Best RO System Reviews 2017

Best Water Softener System Reviews for Home Use in 2017


intro banner water softenerHard water is a problem plenty of homes face. Your bathtub constantly has a brown ring at the top, your toilet bowl gets stained on the sides and your coffee maker accumulates scale deposits. While it is not a major health issue, hard water can be particularly frustrating.

It leaves deposits in plumbing and appliances that use water and could cause damage if the accumulation keeps on building. Installing a water softener can help to deal with the menace of hard water.

In this guide we provide you with reviews for the top water softeners on the market including a best of list as well as a rundown of what to expect with different types of water softeners. But first, what are some of the things you should consider when buying a water softener?

Best Rated Home Water Softener Systems

Model Our Rating Price Size (inches) Technology Flow Rate Grain Capacity Warranty (Years)
Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener

Our 1st Choice: Fleck 5600SXT Whole House Water Softener

4 and a half stars

Read Review

$$ 10 x 0.1 x 54 Ion Exchanger 12 Gallons per Minute 48,000 5-10
Iron Pro 2 Whole House Water Softener and Filter

Our 2nd Choice: Iron Pro 2 Whole House Softener and Filter

4 and a half stars

Read Review

$$$ 48 x 12 x 12 Ion Exchanger 16 Gallons per Minute 64,000 5-10
Aquios AQFS220C Full House Water Aoftener and Filter

Our 3rd Choice: Aquios AQFS220C Full House Softener

4 stars

Read Review

$$ 5.4 x 5.4 x 23.4 Ion Exchanger 12 Gallons per Minute 20
ABCwaters Portable Water Softener PWS16

ABCwaters Portable Water Softener PWS16

4 and a half stars

Read Review

$ 25 x 11 x 10 Ion Exchanger 3 Gallons per Minute 16,000 1
Eddy Electronic Water Descaler

Eddy Electronic Water Descaler

4 stars

Read Review

$ 6.7 x 1.6 x 3.5 El. magnetism - - lifetime

Key Considerations When Choosing a Reliable Water Softener System

Water Flow Rate

This is one of the most important factors to consider when buying a water softening system. The flow rate determines how well you are able to use multiple water outlets without a loss of pressure. If you have a large household, you may want to buy a water softener with a higher flow rate. This ensures that when the sink faucet, shower and toilet flush are all running, pressure remains high.

Aside from an uncomfortable shower, low pressure caused by an inadequate flow rate could cause hard mineral ions of calcium, manganese, iron and magnesium to bleed through the system.
Flow rate is measured in gallons per minute (gpm). For large families, do not buy anything with a flow rate less than 10gpm.

Ideally, the best range is 12gpm - 20gpm or more. Smaller households can do with less than this. A 7gpm - 12gpm flow rate should be enough. For portable softeners for use in RVs, a much lower flow rate of 3gpm would suffice.


Check that the seller provides a satisfactory warranty for the system. Most manufacturers will provide separate warranties for different components. You might get a 5-year warranty on the brine tank but a 10-year warranty for the resin tank. The most important thing is to read through the warranty carefully and understand it.

Technology in Use

Water softeners are categorized based on the technologies they use. The most common ones are called ion exchange softeners. They can either be salt-based or salt-free. Salt-based ion exchangers replace hard minerals in water with sodium. Salt-free exchangers replace these minerals with potassium.

If you are worried about the extra salt in your water, especially if you are on a low-sodium diet, you might want to go with the second option.

But if you do not want any chemicals at all added to your water at all, opt for salt-free softeners that either use nanotechnology, magnetism or any other technology to prevent hard water depositing scale on surfaces.

Regeneration Time

After hours of operation, a salt-based water softener needs to regenerate. This involves washing out and draining away hard minerals that have accumulated in the resin bed. During this process, the softener does not act on any water passing through it.

Water softeners come with timers that you can use to control when the regeneration will take place, ideally at night. The process should take an hour or so but may vary from one system to another. If the regeneration time causes inconveniences, consider buying a dual tank system. As one tank regenerates, the other continues supplying soft water.

Grains of Hardness

Water hardness is measured in grains per gallon or gpg. You can buy a test kit to find out your water hardness level. If your water measures at 10gpg and you use on average 400 gallons of water per day, then your system needs to remove 4,000 grains of hardness per day. You would need to buy a softener capable of handling this. Look for those ranging between 10,000 and 24,000 grain capacity.

If your water is much harder buy a 32,000, 64,000 or 80,000-grain water softener. There are even 110,000-grain softeners.

Best Rated Water Softeners from $300 to $600

When reviewing sub $300 water softeners (further down), we did not come across a serious whole house water softener. A large household looking for a big-capacity and highly effective softening system may need to jump the less-than-$300 section and start their search here.

Between the $300 and $600 price range, there are some quite powerful water softeners. While the sub $300 price range is dominated by salt-free descalers, salt-based softeners are more common in this range. But they are still relatively small and low capacity, with some designed to be portable. For the salt-free softeners we have found, they often come combined with filtering capabilities.

