Best Water Softener

Are you sick of stained dishes and laundry, limescale build-up that damages your appliances and pipes, and odd-tasting hard water contributing to health risks?

There’s no need to accept your bad luck. The water softeners we have reviewed below can help solve your problem.

By finding the best water softener system for your home, you will extend your appliances’ and your home’s pipes lifespan, get rid of staining, save money, and improve your water’s taste and softness.

In our expert review, we will show you the best whole house water filter softeners on the market for well water and city water supply. We’ll also highlight the best water softeners, including salt-based, salt-free, and combo. That way, you can choose the best water softeners that are the perfect solution to fix your hard water problem.

 

Table of Contents

Best Whole House Water Softener Systems Compared

IMAGE PRODUCT FEATURES  
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#1 SpringWell FutureSoft
  • Salt-Free
  • Water Flow Rate: 12 GPM
  • Warranty: Lifetime
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#2 Quality Water SoftPro Elite for Well Water
  • Salt-Based
  • Water Flow Rate: 7 GPM
  • Warranty: Lifetime
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#3 Fleck 5600 SXT
  • Salt-Based
  • Water Flow Rate: 7 GPM
  • Warranty: Lifetime
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#4 Aquasana EQ-1000
  • Salt-Free
  • Water Flow Rate: 7 GPM
  • Warranty: 10 years
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#5 Pelican Nature Soft
  • Salt-Free
  • Water Flow Rate: 10 GPM
  • Warranty: Lifetime
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#6 AFW Iron Pro 2 Combo
  • Salt-Based
  • Water Flow Rate: 12 GPM
  • Warranty: 5 years
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#7 iSpring ED2000
  • Salt-Free Magnetic
  • Water Flow Rate: NA
  • Warranty: Lifetime
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#8 Filtersmart
  • Salt-Free
  • Water Flow Rate: 12 GPM
  • Warranty: Lifetime
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#9 Nuvo H20
  • Salt-Free
  • Water Flow Rate: 15 GPM
  • Warranty: Lifetime
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#10 Dura Water 64k
  • Salt-Based
  • Water Flow Rate: 12 GPM
  • Warranty: Not Sure
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Water Softener Reviews- City & Well Water Units

All the above have received the highest water softener reviews ratings from consumers and industry experts, but there are still some significant differences between models. 

Some models in this review use salt, and others are salt-free. Some have pre-filters and other added benefits, while others are budget water softening systems. Some units in this review are better for well water usage, and others are better for municipal water supply.

There is no single best soft water system, but all in the review above are top contenders for the best water softener to eliminate your hard water. The following water softener reviews below go into more detail.

1. SpringWell FutureSoft- (Top Choice & Best Salt Free Water Softener)

Why This is Our Top Pick: 

We spent some time conducting extensive research for this review and talking with customers of the SpringWell Futuresoft salt-free water softener filtration system. 

We determined that most customers reduced hardness in their water and were able to dramatically extend the lifespan of their home appliances and pipes without using salt. This water softener is priced well for its benefits, and the company and customer service are top of the line compared to other companies. 

What’s Unique About It: 

The SpringWell FutureSoft model appears in many reviews as the best salt-free water softener, and it’s quite different from other ones. Unlike salt-based water softeners, which use an ion exchange system to remove hard water minerals, the FutureSoft salt-free water softener uses a physical process known as Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC)

springwell future soft

This process converts the hardness-causing mineralization in the water to a hardness crystal that won’t stick to any surface in your home, keeping your appliances, pipes, and water heaters free of hard water scale build-up.

Years of experience and thorough testing led SpringWell to design a tank that fluidizes the media bed better than any other design on the market. Fluidization is the key to forming calcite crystals. 

The proprietary Springwell Futuresoft salt-free media converts the water’s hardness to these crystals, which will not stick to anything even under extreme temperatures. It’s only with the filter’s media and the fluidization properly working together that you can achieve this. This unit also features a flow rate of 12 GPM.

Not to mention, this water softener doesn’t waste any water or discharge any salt brine into the environment. You still get the healthy mineralization in your water, but the ions are changed so that you receive 99.6% scale prevention without using chemicals or salt with zero drops in water pressure!

Who It’s Best For:

If you’re looking for the top salt-less softener, then SpringWell FutureSoft is an ideal solution pick for the price.

SpringWell also has one of the top salt-based water softening systems if you’re looking for a salt system. You can check out their whole house salt system here.

For more information, see our in-depth Springwell water review here.

