Hard water is a widespread problem in our country. Apart from unsightly stains on glasses, cutlery and fixtures, calcium and other minerals can leave deposits in your plumbing system as well as household appliances and cause major leaks if the accumulation keeps on building.
While this is not a health issue, water hardness can be particularly frustrating and installing a high-quality softening system is the best and oftentimes only solution.
How to find the best water softener? Well, you came to the right place!
On This Page You Will…
|Model||Our Rating||Price||Technology||Flow Rate||Grain Capacity|
Best Water Softener: Fleck 5600SXT
|Read Review||$$||Ion Exchange||12 Gallons per Minute||48,000|
Highest Capacity: Iron Pro 2 Whole House Well Water Softener + Filter
|Read Review||$$$||Ion Exchange + Filter||18 Gallons per Minute||80,000|
Top Portable Water Softener: ABCwaters PWS16
|Read Review||$||Ion Exchange||3 Gallons per Minute||16,000|
Best Water Conditioner: Eddy Electronic Water Descaler
|Read Review||$||El. Magnetism||-||-|
No Green Light For: OMNIFilter OM32KCS Water Softener
|$$||Ion Exchange||12 Gallons per Minute||32,000|
With so many options to choose from it can be quite challenging to pick a water softener that really fits your needs.
This brief buying guide shall help you make a decision.
When people talk about residential water softeners they usually mean traditional salt-based systems that rely on a process called “ion exchange” to replace hardness minerals (mainly calcium and magnesium) in water with sodium or potassium.
If you are on a tight budget or worried about the extra salt dose, especially if you are on a low-sodium diet, you might want to consider a salt-free softener a.k.a. conditioner.
These devices apply different technologies such as chelation or magnetism to alter the adhesive nature of the hard water ions and thus prevent scaling. However, most if not all of them will not actually remove any hardness minerals from your water.
All in all, ion exchange systems are considered the industry standard and the preferred choice for the majority of home owners due to their unmatched performance. Saltless water conditioners are often better than nothing but nowhere near as effective.
How much a water softener costs depends on its type, size, brand and features.
Simply put, you can spend anywhere between $350 to $3,500 USD (and more). The price for a standard ion exchanger ranges from $350 to $1,000 USD. Conditioners are usually a bit cheaper.
And don’t forget that you have to add another $200 to $500 USD for the installation and also take into account running costs (salt, water, sewer, etc.).
We know, this sounds like a lot right now, but remember that a water softener that functions properly will pay for itself down the road – when in 10 or 15 years your water heater and plumbing system are still in great condition.
Hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg). If your water reads 10 gpg and your family uses 400 gallons of water per day on average, then your new water softener would have to remove 10 x 400 = 4,000 hardness grains each day.
But after hours of operation a salt-based system needs to regenerate. This involves washing out and draining away all the hard minerals that have accumulated in the resin tank.
Now, the number of hardness grains that an ion exchange water softener can remove between two regeneration cycles equals its capacity. Depending on what system size you choose, capacities can range from 8,000 all the way up to 80,000 grains and even higher if necessary.
If, for example, you want to limit regeneration to one cycle per week which is considered the optimum, your hypothetical softener has to have a minimum capacity of 7 x 4,000 = 28,000 grains (assuming that there’s no iron or manganese in your water).
In other words: You need to buy a large enough system that’s capable of handling your hardness level and water consumption. But don’t go over the top, because bigger means more expensive.
As a general rule, the lower the capacity, the more often a softener has to regenerate and the lower its salt efficiency.
Water flow is measured in gallons per minute (gpm) and determines how many soft water outlets you can use at the same time without losing pressure.
Obviously, if you live in a larger household you want to buy a softener with a higher water flow rate (trust us, a trickle of a shower is the last thing you want).
A low flow rate can also cause hard water to bleed through the system at times of peak usage.
Typical Water Use of Modern Outlets
For medium to large families with 2 or more bathrooms we recommend a minimum flow rate of 12 gallons per minute. Single households shouldn’t go below 7 gpm.
There are basically three different methods for how a water softener can regenerate:
Look out for NSF/ANSI certifications that substantiate a manufacturer’s performance claims.
