The Best Water Softeners of 2021 – 9 System Reviews & 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.

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

Water hardness 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 system? Well, you came to the right place. You’ll find a collection of our top picks below 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 2021!

(Hint: Swipe to Scroll)

SystemsOur RatingPriceTypeWater ForGrainsWarrantySystems
SpringWell SS4 Water Softener
Best Water Softener: SpringWell SS

Read Review

$$$Ion ExchangeUp to 6+ People (11-20 gpm)32,000-80,000LifetimeSpringWell SS4 Water Softener
Best Water Softener: SpringWell SS

Our Rating:
Price: $$$
Type: Ion Exchange
Water For: Up to 6+ People (11-20 gpm)
Grain Capacity: 32,000-80,000
Warranty: Lifetime

Read Review

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

Read Review

$$$Ion ExchangeUp to 3-4 People (9-13 gpm)48,000-60,000LifetimeCrystal Quest Whole House Water Softener
The Runner-Up: Crystal Quest Whole House Water Softener with Pre/Post Filtration

Our Rating:
Price: $$$
Type: Ion Exchange
Water For: Up to 3-4 People (9-13 gpm)
Grain Capacity: 48,000-60,000
Warranty: Lifetime

Read Review

SpringWell FutureSoft Salt-Free Water Conditioner
#1 Salt-Free Water Softener: SpringWell FutureSoft

Read Review

$$$TACUp to 6+ People (12-20 gpm)1 YearSpringWell FutureSoft Salt-Free Water Conditioner
#1 Salt-Free Water Softener: SpringWell FutureSoft

Our Rating:
Price: $$$
Type: TAC
Water For: Up to 6+ People (12-20 gpm)
Grain Capacity:
Warranty: 1 Year

Read Review

Eddy Electronic Water Descaler
#1 Electronic Water Descaler: Eddy

Read Review

$ElectronicSmall to Large HomesLifetimeEddy Electronic Water Descaler
#1 Electronic Water Descaler: Eddy

Our Rating:
Price: $
Type: Electronic
Water For: Small to Large Homes
Grain Capacity:
Warranty: Lifetime

Read Review

Best Water Softener Reviews

1. Our #1 Water Softener: SpringWell SS

In our opinion, the best water softener in 2021 is the SpringWell SS. 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 skin and hair 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 guarantee, lifetime system warranty, reliable customer support by real tech experts… 5 stars!

SpringWell SS4 Water Softener

SpringWell SS4 Water Softener

System Price:$$$
Process:Ion Exchange
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 hard minerals from the water in your home.
  • 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 48,000-grain water softener. 13 gpm flow rate is ideal to supply 4-6 bathrooms with soft water.
    • SS+ 80,000-grain water softener. 20 gallons of soft water per minute only makes sense for a very large household with 7+ bathrooms.
  • 10% crosslink 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 system: Control valve measures amount of water that has been used so that regeneration process only kicks in when really necessary and also adjusts the amount of salt and the amount of water that will be used. Saves resources which is eco-friendly.
  • 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 home water softening systems are no more difficult to set up than any other whole house 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 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 Softener Series 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 buildup 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:Ion Exchange
Water for:Up to 3-4 People
Tank Size:48,000 Grains
Metered Regen:

Our Rating

Pros

  • Whole house water softening system is Made in USA.
  • 1.5 cubic feet system (48,000 grains) was designed for homes with 1-3 bathrooms. Water flow: 9-11 gallons per minute.
  • 2.0 cubic feet 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 water 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 uses demand-initiated regeneration process which only 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 system comes with fiberglass tank, but you can upgrade to stainless steel for longevity.
  • Low maintenance requirements.
    • Softening media 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. #1 Salt-Free Water Softener/Conditioner: SpringWell FutureSoft

In our opinion, the #1 salt-free water softener a.k.a. water conditioner in 2021 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 adhere 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 gallons per minute 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 for peace of mind.

Cons

  • Well water with iron requires pre-treatment (also if it contains other heavy metals like manganese and copper, or hydrogen sulfide).

4. SoftPro Elite High-Efficiency City Water Softener

Up next: The SoftPro Elite high-efficiency city water softener. The salt-based 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 High-Efficiency City Water Softener

System Price:$$
Process:Ion Exchange System
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 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 large tank from aggressive brine.
  • Made in USA.
  • Lifetime warranty on valve, mineral, tank, and brine tank.
  • Backed by no-risk guarantee.
  • Support is outstanding according to reviewers.

Cons

  • Nothing so far.

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

In our opinion, the #1 portable water softener in 2021 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:Ion Exchange
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 installation instructions. No need for tools. All fittings included.
    • Utilizes standard garden hose connection.
  • Quick and simple regeneration.
    • Large opening to add salt.
    • Comes with backwash adapters.
    • Built-in drain valve.
  • Package includes hard water test strips.
  • Media 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 whole house 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:Ion Exchange
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 water softener option (11.2 gpm).
    • Control unit + tank are NSF certified.
    • Salt-based 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

  • Flow of water 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. Our #1 Electronic Water Descaler: Eddy Electronic

Personally, we think the number one electronic water descaler in 2021 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 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 Water Softener

System Price:$
Type of Water Softener:Electromagnetic
Water for:Small to Large Homes

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 grains per gallon.
  • Does not soften water in the traditional sense.
    • All healthy magnesium and calcium is retained.
    • Eco-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

  • Electronic water softener 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:Ion Exchange
Water for:Up to 3-4 People
Tank Size:48,000 Grains
Metered Regen:

Our Rating

Pros

  • Control valve is made in USA.
  • 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 soldering.
    • Check out one of the useful installation videos on YouTube when you’re stuck.
  • Configuring and monitoring the Fleck 5600SXT digital head unit is a breeze.
  • Digital metered regeneration measures water usage to prevent salt and water wastage during backwash.
  • Water softening system is backed by 100% no-risk guarantee.
  • 5-year warranty on metered control valve. 10-year warranty on resin 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 Detailed Fleck 5600SXT Review Here

9. 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 pipes, and appliances, 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 softener has a service flow rate of 15 gallons of water 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 heavy metals like iron and manganese or hydrogen sulfide.

