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Are you sick of having to rewash your clothes and dishes because they are always stained? Do your appliances break down faster than they should and you constantly find yourself wasting money on new ones?
I have the solution to this problem. As a microbiologist and a certified water expert, I know the quality of water is important for a good life. That is why I’ve dedicated myself to finding the right way to tackle this problem. If your answer to the questions above is yes, you have a hard water problem. Luckily for you, it’s easily solvable with the use of a water softener. In this review, I will help you by giving you all the info you need and also aiding you in choosing the best water softener for your household.
Springwell Softener System – Best Buy in 2021
- Retains healthy minerals;
- Vigorous water pressure;
- Risk-free purchase;
- Wastes no water;
Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener – Best Salt-Based Softener
- Proven Fleck WS48-56sxt10 control head with automatic bypass valve
- No iron pre-filter required;
- A high-capacity brine tank requires less maintenance;
- Overflow system protects floors from accidental spills;
- 100-percent polyglass tank offers superior corrosion resistance;
Pelican Salt-Free Water Softener – Best Salt-Free Water Softener
- Super effective
- Basic maintenance
- NSF and DVGW certified
- Lifetime warranty
Water softener – Basics
To make an informed choice, I’m going to tell you the most important things you need to know about a water softener – how it works, types of softeners available to you, the pros and cons of investing in one, etc. Also, I’ve compiled a list of, in my expert opinion, some of the best products on the market right now.
How does a water softener work?
The water from your household is filtered through a material that is coated with positively charged ions known as a resin. When the water goes through the resin, the magnesium and calcium dissolve, and sodium ions take their place, causing a so-called mineral exchange. This removes the hardness of the water and this is how you get soft water that doesn’t cause buildup on dishes and appliances.
Best Water Softener: Buying Guide & Product Review
Springwell Softener System – Best Buy in 2021
The top choice of most consumers, the Springwell softener system with its grain range from 32k to 80k, is a powerful machine that is very worth considering when you are dealing with water hardness at home.
Very few of the other competitors offer this level of technology when it comes to controlling your water softener. The Springwell comes with a built-in Bluetooth that enables you to connect the water softener directly to your phone or tablet and complete all the settings from there.
Through the app called Legacy View, you can input the water hardness level, you can monitor the water pressure, check how much soft water is left, and schedule a regeneration.
A Well-rounded Package
The Springwell system is equipped with everything you need. It comes with a softener tank, head and brine tank, also a valve, and a drain line. The installation process is simple because the system comes with a very well-written DIY instruction manual. However, they always advise you to use professional help if you are unsure of your skills.
A very nice addition is the UV lamp that helps battle microorganisms, which I am all for, being a microbiologist. This UV lamp can handle bacteria and viruses and it helps in making your water even safer to use.
Durability & Warranty
As opposed to the 8% resin other systems offer, this one comes with a 10% resin, which adds a few more years of life to the overall system. The resin has a 6-month money-back guarantee. As for the system, including tanks, bypasses, valves, heads, etc.- it is all covered by a lifetime warranty.
- Durable resin
- Flexible for households of different sizes
- Smart control using an app
- NSF-certified components but the system is not certified
Fleck 5600SXT water softener is one of the best the market has to offer, with its 48,000 grains capacity, a standard brine tank, a 10% resin, and a specialized Fleck control system that is fairly easy to navigate.
Like many other salt-based softeners, this one can also regenerate on a set timer. But what makes it special is that it can regenerate on its own even before the set time if it reaches the maximum capacity. This simple feature saves you a lot of salt and water.
The Fleck water softener comes with an LCD screen on which you can see the current status of the system. If there is an error, you can see it on the screen and then use the user’s manual to get ahead of the problem. Its design is very simple so that it is accessible to everyone.
This water softener has passed all testing provided by NSF and is a fully credited system. This proves its effectiveness in fighting hard water issues.
