The Best Water Softeners of 2021 – Reviews & Guide

best water softener reviews

Hard water is a major issue in the US, affecting more than 85% of the country. It’s no surprise that water softeners are as popular as they are. But when there are more than 50 water softener variations on Amazon alone, how are you supposed to know which one to buy?

This best water softeners guide will help you with this. I’m an expert in at-home water treatment, having worked in the industry for almost a decade and written published works for the likes of Sawyer Products, WWD Magazine and HowStuffWorks. I know that my 100,000-strong monthly audience is looking for value, and that’s what I aim to provide. 

To narrow down your search, I’ve featured just 12 water softeners in this list. After carrying out extensive research, I deemed these to be the best available in terms of softening capabilities, efficiency, quality of build, customer satisfaction, and more. I’m confident that there’s the perfect system for everyone on this list, no matter what you’re looking for. 

By the end of this guide, you will learn:

  • Which 12 water softeners are worth your money in 2021
  • The different water softening options you can choose from
  • What to know when purchasing a water softener for your home

🥇 Best Water Softeners

SystemDetails 
SpringWell Futuresoft
SpringWell Futuresoft
Max hardness (GPG): 81
Type: Salt-free
Flow Rate (GPM): Up to 20
Dimensions: 13 x 54 inches

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👉 Read the full review
SpringWell Salt Based Water Softener System
SpringWell Salt Based Water Softener System
Capacity (grains): Up to 80K
Type: Salt-based
Flow Rate (GPM): Up to 20
Dimensions: 9 x 48 inches

☝️ Get 5% off - Use code GURU5

👉 Read the full review
SoftPro Elite
SoftPro Elite High-Efficiency Water Softener
Capacity (grains): Up to 90K
Type: Salt-based
Flow Rate (GPM): Up to 15
Dimensions: 20.3 x 37.4 inches

👉 Read the full review
AquaOx WS Water Softener
AquaOx water softener
Capacity (grains): 64K
Type: Salt-based
Flow Rate (GPM): 16
Dimensions: 14 x 7 x 21 inches

👉 Read the full review

US Water Systems GreenWave Salt-free Water Conditioner
US Water Systems GreenWave Salt-free Water Conditioner
Max hardness (GPG): 81
Flow Rate (GPM): Up to 25
Dimensions: 9 x 52.5 inches
Fleck 5600 SXT
Fleck 5600 SXT Review
Capacity (grains): 48K
Type: Salt-based
Flow Rate (GPM): 20
Dimensions: 10 x 54 inches


👉 Read the full review
Fleck Iron Pro 2 Combination Water Softener Iron Filter
Fleck Iron Pro 2 Combination Water Softener Iron Filter
Capacity (grains): 64K
Type: Salt-based
Flow Rate (GPM): 15
Dimensions: 14 x 7 x 21 inches
Eddy Water Descaler Electronic Water Softener
Eddy Water Descaler Electronic Water Softener Review
Type: Electronic descaler
Voltage: 110 volts
Wattage: 5 watts
Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.6 x 3.5 inches

👉 Read the full review
Nuvo H20 DPHB
Nuvo H20 DPHB Review
Capacity (grains): 20K
Type: Salt-free
Flow Rate (GPM): 15
Dimensions: 5 x 24 inches


👉 Read the full review
EcoPure EP7130
EcoPure EP7130 Review
Capacity (grains): 30K
Type: Salt-based
Flow Rate (GPM): 7.5
Dimensions: 24 x 18 x 46 inches

👉 Read the full review
iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Descaler
iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Descaler Review
Capacity (grains): 19
Type: Electronic descaler
Dimensions: 7 x 3.5 x 2 inches

👉 Read the full review
Aquasana Whole House Water Filter System w/ Salt-Free Conditioner
Aquasana Whole House Water Filter System with Salt-Free Conditioner Review
Capacity (grains): 1M
Type: Salt-free
Flow Rate (GPM): 7
Dimensions: 9 x 46 x 54 inches


👉 Read the full review

⭐ Reviews – Best Water Softener 2021

SpringWell Futuresoft Salt-free Water Softener

springwell futuresoft salt free water softener

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The SpringWell FutureSoft is our top pick for the best overall salt-free softening system. The stainless steel system reduces hardness causing minerals from your water with a 12 GPM flow rate and prevents up to 99.6% of scale build-up without the use of chemicals or salt.

This softening system doesn’t waste water or cause a dip in water pressure in your home, unlike many traditional water softeners. As a completely saltless system, the softener uses a process called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC) which doesn’t remove minerals from the water, but converts them into crystals that are unable to adhere to surfaces and leave scale build-up.

The components used in this unit are NSF certified, and meet the high standards of performance, reliability and durability. As a manufacturer, SpringWell has operated for more than 20 years, and offers a 6-month money back guarantee on its water softening products.

The SpringWell FutureSoft uses ActivFlo water technology, which allows the system to operate at all water flow rate levels, ensuring your household doesn’t experience a drop in decreased pressure of water. Also included in the system is a pre filter. This pre filter removes larger sediment and contaminants like copper and silica from water.

👍 What I Like

  • No water or electricity waste
  • Does not remove minerals from the water so you can still get the health benefits
  • Easy to install
  • Low maintenance – needs less salt than competitors
  • Water flow rate 12 GPM
  • Top pick for best overall salt free systems
  • Best option for eco-friendliness

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • Doesn’t remove minerals from the water, which some may prefer
  • Can only prevent scale buildup
  • Resin will need to be changed

Read the full review: SpringWell Futuresoft Salt-free Water Softener Review (2021)


Springwell Salt Based Water Softener System

SpringWell Salt Based Water Softener System

My readers get 5% off at springwell.com 👉 Use code: GURU5

The Springwell Salt Based Water Softener System is considered one of the most dependable and best ion exchange softeners currently on the market.

