Looking for the best water softener for your home?
You’ve come to the right place.
While hard water is not a health risk, it can be a major nuisance because of the mineral deposits (scale) it leaves on fabrics, your skin and on other porous surfaces.
The buildup of hard water minerals can damage your clothes, your plumbing and your appliances.
Hard water also doesn’t mix properly with detergent and soap, leaving your hair and skin feeling unclean and sticky.
If you have a hard water problem in your home, then buying a quality water softener system will prevent mineral deposits from causing these issues.
What's In This Buying Guide
This water softener buying guide is about a 10 minute read.
We start with a simple water softener comparison of our top picks for 5 common needs, followed by a quick review of these 5 plus another 6 great choices. You should be able to find what you need from this list.
We also explain a few things you need to know about water softeners, including: how to select the best water softener, how to install one yourself, and how to properly clean and care for your system.
These are the top 5 water softeners sold today in our opinion. Below the table, we review each of our top picks - in addition to a few other good choices.
This water softening system is a complete package with everything you need. All you need to buy separately is salt and drain tubing.
Installation is mostly straightforward with just a couple of issues here and there. The integrated bypass valve allows disruption-free servicing.
We especially like the digital meter included with this system, because it reduces water and salt waste.
The only thing we don’t like is how hard it can be to get resin into the tank. They should have used a more user-friendly design or delivered the system with resin installed.
The Fleck 5600 SXT is almost ready to install when it arrives. Other than the salt for regeneration (we recommend potassium) and a ½” drainage pipe, everything else is included.
This includes the brine tank, the resin tank, the resin itself and the control head with a built-in bypass valve.
All you need to do is connect it to your main water line via the 1” yoke connection.
The most challenging part is adding the resin to the tank. The tank design means you have to add a small amount at a time, which makes it tedious and time consuming.
But once that’s done, the plumbing part is easy. You don’t need to spend more money hiring a plumber.
This is a 48,000-grain water softener system meaning it can easily serve the water needs of a mid-size or large family (4-6 people).
The system uses an integrated flow meter to monitor your home’s water usage and decide when to regenerate the resin.
Instead of regenerating at specific times, the system regenerates only when necessary, saving water and salt.
The system keeps you aware of what’s happening via the LCD display on the control head. If there is a problem, you can use the error code displayed to diagnose the system.
Right below the display are easy-to-use touch controls.
The main issue encountered by many customers is adding the resin to the tank. It takes up most of the installation time.
Thankfully, once it’s in the tank, you don’t need to replace it ever again.
The other issue is the lack of a drainage pipe, which the manufacturer doesn’t mention. Most customers realized during installation that it was missing.
So if you decide to get this system, buy a ½” tubing for the drain.
Note that this system only removes magnesium and calcium. If you use well water, there is still iron to deal with.
Like hardness minerals, iron also builds up on surfaces and can stain your clothes and dishes.
You’ll have to install a whole house iron filter or look for water softener that can also remove iron like the Fleck Iron Pro 2 we review below.
Avoid if: You need a water softener that can also remove iron.
This water softener is a great choice for anyone looking for a good quality and high capacity water softener system for a mid-size or large family of up to 6 people.
This system adds an iron filter to the highly rated 5600 SXT water softener system we just reviewed.
The system has a 64,000-grain capacity, making it ideal for large families. There are additional grain capacity options including 32,000, 48,000 and 80,000.
Installation is a bit tricky, but the manual has clear instructions and there are several super helpful installation videos on YouTube.
Most water softener systems cannot remove iron. This is a big problem if you use well water, either from your own well or a shared community well.
While you could always install an iron filter in addition to a water softener, buying both separately is expensive. They’ll also take more time to install.
The Iron pro 2 combo system is super convenient. You get a water softener and an iron filter in one affordable unit.
The Iron Pro 2 doesn’t just remove hardness minerals and iron.
It also removes manganese (up to 6 ppm), rust, sediment and sand. So you don’t even have to install a sediment filter if you are having issues with high water turbidity.
The 64,000-grain capacity may sound like a bit of overkill for most families but it not too much.
The high capacity allows the system to handle high levels of hardness minerals and iron. It also improves its lifespan.
If 64K is not enough for your family, they also have an 80K option available. But if it’s too much, there are smaller 32K, 40K and 48K sizes available.
Select the one that bests meets your water consumption needs.
The biggest issue is installation.
