Hard water is a widespread problem in our country. Apart from unsightly stains on glasses, cutlery and armatures, calcium and other minerals can leave deposits in your plumbing and household appliances and cause major leaks if the accumulation keeps on building.
While this is not a health issue, water hardness can be particularly frustrating and installing a high-quality softening system is the best and oftentimes only solution.
How to find the best water softener? Well, you came to the right place!
On this page you will…
|Model||Our Rating||Price||Technology||Flow Rate||Grain Capacity|
Best Softener: Fleck 5600SXT
|Read Review||$$||Ion Exchanger||12 Gallons per Minute||48,000|
Highest Capacity: Iron Pro 2 Whole House Softener + Filter
|Read Review||$$$||Ion Exchanger + Filter||18 Gallons per Minute||80,000|
Best Portable Softener: ABCwaters PWS16
|Read Review||$||Ion Exchanger||3 Gallons per Minute||16,000|
Best Water Conditioner: Eddy Electronic Water Descaler
|Read Review||$||El. magnetism||-||-|
No Green Light For: OMNIFilter OM32KCS
|$$||Ion Exchanger||12 Gallons per Minute||32,000|
Water softeners can be categorized based on the technology they use. The most common ones are called ‘ion exchange softeners’. These are salt-based devices that replace hardness minerals (calcium and magnesium) in water with sodium or potassium.
If you are worried about the extra salt dose, especially if you are on a low-sodium diet, you might want to go for a salt-free softener (water conditioner). These devices use different technologies like nanotechnology or magnetism to condition water and prevent scaling, but do not remove hardness minerals.
Hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg). If your water measures at 10 gpg and your family uses 400 gallons of water per day on average, then your softener would need to remove 10 x 400 = 4,000 hardness grains per day.
But after hours of operation, a salt-based water softener needs to regenerate. This involves washing out and draining away hardness minerals that have accumulated in the resin tank. During this time, the system does not provide any softened water.
If you want to limit regenerate to one cycle per week for example to save money, your softener has to have a 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 one with a high-enough capacity that’s capable of handling this. As a rule of thumb, the lower your system’s capacity, the more often it has to regenerate.
Water flow rate is measured in gallons per minute (gpm) and determines how many water outlets you can use at the same time without experiencing a loss in pressure. Obviously, if you live in a larger household, you want to buy a softener with a higher flow rate.
Here is how much modern outlets currently need:
Make sure that the seller provides a satisfactory guarantee. Also, most manufacturers will provide separate warranties for different components. You might get a 5-year warranty on the brine tank, but 10 years on the resin tank. The most important thing is to read the buying conditions carefully.
In the $300 to $600 price range, we have found some really powerful models. While the sub $300 division is dominated by salt-free conditioners, salt-based ion exchangers are more common here. Some are designed to be portable, others come combined with filtering capabilities.
In rare cases, salt-based softeners in this price range lack the capacity to handle the demand of larger families and very high levels of water hardness. As a consequence, water pressure is likely to drop. So, if you live in a households with 7 or more people, you might want to jump to the next section where we review systems with higher capacities.
This is the first proper whole-house ion exchanger we have come across in our reviews. For small to medium sized homes (2-6 people), it is the perfect choice. The softener has a 12 gpm flow rate and can handle medium to very hard water.
Monitoring and controlling the system is a breeze. The head unit is fully digital and comes with metered regeneration. This means that regeneration automatically kicks in whenever a certain amount of water has passed through the valve. This prevents wastage and ensures that you have a supply of soft water basically all the time.
If the dozens of positive user reviews are anything to go by, this is the best whole house water softener on Amazon you can get for your money.
As with most softeners, you don’t have to call in a plumber to do the installation, but don’t expect it to be easy. The entire process could take a couple of hours. Fortunately, instructions are clear and only basic plumbing skills are required.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this section, very large households (7 people and more) may want to go for a system with an even higher capacity. For small and mid-sized homes, we highly recommend the Fleck 5600SXT as your best option.
For a more detailed review of the Fleck 5600 SXT, click here.
This is a salt-free softener – a big advantage for those who don’t want any sodium added to their water. Instead, the unit uses an FDA-approved polyphosphate to change the properties of hardness minerals to prevent scaling.
With a flow rate of 12 to 15 gallons per minute the Aquios AQFS220 works great for small to large-sized homes. Your family can easily draw water from multiple faucets and shower simultaneously without losing pressure.