This salt-based system is designed to completely remove hardness minerals from your water. Using an innovative technology that is much more efficient than others, the system produces far less waste by relying on its automatic regeneration cycle, helping you, the homeowner, to save money and do your part for the environment.

The innovative Connected Series control head is Bluetooth enabled, allowing you to control the settings of your system from your mobile device. Adjust your backwash, regen cycles and timing with the tap of a button. Also available in the app you will see data about water usage, how the system is working, including current and historical information.

You won’t experience a drop in water pressure with the Springwell salt based softener. The system is available in 3 sizes – making it one of the best salt-based systems for hardness removal:

  • 32K grain capacity (1-3 Bathrooms)
  • 48K grain capacity (4-6 Bathrooms)
  • 80K grain capacity (7+ Bathrooms)

The manufacturer offers a lifetime warranty for defects, and a 6 month money back satisfaction guarantee.

👍 What I Like

  • Fully softens water
  • Automated regeneration technology helps reduce costs
  • 6-month money back guarantee
  • Innovative Bluetooth control
  • Extremely efficient, wastes less

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • Requires salt top-ups
  • Installation is complex

Read the full review: Springwell Salt Based Water Softener System Review (2021)


SoftPro Elite

softpro elite

The SoftPro Elite is one of the best overall water softener systems that uses salt, and is one of the most affordable and efficient water softeners on the market. The system has a control head that makes it easy to manage with its automatic settings that control how often the unit regenerates and check the system status, and is virtually maintenance free.

Using an efficient upflow regeneration technology, the SoftPro Elite helps save on both salt and water consumption with a more exact resin recharge, which will save you money in the long run. This is powered by next-gen sensors, which allow the system to trigger a quick short demand initiated regeneration cycle outside of the normal scheduled time if the clean resin gets below a 3% threshold.

The SoftPro water softener comes with a user-friendly LCD screen, allowing you to select from a variety of presets including auto refresh, auto-variable backwash, vacation mode & auto reserve. 

Considering average operation, the crosslink resin the softener uses should last up 20 years.

The SoftPro Elite comes with a limited lifetime warranty on all parts (except those that naturally wear out) and the touchpad controls. The circuit board has a 7 year warranty, the resin has 10 years and the tank softener has a guarantee lifetime warranty.

👍 What I Like

  • High efficiency upflow regeneration technology – will save you money Good customer service
  • Control head is simple to use
  • Reasonable price point compared to similar systems
  • NSF/ ANSI 44 & 61 certified
  • Only uses 2-3 bags of salt every 1 year

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • There is no base model
  • Requires salt top-ups
  • Needs electricity connection

Read the full review: SoftPro Elite Reivew (2021)


AquaOx WS

AquaOx water softener

The Aquaox WS is a top of the line ion exchange stainless steel system is designed to get rid of calcium and other hard minerals from the water using ion exchange. This means your water is completely softened in addition to providing descaling benefits for your pipes and appliances.

With its innovative digital on demand control touch screen you are able to set your preferred water hardness level, check the water softening system status, look for error codes and schedule regeneration cycles. This featured combined with the high quality resin and up flow technology help to reduce the amount of salt and water the system uses.

Installed at your central water line, the AquaOX WS is a whole house softener for well water that provides the benefits of soft water to all appliances and faucets in your house. To ensure you get the most of your money the AquaOX water system comes with a 10-year warranty and a 12-month money back guarantee.

👍 What I Like

  • Easy to operate and install
  • Touch screen control
  • Can set the hardness level your prefer
  • 12-month guarantee & 10 year warranty
  • 15 gallons per minute – more than 20,000 gallons per day
  • One of the best overall based salt systems

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • Needs a steady source of electricity to function
  • Expensive upfront cost
  • Requires you to add salt

Read the full review: AquaOx WS Water Softener Review


US Water Systems GreenWave Salt-free Water Conditioner

US Water Systems GreenWave Salt-free Water Conditioner

The US Water Systems GreenWave Salt-Free Water Conditioner is an eco-friendly softening alternative that uses no salt and provides a highly efficient performance. Using no electricity and wasting no water, this water conditioner is well worth considering if you’re not keen on the energy and wastewater costs of owning a water softener.  

The system uses a conditioning technique known as Nucleation Assisted Crystallization, or NAC for short. This process transforms hardness minerals into microscopic crystals that are effectively inactivated – they remain suspended in water and are unable to stick to surfaces as scale. 

With a 97% effectiveness rating, the GreenWave’s performance is about as good as it gets for a water conditioner. Because you don’t need to connect it up to a drain line and there’s just one tank to deal with, installation is relatively straightforward and you may be able to do the job yourself. 

Maintenance is a breeze, too – there’s no salt to top up; you’ll just need to replace the media every few years (though there isn’t a specified period of time for changing the media, the warranty covers it for 4 years, so you should get a minimum of this long out of it). 

Whether you live in a region where water softeners are banned or you’re tired of salt top-ups, the GreenWave is a system worth considering. Choose between 10-25 GPM flow rates to suit your home’s size and water pressure.

👍 What I Like

  • Uses no electricity & wastes no water
  • Easy to install
  • No salt required
  • Eco friendly product
  • Max hardness 81 GPG

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • Though very effective, still not as effective as a salt-based softener
  • Relatively new product – few customer reviews to go off
  • Pre-filter not included

Fleck 5600SXT

Fleck 5600 SXT Review

The Fleck 5600SXT Digital Control 48,000 Grain Water Softener is a whole house water softening system that uses a highly efficient ion exchange process to remove hard-causing minerals from the water.

Loaded with resin in the mineral tank and partially pre-assembled, the fleck water softener is designed to be easy to install. You can set up the Fleck 5600sxt softener without the help of a professional plumber or handyman.

