More of a nuisance than a health risk, hard water can cause a number of complications with your daily rituals. Dishwashing, laundry, bathing, and personal grooming can all become a major hassle under hard water conditions to the point where nothing ever feels clean. Clothes may forever look dingy, dishes may be spotted, tub and shower walls are stained, and your hair is actually sticky and lifeless.
The buildup of hard water minerals can actually reduce water flow and even clog pipes, not to mention affect the taste of the water itself. These are all real issues and if this pretty much describes your experience, implementing a solid water softener system is going to dramatically improve life for everybody at home, without a doubt.
Of course, then there is the challenge of choosing water softeners, and you are going to see a ton of options and new creations are always hitting the market. There are four main types of water softening systems, namely salt based, salt free, reverse osmosis, and magnetic. As you’ll see, the majority of the top softening systems are salt based, as this is almost always the most effective, but there are still viable options that aren’t salt based.
Water Softener Buying Guide
As you shop around for a water softening system, there are some important terms to know and things to understand that will help you make a more calculated decision.
- Hardness: The hardness of your water is usually measured in grains per gallon, and you can find out the hardness level of your water by contacting your municipality or by buying a home test kit.
- Grain Capacity: Each softener has a grain capacity, which is the maximum number of grains of water hardness it can remove before regeneration.
- Regeneration: Your softener will inevitably get coated with particles, and during regeneration, the unit mixes salt with incoming water to clean the tank.
- The size of your system will depend on water usage. Most four-person homes require roughly a 33,000-grain softener.
Salt Based Over Salt Free
If you are determined to beat these hard water issues on a comprehensive scale and by any means necessary, a salt-based system will definitely be your best bet.
Salt-based systems, as opposed to salt-free systems, use salt beads to essentially swap out the calcium and magnesium creating the hard water, for salt ions. While this means that there is certainly a salt content in your water, you aren’t drinking salt water, and you won’t taste any salty flavors in your water. However, those who have conditions regarding their salt consumption may want to rethink the implementation of a salt-based system.
Whereas salt-free systems change the way that the minerals in the water behave, salt-based systems actually remove the minerals that cause the hardness, making it a far more effective method. However, this certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t effective salt-free systems, and you will see with this list that there are several. However, if you are looking for the absolute best as far as softening goes, a salt-based system is usually the way to go.
The Best Water Softeners of 2018: Comparison Chart & Reviews
|Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener||48,000 grain||4.5/5||$$|
|Fleck IRON Pro 2 Combination Water Softener||64,000 grain||4.5/5||$$|
|Eddy Water Descaler Electronic Water Softener||N/A||3.8/5||$|
|Aquasana EQ-1000-AST Filter and Water Softener Kit||1 million gallons||4.2/5||$$$|
|WaterBoss 220 Grain Water Softener||36,400 grain||2.8/5||$$|
|Aquios FS-220 Salt Free Water Softener and Filtration System||40,000 gallons||3.3/5||$|
|Morton M30 System Saver Water Softener||30,000 grains||3.2/5||$|
|Revolution Water Softener||Ranges from 32,000 to 96,000 depending on the model||3.5/5||$$$|
|Tier1 48,000 Grain High Efficiency Digital Water Softener||48,000 grain||4.7/5||$$|
Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener
The Fleck 5600SXT is widely agreed upon to be one of the best options for your home, and with a grain capacity of 48,000, it can easily satisfy the water needs of homes with up to six people.
The Fleck 5600SXT is praised for its design, low maintenance requirements, and its effectiveness at ridding your home of hard water. Another perk is the digitally metered valve controller, featuring a backlit LCD screen and touch controls. This softener also has a 48 hour backup period to keep you covered in the event of a power outage.
This Fleck model will easily eliminate iron and manganese while preventing rust and the buildup of sand and sediment. Even with its high capacity, the unit maintains itself with an auto-regeneration system that only engages when necessary, meaning the only requirement is the replacement of salt pellets, which is unavoidable with a salt-based system.
Perhaps, the only downside here is price, as the Fleck 5600SXT is definitely a little pricier than other salt-based systems. However, the package comes with everything that you need to be successful, including a brine tank, a brine wall, and a full installation kit with sanitizer packets, parts, hardness test strips, and an installation guide.
If you are looking for reliable water softeners that perform exceptionally well while requiring little maintenance, it’s unlikely that you will be disappointed with the Fleck 5600SXT. The producers of the Fleck line of softeners are notorious in the industry.