Salt-based water softeners in this range often lack the capacity to handle whole-house systems especially for large homes. They will lack the ability to handle high levels of water hardness and may not have the powerful flow rates needed to supply an entire house with adequately pressurized water.

Large homes with 8 or more people may still not find what they are looking for here. The prices are relatively affordable but the systems are not capable of handling high water softening demands. We recommend going to the first section where we review softeners costing $600 and above.

For small and medium homes we have reviewed the top 4 water softeners in this price category. You may just find what you are looking for.

Fleck 5600SXT - Best Whole House Water Softener System

What We Like

This is the first proper whole-house ion exchanger we have come across in our reviews. For small to medium size homes (2-6 people), this is perfect. It has a flow rate of 12gpm (average) and can handle medium and very hard water.

Monitoring and controlling the system is a breeze. The head unit is fully digital and even comes with metered regeneration. This means that regeneration kicks in only when a certain amount of water has passed through the valve. This prevents wastage of water and ensures that you have a flow of soft water most of the time.

  •    Price: $$
  •    Tech: Ion Exchanger
  •    Flow Rate (GPM): 12
  •    Capacity (Grain): 48,000
  •    Warranty (Years): 5-10

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.

What We Don't Like

You do not have to call in a plumber to do the installation but do not expect to do it in five or ten minutes. The entire process could take an hour or two. But at least, the instructions are clear and only basic plumbing skills are required.

Our Verdict

As we mention at the beginning of this section, large homes (8 people and above) may still not find the right system here. But for small and mid-sized households, we highly recommend the Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener.

Aquios AQFS220C Full House Water Softener and Filter System

What We Like

This is a salt-free water softener, a big advantage for those who do not want any chemicals or salt added to their water. Instead, the unit uses citrus acid to change the properties of the hardness minerals and prevent scaling when the water comes into contact with various surfaces.

At 12gpm, the system should work great for small to mid-sized homes. You can operate 2 to 3 faucets simultaneously without losing too much pressure. The unit is fairly easy to install even for those who do not consider themselves 'handy’.
We also like the fact that it comes with a filter system, which many users say works perfectly.

  •    Price: $$
  •    Tech: Salt-Free
  •    Flow Rate (GPM): 12
  •    Capacity (Grain): ?
  •    Warranty (Years): 20

What We Don't Like

This is not a water softener in the traditional sense. While it will change the behavior of hardness minerals contained in the water, it will not completely prevent scaling. An ion exchanger water softener is the most effective way to soften water.

Additionally, the flow rate is not too favorable for large homes where three or more faucets could be at use simultaneously.

Our Verdict

If you are just looking for a way to prevent scaling, this is a great option though a tad bit expensive. The Eddy Electronic Water Descaler we reviewed in the previous section seems to be more effective at descaling and costs much less. But when you consider that this unit comes with an effective filtering system, the price is worth it. You get a water filtering and conditioning system in a single unit.

aquios aqfs220c full house water softener and filter system

ABCwaters Portable Water Softener PWS16

What We Like

If you own an RV, we highly recommend this unit. It is small enough to be carried around yet powerful enough to handle all the water needs of an RV. With a 16,000 grain capacity it can handle extra hard water quite well. The 3gpm 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 around 10 minutes. You do not even need to keep replenishing any resin bed, just have some table or rock salt handy when you need to regenerate.

  •    Price: $$
  •    Tech: Ion Exchanger
  •    Flow Rate (GPM): 3
  •    Capacity (Grain): 16,000
  •    Warranty (Years): 1

What We Don't Like

Yes, the unit is portable. But that does not make it a breeze to carry around. Weighing around 35 pounds, the unit is a beast to lift. You may need a helping hand to get it onto your RV. Thankfully, it comes with a handle to make it easier to lift.

There is also the issue of manual regeneration, though it is completely expected considering it is a portable water softener. But it is still a minor inconvenience compared to whole-house units that regenerate automatically.

Our Verdict

This is easily one of the best portable water softeners we have seen (check amazon 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 a great option.

portable water softener 16000 grain capacity

WaterBoss 220 22000 Grain Water Softener

What We Like

For this price range, this is quite a powerful water softener. It will comfortably serve small and medium households with up to 6 or 7 people. With a 22,000 grain capacity, the system will handle hard water with ease, ensuring that you have a supply of fresh and frustration-free soft water.

We like the on-demand (metered) regeneration process, which is a big water saver. As if all that is not enough, the unit also comes with a 20 micron filter to get rid of any impurities and sediment from you water.

  •    Price: $$
  •    Tech: Ion Exchanger
  •    Flow Rate (GPM): 12
  •    Capacity (Grain): 22,000
  •    Warranty (Years): 3-10

What We Don't Like

This is a compact water softener making setup relatively easier compared to other bigger units. But you still have to spend some time setting up the plumbing to connect to the unit and adding the salt into the tank. Set aside an hour or two of your time to install this softener.