Included with this ion exchange system are a 1. 5 cubic feet high capacity resin, 48, 000 grain capacity (10X54) tank, 15x17x36 salt brine tank with safety float. For customer peace of mind, the Fleck 5600sxt system comes with a warranty of 5 years on the unit’s bypass demand metered control valve and 10 years on the salt and brine tanks. 

👍 What I Like

  • Smart control reduces water wastage
  • Good customer service
  • 48, 000 grain capacity makes it ideal for entire house use
  • Comes with resin already in the tank
  • Top pick for an affordable option & good warranty of 5 years

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • Not as easy to install as alternatives
  • Water is wasted during the regeneration process
  • Requires scheduled maintenance, cleaning & sodium top-ups

Read the full review: Fleck 5600SXT 48K Grains Water Softener Review


Fleck Iron Pro 2 Water Softener

Fleck-Iron-Pro-2-Review

The Fleck Iron Pro 2 Water Softener is a digital control all in one water softener and iron removal filter for whole house use.

With A 64, 000 grain capacity, this salt-based water softener and iron removal filter uses a fine mesh resin to effectively remove up to a 6-8 PPM of iron from municipal and well water. Ferrous iron may run clear in water, but can cause rust deposits and give water an unpleasant metallic taste.

This digital metered system boasts water softening features that effectively reduce water hardness up to 75 grain capacity per gallon (gpg), removing hardness causing minerals that result in limescale build-ups in plumbing and home appliances. 

This softening system uses traditional based salt softening to remove calcium and magnesium minerals from water, in addition to its removing iron capabilities. For this system to continue to work, a user will need to factor in for regular sodium tank control top-ups. 

👍 What I Like

  • Digital metered control reduces water wastage & displays error codes
  • Removes magnesium, calcium and iron
  • 64,000 grain capacity
  • Best option for extremely hard water

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • Difficult installation
  • Higher price point
  • May need professional help to install

Read the full review: Fleck Iron Pro 2 Review

Eddy Water Descaler Electronic Water Softener

Eddy Water Descaler Electronic Water Softener Review

The Eddy Electronic Water Descaler is a no-salt water softener alternative that gives soft water benefits without changing the hardness. It retains hard causing minerals in your water supply, enabling you to benefit from them health-wise without having to deal with limescale and other hard water issues.

The Eddy magnetic water descaler works by sending an electro-magnetic wave through two coils that surround your incoming water supply pipe. The water that passes through the pipe is subjected to a magnetic field from the coils, which alters the structure of the limescale-causing minerals to prevent mineral buildup on your clean surfaces, and inside pipework and appliances.

The Eddy requires little to no maintenance when compared to a salt-based softener. There are no tanks to clean, no sodium to top up, and no chance of clogging or blockages with this electronic water softener. Once you’ve installed the conditioner, your work is essentially done.

👍 What I Like

  • Small, compact size
  • Low cost to run
  • Does not require maintenance, softener salt top-ups, or cleaning
  • Best option for retaining benefits of beneficial minerals

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • Does not alter pH of water
  • Does not work with older pipes made of iron or lead
  • Not ideal for areas with water hardness over 20 GPG (grains per gallon)

Read the full review: Eddy Electronic Water Descaler Review


Nuvo H20 DPHB

Nuvo H20 DPHB Review

The Nuvo H20 DPHB home salt based system uses the scientific process of chelation to alter the composition of hard water causing minerals. Unlike other saltless softeners, which use magnets to condition water, this softener for your home binds minerals in your water to a chelating agent, which keeps the minerals soluble and unable to cause hard water issues.

With FDA and NSF certifications, the Nuvo H20 DPHB whole home water softener is third-party proven to work as effectively as advertised. The system’s components are built to last, and designed for effectove whole home water softening.

It’s completely free of sodium ions, and wastes no water or electricity, helping you to benefit from soft water without an increased energy bill. A user will need to replace the softening cartridges for the unit after approximately 20,000 gallons of water usage.

👍 What I Like

  • Salt-free softening system that softens water, rather than conditioning it
  • Does not waste electricity or water, or require salt top-ups.
  • Cartridges last approximately 4 years. Comes with first replacement.
  • FDA approved softening method

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • Cartridges need to be replaced after about 50,000 gallons of water use
  • Not as effective for well water with iron

Read the full review: Nuvo H2O Home Softener System Review


EcoPure EP7130

EcoPure EP7130 Review

The EcoPure EP7130 30,000 Grain Capacity Water Softener is a US built, NSF certified product for household and small business use.

This salt-based eco-friendly water softener uses AutoSense Technology, a clever feature that calculates how much water is needed for regeneration, only using the water that is necessary. This reduces salt and water wastage, helping you, the homeowner, to save money and do your part for the environment.

Ideal for households of 1 to 5 people, for city or well water usage, the EcoPure home water softening unit removes high levels of water hardness and up to 8 PPM of iron – making it one of the best salt-based systems for iron removal It’s certified, so you can be certain that the system operates as efficiently as the manufacturer claims.

Offering a 1 year full parts and labor warranty, the manufacturer provides in-home service by trained professionals – a huge benefit for customers. You can extend your warranty to 2 years if you purchase 3 bottles of EPCL EcoPure water softener cleaner within the first year after ordering your salt-based water softener.

👍 What I Like

  • Fully softens water
  • Great customer service
  • Eco-friendly softener
  • Predictive regeneration technology helps reduce costs
  • Alert when salt is running low
  • Suitable for well water with iron and city water usage

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • Installation is complex
  • Requires salt top-ups
  • User manual can be difficult to digest

Read the full review: EcoPure EP7130 Water Softener Review


iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Descaler

iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Descaler Review

The iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Descaler Water Conditioner connects up to a home’s incoming water pipes to provide a means of conditioning water for the whole household.