Pros:

  • 99.6% scale prevention
  • Extends the lifespan of your appliances
  • No water wasted
  • No electricity needed
  • Works with city & well water
  • Easy to installation
  • Low maintenance
  • 6-month money back guarantee
  • Lifetime warranty on the parts and tanks 

Cons:

  • Not cheap
  • Tank is heavy

2. Quality Water Treatment SoftPro Elite – (Best Water Softener For Well Water)

Why This is a Top Pick:

The SoftPro Elite Water softener is Quality Water Treatment’s best-selling water softener. In more than one review, you can find that customers have shown that it works exceptionally well if you have a private well with a hard water problem. 

It also comes at a very reasonable price at around $1000 and offers numerous different grain capacities and packages customized to your home. Lastly, the customer service and company do a great job making sure the system performs well.

softpro elite softener

Main Features & Benefits: 

This salt-free water softener features a design specifically for private well water. 

The basic system features a fine mesh resin for well water and an oversized 18 x 33 brine tank. You’ll also find an iron filter up to 3 ppm, water softening, and a lifetime warranty. There’s also an automatic system refresher and advanced technological features. That places this saltwater softener as one of the top water softeners for the price.

The softener has also been through laboratory testing, receiving excellent recognition from IAPMO research and testing center.

These are the additional combination packages they offer:

  • SoftPro Well + KDF: Removes Iron, Sulfur and prevents bacterial growth
  • SoftPro Well + PH Buster: Raise the PH as well as softener water
  • SoftPro Well + Pro Iron: Removes Iron up to 30 PPM
  • SoftPro Well + KDF Buster: Raises PH and removes sulfur/heavy metals
  • SoftPro Well Ultimate: Raises PH and removes up to 30 PPM Iron

Upgrade options include adding a reverse osmosis system with an advanced water alkalizer. The reverse osmosis upgrade includes five-stage filtration that reduces pollutants to 0.001 microns. Reverse osmosis filtration removes up to 98% of lead, barium, mercury, and phosphate.

Who The SoftPro Elite Is Best For:

If you’re someone with a private well and have a hard water issue then this model is a great option to consider besides SpringWell’s FutureSoft.

Our other top picks in this review are better suited for a city water supply, but this model will do an adequate job if you deal with a well water supply.

Pros:

  • Top softening and Iron Filtration
  • User-friendly LCD 
  • IAMPO Certified
  • Customizable package combos
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Excellent customer service and reviews

Cons:

  • May need installation help 
  • Package systems are not cheap

3. Fleck 5600sxt- (One of Best Salt Water Softeners)

Why This is a Top Pick:

The Fleck 5600sxt is a top salt-based softener because it has been around for a long time with more than one positive customer review. The price point is one of the best on the market, and The Fleck 5600 sxt has optimal water softening capability with little hassle.

Main Features & Benefits:

The 5600sxt softener is a 48 000 grain water softener which ensures plenty of softened water for your home.

It has an advanced water flow rate meter with a control valve that is fully programmable, and the Fleck 5600 sxt only regenerates when needed saving you money and wastewater. The digital LED display also shows you the water flow rate and water hardness levels making it easy to monitor. The best part about the 5600sxt is the settings automate with the system. That way, you don’t have to perform as much maintenance.

The sxt model is light, doesn’t use a lot of energy, and is easy to setup containing everything you need in the install package. The Fleck 5600sxt also won’t take up too much space at 54 inches in height.

Additional features include:

  • The brine tank includes a brine line, brine well, and safety float.
  • The tanks feature a 10-year warranty.
  • There’s a five-year warranty on the unit’s control valve.
  • The company pre-loads the tanks with resin.
  • This unit’s flow rates range between seven GPM for 24 000 grain and 15 GPM for 64 000 grain water softener capacities.

Who It’s Best For:

If you’re someone looking for a cheaper softener, the Fleck 5600sxt model is simply one of the best salt water softeners for the money you can buy.

Compared to other top models in this review, The Fleck 5600sxt unit is a little bit cheaper and still offers adequate salt-based technology.  

The Fleck 5600sxt also has a 10-year warranty, and the product has a reputation for dependable quality water softening over the long run.

For more detailed information, you can see our complete fleck 5600sxt review.

Pros:

  • Durable 48 000 grain water softener capacity
  • Uses a digital control valve
  • Automatic regeneration
  • Has a large tank holding up to 250 pounds of salt
  • Low maintenance
  • Customizable
  • Easy installation

Cons:

  • Resin is the standard 8 percent crosslink
  • It lacks drainage tubing

4. Aquasana EQ-1000 Whole House Softener & Filter (Best Combo System)

Why This is a Top Pick:

The Aquasana EQ-1000 is one of the highest quality salt-free softener and filtration combination systems on the market. The main reason it appears here is that it offers a one unit whole home water solution that provides softening and filtration. Aquasana is on the cutting edge of innovation in the water industry. The parts, technology, and customer service they offer is top of the line.