It’s not that difficult but it takes a lot of time. If you decide to install the system yourself, block at least 4 hours to do it.
You’ll also need to buy fittings and connectors to complete the installation. I recommend SharkBite fittings. They are the easiest to use.
Avoid this system if: You receive city water. If you don’t see any reddish stains all over your house, you most likely receive city water that is low in iron. You don’t need a water softener with an iron filter. If your only concern is water hardness, get the Fleck 5600 SXT instead.
This water softener is best for homes that receive well water that is high in iron.
The Iron Pro 2 removes magnesium & calcium, iron, sediment and several other contaminants commonly found in well water.
Instead of using Brine and resin, the Triple Action Poly water softener uses a polyphosphate cartridge to prevent hard water from depositing scale on surfaces and in plumbing.
Similar to other salt free systems, the Triple Action doesn’t actually remove hardness minerals. It just conditions water to make it behave like soft water.
It’s a great choice for those who don’t like salt in their water or prefer a system with less water wastage.
Salt-based water softeners are generally the best. They can deal with low, medium and high levels of water hardness.
But they come with two main downsides:
A salt free water softener solves these two problems.
The Triple Action system uses a catalytic core and polyphosphate beads to soften water.
They don’t remove hardness minerals. Rather, they change calcium carbonate, a hardness mineral, into harmless aragonite.
You get salt-free softened water that tastes great and doesn’t leave scale on surfaces.
The softener is surprisingly compact. If you are used to the large and unwieldy traditional water softeners, you’ll find this one much easier to handle and install.
It comes with a bracket to secure it to the wall but you’ll have to get your own fittings and connectors including a drain tubing.
Here are some quick specs to keep in mind when buying fittings.
Inlet and outlet diameter: 1” female threads
Drain valve diameter: 1/2"
Max pressure: 145 PSI
Flow rate: 30 GPM
Note that the softener doesn’t come with a bypass valve. To do any maintenance on it, you’ll have to switch off the water and drain the plumbing.
Alternatively, install a bypass loop yourself.
Unlike traditional water softeners, this system doesn’t need salt refills every now and then.
You only need to replace the polyphosphate beads after every 10 months.
The main limitation of the Triple Action Poly water softener, and this applies to most salt free water softeners, is that it can be overpowered by very hard water.
If you get water with a hardness of 75 grains per gallon and above, I’d recommend a traditional system that uses salt.
Avoid if: You are supplied with extremely hard water. This softener will let some hardness minerals pass through unchanged, causing scaling on surfaces.
This water softener is best for: Anyone who prefers not to use a traditional salt-based water softener either because they don’t want extra sodium in their water or want to reduce water wastage.
The Aquios FS220L whole house water softener combines a salt-free water softener with a carbon filter that improves the taste of water by removing chlorine and other chemicals.
Installation is straightforward - you don’t have to hire a plumber. Most customers get this system running in under two hours.
The main downside is the filter capacity. With a 40,000 gallon capacity, the filter cartridge will last an average family only about 6 months. For larger families or in homes with high water consumption, you may have to change the filter every 3 months.
If you receive chlorinated municipal water, a whole-house activated carbon filter can help eliminate the taste of chlorine.
But buying a separate softener and carbon filter will cost you quite a bit of money not to mention the added installation work. You may not even have the space to install both.
The Aquios FS-220L conveniently combines a salt free softener to prevent scaling and a 5-micron carbon filter to remove chemicals like chlorine and hydrogen sulfide.
The result is water that tastes and smells fresh and doesn’t leave damaging and unsightly mineral buildups all over.
The Aquios FS-220L uses similar salt free water softening technology as the Triple Action softener we review above.
The system comes with a cartridge that contains food-grade polyphosphate that keeps the calcium minerals in water from attaching to surfaces.
The water produced by this system is also not slippery like water from traditional softeners.
Another advantage is that there’s no water wasted since salt free softeners don’t require regeneration.
If you don’t have the space to install a full size traditional water softener, the Aquios softener is perfect.
Instead of oversized tanks, this system consists of a single compact cartridge housing that takes up very little space.
The small size makes installation easier and faster.
Most of the stuff you need for installation are included in the package. You get the main unit, a cartridge containing poly phosphate and a carbon filter, a mounting bracket and screws and a wrench.
The only things you need to buy are fittings and connectors.
The softener comes with a single cartridge that is rated for 40,000 gallons. That’s about 3-6 months of usage for most families.
