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 150,000-strong monthly audience is looking for value, and that’s what I aim to provide. 

To narrow down your search, I’ve featured just 10 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 10 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

  • Best Overall & Salt-Free: SpringWell Futuresoft Salt-free Water Softener
  • Best Salt-Based: SpringWell Salt Based Water Softener System
  • Best for Well Water: SoftPro Elite
  • Runner Up Salt-Free: Filtersmart Salt-Free Water Softener Alternative System
  • Runner Up Salt-Based: AquaOx WS
  • Best Budget Salt-Based: Fleck 5600SXT 48K Grains Water Softener
  • Best Heavy Duty: Pelican Advantage Series Salt Water Softener
  • Best Budget Salt-Free: Aquasana Salt-Free Water Conditioner
  • Best Heavy Duty Conditioner: US Water Systems GreenWave Salt-free Water Conditioner
  • Best Electronic: Eddy Water Descaler Electronic Water Softener
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
Filtersmart Salt-Free Water Softener Alternative System
Filtersmart Salt-Free Water Softener Alternative System
Max hardness (GPG): 75
Type: Salt-free
Flow Rate (GPM): 12 - 15
Dimensions: 9 x 48 inches
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


Fleck 5600 SXT
Fleck 5600 SXT
Capacity (grains): 48K
Type: Salt-based
Flow Rate (GPM): 20
Dimensions: 10 x 54 inches

👉 Read the full review
Pelican Advantage Series Salt Water Softener
Pelican Advantage Series Salt Water Softener
Capacity (grains): 48K or 80K
Type: Salt-based
Flow Rate (GPM): 12 - 18
Dimensions: 11 x 62.5 inches

☝️ Get 5% off at pelicanwater.com - Use code WFG
Aquasana Salt-Free Water Conditioner
Aquasana Salt-Free Water Conditioner
Max hardness (GPG): 15
Type: Salt-free
Flow Rate (GPM): 7
Dimensions: 9 x 46 inches
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
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

⭐ Reviews – Best Water Softener 2021

Best Overall & Salt-Free: SpringWell Futuresoft Salt-free Water Softener

springwell futuresoft salt free water softener

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

Why It’s My Top Pick

  • Increased energy efficiency and longer appliance lifespans make the $1,400 price tag worth the investment
  • Highly effective at conditioning water, preventing 99.6% scale formation
  • Backed by a lifetime warranty, so system durability is nothing to worry about
  • Minimum flow of 12 GPM
  • Manufactured by SpringWell, a brand with more than 20 years of experience in the industry

This System’s Unique Features

As a completely saltless system, the SpringWell FutureSoft uses a process called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC), which crystallizes minerals and prevents scale formation.

All components used in this unit are NSF certified, and meet the high standards of performance, reliability and durability.

The SpringWell FutureSoft uses ActivFlo water technology, which allows the system to operate at all water flow rates, 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.

Who It’s Best For

The SpringWell FutureSoft is ideal for anyone looking for the best water softener that doesn’t use salt. If you’re on the hunt for an affordable water softening option that’s low cost to maintain, and provides almost the same quality of water softening as a salt-based softener, the SpringWell FutureSoft is a water softening solution well worth considering.

👍 What I Like

  • No water or electricity waste
  • DNo water or electricity waste
  • Doesn’t 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 12 GPM
  • My top choice 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 people may prefer
  • Can only prevent scale buildup
  • Softening resin will need to be changed

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


Best Salt-Based: SpringWell Salt Based Water Softener System

SpringWell Salt Based Water Softener System

My readers get 5% off at springwellwater.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 scale-causing minerals from your water.

Why It’s a Top Pick

  • Uses automated regeneration to reduce water waste
  • Comes with a lifetime warranty and a 6-month money-back satisfaction guarantee
  • Manufactured by a trusted brand
  • 3 sizes to choose from based on water usage

System Features & Benefits

Using an innovative technology that is much more efficient than others, the SpringWell produces far less water waste by using automatic regeneration, which enables the system to only regenerate when necessary.

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.