Main Features & Benefits:

The EQ-1000 offers both salt-free softening and whole house filtration in one water softener. 

The Rhino’s unique upward flow rate, dual tank design increases water contact time with contaminant grabbing media and prevents clogging or media channeling.

This unit’s flow rate is seven gallons per minute. The system is tested and proven to remove 97% of chlorine for 1,000,000 gallons or ten years.

Its SCM technology naturally and safely reduces limescale build-up in the home’s pipes. Whether it’s on an internal water line or other plumbing, it does so without the use of harsh mineralization or chemicals.

The unit also offers the option to add a powerful UV Filter that sterilizes 99% of viruses, bacteria, and cysts.

The EQ-1000 will simply give you healthier skin and hair plus clean drinking and cooking water throughout your entire home in one single unit. 

Who The Rhino is Best For:

If you’re someone who needs an excellent unit that will take care of all of your home water softening system and filtration needs in one device, this is for you.

With this system, you will eliminate hard water mineralization, remove contaminants, and produce the purest water available for your family’s water treatment needs.

 See our complete Aquasana review for more information.

Pros:

  • Water softener & filtration system in one unit
  • SCM mineral-free technology to naturally reduce scale buildup in the home’s pipes 
  • Option to add UV filtration which eliminates bacteria and viruses 
  • Easy to install with install kit
  • Does not require backflushing or drainage water line
  • Aquasana has top-notch customer service 
  • 10-year warranty

Cons:

  • Not for people who don’t need filtering and softening
  • Expensive

5. Pelican Water NatureSoft- (Salt-Free Softener)

Why This is a Top Pick:

A good option if you’re looking for one of the best non-salt water softeners is the Pelican NS3. This softener is one of our recommended models because of its advanced technology and rigorous testing, and NSF/ASNI 61 plus 42 certifications. It’s not cheap, but it merely has some of the highest capabilities of any softener on our list.

Main Features & Benefits: 

This system is another that uses the template-assisted crystallization (TAC) process. It works by changing the form of minerals, which removes the minerals from the plumbing without the need for electricity or water waste.

The Naturesoft by Pentair Pelican Water is certified for 99.6% scale prevention and offers a lifetime warranty. It’s the only DVGW certified softeners on the market, and it meets IAMPO and NSF/ANSI certification for materials. That means it has been rigorously third-party tested to guarantee quality.

The Naturesoft water softener is eco-friendly and causes zero wastewater compared to traditional tank water softeners. It removes hardness up to 75 GPG. The tank media never needs replacement, and it leaves in beneficial minerals in your water.

Like most quality water conditioners that don’t use minerals, it does not produce the slippery water feel you get from using a traditional system.

The NatureSoft water softener is easy to install indoors or outdoors.

Who NatureSoft is Best For:

This softener is best for homeowners looking for an excellent softener with DVGW certification and meets NSF/ASNI requirements for materials.

Next to SpringWell’s water softener, we would recommend this product as the 2nd best salt-free version.

You can see our complete Pelican review for more information on the product and company.

Pros:

  • 99.6% scale reduction
  • Certified by DVGW and WQA and meets NSF/ANSI standards
  • Removes sediment from water with 5-micron pre-filter
  • Easy installation
  • Lifetime warranty as well as a 90-day money-back guarantee
  • Low maintenance

Cons:

  • Does little to avoid mineral stains
  • Not cheap

6. AFW Iron Pro 2- (Salt-Based Softener & Iron Filter Combo)

 

Why This is a Top Pick:

The AFW Iron Pro 2 Combination water softener offers a salt water softener and iron filter. It’s one of the best units if you have an iron and water hardness issue. That is simply one of the best water softeners for iron removal on the market.

Main Features & Benefits:

The  Iron Pro 2 Combination water softener is an alternate version of the Fleck 5600sxt with added iron filtration.

The complete system includes the tank, control valve, fine mesh resin, and brine tank. Unfortunately, compared to other softeners, the Iron Pro 2 Combination water softener only has a 32 000 grain water softener capacity, which falls short of the typical 48 000 grain capacity in other softeners.

AFW Iron Pro

The Iron Pro 2 has the same high-quality digital control head that the 5600sxt whole house system has, which offers easy on-demand regeneration cycling, LCD, and touchpad controls.

This 48 000 grain water softener system can remove up to eight ppm of iron while softening water for your whole home. 

The Iron Pro 2 water softener comes with everything needed in the box for installation, including the brine tank, bypass valve, and simple DIY instructions. The only downside here is that it’s heavy at around 50 pounds, and most people may require assistance when trying to install.

Who It’s Best For:

The Iron Pro 2 water softener is best for someone looking for a whole home softener that water filters out iron at a relatively low price on Amazon than other 48 000 grain models on the market.

It’s ideal for smaller households as the grain capacity is smaller than an average water softener, but this water softener is a good bang for the buck.

Pros:

  • Both water softener and iron filter (iron up to 8ppm)
  • Contains digital control head to monitor your softening cycles
  • Clean black appearance
  • Good bang for the buck

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Not easy to install
  • Good amount of maintenance required

7. iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Water Softener- (Alternative Solution)

Why the iSpring ED2000 Electronic Water Softener is a top pick:

If you want a softening system with no minerals or chemicals, a budget solution is the iSpring ED2000 whole-house electronic water softener.

It is a whole-house electronic descaler rather than a conventional water softener. That means it transmits electromagnetic waves through your plumbing. That prevents minerals and limescale from accumulating.

This whole house electronic descaler does not soften your water or eliminate natural minerals but instead works on the plumbing to help prevent scale.

The iSpring ED2000 whole house electronic water softener features DIY water pipes installation on different pipe materials such as PEX and copper.

Main Features & Benefits:

  • One year money-back guarantee.
  • Lifetime technical support.
  • The system descales without changing the water’s chemistry.
  • They are specifically designed to treat hard water ranging between 10 and 19 grams.
  • Maintenance-free and doesn’t require modification to pipes or other plumbing.
  • Retains beneficial minerals when softening the water.

Who It’s Best For:

Although we would recommend SpringWell’s FutureSoft or Fleck 5600sxt before this electronic water softener, if you’re someone looking for a cheaper alternative option, this is a whole house system to consider.

You can see our eddy water descaler review here, which is the same type of product.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to install
  • The electromagnetic force is silent
  • Long lifespan 
  • ISO 9000 Quality Standard certification

Cons:

  • No scientific evidence to back up its claims
  • Not suitable for very hard water or a large family
  • The softener needs to have a power source
  • If you have a high quantity of iron, the system may be less effective

8. Filtersmart- (Water Filter and Softener Combo)

Why This is a Top Pick:

Filtersmart is an up and coming brand in the water filtration business, and this filter and softener combo is one of their best products. We love that it features one easy in and easy out filter. Therefore, this system is easy to install, and maintenance only includes changing the pre-filter every eight to 10 months.

Main Features & Benefits: 

It features a 1,000,000 gallon capacity and uses premium Jacobi coconut shell activated carbon filtration.

The carbon filtration system in this model removes chlorine, chloramine, volatile organic compounds, synthetic organic compounds, THMs, pesticides, herbicides, and industrial solvents.

The model is super easy to install, requires no electricity, backwashing, and doesn’t wastewater.

Since this softener does not use mineralization or chemicals, it produces clean, pure, sodium-free water for your household and provides whole house filtration.

Additional benefits include:

  • This system is NSF certified to remove chlorine for five years or 1,000,000 gallons.
  • Users only have to change out filters once every eight to 10 months.
  • This unit doesn’t waste electricity or water.
  • This system is ideal for a home with between one and three bathrooms.

Who It’s Best For:

This system is ideal for those who don’t want a salt-based water softener. It’s also suitable for those who are living in homes with between one and three bathrooms.  

If you’re someone looking for a top filter and softener combo water softener and aren’t interested in  Aquasana’s model, this is an excellent option to consider.

For more in-depth information, see our Filtersmart review.

Pros:

  • Quality coconut shell media which is effective & eco-friendly
  • Can process 1 million gallons of water (last for 5 years)
  • No minerals needed
  • Lifetime guarantee

Cons:

  • Not easy to install
  • Not cheap

9. Nuvo H20- (Salt-Less System)

Why This Made The List:

The Nuvo H20 DPHB is a genuine salt-free softening system.

This product uses a proprietary technology that keeps minerals soluble and unable to cause hard water problems.

The system works to lower the pH level of water-based on chelation. The mineral ions causing hard water (calcium and magnesium) are bound to Nuvo’s formula’s chelating agent.

The Nuvo H20 DPHB system is eco-friendly and doesn’t use minerals, wastewater, or electricity. It’s also compact, and FDA and NSF approved.

