Best Water Softener Reviews With Complete Buyer Guide

Water is a vital resource, in fact, we cannot live without it. Collectively, we recognize the importance of this element to our existence and yet we cannot seem to avoid wasting it or even neglecting the quality of water being used in our homes and residences. This reality is a result of rapid urbanization in some areas where access to clean water is not as reliable as it should be. To address this issue, finding the best water softener for your home is often the solution.

The water softener market is strong for all types of products; but the king is still going to be water softeners that are based on the salt method. It’s a thriving market that aims to make the expensive appliances and homes that consumers work hard for to work at the top of their game.

Having the best water softener system is a way to treat your home to a sort of renewal, rather than letting it continue to deal with the plague that is hard water. Hard water is easily turned into soft water thanks to these systems that are easy to install, and easy to maintain. Even the portable systems on the list that seem like a handful are easy to maintain once users get used to them.

We have managed to gather data on the top 10 water softeners available in 2017 and created detailed water softener reviews, with summary for each here below:

 

PhotoWater SoftenerGrainsDimensionRating
Fleck-5600SXT-48000-Water-SoftenerFleck 5600SXT48,00010 x 0.1 x 54 inches4.9
WaterBoss Water Softener - 22,000 Grain CapacityWaterBoss 2202200018.8 x 14.8 x 25.8 inches4.8
Aquasana-Salt-Free-Water-SoftenerAquasana EQ-SS20N/A14 x 5 x 23 inches4.7
Aqua-Pure AP902 Water FilterAqua-Pure AP902N/A25.1 x 4.5 x 4.5 inches5.0
Aquasana-Salt-Free-Water-Softener

Watts-RV-PRO-1000-Portable-Water-Softener
Watts RV PRO-10001000021 x 9.5 x 9 inches4.6
Iron-Pro-2-Water-SoftenerIron Pro 2 Fleck 5600SXT64,000N/A4.5
NuvoH2O Manor Water Softener60,0005 x 5 x 24 inches4.4
Morton 30000 Grain Water SoftenerMorton System Saver Water Softener30,000 5 x 5 x 5 inches4.3
GE GXSH45V 45100 Grain Water SoftenerGE GXSH45V Water Softener45,0000.1 x 50 x 26 inches4.2

 

Difference Between Portable and Standard Water Softeners

This answer is pretty simple and applies to all individuals based on the current setting. If your home is stationary then get a standard water softener. If you are always on the move, or you alternate between your RV and your home, get a portable solution. Portable solutions have their place in that they are universal and are pretty simple to get going. The problem with the portable solution is that it does not always have all of the great features of the standard, including the much loved automated regeneration.

Portable water softeners will also be a lot less power than their standard counterparts, and not because of size, but because the parts have to be made portable in order to be universal. This doesn’t mean that they are cheap, but that they are portable friendly and missing more consumer friendly features that make the standards so great to deal with. This of course might not be a problem at all, since they will end up handling less amount of water in a day than the standard house they are hooked up to. So realistically consumers only have to get their hands dirty when it really matters, and it isn’t as much of a babysitting job as it seems.

The plus with this is that anyone can handle the manual regeneration process, but it also means that just about anyone can screw it up as well. It isn’t exactly a science to manually handle the portable functions but it goes without saying that getting it correct the first time will get rid of unwanted handling later on during the trip. Without any surefire way to tell right away if something is wrong it may require some guesswork and going back and forth, which could really put a sting in the trip.

Good to great portable water softeners are available on this list, but no company has yet created the fantastic to perfect portable water softener. It’s a race to the finish line and it is almost guaranteed that the first major brand to come out with one will be swimming in loads of money. The demand is great for an automatic water softener with digital features, so there is no reason to keep denying the customers that want it. So once again just choose your water softener based on your traveling situation, and ideally you could have one for home and one for on the road.

 

How To Install a Water Softener?

For the most part all of the water softeners on the list as easy to install, with varying degrees of difficulty. Some of the more modern takes don’t even require messing with the pipes at all, and can be done in under 2 hours. Some basic installation steps for the average salt based water softener starts with reading the directions that came with the package. Although the below directions are generic and apply to most water softeners, it is only meant as a guideline in how the process works and your mileage may vary. Basic directions usually start with turning off the water to the house and shutting off the power to the hot water heater. These two first steps are the easiest but also the most important ones. Next is to drain all of the water left in the hoses and your house, usually by turning on faucets and outside hoses.

