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10 Best Water Softeners – System Reviews 2020 & Buying Guide

    Hard water is a widespread problem in our country. Apart from unsightly stains on dishes, 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 water softener 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…

    2020’s Best Water Softeners – Our Top Picks

    Water Softener Reviews 2020

    1. Fleck 5600SXT – Best Whole House Water Softener

    Fleck 5600 SXT Hard Water Softener

    Fleck 5600SXT - Best Whole House Water Softener

    •    Model Price: $$
    •    Process Type: Salt Based
    •    Water For: Up to 6 People
    •    Tank Size: 48,000 Grains
    •    Bypass Valve:
    •    Metered Regen:

    Let’s kick off our water softener reviews with the Fleck 5600SXT!

    Pros

    The Fleck 5600SXT – Made in USA – is the first proper whole-house ion exchange water softener we came across in our reviews. It’s a reliable choice for a small to medium sized home (2 to 6 people). The softener has a capacity of 48,000 grains at 12 gpm flow rate and can handle medium to very hard water.

    Configuring and monitoring the Fleck is a breeze thanks to the user-friendly control head that is fully digital. The system also comes with metered regeneration. This means the regeneration cycle automatically kicks in as soon as a certain amount of water has passed through the valve. This prevents salt + water wastage and ensures that you have a supply of soft water basically all the time.

    What about the installation process? As with most water softeners, you don’t have to call in a plumber, but don’t expect it to be easy. It could take a couple of hours. Fortunately, instructions are clear and only basic plumbing skills are required.

    And don’t hesitate to contact customer service. The folks there are knowledgeable and eager to help. Another option is to check out one of the useful installation videos on YouTube when you are stuck.

    If the dozens of positive customer reviews are anything to go by, this is the best whole house water softener on Amazon.

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

    More features:

    • Can be used for iron water filtration with a maximum clear-water iron (ferrous) concentration of 2 ppm; not for red-water iron (ferric) and iron bacteria
    • 4 modes of regeneration (immediate, delayed meter, delayed time, or day of week)
    • Double backwash (optional) for water supply with extreme hardness and/or high iron content

    Cons

    For one, a few parts are cheaply made. We would have preferred stainless steel over plastic.

    We also would have preferred an acoustic alarm over the warning light that flashes when you have to add salt. This is not that big of a problem, though. The average family should be fine checking the salt level every other month.

    Furthermore, some customers received no instruction booklet with their shipment.

    Verdict: Our #1 Water Softener

    As we mentioned at the beginning of this section, very large households may want to go for a system with an even higher softening capacity. For small and mid-sized homes, we highly recommend the Fleck 5600SXT as your best option for countering medium to high levels of hard minerals. Great value for money. 5 stars!

    2. Iron Pro 2 64,000-Grain Water Softener + Iron Filter (Ideal for Well Water)

    Iron Pro 2 Water Softener

    Iron Pro 2 Water Softener + Filter for Well Water

    •    Model Price: $$
    •    Process Type: Salt Based
    •    Water For: Up to 8 People
    •    Tank Size: 64,000 Grains
    •    Bypass Valve:
    •    Metered Regen:

    Pros

    This combination of whole house water softener and fine mesh resin for iron removal (up to 6-8 ppm ferrous iron + 6 ppm manganese) is the ideal fit for large families on private wells.

    The Iron Pro 2 with its 64,000-grain capacity can handle virtually all levels of water hardness and the high flow rate ensures adequate water pressure even with your dishwasher, washing machine and multiple showers running simultaneously.

    An all-digital control 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 each regeneration cycle uses many, many gallons of water.

    Cons

    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 few bucks, expect to spend at least several hours before everything will be in place.

    Of course, the unit comes with a user manual to help you navigate the numerous bits and pieces you need to match together.

    Verdict: Our #1 Water Softener for Well Water

    We really like the Iron Pro 2 water softener and filter. It has infinite softening capacities (at least that’s what it feels like) and is fairly easy to use once installed. For a large home with very high demand for soft, iron-free water this unit is worth the price tag.

    3. SpringWell Residential Water Softener Systems

    SpringWell SS1 water Softener

    SpringWell SS1 Water Softener

    •    Model Price: $$$$
    •    Process Type: Salt Based
    •    Water For: Up to 5 People
    •    Tank Size: 32,000 Grains
    •    Bypass Valve:
    •    Metered Regen:

    Pros

    Next on our list: SpringWell water softener systems which come in 3 different sizes so you can choose the most suitable one.

