9 Best Water Softeners: System Reviews 2020 & Buying Guide

Please note: This page may contain affiliate links. If you buy a product or service through such a link we earn a commission at no additional cost to you. Learn more about our product review process or check our FTC affiliate disclosure.

Water hardness is a common problem. Apart from unsightly spotting, calcium and other minerals can leave deposits in your plumbing system and home appliances and cause major leaks if the accumulation keeps on building.

Hard water can also give your hair and skin a hard time. And while this isn’t necessarily a serious health issue, it can be particularly frustrating.

Installing a water softener is usually the only solution. How to find the best water softener? Well, you came to the right place. You’ll find our collection of the best systems in this buying guide and learn everything you need to know before making the final buying decision.

On This Page You Will…

No Time to Read? Check Our List of the Best Water Softeners in 2020!

SystemsOur RatingPriceTypeWater forGrainsWarranty
SpringWell SS4 Water Softener

Best Water Softener: SpringWell SS4

Read Review
$$$SaltUp to 6 People (13 gpm)48,000Life
Crystal Quest Whole House Water Softener

The Runner-Up: Crystal Quest Whole House Water Softener with Pre/Post Filtration

Read Review
$$$SaltUp to 3-4 People (~10 gpm)48,0001 Year
SpringWell FutureSoft

Best Salt-Free Water Softener/Conditioner: SpringWell FutureSoft

Read Review
$$$TACUp to 5-6 People (12 gpm)-Life
On The Go Portable Water Softener

Our #1 Portable Water Softener: On The Go Double Standard

Read Review
$Salt1-2 People16,000?
Tier1 Essential Series Water Softener

Most Affordable Water Softener: Tier1 Essential

Read Review
$SaltUp to 3-4 People (11.2 gpm)48,0001 Year
Eddy Electronic Water Descaler

Our #1 Water Descaler: Eddy Electronic

Read Review
$Electric--Life

Water Softener Reviews – Our Top Picks

1. Best Water Softener: SpringWell SS Series

In our opinion, the best water softener in 2020 is the SpringWell. To be more precise, it’s the SpringWell SS salt-based water softener series which includes the SpringWell SS1, the SS4, and the SS+. The only difference between the models is their size and consequently flow rate. The SS1 is perfect for any household with 1-3 bathrooms, the SS4 for 4-6 bathrooms, and the SS+ for 7 or more bathrooms.

All three reduce water hardness by removing minerals, most importantly calcium, in an ion-exchange process for little to no scale buildup in your plumbing, home appliances, and fixtures. This results in increased efficiency and lifespan, lower maintenance, and fewer repairs. Healthier hair and skin as well as softer laundry are nice side effects.

But that’s not why SpringWell water softeners are our favorites. They’re our number one because they use long-lasting 10% crosslink resin (more chlorine-resistant), because they combine state-of-the-art digital metered regeneration with a Vortech plate mineral tank for the highest backwashing efficiency saving salt and water during regeneration, a Bluetooth compatible control head for easy programming and monitoring, a 6-month money-back satisfaction guarantee, lifetime system warranty, reliable customer support by real tech experts… 5 stars!

SpringWell SS4 Water Softener

SpringWell SS4 Water Softener

System Price:$$$
Process:Salt Based
Water for:Up to 6 People
Tank Size:48,000 Grains
Metered Regen:

Our Rating

Pros

  • For both tap and well water.
  • Traditional ion exchange water softeners use sodium or potassium salt to make hard water soft. It’s the most effective way to remove hardness minerals from water.
  • Choose from 3 system sizes to meet your water demand:
    • SS1 contains 32,000 grains softening resin. 11 gallons per minute rated service flow, enough for small to mid-sized houses with 1 to 3 bathrooms.
    • SS4 contains 48,000 grains. 13 gpm flow rate is ideal to supply 4-6 bathrooms with soft water.
    • SS+ holds 80,000 grains. 20 gallons of soft water per minute only makes sense for a very large household with 7+ bathrooms.
  • 10% crosslink resin lasts up to twice as long as standard resin when used with chlorinated water.
  • Head unit controls regeneration cycles including frequency, backwash length, and salt use.
    • Optional Bluetooth functionality allows for easy programming and monitoring via smartphone/tablet. Simply install Legacy View app available for iOS and Android.
    • Digital-metered: Control valve measures how much soft water has been used so that regeneration only kicks in when really necessary and also adjusts salt dosage and the amount of water that will be used. Saves resources and is better for the environment.
  • Vortech plate in softening tank increases backwashing efficiency by up to 30%.
  • All water softener components are NSF-certified to guarantee structural integrity.
  • System comes wrapped in a neoprene sleeve for protection.
  • DIY installation is possible. SpringWell water softening systems are no more difficult to set up than any other water softener. Bypass valve and installation kit is part of the package.
    • Contact technical support if you’re having difficulties. They’re always helpful.
  • Everything is covered by a money-back satisfaction guarantee for the first 6 months after purchase. If you’re not satisfied simply return the water softener and get a full refund.
  • Also backed by limited lifetime warranty.
  • Free shipping.
  • SpringWell’s customer service is very reliable.

Cons

  • You have to have the budget.
    • Most users are seeing a huge improvement in the quality of their water and say the investment is worth it.

→ Read Our Full SpringWell SS Softeners Review Here

2. The Runner-Up: Crystal Quest Whole House Water Softener with Pre/Post Filtration

Our runner-up water softener is the Crystal Quest whole house system which comes with additional pre- and post-filtration. So apart from reducing water hardness to prevent limescale deposits in your home’s entire water system expanding the lifespan of pipes, your water heater, washing machine, etc., the setup also removes sediment and all kinds of chemicals and organic contaminants – think pesticides.

This improves the taste and smell of the water, its purity, and it protects the water softener itself from clogging so that the resin inside the mineral tank is likely to last a few extra years (provided that your water contains a lot of sediment). 4.5 stars!

Crystal Quest Whole House Water Softener

Crystal Quest Whole House Water Softener

System Price:$$$
Process:Salt Based
Water for:Up to 3-4 People
Tank Size:48,000 Grains
Metered Regen:

Our Rating

Pros

  • Water softener is Made in USA.
  • 1.5 cubic feet resin system (48,000 grains) was designed for homes with 1-3 bathrooms. Water flow: 9-11 gallons per minute.
  • 2.0 cu. ft. resin system (60,000 grains) is large enough to process enough water for a home with 4-6 bathrooms. Water flow rate: 10-13 gpm.
  • Uses 20” sediment pre-filter to remove sediment, silt, sand, and dirt.
  • Proprietary Eaglesorb cation exchange resin softens water.
  • Uses 20” coconut-shell activated carbon block filter (5-micron nominal) which removes disinfectants, bad taste and odors, volatile organic carbon compounds (VOCs), pesticides, industrial solvents, and possibly other contaminants that might be present in your water.
  • System regeneration is demand-initiated and kicks in when the remaining softening capacity is low.
    • Most efficient salt and water usage.
  • All parts are NSF 61 certified to comply with health and safety standards.
  • Standard version features fiberglass tank, but you can upgrade to stainless steel for longevity.
  • Maintenance requirements are very low.
    • Softening resin lasts up to 10 years, depending on your daily water consumption and the condition of the feed water.
    • Pre/post-filter last 12-18 months. Average annual cost: ~$40-65
  • Covered by one-year limited warranty.

Cons

  • High quality doesn’t come cheap.

3. Best Salt-Free Water Softener/Conditioner: SpringWell FutureSoft

In our opinion, the best salt-free water softener a.k.a. water conditioner in 2020 is the SpringWell FutureSoft. That’s because it comes with all the extras that each SpringWell water treatment system provides (6 months satisfaction guarantee + lifetime warranty + professional support), and because FutureSoft water conditioners apply Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC).

Simply put, TAC is based on catalytic bead media that crystallizes hard water minerals. In their crystal form, those minerals don’t stick to surfaces. In other words, your water won’t actually be softened, it still contains the same amount of calcium and magnesium, but the hardness is rendered harmless so to speak.

On the one hand, this protects your plumbing system, water heater, showers, and all water-using appliances from scaling (99.6% prevention) – and even cleans existing scale deposits when installed in an older home – extending their lives.

On the other hand, the conditioned water is gentler to hair, skin, and clothes while not feeling slippery like “properly” softened water does. And there are so many other benefits (check below).

All in all, a great alternative to traditional salt-based water softeners. 5 stars!

SpringWell FutureSoft Salt-Free Water Softener

SpringWell FutureSoft Salt-Free Water Softener

System Price:$$$
Process:Template Assisted Crystallization
Water for:Up to 5-6 People
Tank Size:
Metered Regen:No Need

Our Rating

Pros

  • 3 system sizes available. Choose based on how many bathrooms you have:
    • 1-3: FutureSoft FS1 rated at 12 gpm water flow.
    • 4-6: FS4 for mid-sized homes, 15 gpm.
    • 7+: FS+ for very large households, 20 gpm.
  • Effectiveness of TAC was proven in study conducted by Arizona State University + highly positive customer feedback.
    • According to manufacturer, can handle up to 81 grains per gallon hardness which is classified as extremely hard water.
    • TAC water treatment doesn’t decrease pH. Better for the health of your family and your home (acidic water is more corrosive).
    • Scale wipes off easily for fast cleaning.
    • Doesn’t rely on chemicals or salt so no burden for the environment and no heavy lifting of 40-pound salt bags.
    • Media doesn’t need to regenerate which saves water
    • Media lasts infinitely.
    • All in all: System pays for itself over the long run.
  • Pre-filter removes sediment to protect TAC media. Replace every 6-9 months. Cost: About $40-55 per year which is affordable.
  • Installation is straightforward and DIY-friendly. Installation kit, written step-by-step instructions, and explanation video are provided.
  • Lifetime warranty + money-back guarantee.

Cons

  • Well water requires pre-treatment if it contains iron, manganese, hydrogen sulfide, copper, or other contaminants that could foul the media.

4. Salt-Free Water Softener Alternative: FilterSmart FS500/FS500PRO

In case you don’t like SpringWell for whatever reason we wanted to provide you with a salt-free water softener alternative: The FilterSmart FS500 respectively FS500PRO.

They, too, apply Template Assisted Crystallization to transform hard water ions into microscopic crystals. This keeps the ions suspended in the water so that they won’t stick to surfaces causing scaling. Plus, as mentioned above, already existing scale deposits will gradually dissolve. Most importantly, this greatly extends the life of appliances, pipes, and fixtures.