This process will take a bit but is worth it to make sure the install goes smoothly, and before setting up your tanks. If you have a two tank system, make sure that they are in an easy to reach place and side by side. You don’t want an uneven surface, and you don’t want them to be in a position where they can get damaged. Since some of the water softeners available can weigh as much as 200 pounds, positioning it right the first time will go a long way in getting rid of future problems where you may have to move it yourself. Some installs may require some soldering work, but it is rare. The most you will have to worry about in the situation with the bypass ports and tubing is measuring the tape that goes on them correctly.

If your unit comes with a discharge head make sure to follow the directions in the manual for installing it, as all discharge heads are made differently. Making sure that the correct tubing is attached to the drain is vital, so check and double-check as this can cause serious damage if done wrong. At this point having the correct tools are necessary, as you’ll be installing the bypass valve and tightening it. No fancy tools are needed in this process, just the standard set.

After installing the rest of the tubes and valves, it is as simple as checking to make sure nothing is loose or in the wrong place. At that point you can turn the water back on as well as plug in the electric heater. For all in ones or water softeners that come with a brine tank, make sure to follow the directions for prepping it for first use. At that point it should be ready to go through the backwash cycle to prep the water in the house for first use, and this is all done in under two hours. Once again directions vary per model, but this is just how easy all of them are to install.

 

Salt Free Water Softeners

In this list there are several salt free water softeners that are a lot easier to manage than your standard water softener that uses salt. But are they superior in usage or still trying to perfect a newer technology? Salt free water softeners differ in their approach in that rather than flushing out the minerals that cause scaling and other problems, it materializes their form in a way that prevents them from adhering to surfaces.

This is why salt free softeners may be a bit more effective at removing scale compared to the standard solutions. Now where a salt based solutions beats the pants off of the salt free options is when it comes to overall execution, especially with how the water feels. Customers will get that cleaner feeling in the shower that they’ve been looking for, including better and fresh tasting water. If you’re prone to dry skin then a salt option will make your skin feel refreshed again, since it actually removes the harmful minerals in the water rather than trapping them. Other benefits include brighter colors in your clothes when you wash, especially if you’ve noticed they have gone dull over the last couple of years.

With the way the salt free solution crystalizes the minerals all of the above benefits will apply as well, but in a lesser capacity. You may get brighter laundry, though not as bright. The water will taste better than what it used to, but not great. Your skin will feel more moisturized, but it will still suffer from the occasional dryness. The benefits of a salt free system lies in the no maintenance aspect, so that you can set it and forget it. You don’t have to worry about electricity usage, replacing the salt or measuring it, and you don’t have to worry about waste water.

It is a nice solution for someone that doesn’t want to do some of the handiwork involved in keeping up with a standard solution, but it also means you’ll be losing out on some of the benefits by using a salt based solution. Experts are still recommending salt based water softeners over the competition, because the competition still hasn’t caught up in terms of being a complete solution. Although there is nothing wrong with going with a salt free solution, and in some cases it is preferred, there is a small enough gap that the pros won’t recommend it over the standard setup.

 

Regeneration of Water Softeners

The regeneration portion of water softeners can be a bit confusing to newcomers, and is often one of the most unexplained terms when it comes to water softening. The softening portion is where salt water softeners become worth their money, in a process that exchanges sodium in the resin beads for the hard water minerals in the water. The regeneration process is when those same resin beads need to be rinsed free of the minerals they collected, in preparation to start the softening process all over again. Regeneration can take up to 2 hours, but is quicker on more premium models depending on their size.

This is a very important part of the system, so when looking for a good water softener the regeneration information should be a top priority. Anything 2 hours and below is great, so try to stay within that range. This is especially important if you live in a house with 6, where a long regeneration time could frustrate a lot of users. On demand regeneration for this specific purpose is recommended, as the system adapts to how you use water and only regenerates when necessary.

Better systems on the list also use this option to save salt as well as water, since it isn’t on a timed interval that could waste more than it will help. The process for the automated version of water softener regeneration usually starts with the brine solution being created by the unit and then flowing through the resin tank, where the beads of the hard water minerals and refreshing exchanging them with fresh, new sodium. The brine and waste material is then automatically flushed out of the drain and at that point the system is ready for another round again. If using a water softener that doesn’t have an automated regeneration then you have to do it manually from the source, which gets easier the more times you do it. Granted it doesn’t become convenient, especially if it needs to be done at night, but this is why there are options and people prefer the automated version. For the portable units they still haven’t made a fool proof automated function, so this is a necessity more than it is an option. Regardless of which type you have, it is a really incredible process that shows just how effective the solution can be.