The unit is also fairly easy to install – even for those who do not consider themselves gifted do-it-yourselfers.
We also like the fact that the AQFS220 combines water softening with carbon filtration to remove chlorine and other nasty impurities.
This is not a water softener in the traditional sense. While it will change the behavior of hardness minerals, it will not prevent scaling to 100 percent. Simply put, using a traditional salt-based softener would be more effective.
If you are just looking for a way to treat your water and reduce scaling, this is a great option though a tad expensive. The Eddy Electronic Water Descaler which we reviewed further down the page costs much less and might also be of interest to you.
Taking into account that this softener also works as a carbon filter, the price-performance ratio seems reasonable.
For a more detailed review of the Aquios AQFS220, click here.
If you own an RV, we highly recommend this portable unit. It is small enough to be stored comfortably, yet powerful enough to handle all your water needs while you are on the road. With a 16,000 grain capacity it can handle hard water well without having to regenerate too often. The 3 gpm flow rate is just perfect for an RV’s plumbing system.
Even though you have to manually regenerate the unit, it is a quick process that should take no more than 10 minutes. You don’t even have to keep replenishing any resin bed. Just keep some table or rock salt at the ready.
Yes, this softener is portable. But that does not mean it’s a breeze to carry it around. Weighing about 35 pounds, the unit 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 perceive the manual regeneration as a minor inconvenience, especially when compared to whole-house units that regenerate automatically.
This is easily one of the best portable water softeners we have seen (check list price here). If you are looking for a unit you can use in your RV, your car wash business or anywhere away from home, this is your best option.
Believe it or not, this is a quite powerful softening unit. It will comfortably serve small and medium-sized households with up to 4 people.
With a 22,100-grain capacity, the system can handle hard water with as much as 70 gpg.
We also like the on-demand (metered) regeneration process, which is a big salt & water (and money) saver.
And as if that was not enough, the WaterBoss 700 has an integrated 20-micron pre-filter to get rid of many impurities and sediment from you water, which expands the system’s lifespan.
Lastly, this is a compact unit that allows for an easy setup. Granted, you will still have to spend an afternoon connecting the parts and adding the salt into the brine tank. So set aside an hour or two for installation.
What we don’t like? WaterBoss has to work on their customer service.
Above that, it’s possible that the unit starts leaking or just stops working – it has happened before.
As mentioned before, the $300 to $600 price range is where you find medium capacity water softeners for small to mid-sized homes. And the WaterBoss 700 could be a close contender for the top position, IF it works as intended. We love the compact size, the relatively easy installation process and the overall softening effectiveness.
For a more detailed review of the WaterBoss 700, click here.
If your budget allows, head over to this price range for some of the most powerful and top-rated water softeners the market has to offer.
The majority are ion exchangers as opposed to salt-free systems. They are designed to provide enough softened water for large households with powerful features such as high grain capacities and flow rates.
Higher costs are an obvious downside. Systems can easily go over $1,000 and due to their size, installation is oftentimes challenging and time consuming, and might even require the help of a professional plumber
Below, we review popular high-budget softeners to help you make the best buying decision.
This combination of a whole house softener and a fine mesh resin for high iron removal is the ideal fit for large families on a private well.
The Iron Pro 2 was clearly designed to meet large demands for softened water with ease.
The 80,000 grain capacity can handle all levels of hardness and the high flow rate ensures adequate pressure even with multiple faucets and showers running.
An all-digital fully programmable head makes the system easy to use and monitor. It runs on a meter-based regeneration process, which helps to save water. This is an especially important feature for such a big system when you consider that 100 or more gallons of water can be used up per regeneration cycle. You can learn more about this amazing product feature here.
Carrying out the installation is not for amateurs. If you have never dealt with a softener before, we advise you to call in a plumber. There are pipes to be cut and fittings to be made. If you decide to do the installation yourself to save a buck, expect to spend at least several hours before everything is in place.
Of course, the unit comes with a user manual to help you navigate the numerous bits and pieces you have to attach together.
We really like the Iron Pro 2 softener. It has large capacities and is fairly easy to use once installed. For large homes that have a super high demand for softened water, this unit is worth the price tag.
Those of you who are no fans of salt-based softeners will love the Nuvo DPMB, although it is one of the most expensive water conditioners on the market.
It uses chelation with special cartridges to reduce water pH-levels and bind hard mineral ions, which prevents them from forming scale on surfaces. The main acting ingredient in these chelating cartridges is citric acid.