Why choose FilterSmart over SpringWell or vice versa? FilterSmart water softeners are more affordable. But SpringWell offers a much longer trial period and we could imagine that their technical support is better.

By the way, the only difference between the FilterSmart FS500 and the FS500PRO is that the latter includes a 20” sediment pre-filter rather than 10”. So if your (well) water is heavily-laden with sediment it might be a good idea to upgrade to the PRO Series. Both Series feature 2 system sizes tailored to the size of your home. 5 stars!

FilterSmart FS500 Salt-Free Water Conditioner

FilterSmart FS500 Salt-Free Water Conditioner

System Price:$$$
Process:Template Assisted Crystallization
Water for:Up to 6 People
Tank Size:
Metered Regen:No Need

Our Rating

Pros

  • FilterSmart guarantees that systems will perform as advertised or you get your money back.
  • FS-S-12 salt-free water softener is rated at 12 gpm which is enough water for 1-3 bathrooms.
  • FS-S-15 salt-free water softener has a service flow rate of 15 gallons per minute. 4-6 bathrooms.
  • TAC doesn’t add or remove anything from your water.
    • Healthy calcium and magnesium add to your daily nutritional intake.
    • No salt is discharged into water supply.
  • Softening process doesn’t require regeneration which saves water and salt (and money).
  • Tank media lasts a lifetime. Virtually maintenance free.
  • All parts are NSF certified for the safety of your health.
  • Anyone with basic plumbing skills can complete the installation on his own.
  • Pre-filter removes sediment to prevent fouling of TAC media. Replacing every 8-10 months is the only maintenance required. Annual cost: About $20-35 which is nothing.
  • In-home trial allows you to try the system for 90 days. If you’re not satisfied you can return the water conditioner for a full refund.
  • Lifetime warranty on tank, valves, and all other parts.

Cons

  • Water must not contain iron, hydrogen sulfide, and manganese.

5. Best Portable (RV) Water Softener: On The Go

In our opinion, the best portable water softener in 2020 is the On The Go. You can use it to get softened water in your RV and anywhere else away from home. Thereby the On The Go is small enough to be stored comfortably, yet it has the power to handle all your water needs while being on the road and makes an incredible difference.

Easy to use? You bet! However, you have to regenerate manually, obviously. But don’t worry, it’s a quick process. You just need common table salt or rock salt. 4.5 stars!

On The Go Portable Water Softener 16,000 Grains

On The Go Portable Water Softener – Double Standard

System Price:$
Process:Salt Based
Water for:Up to 2 People
Tank Size:16,000 Grains
Metered Regen:

Our Rating

Pros

  • Standard model has 10 lbs of resin (8,000 grains). We recommend the double standard model with 20 lbs (16,000 grains) which allows for slightly higher flow rates – perfect for RVs – and you don’t have to regenerate as often. Both are highly compact to fit in the tightest places.
    • Standard model measures 6¾ x 22 inches.
    • Double standard unit is 9.5 x 22 inches.
  • Protects plumbing in RVs.
  • Easy to hook up thanks to clear instructions. No need for tools. All fittings included.
    • Utilizes standard garden hose connection.
  • Quick and simple regeneration.
    • Large opening for adding salt.
    • Comes with backwash adapters.
    • Built-in drain valve.
  • Package includes hard water test strips.
  • Resin lasts 5-7 years before it needs replacement.

Cons

  • Yes, this water softener is portable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not heavy. In fact, weighing around 32 pounds the On The Go is a beast to lift. You may need a helping hand to get it into your RV. At least it comes with a handle to make the lifting a bit easier.

6. Cheap Water Softener for Home Use: Tier1

Price-wise, Tier 1 water softeners are about as cheap as it gets. Designed for the mass market, they’re promoted as a “no-frills option” which still gets the job done – they’re regular water softening systems after all that will reduce calcium and other hardness minerals in water for little to not scaling.

That said, there’re a few trade-offs that you must accept when you buy a product in this price range (details below).

Which Tier1 water softener do we recommend? For one, there’s the Everyday or Essential Series (see picture) with 3 different system sizes. They’re by far the most affordable and most popular. And there is the Advanced or Certified Series which costs a tad more but therefore you get NSF certifications and a few other extras. Personally, we prefer the latter mainly due to the bypass valve which doesn’t disrupt water service during regeneration (Tier1 Everyday water softeners shut off water supply for about 2 hours during each cycle). All in all, 4 stars!

Tier1 Essential Series 48,000 Grain High Efficiency Digital Water Softener

Tier1 Essential Series 48,000-Grain Water Softener System

System Price:$
Process:Salt Based
Water for:Up to 3-4 People
Tank Size:48,000 Grains
Metered Regen:

Our Rating

Pros

  • Tier 1 Everyday (Essential) water softener series is perfect for low budgets. Choose between 32,000 (10 gpm), 48,000 (11.2 gpm) and 64,000 (11.2 gpm) grains. Ideal for small to mid-sized household with 1-3 bathrooms.
  • Advanced (Certified) series only has 48,000-grain (11.2 gpm) system option.
    • Control unit + mineral tank are NSF certified.
    • Entire system was awarded NSF Standard 44 certification for hardness reduction.
  • Package includes neoprene tack jacket for protection.
  • Most reviewers say DIY install is doable. Use written instructions and video guide.
  • Manufacturer offers 90-day satisfaction guarantee but only valid if water is within stated specifications.
  • One-year warranty on electronic valve + tank (Everyday series).
  • 3 years warranty on valve, 5 years on tank (Advanced series).