Our Verdict

As we mentioned, the $300 to $600 price range is where you will find medium capacity water softeners for small to mid-sized homes. This is a close contender for top position when it comes to these types of water softeners. We love the compact size, the relatively easy installation and how effective it is at its work.

WaterBoss 220 22000 Grain Water Softener

Top Rated Water Softeners over $600

If your budget allows it, head over to this price range for some of the most powerful and top-rated water softeners in the market. The majority of water softeners here are ion exchangers, as opposed to salt-free. They are designed for use with large households. Thus, they are equipped with powerful features such as 64,000 grain capacity and high flow rates. You will also find a few salt-free softeners designed to handle large water capacities.

The cost is an obvious downside in this price range. Most systems start at $600 and can easily go over $1,000. Due to their size, installation can also be a bit challenging and time consuming.

The most important thing is to make sure that you buy a quality water softener that gives you value for your money. Below, we review popular high-budget softeners to help you make the right choice.

Iron Pro 2 64,000 Grain Water Softener and Filter Whole House System

What We Like

Large households have finally found their perfect choice. The Iron Pro 2 is designed to serve large homes with ease. The 64,000 grain capacity can handle all levels of water hardness and the high flow rate ensures adequate pressure even with multiple faucets open. You can have the toilet flush running, both sinks running and still enjoy a good strong shower.

The all-digital fully programmable head makes the system easy to use and monitor. The system 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. Learn more about this amazing product feature on amazon.

  •    Price: $$$
  •    Tech: Ion Exchanger
  •    Flow Rate (GPM): 16
  •    Capacity (Grain): 64,000
  •    Warranty (Years): 5-10

What We Don't Like

The installation process is not for amateurs. If you have never dealt with water softeners before, calling a plumber would be a great idea. There are pipes to be cut, fittings to be installed and so on. If you decide to do it yourself, expect to spend several hours on it. But your unit should come with a manual to help you navigate the numerous bits and pieces you have to fit together.

Our Verdict

We really like the Iron Pro 2 water softener. It is powerful, large capacity and is fairly easy to use once installed. For large homes that have relatively high water demand, this unit is worth the price tag.

iron pro 2 combination water softener

Nuvo DPMB Manor Salt Water Softener System

What We Like

This is one of the most expensive salt-free softeners on the market. It uses a process of chelation using special cartridges, to bind hard mineral ions and prevent them from forming scale on various surfaces. It also reduces water pH, an action that reduces the incidence of scaling.

Those who are not fans of salt-based softeners will love the Nuvo DPMB. Instead of removing any minerals, it simply prevents them from being a menace. The main acting ingredient in these chelating cartridges is citric acid.

Unlike other salt-based water softeners, this one is relatively easy to install.

  •    Price: $$$
  •    Tech: Salt-Free
  •    Flow Rate (GPM): 15-18
  •    Capacity (Gallons): 65k
  •    Warranty (Years): ?

What We Don't Like

There are numerous reports of dissatisfaction among customers, especially those in areas with very hard water. What seems to be the case is that the Nuvo DPMB only works to a certain degree.

If your water is not so hard, you will see some significant reduction in build up though it will still occur over time. If your water is extra hard, a significant amount of buildup may still occur even after installation.

If you are looking for the most effective water softener this may not be it. But if you just want a salt-free system and your water is not so hard, it could work for you.

Our Verdict

Honestly, it is a bit of a surprise that the Nuvo DPMB is this expensive especially considering that it does not do any filtering like other softeners in this price category. Think carefully before going for it and buy it only if you prefer salt and chemical free softeners.

nuvo dpmb manor salt softener system

Fleck 7000SXT 64,000 Grain Water Softener

What We Like

Another excellent option for medium and large households. The 28gpm flow rate is quite powerful and will serve multiple water outlets with no significant reduction in pressure. The 64,000 grain capacity is powerful enough to handle even the hardest water. If you have a large household (6-12) and you live in an area where the water is extra hard, invest in the Fleck 7000SXT.

We like the fact that you can choose between timed or metered regeneration from the digital head. The metered option comes in handy when you need to save water.

  •    Price: $$$
  •    Tech: Ion Exchanger
  •    Flow Rate (GPM): 28
  •    Capacity (Grain): 64,000
  •    Warranty (Years): 5-10

What We Don't Like

As with other large whole-home units, installation is not a piece of cake. Set aside a few hours of your day to deal with all the cuttings and fittings required. You will also have to do a bit of heavy lifting when it comes to filling the tank with resin. It is a good idea to have a friend or family member nearby to offer assistance.

But there was no complaint among users regarding the quality of instructions. They are clear about what you need to do to set up and maintain the system.

Our Verdict

It is a close race between the Fleck 7000SXT and the Iron Pro 2. While we feel like the Iron Pro 2 is slightly better in most aspects, the Fleck 7000SXT is cheaper - click for amazon list price - and will work just as well in providing your family with fresh soft water.

fleck 7000sxt 64000 grain water softener

Top Water Softeners under $300

At the lower end of the price range are sub $300 water softeners. A majority of these softeners are salt-free. They rely on technologies such as magnetism to descale hard water.