You won’t experience a drop in water pressure with the Springwell salt-based softener. The system is available in 3 sizes:

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

Who It’s Best For

The Springwell Salt Water Softener is the best for families of any size looking for an efficient salt-based water softener that won’t affect water pressure. If you prefer to spend your money on a trusted brand, the SpringWell is a great option to consider.

👍 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)


Best for Well Water: SoftPro Elite

softpro elite

The SoftPro Elite is another of the best overall water softener systems that uses salt, and is one of the most affordable and efficient water softeners on the market.

Why It’s a Top Pick

  • The system is highly efficient, using up to 50% less salt than a standard salt-based water softener
  • The SoftPro’s resin comes with a lifetime warranty
  • You can choose from various system sizes, from 24,000 to 110,000 grain
  • Prices start at less than $1,000, making this a more affordable softening system on the market
  • Manufactured by Quality Water Treatment, a brand with more than 30 years’ experience

System Features & Benefits

Using an efficient upflow regeneration technology, the SoftPro Elite helps save on both salt and water consumption with a more exact resin recharge. 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. 

The crosslink resin the softener uses should last up 20 years.

Who It’s Best For

The SoftPro Elite is ideal for anyone looking for a comprehensive softening system at an affordable price. The unit comes in 8 grain capacities, which means there’s a system size to suit every family size and water usage.

👍 What I Like

  • High efficiency upflow regeneration technology – will save you money
  • 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)


Runner Up Salt-Free: Filtersmart Salt-Free Water Softener Alternative System

AquaOx water softener

The Filtersmart is a salt-free softening system that safely and naturally reduces scale buildup without the use of salt. This system is available in two sizes: 1-3 bathrooms or 12 GPM, or 4-6 bathrooms or 15 GPM.

Why It Made the List

  • Comes with a lifetime warranty on tanks and valves
  • Simple to install; requires only basic plumbing
  • Offers a water flow of at least 12 GPM, or you can opt for 15 GPM for larger homes
  • Offered by an up-and-coming water treatment manufacturer with many promising reviews already

System Features & Benefits

The Filtersmart Salt-Free Softener uses TAC, or template-assisted crystallization, to prevent scale formation.

Regardless of your water’s hardness level, the Filtersmart has an efficient 5-second contact time with water, compared to ion exchange, which requires up to 90 seconds of softening time. With an upflow design, the system creates no waste from backwashin.

A lifetime warranty covers the system’s tanks and valves, and Filtersmart offers a 100% money-back guarantee, so you have nothing to lose from trying the system out.

The Filtersmart system also comes with a sediment filter. This filter should be changed after every 8-10 months of use.

Who It’s Best For

If you’d prefer an efficient, affordable, salt-free softening unit, the Filtersmart softener is a good choice. This unit is especially suited to anyone looking for a softener with a much faster performance than an average salt-based unit.

👍 What I Like

  • Doesn’t waste electricity, salt or water
  • Comes with a sediment filter
  • Lifetime warranty on tanks and valves
  • Up-and-coming manufacturer
  • Much faster softening performance than salt-based systems

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • Needs a steady source of electricity to function
  • Needs a steady source of electricity to function
  • Filtersmart doesn’t have the industry experience of bigger brands
  • Unit isn’t the cheapest compared to some on this list
  • Not the easiest to install

Runner Up Salt-Based: AquaOx WS

AquaOx water softener

The AquaOx WS is a top-of-the-line ion exchange stainless steel softening unit is designed to get rid of calcium and other hard water minerals. This system completely softens water, in addition to providing descaling benefits fThe AquaOx WS is a top-of-the-line ion exchange stainless steel softening unit is designed to get rid of calcium and other hard water minerals. This system completely softens water and descales your pipes and appliances.