Designed especially for homes in particularly hard water areas (between 10 and 19 grain capacity), this is one of the best salt free water softener systems for your home features technology to effectively descale an entire home’s water system and prevent any further scale build-up in pipes.

Thanks to its small dimensions, it’s easy to install the iSpring ED2000 in a compact area without much space and without the need for any major plumbing skills. Installation simply requires following the installation instructions to set the descaler up at your household water’s point of entry, and a good number of people find the process simple enough to do themselves.

👍 What I Like

  • Low price point
  • Conditions water without removing beneficial minerals from the water
  • No maintenance
  • No plumbing setup required
  • Doesn’t waste water or use salt

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • Does not work with water hardness greater than 25 GPG (grains per gallon)
  • May require additional filters if your water contains iron
  • Minerals are not removed, so some hard water issues like dry skin and hair may remain

Read the full review: iSpring ED2000 Review


Aquasana Whole House Water Filter System w/ Salt-Free Conditioner

Aquasana Whole House Water Filter System with Salt-Free Conditioner Review

The Aquasana Rhino Whole House Water Filtration System offered by one of the most well-known mannufacturers, and is designed to filter sediment and 97% of chlorine from water for the whole home.

With a 1 million gallon capacity, this whole house filtration system & water conditioner combo is built with durability in mind. The filtration system can effectively remove contaminants like heavy metals (lead), mercury, pesticides, VOCs and more from water.

A major advantage of the Aquasana Rhino whole house filtration system is the durability of its salt-free water softener. The cylinder is designed to last for a minimum of 10 years, depending on household water usage.

Water conditioning technology is used in this salt-free water softener to alter the structure of hard-causing ions, rather than removing them altogether. The Aquasana conditioner connects to your main water line and crystalizes hard minerals, preventing them from being able to leave limescale deposits. Water retains its natural healthy minerals without the addition of less healthy sodium ions.

There are three more stages of the water filtration system: a copper-zinc and mineral stone filter, an activated carbon filter, and a post filter. The numerous filtration stages result in the cleanest, purest water for the whole home.

👍 What I Like

  • 2 in 1 water softener and filter
  • No salt softening
  • Does not require electricity
  • Great quality components and durability
  • Does not waste water or need to regenerate
  • Water softener removes heavy metals

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • Filters need regular changing
  • Higher price point
  • Complex installation

Read the full review: Aquasana Rhino Filter Review


🧾 Water Softener System Buyer’s Guide (2021)

With the plethora of new water softener systems available, it can overwhelming even knowing where to start.

We put together the following water softener system buyer’s guide to help you learn everything you need to know about how water softeners work and how to select one for your specific needs.

💡 What Is A Water Softener?

A water softener is a type of water conditioning system that removes minerals like calcium & magnesium from water. These minerals are what make water “hard”, and can have an effect on the quality of water produced.

A high number of people prefer not to drink even moderately hard water, or to control the mineral content of their own water. This is where water softeners become useful.

🤔 Why Do I Need a Water Softener Anyway?

Water softeners work to reduce, alter, or eliminate hard water causing minerals. Hard water can cause all sorts of irritating hard water problems such as limescale, water spots, and reduce appliance efficiency. You may need a water softener if your water hardness levels are particularly high.

💦 What is Hard Water?

“Hard water” is a term we use when referring to water that has a high mineral level. While it is technically considered clean water, hardness of your water can cause a number of issues for homes and businesses, which is why water softening – removing these minerals from the water – now exists.

Water Hardness Map
source: usgs.gov

Minerals found in hard water

Typically, the minerals include calcium, magnesium, iron, and aluminium. Hard water may also contain traces of other minerals, depending on location and water source.

The higher the calcium and magnesium content of the water, the harder it is. While hard water is perfectly safe to drink, even moderately hard water can lead to inconvenience and inflate water bill prices.

It’s is formed when water passes through lime, chalk and gypsum deposits, which naturally contain traces of magnesium, calcium, iron and aluminium.

The water comes into contact with these hard minerals while still in its natural environment, in lakes, rivers and groundwater. These hard causing minerals are not removed during the municipal water treatment process. You can perform a water test to identify how hard your water is.

minerals found in hard water
Source: wikipedia.org

Magnesium and Calcium Ions

Most of us know magnesium and calcium as essential minerals for our health – but how do they affect our water?

Magnesium and calcium are responsible for the indications of hard water you might notice around your home, like film over shower doors and bathtubs, reduced appliance efficiency, and spots on glasses and dishware that have been washed.

Iron

Although not present in water in significantly high quantities, iron can be of a particular nuisance to home and business owners when it gets into appliances.

Drinking water containing iron isn’t bad for your health – in fact, it’s essential for many important bodily functions – but when used in cooking, iron may contaminate foods with an unpleasant metallic taste. The biggest issue with iron water is the rust-like stains it can leave on surfaces like bathtubs and sinks. These stains are hard to take care of and can even get onto tableware and laundry.

Aluminum

Unlike the other hard water minerals, aluminum is not required for our health, and exposure to too much aluminum can be harmful.

Aluminum is actually added to water in the water treatment process to remove microorganisms and other impurities before it is sent to our homes for drinking. While we can quite easily absorb aluminum from water, problems arise when there are significantly higher levels of aluminum in water than normal.

⚠️ Issues caused by hard water

Using hard water in your home can cause a number of inconveniences that may negatively impact your health, the aesthetics or functionality of water-based appliances, and the smell, appearance and texture of items that come into contact with your hard water.

Hair

A higher mineral deposits content in water has been found to make hair less pliable and more difficult to style after a wash. It can also cause hair dye to fade faster, and a high level of calcium ions in water can even change the color of dye. Water that contains a significant amount of iron, sulfur and similar metals can cause your hair to pick up an unpleasant metallic odor, and may result in darker discoloration.

