WaterFilterGuru content is free. When you make a purchase through referral links on our site, we earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

The Best Water Softener of 2020 – Reviews & Guide

best water softener reviews

Table of Contents

Whole house water softeners can improve the longevity of your water-based kitchen appliances, boost water flow, and provide better quality water for more efficient cleaning. The best water softener can even improve skin health and enhance water heating efficiency. 

Water softeners come in a number of different types, with each working slightly differently to produce the same result. From traditional salt-based to electronic, single showerhead to combination, there’s a water softener to suit almost every need – get all the information with our water softener reviews right here!

Best Water Softeners

SystemDetails 
SpringWell Futuresoft
Capacity (grains): 1M
Type: Salt-free
Flow Rate (GPM): Up to 20
Dimensions: 13 x 54 inches


👉 Read the full review
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
Fleck-Iron-Pro-2-Review
Capacity (grains): 64K
Type: Salt-based
Flow Rate (GPM): 16
Dimensions: 14 x 7 x 21 inches

👉 Read the full review

Filtersmart Salt-Free Softener
Filter Smart FS1500 Review
Capacity (grains): 1M
Type: Salt-free
Flow Rate (GPM): 12
Dimensions: 9 x 48 inches

👉 Read the full review
Fleck 9100SXT
Fleck 9100SXT water softener
Capacity (grains): 96K
Type: Salt-based
Flow Rate (GPM): 20
Dimensions: 18 x 40 inches

👉 Read the full review
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
Poly Salt Free Water Softener
Poly Salt Free Water Softener Review
Capacity (grains): 30
Type: Salt-free
Flow Rate (GPM): 30
Dimensions: 4.5 x 4.5 x 10 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
Morton® System Saver®
Morton System Saver Review
Capacity (grains): 30K
Type: Salt-based
Flow Rate (GPM): 11
Dimensions: 17 x 21 x 43 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
Aquios AQFS220
Aquios AQFS220 Review
Capacity (grains): 40K
Type: Salt-free
Flow Rate (GPM): 18
Dimensions: 5 x 23.5 inches

👉 Read the full review
Tier1 Everyday Series
Tier1 Everyday Series Review
Capacity (grains): 48K
Type: Salt-based
Flow Rate (GPM): 11.2
Dimensions: 11 x 11 x 57 inches


👉 Read the full review

Further Information

Best shower water filters – If you only need soft water to shower with, click here.

Reverse osmosis systems – If you need to remove total dissolved solids and other contaminants, check out this info-packed article.

Whole house water filters – Read about point of entry systems and how your entire household can benefit.

Best Water Softener Reviews 2020

1. SpringWell Futuresoft Salt-free Water Softener

SpringWell Futuresoft water softener

The SpringWell FutureSoft Salt-Free Water Softener reduces hard water causing minerals and prevents up to 99.6% of limescale 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 salt-free system, the softener uses a process called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC) which doesn’t remove the hard-causing minerals from water, but converts them into crystals that are unable to stick to surfaces and leave limescale deposits.

The components used in this water softener 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 flow rates, ensuring your household doesn’t experience a drop in water pressure. Also included in the system is a pre-filter, which removes larger sediment and contaminants like copper and silica from water.

Pros:

  • No water or electricity waste
  • Does not remove minerals so you can still get the health benefits
  • Simple installation
  • Very little maintainence

Cons:

  • Doesn’t remove hard minerals, which some may prefer
  • Only reduces scale buildup
  • Resin will need to be changed

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


2. Fleck 5600 SXT

Fleck 5600 SXT Review

The Fleck 5600 SXT 48K Grains Water Softener is a whole house salt based water softener that uses a highly efficient ion exchange process to remove hard-causing minerals from water.

Loaded with resin in the mineral tank and partially pre-assembled, this water softener system is designed with simple installation in mind. You can set up the Fleck 5600 softener without the help of a professional plumber or handyman.

Included in the package are a 1. 5 cubic feet high capacity resin, 48, 000 grain (10X54) resin tank, 15x17x36 brine tank with safety float. For customer peace of mind, the Fleck 5600 softener comes with a 5 year warranty on the unit’s bypass control valve and a 10 year warranty on the salt and brine tanks. 