Unlike many salt-based softeners, the Nuvo DPMB is relatively easy to install.
It is important to know that there were numerous complaints from unhappy customers, especially those living in areas with extreme hardness, regarding the effectiveness of this system.
The reason for this is that their water is too acidic, so the chelation agent does not have any effect – at least that’s our guess. Nuvo clearly has to better educate their customers on this matter. Otherwise, they will continue to waste their money on something that won’t work.
Above that, replacement cartridges are quite pricey, especially when compared to regular softening salt which you can purchase at less than a tenth of the cost.
If you want to stay away from a salt-based softener for the added sodium and your water pH-level is above 7.2, this conditioner makes a decent choice with a super high flow rate and capacity.
For a more detailed review of the NuvoH2O DPMB Manor, click here.
Last but not least, at the lower end of the price spectrum we have water softeners for less than $300. The majority of them are conditioners and therefore salt-free. They rely on other technologies instead, such as magnetism to descale hard water.
If you are still searching for a salt-based model in this price category, expect a small, portable point-of-use unit also ideal for use in RVs. While they usually work just as effectively as more expensive systems, they often require manual regeneration and have smaller capacities of 10,000 grains or less.
Before we talk about the many features of the Eddy Electronic Water Descaler, it is important to understand that it is not a conventional water softener, but a conditioner (or descaler).
The device generates an electromagnetic field to change the adhesion properties of hardness minerals, causing them to bind to one another instead of the surfaces they touch.
This prevents scale from accumulating in your plumbing and appliances, and on your glassware, sink, faucets, etc.
The electric device is really easy to install. You just need to have a power source nearby to draw electricity from.
And according to most users, the system is quite effective at hardness reduction. Once it’s installed, you will see less or no scale formation at all.
Another great advantage is that in the treatment process there are no chemicals being used at all, so you don’t have to worry about drinking water with added sodium, potassium, or citrus acid.
In fact, all hardness minerals are retained in the water, making it slightly sweeter and healthier than water softened the ‘usual way’.
Unfortunately, you cannot use this unit outdoors. It is not waterproofed and could easily get damaged if exposed to the elements.
If your main entry pipe is outside, you have to find a way to keep the device inside your house and drill a hole in the wall to get the wire out.
If all you are looking for is a way to tackle the ugly and hard-to-scrub scale that hard water leaves behind, we highly recommend the Eddy Electronic Descaler. You will not be disappointed.
For a more detailed review of the Eddy Electronic Descaler, click here.
Again, no salts or harsh chemicals are involved in the working of the Aquasana SimplySoft conditioner meaning that nothing will be added to your water.
The unit does not work the same way as the Eddy Electronic descaler, but delivers the same results:
It alters the adhesion characteristics of calcium and magnesium, thus forcing them to bind to each other instead of surfaces of your plumbing system and household appliances.
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 to help remove impurities and contaminants.
The installation-part can be a bit challenging, as instructions are unclear at times. It should also be mentioned that if you do the install yourself, your warranty will void automatically.
Another drawback is that not all users saw reduced scaling after adding the Aquasana SimplySoft to their home.
If you live in a family of up to 5 people, this is a great and affordable water conditioner. However, if you are looking for a water softener in the real sense, you need to get a salt-based system.
For a more detailed review of the Aquasana SimplySoft, click here.
When it comes to compact water softeners, the Watts RV-Pro is a winner. It may not be as big and powerful as other whole-house systems, but it softens just as well.
The portable unit was designed for use in RVs, where water usage is low. In this case, the 10,000-grain capacity is high enough to handle even exceptionally hard water.
Thanks to its size, this is great for use on the road. Going cross country in your RV, this is the best way to ensure freshly softened water at all times.
The Watts RV-Pro is a simple and easy-to-use unit that you can carry around. But the sacrifice for its simplicity is the lack of automation. This means that you have to do the regeneration manually in an interval of 1 to 4 weeks based on the amount of water you use.
Additionally, you are limited to using one or two outlets at a time. You cannot use it for multiple outlets or even a small house since the flow rate is very low.
If you spend a lot of time in your caravan, this 10000-grain machine makes a useful addition. It is small, yet effective.
Of course, you don’t have to own an RV to use it. We’ve heard of someone who bought it for his car washing business, so that his customers’ cars did not develop unsightly spots.
The last of our water softener reviews features another magnetic water conditioner, which is extremely easy to install on your plumbing. The company may be a little bit overstating by claiming a ’60-second installation time’, but it should take no more than five minutes to have the device up and running.