Nuvo-H2O-DPHB

Main Features & Benefits:

  • Lifetime warranty.
  • Uses the chelation process to lower the water’s pH level.
  • Removes existing limescale in pipes while simultaneously preventing build-up.
  • The unit is ideal for homes with between one and two residents.
  • Compact design can fit almost anywhere.
  • The water flow rate is 15 gallons per minute (GPM) for this water softener.

Who It’s Best For:

This water softener is best for people with small households that don’t have super hard water and are willing to test out new features that have shown some decent results to reduce scaling.

Overall, this system’s design is for households of only one to two people with normal hard water. It’s not ideal for a large family or homes with very hard water. 

You can see our complete Nuvo H20 review here

Pros:

  • Prevents scale build-up and removes existing hard water scale
  • Eco friendly
  • No minerals or electricity required
  • Doesn’t produce wastewater
  • Compact
  • FDA & NSF approved

Cons:

  • Only for small houses with 1-2 people
  • Not ideal for very hard water or larger homes 

10. Dura Water 64k- (Salt-Based System)

 

Why This is a Top Pick:

This system from Dura Water is a salt water softener system for a large family with very hard water issues.

This saltwater softener removes magnesium, calcium, and traces of iron, helping to protect your plumbing, clothing, hair, and health from hard water.

It also includes a control head with a digital LCD screen with a touchpad that controls the water softener and allows you to customize the metered regeneration system to suit your home.

This water softener does weigh 140 pounds, so it’s heavy!

Durawater

Main Features & Benefits:

  • It features a 64 000 grain water capacity.
  • There’s a five-year manufacturer warranty for the valves.
  • There’s a Like10-year manufacturer warranty for the resin and brine tank.
  • Digital 5600SXT metered control head eliminates scale, soap scum, and water spots.
  • One-inch bypass valve connection.
  • The brine tank contains a safety float.

Who It’s Best For:

If you’re someone looking for an effective, heavy-duty water softener, this system from DuraWater is a good option besides SpringWell and Fleck.

Pros:

  • 64 000 grain water capacity
  • Digital control head with LCD touchpad 
  • Highly customizable
  • Removes magnesium, calcium, and some iron

Cons:

  • Produces waste
  • Expensive

Other Whole House Water Softener Brands We Reviewed

When narrowing down our top 10 picks, we considered all of the water softening system brands on the market. Here are just a few of the other brands we considered before narrowing it down.

 

Clack

Clack is a company that has been operating in the water business since 1946. Their background is in resin molding and control bypass valve. That means their water softening systems have reasonable water control. The issue with Clack’s products is they only have a few, and they are hard to purchase online. Clack mainly sells control bypass valve, accessories, tanks, water filters, and a few complete salt water softeners. You can see our comprehensive Clack review here.

Overall, Clack is a good brand, but they didn’t quite stack up to our picks above regarding technological features, price, and customer service.

Kinetico

Kinetico has been in the water business since 1970. They focus on just a traditional salt-based water softening system with a brine tank. They have five different series of softeners. The main benefit of Kinetico’s systems is that the majority run without electricity. Getting a Kinetico softener involves finding a local distributor, so they can be more of a hassle to purchase and install.

You can see our complete Kinetico review here.

Overall, Kinetico is sufficient water softening brand. Still, they didn’t quite make our top 10 list due to the difficulty in purchasing and installation, lack of salt-free options, and overall customer service and brand reputation.

Culligan

Culligan is another big name brand that provides much more than just softeners since they have been in the water business since 1936. Unfortunately, since they are such a big brand now, their customer service is not quality.

There are many mediocre and negative reviews on Amazon com and The Spruce for Culligan’s softening systems. They also aren’t very DIY friendly, and they require a Culligan technician most of the time to help set up and fix the products.

You can see our complete Culligan review here.

Overall, due to the poor customer service and reliance on Culligan technicians, they did not make our top 10 list.

GE

GE is another mammoth home appliance brand that also makes a water softener. All of their softening systems are salt-based and require refilling the tank every month or so. The products are decent and priced affordably, but their inexperience in the water market and lack of specialized customer service was a big deal-breaker.

One of the other top brands recommended above would be a much better pick due to the specialization in water technology and innovation. GE simply hasn’t focused on making superior water softening products since they have so many other appliances on the market.

You can see our complete GE review here.

Morton

Morton has been in the salt business for a long time. They have sold salt to many different industries, and you probably recognize their name due to their regular table salt.

It makes sense that they would also produce a few water softeners which use their salt. Morton has many salt-based softeners that are decent but nothing special.