Why It’s a Top Pick

  • Removes calcium from water; doesn’t just prevent limescale
  • Lets you set your water hardness level and schedule regeneration manually
  • Upflow technology minimizes salt and water use
  • Backed by a 10-year warranty and 1-year money-back guarantee

System Features & Benefits

With its innovative digital on-demand control touch screen, the AquaOx softener lets you set your water hardness level, check the water softening system status, look for error codes and schedule regeneration cycles. The unit’s high quality resin and up flow technology help to reduce the amount of salt and water used

Installed at your central water line, the AquaOX WS is a whole house softener for well water that provides soft water to all appliances and faucets in your house.

Who It’s Best For

If you’ve got a bit more cash to spend on a bigger upfront purchase and you like the idea of a system that can remove hardness minerals entirely, the AquaOx WS is a good option for you.

👍 What I Like

  • Easy to operate and install
  • Can set the hardness level your prefer
  • 12-month guarantee & decade-long warranty
  • 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


Best Budget Salt-Based: Fleck 5600SXT 48K Grains Water Softener

Fleck 5600 SXT Review

The Fleck 5600SXT Digital Control 24-64,000 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.

Why It’s a Top Pick

  • One of the most affordable systems on this list
  • You’ll struggle to find a better-performing softener system for the price
  • You get a 10-year warranty with the tank, and a 5-year warranty with the valve
  • It comes in a range of sizes – from 24,000-64,000 grains

System Features & Benefits

Loaded with resin in the mineral tank and partially pre-assembled, the fleck water softener is designed to be easy to install yourself.

The Fleck’s advanced water flow meter comes with a fully programmable control valve, and the system doesn’t regenerate until it needs to, helping to reduce water waste.

Included with this ion exchange system are a 1. 5 cubic feet high capacity resin, 48, 000 grain water softener (10X54) tank, 15x17x36 salt brine tank with safety float.

Who It’s Best For

If you’re looking for a more affordable whole house water softener, the Fleck 5600sxt is one of the most suitable water softening systems available. Its lower-end price range and high-quality performance make the Fleck ideal for first-time water softener owners who don’t want to invest in anything too expensive.

👍 What I Like

  • Smart control reduces water waste
  • Up to 64,000 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


Best Heavy Duty: Pelican Advantage Series Salt Water Softener

US Water Systems GreenWave Salt-free Water Conditioner

My readers get 5% off at pelicanwater.com – 👉 Use Code WFG

Providing softened water with the use of salt or potassium, the Pelican Advantage Series is a metered water softener that only backwashes when required, helping you to waste as few gallons of water as possible.

Why It’s a Top Pick

  • Comes with a 7-year warranty on tanks, and a limited lifetime warranty on the control head
  • Offered by Pelican, a trusted manufacturer with years of industry experience
  • Electronic controls make the unit easy to use and program
  • Comes in two different capacities, for homes with 1-3 bathrooms and 4-6 bathrooms

System Features & Benefits

The Pelican Advantage Series is a classic whole house water softener that features a brine tank and a resin tank. The system uses an electronic control box that’s easy to operate, with three modes to choose from.

With a double backwash feature, the Pelican optimizes system regeneration, and there are 36 regeneration cycles to choose from.

The Pelican has a battery backup that lasts for up to 8 hours in the case of a power outage. The system also comes with a bypass valve.

Who It’s Best For

Anyone looking for a traditional whole house water softener that uses salt or potassium to soften water should consider the Pelican Advantage Series. It’s a little pricier, so you’ll need to have a bigger budget for this one.

👍 What I Like

  • Uses no electricity & wastes no water
  • High-capacity resin
  • Includes standard bypass and chrome tank jacket
  • From Pelican Water, a trusted manufacturer

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • If your water is too hard, you may not get the results you want
  • One of the more expensive softeners on this list
  • Pelican’s customer service could be better

Best Budget Salt-Free: Aquasana Salt-Free Water Conditioner

US Water Systems GreenWave Salt-free Water Conditioner

The Aquasana is a whole-house descaler that uses NAC (nucleation assisted crystallization) technology to naturally condition water, reducing its ability to form scale. The system doesn’t add or remove anything from your water, and doesn’t require salt.