Cons

  • Water flow is limited, even with larger systems. We wouldn’t recommend for household with more than 3 (4) bathrooms.
  • Standard 8% crosslink resin is less resistant to chlorine.
  • The installation is relatively easy but the instructions could do with an upgrade.
  • Programming the head units is not as intuitive as with the SpringWell (review above).
  • Tier 1 Essential water softeners use manual bypass valve which means you won’t have any water during regeneration.
    • Not that big of a deal when scheduled to happen at night.

7. Best Electronic Water Descaler: Eddy Electronic

Personally, we think the number one electronic water descaler in 2020 is the Eddy Electronic. Water descaler? Yes, it uses electromagnetic waves to reduce the scaling effects of hard water. The technology was tested in the same study that also tested the effectiveness of Template Assisted Crystallization applied by the SpringWell FutureSoft and the FilterSmart FS500 reviewed at the top. Result: Electromagnetic treatment reduces scale by approximately 50 percent – not bad! What’s more, the study showed that the remaining scale formation was “soft” and could be easily removed by brushing. 4.5 stars!

Eddy Electronic Water Descaler

Eddy Electronic

System Price:$
Type:Electromagnetic
Water for:

Our Rating

Pros

  • Eddy water descaler applies electromagnetic waves through two coils wrapped around incoming water supply line. You can expect great results at hardness levels of up to 20 gpg.
  • Does not soften water in the traditional sense.
    • All healthy minerals are retained.
    • Environmentally friendly.
  • Works on both well and tap water.
  • Effective on all types of pipes except for iron and galvanized.
    • Maximum allowed diameter is 1.5 inches.
  • Easy DIY setup doesn’t involve plumbing. Anyone should be able to hook this unit up in a couple of minutes.
  • Completely maintenance-free. It’s fit and forget.
  • Comes at a fraction of the cost of the other systems in this guide. Also, no expenses for softening salt.
  • Unit is CE and FCC certified to US, UK, and EU standards.
  • Lifetime repair and replacement warranty provided by the manufacturer.
  • 12-month money-back guarantee for a full refund if you are not satisfied with the product.

Cons

  • Does not seem to work for all users.

→ Read Our Full Eddy Electronic Water Descaler Review Here

8. Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener (Highly Popular!)

You simply cannot create a water softener reviews guide without including the Fleck 5600SXT control valve. It isn’t exactly new, far from it, but it’s still really popular – probably because it has proven itself over the years. 3.5 stars.

On a side note, the brand Fleck is owned by Pentair.

Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener

Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener

System Price:$$
Process:Salt Based
Water for:Up to 3-4 People
Tank Size:48,000 Grains
Metered Regen:

Our Rating

Pros

  • Grain capacity: 24,000 to 64,000 grains. 48,000 is ideal for a medium-sized household.
  • Shipped with 10% crosslink resin which is more durable against chlorine/chloramine. Lasts much longer on city water.
    • You can upgrade to SST-60 as a free bonus (at the time of writing this review). It requires less salt and water when backwashing.
  • Installation can be completed by experienced DIYers. Bypass valve included.
    • Free bonus (at the time of writing this review): Quick connect hoses for installation without welding.
    • Check out one of the useful installation videos on YouTube when you’re stuck.
  • Configuring and monitoring the Fleck 5600SXT head unit is a breeze.
  • Digital metered regeneration measures water usage to prevent salt and water wastage during backwash.
  • Backed by 100% no-risk satisfaction guarantee.
  • 5-year warranty on control valve. 10-year warranty on mineral tank + brine tank.
  • Don’t hesitate to contact support. These folks are very knowledgeable and eager to help.

Cons

  • Not as salt and water efficient as modern systems.

→ Read Our Full Fleck 5600SXT Review Here

9. SoftPro Elite High-Efficiency City Water Softener Review

Last but not least, the SoftPro Elite high-efficiency city water softener. The system is sold by the guys from Quality Water Treatment who have been in business for more than 30 years.

As the name suggests, it’s highly water and salt efficient – when regenerating. There’re multiple reasons for this. One is the upflow design which allows for a more precise recharge of the softening resin. Basically, only the resin that has actually depleted will be regenerated. Secondly, the water softener only backwashes every fifth regen cycle which saves a lot of water. And there are more features… 4 stars.

SoftPro Elite High Efficiency City Water Softener

SoftPro Elite City Water Softener

System Price:$$
Process:Salt Based
Water for:Up to 6 People
Tank Size:48,000 Grains
Metered Regen:

Our Rating

Pros

  • Grain capacity: 24,000 – 110,000.
  • 10% crosslink resin is more resistant against chlorine and chloramines for a much longer life expectancy.
  • Works exactly as advertised, according to customers.
  • Upflow design saves salt and water and allows for a more precise resin recharge.
  • Only backwashes every 5th regeneration cycle to save water.
  • Short emergency regeneration kicks in if you’ve used more soft water than usual and are about to run out (less than 3% softening capacity left). Restores the system to get through the rest of the day until it regenerates at its scheduled time.
    • You never run out of softened water.
  • Extra features include automatic settings and vacation mode.
  • Unit is easy to install.
  • SoftPro control head unit is easy to operate. Has user-friendly LCD screen.
  • Black neoprene tank jacket protects mineral tank from aggressive brine.
  • Made in USA.
  • Lifetime warranty on valve, mineral, tank, and brine tank.
  • Backed by satisfaction guarantee.
  • Support is outstanding according to reviewers.