- Effective (certified to NSF standards)
- Auto + Real demand regeneration
- Simple control
- Durable (10% crosslink resin)
- Offers one single grain choice (48k)
If you are not connected to a municipal source and are using your well water, this Fleck water softener is worth considering. It is specialized in treating the high levels of iron that usually are present in well water.
A Strong Capacity
If the grain capacity of the previous Fleck doesn’t suit your needs, the Fleck 5600SXT is here to help, with its 5 different capacity options, ranging from 32,000 grains to 80,000 grains. This makes it suitable for small and large households alike.
With its capacity to handle very hard water with up to 85 grains per gallon, it’s one of the strongest water softeners on the market right now.
Designed for Iron
The name says it all. This softener is designed for dealing hard water rich with iron using the ion exchange process. It eliminates all the stains and buildup, and also by removing the iron effectively removes the metallic taste in your water.
This water softener can tackle large concentrations of iron, up to 8ppm, although some customers have reported it works well even at 10ppm.
You have two options when it comes to auto-regeneration:
- Regenerate after a certain amount of water
- Regenerate after a certain amount of time
It comes with a simple and easy-to-use digital touchpad. After a few minutes, it’s all set up and ready to go.
- Can deal with extremely hard water
- Large capacity
- Effective in removing iron of moderate concentration
- Needs pre-filter if iron is high
Do you have a hard water problem, but don’t want all the hassle that comes with salt-based softeners or you are simply against adding salt to your water? Luckily for you, the Pelican is an easy solution because it is a salt-free water softener.
This system is certified by the DVGW ( Deutscher Verein des Gas und Wasserfaches) or translated – the German Association for gas and water) and this proves its effectiveness in dealing with hard minerals. It can prevent up to 99.6% of scale.
However, this water softener is not very helpful when it comes to dealing with mineral spots, so it will not help you with having cleaner glassware, mirrors, and fixtures.
A Complete Package
The Pelican comes with a pre-filter that is responsible for removing dust, rust, sand, and other sediments. This helps the resin to do its job better and easier and improves the overall quality of water.
It comes with its tools, like a mounting kit and a wrench. The package comes with just about everything you need to set the system up. Installation is a basic DIY job, which means you will save some money on professional help.
A High Price Up-front
This saltless water softener costs about $1600, which is a lot but believe me, it’s worth every penny. The level of water quality it delivers is unbeatable.
Also, you save money on salt and electricity and it doesn’t waste water during operation. There is no need for any part replacements apart from the annual pre-filter change, so in the long run, it’s a really good investment.
- Super effective
- Basic maintenance
- NSF and DVGW certified
- Lifetime warranty
- High initial price
- Does not reduce mineral stains
iSpring ED2000 Whole House Water Softener – Electronic Softener
Features: does not change the chemistry of water, designed for very hard water areas, easy installation
If you are in search of a budget-friendly solution, the iSpring electronic descaler is worth a try.
It’s Affordable and Convenient
This is surely the main reason behind the popularity of this whole house water softener – the price which is lower than the cheapest salt-based softeners on the market. It’s very cheap and also compact, which makes it easy to install in small spaces. You will not need the help of a professional plumber or handyman.
This system uses an electromagnetic force, which ensures a silent regeneration. It’s a saltless softener so you will also save money on salt.
The public report
The majority of users have reported noticeable improvements around the household – reduced or completely vanished stains, rings, and buildup. A lot of them also reported that the skin irritation is reduced, and their hair has gotten smoother and less tangled. iSpring is a famous brand for water treatment devices, so it is trustworthy.
- Easy installation
- Salt-free, chemical-free
- No maintenance needed
- Effects not scientifically proven
The SoftPro Elite is great for all households – small and large because it comes with different grain capacities, from 24000 to 110000, so no matter if you need a softener for yourself or for your whole family, there is a SoftPro version that can serve your needs.
Different Filter Options
A great thing about this softener is that it gives you the option to choose the type of filtering technology you want to use. It has a R/O system that filters water with an alkalizer and clears around 70%. To remove bacteria and hard metals, you have the KDFF media guard filter. It eliminates up to 99% of these harmful metals.
The safety float is maybe one of the top features of this softener. It automatically shuts the water off once the water level rises. This is very important if you travel a lot and are not home to control the work of your softener.
Complete Package & Easy Installation
Although the big LCD screen can be a bit intimidating for people who are not so well-versed with technology, it is actually very simple to use for everyone. However, you always have the option to call a professional plumber if you are unsure.
In the package, you will get the basic tools you need, such as a safety float, valve basket, brine tank, mesh resin, and protective neoprene jacket.
- Features compact, fiberglass design
- High water flow rate
- Easy to install, operate, & maintain
- Quality customer service and support
- Limited lifetime warranty on all components
- Base model not included
- Requires power connection and salt fill-up
If you don’t need a whole water softener system, but instead you need softer water from a specific water source in your household, take a look at these specialized softeners for showerheads, faucets, etc.
This special shower head is one of the best in the market if you want to soften the water in your shower. It removes iron, heavy metals, and calcium. Also, unlike the other showerheads available, it removes chlorine and fluoride.
A common problem in water softener shower heads is the loss of water pressure while using them. Luckily, tests showed that the Pureaction showerhead maintained the same water pressure while providing three different spray settings. Overall, this shower head is a great choice at an affordable price.
- Softens water
- Removes chlorine, fluoride, and chloramine
- Saves water without reducing pressure
- Needs more spray settings
If you are in search of a faucet water filter, search no more. This particular filter is a great choice and very convenient. It attaches easily to your sink faucet. It comes with a LED indicator that will let you know when the filter needs a replacement.
It is certified to remove 99% of contaminants, so you can be sure that you are getting what you paid for. It uses MAXION filter technology, which uses carbon and ion exchange in order to reduce the harmful minerals in the water.
This faucet is capable of filtering about 100 gallons of water between each filter replacement, which is about every 2-3 months.
- No tools necessary
- Removes contaminants
- Improves clarity and taste
- Reduces water flow
Features: three-stage filtration process, easy filter replacement, easy installation
This water softener goes through a three-stage filtration process:
- 5-micron sediment
- Carbon filter
- Membrane – UF hollow filter
This filtration process makes it possible for the Aquasana to eliminate up to 68 different contaminants in the water.
This water filter is covered by a one-year limited warranty. In addition to this, the company offers a 90-day satisfaction guarantee. This means that if you are not satisfied with the product, you can return it anytime in those 3 months.
- Filter life monitoring and replacement reminder via Bluetooth.
- High-performance 3-stage filtration.
- Easy DIY installation.
- Three finish options.
- More expensive than competitors
- Relatively short filter life (around 6 months).
Types of Water Softeners
There are four main types of water softeners: salt-based, salt-free, dual-tank, and magnetic water softeners. One of the most popular and effective is a salt-based softener.
Salt-Based Water Softeners
Salt-based water softeners are the most common choice amongst consumers. A big contributor to these systems being used so often is that they come in a vast variety of sizes, which makes them appropriate for any type of accommodation.
Also, their price fits into most budgets because it’s somewhere in between the most affordable magnetic systems and the expensive salt-free systems.
How do they work? Salt-based water softeners use an ion exchange system in which heavy minerals, like calcium and magnesium, go through a resin and are then exchanged for sodium ions (salt). These softeners are capable of removing all the harmful minerals from your water, making it more healthy so it won’t damage your dishes and appliances.
The downside to salt-based softeners is that the sodium ions in the resin run out after some time, which means more salt needs to be added to the resin. This needs to be done at least once a week. Keep in mind that these water softeners are much bigger than the salt-free ones, so although they are suitable for different types of homes, you should look into other types of softeners if you are low on space.
- Affordable in the long term
- Quick to deliver results
- Completely removes hard minerals
- Prevents limescale
- Eliminates stains and spots
- Possible sodium intake increase
- Requires salt refill and cleaning of the resin bed
Salt-Free Water Softeners
As the name suggests, salt-free water softeners don’t use salt in the process of softening the water. Instead, they use polymer beads that form into crystals when the minerals attach to them. This enables these water softeners to prevent scaling and buildup on your dishes. However, they are not very good at removing heavy minerals from the water.
