By Rehan Iqbal
Hard water is a common problem. Though it can be dealt with effectively. All you need is a whole house water softener. While the solution is quite simple, finding the best water softener, may not be as easy. There are so many options, all claiming to be the best. I’m going to help you find the best solution for your needs. Not only will I be reviewing a great selection of the best water softener for your home, RV or for commercial use, I’ll also be providing a comprehensive buying guide.
How Do You Know That You Need a Whole House Water Softener?
I’m going to give a more detailed explanation of hard water and its effects after the product review, in the buying guide and general advice section of the article. For now, I just want to touch on the basics, so you can determine if a water softener is, indeed, what you need.
Basically, hard water is defined as having excessive quantities of dissolved compounds, the most important of which are calcium and magnesium. This will, amongst other things, affect the PH level of the water.
You’ll usually notice hard water by a white residue inside appliances, like kettles. Lime scale in pipes will discolor faucets and shower heads. It will also affect your laundry and may leave sinks and bathtubs with stains.
If you’ve noticed this in your home, a water softener is going to be your best solution.
So this article is going to focus particularly on the best water softener systems. While they will offer various filtration processes in several stages, these systems are known to be especially effective at removing minerals from the water. This is what makes them the best whole house water softening systems.
Best Whole House Water Softeners Reviewed
There is a lot to cover in this article and I think it best to start with a product review. Get to know your options, there are quite a few great products in the review. If you’re still uncertain, all the information you’ll ever need about hard water and water softeners will follow in our best water softener buying guide.
Salt Based Whole House Water Softeners
If you’ve been reading up on water softeners, you have probably come across articles referring to salt based water softeners as the only genuine water softeners. This is technically true, but it doesn’t necessarily make salt-free water softeners, or water conditioners, the lesser choice.
Salt based water softeners have their advantages in that they actually flush out the unwanted calcium and magnesium. They have a downside in that you need to use salt. This means a more bulky water softener and the minor hassle of ensuring that the system has the salt and resin that it needs.
If you’re not sure which is best, salt based or salt-free, you can read more about salt vs salt-free water softeners in the buying guide.
1. SoftPro Elite City Water Softener Review
The SoftPro Elite City water softener is designed to conserve water and salt, while also being simple to use. If you’re upgrading from an old softener, the Elite City could save you almost 70% in operating cost by using 64% less water for cleaning and 75% less salt for brine generation.
The Elite City is available with 8 sizes of exchange filters from 24,000 to 110,000 grains. Resin is preloaded in systems up to 64,000 grains. Larger filters are partially preloaded and come with enough resin to fully fill the chamber. All sizes come with 10% cross link resin, which is the longest lasting resin available today. Flow rates range from 7 to 32 GPM, depending on the filter size.
The controller, NSF-certified control valve and bypass knobs mount to the top of the resin filter, putting them within easy reach. The Elite City uses upflow regeneration, which only flushes the used part of the filter. Full backwash is only required every 5th generation. If the system is overloaded before the next scheduled regeneration, the controller can run a quick recharge in about 15 minutes. An automatic refresh mode flushes water out of the system, if it’s unused for more than a week. This stops bacteria growth. The controller has a built-in capacitor that can keep the system powered for up to 48 hours. The Elite City does not have a low salt warning system.
All versions of this water softener use one inch connections for the plumbing loop. Every connection, including those for the drain and brine lines, uses quick disconnects. The manufacturer offers installation kits for ¾ and 1 inch pipe connections. The company says homeowners can install the system themselves in about four hours, while a plumber should be able to do it in three hours. Step-by-step instructions and installation videos are posted on their website.
This water softener can be upgraded to deal with specific problems you may have with your water supply. This includes a chlorine and heavy metal filter that fits inside the softener’s resin tank. There’s also a stand-alone chlorine filter, and a reverse osmosis kit with an alkalizer to improve the taste of tap water.
SoftPro offers a 7 year warranty on the Elite City controller’s circuit board, a 10 year warranty on the resin, and a lifetime warranty on the tanks and the non-wear parts used in the rest of the softener. On-site repairs are not covered. If you decide you don’t like this water softening system within the first 6 months of ownership, SoftPro will issue a refund. However, you pay shipping for the return and you may be charged a 25% restocking fee.
2. Fleck 5600SXT 48,000 Grain Water Softener
Fleck ranks as one of top US water filtration and water softener manufacturers. The company has a proud record for delivering good quality durable products at a reasonable price. In the realm of whole house water softeners for a medium-sized family (4 – 6 people), the Fleck 5600SXT stands out as one of the best and pretty good value for money too.
This is an advanced water treatment system; with everything you need in one DIY kit. It’s unlikely that you’ll need a plumber. The bypass valve is included, as well as a 1” male threaded yoke connection. You may need adapters for ¾” or ½” existing plumbing, but this is not a big dealt. You can find these adapters at any hardware, and most department stores.
They are cheap and easy to fit. You’ll need a 120V electrical supply for the controller. You can install the system outdoors, provided you use the appropriate waterproofing for the electrical connections and controller unit. You can also install the brine tank a good distance from the home if you don’t want it to spoil the aesthetics.
The Fleck 5600 bypass valve is quite remarkable. This is one of the most reliable and durable there is. The electronic controller is also great and easy to use. This is an intelligent system that monitors your water usage and adjusts accordingly. This means you always have soft water on tap. At the same time, it saves on your water bill by not flushing out water hardeners when there is no need for this. The SXT controller is intuitive and easy to use, with a backlit LCD screen. IT has the added advantage of 48-hour battery backup. No need to worry about power outages.
The general size of this system is practical to say the least. A square brine tank, measuring 14” X 34”, holds 250 LBS of salt. This is enough to provide an unrestricted supply of soft water to an average sized home. It includes a safety float which prevents overfilling and an additional overflow drain ensures no messy water spillage. The only thing that is not ideal about the tank is the filler opening. It could be bigger, which would make it easier when replacing salt and resin.
Your initial purchase has everything you need to get started and includes top-quality high capacity 8% cross-linked resin. You get two bags of the stuff, one cubic foot and another half cubic foot. Fleck are proud of their quality standard, claiming up to 27-years of trouble-free use for their water purification and softening systems. A general 5-year warranty covers the entire Fleck 5600SXT 48,000 grain water softener system, with an extended 10-year warranty on the brine tank.
3. Springwell Water Filter and Salt Based Water Softener System
The Springwell brand is associated with very affordable water filters. This whole house water filter system is efficient and really inexpensive. It is great at removing chemicals found in city water, like chlorine. It also has a massive capacity (1-million gallons). The Springwell combo system includes a salt-free water softener.
Multiple stages ensure a really clean, pure water supply to your whole house. It has a 5-micron sediment filter that removes dirt, rust, and other solid material. Harmful chemicals, like chlorine are removed using a highly effective KDF (copper and zinc) media. The catalytic carbon filter also removes chlorine, along with many other contaminants, like chloramine, organic compounds, pesticides, and herbicides.
If you want the soft water benefits to skin and hair, as well as protect your household appliances from scaling, the Springwell combo system will soften the water without using any salt. Springwell water filters are designed to eliminate channeling, whilst ensuring longer contact time with the filtration media for the best results. They also provide a really good flow rate – 9 GPM for 1 – 3 bathrooms, 12 GPM for 4 – 6 bathrooms, and 17 GPM for 7 or more bathrooms.
Designed specifically for city water, the Springwell whole house water filter system is also great for well water, especially if you experience foul odors and discoloration of the water. This is a quality product that is very reasonably priced for its capabilities.
4. SoftPro® Smart Home+ Softener System with DROP® Technology
The SoftPro Smart Home Plus water softener system can easily be considered the most advanced of its kind. It seamlessly integrates your water softener into the modern smart home setup with a smart phone app, leak detection, and automatic shutoff to the water supply in an emergency. You will also save massively on water and salt bills.
This is definitely a highly advanced water softener. The great design features Vortech high-efficiency technology. This seemingly simple design is deceptive in its abilities to improve flow rates with less pressure loss (up to 40%). It saves both salt and water. This will significantly reduce your operating costs, whilst doing a lot to protect the environment at the same time. A true win-win situation.