Cons

  • Nothing so far.

Water Softener Systems Comparison List

SystemsSpecsInformation About Products
SpringWell SS Water Softening Systems32,000 - 80,000 Grain Tank. Whole House. Separate Brine Tank.Effective Removal of Hard Water Minerals. Well Water Compatible. Iron: ≤ 3 ppm. Install at Main Water Line + Drain Connection.
Crystal Quest Whole House Water Softeners with Filtration48,000 or 60,000 Grain Tank. Whole House. Separate Brine Tank.Effective Removal of Hard Water Minerals. Includes Filtration. Well Water Compatible. Install at Main Water Supply + Drain Connection.
SpringWell FutureSoft Salt-Free Water Softener with Pre-FilterNo Grain. Whole House.Salt-Free System Crystallizes Hard Water Minerals. Keeps Them Suspended in Water so No Scale Buildup in Pipes. Dissolves Already Existing Scale Buildup in Pipes. With Pre-Filtration. Iron: 0 ppm. Install at Main Water Supply.
FilterSmart FS500 Salt-Free Water Softeners with Pre-FilterNo Grain. Whole House.Salt-Free Softener System Crystallizes Hard Water Minerals. Keeps Them Suspended in Water so No Scale Buildup in Pipes. Dissolves Already Existing Scale Buildup in Pipes. With Pre-Filtration. Iron: 0 ppm. Install at Main Water Line.
On The Go Portable Water Softener8,000 and 16,000 Grain Tank. No Brine Tank.Remove Hard Water Minerals (Scale). Prevents Scale Buildup in RVs. Well Water Compatible. Doesn't Require Proper Install.
Tier1 Essential Series Water Softener Systems32,000 - 64,000 Grain Tank. Whole House. Separate Brine Tank.Filter Hard Water Minerals (Scale). Does Not Dissolve Already Existing Scale Buildup in Pipes. Well Water Compatible. Install at Main Line + Drain Connection.
Eddy ElectronicWhole House.Salt-Free System Alters Adhersion Properties of Hard Water Minerals. Keeps Them Suspended in Water so No Scale Buildup in Pipes. Dissolves Already Existing Scale Buildup in Pipes. Simple Install. POE or Under Sink.
Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener System24,000 - 64,000 Grain Tank. Whole House. Separate Brine Tank.Effective Removal of Hard Water Minerals (Scale). Well Water Compatible. Iron: ≤ 3 ppm. Install at Main Water Line + Drain Connection.
SoftPro Elite High-Efficiency City Water Softeners24,000 - 110,000 Grain Tank. Whole House. Separate Brine Tank.Filter Hard Water Minerals (Scale). Does Not Dissolve Already Existing Scale Buildup in Pipes. Iron: ≤ 3 ppm. Install at Main Water Line + Drain Connection.

Other Reviews

Choosing the Best Water Softener for Your Needs – A Brief Buying Guide

With so many options to choose from it can be challenging to pick a water softener that really fits your needs. But don’t worry! This buying guide shall help you get a better idea of what to look for.

stony path banner

Types of Water Softeners

When people talk about residential water softeners they usually mean traditional salt-based softening systems that rely on a process called “ion exchange” to replace hardness minerals (mainly calcium and magnesium) in water with potassium or sodium ions.

If you’re worried about the extra salt dose, especially if you have to limit sodium intake in your diet, you might want to consider a salt-free water softener a.k.a. water conditioner.

These types apply a variety of technologies such as Template Assisted Crystallization or magnetism (great for small budgets) to alter the adhesive nature of hard water ions and thus prevent scale build-up and other hard water issues. However, most if not all of them will not actually remove anything from your water.

All in all, ion exchange water softening systems are considered the industry standard and are still the preferred choice for the majority of home owners due to their unmatched performance. However, salt-free water conditioners are becoming more and more popular with increasing effectiveness.

Cost

How much a water softener system costs depends on its type, size, brand, and extra features.

Simply put, you can spend anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars on a standard ion exchanger. Water conditioners are usually a bit cheaper.

Also, don’t forget to take into account expenses for installation and operation (salt, water, sewer, and so on).

water softener salt bright

We know, this sounds like a lot right now, but remember that a water softener will pay for itself down the road – when in 10 or 15 years your home appliances and pipes are still in great condition.

Ion Exchange Capacity: Sizing a Water Softening System

Water hardness is measured in parts per million (ppm) or grains per gallon (gpg). The latter is more common. If your water reads 10 gpg and your family uses 400 gallons of water per day on average, then your new water softener needs to remove 10 x 400 = 4,000 grains of hardness each day.

But after hours of operation a salt-based water softener needs to regenerate. This involves washing out and draining away all the hard water minerals that have accumulated and also replenishing the resin.

Now, the amount of hardness grains that a water softener can remove between two regeneration cycles equals its capacity. Depending on which system size you choose, capacities start at 8,000 and go all the way up to 80,000 grains and even higher if need be.

If, for example, you don’t want to regenerate more than one time per week which is considered the optimum, your hypothetical water softener has to have a minimum capacity of 7 days x 4,000 grains/day = 28,000 grains (assuming there’s no iron or manganese present).