Why It Made the List

  • Comes with a 5-micron sediment filter that protects the conditioner and increases its lifespan
  • For its cheaper price, offers an efficient, penny-saving performance
  • Manufactured by Aquasana, a trusted water softening industry expert
  • Comes with a 6-year warranty and 90-day money-back guarantee

System Features & Benefits

The Aquasana Salt-Free conditioner uses an NAC media to alter the structure of calcium and magnesium minerals, preventing them from sticking to surfaces and forming scale. Aquasana says this method is capable of reducing up to 99.6% scale.

You get up to 6 years of water softening from the Aquasana before the NAC media needs replacing, and the unit has a flexible operating pressure of between 20 and 100 PSI.

Like many conditioners, the Aquasana isn’t designed for very hard water. It can handle water hardness up to 25 grains per gallon, but it works best with hardness below 15 GPG.

Who It’s Best For

If you have relatively hard water, the Aquasana is a good choice for you. The system is also well suited to people who don’t want to add anything to their water, but still want the benefits of scale reduction.

👍 What I Like

  • Retains healthy minerals
  • Comes with a 90-day satisfaction guarantee
  • 6-year limited warranty
  • Reduces scale up to 99.6%

👎 What I Don’t Like

  • Only suitable for up to 25 GPG of hardness
  • Warranty only valid with professional installation
  • Not as effective as salt-based systems

Best Heavy Duty Conditioner: US Water Systems GreenWave Salt-free Water Conditioner

US Water Systems GreenWave Salt-free Water Conditioner

The US Water Systems GreenWave Salt-Free 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.  

Why It’s a Top Pick

  • Very effective for a water conditioner – can prevent up to 97% scale
  • An eco-friendly system that produces no water waste and requires no salt
  • Conditioning media is durable, lasting up to 6 years
  • Comes with a good warranty on the tank and assembly; a four-year warranty on the conditioning media

System Features & Benefits

The GreenWave uses Nucleation Assisted Crystallization, or NAC for short. This process transforms hardness minerals into microscopic crystals that are effectively inactivated.

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.

Who It’s Best For

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 for smaller households with a less demanding hard water issue.

👍 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

Best Electronic: Eddy Water Descaler Electronic Water Softener

Eddy Water Descaler Electronic Water Softener Review

The Eddy Electronic Water Descaler is a no-salt descaler that gives soft water benefits without changing the hardness. It retains hardness minerals in your water supply, while preventing limescale and other hard water issues.

Why It’s a Top Pick

  • It’s very affordable, making it a good option for people who simply don’t have the money to spend on a water softener, or can’t justify the investment
  • Installation of the Eddy is easy, as it doesn’t feature tanks or barrels
  • You don’t need to top up the Eddy with salt or resin, and maintenance is limited
  • The unit comes with a lifetime warranty with no limitations on repairs

System Features & Benefits

The Eddy magnetic 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.

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 descaler. Once you’ve installed the conditioner, your work is essentially done.

Who It’s Best For

If you have a smaller household with up to three pIf you have a smaller household with up to three people, the Eddy is a conditioning unit to consider. This descaler can do a good job on your water if its hardness is less than 25 GPG.

👍 What I Like

  • Small, compact size
  • Low cost to run
  • Does not require maintenance, 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


📊 Best Water Softeners Comparison Chart

ProductSystem TypeCapacity/ Max HardnessFlow Rate (GPM)WarrantyPrice
Springwell FuturesoftSalt-Free81 GPG11 - 20Lifetime for valves
10 years for tanks
7 years for electronic head
$$$
SpringWell Salt Based SystemSalt-Based32K - 80K11 - 20Lifetime for valves
10 years for tanks
7 years for electronic head
$$$
SoftPro EliteSalt-Based24K - 110K10 - 32Limited lifetime for valves
Lifetime for tanks
7 years for circuit board
$$$
Filtersmart Salt-Free Water SoftenerSalt-Free75 GPG12 - 15Lifetime for tanks
Lifetime for valves
$$$
AquaOx WSSalt-Based64K1610 years$$$$
Fleck 5600 SXTSalt-Based24K - 80K7 - 155 years for valves
10 years for tank
$$

👁‍🗨 Other Popular Whole House Water Softener Brands

When deciding which water softeners would make this list, I considered products from the following popular brands:

Clack

Clack has been selling water softening solutions since 1946. Clack is a lesser-known brand, largely because it doesn’t have many products to choose from, and the products that are available can n be difficult to buy online.