    1. The SpringWell SS1 has a 32,000-grain rating and provides up to 11 gallons of soft water per minute, enough for small to mid-sized homes to not run out of water even at times of peak consumption.
    2. The SS4 is rated at 48,000 grains and 13 gpm, perfect for larger homes.
    3. And the SS+ goes above and beyond with 80,000 grains and 20 gpm service flow. Now, only very large households require that high of a water softening capacity.

    All 3 effectively remove hardness minerals from water for little to no scale buildup in your plumbing, appliances and fixtures. The result: Increased efficiency and lifespan for fewer repairs and lower maintenance. Brighter clothes, shiny hair, and a more moisturized skin are nice side effects.

    We also like the on-demand (digital metered) regeneration which is a big salt, water & money saver. Plus, it helps the environment.

    All SpringWell water softeners are manufactured using only NSF-certified components and materials for the highest quality.

    A word on the head unit: SpringWell used to ship the Fleck 5600 control valve with all their softeners. But the company decided to switch to a new Bluetooth app-driven head that allows for easier setup and control. If you install the free Legacy View app on your android or iOS device, you can quickly configure the water softener without even touching it. You could also start a regeneration cycle for example – all with a simple click on your phone or tablet.

    On a site note: Yes, you can still do the programming using the head unit directly.

    Not convinced yet? Need more buying arguments? How about free shipping, lifetime warranty, 6-month money-back guarantee, easy to install and great customer service? Plus, you get a neoprene sleeve for the resin tank on top.

    Cons

    No issues right now except for the high price tag.

    Our Verdict

    SpringWell water softeners look promising. Their performance seems great with only happy customers so far. But more user feedback is needed to get a complete picture. Our recommendation: If you have the budget, definitely check out SpringWell.

    4. Eddy Water Descaler – Water Softener Alternative

    Eddy Electronic Water Descaler | Water Softener System Reviews

    Eddy Electronic Water Descaler

    •    Model Price: $
    •    Technology: El.magnetism
    •    Water For: -
    •    Capacity: -

    Pros

    Before we talk about the many advantages of the Eddy Electronic Water Descaler, it is important to understand that it is not a conventional water softener, but a water conditioner.

    The device generates an electromagnetic field to change the adhesion properties of hard minerals causing them to bind to one another instead of the surfaces they touch.

    This prevents scale from accumulating in your plumbing and appliances, and from leaving spots on your dishes, sink, faucets, etc. The electromagnetic waves applied through two coils placed around your incoming water supply line can also cause existing deposits to dissolve over time.

    And yes, the Eddy water descaler works on both city water and well water and is effective on all pipes, except for iron and galvanized types. The maximum allowed diameter is 1.5″.

    By the way, installation is really easy, no plumbing, no cutting into pipes, no turning off the water supply.

    The same goes for configuration and maintenance. It’s fit and forget! You just need to have a power source nearby for electricity.

    According to most users, the system is quite effective once installed. They saw less or even no scale formation at all. You can expect great results at mineral levels of up to 20 grains per gallon and more.

    Another aspect that we wanted to point out is that in the treatment process zero chemicals are being used. In fact, nothing is added nor removed from your water – one less thing to worry about.

    This also has the benefit that all healthy minerals are retained; making your water slightly sweeter and healthier than water softened the “usual way” (and it’s why you won’t see a drop in TDS).

    No salt etc. also means no recurring costs. The costs of electricity are negligible.

    More Benefits:

    • Highly affordable
    • Lifetime repair and replacement warranty
    • 12-month money-back guarantee for a full refund if you are not happy with the product
    • CE and FCC certified to U.S., UK and EU standards

    Cons

    As with most conditioners, the Eddy Water Descaler does not seem to work for everyone. The good news is that the company stands to the return policy.

    Our Verdict

    We would recommend this water descaler as doing exactly what is promised: Reduce scale. So if you are looking for ways to tackle those ugly and hard-to-scrub deposits that hard water leaves behind, definitely check out the Eddy Water Descaler.

    It may not be a genuine water softener, but accomplishes a lot at a fraction of the cost. 4.5 stars!