Skin

Hard water doesn’t lather properly with soap, forming layers of soap scum that build up on appliances like showerheads and bathtubs – and your skin.

When you wash with hard water, the water residue deposits a film that clogs pores, leading to breakouts and aggravating skin conditions like eczema and acne. Hard water can also strip the moisture from the surface of the skin, leading to dryness and irritation.

Dishes

The effects of hard water are usually the most obvious on your glasses and dishes. You might notice that when you’ve washed your dishes, instead of looking clean and clear, they’re coated with a white, cloudy residue from the minerals in the water that are left behind on their surface.

Limescale

Limescale is a type of water-based deposit left by calcium carbonate when water evaporates. This limescale build up can build up over time in places where hard water is present, and once you’ve got a limescale problem, it tends to stick – literally. While you’ll be able to clear limescale from most easily accessible locations, pipes and other behind-the-scenes areas of water-based appliances are trickier to deal with. You’re most likely to find the highest quantity of limescale in your bathroom and kitchen.

Faucets and pipes

In particular, limescale deposits from hard water can damage your plumbing. The damage goes far beyond the kitchen and bathroom features we can see. Water passing through the pipes is dragged back by the limescale, reducing water flow. Over time, you may want to factor in increased maintenance and repair work on your plumbing as a result of limescale build-up.

Sulfur smell

Perhaps the least appealing aspect of a certain type of water is a rotten egg smell, which is produced by an increased hydrogen sulfide content in the water. Sulfur in water is not considered harmful in smaller doses. You won’t get sick from ingesting water with an unpleasant sulfur smell – it’s more of a nuisance. The smell can be bad enough to put you off drinking the water, which will probably mean you’ll end up spending more on bottled alternatives.

limescale in pipe
Source. wikipedia.org

Appliances

Over time, hard water running through your home’s appliances will start to cause damage. Your dishwasher may clean your dishes less effectively if it’s using hard water to do so. In addition, limescale can wear your dishwasher’s components down over time, leading to decreased performance, eventually causing them to break down.

In the bathroom, while the minerals in the water might be more noticeable on your faucets and showerheads and in your bathtub, a build-up of scale in the toilet can cause the most long-term damage.

Water heaters efficiency

A build-up of hard water sediment in your gas water heaters can affect its performance efficiency. The layer of limescale at the bottom of the tank acts as insulation, preventing water heaters from heating water up as quickly, requiring it to stay on for longer. 

Laundry

Not only does hard water affect the performance of your washing machine, it prevents soap from lathering properly. To clean your clothes properly, you’ll need to use almost twice the amount of detergent in a machine that uses hard water, compared to one that uses soft water.

If your towels and bedding feel hard and scratchy to the touch, this is again most likely caused by hard water. If you have sensitive skin, wearing clothes that have been washed in water with a high mineral content might cause flare-ups and increased skin irritation.

✔️ Benefits of a Water Softening System

Using one of the best water softeners to soften your water is the simplest way to eliminate hard water issues and enjoy a whole host of household benefits. Below are the some of the key benefits of water softening systems.

Appliance longevity

One practical reason to consider a water softener is to extend the life of your water-based appliances.

The best-buy water softener systems can remove up to 99.9% of all hard water minerals from as many gallons of water that you use on a daily basis, thus preventing the common hard water issues that can lead to the deterioration of an appliance.

Water heating efficiency

By removing lime scale taking up tank water softener space and acting as an insulation, your water heaters can more quickly and efficiently heat up water, helping you to cut down on heating bills.

Water flow rate

Softened water contains no calcium minerals that typically cause limescale. For this reason, it won’t leave a scale deposit on pipes that might slow down water flow.

More efficient cleaning

Soft water lathers with soap much more easily, which means when you’re hand-washing your dishes, you’ll need less cleaning liquid to do the same top-quality job. You can save money on expensive powders and detergents for your washing machines, because you’ll be able to use less cleaners (and even fewer gallons of water) to get the same results. Your dishwasher is the same – using one of the best water softeners to soften your water can help the appliance to clean your dishes, cutlery and glassware far more efficiently, without leaving a cloudy residue on surfaces.

Lime/stain free surfaces

Practicalities aside, the staining that limescale can leave on surfaces like sinks, bathtubs, faucets and showerheads isn’t very visually appealing. With a water softener, you’ll save yourself hours of cleaning limescale deposits from surfaces that come into contact with your tap water.

Skin and hair

Soft water balances your hair’s pH, helping it to maintain its moisture and smoothness. With one of the best water softeners, you’ll also be able to wash your hair more effectively, encouraging it to maintain its condition for longer between washes.

Soft water is beneficial to the skin for similar reasons – the sudsy lather that the water forms when it comes into contact with soap helps to give skin and hair a better rinse and washes off more thoroughly with water.

⚙️ How Do Water Softeners Work?

There is no single way to describe how a water softener works, because there are a number of different variations available on today’s market, and each of them uses different components and techniques to remove calcium, magnesium and other minerals from water.

Related: How ion exchange water softeners work

🔡 What Are the Different Types of Water Softeners?

Nowadays, we’re fortunate to have the freedom to choose between a wide range of types of water softeners on the market – namely salt water softeners and water conditioners – to meet our water needs. You might personally prefer a certain product because you like the technique it uses to soften water, or because it works well for a particular appliance in your home.

types of water softeners

Salt based water softeners

One of the common methods of softening water takes place in an ion exchange system, where calcium and magnesium are removed from the water, replaced by a sodium (salt) ion. Salt-based systems require a special type of salt to run – table salt won’t do it here.