- Installation kit means no trips to the store
- DIY potential
- 10% resin system extends system life
- Perfect for medium-sized homes
- Auto-regeneration to minimize energy cost
- Potentially, pricey
- It’s also a sizable system
Fleck IRON Pro 2 Combination Water Softener
Closely related to the 5600SXT is the Fleck IRON Pro 2, which is another highly regarded softening system with an even higher grain capacity of up to 80,000.
Manufactured by Fleck, the IRON Pro 2 is essentially the same as the 5600SXT, but is able to satisfy larger homes. Similar to the prior model, the IRON Pro 2 uses a digital control valve with auto-regeneration cycles designed to save energy and extend the life of the system.
The most notable aspect of this unit is its grain capacity, as it’s actually one of the largest available. Homes with greater than six residents will, without a doubt, demand a softener on this level that can adequately soften considerable amounts of water. Aptly named, this system specializes in the removal of iron, and without a system of this capacity, high volumes of iron filled hard water would clog up the softener.
The IRON Pro 2 is excellent for medium to large-sized homes that have extremely hard water or simply use considerable amounts of water throughout the month, so if you know that you need something on this level, you can’t go wrong with the IRON Pro 2.
- Huge Capacity
- Fleck digital meter valve
- Brine tank included
- Automatic regeneration
- Removal of iron impurities
- Easy maintenance
- Large system
- Potential installation difficulties
Eddy Water Descaler Electronic Water Softener
Though notorious in the water softeners industry, Fleck isn’t the only one capable of producing a high-quality system. Switching things up a bit, the Eddy Water Descaler is a viable option to hard water problems, despite having a very different approach.
The Eddy Water Descaler is an electronic water softener that doesn’t actually reduce the hardness of the water. What it does do is prevent the minerals in the hard water from sticking to appliances and pipework by emitting an electromagnetic wave that alters the adhesion qualities of limescale, reducing the staining effects and preventing clogged pipes, reduced water pressure, and so on. So, if it doesn’t actually reduce hardness, why do people buy it?
The Eddy Water Descaler is attractive to homeowners in that it’s far less expensive to purchase and far less expensive to operate. As an electronic system, it’s a salt-free system, which means that you don’t have to worry about purchasing heavy bags of salt on a regular basis. For those who are watching their salt intake, the Eddy system may be useful.
While it’s an excellent solution for small homes without significant hard water problems, the Eddy Water Descaler does have rather limited abilities.
- Salt free
- Great for small, less demanding homes
- Extremely inexpensive
- Little to no maintenance
- Compact, easy installation
- Environmentally friendly in comparison
- Keeps healthy minerals in the water
- Limited abilities
- Not suitable for lead or iron pipes
- Not exactly a permanent solution
Aquasana EQ-1000-AST Filter and Water Softener Kit
The Aquasana EQ-1000-AST is another salt-free system, but one with far greater capabilities than the Eddy system. This one combines a softening system with a water filtration system to bring you an extremely satisfying water quality. In addition to softening your water, it has been designed to also remove chlorine, pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants that threaten water quality. The Aquasana also contains a UV filter that kills viruses and bacteria that pass through the filtration system.
With salt-based softeners, there is the risk of too much demineralization, which is the removal of healthy minerals contained in water, but the Aquasana doesn’t have this issue. As a salt-free system, you can count on keeping the important minerals, while still protecting your appliances, clothes, and dishes from the nasty effects of hard water.
As an all-in-one system, you are getting more than just water softening, but that also means that you are paying for more than water softening. The Aquasana is one of the more expensive home systems, but if you are willing to spend, you are certainly getting some excellent features.
The EQ line is also available in three different models, the 1000 being the most advanced. However, other models offer similar features, but on a smaller-scale, usually indicating a shorter lifespan. You will see a price reduction with each model, but they are all softening-filtration combinations.
- All-in-one design
- Filtration plus softening
- Salt free
- Environmentally friendly
- Long life with warranty
- Keeps important minerals
- High performance
- On the high end in terms of price
WaterBoss 220 Grain Water Softener
The WaterBoss is a 36,400 grain capacity unit, making it a doable option for medium-sized homes, and it also contains a built in, 20 micron water filtration system. More amazingly, it’s also extremely compact. Other salt-based systems will demand more space, but the WaterBoss offers way more flexibility in that department.
Similar to other systems, the WaterBoss water softeners use a meter based regeneration system that initiates automatically based on water consumption. The regeneration process on this unit is quite efficient, using only the exact amount of water and salt and taking anywhere from 19 to 30 minutes to complete.
You can also count on an easy installation and quiet operation, even with the built in filtration system. Despite its size, the WaterBoss is still capable of softening water up to 90 gpg (grains per gallon), which is considerably hard water.
The single canister design makes it easy to place and set up, but at the same time, the system can hold up to 120 pounds of salt, which is considerably large. The larger the tank can hold, the less frequently you will be forced to fill it.
It’s not exactly suitable for large homes, but it will adequately soften water for medium-sized homes, and with the added bonus of a filtration system, you can get excellent quality water for cheaper than Aquasana.
- Compact size
- Speedy and efficient regeneration
- Auto regeneration
- 20 micron water filter added
- 36,000-grain capacity
- Can handle very hard water
- Not for large homes
- A little pricey
Aquios FS-220 Salt Free Water Softener and Filtration System
The Aquios FS-220 is another one that allows you to filter and soften water in a single machine, and similar to the Aquasana, the Aquios FS-220 is salt free.
Without salt, your system reduces hardness using a different approach, which is ultimately less effective, but the salt-free system does provide benefits that salt-based systems can’t. The number one being environmentally friendliness. Salt-free systems, aside from not using salt, require less energy to operate and are therefore kinder to the environment while being cheaper to run.
Still, you can count on improved water quality, and the Aquios FS-220 should improve the feel of the water, making it soft as opposed to slippery. This particular softener is aided by special cartridges of an additive that prevents limescale build up. Whereas the WaterBoss utilized a 20-micron filter, the Aquios uses a 5-micron filter. Smaller, but you still have the added benefit of the filter in the first place.
While most salt free water tanks don’t require any additives, this one does, which means they will have to be refilled at some point, similar to how you have to keep adding salt to salt-based systems. If your goal is to mess with your softening system as little as possible, then neither this nor a salt-based system may be the best for you.
The Aquios FS-220 is also less expensive than other systems and performs well enough to make a noticeable change. Small to medium-sized homes can benefit from this system, but it wouldn’t be able to satisfy the needs of a larger home.
- Lower price
- Long lasting additive cartridges
- Softening plus filtration
- Salt free
- Environmentally friendlier
- Fights build up
- Slim design
- Cartridge replacement
- Not as effective at extreme hardness
- Considerable sediment can reduce effectiveness
Morton M30 System Saver Water Softener
Being a salt-based system, you already know that the Morton M30 is going to be an extremely effective softening unit, and as a Morton product, you have the added benefit of purchasing your softener and salt from a single company.
While it’s a little heavier and bigger in size, the Morton machine does have a rather large 34,000-grain capacity, making it another excellent option for medium-sized homes. It also contains a “look ahead” feature that allows it to learn more about the patterns of both incoming water and usage.
Compared to other salt-based systems, the Morton M30 has a fairly decent price and doesn’t require nearly as much as some of the others. The Morton M30 has been known to produce a certain set of issues, namely minor electrical issues and the salt bridge issue. The salt bridge issue is what happens when your softener quits conditioning your water as a result of salt forming a surface crustiness that prevents the unit from operating properly.
Despite the potential issues, the unit still performs well and adequately softens water without the high costs of some of the leading systems. Medium-sized households would certainly enjoy the benefits of these water softeners, and any of the issues that you may experience are typically easily fixable.
- Slightly lower cost
- Salt based
- Very effective
- Easy operation
- Space efficient
- Potential issues
Revolution Water Softener
The Revolution line of water softening systems come in grain capacities ranging from 32,000 to 96,000, making them one of the most flexible and accommodating options available.
Similarities between the Revolution softeners and the Fleck softeners can be made. For example, some of the Revolution models are digitally metered as well. The settings on which help to minimize water and salt waste, and the technologies utilized in the unit are conducive to environmentally-friendly operation. The Green technology it uses has even been said to reduce salt discharge by up to 75%, adjusting the amount of salt used based on the actual consumption.
The Revolution series also has a pretty impressive warranty, including a 10-year warranty on the digital valve and a lifetime warranty on the tanks and resins. Typical warranties for digital components usually don’t go past five years, so with these units, you will be covered for quite a long time.
The excellent salt utilization of these systems will save you money in the long run, in both energy and salt usage. As a salt-based system, it’s among the most effective at reducing hardness of water, and with the added efficiency, you are getting a truly remarkable machine. With the various grain capacities, you can use this in everything from small homes to enormous homes and still get adequate hardness reduction.