    5. Whirlpool Water Softeners

    Whirlpool WHES30 Water Softener

    Whirlpool WHES30 Water Softener

    •    Model Price: $$
    •    Process Type: Salt Based
    •    Water For: Up to 4 People
    •    Tank Size: 30,000 Grains
    •    Bypass Valve:
    •    Metered Regen:

    Whirlpool offers 2 water softener product lines: The WHES series and the Pro Series. The Whirlpool WHESFC PRO which is part of the Pro Series combines water softening with carbon filtration for soft water that is also free from unpleasant chlorine taste and odor (NSF Standard 42 certified).

    As part of the WHES series, the WHES30 and the WHES40 are regular water softeners as we know them.

    Pros

    The 3 systems may have different resin tank sizes, however their maximum flow rates vary only slightly:

    1. The WHESFC PRO comes with 0.98 cubic feet of resin (31,000 grain) and provides 8 gpm at full capacity. Enough water for a family of 4.
    2. The WHES30 (0.88 cu. ft. resin, 30,000 grain) is also rated at 8 gallons per minute service flow.
    3. The WHES40 which is the largest of the 3 is rated at 8.5 gpm and has 1.14 cu. ft. resin (40,000 grain). Enough water for a family of 4-5 people.

    All Whirlpool water softeners are built in the USA. And they belong to the few models on the market that actually look nice.

    Also, they use salt saving technology, meaning they measure water usage and calculate exactly how much salt/water is required for regeneration. What’s more, regeneration is only initiated when necessary. Both keeps resource use at a bare minimum.

    To top it off, a Whirlpool softener learns your water usage pattern to regenerate when it’s most efficient.

    More advantages:

    • Resin and brine tank are all in one to save space
    • Remove clear-water iron (WHESFC PRO – 3 ppm iron; WHES30 – 8 ppm; WHES40 – 10 ppm)
    • Full 1-year warranty on all parts, 3 years (limited) on electronics, 10 years (limited) on tanks
    • Some of the easiest systems to install, all required parts included
    • Quick and easy to program thanks to clear digital display
    • Low salt light reminder simplifies maintenance
    • Power outage memory

    Cons

    Mainly problems upon delivery, such as

    • Split resin tanks
    • Broken displays
    • Parts missing that caused leaking

    Our Verdict

    Whirlpool water softeners work on the hardest of waters, usually running for many years without problems. The efficient water and salt saving technology make them a worthwhile investment. Customer feedback is extremely positive. 4 stars!

    6. On The Go OTG4-DBLSOFT-Portable Water Softener

    On The Go OTG4-DBLSOFT-Portable Portable Hard Water Softener

    On The Go OTG4-DBLSOFT-Portable Water Softener

    •    Model Price: $$
    •    Process Type: Salt Based
    •    Water For: 1-2 People
    •    Tank Size: 16,000 Grains

    Pros

    For RV owners, we recommend the On The Go OTG4-DBLSOFT-Portable. 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 3-4 gpm water flow rate is just perfect for an RV’s water 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 beads. Just keep some table or rock salt at the ready.

    Cons

    Yes, this water softener is portable. But that does not mean it’s easy to carry it around. In fact, weighing around 32 pounds the OTG4-DBLSOFT-Portable 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 process a minor inconvenience, especially when compared to whole home softening systems that regenerate fully automatic.

    Our Verdict

    The On The Go OTG4-DBLSOFT-Portable is easily one of the best portable water softeners we have seen. 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.

    7. Aquios AQFS220 Home Water Softener + Water Filter

    Aquios AQFS220 Water Softener

    Aquios AQFS220 Full House Water Conditioner + Filter

    •    Model Price: $$
    •    Process Type: Salt Free
    •    Water For: Up to 6 People
    •    Cartridge Life: 40,000 gal
    •    Bypass Valve:

    Pros

    This is a salt-free water softener – a big advantage for those who don’t want any sodium or potassium added to their water. Instead, the Aquios AQFS220 uses an FDA-approved polyphosphate to change the properties of hard water minerals to prevent limescale build-up. Maximum hard water level: 22 (30) grains per gallon.

    How does the additive work? It’s supposed to keep the calcium and magnesium suspended in the water and, according to Aquios, also dissolve scale deposits that may have accumulated in your home’s water system over the years.