Unlike a salt-based softener, you don’t have to worry about giving the system time to regenerate nor does it require any maintenance. It is simple to install; it is even easier to use.
Magnetism as a way of softening water is still a controversial technology. Just don’t expect amazing results especially if you live in a place with particularly hard water.
When it comes to the best home water softener, this is not our first pick. The technology is premature and may not give you the results you are looking for. But the price is unbeatable and if you only want to descale water of medium hardness, it might work.
More on Water Softeners
In section 1, we reviewed some the best water softener systems the market has to offer. Next we are going to answer some of the most common questions consumers have regarding hard water treatment.
A water softener is a device that gets connected to the existing plumbing system, and as we are going to see shortly, not all of them work the same way. Salt-free softeners for example influence the adhesive nature of hard mineral ions instead of removing them. Although the minerals remain in the water, they do not cause as much scaling as they normally would.
This is the most common type. Ion exchangers are salt-based systems and work on a simple principle; removing the hardness-causing minerals dissolved in water (mostly calcium and magnesium) and replacing them with salt ions (usually sodium and sometimes potassium). This mechanism is the very reason they are called ion exchangers.
The heart of every ion exchanger is a tank with a bed of small microbeads. It’s called the ‘resin bed’ and it’s the center of the softening action. When you buy a new softener, it usually comes with a bag of resin beads which are already charged with positive sodium or potassium ions.
When the softening process starts, hard water enters the resin tank and interacts with the microbeads. Because magnesium and calcium in the water have stronger positive charges than sodium (or potassium), they replace it. The sodium then dissolves in the water completing the cycle. The water that comes out of the resin tank now only contains very small amounts of calcium and magnesium, which makes it ‘soft’.
At some point, a salt-based water softener needs to run a regeneration cycle to be able to continue to work. But we are not going into more detail about that here, as you can learn about regeneration and many other aspects of salt-based systems in our Water Softener 101. However, the following video explains the process really well, and we recommend you to watch the next 54 seconds of it, from minute 2:14 to 3:08.
As we mentioned, some people have concerns about the extra salt added to their water by conventional softening systems discussed above. If you, too, want your water to retain its natural mineral composition, a salt-free softener is the ideal choice. There are different types each with its own technology, and because of how they function, salt-free systems are often called ‘conditioners’ since they don’t soften water in the traditional sense.
Many salt-free softeners have in common that they don’t add or remove anything from water. Instead, they change the behavior of dissolved magnesium and calcium ions, e.g. by magnetism. While the ions would normally cling to any surface they touch, they are less likely to do so in softened H2O. In other words, these salt-free softeners reduce the amount of scaling or build-up caused by hard water, so they are often referred to as ‘descalers’. Descalers clip on or wrap around the main water inlet. They then create a magnetic field. However, the effectiveness of magnetic descalers is left to debate.
As the name suggests, these are systems designed to serve softened water to an entire house. This means that all water getting in has to pass through the softening system first before being distributed to the bathroom, kitchen, and garden shed. Generally, whole house systems have to handle a lot of hard water every day, therefore their capacity and flow rate is much higher than in point-of-use devices.
As one would expect, a whole house softener is also much pricier than a single-faucet or RV softener and oftentimes requires professional help to do the complicated installation.
A portable unit is a miniature version of a whole house system and is designed for use in an RV or in outdoor water uses such as a car wash. It’s relatively small and often consists of a single tank only. Due to their size, they can only handle limited quantities. Above that, most require manual regeneration and maintenance.
During the regeneration cycle, a water softener switches into bypass-mode and stops softening. If you still draw water from a faucet, it will be untreated. This can be very inconvenient especially when a system takes a long time to regenerate, but you need some softened water right now.
To solve the problem, you can get yourself a dual tank system. While one tank is regenerating, the other is left free to continue supplying fresh and softened water for you.
With so many options to choose from, it can be challenging to find a water softener that’s perfectly suited for your needs. Do you go for salt-based or salt free? What about magnetic descalers? And what else should you look out for when shopping for a system? It’s these questions and others that we address in the following brief buying guide.
Are you on a budget? That is the first thing you should ask yourself before you even begin shopping for a water softener. How much are you willing and able to spend? Would you rather get a low-cost low-capacity system or a pricier but more powerful model?