Standard 44 was established for cation exchange water softeners and covers things like:
Basically, a Standard 44 certification gives you peace of mind that your system is quality and safe. Another certification to look out for is the WQA Gold Seal.
First of all, buying online you have the largest selection of products and at the best prices.
However, if you prefer to buy locally make sure to get quotes from more than one company for comparison.
In addition, beware of sellers trying to pressure you into making any rushed decisions. You want someone reputable and accredited with good customer feedback. Local water treatment professionals should also know what the water is like in your area and be able to tell you what works and what doesn’t.
Lastly, pay attention to warranties – some companies provide separate warranties for different system components – and other after-sale services. A money-back guarantee wouldn’t hurt either, but not every seller is going to offer you one.
Check if your local authority has banned the use of salt-based water softeners.
Order of Reviews
Water Softeners from $300 to $600
In the $300 to $600 price range, we found some really powerful water softening systems. While the sub $300 division is dominated by salt-free conditioners, salt-based ion exchangers are more common here. Some are designed to be portable, others come combined with filtering capabilities.
In rare cases, salt softeners in this price range lack the capacity to handle the demand of larger families and very high levels of water hardness. So, if you live in a household with 7 or more people, you might want to jump to the next section where we review systems with even higher capacities.
The Fleck 5600SXT is the first proper whole-house ion exchanger we came across in our reviews. It is the perfect choice for small to medium sized homes (2 to 6 people). The softener has a 12 gpm flow rate and can handle medium to very hard water.
Monitoring and controlling the Fleck is a breeze. The head unit is fully digital and comes with metered regeneration. This means that regeneration automatically kicks in as soon as a certain amount of water has passed through the valve. This prevents wastage and ensures that you have a supply of softened water basically all the time.
If the dozens of positive customer reviews are anything to go by, this is the best whole house water softener on Amazon.
By the way, Fleck as a brand is owned by the company Pentair.
As with most softeners, you don’t have to call in a plumber to do the installation, but don’t expect it to be easy. The entire process could take a couple of hours. Fortunately, instructions are clear and only basic plumbing skills are required.
As we have mentioned at the beginning of this section, very large households (7 people and more) may want to go for a system with an even higher capacity. For small and mid-sized homes, we highly recommend the Fleck 5600SXT as your best option.
For a more detailed review of the Fleck 5600 SXT, click here.
This is a salt-free softener – a big advantage for those who don’t want any sodium added to their water. Instead, the Aquios AQFS220 uses an FDA-approved polyphosphate to change the properties of hard water minerals to prevent scaling.
With a flow rate of 12 to 15 gallons per minute the unit works great for small to large-sized homes. Your family can easily draw water from multiple faucets and shower simultaneously without losing pressure.
The unit is also fairly easy to install – even for those who do not consider themselves gifted do-it-yourselfers.
We also like the fact that the AQFS220 combines descaling with carbon filtration to remove chlorine and other nasty impurities.
While this water conditioner will change the behavior of calcium, it will not prevent scaling to 100 percent. Simply put, a “real” salt-based softener is more effective.
If you are just looking for a way to treat your water and reduce scaling, the Aquios AQFS220 is a good option though a tad expensive. For comparison, the Eddy Electronic Water Descaler which we reviewed further down the page costs much less.
However, taking into account that the Aquios also functions as a carbon filter, the price-performance ratio appears somewhat more reasonable.
For a more detailed review of the Aquios AQFS220, click here.
For RV owners, we recommend the portable ABCwaters PWS16. It is small enough to be stored comfortably, yet has the power to handle all your water needs while on the road.
With a 16,000-grain capacity it can soften water well without having to regenerate too often. Plus, the 3 gpm flow rate is just perfect for an RV’s plumbing system.
The bad news is that you have to regenerate manually. The good news is that it’s a quick process that should take no more than 10 minutes. You don’t even have to keep replenishing any resin bed. Just keep some table or rock salt at the ready.
Yes, this water softener is portable. But that does not mean it’s a breeze to carry it around. In fact, weighing around 35 pounds the PWS16 is a beast to lift. You may need a helping hand to get it into your RV. Thankfully, it comes with a handle to make the lifting a bit easier.
We also consider the manual regeneration a minor inconvenience, especially when compared to whole home units that regenerate fully automatic.
The PWS16 is easily one of the best portable water softeners we have seen (check list price here). If you are looking for a unit you can use in your RV, your car wash business or anywhere away from home, this is your best option.
Believe it or not, the WaterBoss 700 is a quite powerful softening unit that can comfortably serve small to medium-sized homes with up to 4 people.
With 22,100 grains capacity, the system can handle hard water with as much as 70 grains per gallon.
We also like the on-demand (metered) regeneration which is a big salt, water & money saver.
And as if that was not enough, the WaterBoss 700 has an integrated 20-micron pre-filter that traps sediments to expand the system’s lifespan.
Lastly, the compact unit allows for an easy setup. Granted, you still have to spend your afternoon connecting the parts and adding salt into the brine tank. So set aside an hour or two for installation.
What we don’t like? WaterBoss has to work on their customer service.
Above that, it’s possible that the unit starts leaking or just stops working – it has happened before.
As mentioned before, the $300 to $600 price range is where you find medium capacity water softeners for small to mid-sized homes. And the WaterBoss 700 could be a close contender for the top position, IF it works as intended. We love the compact size, the relatively easy installation process and the overall softening effectiveness.
For a more detailed review of the WaterBoss 700, click here.
Water Softeners over $600
If your budget allows, head over to this price range for some of the most powerful and top-rated water softening systems the market has to offer.
The majority are ion exchangers as opposed to salt-free systems. They are designed to provide enough soft water for large households with exceptionally high grain capacities and flow rates.
Higher costs are an obvious downside. Especially branded systems can easily go over the $1,000 mark and, due to their size, installation is oftentimes challenging and time consuming and might even require the help of a plumbing professional.
This combination of a whole house water softener with a fine mesh resin for high iron removal is the ideal fit for large families on private wells.
The Iron Pro 2 with its 80,000-grain capacity can handle all levels of hardness and the high water flow rate ensures adequate pressure even with your dishwasher, washing machine and multiple showers running simultaneously.
An all-digital fully programmable head makes the system easy to use and monitor. The meter-based regeneration helps to save water.
This feature is particularly important for such a big system when you consider that 100 or more gallons of water can be used up per regeneration cycle – learn more about this amazing product feature here.
Carrying out the installation is not for amateurs. There are pipes to be cut and fittings to be made. Sounds scary? Then we advise you to call in a plumber.
If you decide to do the installation yourself to save a buck, expect to spend at least several hours before everything will be place. Of course, the unit comes with a user manual to help you navigate the numerous bits and pieces you have to match together.
We really like the Iron Pro 2 softener. It has infinite capacities (at least that’s what it feels like) and is fairly easy to use once installed. For large homes that have a super high demand for softened water this unit is worth the price tag.
Those of you who are no fans of salt-based softening systems will love the Nuvo DPMB, although it is one of the most expensive water conditioning systems on the market.
It uses chelation with special cartridges to reduce water pH-levels and bind hard mineral ions, which prevents them from forming scale on surfaces. The main acting ingredient in these chelating cartridges is citric acid.
Unlike many salt-based softeners, the Nuvo DPMB is relatively easy to install.
It is important to note that there were numerous complaints from unhappy customers, especially those living in areas with extreme hardness, regarding the effectiveness of this system.
The reason for this is that their water is too acidic, so the chelation agent does not have any effect – at least that’s our guess. Nuvo clearly has to better educate their customers on this matter. Otherwise, they will continue to waste their money on something that is doomed to fail.
Above that, replacement cartridges are quite pricey when compared to regular softening salt that you can purchase at less than a tenth of the cost.
If you want to stay away from a salt-based softener for the added sodium and your water pH-level is above 7.2, this conditioner makes a decent choice with a super high flow rate and capacity.
For a more detailed review of the NuvoH2O DPMB Manor, click here.