    Choosing a salt-free water conditioner has multiple benefits, such as:

    • No more lifting of heavy salt bags
    • You will never run out of conditioned water
    • No water is wasted for backflushing
    • No slimy feel on your skin that “properly” softened water often leaves
    • Salt-free is more eco-friendly
    • Healthier drinking water

    That being said, with a theoretical water flow rate of 12 to 15 gallons per minute the Aquios works great for any home size. Your family can easily draw water from multiple faucets and shower simultaneously without losing pressure (more on this below).

    The unit is also fairly easy to install – even for those who do not consider themselves gifted do-it-yourselfers. The whole setup shouldn’t take more than 2 hours.

    As far as maintenance is concerned, all you have to do is replace the softening & filter cartridge once it has reached its limit. Easy!

    Speaking of filtration, we also like the fact that the AQFS220 combines descaling with carbon filtration to filter out chlorine (NSF Standard 42 certified) and other contaminants like sediment for improved water taste.

    Did we mention that this water conditioner is covered for 20 years?

    Cons

    Unfortunately, we were not able to find any lab report or certification to verify the claimed anti-scaling effects. What we know is that the polyphosphate additive is most effective at a water pH-range from 8 to 10. This might be the reason why some users do not experience any softening benefit. Generally speaking, a traditional salt-based water softener is more effective.

    Above that, using the Aquios AQFS220 many customers saw a significant drop in water pressure and flow rate after about one month – due to filter clogging. Thus, cartridges have to be replaced much more frequently which is inconvenient and adds to the cost.

    And finally, a handful of reviewers complained about leakages and bad support.

    Our Verdict

    All in all, the Aquios AQFS220 does its job for the price, IF all water conditions and requirements are met. In this case, it’s a good option though a tad expensive. For comparison, the Eddy Electronic Water Descaler reviewed above costs much less.

    However, taking into account that the Aquios also functions as a carbon water filter, the price-performance ratio appears somewhat more reasonable.

    Just remember that a salt-free water conditioner is not as effective as a good old salt-based system. 3.5 stars!

    8. Nuvo DPMB Manor Soft Water Conditioner

    Nuvo DPMB Manor Water Conditioner

    Nuvo DPMB Manor Water Conditioner

    •    Model Price: $$$
    •    Process Type: Salt Free
    •    Water For: Up to 7-9 People
    •    Cartridge Life: 50,000 Gallon
    •    Bypass Valve:

    Pros

    Those of you who are no fans of salt-based water softening systems will love the Nuvo DPMB, although it is one of the most expensive water conditioners on the market.

    Instead of removing calcium and magnesium, it uses chelation with special cartridges to reduce water pH-levels and bind the hard mineral ions. This prevents them from forming scale on surfaces which has earned the system an NSF Standard 169 certification for scale control.

    And even existing scale can be dissolved over time. But there is a catch: For the chelation to work your water pH has to be 7.2 or higher (the higher, the better). The citric acid which is the chelation agent will be ineffective below that threshold.

    The manufacturer also advises against the use with well water.

    In our opinion, the Nuvo DPMB is best for mild water hardness levels where the main concern is scale reduction in pipes and the given requirements are met. In cases of severe water hardness, you should consider going salt-based.

    Anyway, there definitely is no water softener or water conditioner out there that is easier to set up than the Nuvo – no programming involved. And it’s compact so it’ll fit in any corner.

    One chelation cartridge lasts 50,000 gallons of water or 6 months. In other words, maintenance is kept to a minimum.

    The ideal home size is 4+ residents. You can expect a flow rate of around 15 to 18 gallons per minute, so plenty of water.

    The last thing we want to mention is the 90-day money-back guarantee and the limited lifetime warranty for peace of mind.

    Cons

    It is important to note that there have been numerous complaints from unhappy customers, especially those living in areas with extreme water hardness, regarding the effectiveness of this system. They basically saw no improvement in their water after having used the Nuvo for a month or longer.

    The reason for this is that their water was too acidic in the first place, so the chelation agent did not have any effect – at least that’s our guess. Clearly, Nuvo has to better educate their customers on this matter. Otherwise, they will continue to waste their money on something that is doomed to fail.

    Another problem is that replacement cartridges are quite pricey when compared to regular softening salt that you can purchase at less than a tenth of the cost.