While I think Clack is a good manufacturer, its softeners aren’t competitive enough to feature on this list.

Culligan

Culligan was established in 1936, and provides a range of water softening, water filtration and water dispensing solutions.

The biggest setback of Culligan is that you have to purchase its products through a Culligan rep, who will visit your house and tell you what products you need. You can’t buy products online, and you can’t easily compare Culligan’s prices to the prices of competitors on the market.

You can learn more about the cost of Culligan water softeners here.

GE

GE is a big brand known for its home and kitchen appliances, including salt-based water softeners. You can get GE water softeners for an affordable price, but, because GE isn’t exclusively a water treatment brand, some of its products don’t quite live up to expectations.

I decided not to include GE products on my list because there are better manufacturers that specialize in water treatment, and offer customer service tailored to this specialization.

Kinetico

Founded in 1970, Kinetico manufactures traditional salt-based softeners, most of which don’t need electricity to operate.

You can only buy from local dealers, who sell Kinetico water softeners at a higher price and take a sizeable cut of the sale. You’ll need to put more work into finding a local distributor and spend more money in the process.

Morton

Morton is most recognizable as a table salt brand, but you can also buy salt-based softeners from this manufacturer.

Morton’s water softeners are better than average, but they’re not exceptional. You can’t buy Morton water softeners online, either. Instead, you’ll need to find out whether the water softener you’re interested in is available “at a store near you”. Because of this inconvenience, and because Morton’s products aren’t quite up to standard, this manufacturer hasn’t featured on my list.

Waterboss

Waterboss first started selling water softeners in 1991, and now sells salt-based water softeners and water softener filters.

Again, you can’t buy Waterboss products directly from the manufacturer. However, there are options for buying online at stores like Menards and Home Depot, providing you can find a store that sells the exact softener you want.

Although Waterboss sells good products, its water softeners aren’t anything particularly exciting, and they’re not the easiest to come by, so they haven’t made this list.

🧾 Water Softener System Buyer’s Guide (2021)

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

I’ve 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 choose 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 and magnesium from water. These minerals are what make water “hard”, and can have an effect on the quality of water produced.

🤔 Why Do I Need a Water Softener Anyway?

Water softeners work to reduce, alter, or eliminate hard water minerals. You may need a water softening unit if your water hardness levels are particularly high.

💦 What is Hard Water?

Hard water is a term used to refer to water that has a high mineral level. Hardness can cause a number of issues in your home, which is why water softening solutions exist.

Water Hardness Map
source: usgs.gov

Minerals Found in Hard Water

Typically, minerals include calcium, magnesium, aluminum, and iron. Hard water formed when water passes through lime, chalk and gypsum deposits, which naturally contain traces of these minerals.

minerals found in hard water
Source: wikipedia.org

Magnesium and Calcium Ions

Magnesium and calcium are responsible for the indications of hard water you might notice around your home, particularly limescale.

Iron

Iron can leave rust-like stains it can leave on surfaces like bathtubs and sinks which can be hard to take care of. Iron can also give water an unpleasant metallic taste.

Aluminum

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

How Hardness is Measured

Typically, hardness is measured in concentrations of these minerals in milligrams per liter (mg/L) which is the same as parts per million (PPM), or grains per gallon (GPG).

1 GPG = 17.1 mg/L = 17.1 PPM

Hardness ClassificationGrains/ gallonmG/L or PPM
Soft< 1< 17.1
Slightly Hard1 - 3.517. - 60
Moderately Hard3.5 - 760 - 120
Hard7 - 10120 - 180
Very Hard> 10>180

⚠️ Signs You Have Hard Water 

It’s usually obvious if you have hard water – when you know what to look for. The potential hard water signs are listed below.