Pros:

  • Smart control reduces water wastage
  • 48K grains capacity makes it ideal as a whole house water softener
  • Comes with resin already in the tank

Cons:

  • Installation is more complex than salt-free alternatives
  • Water is wasted during the regeneration process
  • Requires scheduled maintenance, cleaning & sodium top-ups

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


3. Fleck Iron Pro 2

Fleck-Iron-Pro-2-Review

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

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

Its water softening features effectively reduce water hardness up to 75 grains per gallon (gpg), removing hard water causing minerals that result in limescale build-ups in plumbing and home appliances. 

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

Pros:

  • Digital metering reduces water wastage
  • Removes iron in addition to softening water
  • Resin lasts 5 years

Cons:

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

Read the full review: Fleck Iron Pro 2 Review


4. Filtersmart Salt-Free Softener

Filter Smart FS1500 Review

The Filtersmart Whole House Water Filter & Salt-Free Softener combines water filtration and softening in one to produce soft, clean, contaminant-free water for the whole home.

With a 1,000,000 gallon capacity, this filter and softening system is designed for long-lasting water filtration and softening for great tasting water at bottled quality. The system is installed at your home’s water point of entry, enabling filtered, softened water to be used in all household appliances, including showers, faucets, dishwashers, kettles and much more.

As a salt-free softening system, the Filtersmart Salt-Free Softener requires very little maintenance and wastes no water during the softening process. It produces water with no added sodium minerals, which reduces limescale while maintaining its levels of calcium and magnesium.

The activated carbon filters in this system will require changing every 8 to 10 months. The system’s other components are built to last, with a warranty that covers tanks and valve heads for life. The manufacturer also offers a try-it-and-love-it-or-your-money-back 90 day full refund for the system.

Most of the components in the Filtersmart whole house water softener carry the NSF Certified mark.

Pros:

  • Both filters and softens water for the entire home
  • Mineral tanks have a lifetime guarantee
  • Does not require additional salt

Cons:

  • Pre-filters require frequent changes
  • Complex installation
  • Does not remove calcium and magnesium, which some may prefer

Read the full review: Filtersmart Salt-Free Water Softener Review


5. Fleck 9100SXT

Fleck 9100SXT Review

The Fleck 9100SXT Dual Tank Water Softener is a dual tank salt-based water softener. Included in the system are almond resin tanks, an alternated digital metered control, and a large almond brine tank for holding salt used during the regeneration process. This measures approximately 18″ x 40″ and holds up to 350 lb of salt. 

Getting started with the Fleck 9100SXT Dual Tank Water Softener is fast and easy. The system uses an LCD Display and touchpad for simple setup and added control, and a flow meter to measure water and regenerate based on water use for salt conservation. 

For peace of mind when purchasing this water system, the manufacturer offers a number of warranties for the components: a 5 Year Control Head Warranty, a 10 Year Tank Warranty, and a 30 day Money Back Satisfaction Guarantee.

Pros:

  • Ideal for large households or very hard water
  • Never wait for regeneration with 2 tanks
  • 20 GPM flow rate
  • Robust warranty

Cons:

  • Higher price point
  • Resin can be expensive to replace
  • Physically large system requires lots of space

Read the full review: Fleck 9100sxt Water Softener Review


6. Eddy Water Descaler Electronic Water Softener

Eddy Water Descaler Electronic Water Softener Review

The Eddy Electronic Water Descaler is a no-salt electric water softener 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 water conditioner 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 them from depositing on your clean surfaces, and inside pipework and appliances.

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

Pros:

  • Small, compact size
  • Low cost to run
  • Does not require maintenance, salt top-ups, or cleaning
  • Retains health benefits of calcium and magnesium

Cons:

  • 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

Read the full review: Eddy Electronic Water Descaler Review


7. Nuvo H20 DPHB

Nuvo H20 DPHB Review

The Nuvo H20 DPHB Home Salt Water Softener System uses the scientific process of chelation to alter the composition of hard water causing minerals. Unlike other salt free softeners, which use magnets to condition water, this softening system binds calcium and magnesium ions 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 softener is third-party proven to work as effectively as advertised. The system’s components are built to last, and designed to effectively soften water for the whole home.

It’s completely sodium free, 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 use.

Pros:

  • Salt-free 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

Cons:

  • Cartridges need to be replaced after about 50,000 gallons of use
  • Removes calcium and magnesium
  • Not as effective with well water

Read the full review: Nuvo H2O Home Softener System Review


8. EcoPure EP7130

EcoPure EP7130 Review

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

This softening system 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, the EcoPure softening unit removes high levels of water hardness and up to 8 PPM of rust-causing iron. It’s NSF certified, so you can be certain that the system operates as efficiently as the manufacturer claims.