    It can also happen that your water turns bluish for a couple of days when using the water conditioner for the first time (only with copper pipes). It’s not harmful to your health, but looks strange nonetheless.

    Our Verdict

    If you want to stay away from a salt-based water softener for the added sodium and your water pH-level is above 7.2, this water conditioner makes a decent choice with a super fast flow rate and capacity.

    9. Aquasana SimplySoft Salt-Free Water Softener

    Aquasana SimplySoft Water Softener for Hard Water Supply

    Aquasana SimplySoft Salt-Free Water Softener

    •    Model Price: $$
    •    Process Type: Salt Free NAC
    •    Water For: Up to 3-5 People
    •    Life: 6 Years
    •    Bypass Valve:

    Pros

    No salts or harsh chemicals are involved in the working of the Aquasana SimplySoft water conditioner meaning that nothing will be added to your water.

    The unit works differently than the Eddy Water Descaler, but delivers the same results:

    It alters the adhesion characteristics of calcium and magnesium in water, 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 other water impurities.

    Cons

    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 everyone saw reduced limescale build-up after adding the Aquasana SimplySoft to their home.

    Our Verdict

    For families of up to 5, 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.

    10. Watts Water M7002 Flow-Pur RV-Pro Portable Water Softener

    Watts Water M7002 Flow-Pur RV-Pro Water Softener for Hard Water Supply

    Watts Water M7002 Flow-Pur RV-Pro Water Softener

    •    Model Price: $
    •    Process Type: Salt Based
    •    Water For: 1-2 People
    •    Tank Size: 10,000 Grains

    Pros

    The last of our water softener reviews features the Watts RV-Pro, a clear winner when it comes to compactness. It may not be as powerful as some of the whole house water softening systems, but it softens water just as well.

    The portable unit was designed for RVs where you can’t use more than a single outlet, maybe 2 faucets at a time. In this case, the 10,000-grain capacity is enough to handle even exceptionally hard water.

    Cons

    High portability and ease of use are up against a lack of automation: You have to do the regeneration manually in an interval of 1 to 4 weeks based on the amount of water you use.

    Our Verdict

    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.

    Water Softener System Comparison List

    SystemsGrain SizeInformation About Products
    Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener System48,000 Grain TankWhole House System, Separate Resin and Brine Tank, Removal of Calcium + Magnesium and Other Minerals, For Iron Filtration: Max Ferrous Iron Concentration 2 ppm, Not for Ferric Iron and Iron Bacteria
    Iron Pro 2 Water Softener + Iron Filter64,000 Grain TankWhole House System, Separate Resin and Brine Tank, Removes Minerals, Also Available with 48,000 Grain, Fine Mesh Resin for Iron Filtration: Max Ferrous Iron Concentration 6-8 ppm, Not for Ferric Iron a.k.a. Rust and Iron Bacteria, Manganese Up to 6 ppm
    SpringWell Water Softeners32,000 - 80,000 Grain TankWhole House Systems, Separate Resin and Brine Tank, Control Valve with Bluetooth Functionality, Remove Minerals, Choose Between 3 Systems: 32,000 Grain, 48,000 Grain & 80,000 Grain Capacity, Lifetime Warranty
    Eddy Water DescalerNo GrainWhole House System, Lifetime Warranty, For Up to 20 Grains Per Gallon, Easy Installation Process (No Plumbing or Cutting Into Pipes), Doesn't Work With Iron and Galvanized Pipes, Runs on Electricity
    Whirlool Water Softeners30,000 - 40,000 Grain TankWhole House Systems, Resin and Brine Tank Combined, Remove Minerals, Carbon Filters Chlorine, Choice Between 3 Systems: 30,000 Grain, 31,000 Grain & 40,000 Grain Capacity
    On The Go OTG4-DBLSOFT-Portable Water Softener16,000 Grain Tanki.e. Mobile Home, Remove Minerals
    Aquios AQFS220 Salt-Free Water Softener + Water FilterNo GrainWhole House System, Maximum Hard Water Level: 22 (30) Grains Per Gallon, Features Carbon Filtration to Filter Out Chlorine and Chemicals for Improved Water Taste, 20 Years Warranty
    Nuvo DPMB Manor Salt Free Water SoftenerNo GrainWhole House System, Lifetime Warranty, Might Turn Water Blue For a Few Days (Only With Copper Pipes)
    Aquasana SimplySoft Salt-Free Water SoftenerNo GrainWhole House System, Uses Water Filter for Pre-Treatment, DIY Installation Voids Warranty
    Watts Water M7002 Flow-Pur RV-Pro Water Softener10,000 Grain Tanki.e. Mobile Home, Remove Minerals

    Other Reviews

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

    Skip Straight to Reviews!