  • You’ve noticed a white or grey residue on your showerheads, faucets, bathtubs, coffeepot, sinks, and any other surface that comes into contact with water.
  • Your skin or hair feels dry and/or sticky after showering.
  • Soap and shampoo don’t later well with your water.
  • Your pipes, plumbing system or appliances are damaged or leaking.
  • Your laundry is stiff or stained with white spots.

😟 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 & Skin

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.

When you wash with hard water, hard 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

You might notice that when you’ve washed your dishes in hard water, 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 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. Pipes and other behind-the-scenes areas of appliances are trickier to remove limescale from.

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.

limescale in pipe
Source. wikipedia.org

Appliances

Over time, hard water running through your home’s appliances will start to cause damage. For instance, your dishwasher may clean your dishes less effectively.

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.

Reduced Water Heater Efficiency

A build-up of hard water sediment in your gas water heaters can affect their performance efficiency. The layer of limescale at the bottom of the tank acts as insulation, preventing water heaters from heating water up as quickly. 

Laundry

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.

✔️ 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 some of the key benefits of water softening systems.

Appliance Longevity

One practical reason to consider a water softening unit 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, preventing the common hard water issues that can lead to the deterioration of an appliance.

Water Heating Efficiency

By removing limescale taking up tank water softener space and acting as 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. You can save money on expensive powders and detergents for your washing machines, because you’ll be able to use fewer cleaners to get the same results.

Lime/ Stain-free Surfaces

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.

Soft water is beneficial to the skin for similar reasons – the sudsy lather produced with soft water will give skin and hair a better rinse.

⚙️ How Do Water Softeners Work?

Tthere are a number of different whole-house water softener variations available on today’s market, easy using 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?

There are several types of water softeners on today’s market – namely salt-based water softeners and water conditioners – to meet our water needs.

types of water softeners
 Water SoftenerWater ConditionerElectronic/ Magnetic Descaler
TechnologyIon ExchangeTemplate Assisted Crystallization (TAC)Electromagnetic Waves
Completely Removes Minerals✔️
Produces Wastewater✔️
Requires Electricity✔️✔️
Average Price$800 - $1,500$1,200 - $2,500$250 - 500
Maintenance RequirementEvery 6 - 8 weeksEvery 6 - 12 yearsNone

Salt Based Ion Exchange 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 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 out of the water, leaving absolutely no magnesium and calcium minerals behind.
  • Many salt water softeners are NSF/ANSI 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 its efficiency in removing 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 Conditioners

Unlike salt-based softener systems, the best salt-free water softeners use 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. Salt-free water softeners descale water instead of softening it.

Pros:

  • Because the scale-causing 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 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.

Electronic/ 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, descaling the water before it enters a household plumbing system.

Salt Based Softeners vs Salt-Free Water Conditioners

Salt-based softeners and salt-free water descalers offer largely the same result: soft water. However, the water produced by a salt-free conditioner isn’t technically “soft”. It still contains magnesium and calcium minerals, but these minerals are unable to form scale as they have been crystallized. The water produced by a salt-based water softening system, on the other hand, has had its calcium and magnesium minerals removed, so is actually “soft”.

You can check out my comparison guide on water softeners vs saltless conditioners if you’re keen to learn which is best for you.

Product Variations

Dual Tank Water Softeners

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, allowing for a higher water capacity.

When one tank needs to regenerate, the dual tank system automatically switches over to the second tank, preventing a lag in water production.

Portable Water Softeners

Whether you need softened water for your RV, boat, spa, or anything else that might require water softening, you’ll be able to use portable water softeners to provide the results you’re after.

Usually, portable water softeners are smaller versions of single-tank salt-based softeners.

Combination Water Softeners

For hard water that contains high quantities of 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. A fine mesh resin is used to trap ferrous iron, while a dedicated iron filter removes ferric iron.

Does Reverse Osmosis Remove Hard Water?

Reverse osmosis systems are capable of removing almost every impurity from water, and that includes magnesium and calcium minerals. However, it’s not a wise idea to install a reverse osmosis system if you’re dealing with anything more than moderately hard water.