Offering a 1 year full parts and labour 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 softener.

Works for both municipal and well source water.

Pros:

  • Fully softens water, eliminating hard water minerals
  • Predictive regeneration technology helps reduce costs
  • Alert when salt is running low
  • NSF certified
  • Suitable for well water

Cons:

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

Read the full review: EcoPure EP7130 Water Softener Review


9. Poly Salt-Free Water Softener

Poly Salt Free Water Softener

The Poly Salt-Free Water Softener is a simple salt-free water softening solution for whole home use. Designed using BPA free plastic, this softening system is compact and high in quality.

The water is softened in the Poly softener using a screen filter and polyphosphate. This removes calcium carbonate, which causes water hardness, while leaving calcium minerals intact. If you’re looking to remove limescale while still benefiting from healthy minerals in your water, this system is a good option for you.

The system is designed for long-term use with high quality components and efficiency functionality. This is backed by the manufacturer’s 6 months satisfaction guarantee, which entitles a user to a full refund if they return a product within that time frame. Additionally, all components come with a 5 year warranty.

Pros:

  • Does not require salt top-ups
  • Polyphosphate beads have a fairly long lifespan – 10 to 12 months.
  • Conditioned water produced immediately

Cons:

  • Not as effective for particularly hard water
  • May require a plumberto install

Read the full review: Poly Salt Free Water Softener Review


10. iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Descaler

iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Descaler Review

The iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Descaler Water Conditioner is a salt-free water conditioner that connects up to a home’s incoming water pipe to provide conditioned water for the whole household.

Designed especially for homes in particularly hard water areas (between 10 and 19 grains), this water conditioner can effectively descale an entire home’s water system and prevent any further scale build-up in pipes.

Thanks to its small dimensions, you can install the iSpring ED2000 in a compact space without the need for any major plumbing. Installation simply requires setting the descaler up at your household water’s point of entry, and many people find the process simple enough to do themselves.

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Read the full review: iSpring ED2000 Review


11. Morton® System Saver®

Morton System Saver Review

The Morton® System Saver® 30,000 Grain Water Softener M30 is a salt based water softening system designed for whole home or small business use. The system works particularly well for smaller households, and provides several benefits worth being aware of.

Featuring a brine tank at 43 inches tall and it is 17 inches wide, this water softener doesn’t produce a substantial GPM and is not intended for use in larger households or businesses. For users looking to save space in their small home or business, while still benefiting from softened water, this product is a cost-effective solution.

The softener has a 30,000 grain capacity unit, with regeneration cycles after about every 3 gallons of use. However, like many salt based water softeners today, the System Saver softener uses look-ahead technology, which enables it to predict your household water uses and plan regeneration cycles based on this information.

Pros:

  • Compact space-saving design
  • Can also remove iron
  • Smart regineration
  • Softens up to 95 GPG hardness

Cons:

  • Reports of leaking from some users
  • Not the best customer service
  • Small capacity

Read the full review: Morton System Saver Review


12. 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 Filter System is designed to filter sediment and 97% of chlorine from water for the whole home.

With a 1 million gallon capacity, this whole home water filter and softener is built with durability in mind. The filtration system can effectively remove contaminants like lead, mercury, pesticides, VOCs and more from water.

A major advantage of the Aquasana Rhino filtration system is the durability of its softening unit. The cylinder is designed to last for a minimum of 10 years, depending on household water use.

Salt free technology is used in this system to alter the structure of hard-causing mineral ions, rather than removing them altogether. The Aquasana softener crystalizes calcium and magnesium minerals, preventing them from being able to leave limescale deposits. Water retains its natural healthy mineral content without the addition of less healthy sodium minerals.

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

Pros:

  • 2 in 1 water softener and filter system
  • Salt-free softening
  • Does not require electricity
  • Great quality components and durability
  • Does not waste water or need to regenerate

Cons:

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

Read the full review: Aquasana Rhino Filter Review


13. Aquios AQFS220

Aquios AQFS220 Review

The Aquios AQFS220 Full House Salt Free Water Softener and Filter System is a dual water softener and filter that removes contaminants from water and softens it for whole home use.