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 water softener has to regenerate and the lower its salt efficiency which means higher cost.

Flow Rate

Flow rate is measured in gallons per minute (gpm) and determines how many soft water outlets you can use at the same time without losing water pressure.

Obviously, if you live in a larger home you want to buy a water softener with a high flow rate (trust us, a trickle of a shower is the last thing you want).

A low flow rate can cause hard water to bleed through the system at times of peak usage.

For a larger family with 2 or more bathrooms we recommend a minimum flow rate of 11-12 gpm. Single households shouldn’t go below 7 gpm.

flow rate

Water Softener Regeneration Methods

There are 3 methods for how water softeners (used to) regenerate:

  • Metered – Metered a.k.a. demand-initiated regeneration is what digital systems use to trigger their regen process based on previous water output. This is the most cost and environmental-friendly method, since no more salt and water is being used than is absolutely necessary. Just to clarify: You do want metered regen! It’s what all up-to-date system apply.
  • Timed – Timer-based regeneration means that you set a specific regeneration time. The system will then backwash, recharge, and rinse at specific time intervals, always using the same amount of salt and water regardless of your prior water consumption. As a result, if you use more water than usual you might run out of soft water prematurely. Using less means wasting water and salt.
  • Manual – Manual regeneration is inconvenient and therefore only common with portable units. You have to add salt directly into the media tank and give it time to displace the hard water minerals sticking to the resin beads.

Certifications

Although not mandatory, look out for NSF/ANSI certifications that substantiate a manufacturer’s performance claims.

Standard 44 was established for cation exchange softeners and covers things like:

  • Material safety
  • Structural integrity
  • Salt efficiency (system must remove a minimum of 3,350 hardness grains per pound of salt)
  • Water efficiency (system must not waste more than 5 gallons of regenerant water per 1,000 hardness grains removed)
  • Effective reduction of hard minerals

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.

Seller + Warranty

Buying online gives you the largest selection of products and at the best prices.

However, if you prefer to buy local make sure to get quotes from more than one company.

In addition, beware of sellers trying to urge you into making a rushed decision. You want someone reputable and accredited with good 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.

Municipal Regulations

Check if your local authority has banned the use of salt-based water softening systems. If so, consider other water treatment solutions.

Other Factors to Take into Consideration

  • A digital control head allows for simplified configuration, monitoring, and troubleshooting.
  • A built-in bypass saves you from the hassle of having to installing one.
  • A unit that’s easy to service is likely to last longer – think components that are easy to access and take apart.
  • If you have the space choose separated over combined resin/brine tanks.
  • Look out for proven concepts, so products that have been around for a few years to rule out potential bugs. But don’t go too old or you might end up with prehistoric technology.
  • One or more filters before the water softener may be required.
  • Last but not least, universal rather than proprietary components are better for finding replacements parts.

More on Water Softeners

What is Hard Water?

In a nutshell, hard water is water with elevated calcium levels – the more calcium the water contains, the harder it is. Let’s quantify that:

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) classifies water as “soft“, “moderately hard“, “hard”, or “very hard” by measuring calcium carbonate concentrations usually in parts per million (ppm) or grains per gallon (gpg). 17.118 ppm = 1 gpg.

ClassificationCaCO3 in ppmCaCO3 in gpg
Soft water0 – 600 – 3.5
Moderately hard water61 – 1203.56 – 7.01
Hard water121 – 1807.06 – 10.51
Very hard water>180>10.51

Source

Finding Your Hard Water Level

Like we said, if you want to determine your water hardness level all you need to do is measure its calcium levels. You can do this yourself using a water hardness test kit (available online and at your local hardware store) or you can send a sample to a professional lab.

The easiest way to finding your hard water level, however, is to check the latest Water Quality Report for your water supply. Yes, someone already did the testing for you! And even better: Public suppliers have to provide a yearly report for free. You are on a private well? That’s bad luck since private well operators aren’t legally bound to publish reports.

Signs + Problems of Having Hard Water OR Why Do You Need a Water Softener?

According to the USGS, most American homes receive moderately hard water or worse. And it’s not just well water. Softening water on a large scale is too costly for suppliers so that city water is equally affected.

That said, installing a water softener or not is a matter of personal preference. It’s not required by law but it certainly has many benefits as you’re about to learn soon. But first, let’s talk about the signs and problems of having hard water:

  • Scale deposits in your plumbing system and home appliances – Scaling is by far the biggest issue caused by hard water. This is because scale deposits can clog pipes, filters, valves, fittings, and more. Over time, water flow rates decrease which results in even more scaling. Eventually, pipes will wear out and might even break, your dishwasher starts leaking, and the overall lifespan of your water-using appliances decreases by a couple of years. Tip: The easiest way to identify scale is to look for mineral deposits in your kettle and coffee maker.
  • Staining – Mixed with soap, hard water leaves unsightly stains on all surfaces it touches like sinks, toilets, bathtubs, shower doors, glasses, and tableware.
  • Shampoos and soaps not lathering – Hard water gives you a hard time getting a nice lather in the shower.
  • Scratchy, faded laundry – All clothes, bed linen, and towels fade with time. However, hard water accelerates the process and gives fabric a scratchy and unpleasant feel.
  • Dry hair and skin – Many people that shower in hard water complain about dry, irritated skin and brittle hair prone to tangling.