A replacement cartridge costs about $65, which is not cheap.
The other issue is that this system doesn’t have a built-in bypass valve to make it easy to replace your filter. You’ll have to shut-off water to the house when replacing the cartridge or doing any other maintenance.
You can install a bypass loop but that means buying extra fittings, three valves and additional connectors.
Avoid if: You want a water softener with a long-lasting filter that doesn’t need to be replaced every few months.
The Aquios FS220L water softener is best for: anyone who doesn't want added salt in their water AND want to remove unpleasant chemical tastes associated with chlorine, hydrogen sulfide and other impurities.
The system can soften any level of water hardness without creating a pressure drop thanks to its 20 GPM flow rate.
Unlike most water softeners that stop working when they are regenerating, the Fleck 9100 SXT alternates between two tanks to make sure you have access to fresh soft water all the time - even when it's regenerating using its automatic metering system.
Fleck designed this system to provide years of low-maintenance service. The resin will last a lifetime and they’ve minimized moving parts to increase the lifespan of the entire system.
All this comes at a price though.
The Fleck 9100 SXT is the most expensive of our top picks. But we think it’s worth it for families that need a high-performance and efficient water softener.
Dual tank water softeners are the best for families that want access to soft water at any time of the day.
The Fleck 9100SXT alternates between its two tanks such that when one is regenerating, the other keeps working to provide soft water.
This 24/7 soft water supply is especially beneficial for people who tend to be up at night – doctors, swing shift workers, policemen and night owls.
The 9100SXT can handle even the highest levels of water hardness. It’s also effective at cleaning up water containing iron.
One reason it’s so good at softening water is the high quality resin Fleck uses. It is 10% Cross-Linked Cation Exchange Resin (most softeners use 8% resin).
Not only does it do an excellent job removing hardness minerals, it also lasts longer and is more resistant to damage from chlorine.
So if you receive chlorinated city water, you don’t have to worry that it will damage your water softener.
The Fleck 9100SXT has a max flow rate of 20 gallons per minute.
The high flow rate is another reason we highly recommend it for large homes where a pressure drop would really affect water flow to various faucets and showers.
With most water softeners, you have to select your preferred regeneration time. This is when the system shuts down to regenerate the resin.
You don’t have to do that with the Fleck 9100SXT.
Instead of relying on a timer, the 9100SXT measures the amount of water that has been used. Once a resin’s capacity has been reached, the meter automatically triggers regeneration no matter what time it is.
Because the system regenerates only when necessary, there is less water and salt wasted.
You also don’t have to worry about suddenly running out of soft water in the middle of the day because this system has dual tanks.
So even if it regenerates in the morning, there is another tank on standby to keep soft water flowing to your home.
The biggest limitation here is the price.
But considering the size of the system and the level of performance, I’d say it’s fair. You are getting great value for your money.
Installation is fairly straightforward even for someone who has never done any DIY plumbing before. The only issue is that it takes a lot of time.
If you do it yourself, you’ll need 2-4 hours to set up the water softener.
If you decide to have a plumber do it, it takes about 1-2 hours to install.
Avoid if: You are looking for a budget water softener for a smaller home. Buying this one would be overkill.
This water softener is best for: Large homes and families that need soft water round the clock.
EM waves change the way calcium and magnesium minerals in water behave such that they pass over surfaces without sticking to them. This reduces the development of scale in shower heads, sinks and appliances.
The truth is, however, that descalers are not as effective as other kinds of water softeners. So if you want a high level of demineralization or suffer from very hard water, then the Eddy Water Descaler is not for you.
That said, for those who want to save money and don't suffer from extremely hard water, the Eddy Descaler is a great inexpensive choice that's completely maintenance-free.
The Eddy electronic water descaler is a salt free water softener but works very differently from other salt free systems.
Instead of using a substance like polyphosphate or citric acid to condition water, the Eddy descaler uses electromagnetic waves.
Current running through the coils around the pipe generate a magnetic field that causes the calcium and magnesium ions to behave differently.
They become suspended in water. So instead of sticking to surfaces, they flow away with water.
This reduces the amount of scaling on plumbing, appliances and other areas.
The main downside with this method of water softening is that it is ineffective for sitting water.
If the conditioned water is allowed to sit for 48-72 hours, the hardness minerals again dissolve in water and stick to surfaces. Essentially, the water becomes hard again.