If you’re looking to resolve limescale issues in your home, the Aquios FS-220 is designed to do the job. The softening system sequesters hard minerals, preventing them from being able to form coatings on the surfaces of your water pipes and appliances.

Because this model of water softener is salt-free, it requires very little maintenance. The Aquios does not need to regenerate, and you won’t need to purchase sodium to add to the unit.

Pros:

  • 2 in 1 water conditioner and filter
  • Anti-corrosion benefits
  • Salt-free system retains healthy minerals
  • Does not require salt-top ups or regineration
  • Does not waste water

Cons:

  • Filter cartridges require replacement after 40,000 gallons of use
  • Does not work with particularly hard water

Read the full review: Aquios FS-220 Review


14. Tier1 Everyday Series

Tier1 Everyday Series Review

The Tier1 Everyday Series is a high efficiency digital water softener for whole home use. The system consists of a sodium tank and a resin tank, which make it possible for ion exchange to occur. Unlike salt-free water softeners, the Tier1 water softener eliminates a significantly high level of hard-causing minerals from water, making it a far more effective softening solution.

For scheduling regeneration cycles, the softener has an easy to control head with adjustable cycle times. This design enables you to operate the system easily and more efficiently. Upflow regeneration drives the hard water minerals up through the already depleted resin and out to drain, saving salt and the unused resin for future use.

Pros:

  • Manual regeneration option
  • Helpful customer service
  • User friendly display

Cons:

  • Difficult installation
  • Average capacity

Read the full review: Tier1 Everyday Series Review


Water Softener System Buyer’s Guide (2020)

With the plethora of 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 water softeners 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.

Some people prefer not to drink 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 reduce, alter, or eliminate hard water causing minerals. Hard water can cause all sorts of irritating problems such as limescale, water spots, and reduce appliance efficiency.

What is hard water?

“Hard water” is a term we use when referring to water that has a high mineral content. Hard water can cause a number of issues for homes and businesses, which is why water softening – removing these minerals from water – now exists.

Water Hardness Map
source: usgs.gov

Minerals found in hard water

Typically, the hard water 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, it can lead to inconvenience and inflate water bill prices.

Hard water 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.

minerals found in hard water
Source: wikipedia.org

Calcium and Magnesium Ions

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

Calcium and magnesium are responsible for the indications of hard water you might notice around your home, like film over shower doors and bathtubs, reduced water flow, 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 remove 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 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 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 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 that are left behind on their surface.

hard water effect on dishes

Limescale

Limescale is a type of deposit left by calcium carbonate when water evaporates. These limescale deposits 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 need 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 some types of hard 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 drinking 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 effects of hard 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 heater efficiency

A build-up of hard water sediment in your gas water heater can affect its performance efficiency. The layer of limescale at the bottom of the tank acts as insulation, preventing the unit 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 washing 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.

washing clothes with soft water

Benefits of a water softening system

Using a system 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 for lengthening the lifespan of your water-based appliances.

The best water softener systems can remove up to 99.9% of all hard water minerals from water, 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 space and acting as an insulation, your water heater 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 machine, because you’ll be able to use less cleaners to get the same results. Your dishwasher is the same – soft 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.

Hair and skin

Soft water balances your hair’s pH, helping it to maintain its moisture and smoothness. 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 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 water softener variations available on today’s market, and each of them uses different components and techniques to remove calcium, magnesium and other minerals from water.

What are the different types of water softeners?

Nowadays, we’re fortunate to have the freedom to choose between a wide range of water softener types to meet our water softening needs. You might personally prefer a certain water conditioner 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
Source: safeclimate.com

Salt based water softeners

One of the common ways of softening water involves ion exchange, where calcium and magnesium are removed from the water, replaced by a sodium (salt) ion.

Salt based water 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 calcium and magnesium 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 softeners tend to be more costly because of their efficiency in removing hardness-causing minerals from water.
  • Not everyone wants to add more sodium into their water, even in small amounts.
  • May result in more maintenance than a standard salt free water softener.
salt based water softeners
Source: classicremodelingnw.com

Salt free water softeners

Salt free water softeners use something called a TAC media that changes the composition of the mineral ions so that they’re no longer capable of depositing limescale onto a surface.

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.
  • Uses less electricity, is more environmentally friendly, and is suitable for a person on a low sodium diet.

Cons:

  • You may still notice issues with hair, skin, 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.

Water Softener Variations

Dual tank Water Softeners

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

This water softener model consists of 2 resin tanks and 1 salt tank. The role of the resin 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 system automatically switches over to the second tank, preventing a lag in water production.

