Hard water is a widespread problem in our country. Apart from unsightly stains on glasses, cutlery and fixtures, calcium and other minerals can leave deposits in your plumbing system as well as household appliances and cause major leaks if the accumulation keeps on building.
While this is not a health issue, water hardness can be particularly frustrating and installing a high-quality softening system is the best and oftentimes only solution.
How to find the best water softener? Well, you came to the right place!
On This Page You Will…
|Model||Our Rating||Price||Technology||Flow Rate||Grain Capacity|
Best Water Softener: Fleck 5600SXT
|Read Review||$$||Ion Exchange||12 Gallons per Minute||48,000|
Highest Capacity: Iron Pro 2 Whole House Well Water Softener + Filter
|Read Review||$$$||Ion Exchange + Filter||18 Gallons per Minute||80,000|
Top Portable Water Softener: ABCwaters PWS16
|Read Review||$||Ion Exchange||3 Gallons per Minute||16,000|
Best Water Conditioner: Eddy Electronic Water Descaler
|Read Review||$||El. Magnetism||-||-|
No Green Light For: OMNIFilter OM32KCS Water Softener
|$$||Ion Exchange||12 Gallons per Minute||32,000|
With so many options to choose from it can be quite challenging to pick a water softener that really fits your needs.
So before we dive into our water softener reviews, this brief buying guide shall help you make a decision.
When people talk about residential water softeners they usually mean traditional salt-based systems that rely on a process called “ion exchange” to replace hardness minerals (mainly calcium and magnesium) in water with sodium or potassium.
If you are on a tight budget or worried about the extra salt dose, especially if you are on a low-sodium diet, you might want to consider a salt-free water softener a.k.a. water conditioner.
These devices apply different technologies such as chelation or magnetism to alter the adhesive nature of the hard water ions and thus prevent scaling. However, most if not all of them will not actually remove any hardness minerals from your water.
All in all, ion exchange systems are considered the industry standard and the preferred choice for the majority of home owners due to their unmatched performance. Saltless water conditioners are often better than nothing but nowhere near as effective.
How much a water softener costs depends on its type, size, brand and features.
Simply put, you can spend anywhere between $350 to $3,500 USD (and more). The price for a standard ion exchanger ranges from $350 to $1,000 USD. Conditioners are usually a bit cheaper.
And don’t forget that you have to add another $200 to $500 USD for the installation and also take into account running costs (salt, water, sewer, etc.).
We know, this sounds like a lot right now, but remember that a water softener that functions properly will pay for itself down the road – when in 10 or 15 years your water heater and plumbing system are still in great condition.
Hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg). If your water reads 10 gpg and your family uses 400 gallons of water per day on average, then your new water softener would have to remove 10 x 400 = 4,000 hardness grains each day.
But after hours of operation a salt-based system needs to regenerate. This involves washing out and draining away all the hard minerals that have accumulated in the resin tank.
Now, the number of hardness grains that an ion exchange water softener can remove between two regeneration cycles equals its capacity. Depending on what system size you choose, capacities can range from 8,000 all the way up to 80,000 grains and even higher if necessary.
If, for example, you want to limit regeneration to one cycle per week which is considered the optimum, your hypothetical softener has to have a minimum capacity of 7 x 4,000 = 28,000 grains (assuming that there’s no iron or manganese in your water).
In other words: You need to buy a large enough system that’s capable of handling your hardness level and water consumption. But don’t go over the top, because bigger means more expensive.
As a general rule, the lower the capacity, the more often a water softener has to regenerate and the lower its salt efficiency.
Water flow is measured in gallons per minute (gpm) and determines how many soft water outlets you can use at the same time without losing pressure.
Obviously, if you live in a larger household you want to buy a softener with a higher water flow rate (trust us, a trickle of a shower is the last thing you want).
A low flow rate can also cause hard water to bleed through the system at times of peak usage.
Typical Water Use of Modern Outlets
For medium to large families with 2 or more bathrooms we recommend a minimum flow rate of 12 gallons per minute. Single households shouldn’t go below 7 gpm.
There are basically three different methods for how a water softener can regenerate:
Look out for NSF/ANSI certifications that substantiate a manufacturer’s performance claims.