Salt-free water softeners are one of the most expensive choices on the market but, seeing as they usually last for about 3 years without needing to be recharged and without using electricity, the cost in the long term rounds up to about the same as the salt-based ones.
Another good thing about these types of systems is that they are smaller than salt-based and can be used in households that don’t have a lot of storage space. The downside is that they can have difficulties in bigger households that use a large amount of water because they are weaker systems than salt-based ones.
- Require minimal maintenance
- Prevent limescale in pipes, and stains on fixtures
- Slower than salt-based machines
- Do not prevent buildup in appliances
Dual-Tank Water Softeners
A dual-tank water softener is also a salt-based softener, only it has two resin tanks instead of one. These tanks function in the same way as a single tank, except that when one tank is in the regeneration cycle, the other tank still works, which means that clean water is always available in the household.
If you absolutely must have access to soft water all the time, it’s worth taking a look at these types of systems. They aren’t necessary for most homes because the regeneration happens at night when the household doesn’t use water.
Also, because of the dual tanks, these systems are very big and can be hard to install without professional help. They are also more expensive than the other types of softeners and do need to be recharged. However, a dual tank can handle double the amount of water, so if you use a large amount of water daily, it’s a solid choice for you.
- Large capacity
- No off time
- Increases salt intake
- Requires maintenance
Magnetic Water Softeners
Magnetic/electric water softeners are the most compact of all the softeners and are ideal for small spaces because they get attached to the water pipe and take up almost no space in your home. You don’t need to cut into the water line to install them, but some of the models do need to be wired into your home’s electrical system.
Magnetic water softeners do not remove heavy minerals from your water. Instead, they use a magnetic field to neutralize them. After they are neutralized, they cannot bond between themselves and can no longer cause buildup.
If your home has a light issue with hard water and your budget is low, these types of softeners are a good choice for your household.
- Easy maintenance
- Prevent limescale and stains
- Easy installation
- Slow to deliver results
- Do not prevent buildup in appliances
How to choose the best water softener for you?
There are a few parameters that help determine which water softener suits your needs best. As a water quality expert, I’ve made a list of the most important steps you need to follow.
Step 1: Determine the hardness of your water
When determining the level of hardness of the water in your home, you can use one of the three methods below.
The Easy Method: Estimation and Assumption
If your country has a water hardness scale, you can get a rough estimate of how hard your water is. However, this is not nearly as accurate and you could be at risk of buying the wrong water softener that cannot handle the amount of hardness. As I said, this method is not very reliable, but it’s convenient.
The Accurate Method: Testing with a Device
For a more reliable result, it’s a good idea to get a testing kit, better known as a TDS (total dissolved solids) meter. These TDS meters are very popular with individuals who want to have control over the water they use in the household.
In most devices, the hardness of your water will be expressed in ppm or mg/L, so if you want to know the grain percentage, you can use this formula for conversion:
- Hardness in grains = hardness in parts per million/17.1
The Professional Method: Complete Lab Analysis
If you want to be sure of the hardness level, it’s best to send a sample of the water to a certified professional lab for a full analysis. The lab results will help point out the exact elements that cause the hardness of your water and need to be removed.
This method is the best way to tackle the hardness problem because it gives you so many details about the state of your water, which greatly helps you in choosing the right water softener.
Step 2: What Size of Water Softener Do You Need?
Most water softening systems are installed at the point where the water enters your home, which means that the size of the softener should be determined by the daily water usage.
Another thing to consider during calculations is the period between regenerations. Ideally, a water softener should process an amount of grain daily that will make it regenerate once a week. More than that is wasting water and increasing your water bills needlessly.