High water hardness can damage the reverse osmosis membrane and shorten its lifespan.

💲 Average Cost by System Type

Type of SoftenerAverage Price Range
Salt-based Ion Exchange$800 - $1,500
Salt-free Conditioners$500 - $2,800
Electronic/ Magnetic Descalers$75 - $300

❗️ Important Considerations When Selecting a System

There are a number of important features you’ll need to keep in mind if you’re choosing between water softening systems for your home or business:

Technology Type

There are a variety of different technology types that can be used to soften water.

For instance, the best system for you may be a salt-based system if your water is very hard 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 softeners.

Grain Capacity

Water softeners on the market today vary in grain capacities from model to model. 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 64, 000 grain water softener.

Resin Crosslink Percentage & Durability

All water softener resins have a crosslink percentage rating. The higher the percentage, the more durable the resin is. Most water softener resins have a resin crosslink percentage of 8%. You can also find 10% crosslink resin, and because this lasts longer, it tends to be more expensive.

While 8% resin usually lasts for between 10 and 12 years, 10% resin can last for much longer, usually up to 20 years.

Flow Rate

The average water softener flow is between 7 and 12 GPM. The larger the system’s capacity, the higher the flow rate, equipping the softener to provide a sufficient flow of water to your home.

It’s important to choose the right flow for your house size and your water usage. For most families, a flow rate of up to 12 GPM is sufficient.

Regeneration Method

If your water softener needs to regenerate, it’s worth looking into the various regeneration methods available when choosing a system.

  • Metered – Metered regeneration is the more efficient regeneration option, as it is triggered by water usage. You’ll be required to input your water hardness and the size of your home when setting the softener up, and the system will calculate how much water it can soften before it runs out of salt and needs to regenerate.
  • Timed – A system that uses timed regeneration regenerates at a specific time every week. Typically, timed regeneration takes place when water isn’t generally needed, e.g. 2 am. The advantage of this type of regeneration is that you’ll never be without soft water, as you’ll know that your softener only regenerates overnight. However, this programming can also result in more water and salt waste, as your softener will most likely regenerate before it needs to.
  • Manual – Manual regeneration enables you to program your own regeneration cycle timings. This can be much more convenient, as you have full control over exactly when your softener is out of operation.

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.

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 the 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.

Certifications

The best-buy water softeners should be certified by one of two independent organizations: 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.

Below are the certifications available for water softener systems today:

  • NSF/ANSI 44 – a certification for cation exchange or ion exchange softeners that use sodium or potassium chloride. If a water softener is NSF 44 certified, it can remove hardness to below 1 grain per gallon, and meets structural integrity and material safety requirements.
  • NSF/ANSI 372 – a certification that ensures a water softener isn’t made from lead components and won’t leach lead into your water. Salt-based and salt-free water softeners can obtain an NSF 372 certification.

Local Regulations

Something that can be easy to forget to check is whether your state has its own regulations and plumbing codes for water softeners. Make sure that ta system’s regeneration drain water meets requirements, and ensure that maintenance and installation processes are also in line with these requirements.

If you’re unsure about your area’s regulations, reach out to a local plumber, who can offer advice and ensure your softener for you, making sure you’re compliant with plumbing codes

Initial Price

Most water softeners, whether they’re salt-based or saltless, are priced around the $1,000-$1,300 mark. The bigger the system’s capacity (i.e. the more soft water it can provide at once), the more expensive it will be.

I recommend setting aside at least $650 for the initial cost of a water softener. Anything cheaper than this, and you risk paying for something that doesn’t live up to expectations. While lesser-known manufacturers may price their systems $200 or so less than the top brands for the sake of competition, anything lower than $650 is a red flag – and an indication that the quality probably isn’t there.

💵 What Factors Influence the Price of a Water Softener?

Water softeners can vary significantly in price, with the cheaper systems costing less than $500, and the more expensive models costing more than $2,000. The cost of running a water softener will also vary depending on the type of system you buy, and (for salt-based systems) whether you choose to use salt or potassium.