- Salt based; extremely effective
- Top quality digital valve
- Excellent warranty
- Energy saving features
- Self-adjusting water and salt usage
- Grain capacity options
- Suits both small and large homes
- Depending on the size, it can be pricey
Tier1 48,000 Grain High Efficiency Digital Water Softener
The Tier1 has one of the higher flow rates at 17.5 gpm (gallons per minute) and is a salt-based system with a 48,000-grain capacity. With a high efficiency, the Tier1 will definitely satisfy larger homes with a hardness level of up to 60 gpg.
The salt reservoir can hold up to 150 pounds, and it’s a two-component system comprised of the salt reservoir and the resin tank. While this makes for greater capacity, it also means you need to have space for it. While the package comes with many of the components that you need, you may need to purchase additional components depending on your current arrangement.
Not the largest grain capacity seen here, but 48,000 will cover some rather large homes, but the regeneration cycle can last up to two hours long. With a digital interface, you can manually enter the hardness level of your home for a more targeted and efficient performance or force the regeneration yourself. You can also time the regeneration cycle to take place at a time that’s most convenient.
There’s no denying the power of this system, but it perhaps lacks some of the best features that you can find in other systems.
- High efficiency
- Salt based
- High flow rate
- Great for larger homes
- High-capacity reservoir
- Complete home system
- Kind of bulky
- Slow regeneration
How to Maintain a Water Softener System to Keep Your Water Soft
Hard water is a problem in many regions. When high levels of magnesium and calcium are in your local water supply, you have hard water. This tends to cause lime scale and mineral buildup in your plumbing.
Most people choose to correct their hard water problem with water softener systems. These systems effectively remove calcium and magnesium from the water. However, without proper care, your water softener system may not work as efficiently.
Clean and Maintain the Brine Tank
Water softener systems include a brine tank and a resin tank. The brine tank, which is also called the salt tank, is where the hard water enters the system and mixes with the brine solution. Over time, the salt levels in this tank can decrease and a thick layer of salt buildup can form at the bottom of the base.
If the salt levels are too low or if the buildup is preventing the flow of water through the softener system, you will begin noticing your water harden.
Once per month, you should check the salt levels in the tank. Add more salt if necessary. If the salt has formed a layer at the bottom of the base, you will need to break up the layer using a long broom and hot water.
When adding salt to the tank, there are several types of salt. Some water softener systems will recommend a specific salt, such as granular, tablet, or block salt. Most systems use granular salt as it dissolves quickly.
You can purchase granular salt in pellets or crystals. While the crystals are cheaper, they may clog the brine tank and increase the risk of salt buildup.
There are also several grades of salt. You can select rock salt, solar salt, and evaporated salt. Rock salt is the most affordable option. However, rock salt also contains impurities that increase the need to clean your tanks. Evaporated salt provides the best performance and includes the highest price tag.
Flush the Softener System with Cleaner
Besides the checking the brine tank, you also need to occasionally flush the system with a water softener cleaner. You should typically perform this flush every few months to prevent buildup that interferes with the efficiency of the system.
There are different cleaners available to address specific problems with the softener system. You can find cleaners that target iron or other minerals instead of providing an all-purpose solution for removing mineral buildup. If you know that the resin beads contain too much of one mineral, find a cleaning product that specifically targets your issue.
Professional Maintenance and Repair
Other than the cleaning tasks discussed, your softener system should not require a complete cleaning for five to ten years. However, there are issues that can increase the need for cleaning. This includes the presence of other minerals causing buildup in the tanks.
If you perform your standard maintenance and continue to experience hard water, you should contact a technician to examine your system. Along with thoroughly cleaning your system, they can test the buildup to determine which minerals are causing a problem with your appliance.
As you search around for water softeners, keep in mind all of the different factors that are going to influence your decision. If you can find out your water’s hardness level, this will help you make a more calculated decision, and again, you can do this by either contacting your municipality or testing the water yourself. By getting the grains per gallon number, you can multiply that by the number of gallons used daily in the household.
Also, decide whether or not you want a salt-based or a salt-free system. Salt-based systems are typically going to be the most effective at fighting hardness, but they will obviously require you to regularly refill your machine with salt, whereas a salt-free system typically won’t require additives, and they also won’t require a drain to be installed.
Presented here are some of the best options available, currently, for both small and large homes and for those who are working within a budget. All of these products can be conveniently ordered online, and while some are set up for self installation, others may require contacting a plumber or another skilled professional for proper setup.