The primary issue with Morton softening appliances is its customer service and innovation. When you purchase a Morton product, you will have to deal with a “factory trained rep,” which can be frustrating when installing or troubleshooting your device. Also, Morton’s softeners are pretty middle of the line with no outstanding capability. That is why they didn’t measure up for us.

You can see our complete Morton review here.

A Buyer’s Guide to Water Softener and Water Conditioner Reviews

Narrowing down an optimal home water softener involves understanding what a water softener is and how it works. It is also essential to know the results you can expect when installing a water softener system.

What Is a Water Softener?

A softener system turns the water entering your home soft by either removing hard water, causing minerals to change into sodium ions (salt-based), or changing their structure to make them unable to stick to surfaces (salt-free).

Both methods prevent limescale buildup in the home’s pipes and other issues that come from having hard water.

A typical salt-based water softening system contains two tanks. These tanks include a tall resin tank where the ion exchange occurs, and an attached brine tank works to flush the resin tank and provide salt to the system. Most systems also include an LCD and automatic monitoring to notify you of how much salt is left.

Water softeners are usually installed in the garage or cabinet close to your home’s incoming water supply so that the water can run through it. 

What happens is that your incoming water flow goes through your water softener tank, where there are resin beads that attract calcium and magnesium ions, removing the water’s hardness. The softened water without these ions continues through your home’s water flow giving you clean, soft water. 

You can see our detailed guide on how water softeners work here

The only maintenance you will have to do with a water softener is refilling it with salt or potassium chloride pellets (if you’re using a salt-based system) when it runs out. You also must check the tank, making sure it is regenerating the resin beads properly. Usually, owners have to add salt to their system about once a month.

 

Hard Water vs Soft Water

Water with at least 60 milligrams of hardness, causing minerals in every liter, is defined as hard water. In some areas, these minerals’ levels are far higher than the minimum. For example, they could be as much as 180 milligrams per liter.

Another way to define hard water is by the number of grains per gallon (GPG) of calcium carbonate in the water. Water with more than 7 grains per gallon (GPG) is hard water, whereas between 3.5 and 7 gpg is moderately hard water.

On the other hand, soft water has only low levels of minerals — between 1 and 3.5 GPG. That is far more desirable for multiple reasons, including that it can be healthier. It feels more pleasant on the skin. It keeps your appliances and pipes protected from limescale buildup.

You can learn more about hard water vs. soft water here.

What Does the Best Water Softener Remove?

A salt-based water softener removes calcium and magnesium, whereas salt-less softeners don’t remove anything. Instead, they change the mineral’s form. A water softener does not remove sediment and other contaminants from water unless it comes with a sediment water filter.

A softener combo system containing a water filter can remove hardness causing minerals and other contaminants like bacteria, heavy metals, herbicides, pesticides, and more.

Do You Need a Water Softener?

To determine whether you need a water softener, review potential signs that your home receives hard water. These include:

  • If the water produces residue on dishes, faucets, bathroom fixtures, and any surface that the water touches, including on the bottom of your kettle and coffee maker.
  • A blocked shower head.
  • Dry skin or even residue on your skin after showering.
  • Leaking or damaged water pipes, plumbing system, and appliances.
  • Stiff, discolored laundry, maybe with white spots.
  • A drop in water pressure.
  • A lack of lather from soap and shampoo.

You can also get your water tested to find out precisely what is in your water. That will help you determine if just a softener is best or if a combination softener and water filter product would be ideal. 

See our guide on water softeners vs. water filters for more information.

Benefits of a Water Softener

If you have hard water, a water softener will provide you with a large number of benefits.

Prevent Limescale Damage

Damage from the residue of hard water can be as severe as internal damage to your plumbing system, which can cause pipes to become clogged or start leaking. With a whole house water softener, you’ll prevent the scale and white limestone leading to this damage.

Improve Appliance Efficiency

It requires more energy to heat hard water than softened water. Also, appliances and pipes become less efficient over time as scale accumulates.

Tank water heaters are at exceptionally high risk, as they hold water for hours on end. However, even tankless water heaters have a shorter lifespan when they deal with hard water — and they require cleaning twice as often.

Avoid Stains

Hard water stains everything it contacts. You may notice discoloration on places like faucets, sinks, toilet bowls, your bathtub, and showerheads. Spots may also appear on items you wash, including dishes, glassware, clothing, and even your car. If there is a large amount of iron in your water, the stains may be yellow, orange, pink, or red.

When you have a water softener, these stains disappear instantly.

Use Less Soap

It’s often possible to remove stains left by hard water — it just requires a good deal of scrubbing and a large amount of soap. Softened water allows you to avoid this task altogether.