But this is not a big problem in most homes. As long as water keeps flowing through the plumbing, you’ll get soft water. Even the water in a hot water tank doesn’t stay there long enough for this to be an issue.
This Eddy descaler takes about 15 minutes to install and you don’t need any tools. Compare that to the typical 3-4 hour process to install a traditional water softener.
You just need to connect the main unit to an outlet and then coil the two circuits around your water pipes (works with both plastic and metal pipes).
There are two circuits. You can use one for the cold water supply and another for the hot water pipe.
The best part about this water softener is that you don’t need to do maintenance at all.
There are no leaks to fix, no salt to add, no resin to replace and no filter to change. Just set it up and forget it.
As convenient as it is, the Eddy water descaler cannot compare to a traditional water softener.
Yes, your water will taste fresher and there will be less gunk on your shower head and toilet bowl. But you’ll still notice some scale buildup after some months.
This softener also doesn’t help with iron-rich water.
If you are seeing reddish stains everywhere, that’s because of iron in water. Either buy a whole house iron filter or get a traditional water softener that can also filter out iron.
Avoid it if: You want a water softener that can also filter out iron.
This water softener is best for: Anyone looking for a salt-free water softener that actually works. The Eddy descaler is not 100% effective but it prevents most of the scaling caused by hard water.
That said, I should warn you. The reviews for the water softener are mixed. Some customers say it does not soften water as well as other systems.
These complaints seem to depend heavily on how hard the water is. Generally, if you receive very hard water, then don't buy this water softener.
On the other hand, you'll save some money if your water hardness problem is slight.
The Nuvo H2O doesn’t require any salt. That’s because it does not contain resin and thus doesn’t need to regenerate.
This is great for people who are concerned about added salt in their water.
The Nuvo softener works through a process called chelation. It binds ions of hardness minerals to citric acid (which is contained in a cartridge), preventing them from sticking on surfaces and causing scale buildup.
The process is not as efficient as ion exchange in traditional softeners but it does work with low to medium hard water.
The Nuvo H2O prevents hard water from forming scale and also removes existing scale in your plumbing.
This is a slow process so don’t expect the gunk on your shower head to clear up in a day. It’s best if you clean it yourself.
But the scale inside your plumbing will fade away with time.
There are no large tanks to set up or a drain line to install.
Just connect your main water line to the inlet and outlet port and you are good to go. Installation takes 1-2 hours.
As I mentioned, there are complaints from customers about the efficacy of this system. Clearly the salt-free technology it uses is not as efficient as other salt-free descalers.
If your water hardness is severe, avoid this system.
Some users also complain that parts broke in a matter of weeks.
Avoid if: You are looking for the best quality salt free water softener, this is not the best.
This water softener is best for: Those looking for a compact salt free water softener who have relatively clean water.
The Tier 1 comes with the same digital controls as the Fleck model and an integrated flow meter to control the regeneration process (instead of a timer).
The programming and controls are simpler compared to the 5600 SXT, too. It’s easy to configure your preferred settings and to monitor what’s happening.
The downside is that you have no access to the advanced programming that Fleck softeners provide.
The system has a grain capacity of 48,000 making it ideal for small and mid-size families of 2-4 people.
This is one of the best features of the Fleck 5600 SXT. We love that Tier1 has borrowed it for their water softener. It makes it so much easier to configure and monitor the system.
But they did not just borrow the feature - they simplified it. Some customers have complained about the Fleck's digital interface being too complicated and hard to navigate.
Tier1's interface is simpler and more user friendly. There is an LCD display to show the status of the system. There are no confusing error codes or weird symbols. Everything is clearly spelled out.
Below the screen are buttons for setting the clock and configuring regeneration cycles.
Tier1 managed to make their water softener smaller by incorporating the meter into the bypass valve. The system takes up less space and is easier to install.
The system automatically regenerates depending on the amount of water you have used.
It does this by measuring water consumption via an integrated meter. As soon as a specific number of gallons pass through the resin, the system automatically regenerates.
This is more efficient than timer-based regeneration and reduces the amount of water and salt used during the regeneration cycle.
No need to set up your own bypass. The Tier1 water softener includes a built-in bypass valve that allows you to keep water flowing to the house as you maintain the system.
The main issue with this water softener is the installation process. It’s not that it’s hard – you can do it yourself – it just takes a lot of time. Set aside around 3-4 hours to complete installation.
You also have to buy fittings and connectors yourself. The package only includes the tanks, valve and adapter.
Note that this is a single tank water softener. During regeneration, which takes 1-2 hours, you will not receive soft water. Go to settings to select the ideal regeneration time when no one is using water.
Avoid if: You prefer a salt-free water softener.
This water softener is best for: Anyone looking for an affordable high-performance water softener for a family of 2-4 people. Also ideal for those looking for a simpler and less expensive alternative to the Fleck 5600 SXT.
If you have a family of 1-3, there’s no need to spend money on an expensive 48,000 or 64,000 grain water softener.
Instead, we recommend buying this compact 30,000-grain system from Morton.
The single tank design, where the brine tank and the main tank are combined into a single unit, saves plenty of space and makes installation much easier.
Some of its best features include demand-based regeneration, high water flow rate, integrated bypass valve and iron reduction (up to 8 ppm).
Don’t waste your money on a 60,000 or 80,000 grain water softener if you are only 2-3 at home or you live alone.
A smaller capacity system like this 30,000-grain Morton water softener will serve you just as well.
The lower grain capacity does not by any means indicate that it can only soften water with low levels of hardness.
According to the manufacturer, it can soften water rated as high as 95 grains per gallon in hardness. So don’t worry if you receive very hard water.
The grain capacity just shows how much hardness the resin can remove before it needs to regenerate. And since your water consumption is low compared to most homes, it probably won’t even need to regenerate daily.
Most water softeners have at least two tanks: one that houses the resin and another to store the brine.
The Morton water softener uses an innovative single tank design that combines the two parts into one unit.
This is not just for show. It makes the water softener smaller and easier to install especially in small spaces.
A single tank design also uses less salt and water.
Most water softeners do remove some iron from water but only up to 3 ppm. The Morton system can remove iron up to 8 ppm.
This makes it a great choice both for homes that receive city water as well as those that use well water.
It will prevent the reddish staining from dissolved iron.
The package includes a 1” bypass valve that saves you the hassle of setting up your own bypass loop.
The valve lets you maintain water supply to the house when you are doing any kind of maintenance on the system.
An obvious limitation of the Morton water softener is that it can’t efficiently service homes with families of 5 or more people.
It would have to regenerate too often, meaning hours a day without access to soft water.
The other issue customers have pointed out is that the build quality is a bit wanting.
Avoid if: You have a family of 5 or more. Look for a water softener with a higher grain capacity.
This water softener is best for: Anyone looking for a budget water softener for a small family of 2-4 people. Also a great choice for homes and apartments without space for 2-tank water softeners.
Hard water can be problematic if you spend a lot of time or live in an RV. It clogs water lines and can damage your water heater and appliances. It doesn’t help that most RV parks have hard water.
The Watts RV PRO 10,000 is designed specifically for softening hard water for RVs (and boats).
It has a space-saving single tank design that makes it perfect for tight spaces.
Being an ultra-compact RV water softener, it works a bit differently from normal softener systems.
It doesn’t have an automatic regeneration function. You have to manually regenerate the resin, which takes about 20 minutes and 2lbs of table salt.
But it’s a small sacrifice for the convenience of soft water on the go. And anyway, it takes several weeks before you have to regenerate the unit.
This water softener is designed to take up as little space as possible, making it ideal for space-limited boats and RVs.
It’s a single tank measuring just 22 inches high and 10 inches wide.
The single tank houses the resin and there is no separate brine tank like in normal water softeners.
That means you have to regenerate the system yourself using a garden hose, which is easier than it sounds.
The tank head has a Y-valve that allows you to connect a hose without having to disconnect your RV plumbing.
The only problem is that the inlet connector does not swivel, making it tedious to connect a long garden hose.
Before you start rinsing the hardness minerals out of the system, the manufacturer asks that you tilt the tank gently to drain the remaining water and then add 2lbs of table salt.
You don’t need any special salt for the softener.
The manufacturer recommends regenerating the system when your water hardness goes higher than 3 grains per gallon.
To monitor water hardness, the package includes 50 free test strips.
Many customers found that it takes a few weeks before water gets hard enough to require regeneration.
But your mileage may vary depending on how much water you consume.
Manually regenerating the water softener is tedious work but at least you don’t have to do it daily or even weekly.
It’s a small sacrifice for having a compact system that easily fits in your RV or boat.
But many customers wish the instructions were clearer. As they are, they are vague and confusing.
A swivel inlet connector would also have made things so much easier.
Overall, the Watts RV Pro 10000 has the kind of limitations you would expect from a downsized RV water softener.
Avoid if: You are looking for a whole house water softener.
This water softener is best for: Anyone who lives or spends a lot of time in an RV or boat and want to soften their water.
Not all homes have the space to install a full size 2-tank water softener system.
With a 36,400-grain capacity, the WaterBoss 365 is perfect for mid-size and large families of up to 6 people.
It can soften water with a hardness level of up to 90 grains, making it great for homes that receive very hard water.
It’s also ideal for homes that use well water. That’s because the resin not only removes hardness minerals but also ferrous iron (up to 10 ppm), dirt and sediment.
Despite the system’s relatively high capacity, the manufacturer has managed to combine the resin and the brine tank into one unit.
This doesn’t just save space, it makes the system more efficient as well.
It regenerates faster – 38 minutes compared to 1-2 hours of other softeners – which means it uses less salt and water.
Our only gripe with this water softener is the price tag. It’s more expensive than most water softeners we have reviews with a higher grain capacity.
The tank measures 30.75” high, 18.75” deep and 14.75” wide.
Compare that to our top overall pick, the Fleck 5600SXT, which is 62” high. That’s just the main tank.
The 5600SXT’s brine tank is comparable in size to the entire WaterBoss 365 water softener.
That’s a lot of space saved, making the WaterBoss the best choice for homes without adequate space to install a full size water softener.
The compact design is not just for show. It has several practical benefits. The biggest is increased regeneration efficiency.
The WaterBoss 365 regenerates in just 38 minutes. Most water softeners need an hour or two to regenerate.
The quicker regeneration cycle results in less water and salt usage, which saves you money.
Being a single unit installation is easier and faster compared to the traditional 2-tank water softeners.
You of course have to buy your own fittings, which is the case with all water softeners.
Total installation time is 1-2 hours depending on your level of DIY plumbing skills.
The manufacturer recommends using pellet salt. You can also substitute sodium chloride for potassium chloride if you have concerns about sodium in your drinking water.
An integrated bypass valve makes system maintenance a breeze.
Instead of shutting off water and draining the plumbing, you simply turn the valve to redirect water away from the water softener until you are done.
The valve is also handy if you have applications that could be affected by sodium in water such as watering plants.
The main issue with this water softener is the price tag.
It does provide several advantages over other water softeners – such as a compact design, less water wastage, less salt and faster regeneration – but we still think it’s a bit too expensive especially considering it has a lower capacity than most of the water softeners we have reviewed.
But it’s still a great investment for homes that use well water or receive very hard water.
Avoid if: You are looking for a budget water softener.
This water softener is best for: Anyone looking for a high performance but compact water softener that can serve a family of 3-6 people. Also ideal for homes that use well water.
You don’t have to run a water test to know you’ve got hard water.
It doesn’t lather properly, leaves your hand with a thin slippery film on them when you wash with soap, leaves spots on dishes and your skin feels dry after a shower.
Worst of all, hard water leaves mineral deposits, called scale, on plumbing, in appliances, on the sink and other surfaces it touches.
Over time, a buildup of scale can actually damage plumbing and appliances.
If you’ve noticed any of these in your home, you need a water softener.
A water softener is a device or appliance that removes hardness minerals (calcium and magnesium) from water - or limits their scaling effect.
Salt-based softeners remove the minerals using a process called ion exchange. Salt free softeners leave them in water but prevent them from sticking on surfaces.
Buy a test kit. You can get one online or at a local store for less than $10.
The kit includes several test strips and a color chart. You just dip the strip in water, wait a few seconds for the color to form and then compare it to the color chart to determine how hard your water is.
If you don’t want to buy anything, here is a simple at-home test.
Take a glass bottle and fill it a third full with tap water or whichever water whose hardness you want to test.
Add 10 drops of liquid soap, put the cap on and shake hard the let the water rest.
If you get a fluffy and bubbly lather at the top and clear water underneath, you have soft water. But if very little or no lather forms and the water underneath gets cloudy, you’ve got hard water.
This is a crude method so don’t rely on it for accurate results. If you want to know exactly how hard your water is, a home test kit is the best option.
These are the most common types of water softeners and the best ones for most homes.
Here’s how they work.
Hard water passes through a resin bed where hardness minerals are pulled out and exchanged for salt ions (sodium chloride or potassium chloride).