Water Softener Systems Comparison Chart

How do the best water softeners on the market compare to each other?

(Hint: Swipe to Scroll)

SystemsPriceAdditional Info
SpringWell SS Salt-Based Water Softener$$$Best Overall, Can Remove Iron But Low Levels Only (Unlike Iron Pro 2 Water Softener for Iron Removal)
Crystal Quest Whole House Water Softener (with Filtration System)$$$Includes Whole House Filtration (i.e. Carbon Filter)
SpringWell FutureSoft Salt-Free Softener$$$Whole Home System Comes with Sediment Pre-Filter
SoftPro Elite Digital Water Softener$$Digital Water Softener Comes with Touchpad Controls, Easy to Install
On The Go Portable Salt Water Softener$Low-Capacity Water Softener Uses Single Tank
Tier1 Essential Series Salt-Based Water Softener$Whole Home System Comes with Manual Bypass Valve Depending on System Version, Up to 64,000-Grain
Eddy Electronic Water Softener$
Fleck Water Softener$$Uses Fleck 5600SXT Digital Control Head, Up to 64,000-Grain
FilterSmart FS500 Salt-Free Softener$$$
Fleck Iron Pro 2 Combination Water Softener-Iron Filter$$Fleck Iron Pro 2 Combination Water Softener-Iron Filter Uses Fine-Mesh Resin for Up to 8 ppm of Iron Removal
Pelican Water PS Salt Water Softener$$Pelican Water PS48/PS80 Only Backwash When Needed

Buying Guide: Choosing the Ideal Water Softener for Your Home

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.

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 hard minerals in the water (mainly calcium and magnesium) 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 softeners are becoming more and more popular with increasing effectiveness.

Cost

How much a water softener 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 exchange system. 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).

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 per 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 grain 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 grain capacity, the more often a water softener has to regenerate and the lower its salt efficiency which means higher cost.

salt-based water softener

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.

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 magnesium and calcium 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 water softener systems and covers things like:

  • Material safety
  • Structural integrity
  • Water softener 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 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 systems. If so, consider other water treatment solutions.

Available Area, Bypass Valve & Other Factors to Take into Consideration

  • A digital control valve allows for simplified configuration, monitoring, and troubleshooting.
  • A built-in bypass valve 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.
  • A water filtration system 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 parts per millionCaCO3 in grains per gallon
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 hard water 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?

Why do you need a water softener and what are common hard water issues?

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 whole house 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 hard water problems and their signs.

Scale Deposits in Pipes and Appliances

Hard water can cause scaling which is by far its biggest issue. This is because scale deposits can clog pipes, filters, valves, fittings, and entire water systems.

Over time, water flow rates and water pressure 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.

limescale on heating element of washing machine

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. What you get instead is soap scum.

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 Skin & Hair

Many people that shower in hard water complain about dry 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 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 media.
  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 how the different types of water softeners 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 whole 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 Cycle

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 or grain 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 main tank. The brine washes over the resin bed releasing all hardness ions and replacing them with a fresh layer of sodium.

As a last step, the bed is rinsed to remove any remaining water 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.

dual tank water softener setup

Salt-Free Water Softeners

Salt-free water softeners 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 hard minerals from the 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.

Electronic and Magnetic Water Descalers

Electronic and magnetic water 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 pipe. 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 work best: They 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 a higher water hardness level.

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.
  • No more water spots.

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 will last up to 30% longer. That’s due to the prevention of limescale buildup known to cause damage. Consequently, maintenance and repair costs go down – you save money in the long run.
  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 usage will go down.

How to Install a Whole House Water Softener at Home

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:

  • 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

water softener installation

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 softening system 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 lines (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 water softener salt into the brine tank.
  12. Set softener to bypass and slowly turn on main 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.
  • Take care of 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 (Best Water Softeners)

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! We consider SpringWell water softeners to be the best water softeners on the market.

Fleck (Pentair)

Fleck owned by Pentair is the go-to home water softener brand for many. Fleck metered 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 salt-based 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 conduct a water test 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 salt-based 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 salt-based 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 salt 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

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • Do you need a water filter if you have a whole house softening system?
    A whole house water filter and a whole house softening system are two entirely different things. A water filtration system filters water for example to make it ready for drinking. A water softener provides soft water mainly to protect your plumbing as well as your skin and hair.
  • Does soft water contain calcium and magnesium?
    Almost all calcium and magnesium has been removed from softened water.
  • Can soft water be used as drinking water?
    Softened water isn’t necessarily clean water. You should filter it before drinking. Use a water filter that reduces sodium. A reverse osmosis system or carbon filter makes a great choice for producing drinking water!
  • 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.
  • Does reverse osmosis water filter soften water?
    A reverse osmosis water filter does soften water, but it’s regular use case is to produce drinking water.
  • Can soft water be healthy to drink if it lacks beneficial minerals?
    Water softeners remove the minerals like calcium & magnesium from the water. Due to the lack of beneficial minerals, the water is not ideal for consumption.
comment banner blue

Questions about the best water softeners? Ask Away!

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

About the Author Tim Stanley

Tim Stanley is our content creator veteran. His daily tasks involve everything from research to editing. His expertise: Water Softeners. When he is not working, Tim spends most his free time cycling and shaping his body doing calisthenics. To calm down he also likes to watch Netflix (who doesn’t?).
Learn more about .

Tim

Leave a Comment: