Hard water is often caused by minerals that are soluble, mainly magnesium and calcium. They are absorbed by ground water, and may clog pipes with the deposits of scale, thus reducing the overall effectiveness of laundry detergent and soap, which may leave annoying spots on counters and dishes. Water softeners remove and neutralize the functions of these minerals. There are certain factors that you can take into consideration when it comes to choosing the best water softener for use at home.
For one, you need to choose whether or not you will use a salt-based or a salt-free system. In order to understand the setup, it is also important to be aware of the requirements for installation and maintenance of a certain model under each of the categories. With the help of the following reviews, you can come up with a well-informed decision which can guide you in buying the right one.
The Best In 2016 - Comparison Table
- Fleck 5600SXT 48,000 Grain Water Softener Digitial SXT Metered Whole House System
- Grains: 48,000
- Standard Sized Homes
- Size: 10" x 54" Tank / 14" x 17" x 33" Brine Tank
- 602abcWATER Fleck 5600sxt Metered On-demand 48,000 Grain Water Softener
- Grains: 48,000
- Standard Sized Homes
- Size: 10" x 54" Resin Tank / 15" x 17" x 36" Brine Tank
- Watts RV PRO-1000 OR M7002 10000 Grains Portable Water Softener
- Grains: 10,000
- Apartments, RV's, Portable Use
- Size: 21" x 9.5" x 9"
- Eddy Electronic Water Descaler – Water Softener Alternative
- Grains: -
- Small Sized Homes
- Size: 6.7" x 1.6" x 3.5"
- NuvoH20 Manor Complete Salt-Free Water Softening System
- Grains: 60,000
- Standard Sized Homes
- Size: 31.3" x 10.1" x 8.8"
The Best Water Softeners - Detailed Reviews
Fleck 5600SXT 48,000 Grain Digital sxt Metered Whole House System
The water quality that you have at home is extremely important in order to maintain your health. In order to ensure that your drinking water, as well as other necessities, is free of chemical pollutants, using this system is a good option that you can take into consideration. The 5600SXT 48,000 Grain Digital sxt Metered Whole House System is a product which is often considered as among the best when it comes to removing the build-up of scale in hard water. This unit has been particularly designed to offer the needed functions such as the assurance that the drinking water is free from calcium and magnesium ions, ensuring that your plumbing system, as well as appliances last longer.
- Spacious tank
- Highly durable
- Smart and efficient, digitally metered valve
- Company designed new digital controller
- Optional upgrade for the system is also available
- No protective feature included
- May be challenging to setup
As a manufacturer, Fleck is considered as one of the best in this market. The Fleck 5600 Digital sxt Metered Whole House System uses a very unique system that removes magnesium ions and calcium in its process. It also uses the newest digital controller that is created by the company. Other features loved by many include its touchpad controls, LCD display as well as 48-hour internal power backup. Most importantly, it comes with a user friendly interface, allowing you to enjoy its convenience and ease of use.
602abc WATER Fleck 5600sxt Metered On-demand 48,000 Grain
This grain model is often the best choice in removing hard water from your own home. This system is salt-based which is available currently in the market, well-suited to offer support for a household with up to six members. With this unit, you can clean your clothes efficiently. It does not just remove hard water but also increases the effectiveness of your laundry detergents used in cleaning. Using this unit extends the life of your appliances and pipes at home, while giving you high quality drinking water. No doubt, this is one of the best options you should consider.
- Environmentally friendly
- Economically efficient
- Produces high quality water
- Improves the life span for your home plumbing system
- Highly efficient
- Easy to install
- User friendly interface
- Potassium may not dissolve well in the brine tank when filled completely
No doubt, this Digital sxt Metered Whole House System from Fleck is one of the best options that you can take into consideration when it comes to searching for a good softener for your household. It is suitable for a medium sized household with moderate water quality. It is quite easy to install, which only needs minimum maintenance because the controls can be done automatically with the use of its electronic touch pad controls, LCD back panel and power backup. It also comes with multiple warranties, which is an assurance of its quality.
Watts RV PRO-1000 OR M7002 10000 Grains Portable Water Softener
This particular model has efficiently changed the way water quality is processed. Its dimension is 8 x 22 inches which makes it quite challenging to bring along during camping trips. However, by having it, there is an assurance of better quality water during these trips. It is also designed for easy installation and use. The regeneration process only takes about 20 minutes. It uses normal table salt, which ensures the quality of the drinking water output. There are no buttons or any moving part that you need to deal with, thus ensuring an easy to use system.
- Extended system life
- Easy to hook up and detach
- Affordable for its system
- Amazing product warranty
- Uses pellet salt or table salt in the system
- Its hose fitting does not rotate
- Suited for smaller households
- Works only with manual regeneration
After the initial installation, you can immediately see a good improvement in the quality of your water at home. This means that you no longer have to worry about the annoying white spots on the surfaces of the dishes right after washing them. Also, when it comes to your showering water, you do not have to worry about feeling dry or itchy after. One good thing about this model is that it comes with free testing strips that can be used in checking the hardness level of the water. This is perfect if you are somewhat hesitant of the quality of this product. While there may be some issues with the portability of this product, it is still manageable, and provides the assurance of producing good quality water.
Eddy Electronic Water Descaler – Water Softener Alternative
The Eddy Electronic Water Descaler system is not an actual softener, but an alternative to these more expensive solutions. It is also equipped with a lifetime warranty which is good for any potential damage and breakdown, together with a satisfaction guarantee which can last up to 12 months. This model also uses electromagnetic waves that are designed to potentially reduce the effects of the ions that are present in the water. On the other hand, it does not alter the composition of water, therefore retaining the nutritional benefits.
- Compact size and affordable
- Uses magnetic water softening system
- Low power consumption
- Lifetime product warranty
- Money back guarantee
- Retains the benefits of the nutrients in hard water
- Not a long-term solution; just an alternative
- The quality of the output may not be the same as a real water softening system
- May not be suited for lead or iron pipes
This model is primarily designed and well-suited for households with a hard water level that is just lower than 8 GPG. As an alternative, it works efficiently in providing good quality water. It is also eco-friendly, perfect for users who are wary of this aspect. It is also very easy to install, affordable and easy to maintain. It also comes with a 12-month guarantee, thus giving you the assurance of quality.
NuvoH20 Manor Complete Salt-Free Water Softening System
These days, salt free systems have become very popular since they provide a better alternative to using salt. However, what NuvoH20 Manor Complete Salt-Free Water Softening System offers is a perfect alternative to these types of systems. Instead of salt, it uses citric acid, which works in conditioning hard water and also preventing the build-up of scale throughout the years. As a result, it produces high quality drinking water for your family.
- Amazing product warranty
- Money back guarantee
- Prevents scale build-up through time
- Removes existing build-up
- Easy to use and maintain
- Produces great quality drinking water
- Costly replacement of filter
- Not efficient for hard water or well water
The NuvoH20 Manor Complete Salt-Free Water Softening System is a unit which has been primarily designed and suitable for households who want to have an easy solution. It is easy to install and use, including its maintenance too. In fact, all you have to do is to set it up, and forget about it. It is also slim and compact, enabling you to install it anywhere. A bonus feature of this unit is that it is eco-friendly in the process of softening hard water. It also comes with a great money back guarantee and good product warranty.
For information about water filters, please see our in depth buyer's guide for the best reverse osmosis system for 2016.
How Does it Work?
The importance of water in our lives is unquestionable. We need it to survive, basically. Unfortunately, however, unlike other necessities, water does not come with any manual for instruction. If only it did, we will certainly be able to understand why dishes washed with water come with spots after getting dry, or why your plumbing system at home is clogged up because of your water.
Water has the tendency to pick up bits of anything it passes through in the ground. This is the reason why water has minerals in it. For example, magnesium and calcium are very important because they can have an impact on the function of water in our homes and in our lives. But, this is also the same reason why it is prone to contamination, making it unfit to drink. The minerals present in water makes it hard.
As the water becomes hard, detergents and soaps lose their effectives. Rather than completely dissolving, soap combines with the other minerals, thus forming a coagulated detergent curd. That sticky curd is insoluble, and it clings to our skin, inhibiting the cleansing process. As a result, even your washed hair may appear lifeless and dull. The same thing goes with your laundry, and in everything that you need to wash. In order to fix this problem, it is important to get rid of magnesium and calcium. True, there are certain chemical treatments that can complete this process, but the most effective and the longer lasting solution to this issue is the use of a water softener.
A water softener is an appliance that is plumbed right into the water supply system of your home. Regardless of the brand and make, softeners use a basic operating principle. It trades the mineral for another mineral, such as sodium. This process is known as ion exchange. The most important part of the system is the mineral tank. It is completely filled with little polystyrene beads, which is often known as zeolite or resin. These beads are equipped with a negative charge. On the other hand, magnesium and calcium in water both have positive charges. This only means that these minerals have the capability to cling to these beads the moment hard water goes inside the mineral tank.
At the same time, sodium ions also contain positive charges, but they may not be as strong compared to the charges of both magnesium and calcium. When a strong solution is used to flush through the tank with beads that are saturated with magnesium and calcium, the volume of sodium ions is already enough to carry the magnesium and calcium ions off from the beads. WS systems use a separate brine tank which uses normal salt in order to come up with this brine solution.
In a standard process, hard water goes into the mineral tank and the magnesium and calcium ions go to the beads, thus replacing sodium ions. Afterwards, the sodium ions go to the water. After they are saturated with magnesium and calcium, the entire unit then goes through a three-phase cycle for regeneration. First, it goes through a backwash phase which works in reversing water flow in order to flush the dirt going out of the tank. The second phase is the recharge phase, in which the concentrated salt solution is transferred from the brine tank going to the mineral tank. Sodium collects on the beads, replacing magnesium and calcium, which, in exchange, goes down the drain. After this phase is completed, the mineral tank is then flushed of extra brine, refilling the brine tank.
What Is Hard Water?
Hard water refers to the quality of water which contains a good amount of dissolved materials such as magnesium and calcium. As rainwater falls to the ground, it is soft, naturally. However, as it seeps into the ground, going through natural waterways, it also collects minerals such as lime, chalk, magnesium and calcium. Because hard water has essential minerals, it is also the preferred option for drinking water. Aside from health benefits, it also has good flavor, unlike soft water that often taste salty and not good for drinking.
The main difference between hard water and soft water lies in its function when doing chores at home. Hard water is often the one to blame for clothes that look dirty, dishes with residue and spots, as well as bathtubs filled with soap scum and film. As a matter of fact, after taking a shower using hard water, your hair will also look dull and feel sticky. No doubt, hard water may take a toll on your appliances at home, using up more energy instead. The elements that are found in hard water are often the cause of these factors, since soap becomes less effective because of its reaction to the chemicals magnesium and calcium. It results in a lather which is not as bubbly and rich.
Those who do different household chores would certainly prefer the use of soft water, since it is the type of water that can perform the task efficiently. However, since the availability of soft water is less compared to hard water, modern techniques are being put in place in order to turn hard water into soft water. With the use of this type of water, soap will be able to lather better, thus making sure that items will stay cleaner. At the same time, glasses will certainly sparkle more, and hair will look prettier and healthier.
On top of that, the use of soft water may also end up saving money, since less detergents and soap will be used. Because the appliances only need to work less, soft water has the capability to extend the life of your dishwashers, washing machines and water heaters. Also, the energy bills will become obviously lower among households using Ws. In these modern days when energy costs are increasing, the process of softening your water is something that needs to be taken into consideration.
What Types of Softeners Exist?
A lot of people often get trapped in the idea that there is only one type of water softening device that are currently available to them for use in their households. However, reality is that there are actually different considerations that you can choose from. Generally speaking, a water softener refers to equipment which contains a media, often referred to as the mineral tank. This is something that is constant among all available products, regardless of their type.
Generally speaking, there are three types of softeners that are available: manual, semi-automatic, as well as fully automatic.
Most often, the manual types are the ones that are very simple to use and usually cheap. However, it is also very time consuming and quite complicated at the same time.
They have a single vessel that contains the mineral. Hard water enters the softener through the top, going through the mineral combination, leaving the bottom of the vessel with softened water. It also depends on the volume of the mineral tank, the level of water hardness as well as the total amount of water which has already passed through the equipment at some point. During this phase, the mineral needs to be recharged, or regenerated. This is the phase in which normal table salt is often added.
It is also at this very point that even these basic softening units turn out to be extremely complicated. There is a need for time and interaction in order to complete the entire process. Manual systems are often used for situations with a single application, such as in a smaller commercial washer inside a hotel or a club
Semi-automatics are often considered as the most affordable option that you can purchase for your household. Unlike the manual style, the semi-automatic version comes with two extra components: a brine tank and a simple time-controlled electric valve.
The salt is stored in the brine tank, serving as its reservoir, as well as the area in which some salt can also be dissolved into brine. It is the task of the control valve, on the other hand, to allow brine to be injected into the tank in order to help in the water regeneration of the mineral. This regeneration is triggered through a time clock which is setup in order to make the water regenerate on a certain schedule. In this case, there is never an accurate calculation, which means that exercising caution is very important. Even though the initial installation of semi-automatic softeners may be affordable, they can turn out to be expensive to operate.
These systems are generally observed as being more expensive compared to other types. However, they are also cost effective. Fully automatic units use an effective system for water metering. This system measures the usage of water in a household, reacting to the volume of used water. It is also better compared to the other types of systems already mentioned. While the basic components are similar as with the semi-automatic type, this time, the time control valve is already triggered with the softened water. This type of water softeners also uses two types of technology:
Under this sub-category, we can further divide this type of technology used. Those that are electrically operated serves as the very basic type of technology used. It is relatively dated when it comes to design and concept. Most often, they are more effective compared to both manual and semi-automatic systems. The second type is the electronically operated system. It is regarded as the most efficient type among all designs. We are now living in a highly electronic world. Right after installation, they are very efficient, reliable, and easy to use. With the smart analysis of the water usage in a household, this system easily adapts itself to the most efficient possible operation available. At the same time, electric interruption is no longer an issue, and some models even have a memory backup technology incorporated in this system.
These types of devices are the ones that do not use electricity in the regeneration cycle. They are generally easy to use, though you may have to add the salt block that happens occasionally.
Choosing The Right System
Step 1: Size
Choosing the right type of water is very important when it comes to water purification. In order to completely understand what is involved in sizing, it is often best to understand the way that it actually works. For one, the role of a water softener is to trade the hard minerals found in water for the soft minerals. This trade often involves hard minerals such as calcium entering into the system, and trading with soft minerals such as sodium. Within the mineral tank, there are chemical magnets that are commonly known as “ion exchange resin”. These little magnets are the ones in charge of the trading process. The amount of chemical magnets found in a softener determines its capacity. The more chemical magnets there are, the higher the expected capacity will be. On the other hand, capacity refers to the number of gallons in which the softener can purify before regenerating it.
The capacity is measured in grain, or in grain removal. This chemical measurement has already been in place for a long time already. A ‘grain per gallon’ (GPG) is equivalent to 17.1 parts per million (PPM). The average water in the USA has 10 hardness GPG. You can do the math in coming up with the exact level of hardness that is present in your water with the use of a test kit. In order to calculate the amount of water you need for purifying, you can easily multiple the number of members in your household by 80 (as this is the average use of water per person in a day). This means that for an average family with 4 members, the total grains used every day is 3200.
The next step is to choose according to the type of softener system that you want to have for your home. You may refer to the list above for this. Here are also other factors that you can take into consideration:
Step 2: Needs of the family
Most of the systems use sodium chloride, or salt in removing magnesium and calcium minerals from the water. The water softening system takes charge in removing harsh minerals through the ion exchange process. However, one issue with the systems that use salt is that there are people who are on low-salt diets, or those who may have certain medical conditions which can cause an issue when using water systems that are salt-based. As an alternative you can use a system that uses potassium chloride in order to avoid health issues that are often linked with using salt.
Step 3: Regeneration
Most of the systems use sodium chloride, or salt in removing magnesium and calcium minerals from the water. The system takes charge in removing harsh minerals through the ion exchange process. However, one issue with the systems that use salt is that there are people who are on low-salt diets, or those who may have certain medical conditions which can cause an issue when using water systems that are salt-based. As an alternative you can use a system that uses potassium chloride in order to avoid health issues that are often linked with using salt.
Step 4: Convenience / Ease of use
As a water softener system regenerates either manually, with a timer, or fully automatically, you will still have to replenish the salt within the brine tank, if you decide so. This means that you need to store the right type of salt for the process in order to refill your tank from time to time. If you decide to use a potassium chloride system as an alternative, you still have to store a good supply of potassium chloride pellets that are readily available in order to replenish your system as required.