When the resin has pulled a certain amount of hardness minerals (indicated by the grain capacity), the system goes through a regeneration cycle.
Brine, which is very salty water, washes over the resin pulling out the hardness minerals and adding salt ions.
The resin is recharged, ready to soften more water. The brine, now loaded with hardness minerals, drains out of the system.
Salt-based water softeners are highly effective at softening even very hard water.
On the downside, they waste a few gallons of water every time they regenerate. They also add salt to the water, which is a health concern for some people.
Instead of using a salt-charged resin to pull hardness minerals out of water, salt free water softeners use other methods to change how these minerals behave.
Some use a process called chelation where the hardness ions coalesce around other molecules, preventing them from forming scale as the water passes over or sits on a surface.
Others use electromagnetism to change the behavior of the ions (more on these below).
Salt free water softeners are not nearly as effective as salt-based softeners especially when dealing with extra-hard water.
We recommend them for water with low and medium levels of hardness.
But they are great for those who are concerned about having too much salt in their water.
A magnetic water descaler is a type of salt free water softener.
It works by running a current through coils set up around the water pipe. This creates a magnetic field that separates hardness minerals from water.
When the minerals are suspended, they don’t stick to surfaces and form scale. Instead they wash away with the water flow.
As with other salt free water softeners, magnetic descalers are not as effective as traditional water softeners especially on very hard water.
They also don’t help if the conditioned water sits for more than 48 hours. The minerals will re-combine with water, again causing hardness.
But they are great for homeowners looking for an inexpensive and easy-to-install water softener that does not add salt to their water.
A normal salt-based water softener consists of two large parts: the main tank containing the resin and a separate tank where you add salt to create brine.
This works well enough except for one big disadvantage.
During regeneration – when brine recharges the resin – you don’t get soft water. If you open a tap during that period, which lasts 1-2 hours, you’ll get hard water.
This is not a problem for most homes since you can set the system to regenerate at night or whenever there aren’t people using water.
But it’s an issue for night owls, late night workers and night shift employees like doctors and emergency response professionals.
If you want soft water round the clock, get a dual tank water softener.
Instead of shutting off soft water supply when regeneration, this type of system simply switches to the other tank.
So you always have one tank delivering soft water to the house.
Here’s what to consider when buying a water softener for your home.
The first thing to decide is the kind of water softener you want.
If you need something that does the best job softening hard water, go with a salt-based water softener.
If the salt is a concern for you, then look for a salt free system.
For larger homes that use water around the clock, buy a dual tank water softener.
If you decide to buy a salt-based water softener, decide which capacity is right for your needs.
This will depend on how many you are at home.
For small families of 3 or less, a 30,000 grain water softener is enough.
For families of 4-6, look for a system with a grain capacity of 40,000 to 60,000.
For families of 6 or more, buy a high capacity 60,000+ grain water softener.
If you live in a place with very hard water, then you should opt for a system with a higher grain capacity. It will be able to handle the increased hardness without regenerating too often.
I also recommend against buying a salt free water softener. They don’t handle extra-hard water very well.
An expensive water softener is not automatically the best one for your family.
A 96,000-grain water softener for a family of three is a waste of money.
For an average family, you can get a good quality salt based water softener for between $400 and $700.
If you are on a budget, salt free water softeners are often cheaper.
You should be able to install a water softener on your own.
Hiring a professional plumber can add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to your overall cost. Only hire a pro if you don’t have the time to install it yourself.
But if you can find an afternoon free, you should have the system ready to go in 2-4 hours.
Don’t forget to check the warranty before you buy.
The main tanks should have a warranty of at least 10 years whole smaller parts such as the valve or controller head should have a 2-5 year warranty.
This is just a general installation process that applies to most water softeners. The specific process for your water softener may vary.
Read the instruction manual before you begin installation.
This is usually the main water line before it branches off. Clean up the installation site to make installation easier and safer.
Assemble all the parts and items you’ll need for the installation.
In most cases you have to buy your own fittings. Check the manufacturer requirements – size, pressure rating etc. – and buy them ahead of time.
Also make sure you have the right tools with you before you begin.
Turn off the main water supply and drain the pipes by letting several faucets run until they are dry.
Also turn off electricity to your water heater.
Cut a short section out of your main water line such that you have two open ends.
Use copper cutters if you have copper plumbing and PVC cutters if have PVC plumbing.
If you are installing a salt-based water softener, it most likely came with the main tank and the control head separately.
The control head contains the control module (display and buttons), the in and out ports, a flow meter if there’s one and a bypass if there’s one.
But before you attach the control head, add the resin to the tank using the provided funnel (or your own funnel if one is not included).
Then connect the control head and position the tank right under the cut section of the water line.
You could solder elbow joints to your main water line but that takes time and not everyone can do it.
Flex connectors are much easier to use. Just make sure you check the softener’s inlet and outlet port sizes and buy size-compatible fittings.
Attach the flex connectors to the inlet and outlet ports of the water softener.
If you have the traditional 2-tank system with a separate brine tank, you’ll need to set up a line from the brine tank to the main tank.
Check your manual for instructions on how exactly to do it.
Note that this is not necessary if you have a single-tank water softener.
During regeneration, the system produces waste water that is loaded with hardness minerals.
Set up a drain line leading from the system’s drain port.
Check the manual for manufacturer drain requirements. In most cases, you have to make sure that the water drains downwards.
Add salt up to the recommended level. Some systems also require you to fill the brine tank with water the first time you add salt.
Connect the water softener to a power outlet.
The display will light up and you can program the system. You’ll be asked to input your water hardness level and select regeneration settings.
Check your manual for the specific programming procedure.
Check the exact sequence in your manual.
In most water softeners, you need to first run a backwash to clean the system and ready it for action.
This involves opening the water supply (slowly) while the outlet valve is closed. Water goes through the resin tank and out of the drain.
Turn on the outlet valve quarter way and open a faucet. This drains any air from the lines.
When the faucet stops sputtering, open the outlet valve the whole way.
Your water softener is ready to use.Remember to check for leaks and repair them immediately.
On your main water line before the heater and before the pipe branches off. Note that most water softeners are rated for indoor use only.
Unless the manufacturer explicitly says it’s safe for outdoor use, never install a water softener outside.
No, it doesn’t. You’ll need an activated water filter for that.
Yes, most salt-based water softeners can remove some ferrous iron from water (usually up to 3 ppm).
No. Though sodium is added to the softened water, it’s not enough to make the water salty.
But it may make the water a bit slippery.
It’s perfectly good for most people.
If you are concerned about the added salt, use potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride.
The only time you should not use softened water is when watering grass and flowers. The sodium content is not good for plants.
Turn on the bypass valve when you want to use your sprinklers. This will redirect hard water away from the softener.
This depends on the flow rate of the particular model. Most water softeners have little to no effect on water pressure.
In most cases it’s possible. You’ll have to open up the tank, remove the old resin and fill in a new one.
Call your water softener manufacture and ask if it is possible to replace the resin and whether they sell replacement resin.
Water softener manufacturers run discounts throughout the year so be on the watch out for offers from well-known brands like Fleck, Aquios and Morton.
Major holidays and occasions like Black Friday, Thanks Giving, Christmas and New Year’s are peak times for discounts and offers.
|Fleck 5600 SXT||Salt-Based|
|Energy Star||90 mins||$$$||5 years||DIY|
|Fleck Iron Pro 2||Salt-Based w/|
|UL (Head)||90 mins||$$$$||Head: 5 years |
Tank: 10 years
|Nuvo H2O DPHB||Salt-Based||96,000 grains|
20,000 gals (filter)
|FDA & NSF||0||$$$$||Lifetime||DIY
40,000 gals (filter)
|WQA Gold Seal||10 secs||$$$$$||Valve: 5 years|
Tanks: 10 years
|Tier1 Digital||Salt-Based w/|
RO Filter or
|48,000 grains||NSF||120 mins||$$$||5 years||DIY|
| Morton System Saver||Salt-Based||30,000 grains|
|NSF||120 mins||$$||1 year||DIY|
|WaterBoss 365||Salt-Based||36,400 grains||NSF||40 mins||$||3 years||DIY|
|Watts RV PRO 10,000||Salt-Based|
|NSF||20 mins||$$$||Head: 1 Year|
Tank: 5 Years
|Triple Action Poly||Salt-Free||30 GPM||NSF||n/a||$$||90 days||1 inch pipe thread
|Aquios FS-220L||Salt-Free w/|
|12 GPM||n/a||$$||20 years||Professional|
|Eddy Water Descaler||Magnetic|
|50,000 gals||n/a||$||1 year||DIY|
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