What is a Water Softener?

A traditional salt-based water softener is a relatively large device that makes hard water soft. It has 3 main components:

  1. Resin tank– The tall resin tank does the actual softening. It contains a bed of microbeads called softening resin.
  2. Brine tank– The brine tank stores salt used for mixing a brine solution which is required to regenerate the softening resin.
  3. Control unit – The control unit or control valve sits on top of the resin tank. It is the brain of every water softener and operates the entire system.

water softener parts diagram

Types of Water Softening Systems and How They Work

Let’s briefly discuss the different types of water softeners and how they work.

Salt-Based Water Softeners

With regular softeners, hard water flows into the resin tank where it gets in contact with the small, sodium-supersaturated resin beads. This is where the actual softening takes place: Calcium and other positively charged hard water minerals substitute sodium ions (also positively charged, but much weaker) attached to the beads which carry a negative charge and thus act like a magnet. This process is called “ion exchange” and it’s by far the most common method for softening household water.

As a result, all hardness minerals are removed from the water and the sodium goes into solution. By the time the water reaches the bottom of the tank, it’s soft. From there it enters a tube, flows out of the system, and gets distributed throughout your entire house.

By the way, instead of sodium, you can also charge your water softener resin bed with potassium, for example if you’re on a salt-restricted diet.

Regeneration

After operating for a couple of days, the majority of resin beads are covered with hardness ions, thus unable to soften any more water. This is when a water softener needs to regenerate.

This includes flushing out all accumulated hardness minerals and recharging the resin bed’s softening capacity.

Here the brine tank comes into play. It’s basically a salt storage. Mixed with water, the salt forms a highly concentrated brine solution which is directed into the resin tank. The brine washes over the resin beads releasing all hardness ions and replacing them with a fresh layer of sodium.

As a last step, the resin bed is rinsed to remove any remaining hardness minerals and brine.

Dual Tank Softeners

A dual tank water softener uses two resin tanks. This has the benefit that while one tank is regenerating, the other tank can fill in. We haven’t mentioned this before, but a water softener cannot provide any soft water while in regeneration mode. This is also why regeneration cycles are usually scheduled to happen at night – no need for that, though, if you’re using a dual tank unit.

Salt-Free Water Softening Systems

Salt-free water softening systems also known as water conditioners include any type of water treatment system that reduces the scaling effects of hard water. What they all have in common is that they don’t actually remove any hard minerals from water.

One prominent example for a saltless water conditioner is the SpringWell FutureSoft which relies on Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). TAC makes use of catalytic bead media that crystallizes hard water minerals. Because in their crystal form, they don’t stick to surfaces. Scale prevention: Up to 99.6%.

Other methods to condition water include the use of citric acid or polyphosphate as chelating agents. They bind hard water ions so they remain soluble.

Magnetic and Electronic Water Descalers

Magnetic and electronic descalers reduce scaling by inducing electromagnetic waves into the water. This is done with the help of simple magnets or coils which wrap around the water line. Effectiveness: 50% scale reduction in the best-case scenario, plus the remaining scale formation is soft and can be removed much more easily.

Salt-Based Softeners vs. Salt-Free Water Conditioners

The general consensus among experts is that water softeners are more effective than water conditioners at reducing scale. Furthermore, they work with almost all waters – the effectiveness of many water conditioners is highly dependent on factors such as water pH – and they’re more effective at higher hardness levels.

Still, water conditioners have their right of existence. Their advantages include:

  • Even dissolve existing scale deposits.
  • Can be virtually maintenance-free.
  • No need to continuously buy and carry heavy salt bags.
  • No salt added to water which is important for people on a salt-restricted diet and better for the environment and sewage systems.
  • Conditioned water doesn’t feel slippery.
  • No regeneration required which means no downtime and no wastewater.

The Benefits of Using a Water Softener

Here are the benefits of using a water softener from most to least important:

  1. All home appliances that use water, water heaters being the prime example, as well as your entire plumbing system will last up to 30% longer. That’s due to the prevention of scale formation. Consequently, maintenance and repair costs go down.
  2. The efficiency of your water heaters increases which in turn lowers your energy bills. Pumps and other appliances are positively affected, too.
  3. Staining on surfaces is eliminated.
  4. Your hair and skin will look and feel healthier.
  5. You will be able to complete your cleaning routine much faster.
  6. Improved lathering leads to reduced soap and detergent use.
  7. Your laundry will be much brighter and softer.
  8. Your overall water use will lessen.

How to Install a Water Softener

The best place to install a water softener is in the basement or garage close to where the main water line enters your house. If you want to do the setup yourself, here is a list of tools and supplies that you need:
wrench

  • Copper/flexible tubing
  • Solder and torch (depending on plumbing material)
  • Pipe cutter
  • Drain tubing (+ air gap fitting)
  • Plumber’s tape
  • Tape measure
  • Slip joint pliers
  • Valves, tees, adaptors, fittings

Step by Step Installation Instructions

  1. Shut off the main water supply.
  2. Turn off your electric water heater if you have one.
  3. Drain the water in all involved lines by opening nearby outlets.
  4. Put water softener in place.
  5. Cut into main water line. Sand down the edges.
  6. Push the bypass valve into the control valve if not already installed.
  7. Connect the inlet and outlet port of the softening system to the incoming and outgoing water line (make sure to get the flow direction right). You can use hard or flexible tubing for this. Push fittings save you from soldering. Remember to seal any threaded ending with Teflon tape unless otherwise instructed.
  8. Establish the drain connection.
  9. Establish the overflow connection for the brine tank.
  10. Install the brine line.
  11. Fill salt into the brine tank.
  12. Set softener to bypass and slowly turn on water supply.
  13. Check for leaks. Wait a few minutes to allow air to flush out of the system.
  14. Slowly open the bypass valve.
  15. Check for leaks.
  16. Plug in your new water softener and follow startup instructions.