Step 5: Other Considerations
There are some towns, cities and communities in California, as well as in order places where the use of salt-based water softening systems are prohibited because of their adverse effects towards the environment. On top of these known health risks, especially for individuals who have heart diseases or high blood pressure, these salt-based water softener systems also pose some risks to streams, rivers, and plant life. This calls for the need to check on your local ordinances before getting and installing your system.
There are also other claims that you can look into. For one, there are some individuals who claim that the use of softened water actually leaks heavy metals from the valves, pipes as well as faucets in a building. This can result in the delivery of toxins in low levels which can eventually build-up within the human body in the long run. On top of that, the minerals that are also being used in the process of regeneration may have an impact on the taste of water. This may not be tolerated by some people, regardless of their current health condition.
As a solution to this, some households decide not to take the resulting softened water for consumption. Some household owners even request for the evaluators and installers to skip the kitchen tap. With this, you can still retain the tap to provide you with normal, unadulterated, un-softened water that can still be fit for drinking. The water which comes as a result of the use of the system will now be used for other household purposes, such as in cleaning, laundry, and others. In this way, you can be fair to yourself, and still enjoy all of the mentioned benefits of using softened water, and at the same time, not be threatened by the impact of using these systems, especially those that are salt-based.
Best Water Softener Brands
These days, the WS market is drenched with several brands offering different styles and models of systems. It is now your role to choose the best one according to your needs. However, aside from choosing the specific type of system that you want, you also need to determine the actual brand for your system. Some of them are backed up by good reviews and an established name, while some are newcomers in the industry, but has already proved that they have what it takes to offer people the possibility of using an improved quality of water in their homes. Here are some of them:
- Whirlpool – the company directly sells through their consumers via Lowe’s Home Improvement stores. They produce three models of softeners. The price for installation usually starts at $200, while the actual softening systems are usually priced between $400 and $900. The price may fluctuate depending on area, which is a very important factor.
- Morton – this company offers several units and has also received some good reviews. Most users prefer the Morton Salt Company 34M water conditioner.
- WaterBoss – this manufacturer offers multiple softeners with prices ranging from $300 to $700, and of course, a good range of customer reviews.
- Fleck – this company received a lot of good reviews on Amazon. A lot of people even recommend this brand because of its quality, and affordability.
- GE – there are a few systems listed under this brand, with prices ranging between $600 and $700.
- Kenmore – the company claims that they are already used in more than 100 million households. The statistics may be great, but it seems that the company is selling more water filters compared to actual water softeners.
- Kinetico – this company is talked-about when it comes to quality. You can get one under this brand after representatives visit your home for an evaluation. You also need to deal with their representatives directly to buy their equipment.
- Pelican – another company which has been in the business for quite some time. They offer various different systems. You can also purchase equipment from them through a sales representative.
- Culligan – this company has already been in the business for more than 75 years, and is already considered as an established brand in this industry. You can only buy from them after a representative visits your home for evaluation. This means that DIY installation and purchase is not an option here.
The Pro's and Con's
After taking into consideration certain factors which may affect your decision in determining the type of system that you can have for your home, it is now time to look into the actual benefits that you can gain from having one. There are pros and cons that you can also consider at this point.
- Water softeners reduce the water hardness level
- Increases the function of detergents and soap
- Necessary for the cleaning processes
- Reduced spotting, staining, and scaling on your plumbing system and appliances
- Saves energy in water heating
- Only gets rid of minerals which cause hardness
- It is neither desirable nor healthy for drinking
- Water becomes more aggressive when it comes to leaching metals from the water lines
- Soft water may result to the presence of higher lead content compared to normal water
- The zeolite beads used in these systems can back-siphon to the toilet tanks, thus attacking plumbing systems
- Salt-based systems may increase your intake of sodium
If you are planning to install a water softener system at home but are concerned about the implied drawbacks, you may want to personally discuss your options with a professional. In this way, you can be helped when it comes to identifying the best water softening or conditioning system that can fit your needs best. This also means having the knowledge to choose the right size, as well as the type of equipment that is feasible.