Scale

Scale is the evil mineral deposits that make water softeners worth the money you spend. I can also be described as fouling, and happens when several mineral deposits gather on certain surfaces. The most notable of those would be hot-water boilers, kettles, and even hot water central heating systems. The worst place for it to build up is on pipes, which not only downgrades the quality of your water but in severe cases restricts the flow.

In cases with the hot water heater it limits the overall capacity so it isn’t functioning at full strength. This leads to several hundred more dollars per year in operation costs due to it not fully functioning the way it’s supposed to, and in a situation where the pipes or hot water heater break due to the scale then it becomes an even bigger thousand dollar problem. Scale prevents several components of materials that use water from functioning correctly, and should not go untreated. A good water softener will not only reduce future scale, but over time will also get rid of the current scale that plagues your household. You should notice an improvement in less than a month in both the lack of scale and in your water bill going down.

On the more scientific side of the tracks, the iron components found in scale are usually made of wustite, hermatite and magnetite. More often than not you will hear more about removal of magnetite when water softeners describe the minerals they remove, but rest assured you’re also covered with the others as well. The other main component in scale is calcium, which is interesting because that is actually a mineral that’s good for you, but bad for your appliances.

Some water softeners on this list have the ability to keep calcium in the mix without damaging your pipes, so you still receive the benefits. But considering that calcium is not a hard vitamin to get, it wouldn’t make sense to choose a water softener solely based on it being able to keep calcium in the water. There isn’t enough calcium in the water to really make a difference, and in a situation where there was it would cause harm to the appliances like the other minerals. There are manual ways to reduce scale that are not recommended, like vinegar, or the much safer flushing of the water heater. But both of these options pale in comparison to just getting the best water softener on the list that you can find.

Hard Water

High in mineral content, hard water is formed of several materials that are harmful to appliances and equipment. Strangely enough the same hard water works well for drinking solution, but for showering the extra minerals in the water dries out skin. For consumers that like a good lather when they use soap hard water makes this a bit of a bother, and in effect can even leave soap scum in the bathroom due to the minerals involved.

The minerals in the water basically destroy the materials that produce lather, thus working against each other and leading to a less than stellar experience in the shower. Hard water in industrial settings is extremely harmful, with the ability to destroy cooling towers, boilers and any equipment that regularly handles water. If you’ve ever heard of plumbing problems and the horrors they cause pocketbooks, then at the top of the list will be buildup caused by hard water. Besides forming on the outside of plumbing lines in what could be described as a disgusting moldy look, there is also the complications of it causing even more disaster on the inside of the lines with clogging.

Hard water clogging is disastrous if left untreated, and can destroy entire home plumbing lines in the worst case scenarios. As previously discussed, scale is a big part of this as well, and buildup of scale is not only bad to look at but just as harmful. In a situation where a real estate agent wants to unload a house on a couple, and that couple sees the hard water buildup on the pipe, the couple would have a right to be worried since this could lead to problems in the future.

Hard water buildup significantly lowers the value of a home to potential buyers, especially if there isn’t a water softener system in place. That is extra cost on their end, and the buyer shouldn’t have to come out of their pocket for such an easy to fix solution. Even if the visual aspects of hard water are taken care of, there could still be water restriction problems due to clogging. Maybe a shaky sink that goes crazy every time it gets turned on high, or even an expensive shower that leaves disgusting soap scum that builds up over a week of use. A water softener should be a part of every home that is on the market that wants the best for the customer.

Saving Money

There are a variety of ways that a great water softener will save you money, and starting at the top of the list is the increased lifespan of all appliances that use water. If you’ve put out money for a new bathroom set, or even a new kitchen faucet then you don’t want second grade water running through it. Besides the nasty chalky buildup that will occur over time on your pristine looking designs, there is the problem that is occurring internally that gets worse each passing day with buildup and clogging. If a customer drops thousands of dollars on a kitchen and bathroom renovation and has their pipes bursts just a few days later because of hard water buildup then it is safe to say they are going to be very angry.

A lot of times when doing self-installs of faucets consumers don’t take into the account the equipment they’re removing and what is on it. If there is a lot of buildup on the equipment you’re replacing, then chances are that it will only be a matter of time before you see it on your brand new installs. By taking care of the hard water at the root, then any appliance you install afterwards will be taken care of as well.