Moreover, keep in mind that money you spend now on a high-quality system will later pay off tenfold. Because in a couple of years your household appliances and whole plumbing system won’t cause as much maintenance and repair costs as they otherwise would, if they had to endure hard water all this time.
We already looked at the different types of softeners in the previous section. For most home owners ion exchange systems will definitely make the best choice. But there are additional bits of technology to look out for. For instance, it would be a good idea to get a softening device with an all-digital controller head. This allows you to easily monitor and configure various features. For example, you can set the regeneration timer or let the system automatically regenerate based on output.
Basically, the more modern and expensive a system is the more tech features it is likely to have. But this is not to mean that all those extra features are necessary. As always, think first before you buy to avoid paying for unnecessary bells and whistles.
All the water coming into your house must pass through the softening system first. From there it gets distributed in different lines to the bathroom, the kitchen, and so on. If your softener is unable to soften water fast enough, the flow rate goes down. And believe 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 when demand is very high.
Family size and water using habits of each member determine the minimum requirements for flow rates. For a small household with 1-3 people, a flow rate of 7-12 gpm is adequate. For medium to large families (4-6 people) the minimum flow rate you should go for is 12 gpm. For families even larger than that, look for a system that provides a flow rate of at least 15 gpm.
Most manufacturers specify the softening capacity of their system by how many grains of hardness they can remove before they have to regenerate. Capacities range from 8,000 or 12,000 grains to 48,000 and all the way up to 80,000 grains. But don’t rely solely on this number when determining what softener to buy. For a small family, you are probably better off with a 20,000-30,000 grain softener that requires more frequent regenerations, but costs less money to buy, operate, and maintain.
Also, when comparing systems to one another look for the ‘grains per pound of salt’-rating. This refers to the number of hardness grains that the softener can remove per pound of salt it uses. This figure will give you a more accurate picture of a system’s efficiency.
There are two aspects to bear in mind when it comes to regeneration. One, the method of regeneration, namely manual, timed, or automatic. And two, how long regeneration takes.
Manual regeneration is common with portable devices. You have to add salt directly into the tank and give it time to displace the hard minerals stuck to the resin.
Whole house systems come with either timed or automatic regeneration, or both. Timed regeneration means that you set the specific regeneration time yourself, ideally at night when no one is awake and needs water. Automatic regeneration occurs in digital systems, which trigger the process based on water output. This is the most cost and environmental-friendly method, since no more water is being used than is absolutely necessary.
Some systems come with both these capabilities; you can set either the timer yourself or leave the system to decide when to regenerate.
Whether or not a portable softener is the right choice for you depends on your intended purpose. If, like most homeowners, you are planning to use it to soften water coming into your house, portability is not an issue. This is why whole house systems are 100-pound plus.
But when it comes to softeners for use in RVs and other activities outside the house, portability is essential. Therefore, portable water softeners often consist of a single tank to keep weight down.
There is more than one answer to this question. The easiest way to turn off your water softener would be to simply switch it into bypass-mode using the bypass valve, which usually is located at the top of your brine tank. You could also try to identify the valve(s) directing water from the main line of your home towards the unit. Then, turn the valve(s) in the indicated direction to stop the flow. Chances are that you not only turn off the supply to your softener, but to other parts of your home, too. Last but not least, you could turn off the system completely by disconnecting it from the power supply. However, this does not guarantee that no more water is running into the tanks.
Yes, a salt-based softener will add tiny amounts of sodium or potassium to your water. How much salt will be added depends first and foremost on the level of hardness prior to softening. The harder the water, the more salt is going to be added. There also are salt-free softeners that do not use salt at all. Instead, they condition it to prevent it from leaving mineral residue behind. In this case we also talk about water conditioners rather than softeners.
You will be able to use every single gallon of water that runs through your softener. Only when the system runs a regeneration cycle to recharge will all the water that is being used directly go down the drain. How much depends on the capacity of your system, how often it regenerates, and the level of hardness. Usually, a softener will waste somewhere between 25 to 70 gallons per regeneration cycle.
This depends on the individual model. Different softeners come with varying grain capacities. There are small portable units with an 8,000-grain capacity and expensive whole house systems with an 80,000-grain capacity and more.
The lifespan of a high-quality resin bed ranges between 10 and 15 years. Although, this also depends on water hardness, the amount of iron and sediment in your water, and how well you maintain your system.
If you have any questions about water softeners, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!
And don’t forget to come back to this page from time to time, as we are going to add new water softener system reviews occasionally.