You’ll also need less soap in general — for everything from laundry to dishes. That is because soap doesn’t lather appropriately with hard water. When you have softer water, you’ll find that you’re able to clean much more efficiently.

Improve Your Skin and Hair

A healthy balance of minerals in your water can be optimal for your skin and hair, but an abundance of hardness causing minerals can lead to damage. The minerals strip your body of its natural oils, leaving your skin and hair too clean and, as a result, dry.

Your hair may also be greasy, heavy, and lack natural buoyancy, and your scalp may be dry and flaky. If you dye or highlight your hair, the color will fade sooner. If your hard water also contains a high chlorine level, the water may even change your hair color, tinting it green or orange.

Having water without hard minerals is essential for people who suffer from skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Once you have a water softener, you’ll notice less irritation, and you’ll be less likely to suffer from razor burns.

Soften Your Laundry

Hard water minerals cause clothes and towels to come out of the washing machine, stiff and scratchy. As soon as you have a water softener, the texture of your laundry will improve.

Enhance the Flavor of Your Cooking

It’s not just drinking water with a better taste — softer water impacts the flavors of anything you cook with water. You’ll also have better-tasting hot beverages like coffee and tea.

The Different Types of Water Softeners

As you will have noticed from the list above, there are many types of water softeners.

Salt-Based Softeners

Conventional water softening systems use salt. Sometimes, they are called ion exchange softeners after the water softening process. The ion exchange of the minerals causes hard water for sodium ions from salt. The system traps the hard minerals in resin and flushes them out during its regeneration process (the cleaning part of the process). 

Salt softeners are highly effective, but owners have to add new salt every month, and the type of water they produce contains added sodium and generates more wastewater. 

If you purchase a salt softener for your home and you need salt, we put together a guide on the best water softener salts here.

Dual-Tank Softeners

Some salt-based types of water softeners have a pair of tanks. These systems are called dual-tank softeners and are suitable for commercial settings and homes requiring a large amount of water.

With single-tank softener systems, there are times when you’ll be unable to receive soft water because the resin in the tank is regenerating. Usually, this occurs during the night, although it may occur after the system has processed many gallons of water.

With a dual-tank softener, you’ll never run out of soft water. During the regeneration cycle of one tank, the other tank can operate. This feature comes with a higher upfront cost, but you may decide it is worthwhile for homes with high water treatment needs.

springwell future softSalt-Free Softeners

Salt-less softeners are a more modern alternative. Instead of using salt, they use a TAC process to reshape hard minerals. The process turns minerals that are causing hard water into crystals that cannot adhere to surfaces.

Magnetic Water Descalers

One type of salt-free softener is the magnetic water descaler. Instead of using the TAC process, electromagnetism keeps water free from scale. Although there are fewer magnetic water descalers on the market than other water softeners, they are gaining popularity for their simple installation. Instead of connecting the system to your water source, you coil wires around the water intake plumbing and then plug in the system.

Like with the TAC process, the water descaler’s magnetic field turns minerals into larger crystals to prevent limescale accumulation.

Water Conditioner vs Water Softener

Technically, only a salt-based system is a water softener in the most real sense. Those that use a process other than salt are water conditioners. Either option has its share of advantages and disadvantages.

Water softeners are more popular, which means you have a large amount of choice regarding products. However, softeners require more maintenance than salt-less conditioners, as you’ll need to refresh the salt periodically. They also need to be connected to an electrical outlet, and they do waste some water during the regeneration cycle.

Water conditioners allow you to gain the benefits of soft water without adding any sodium to your water. They also cost less to maintain and usually require no electricity. These characteristics help them gain market share, and they are now available from many top manufacturers of water softeners.

However, as calcium and magnesium will still be present in your water with a water conditioner, it is not genuinely soft. If you were to run a test on the water, it would still come back as hard. Although water conditioners are often called softeners, they do not genuinely create soft water.

Water Softener Installation and Maintenance

Provided you have some DIY knowledge; you’ll find that most water softeners are simple enough to install on your own. However, if you’re unsure when reading the manual, it’s better to call a professional.

All systems are easy to maintain without assistance. At the very most, they require refilling with salt every few weeks or months and changing pre-water filters periodically (between six months and six years, depending on the model).

How to Choose a Water Softener for Your Home

Now you understand the distinctions between different softeners from this review; it’s time to figure out what you need from your system. That involves thinking about your requirements and carrying out a water softener price comparison.

Hardness of Your Water

You’ve already figured out that your water is hard — you also need to know your water hardness.