The formula for determining the capacity is:
- Capacity = Number of People (+1 for appliances) x Hardness Level x 80 Gallons x Days between Regenerations
Step 3: Check for Important Certifications and Extra Features
Apart from type, size, and price, there are other features to look for when buying a water softener:
- Crosslink figure
- Automatic features
Advantages/disadvantages of owning a water softener
It’s good to have as much information as you can before buying a water softener, so you can weigh in the pros and cons accordingly.
- Extend the life of your appliances
- Well-functioning pipe systems
- No more stains
- Leave softer skin & fresher hair
- Make your clothes softer
- Most disadvantages of a water softener are tied to the regeneration because during the process you will not have clean water available. Another thing is the water waste during the regeneration which can cause a slight increase in your water bill.
What to Consider Before Buying
Water hardness is measured using GPS ( grains per gallon) – 1 grain equals 0.002 ounces of calcium carbonate dissolved in 1 gallon of water.
- 0-3 gpg is considered soft water.
- 3.5-7 gpg is considered moderate and ideal
- >7.5 gpg is considered as hard water
Small water softeners come with weekly grain capacities of 16,000, 24,000, and 32,000 and are mostly used for RVs, apartments, and small houses. Medium water softeners have grain capacities of 40,000, 48,000, and 64,000 and are perfect for large households.
Large water softeners with grain capacities of 80,000 and 100,000 are most appropriate for big families and properties.
We already covered the part that salt-based and dual-tank water softeners take up a lot of storage. You will need to measure the area intended for your softener and then check with manufacturers to see the dimensions of your desired product.
If you are very low on storage space, it’s smart to look into saltless water softeners because they are the smallest of all types.
Why do you need this valve? First. Let me explain what it does. Its purpose is to divert water from the softener, giving you direct access to the hard water. Now the question is, why would you want hard water when you have already bought a softener to help with that problem?
Well, if you live in a house with a big lawn, it doesn’t matter if you water it with hard water, but it does make a difference in your overall water and electricity bills.
How do water softeners work?
Water softeners work by using resin beads (which have a negative ion charge) to attract and capture specific minerals responsible for water hardness, like calcium and magnesium (which have a positive charge). These minerals bind to the reason and it doesn’t let them through, which gives you soft and clean water.
How much salt does a salt-based softener added to water?
The level of salt that the water softener adds to the water depends on the hardness of the water. Softeners use a process called ion exchange in which an equal amount of sodium is exchanged with calcium and magnesium minerals.
The salt-based softeners add 20-40 milligrams of salt. However, don’t worry because it will not give the water a salty taste.
How do you clean a water softener?
To maintain good performance, water softeners need to be regenerated regularly. The system will monitor by itself and regenerate when needed. However, in salt-based softeners, a salt bridge can be formed. If this happens, you will need to break it with a strong tool and then vacuum the residue salt that is now floating in the tank.
Does my water bill increase with the use of a water softener?
The answer is yes, slightly higher bills are a must if you own a water softener. The harder your water is, the more often your softener will regenerate itself and the bigger the bills will be. Many people see this increase as a nonsignificant sacrifice to have access to clean water.
Where are water softeners installed?
The logical place for installing a water softener is the source of water in your home. You would want to intercept all incoming hard water before it enters your home if you want to deal with the problem successfully.
Most people install their water softeners in their garage or basement, away from the rest of the house. However, if your home doesn’t have a garage or basement, it’s a good idea to store your water softener close to a heater.
How long do water softeners last?
The answer to this question depends on the product itself. Most softeners last for 10 to 20 years. Many factors contribute to the lifespan of the softener so it is an individual thing.
Now that I’ve shown you my top picks, let’s choose the winner. It is Springwell. That doesn’t mean the other competitors are not good, it’s just that this water softener has it all. It has a wide range which makes it suitable for any home, it has an easy-to-use control system, it is budget-friendly and it’s warranted for life. It just ticks all the right boxes.
However, the final decision is still yours. I’m just here to give you my view as an expert and try to help you make the best choice for your household.
Austin is the lead water consultant and blogger for Water Filter Data. With 10 years of experience in the water quality industry, Austin can instantly pinpoint the cure and the cause for the water pollutant.