoluble iron.
In the process of ion exchange, this type of resin is negatively charged, and holds onto the positively charged calcium and magnesium water hardness minerals, while releasing sodium ions into the water to take their place. When the system regenerates, these hard water minerals – along with some iron and manganese – are washed away down the drain, preventing them from passing back into water and causing scale issues in your home.
📌 Considerations When Buying Softener Resin Replacement
Before buying water softener resin, you’ll want to consider a number of factors that may affect your personal needs. I’ve outlined the key considerations in the following material.
Choosing the best resin type for your water depends first and foremost on your water source. If your home’s water comes from a private well, or even if you use municipal water in some states, you may be dealing with a high iron content. In this case, a fine mesh resin would be a better investment. In any case, your choice comes down to your personal preferences, as you may prefer a speedier ion exchange resin even if your water has a relatively high iron content.
How long does water softener resin last? When the conditions are perfect, some types of premium grade resin can last up to 20 years. But in most cases, chlorine or iron content in your water will cause the water softener resin in the majority of water softeners to degrade at a faster rate in your ion exchange water softener.
On average, if you have up to 1.0 ppm of chlorine in your water, your softener system will continue softening water at a high quality for around 10 years. The lifespan of your water softener resin depends on your water hardness, too, which is why it’s so hard for even manufacturers to give a fixed number of years that a system is designed to last for.
If you want your softening ion exchange resin beads to last longer, you could invest in a chlorine pre-filter to sit before your system, which would reduce or eliminate your water’s chlorine levels and produce a better environment for water softener systems.
It’s important to know exactly how much resin your water softener needs before buying it – this isn’t something you can guess at. Find your system’s user manual, which should let you know the size of your tank at the very least. It should also let you know how much resin it requires.
If you’ve misplaced your user manual, and you can’t find the relevant information online, you can easily work out the quantity of new resin needed. Just measure your tank, then check out the handy table for water softener systems of common capacities below.
|Amount of Resin
|8 x 35||0.64|
|8 x 44||0.75|
|9 x 35||0.75|
|9 x 48||1.00|
|10 x 35||1.00|
|10 x 40||1.00|
|10 x 44||1.25|
|10 x 52||1.50|
|10 x 54||2.00|
As I mentioned earlier, there are two types of percent crosslink when it comes to softener resin: 8% and 10%. With the higher crosslink 10% premium grade resin being stronger and more durable than a lower-percent crosslink 8, you should consider whether it’s worth spending slightly more on a replacement resin that’ll last longer, especially if your water contains high levels of resin-damaging chlorine.
Installation & Maintenance
Once you’ve bought your softening ion exchange resin, you can get started with installation.
First, rotate the bypass valve to send water away from the system while you replace the resin. If you don’t need to use water while you’re working on the system, you could turn off your water supply altogether.
Next, at the control head of the ion exchange water softener, set it to perform a manual regeneration, which will reduce the water pressure inside your plumbing. Then unhook the system from your plumbing and electrical supply.
Remove the valve head from the top of the resin tank. This will give you access into the tank through the top opening. You can then dump the contents of the tank into a trash can. This job may require two people, depending on the size and weight of your tank.
If you’re replacing your rinse tube, cut it to size and insert it into the tank. Pour the replacement resin into the tank, then fit the control valve back onto the top of the tank. You can then reconnect the tank back up to your plumbing and electricity, and rotate the bypass valve to send water back into the system (or switch your water supply back on). The system, complete with the resin replacement, should soften your water immediately.
Related: My full guide on water softener servicing and maintenance
🧠 Frequently Asked Questions
Is salt-based softener resin different from the media in salt-free water softeners?
Yes. Saltless water softeners typically use SCM, or scale control media, to crystallize hard water minerals. They don’t actually remove these minerals from water (and they don’t actually produce “soft” water), and they don’t use salt, so softener ion exchange resin beads wouldn’t work in a saltless softener application.
Does my water consumption rate have anything to do with the lifespan of my softening resin beads?
Definitely. The higher your water consumption, the higher your salt consumption rate. A higher salt consumption rate means your system is working harder and regenerating at a more frequent rate. This means the replacement resin beads will be exposed to a greater level of wear and tear over a period of time, because there’s more water passing through than average.
Is water softener resin the only thing I’ll need to replace in my softener?
No. If you’re using a salt-based softener, you’ll need to replace the salt in your system frequently – far more frequently than you’ll need replace the resin. Most softener systems require salt top-ups every three months or so.