Salt water softeners (called Ion Exchange Softeners) contain resin beads, which have a negative charge. The magnesium and calcium minerals in hard water have a positive charge, and because opposites attract, they move towards and pass through the resin beads, where ion exchange takes place.

Pros:

  • Strips all hardness levels out of the water, leaving absolutely no magnesium and calcium minerals behind.
  • Many salt based water softeners are NSF certified
  • Salt based softeners offer a wider range of benefits aside from just reducing the build-up of scale on water-based appliances.

Cons:

  • Salt based water softening tends to be more costly because of their efficiency in removing hardness-causing minerals from water.
  • Not everyone wants to add salt into their water, even in small amounts, which you have to do with a salt based water softener.
  • May result in more maintenance than a water conditioner that does not use salt.
salt based water softeners

Salt-free water softeners

Unlike salt-based softeners, the best salt-free water softeners use something called a template assisted crystallization (TAC) media that changes the composition of the ions so that they’re no longer capable of depositing limescale onto a surface. A salt-free water softener descales water instead of softening it. Note that it can’t be used with well water in this case.

Pros:

  • Because the hard water minerals are not actually removed from water, you can still benefit from the nutritional value of these minerals
  • Tend to be lower priced
  • Don’t usually require in-depth installation or maintenance & comes with everything you need to get started.
  • The best salt-free water softener uses less electricity, is more environmentally friendly, and is suitable for a person on a low salt diet.

Cons:

  • You may still notice issues with skin and hair, laundry etc.
  • Cannot be used with well water sources
  • Don’t work well in areas where water hardness is higher than 75 grains per gallon.

Product Variations

Dual tank Water Softeners

A dual tank softener, otherwise known as a twin tank water softener, is a popular water softening solution for homes and businesses.

Dual tank water softener models are considered better than single tank softeners because they consist of 2 resin tanks and one tank for salt, for water and salt. The role of the softener tank is to accumulate resin beads, which are used to remove the minerals that cause water hardness, while the salt tank stores the salt needed for the ion exchange process.

Dual tank water softeners are particularly useful because they allow for a higher water capacity. When water runs out of one tank, the dual tank system automatically switches over to the second tank, (hence the name “dual tank”), preventing a lag in water production.

Magnetic water descalers

Magnetic water descalers are water softening systems that offer a chemical-free water softening process. A powerful magnet on the outside of the system alters the magnesium and calcium ions in your hard water when it passes through the strong magnetic field, softening the water before it enters a household plumbing system.

Magnetic water descalers are most efficient in preventing the build-up of scale, and you’ll still be able to benefit from the nutritional aspects of minerals in water.

Portable water softeners

If you’re looking to enjoy the benefits of a water softener on the go, portable water softening systems are the best buy option for you. Whether you need softened water for your RV, boat, spa, or anything else that might require water softening, you’ll be able to use water softeners of the portable kind to provide the results you’re after.

Usually, portable water softeners are smaller versions of single tank salt based softeners. This means that, like single tank softeners, they consist of a resin and a salt tank, and produce softened water through the softening process of ion exchange.

Combination water softeners

For hard water that contains high quantities or iron, combination water softeners can filter out iron, magnesium and calcium particles using a softening process in just one system. They are particularly useful for treating water that contains ferrous iron, which commonly causes rust stains.

Most commonly, combination water softeners use a standard salt based single or dual tank system. A fine mesh resin is used to trap ferrous iron, while a dedicated iron filter removes ferric iron. Ferric iron usually causes water discoloration, while ferrous iron doesn’t.

Whole house water softeners

These softeners are designed to do as they say – soften the water flowing into your entire house to be used in all appliances including heaters, washing machines, showers, faucets and dishwashers. Most water softeners are available for whole house use, and generally, the bigger the water storage capacity, and the faster a system can produce softened water, the better. A whole house water softener can be a either salt based softener or condition water without the use of salt.

These whole house water softening systems vary in price from model to model. As they’re the most popular form of water softener available, no matter what softening process they use, you generally have the broadest range of options if you’re looking to purchase a water softener for your entire home.

Shower head water softeners

Water softening shower heads simply replace a standard showerhead to provide clean, soft water at the source. They’re effective at eliminating hard water contaminants, thus producing odor-free water.

A shower water softener is generally a salt based softener, meaning that it removes calcium and magnesium from the water. Some shower head water softeners also remove other contaminants from water, like chlorine and heavy metals, giving better quality water to shower in.

❗️ Important Features To Keep In Mind​

There are a number of important features you’ll need to keep in mind if you’re looking to purchase a water softening system for your home or business. It’s best to set out a clear list of exactly what you’re looking for, in terms of your budget, your water softening needs, your preferred unit size, and much more.

Take a look at the features to consider before you choose a water softener:

Capacity

Water softeners on the market today vary in grain capacities from model to model, meaning that some water softeners will be capable of producing more soft water at a steadier rate than others, and for a longer period of time. The average family will use around 3, 000 grains per day. That means you’ll get around 1,960 days – or 6 years – out of a system with an average capacity of 64, 000 grains. Some systems have a bigger grain capacity than this; some have a smaller one. Check what grain water softener you have if you’re looking to make an ugprade.

Technology type

As covered in our list of the most popular water softener models above, there are a variety of different technology types that can be used to soften water.

For instance, you may prefer a salt based water softener if your water has a high hardness and you would rather remove all mineral ions from your water. Equally, you might not want to remove these ions, but only change their form to prevent them from producing limescale buildup, for which you might prefer one of the best salt-free water conditioners. There is no “better” choice between a salt water softener and salt-free water softeners; it comes down to personal preference.

Installation & maintenance costs

Technology type can also affect the initial costs and long-term maintenance of a water softener.

Generally, salt based water softeners are more expensive to purchase than salt free softeners, and upkeep can also cost a little more. Your budget might have a bigger impact on your purchasing decisions than you realize.