A professional test will tell you the exact extent and what contaminates the water contains and the levels of these contaminants.

That is useful for knowing if you also require a water filter for your drinking water and need a combo system.

You can receive a professional test from a company in your area or purchase a kit online.

The latter involves taking a sample of water and then sending it to a lab.

Other options include asking your city for a report (this is not possible if your water comes from a well), checking the documents from your home inspection (if you purchased your property recently), or looking at a water hardness map for your area.

Type of System

If you find that you have extremely hard water, you should only consider salt-based systems.

However, if you have moderately-hardened water, a system that does not use salt may be just as effective — in this case, what you choose will come down to personal preference.

For example, if you enjoy soft water’s slippery feel, you may want a salt-based system. If a more significant priority is keeping sodium out of your water, a salt-free system is better.

Size of the Water Softener

If you opt for a salt-based water softener, you’ll need to pick the right size. To calculate the precise capacity, you’ll first need to know the hardness of your water.

Note: if there is iron in your water, add five GPG for every part per million for a better picture of hardness.

Also, you’ll need to have an idea of your daily consumption of water. You can find this on your municipal water bill — or you can assume that each person in your household uses around 80 gallons a day.

Once you know these numbers, multiply grains per gallon by the number of gallons you use per day. That tells you how many grains per day your system needs to remove.

Finally, you need to consider the regeneration cycle.

Ideally, your water softener will regenerate once a week. Therefore, you need to multiply the above number by seven. That tells you the minimum grain capacity of your water softener.

For instance, let’s say your water has 8 grains per gallon plus one part per million of iron, and you use 240 gallons of water a day (typical for a family of three).

Here’s the sample calculation:

Water with 13 gpg (8+5) x (240 x 7) = 21,840

You’ll need a water softener with a capacity of at least 21,840 grains.

Price of the System

Water softener costs range from as low as $500 to as high as $2,500. Salt-based systems cost a further $5 to $10 for salt — more expensive if you use potassium instead. They also waste around three gallons of water a minute in regeneration.

Other factors that influence price are additional features of the system. Some water softeners have just the necessary features you need to soften water and nothing else. Others have extras that could be worth the higher cost.

  • Brand — When you buy a softener from a well-known brand, you can be sure that you’re receiving a reliable system. Top brands include SpringWell, Fleck, Quality Water, Aquasana, Pelican, and iSpring.
  • Ease of maintenance and installation — Decide whether you are willing to put in the time to maintain a salt-based system. Think about your DIY skills. For example, do you want a softener to install yourself, or would you instead hire a plumber for the job?
  • Pre-filter — These water filters will remove some contaminants from your water, but you’ll need to pay regularly for replacement water filters.
  • Bypass valve — Only some softener systems come with a bypass valve. That allows you to bypass the softener when you don’t need soft water. It’s useful for tasks that don’t require soft water, like filling a swimming pool.
  • Regeneration setting — Regeneration can be preset or on-demand. Softeners with preset regeneration rely on an accurate estimation of water usage. For example, if you underestimate, and the system will be inefficient. However, if you overestimate, and you’ll sometimes receive hard water minerals. Demand-initiated regeneration, in contrast, suffers from neither of these problems. The system monitors when the resin is full of minerals and regenerates automatically.
  • One-piece or two-piece — If you have extensive water needs, consider a dual-tank system. However, if you have a small household, you’ll prevent wasted salt by choosing a single-tank softener.

Around 85 percent of households in the U.S. receive water that contains high levels of calcium carbonate, magnesium, and iron. However, only roughly a third are currently using a water softener. If your water is even moderately hard, you’ll benefit from a water softener. If it is very hard (10.5 gpg or higher), you should consider a water softener necessary.

If the price is a significant issue for you, you can always consider a water softener rental, although we recommend purchasing if you will be in your house for a while to save money in the long run.

So, Which Water Softener Do We Recommend?

 

After reviewing all of the best water softeners on the market for both city and well water, there are four top ones we recommend for different situations.

If you are looking for our top recommendation and want a whole house saltless softener then SpringWell’s FutureSoft is your best water softener system choice.

If you want the best salt-based option and have very hard water, you can’t go wrong with the Fleck 5600sxt model.

If you have a private well and want the best water softener system specifically for well water,  we recommend Quality Water Treatment’s SoftPro Elite for its price and quality.

Lastly, if you want the best combination salt-free softener and filtration system,  Aquasana’s EQ-1000 Rhino is the best choice.

Keep in mind that a quality whole house water filter is a good investment in your home, the home’s pipes, your health, and your home’s appliances that will last a long time, so don’t skimp on quality.

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