One of the other surprising things that comes with soft water is cleaner clothes. If you’ve spent a lot of money shuffling through detergents, and yet none of them got the job done then you may suspect your washing machine. At that point you replace the washing machine with a top of the line one, and the problem still persists with the clothes being clean, but not as pristine as they should be. At this point you’re out a couple of hundred dollars and still don’t know what the problem is.

Most people don’t realize that detergents and hard water don’t mix well from the get go, so it was a losing battle the moment you started the machine. Softer water even goes so far as to require less than 50% detergent compared to hard water, with the increased softness of your clothes being a natural design. So not only are buyers saving on detergent, but fabric softener as well. This by itself saves loads of money per year, and that’s not even counting in the lifespan argument of consumers that say their clothes last longer and retain color longer when using soft water. There are absolutely no benefits at all of using hard water over soft water when doing the laundry, so keep that in the front of your priority list.

Earlier it was discussed how a couple looking to buy a house would be turned off by the hard water buildup in a home that doesn’t have a water softener. With the new age of search engines in effect online, some home finding sources allow couples to search for homes based on specific features, with one of those features being if the home has a water softening system. A lot of results will be omitted from a potential buyer if this filter is selected, and you’ll lose out on a potential buyer. A good plumbing system is a very important part of buying a house, as no one wants to deal with hidden costs in the future.

The best way to present this as not a problem is by installing a great water softener to not only fix the current problems with the home plumbing, but to also maintain it for when it is time to sell. Savvy sellers have even started to include this feature in their listing as a way to lure potential buyers-and it worked. So for a seller that is currently in the market to sell their home and they don’t have a water softening system in place, you’ll be going against very experienced sellers that have already installed a system in their home.

Lastly, if you’ve often dealt with a higher than average energy bill then it could be associated with the water in your home. Appliances that have hard water buildup don’t work as efficiently as they used to, forcing them to work extra harder just to get to normal throughput. Besides causing extra strain on the appliances, it also puts a burden on your bills as the appliances are working overtime just to compensate for the hard water buildup in the home. This will be more of an issue in a home of a least 4, where there are a lot of dishes and water use that takes place throughout the day. With a water softener in place the appliances will go back to working at normal capacity, and for the dishes stains will be removed a lot better since the water won’t have to work overtime to get it to good enough temperature. In fact with a water softener in place it might be wise to take advantage of bill leveling, if your company allows it. You’ll get extra savings the entire year, and all because you have a water softener that is doing all the heavy lifting for you.

Using in Apartments

Things get a little complicated when trying to soften water for the apartment, mostly due to strict guidelines on the property that are in place. And even in a situation where you were giving permission to install one, the way the apartments are set up wouldn’t even allow it to work correctly. There are solutions for apartments with hard water, although most of the options are very complex. The simplest one is to talk to the office managers of the complex and convince them to install one that works for everyone. This not only saves a lot of money for the apartments, but it increases the lifespan of their appliances which get cycled out every other year due to internal damage. If you’re more of the direct type, get the address or phone number to corporate and send them a nice detailed letter with the pros, cons and even costs of installing the system. Make sure that it’s detailed, or you may never get a response. For users that live in smaller apartment settings that’s owned by a single landlord, the option to convince the landlord to install one becomes infinitely easier, especially if you’re willing to split the costs with them. This of course means that when you leave they get to keep it, so pick your battles on that one.

If speaking to the people in charge fails, it becomes up to you to try some interesting little gadgets that may or may not solve your problems. For shower use in the bathroom, you can receive the benefits of a water softener by purchasing a single shower head water softener for as little as $30 bucks. You’ll get the same benefits of having a whole home water softener installed, except that it will be restricted to your bathroom. This is a very isolated solution, and if you’re more of a bath type of person this option becomes completely useless. There is also the issue of if you already bought and installed a custom shower head, then it will literally be money down the drain. There is also a market for cheap shower head water softeners and it’s very easy to get ripped off. Even the top of the line shower head water softeners won’t perform as well as a whole home solution, so even though you are getting the benefit that you desire, you’re still missing out on a lot. The best solution in this instance is to pair a shower head softener with another single softener in the house, in a way to bridge the experience.

In this article there were some electric water softeners that worked by attaching to the pipes, and didn’t require salt or even touching the plumbing at all. Depending on how your apartment is set up, installing one of these could be a breeze, and on top of that you would get the whole home benefit without having to resort to single gadgets. This is the most ideal solution if it can be installed, but then there comes the mumbling from the market about these types of devices. Many people swear by them, but as noted above, they are a notch down from the standard devices that use salt. Salt based water softeners will be king for a very long time, so in this specific situation beggars can’t be choosers. If you live in an apartment complex that will allow you to use an electric water softener then that’s your best bet, especially since when you move you can take it with you. With such a small footprint, ease of installation and the ability to retain a lot of the better benefits of water softening, it really is a winner for apartment installing.