Maintenance

Generally speaking, a water softener is simple to maintain. Adding new salt into the brine tank is certainly the most important task. But you can do more to ensure that your system runs smoothly and at peak performance for years.

Basic Water Softener Maintenance Steps You Can Perform Yourself

  • Check brine tank for salt bridging or mushing and remove if need be.
  • Check if float switch can move freely.
  • About once a year, empty and clean the brine tank, and set regeneration to coming night. Optional: Sanitize.
  • For water containing high levels of iron, manganese, and/or tannins: Use resin cleaner.
  • Check condition of O-rings and replace if need be.
  • Exercise bypass valve to keep it lubricated.
  • Clean brine injector about twice a year.

Water Softener Companies & Brands – Who’s Best?

The following are popular and lesser-known water softener companies/brands and manufacturers.

SpringWell

The CEO of SpringWell Blake Gratton told us that his company is growing like wildfire. We’re excited to see what the future has in store for these guys! They’re our top pick.

Fleck (Pentair)

Fleck owned by Pentair is the go-to home water softener brand for many. Fleck SXT control valves are among the best selling on the market.

GE

GE Appliances is a trademark of the General Electric Company. The Haier Group manufactures GE appliances under a trademark license. The GE softeners we reviewed were all pretty solid.

Culligan

Culligan provides water treatment products for homes, offices, commercial places, and industrial applications. This includes a filtered bottled water delivery service.

The company works with a franchise business model. Local experts help potential new customers test their water and come up with treatment solutions. For water softeners, the service also includes system installation, setup, maintenance and repair.

WaterBoss

WaterBoss, Inc. is another supplier of water softening and water filtration equipment. The company currently offers 3 different water softener models for residential use. They are not our favorites, though.

Genesis

Genesis softeners are sold by Discount Water Softeners, Inc. The actual manufacturer remains unknown due to proprietary reasons. What we do know is that all systems are engineered and assembled in the U.S., and their performance is decent.

Kenmore (Sears)

Kenmore does refrigerators, dishwashers, microwaves, dryers, and many more types of home appliances. All products are sold by Sears, the owner of the Kenmore brand.

All in all, Kenmore softeners are good, but not phenomenal.

Morton

Back in 1848 when Morton Salt, Inc. was founded, the company focused on selling seasoning salt. Only since 2002 does Morton sell their own salt-based water softeners. But, again, they are not our favorites.
water softener in basement

Other Water Softener Manufacturers

Other water softener companies/manufacturers include

  • American Water Technologies
  • Hellenbrand Water Conditioning
  • Kinetico

Examples for manufacturers of salt-free systems are

  • Aquasana
  • Pelican
  • ScaleBlaster
  • Calmat
  • Aquios
  • Eddy Electronic
  • Nuvo
  • RainSoft

Water Softeners: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • Do you need a water filter if you have a water softener?
    A water filter and a water softener are two entirely different things. As the name suggests, water filters filter water for example to make it ready for drinking. A water softener provides soft water mainly to protect your appliances and pipes as well as your hair and skin.
  • Is it better to drink hard or soft water?
    It is better to drink hard water since soft water is high in sodium (or potassium) but low in overall mineral content, i.e. calcium and magnesium. However, both hard and soft water can contain harmful contaminants, which is why installing a water filter is usually recommended if you want to drink the water in your home.
  • Can you filter softened water for drinking?
    You can and you probably should filter softened water before drinking. Look for a water filter that has the ability to reduce sodium. A reverse osmosis system would make a great choice!
  • Do I need a dual tank water softener?
    For those who don’t know, a dual tank water softener setup has two tanks. Why two tanks? Because it gives you access to soft water 24/7. Dual tank doesn’t mean that both tanks work simultaneously. Rather, only one tank is active at any given time. As soon as it needs to regenerate the other fills in.
  • How can I protect my skin from hard water?
    As with hair, hard water tends to irritate skin. This is because it’s more difficult to rinse off soap and shampoo using hard water, leaving your skin and hair dry. In addition, skin conditions like eczema can become worse. How to protect your skin (and hair)? Install a water softener.
comment banner

Questions about water softeners or any type of water filtration system? Ask Away!

And make sure to come back to this guide from time to time as we are going to add a new water softener review occasionally.

About the Author Gene Fitzgerald

Gene Fitzgerald has been with BOS since the very beginning. She is head of content creation and has fully immersed herself into the home water treatment industry only to become an expert herself. Outside of BOS, Gene loves reading books on philosophy & social issues, making music, and hiking.
Learn more about .

Gene

Leave a Comment:

Want cleaner, safer and healthier water?

Sign up to join 1,000+ subscribers and get notified about new BOS guides & checklists as well as exclusive product sales and discount codes.