If you are looking for salt-based water softeners in this price range, expect small portable units ideal for use under the sink or for RVs. While they will soften water just as effectively as more expensive units, they require manual regeneration and only come in 10,000-grain or less capacities.

The main advantage of these softeners is the low price and portability. On the downside however, they are often low-capacity (not ideal for large homes) and may not be as effective in softening very hard water as their more expensive counterparts.

Here is a look at the top water softeners you can get for $300 or less.

Eddy Electronic Water Descaler - Softener Alternative

What We Like

Before we talk about the great aspects of this unit, it is important to understand that it is a descaler, not a conventional water softener. It generates an electromagnetic field to change the adhesion properties of minerals in the water passing through the pipe, causing them to bind to the water instead of the surfaces they touch. This prevents scale from accumulating on your plumbing, glassware, sink, faucets and other appliances.

The unit is really easy to install. You just need to have a power source nearby to draw power from. According to most users, the system is quite effective at its work. Immediately it is installed, users see less or no scale formation at all.

  •    Price: $
  •    Tech: El.magnetism
  •    Flow Rate (GPM): -
  •    Capacity: -
  •    Warranty (Years): Life

Another advantage is that there are no chemicals used at all. You do not have to worry about drinking water with added salt. In fact, all minerals are retained in the water, making it slightly sweeter and healthier than conventionally softened water.

What We Don't Like

You cannot use this unit outside. It is not waterproofed and could easily get damaged if exposed to the elements. If you main entry pipe is outside, you have to find a way to keep the main unit inside and drill a hole in the wall to get the wire outside.

Our Verdict

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.

Eddy Electronic Water Descaler - Alternative

Aquasana EQ-SS20 SimplySoft Salt-Free Water Softener

What We Like

No chemicals are involved in the working of this system. Unlike conventional water softening systems, no salt is added to the water. The system works the same way as electromagnetic softeners; changing the adhesion characteristics of hard minerals in the water thus forcing them to bind to the water instead of surfaces.

The system works really well in preventing scaling on your utensils, flooring, plumbing and walls. Even your skin will feel softer and not as prone to dryness after showering with the conditioned water.

The unit also comes with a filter to help remove any impurities and harmful substances from your water.

  •    Price: $
  •    Tech: Salt-Free NAC
  •    Flow Rate (GPM): 7
  •    Capacity (Gallons): 50k
  •    Warranty (Years): 1

What We Don't Like

Installation is a bit challenging and the instructions are not very clear. Users were especially confused about where the filter goes. Additionally, the flow rate is a bit small for large households. If you need to use more than one or two faucets at a time, the water might drop in pressure.

Our Verdict

If you have a small household of 2-4 people, this is a great and affordable water softener. But if you are looking for a unit that will actually soften water in the real sense, you need to get a salt-based softener. The Aquasana EQ-SS20 simply descales the water.

Aquasana EQ-SS20 SimplySoft Salt-Free Water Softener

Watts RV PRO-1000 OR M7002 Portable Water Softener

What We Like

When it comes to compact water softeners, this is a winner. It may not be as big and powerful as whole-house units, but it softens water just as well. It is designed for use in an RV, where water usage is low. The 10,000-grain capacity is high enough to handle even extra hard water.

Thanks to its size, this is a great unit for use on the road. If you are going cross country in your RV, this is the best way to ensure fresh soft water.

  •    Price: $
  •    Tech: Ion Exchanger
  •    Flow Rate (GPM): 3-4
  •    Capacity (Grains): 10,000
  •    Warranty (Years): 1

What We Don't Like

This is a simple easy-to-use water softener that you can carry around. But the sacrifice for that simplicity is the lack of automation. You have to do the regeneration yourself manually on an interval of 2 to 4 weeks based on the amount of water you use. Additionally, you are limited to only one or two outlets at a time. You cannot use it for multiple outlets or even a small house system since the flow rate is very low. But this is how it is designed to work, so there is not much complaining to do.

Our Verdict

If you spend a lot of time in your RV, we highly recommend this unit. It is small but effective at its work. You do not even have to own an RV to use it. One user had it in his car wash business, ensuring that his customers’ cars did not develop unsightly spots.

Watts RV PRO-1000 OR M7002 10000 Grains Portable Water Softener

Magnetic Water Softener & Conditioner

What We Like

The last of our water softener reviews features a magnetic water softener and conditioner. The system is extremely easy to install on your plumbing. The company may be overstating by claiming a 60-second installation time but it should take no more than five minutes to have the softener up and going.

Unlike a salt-based softener, you do not have to worry about giving the system time to regenerate nor does it need any maintenance. It is simple to install, it is even easier to use.

  •    Price: $
  •    Tech: Magnetism
  •    Flow Rate (GPM):
  •    Capacity:
  •    Warranty (Years): 10

What We Don't Like

Magnetism as a way to soften water is still quite a controversial technology. Do not expect amazing results especially if you live in a place with particularly hard water. If you are looking for a system that you can completely depend on, we would not suggest this one.

Our Verdict

When it comes to the best water softener for your home, this is not our number one pick. The technology is not solid and may not give you the results you are looking for. But the price is really good and if you are looking to work with low or medium hardness water, it could help. If you do decide to go with a magnetic water softener, this is one of the best picks.

Magnetic Water Conditioner

More on Water Softener Systems

If you have ever used water from a well, then you are very familiar with hard water. This is water that contains excessive mineral content. The two main culprits are calcium and magnesium. It is important to note that hard water is not associated with any adverse health effects. Rather the main problem is the effect it has on surfaces it touches. It leaves a residue, also called scale, which causes staining on floors and utensils and can even damage plumbing.

pipes water softener
When washing dishes you may have also observed one other frustrating effect of hard water; lack of lathering. Minerals in the water prevent your soap or detergent from forming a proper lather and can lead to more soap and water usage.
Thankfully we have water softeners to save the day. These softener systems are frequently employed to deal with hard water, both in homes and factories.

What is a Water Softener System?

In the first section, we've talked about the best water softener reviews on the market. A softener is a system that is connected to existing plumbing with the purpose of removing hardness minerals in water. The softening process removes magnesium, calcium and sometimes iron ions from the water. This makes it easier for use in washing and other home cleaning uses.

What do Water Softeners Do?

Most home softeners use a process that exchanges magnesium and calcium minerals for sodium (salt) or potassium ones. With the magnesium and calcium ions removed, the water is now regarded as 'soft’ and will not leave any unsightly and potentially damaging residue behind.

As we are going to see shortly, not all softeners work this way. Salt-free softeners change the adhesive nature of hard mineral ions instead of removing them. Though the minerals remain in the water, they do not cause as much scaling as hard water. The 'softened’ water also lathers more easily.

Do I Need a Water Softener?

In order to answer the question 'Why should I use a water softener?', let's take a look at some statistics...
According to the U.S Geological Survey (USGS) 85 to 90 percent of American homes use hard water. Of course the hardness level varies from region to region. The USGS has found the softest water in the regions of Hawaii, Pacific Northwest, South Atlantic and New England. The Great Lakes region, Alaska and Tennessee have moderately hard water. The regions of Texas, Kansas, California and Arizona have the hardest water levels.

Essentially, most Americans live in regions that receive either moderate or very hard water. So chances are high that the water coming into your house right now could do with some 'softening’. As long as you use an effective softener system, you will notice major positive changes right away. Here are some of the biggest benefits of these softeners:

Benefits of Water Softeners

Less or No Scale Buildup

Scaling is the worst effect of hard water. It stains everything you own, makes you feel like you have a slimy film on your skin after a shower and makes even the cleanest of homes look unsightly. A good water softening system will completely eliminate this problem.

While ion exchangers (to be explained shortly) are quite effective at eliminating scaling by removing the causative magnesium and iron ions, salt-free softeners tend to be less than 100% effective. Since they do not remove any hardness-causing ions from the water, some scaling could still occur and build up over time. These softeners are ideal for short term (6months-1year) water softening.

Easier Washing and Water Saving
shiny bathroomThere is nothing more frustrating than trying to work up a lather that refuses to form. You end up using a lot more water and soap than you otherwise would if your water was not chock full of hard minerals. By removing these minerals, or changing their behavior, a water softener system will help you do your cleaning faster, easier and more effectively. You also save more water and soap or detergent.

Protecting Your Plumbing
Most of us do not realize the effect of hard water on plumbing until it is too late. The scale builds up over months and years, affecting your water flow and weakening the pipes. A water softener ensures a longer life for your plumbing.

Better Tasting Water

Many homeowners say that a softeners results in better tasting water. This could be a matter of perspective since other homeowners say water with the hardness minerals still in it tastes better. Whatever your preference, it is inarguable to say that a water softener has huge overall benefits. From your plumbing to your washing and even your relaxing showers, a lot changes for the better.

drinking water softenerSo, do you need a water softener? Most probably. We would recommend you get your water tested for hardness. You can buy a kit and do it yourself or send a sample to a lab. The resulting reading will tell you how hard your water is. But from your daily water-using activities, you most probably already suspect that a softener would come in handy.

Are Water Softeners Safe and Healthy?

Yes they are. The biggest concern is often in connection with ion exchangers that replace magnesium and calcium with either sodium or potassium. Some home owners are especially concerned about drinking water with added levels of sodium. It is a valid concern especially for people on a low-salt diet for health reasons.

The amount of sodium added to water is relatively small and is even smaller if your water is only moderately hard. Other foods and drinks such as milk and orange juice might actually contain more salt. For the average person, softened water is safe and will not cause any adverse health problems. For people on a low-salt diet, our recommendation is to see your doctor before using a sodium ion exchanger. You can also opt for a potassium ion exchanger or buy a salt-free water softener.

Types of Water Softeners and How They Work

In examining how water softener systems work, it is essential to look at the various types of systems available in the market. There is no one-fits-all explainer; each type of water softener comes with its own mechanism.

1. Ion Exchangers

These are the most common types of home water softeners. They work based on a simple principle; removing the hardness-causing minerals in water (mostly magnesium and sodium) and replacing them with other ions (usually sodium or potassium). This mechanism is the reason they are called ion exchangers.

The heart of an ion exchanger is a tank with a bed of small microbeads. This is called a resin bed and is the center of the softening action. When you buy a water softener, it comes with a bag of resin which is already charged with positive sodium or potassium ions. Hard water enters this tank and interacts with the resin bed. Because magnesium and calcium have stronger positive charges than sodium, they displace the sodium attached to the resin. The displaced sodium (or potassium) then enters the water, completing the ion exchange cycle.

the water that comes out of the resin tank does not contain any magnesium or calcium ions, making it ’soft’. As we mentioned earlier, the sodium added is low enough not to be a health concern for most people.

some time, the salt in the resin bed will be exhausted as more and more of it is replaced by magnesium and calcium ions. At this point, the system needs to go into a regeneration cycle.
The second most important part of the system – the brine tank – comes into play. The brine tank contains a solution of sodium hydroxide or sodium chloride, essentially a concentrated mixture of salt and water. When the resin bed is out of sodium ions, this concentrated solution is fed to it using a tube from the brine tank.

As the resin mixes with the brine, the sheer amount of sodium ions in brine causes magnesium and calcium ions bonded to the resin to be displaced. So the resin is ones again full of sodium ions ready to displace hard water minerals in the incoming stream. The remaining brine and the displaced magnesium and calcium ions are flushed down to the drain. The regeneration process uses a significant amount of water, sometimes up to 95 liters per cycle.

The process also varies in how it is triggered in different systems. In some softeners, you have to manually start the regeneration process while in others you set a timer for when the regeneration will be started. Modern systems use computerized controls and sensors that automatically sense when the resin bed is exhausted and needs regeneration.

Potassium vs. Sodium (Salt) Water Softeners

Potassium and sodium (salt) water softeners are generally put in the same group of softeners called ion exchangers. But is one better than the other?

Sodium attracts the usual concern of too much salt in the water, though the amount added is actually very low. Salt comes in three forms; pellets, rocks or blocks. Salt pellets are the most common and do not cause as much maintenance trouble as rock or block salt.

Potassium water softeners solve the concern of excessive salt intake through the water. But potassium pellets are harder to find and are often pricier compared to sodium pellets. You would also need to use more potassium to achieve a similar quality of regeneration as sodium.

Generally, there is no much difference between the two types of softeners. You will not be enjoying any huge benefit by choosing one over the other. The most important thing is to check what option your manual recommends and use it.

2. Salt-Free Water Softeners

As we mentioned, some people have concerns about the salt added to the water in the conventional softening system discussed above. If you want your water to retain its minerals, for whatever reason, a salt-free water softener is ideal.

There are different salt-free softeners, each with its own technology. But all have one thing in common; they do not change the chemical nature of water; nothing is added and nothing is removed. Instead they change the behavior of dissolved magnesium and calcium ions. While they would normally cling to any surface the water touches, they are less likely to do so in 'softened’ water.

In short, salt-free softeners reduce the amount of scaling or buildup caused by hard water. This is why they are often referred to as descalers. Because of how they function, salt-free water softeners are often called water conditioners since they do not soften water in the conventional manner.


The most common water conditioners are magnetic water softeners. These systems clip on or wrap around the main water inlet. They then create a magnetic field that they claim changes the behavior of magnesium and calcium ions in the water, thus preventing scale buildup. The effectiveness of magnetic descalers is debated.

Other salt-free water systems work by changing calcium into a different form that does not cling to plumbing and other surfaces. This is also a debatable method.

Water Softeners vs. Water Conditioners

The choice for many homeowners is not between potassium and sodium water softeners; rather it is between conventional water softeners and so called water conditioners that eschew the use of salt. Which one is the best?

On many levels, a softener is superior to a conditioner. It is more effective at actually softening water and preventing scale buildup. Though it is more expensive and more complicated to set up, the benefits are worth it.

A water conditioner, or salt-free water softener, is best if you want to retain the hard minerals in your water, for health or taste reasons. It is also ideal for those who are concerned about any chemicals getting added.

By the way, reverse osmosis water filters can be installed in your house to remove contaminants such as bacteria and chemicals. So if you live in an area that suffers under an overall bad water quality, you might want to think about purchasing a RO filter system (best reverse osmosis water filter system reviews here).

3. Whole House Water Softener Systems

As the name suggests, these are water softener systems designed to serve an entire house. This means that any water getting into the house has to pass through the system. Generally, whole house water softeners have to handle a lot of hard water every day.
Thus, they must have the size and capacity necessary to handle the huge load.

As you would expect, a whole house softener is pricier than a single-faucet or an RV softener and is also more complicated to install.

4. Portable Water Softeners

A portable water softener 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. A portable water softener is much smaller and often consists of a single tank only. Due to their size, they can only handle limited water quantities. Most require manual regeneration and maintenance.

5. Dual Tank Water Softeners

During the regeneration cycle, a whole house water system does not deliver any soft water. If you open a faucet during this period, the water will be hard. This can be an inconvenience especially when a softener takes a long time to regenerate.

To solve this problem, you can get a dual tank water softener. When one tank is regenerating, the other is left free to continue supplying fresh and softened water to the family. This way, there is no downtime to inconvenience you.

How to Choose the Best Water Softener for Your Needs: A Brief Buying Guide

With so many options in the market, it can be challenging to choose and buy the best water softener for your home. Do you go for salt or salt free? What about magnetic softeners? What should I look for when shopping for a water softener? It is these questions that we address with the following buying guide, which consists of the 7 key considerations you should make when buying a water softener.

1. Technology

Water softeners are categorized mainly based on the technologies they use. We have already looked at the different types in the previous section. Ion exchangers work by displacing magnesium and calcium ions in hard water and replacing them with either sodium or potassium ions. Salt-free softeners work by 'conditioning’ hard water and descaling it.

For most home owners, ion exchangers are the best types of water softeners. But if you don’t want the extra salt in your water, then a salt-free softener is for you.

When it comes to ion exchangers, there are additional bits of technology to look out for. For instance, it would be a good idea to get a softener system with an all-digital controller head. This allows you to easily monitor and control various features. You can set the regeneration timer or let the system automatically regenerate based on water output.

Basically, the more modern a water softener system is the more tech features it is likely to have. But this is not to mean that all those extra features are necessary. So choose wisely to avoid paying for unnecessary bells and whistles.

2. Flow Rate

flow rate of bath faucet

All the water coming into your house must pass through the softening system. From the system, the water then distributes to different lines within the house. Sometimes, the softener is unable to 'soften’ quickly enough and the flow rate goes down. If you try to open more than one faucet at the same time, the water pressure drops significantly. A trickle of a shower is the last thing you want. Low flow rate can also cause hard water to bleed through the system when demand is high.

Different homes have varying flow rate needs. For a small house with 1-3 people, a flow rate of 7-12gpm (gallons per minute) is adequate. For medium and large families (4-6 people) the minimum flow rate you should go for is 12gpm. For larger families, look for a system that offers a flow rate of 20gpm and above.

The right flow rate ensures that you can use multiple faucets without a significant drop in pressure.

3. Capacity

The capacity of a water softener refers to the amount of hard water minerals it can handle before it needs to get into a regeneration cycle. The best capacity depends on individual water output demand. Bigger homes need larger capacities while small families and RVs can do with cheaper lower capacity systems.

Most systems will indicate water capacity in terms of grains of hardness. You will find 12,000, 24,000, 32,000 and 64,000 grain capacities. But do not rely only on this number when determining what softener system to buy. A 32,000 grain capacity system may require as much as 3 times the salt that a 20,000 grain capacity system needs. This means more money spent on salt refills.

For the average family, you are better off with a 10,000-20,000 grain softener that requires a few more regenerations but costs less money to operate and maintain.

When comparing systems look for the 'grains/pound of salt’ rating. This refers to the number of grain of hardness that can be removed by a pound of salt. This figure will give you a more accurate picture of the efficiency of a specific system.

4. Regeneration

Regeneration is a necessary process of water softening. It occurs when all the salt has been drained from the resin. During the process, the magnesium and calcium ions that were in the water and are now bonded to the resin are removed using brine (concentrated salt solution). They are then flushed out together with any remaining brine solution.

There are aspects to consider when it comes to regeneration. One, the method of regeneration; manual, timed or automatic. Two, how long regeneration takes.

Manual regeneration is common with portable water softeners. You have to add salt directly into the tank and give it time to displace the hard minerals stuck to the resin. Whole house softeners come with either timed or automatic regeneration or both.

water softener regeneration at nightTimed regeneration means that you set the specific regeneration time yourself, ideally at night when no one is awake to use the water. Automatic regeneration occurs in digital systems, which trigger the process based on water output. Some systems come with both these capabilities; you can set the timer yourself or leave the system to decide when to regenerate.

5. Portability

The issue of portability depends on the intended purpose of the water softener. If, like most homeowners, you intend to use it to soften water coming into your home, portability is not an issue. This is why whole house water softeners are 50kg plus systems.

But when it comes to softeners for use in RVs and other activities outside the house, portability is essential. Portable water softeners often consist of a single tank to keep weight down. Though a portable softener can be moved around by hand, it is still hefty with most weighing in between 20 and 40 pounds. Before buying, check the weight to know whether you will need an extra hand lifting it or moving it around.

6. Water Softener System Costs


Do you have a budget? That is the first thing you should prepare 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 softener?

When deciding on a fixed budget, you should keep in mind that your are investing in your health and the health of your family. What could be more important?