If you have an RV and also happen to live in an apartment, this weird combination will benefit you in that depending on the portable water softener you purchase, you may be able to use it in your apartment. Like the electronic option you can take this with, but this is going to be completely dependent on the pipes and their placement. Always consult with the person in charge before trying anything so you don’t risk your security deposit, or worse. The least desirable of these options is this, since a portable water softener will require manual regeneration. If it ends up being installed in a place that is out of the way, it can be a real pain to deal with when you really need it. This should be considered a last resort out of all of the other options, as it requires the most patience.

The last thing you could try are over the counter cleaning products, which will give you temporary relief depending on what you want to do. Looking closely in stores reveal that they make products that are built specifically for hard water whether it be shampoos, detergents, dishwashing liquids, hand soap, soap, washing machine boosters and even special tabs that clean out drains. All of these are up for debate on how well they work, but if it is your last option, it is better than nothing. For the thriftier consumer there are even home remedies for such things, like using a special flavor of Kool-Aid to completely clean out the stains in your dishwasher caused by hard water. If you reach that point and have to try it, remember that something is always better than nothing.

Things to Remember

Price really shouldn’t come into play when choosing a water softener on this list, due to the eventual cost savings down the road that it gives consumers in other areas. Spending a few extra dollars for the best water softener for your needs is worth it, since it pays for itself over time. By going with a less than stellar option, you’ll miss out on some premium features that may have benefited your situation from the start. Getting a cheap water softener is like neglecting every single appliance in your home that uses water. Going with a great option up front is recommended, so you don’t look back and have to regret it later.

Electronic water softeners are still considered a new technology, and at this point is a proven one. Even though they lag behind salt based softeners, they are in no way a bad choice if that is the unit you decide on. Having a premium electronic water softener is better than having a cheap one, or none at all. They do have a lot less guaranteed time on them, minus the best electronic one on the list like the Eddy Electronic Water Descaler which offers full lifetime repair and a 1 year money back guarantee. This is a rarity for the electronic market, so with that it’s easy to see that the company stands behind its product. And just like the company, you have to stand behind the choice you make with a water softener, as it basically is a decision that can make or break your house.

Choosing The Best Water Softener – Conclusion

There are plenty of options for prospective buyers when it comes to the water softener market, especially with the expansion to electronic forms of softening. The water softener reviews on this page should help you choose the best fit for you and you can use the comparison chart if you are not sure about features, size or ratings to narrow down your choices. As these two fight it out over the next few years customers will have even more choices to turn to when deciding the best option for their home, apartment or RV. The edge for price will always go to the electronic water softeners, as their cheaper to manufacturer chips are not only warrantied for less years but easier to replace overall.

The install is also light years ahead with an electronic system, so the edge once again goes to electronic. For some models installing is as simple as finding the correct pipes and wrapping the wires around them. And without having a tank to refill with salt, once again the edge for ease of use goes to the electronic versions which simply sets itself and leaves you to your daily routines. They are the ultimate set it and forget it devices when it comes to water softening, and if you need a solution for an apartment complex then more than likely this will be the best for both sides. But even with all of those checks in the win column, electronic water softeners lag behind the standard salt units by a good gap.

Salt based water softeners are king in this field, because although they are less likely to go into an apartment complex, they are capable of handling heavier loads in a big home, and are also ideal for RV systems, whereas an electronic unit is not. The installations are still as easy as ever, with minor plumbing skills required. The better brands on the list make it a point to provide the most detailed manual possible so that you as a buyer feel comfortable installing this complicated piece of equipment. Even as one of the most complicated pieces of equipment in the home, it’ll be an easy install and simple to maintain provided you have a system with generous functions.

You’ll also get the full benefits of cleaner drinking water, scale removal, bright and softer clothes and even awesome bathroom water making everyone in your home feel invigorated and refreshed. The only reason to not choose a salt based water softener would be to avoid the maintenance, which is minor. Water softeners of today are equipped with smart systems that learn as you use them so that when they regenerate it is only when needed, meaning you spend less time refilling the tank with salt. Whether electronic or standard though, the winner will always be the user when choosing the best water softener.

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