Magnetic water softeners

A magnetic water softener offers a chemical-free water softening solution. 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 softeners are most efficient in preventing the build-up of scale, and you’ll still be able to benefit from the nutritional aspects of hard water minerals.

magnetic water softener
Source: eartheasy.com

Portable water softeners

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

Usually, portable water softeners are smaller versions of single tank salt based softeners. This means they consist of a resin tank and a salt tank, and produce soft water through the 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 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.

electronic water softener

Whole house water softeners

Whole house water softeners are designed to do as they say – soften the water flowing into your 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 soft water, the better. Whole house water softeners can be either salt based or salt free.

These systems vary in price from model to model. As they’re the most popular form of water softener available, 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 salt based, meaning that it removes calcium and magnesium from the water using the process of ion exchange. Some shower head water softeners also remove other contaminants from water, like chlorine and heavy metals.

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 softener 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 vary in capacity from model to model, meaning that some water softeners will be capable of producing more soft water at a steadier rate than others

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 you would rather remove all calcium and magnesium ions from your water. Equally, you might not want to remove these ions, but only change their form to prevent them from producing limescale, for which you might prefer a salt free water softener.

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 alternatives, and upkeep can also cost a little more. Your budget might have a bigger impact on your purchasing decisions than you realize.

Installation and maintenance costs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Sometimes, it’s worth paying that extra $100 or so for a 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.

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 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 regenerating.

Certifications

The best 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.

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

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 process, and your water softener will outline specific step-by-step 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 the installation process, we’ve outlined the step-by-step process for installing a salt based water softener 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 hot water won’t damage the water softener.
  2. Make sure 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 valve at the lowest point in your home.
  4. Turn off your water heater. Make sure the power leading to the heater 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. Make sure 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 valve to the bypass position and flush it with 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.

Step by step process – salt free

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

As there are a number of varying salt free water softeners, we’ll just focus on the magnetic softening system 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. Make sure 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.

Maintaining your water softener

Salt based water softeners require simple maintenance to keep them working efficiently and help them live longer lives. If 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 salt 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 tank, but may just happen naturally over time.

You can easily clean out the 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 half a year or so, or whenever your water flow takes a negative turn.

Clean out your resin bed

This one is especially appropriate if your drinking 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 tank. Add the right amount per the product’s recommendations and then manually regenerate your tank.

Clean the resin tank injector

It’s common for your resin tank 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 to your drinking water, don’t be too worried – you’ll never end up drinking an unhealthy amount of salt, because the system 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 the ion exchange process, 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 a 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 standard salt based 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 tank 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?

You can use a water softener whenever you want.

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 all purposes inside your home.

The choice is yours.

Your intentions for your water softener 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 to install 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?

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.

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 your water softener 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 tank.

This bacteria is attracted to the sodium in the tank, and releases hydrogen sulfide – the cause of the rotten egg odor. You can resolve this issue by thoroughly cleaning your 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, 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 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 remove 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 for a water softening system 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, 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.

Best Water Softeners Comparison Chart

Water SoftenerRelative PriceCapacity (grains)TypeFlow Rate (GPM)
SpringWell Futuresoft Salt-free Water Softener$$$$$1MSalt-free20
Fleck 5600 SXT 48K Grains Water Softener$$$48KSalt-based20
Fleck Iron Pro 2 Combination Water Softener Iron Filter$$$$64KSalt-based16
Filtersmart Whole House Water Filter & Salt-Free Softener$$$$$1MSalt-free12
Fleck 9100SXT Dual Tank Water Softener$$$$$96KSalt-based20
Eddy Water Descaler Electronic Water Softener$$n/aElectronic descalern/a
Nuvo H20 DPHB Home Salt Water Softener System$$$$20KSalt-free15
EcoPure EP7130 30,000 Grain Water Softener$$$30KSalt-based7.5
Poly Salt-Free Water Softener$$30KSalt-free30
iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Descaler$$19Electronic descalern/a
Morton® System Saver® 30,000 Grain Water Softener M30$$$30KSalt-based11
Aquasana Whole House Water Filter System w/ Salt-Free Conditioner$$$$$1MSalt-free7
Aquios AQFS220 Full House Salt Free Water Softener and Filter System$$$40KSalt-free18
Tier1 Everyday Series$$$48KSalt-based11.2