    With so many options to choose from it can be a challenging task 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 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 water softener a.k.a. water conditioner.

    These types apply a variety of 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 hard minerals from your water.

    All in all, ion exchange water softening systems are considered the industry standard and the preferred choice for the majority of home owners due to their unmatched performance. Salt-free water conditioners are often better than nothing but nowhere near as effective.

    Cost

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

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

    And don’t forget that you also have to take into account expenses for installation and running costs (salt, water, sewer, etc.).

    water softener salt bright

    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 home appliances and pipes are still in great condition.

    Water Softening Capacity

    Water hardness is measured in parts per million (ppm) or grains per gallon (gpg). The latter is more common. If your water reads 10 grains per gallon 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 grains of hardness each day.

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

    Now, the amount 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 water 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 water softener has to regenerate and the lower its salt efficiency.

    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 household you want to buy a water softener with a higher 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 & Appliances

    • Faucets: 1.0 gpm
    • Toilets: 3.0 gpf (gallons per flush)
    • Shower head: 2.0 – 2.5 gpm
    • Dishwashers: 6.0 – 16.0 gpl (gallons per load)
    • Washing Machines: 25.0 gpl (gallons per load)

    For medium to large families with 2 or more bathrooms we recommend a minimum flow rate of 12 gpm. Single households shouldn’t go below 7 gpm.

    flow rate

    Water Softener Regeneration

    There are 3 methods for how a water softener can 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 regeneration!
    • Timed – Timer-based regeneration means that you set a specific regeneration time yourself – ideally at night when no one is awake. 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

    When you do your research, 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:

    • Material safety
    • Structural integrity
    • Salt efficiency (system must remove a minimum of 3,350 hardness grains per pound of salt)
    • Water efficiency (system must waste no 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 locally 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 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.

    Municipal Regulations

    Check if your local authority has banned the use of salt-based water softeners. 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 is 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.

    In section 1, we reviewed the best water softeners on the market. But there is more…

    Water Softener Companies – Who’s Best?

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

    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 are 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.

    Personally, we would not buy a Culligan water softener due to mainly negative customer feedback.

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

    Whirlpool

    The Whirlpool Corporation is the world’s leading major home appliance company and a Fortune 500 enterprise. Brands owned by the corporation include Whirlpool , KitchenAid, JennAir, Maytag and Bauknecht.

    When it comes to water softeners, there is the Pro Series and the WHES Series. You can find reviews of the latter on BOS.

    Kenmore (Sears)

    Kenmore does refrigerators, dishwashers, microwaves, dryers, water softeners 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.

    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 our readers who don’t know, a dual tank water softener system 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?
      Just like your hair, hard water tends to irritate skin. This is because with hard water it’s more difficult to wash off soap and shampoo, leaving your skin and hair dry. In addition, skin conditions like eczema can become even worse. How to protect your skin (and hair)? Install a water softener.

    Water, Water Everywhere – Further Reading on Water Softeners

    Further articles on BOS answer the following questions among others:

    • How can you tell if a water softening system would make a worthy addition to your home?
    • Apart from softer skin and hair, brighter clothes, and home appliances having a longer lifespan, what are the benefits of softening water? And what are the problems?
    • How to choose a water softener? After all, there are a few things you need to know and consider if you want a system that really suits your needs.
    • What’s better, renting or buying a water softener?
    • How does a water softener work? #IonExchange
    • What’s the correct way of sizing a water softener? (Choosing the right size for your new water softener is key if you want to avoid unnecessary trouble.)
    • Can you install your water softener yourself, or is it better to hire a plumber who does everything for you?
    • What goes into maintaining a water softener?
    • How to troubleshoot and repair a water softener?
    • How important are calcium, magnesium and other minerals in drinking water?
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    Questions about water softeners or any other water filtration or treatment products? 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.

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