Standard 44 was established for cation exchange water softeners and covers things like:
Basically, a Standard 44 certification gives you peace of mind that your system is quality and safe. Another certification to look out for is the WQA Gold Seal.
First of all, buying online you have the largest selection of products and at the best prices.
However, if you prefer to buy locally make sure to get quotes from more than one company for comparison.
In addition, beware of sellers trying to pressure you into making any rushed decisions. You want someone reputable and accredited with good customer feedback. Local water treatment professionals should also know what the water is like in your area and be able to tell you what works and what doesn’t.
Lastly, pay attention to warranties – some companies provide separate warranties for different system components – and other after-sale services. A money-back guarantee wouldn’t hurt either, but not every seller is going to offer you one.
Check if your local authority has banned the use of salt-based water softeners.
Order of Reviews
Best Water Softeners from $300 to $600
In the $300 to $600 price range, we found some really powerful water softening systems. While the sub $300 division is dominated by salt-free conditioners, salt-based ion exchangers are more common here. Some are designed to be portable, others come combined with filtering capabilities.
In rare cases, salt softeners in this price range lack the capacity to handle the demand of larger families and very high levels of water hardness. So, if you live in a household with 7 or more people, you might want to jump to the next section where we review systems with even higher capacities.
Let’s kick off our water softener reviews with the Fleck 5600SXT!
The Fleck 5600SXT – Made in USA – is the first proper whole-house ion exchange water softener we came across in our reviews. It is the perfect choice for small to medium sized homes (2 to 6 people). The softener has a 12 gpm flow rate and can handle medium to very hard water.
Configuring and monitoring the Fleck is a breeze thanks to the user-friendly head unit that is fully digital. The system also comes with metered regeneration. This means that regeneration automatically kicks in as soon as a certain amount of water has passed through the valve. This prevents salt + water wastage and ensures that you have a supply of softened water basically all the time.
What about installation? As with most water softeners, you don’t have to call in a plumber, 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.
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.
By the way, the Fleck brand is owned by the company Pentair.
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 the water softener runs low on 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.
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 countering medium to high levels of water hardness. 5 stars!
For a more detailed review of the Fleck 5600 SXT water softener, click here.
This is a salt-free softener – a big advantage for those who don’t want any sodium added to their water. Instead, the Aquios AQFS220 uses an FDA-approved polyphosphate to change the properties of hard water minerals to prevent scaling. Maximum hardness 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 over the years.
Choosing a salt-free conditioner has multiple benefits, such as:
That being said, with a theoretical flow rate of 12 to 15 gallons per minute the Aquios works great for small to large homes. 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/filtering cartridge once it has reached its capacity. Easy!
Speaking of filtration, we also like the fact that the AQFS220 combines descaling with carbon filtration to remove chlorine (NSF Standard 42 certified) and other impurities like sediment for improved water taste.
Did we mention that this conditioner is covered by a limited 20-year warranty?
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 pH-range from 8 to 10. This might explain why some users do not see 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.
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 which we reviewed further down the page costs much less.
However, taking into account that the Aquios also functions as a carbon filter, the price-performance ratio appears somewhat more reasonable.
Just remember that a salt-free water conditioner is not as effective as a good old salt-based system. 3.5 stars!
For a more detailed review of the Aquios AQFS220, click here.
For RV owners, we recommend the portable ABCwaters PWS16. It is small enough to be stored comfortably, yet has the power to handle all your water needs while on the road.
With a 16,000-grain capacity it can soften water well without having to regenerate too often. Plus, the 3 gpm flow rate is just perfect for an RV’s plumbing system.
The bad news is that you have to regenerate manually. The good news is that it’s a quick process that should take no more than 10 minutes. You don’t even have to keep replenishing any resin bed. Just keep some table or rock salt at the ready.
Yes, this water softener is portable. But that does not mean it’s easy to carry it around. In fact, weighing around 35 pounds the PWS16 is a beast to lift. You may need a helping hand to get it into your RV. Thankfully, it comes with a handle to make the lifting a bit easier.
We also consider the manual regeneration a minor inconvenience, especially when compared to whole home units that regenerate fully automatic.
The PWS16 is easily one of the best portable water softeners we have seen (check list price here). If you are looking for a unit you can use in your RV, your car wash business or anywhere away from home, this is your best option.
Believe it or not, the WaterBoss 700 is a quite powerful softening unit that can comfortably serve small to medium-sized homes with up to 4 people.
With 22,100 grains capacity, the system can handle hard water with as much as 70 grains per gallon which is a lot. And if you have ferrous in your water, up to 10 ppm should not pose a problem, says the manufacturer. On a side note, the system is made in the USA.
We also like the on-demand (metered) regeneration which is a big salt, water & money saver. Plus, it helps the environment.
As if that was not enough, the WaterBoss 700 has an integrated 20-micron pre-filter that traps sediments to expand the system’s lifespan.
Lastly, the unit operates quietly and allows for an easy setup for two reasons:
Granted, you still have to spend your afternoon connecting the parts and adding salt into the brine tank, so set aside an hour or two. But you don’t have to be an experienced DIY plumber.
Programming the water softener is nice and easy. Simply use the LCD display to set your water hardness level among other things.
All there is to do in terms of maintenance is to inspect and clean the brine tank + air check/draw tube once a year (or whenever you notice sediment in the tank).
What we don’t like? First and foremost that too many customers have complained about WaterBoss water softeners for our liking.
Failing resin tanks, flooded basements and complete system breakdowns are only some of the issues. In addition, in a few cases WaterBoss refused to honor the cost of repairs which should fall under the 3 to 10-year warranty.
Bottom line: Almost half of the customers are unhappy with their purchase.
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 would be a close contender for the top position, if it worked as intended.
However, while some customers are very happy with how the system performs having zero issues, most are rather disappointed to say the least.
Although we love the compact size, the relatively easy installation and the overall softening effectiveness, it’s probably better if you go with a different brand.
For a more detailed review of the WaterBoss 700, click here.
Water Softeners over $600
If your budget allows, head over to this price range for some of the most powerful and top-rated water softening systems the market has to offer.
The majority are ion exchangers as opposed to salt-free systems. They are designed to provide enough soft water for large households with exceptionally high grain capacities and flow rates.
Higher costs are an obvious downside. Especially branded systems can easily go over the $1,000 mark and, due to their size, installation is oftentimes challenging and time consuming and might even require the help of a plumbing professional.
This combination of a whole house water softener with a fine mesh resin for high iron removal is the ideal fit for large families on private wells.
The Iron Pro 2 with its 80,000-grain capacity can handle all levels of hardness and the high water flow rate ensures adequate pressure even with your dishwasher, washing machine and multiple showers running simultaneously.
An all-digital fully programmable head makes the system easy to use and monitor. The meter-based regeneration helps to save water.
This feature is particularly important for such a big system when you consider that 100 or more gallons of water can be used up per regeneration cycle – learn more about this amazing product feature here.
Carrying out the installation is not for amateurs. There are pipes to be cut and fittings to be made. Sounds scary? Then we advise you to call in a plumber.
If you decide to do the installation yourself to save a buck, expect to spend at least several hours before everything will be place. Of course, the unit comes with a user manual to help you navigate the numerous bits and pieces you have to match together.
We really like the Iron Pro 2 water softener. It has infinite capacities (at least that’s what it feels like) and is fairly easy to use once installed. For large homes that have a super high demand for softened water this unit is worth the price tag.
Those of you who are no fans of salt-based softening systems will love the Nuvo DPMB, although it is one of the most expensive water conditioning systems on the market.
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 hardness levels where the main concern is scale reduction and the given requirements are met. In cases of severe hardness, you should consider going salt-based.
Anyway, there definitely is no water softener or 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 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.
It is important to note that there have been numerous complaints from unhappy customers, especially those living in areas with extreme 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. Nuvo clearly has to better educate their customers on this matter. Otherwise, they will continue to waste their money on something that is doomed to fail.
Above that, replacement cartridges are quite pricey when compared to regular softening salt that you can purchase at less than a tenth of the cost.