Water softener installation and maintenance costs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, whether you’re looking at a salt-based system or salt-free softeners. Sometimes, it’s worth paying that extra $100 or so for the best water softener system that is highly acclaimed for its efficiency and durability – but if you have reason to believe a water softener isn’t worth its advertising price, it’s probably best to avoid it.

Area available to house the unit

With varying capacity comes varying unit size. Once you’ve determined a location to store your water softener, you’ll need to make some careful measurements of the available space, and match this up to the water softeners you’re considering purchasing.

Related: Best water softening systems to install outdoors

Bypass valve

A bypass valve is used to switch off water supply to your water softener, while still allowing water to flow through your home’s pipes and into your appliances. You might need a water softener bypass valve to allow you to cut off water while you’re carrying out maintenance on your water softener. It’s also useful to have a bypass valve to manually divert water away from a water softener while it’s in its regeneration cycle.

Most softeners come with a bypass valve. If a bypass valve isn’t included in your purchase, look online to see if you can find one that will fit. You definitely need a bypass valve if you have a salt-based softener, and it’s a good idea to have one for a salt-free softener, too.

Certifications

The best-buy water softeners for home and business use should be certified by one of two independent organisations: the Water Quality Association or NSF International. While certification is not a legal requirement, it generally looks good for a manufacturer to successfully certify a product they’re selling to remove iron and/or hard water minerals.

Keep in mind that salt based water softeners can achieve WQA or NSF International certification, but because water conditioners don’t actually remove iron, magnesium or calcium ions from water, it’s far more difficult to test their credibility. For this reason, water conditioners aren’t usually certified by the WQA or NSF International, while most kinds of salt-based system usually are.

🛠 How to install your water softener

Water softeners are fairly simple to install without the help of a plumber or handyman. Each system will require a slightly different installation, and your water softener will outline specific step-by-step installation instructions for the task.

Step by step process – salt based

If you haven’t purchased a water softener yet and you’re curious to learn more about installation, we’ve outlined the step-by-step process for a salt based water softener installation below:

  1. Find the best location for your water softener in your home or business. Ideally, you’re looking to install it as close to the water’s entry point into your home as possible. This means you’ll be able to send water from your water softener into your heater, so that the heated water won’t damage the water softener.
  2. Check that your incoming water pressure is between 40 and 70 PSI, at a minimum of 30 PSI and a maximum of 120 PSI.
  3. Turn off your main water supply, and drain water from your pipes. You can do this by opening a bypass valve at the lowest point in your home.
  4. Turn off your water heaters. Ensure the power leading to the heaters is also switched off.
  5. Use a pipe cutter to cut into the main line where you want to position your water softener. Some water might come out of the pipe at this point – a little is nothing to worry about. You can catch it with a bucket to prevent spillage.
  6. Install an elbow fitting to feed water from the pipe into your filter. At this stage, if you’re using a bypass valve to divert water around the filter during maintenance, the elbow fitting will allow you to do this.
  7. Use the compression fittings that come with the unit to attach the elbow fitting to your system.
  8. Attach the hose to the unit and clamp it in place. Check that it feeds to where water will drain, such as a sink or floor drain.
  9. Attach the overflow tube to the salt or brine tank. You’ll need to look at your product’s specific instructions to know exactly how to place this.
  10. Adjust your bypass valve to the bypass position and flush it with the recommended amount of water. This will remove any sediment that may be lingering inside.
  11. Plug in your unit and return the valve to the backwash position. Slowly open the valve, allowing water to pass through bit-by-bit while freeing air from the pipes. You’ll then need to flush your system as per your manufacturer’s instructions. After this, you should have access to softened water.

Step by step process – Water Conditioner

The installation process for a salt free water conditioner is slightly different, based on the different components that make up this water softener alternative.

As there are a number of varying products and models, we’ll just focus on the magnetic salt-free water softeners for this guide, a more popular model that filters the water using powerful magnets that change the composition of the hard-causing minerals.

Follow these steps to install a magnetic water softener:

  1. Locate an appropriate area of your mains water pipe, as close to the point of entry into your home as possible, to situate your magnetic water softener. Take care to keep your magnetic units apart prior to installation, as they are extremely strong, and you’ll have an incredibly hard time pulling them apart if they come together.
  2. Remove the wing nuts from the backs of the magnetic units and split each unit into two.
  3. Separate the halves of each unit and set them at least 8 inches apart. Be aware that they can jump together from surprisingly wide distances apart!
  4. Place the unit halves over and around the pipe, and slowly lower them together until they’re touching the pipe.
  5. Replace the wing nuts and tighten then with your fingers to lock the units in place. Test your magnetic water softener to check everything’s working.

Maintaining your water softener

Salt based water softeners require simple maintenance to keep them working efficiently and help them live longer lives. If you’re using a water softener and your soft water doesn’t seem to be flowing like usual, here are a few basic tasks you can perform to improve the situation:

Clean out your salt tank

On occasions, your water softener salt (or brine) tank will need cleaning to prevent a build-up of a hard crust or dome inside the tank. This can sometimes be caused by adding too much salt to your brine tank, but may just happen naturally over time.

You can easily clean out the brine tank by breaking up this salt crust and removing it. Then wash off with soapy water and rinse it out. Try to do this every three months to half a year or so. Every three months is a good routine to get into if you can.

Clean out your resin bed

This one is especially appropriate for a softener if your water naturally contains a high iron content. The iron can damage the resin bed that removes the hard-causing particles from your water.

In this case, you just need to refresh your system by running an iron rust or stain remover through the resin chamber. Add the right amount per the product’s recommendations and then manually start a salt-based regeneration cycle.

Clean the resin tank injector

It’s common for your resin tank’s injector to become clogged with sediment, preventing it from working properly. To clean it out, bypass your water from the tank, cutting off water supply, and manually regenerate the tank.

At the softener head, remove the caps at either side and get to work cleaning inside with hot, soapy water.

❔ Frequently Asked Questions

Looking to learn even more about water softeners? Or got a question that hasn’t yet been answered? Check out our water softener FAQs to find the answer you’re looking for.

How much salt does a salt-based softener added to water?

If you’re put off the idea of a salt based softener because you don’t like the thought of adding sodium ions to your drinking water, don’t be too worried – you’ll never end up drinking an unhealthy amount of salt, because the system works sensibly, and won’t add anywhere near that much.

The level of salt added to your water depends on the level of hardness-causing minerals that make up your water in the first place.

In something called ion exchange, an equal amount of sodium is exchanged with calcium and magnesium minerals, so the harder your water, the more salt will be exchanged.

You can expect the best salt-based water softener to add between 20 and 40 milligrams of salt to your water.

To put this into context, a single slice of white bread contains around 700 milligrams of salt. Unless you’re on a low sodium diet, your health won’t be affected by this relatively small addition of salt into your water.

Does my water bill increase with the use of a water softener?

Yes, installing a water softener in your home means you’ll need to pay a slightly higher water bill as a result. To continue to work properly, your water softener will need to flush out the calcium and magnesium ions that have built up in the resin tank from time to time, thus effectively wasting water.

The harder your water is, and the more magnesium and calcium ions it contains, the more often your resin chamber will need to be flushed out to prevent sediment build-up. Areas with harder incoming water may result in slightly more inflated water bills than areas with softer water.

It’s worth noting that you’re never going to pay a huge amount more onto your water bill than you usually do, even if your incoming water is the hardest in the country. Many people see the small increase in their water bill as worth it for the clean drinking water produced by their water softener.

When should I use a water softener?

Looking at water softener uses, its main purpose is to soften water. How and why you may use a softener is up to you.

Perhaps you only want soft water for showering or for drinking. Maybe you’re fine with the hardness of your home’s water but you need to soften water in your RV or at a campsite. Or maybe you’re keen to use a water softener for well water.

The choice is yours.

When you use water softeners, your intentions for your appliance should determine which model you purchase. You’ll need a high-capacity, reliable system for whole home water softening, whereas the likes of portable softeners and showerhead softeners are more appropriate for occasional use.

While anyone can use a water softener, you should especially consider using one if your home or business’ drinking water is particularly hard.

Where are water softeners installed?

In most cases, you’ll need to look at installing a water softener as close to your incoming water supply as possible.

You want to intercept the water before it can flow into any of your home’s appliances, so that every appliance in the house can benefit from your soft water. It’s especially important to install a water softener before water reaches your heater, as hot water can damage the components that make up the system.

Most people install their water softeners in their garage or basement, away from the rest of the house. If your home doesn’t have a garage or basement, try to store your water softener close to your heater, making sure to install it in an area of piping that is yet to reach the heater.

What is the difference between a water softener and descaler?

Water softeners and descalers have the same water softener uses, but they’re different in how they work. While a water softener removes calcium and magnesium ions, replacing them with sodium, a descaler doesn’t actually take these ions away. Instead, descalers alter the composition of the hard water-causing minerals, rendering them incapable of producing limescale buildup.

This means that while your drinking water will still contain calcium and magnesium, these ions will be unable to deposit scale in your piping and water-based appliances.

Why does my water softener smell bad?

There are a number of reasons why when you use water softeners, your system might start to smell bad after a while of use. Most commonly, if you notice a rotten egg smell coming from your water softener, it’s because sulfur bacteria has built up inside your brine tank.

This bacteria is attracted to the sodium in the brine tank, and releases hydrogen sulfide – the cause of the rotten egg odor. You can take care of this issue by thoroughly cleaning your brine tank out regularly.

Additionally, if your incoming water contains a high iron content, you may notice a rust-like smell emitting from your water softener. It’s important to run a de-rusting agent through your tank from time to time to prevent build-up of iron sediment that could cause your system to work inefficiently.

Can I use potassium chloride in place of salt in my softener?

Yes, you can use potassium chloride in place of salt in a water softening system, which will work in exactly the same way during the ion exchange process.

Potassium chloride is a good sodium alternative if you’re looking to watch your salt intake, or you’re on a low sodium diet. Your system works smartly in that it can’t tell the difference between salt and potassium chloride, making potassium chloride an effective alternative for softening.

Be aware that salt is more efficient at removing the hardness from water, so it’s worth moving your hardness setting up by 20%, to allow more potassium chloride solution to be used to remove an equal amount of water hardness.

What is the difference between water softener and reverse osmosis systems?

The main difference between a water softener and an RO system is its purpose. While water softeners are only intended to remove hard water-causing minerals from water, reverse osmosis systems are designed to eliminate hard water-causing minerals and up to 99% of all contaminants from water, including lead, arsenic, chlorine and bacteria.

Reverse osmosis systems are also structured differently to water softeners. They’re salt free in design, and usually contain a number of filters for eliminating contaminants, as well as a reverse osmosis membrane.

You should look into getting an RO system if you’d prefer to thoroughly cleanse your water of all impurities. But if you’re just looking to reap the benefits of soft water, a water softener will do the job perfectly capably.

💭 Final Thoughts: Water Softening Systems

There’s certainly a lot to consider if you’re looking to use water softeners for your home. Knowing your options is the easiest way to narrow down a choice based on your water softening requirements.

Before you make a purchase, be sure to spend some time researching the product you’re interested in and take care when checking out variations, and reading through reviews. Keep in mind the features that are most important to you, and don’t forget about the practicalities, like capacity, cost and upkeep.