Some of the biggest factors influencing the price of a water softener are as follows:

  • Installation and maintenance – you may need to pay for a professional installation, or you may need to pay to top your system up with salt.
  • Pre-filter – it’s essential to use a pre-filter to prolong the lifespan of your softener, but the frequency of filter replacements will determine the long-term running costs.
  • Brand – a well-known brand can give you guaranteed reliability, but at a cost. Top brands, such as Aquasana, Pelican, SpringWell, iSpring, and Fleck, all price their products higher than their lesser-known competitors.
  • Single tank or dual tank – single-tank systems are cheaper than dual-tank systems, but a dual-tank softener will allow for consistent performance, even during regeneration.
  • Regeneration – your long-term costs may be higher if your system performs time-based regeneration, as it may regenerate before it needs to, wasting more water and salt. Using a softener that performs demand-initiated regeneration will help you save money as the unit will only regenerate when needed.

📌 How to Choose a Water Softener System for Your Home

There are several steps you should take to choose the best water softener system for your home. Here’s what you should do:

1. Determine Your Water Hardness

If you’re buying a water softener, there’s a good chance that you already know that your water is hard. But knowing your exact water hardness will enable you to choose the right grain capacity for your home.

You can use a professional water hardness test to get a reading of how hard your water is, measured in grains per gallon. If you get your water from a municipal supplier, another option is to get a water quality report, which will tell you the hardness of your local water source.

Finally, you can look at a water hardness map to figure out how hard your water is based on where you live.

2. Select System Type

If your water is moderately hard, you have the biggest selection of systems to choose from. Both salt-based and salt-free softeners are capable of eliminating your scale issues.

The type of system you opt for will likely depend on what you personally prefer. For instance, you may want to eliminate hardness entirely, in which case, a salt-based softener is best. But if you want to retain your water’s healthy mineral content, a salt-free unit may be best.

The best water softener systems for very hard water are salt-based systems.

3. Determine the Appropriate System Size

The final step is to size your water softener. You should already know the hardness of your water. You will now need to work out roughly how much water you use per day. Your water bill should have this information. If you’d rather not work this out, you can use the average water use per person of 80 gallons per day.

Next, multiply the number of gallons used per day in your household with the grains per gallon, which tells you how many GPG your system will need to treat.

Next, multiply this number by 7, which will tell you your water softener’s minimum grain capacity per week.

If you’re a family of four and you use 320 gallons per day, and your water has 8 grains per gallon of hardness, here’s the calculation you would do:

8 x 320 x 7 = 17,920

This tells you that you’ll need a water softener that has a grain capacity of at least 17,000 gallons – preferably within the 19,000-24,000 range.

If your water contains iron, you will need to add 5 GPG for every PPM of hardness to find a system that is capable of iron removal.

Check out this post for a complete in-depth walkthrough of system sizing (charts included!)

⚙️ Are Water Softeners Easy to Install?

If you’re capable of most DIY projects, you should find it easy enough to install a water softener yourself. If you’re not sure before you buy, it’s best to read through the instructions in the product manual and decide whether the installation process is something you can complete on your own. If not, you can call an expert to fit your softener for you.

It’s easy to maintain both salt-based and salt-free water softeners. If you have a salt-based system, you’ll just need to top up the brine tank with salt. Conditioning units are even easier to maintain, as they don’t use salt. You’ll just need to replace the pre-filters every six months or so.

For an in-depth explanation, check out my full guide on water softener maintenance here.

❔ Frequently Asked Questions

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

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. 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, wasting water in the process.

When should I use a water softener?

How and why you use a water softener is up to you. Perhaps you only want soft water for showering or for drinking. Maybe your home’s water is relatively soft 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.

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 in the system.

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.

Potassium chloride is a good sodium alternative if you’re looking to watch your salt intake, or you’re on a low sodium diet. Water softeners 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 magnesium and calcium from water, so it’s worth moving your hardness setting up by 20%, to allow more potassium chloride solution to be used to offer the same level of performance.

💭 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 your 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.