It can also happen that your water turns bluish for a couple of days when using the conditioner for the first time (only with copper piping). It’s not harmful to your health, but looks strange nonetheless.
If you want to stay away from a salt-based softener for the added sodium and your water pH-level is above 7.2, this conditioner makes a decent choice with a super high flow rate and capacity.
For a more detailed review of the NuvoH2O DPMB Manor, click here.
Water Softeners under $300
Last but not least, at the lower end of the price spectrum we have water softeners for less than $300. The majority of them are conditioners and therefore salt-free. They rely on technologies such as magnetism for descaling.
If you are still searching for a salt-based model in this price category, expect small point-of-use units ideal for RVs. While they usually work just as effectively as more expensive systems, they often require manual regeneration and have smaller capacities of 10,000 grains or less.
Before we talk about the many 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 hardness minerals causing them to bind to one another instead of the surfaces they touch.
This prevents scale from accumulating in your plumbing as well as appliances, and on your glassware, sink, faucets, etc. 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 descaler works on both tap 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 required. 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 hardness levels of up to 20 gpg 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.
As with most conditioners, the Eddy Electronic does not seem to work for everyone. The good news is that the manufacturer stands to the return policy.
We would recommend this descaler as doing exactly what is promised: Reduce scaling. So if you are looking for a way to tackle those ugly and hard-to-scrub deposits that hard water leaves behind, definitely check out the Eddy Electronic Descaler.
It may not be a genuine water softener, but accomplishes a lot at a fraction of the cost. 4.5 stars!
For a more detailed review of the Eddy Electronic Descaler, click here.
No salts or harsh chemicals are involved in the working of the Aquasana SimplySoft conditioner meaning that nothing will be added to your water.
The unit may not work the same way as the Eddy Electronic descaler, but delivers the same results:
It alters the adhesion characteristics of calcium and magnesium, thus forcing them to bind to each other instead of surfaces of your plumbing system and water heater.
And that’s not all: Even your skin will feel softer and not as dry after showering. The unit also comes with a pre-filter that helps removing impurities.
The installation part can be a bit challenging as instructions are unclear at times. It should also be mentioned that if you do the install yourself your warranty will void automatically.
Another drawback is that not all users saw reduced scaling after adding the Aquasana SimplySoft to their home.
For families of up to 5 people, this is a great and affordable water conditioner. However, if you are looking for a water softener in the real sense you need to get a salt-based system.
For a more detailed review of the Aquasana SimplySoft, click here.
When it comes to compactness, the Watts RV-Pro is a clear winner. It may not be as powerful as other whole house systems, but it softens water just as well.
The portable unit was designed for RVs where water usage is low. In this case, the 10,000-grain capacity is enough to handle even exceptionally hard water.
The Watts RV-Pro is easy to use and carry around. But the sacrifice for the simplicity is the lack of automation. This means that you have to do the regeneration manually in an interval of 1 to 4 weeks based on the amount of water you use.
Additionally, you are limited to using one or two outlets at a time.
If you spend a lot of time in your caravan, this 10,000-grain water softener makes a useful addition. Yes, it is small, but effective.
Of course, you don’t have to own an RV to be able to use the Watts RV-Pro. For instance, one customer bought it for his car washing business to avoid unsightly spots on clean cars.
The last of our water softener reviews features another magnetic conditioner which is extremely easy to install. 60 seconds may be a bit overstated, but it should take no more than five minutes to have the device up and running.
And unlike a system that uses salt, you don’t have to worry about regeneration. Nor does the system require any maintenance – simple to install, even easier to use.
Magnetism as a way of descaling water is still a controversial topic. Just don’t expect amazing results especially if you live in a place with excessively hard water.
Searching for the best home water softener, this is not our top pick. The technology is premature and may not bring you the results you are looking for. The price is unbeatable, however, and if all you want is descale water of medium hardness it might actually work.
More on Water Softeners
In section 1, we reviewed some the best water softeners the market has to offer. Next we are going to answer some of the most common questions consumers have regarding hard water treatment.
If you have any questions about water softeners please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!
And don’t forget to come back to this page from time to time, as we are going to add new water softener reviews occasionally.