Water Softeners under $300
Last but not least, at the lower end of the price spectrum we have water softeners for less than $300. The majority of them are conditioners and therefore salt-free. They rely on technologies such as magnetism for descaling.
If you are still searching for a salt-based model in this price category, expect small point-of-use units ideal for RVs. While they usually work just as effectively as more expensive systems, they often require manual regeneration and have smaller capacities of 10,000 grains or less.
Before we talk about the many features of the Eddy Electronic Water Descaler, it is important to understand that it is not a conventional water softener, but a conditioner.
The device generates an electromagnetic field to change the adhesion properties of hardness minerals causing them to bind to one another instead of the surfaces they touch.
This prevents scale from accumulating in your plumbing as well as appliances, and on your glassware, sink, faucets, etc.
By the way, the Eddy is really easy to install. You just need to have a power source nearby for electricity.
And according to most users the system is quite effective. Once installed, you will see less to no scale formation at all.
Another great advantage is that in the treatment process zero chemicals are being used – one less thing to worry about.
Quite the contrary, all minerals are retained, making your water slightly sweeter and healthier than water softened the “usual way”.
Unfortunately, the Eddy descaler is not for outdoor use. It is not waterproof and could easily get damaged when exposed to the elements.
So if your main entry pipe is outside the house you have to find a way to keep the device inside. One idea would be to drill a hole through the wall to get the wire out.
You are looking for a way to tackle the ugly and hard-to-scrub scale that hard water leaves behind? In this case we highly recommend the Eddy Electronic Descaler. You will not be disappointed!
For a more detailed review of the Eddy Electronic Descaler, click here.
No salts or harsh chemicals are involved in the working of the Aquasana SimplySoft conditioner meaning that nothing will be added to your water.
The unit may not work the same way as the Eddy Electronic descaler, but delivers the same results:
It alters the adhesion characteristics of calcium and magnesium, thus forcing them to bind to each other instead of surfaces of your plumbing system and water heater.
And that’s not all: Even your skin will feel softer and not as dry after showering. The unit also comes with a pre-filter that helps removing impurities.
The installation part can be a bit challenging as instructions are unclear at times. It should also be mentioned that if you do the install yourself your warranty will void automatically.
Another drawback is that not all users saw reduced scaling after adding the Aquasana SimplySoft to their home.
For families of up to 5 people, this is a great and affordable water conditioner. However, if you are looking for a water softener in the real sense you need to get a salt-based system.
For a more detailed review of the Aquasana SimplySoft, click here.
When it comes to compactness, the Watts RV-Pro is a clear winner. It may not be as powerful as other whole house systems, but it softens water just as well.
The portable unit was designed for RVs where water usage is low. In this case, the 10,000-grain capacity is enough to handle even exceptionally hard water.
The Watts RV-Pro is easy to use and carry around. But the sacrifice for the simplicity is the lack of automation. This means that you have to do the regeneration manually in an interval of 1 to 4 weeks based on the amount of water you use.
Additionally, you are limited to using one or two outlets at a time.
If you spend a lot of time in your caravan, this 10,000-grain water softener makes a useful addition. Yes, it is small, but effective.
Of course, you don’t have to own an RV to be able to use the Watts RV-Pro. For instance, one customer bought it for his car washing business to avoid unsightly spots on clean cars.
The last of our water softener reviews features another magnetic conditioner which is extremely easy to install. 60 seconds may be a bit overstated, but it should take no more than five minutes to have the device up and running.
And unlike a system that uses salt, you don’t have to worry about regeneration. Nor does the system require any maintenance – simple to install, even easier to use.
Magnetism as a way of descaling water is still a controversial topic. Just don’t expect amazing results especially if you live in a place with excessively hard water.
Searching for the best home water softener, this is not our top pick. The technology is premature and may not bring you the results you are looking for. The price is unbeatable, however, and if all you want is descale water of medium hardness it might actually work.
More on Water Softeners
In section 1, we reviewed some the best water softener systems the market has to offer. Next we are going to answer some of the most common questions consumers have regarding hard water treatment.
If you have any questions about water softeners please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!
And don’t forget to come back to this page from time to time, as we are going to add new water softener reviews occasionally.