How Much Is a Water Softener?

Water softening systems come in all price ranges from as low as $200 to as high as $1,000 and more. There are three general price ranges. Sub $300 systems are often salt-free softeners or portable ion exchangers.

Between the $300 and $600 price tag you will find low and mid-capacity whole house softeners and also powerful portable softeners. At the higher $600 and above range there are high-capacity whole house ion exchangers and high-end salt-free softeners.

Choose the range you are most comfortable with and then start comparing the option available within that range.

7. Installation and Maintenance

If you do not want the hustle of installing a whole house softener, consider buying a clip-on or wrap-around electromagnetic softener. Salt-based water softeners are generally more trouble to install and maintain.

Installation: How to Set Up a Water Softener

The installation method and process for a water softener will depend on what type it is. When you buy a softener, it should be accompanied by a comprehensive manual detailing the installation process and explaining step by step on how to connect the softener. If you need a professional plumber, the manual will tell you. If the manual is inadequate or vague in details, there are plenty of resources online including videos and user forums that can help you out.

Salt-Free Softeners

These are the easiest to install. For magnetic softeners for instance, you just need to install the main unit around your main piping. For some softeners, the main unit composes of two strong magnets joined together by screws and nuts. For others, the main unit is a solenoid attached to a power outlet.

Whatever type of salt-free water softener you have, use your manual to ensure correct installation.

Ion Exchangers

These are much more complicated to install and could take several hours to set them up. The system needs to be connected to the main line coming into the house to ensure all faucets and showers are covered. While the manual may offer some directions we would highly recommend hiring a professional plumber to make sure installation is done correctly.

Water softener System Installation Cost

If you decide to hire a plumber, the installation cost will depend on the type of system and where you are installing it. A professional plumber will charge you anything between $300 and $1,000 depending on the amount of effort and time required for the entire installation process.

How to Maintain a Water Softener System

Water Softener Maintenance Tips

Use this tips to keep your water softener running smoothly for years. Proper maintenance not only extends the life of your system, it also lowers maintenance and repair costs:

  • Add salt to the brine tank as often as recommended by the manufacturer. This keeps the resin beads functioning properly.
  • >Use the right kind of salt recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Check your salt tank every 2 to 3 months to ensure hard salty crusts have not formed. If they have, use the accompanying manual to perform a thorough cleaning.
  • Call a plumber immediately you detect a problem, as small as it might be. This will prevent it from growing into a big and expensive-to-repair issue.
  • Check your manual for any further maintenance instructions.

Water Softener vs. Water Filtration

water softener vs water filtration

When it comes to treating the water coming into the house, a softener is not the only system that can be deployed. A filtration system can also help achieve the desired quality of water. While a softener removes hard mineral ions of calcium and magnesium, water filtration units remove unwanted impurities and chemicals from the water.

If you can, it is a good idea to have both systems installed. You can buy 2-in-one systems that combine filtration and softening function into one unit or buy 2 separate systems and get a plumber to do the installation.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a water softener last?

  • Some salt-free softeners come with a recommended usage period, often 6 months. Ion exchangers can, with proper maintenance, last for years.

How to turn off a water softener

  • Identify the valves directing water from the main pipe towards the system. Turn the valves in the indicated direction to stop the water from diverting to the softener. Now, hard water getting into the house passes without going through the softening system. To turn off the system completely, disconnect the electricity supply connected to it.

Do water softeners add salt to water?

  • Yes, most softeners used in homes add tiny amounts of salt to water. For most people, the salt added is not harmful to health. There are also salt-free softeners that do not add salt, or anything else for that matter. They simply condition the water to prevent it from leaving mineral residue behind.

Do water softeners remove chlorine?

  • No, conventional softeners do not remove chlorine from water. For that, you would have to use a softener integrated with a filtration system.

What is a softener’s water usage?

  • This will depend on the capacity of the softener and the level of water hardness. It ranges between 25 and 70 gallons per regeneration.

How much grain capacity does a water softener have?

  • Different softeners come with varying grain capacities. There are small portable softeners with an 8,000 grain capacity and expensive whole house softeners with a 64,000 grain capacity.

How long does a water softener resin last?

  • It should last at least 10 years and sometimes up to 15 years.

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Troubleshooting Guide

Some solutions to common water softener problems.

My water softener is not using salt.

Check that mineral deposits have not build up and caused a line blockage. It could also be that salt crusts (salt bridges) have formed at the surface of the brine tank, preventing the system from regenerating. Check your manual for instructions on how to clean out your brine tank.

My water softener tank is full of water.

The brine tank should by design always have some water. It is this water that allows the formation of brine. But the water level should not be too high as it could cause leaking or flooding. Check that the control valve is working properly to prevent the water from rising too high.

My water softener not working.

Check that there is no blockage of any of the lines and that the water is coming in through the pipes. Make sure there is an active power connection to the system. Also check that the motor is working properly. If you do not detect any obvious problem, consider calling a plumber to do a quick checkup.

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