You will save even more, thanks to the smart backwash system. Unlike traditional salt-based water softeners, that use a timer to schedule the regeneration cycle, the SoftPro Smart Home system has demand initiated regeneration. It regulates water usage and only regenerates according to how much water has been used, saving up to 25%. You can also use the smart app to ignore the regeneration cycle to save even more water when you’re away from home.
The clever technology doesn’t end here. It has a low salt detector, and the Drop leak detection system will alert you to water leaks anywhere in the home. Using a piston valve, the water supply can be set to shutoff automatically when a leak is detected. All the remote and automatic functions operate through the Drop Hub which is connected to the home Wi-Fi. This means that you will receive alerts and you’re able to control the system via your smart device from anywhere in the world.
With all the amazing technology incorporated into the SoftPro Smart Home+ softener system, you could save up to 30% on your water bills and salt purchases every year. A classic case of spending a little more today to save a fortune forever more. It has a 6-month money back guarantee and limited lifetime warranty. Without a doubt, an excellent investment.
5. Pentair Salt Softener & Carbon Combo System
This is a wonderful water filtration solution from Pentair. In areas where water hardness causes scaling, skin irritation, and other issues, a water softener is definitely a must-have item. However, you probably have other requirements too. In most areas, a carbon filter is essential, as it removes chlorine and other chemicals which found in municipal water supplies. This means buying and installing multiple filter systems.
Pentair provides a comprehensive water filtration and softening system in one easy to install kit. You get a sediment filter, carbon filter, and a salt-based water softener. It’s a compact setup and very effective. The 5-micron sediment filter removes dirt, rust, and fine material. Carbon filtration removes chemicals and improves the color, taste, and odor of your water. Then the water is subjected to sodium ions which extract calcium and magnesium to soften the water.
A controller allows to you to set the interval between backwashing, which is a necessary process to regenerate the ion exchange resin beads which facilitate the softening process. The kit includes everything you need and there are options for additional filters and a connected salt level sensor.
This is an uncomplicated, albeit fairly basic, salt-based water softener. It does not have fancy technology but offers all you need for relatively efficient water softening at a price most of us can easily afford. More than just softening the water, it also provides a good level of filtration without any additional costs or installation hassles. A good value deal.
6. Matrixx Water Softener With Smartphone Integration
The Matrixx Water softener is, in my opinion, very reasonably priced for an item of this quality standard and the incredible technology in incorporates. It is manufactured by US water systems, a company proud of it’s all American manufacturing and quality control.
The programable control panel allows you to tailor your water softening to meet your requirements. You can do this at the machine or use the smart app that connects to your phone using Bluetooth. You can also monitor system performance and water usage using the app or the screen on the local control hub. Depending on how hard your supply water is, or how soft you want your water to be, you can decide how many pounds of salt and how many gallons of water you use by controlling the regeneration cycle.
Vortech technology ensures maximum efficiency improving the resin efficacy and reducing both salt and water usage. Water flow and pressure is also improved. There are several models to choose from with different sizes of brine tank, allowing you to find a system that matches your water demand, ranging from 35,000 grains to 88,000 grains maximum capacity.
As with all US Water Systems products, only the best materials are used. This is evident in the chrome tank and super-durable smart valve. It also means a fantastic lifetime warranty on the tanks and resin, with a pretty amazing 10-year warranty on electronic components.
Quality of this caliber is rare these days. I guess this is a compelling reason why the Matrixx water softener is so popular. It isn’t all that expensive when you consider what you’re getting for your money and increased efficiency means a lifetime of savings to follow. The water softener can be used as part of a reverse osmosis water filtration system.
7. SMART Whole House Water Filter
The Smart whole house water filter combines a lot of sophisticated filtration media to supply clean water, free of harmful chemicals, to the entire home. It also includes an optional salt-free water softener to prevent harmful mineral buildup in plumbing system. Instead of using a resin that is regenerated using a salt solution. This softening system changes the crystal structure of hard minerals, like calcium and magnesium.
Also known as magnetic softeners, it does not remove the minerals, it simply changes their composition so that they cannot cause harm to your plumbing fixtures, water heaters, and household appliances like washing machines and dishwashers.
Six stages of filtration are contained in a relatively compact unit. The prefilter removes sediments, dirt, and rust. Then the smart filter does its magic. This is called a smart filter because it uses a combination of advanced filtration media, which includes two variants of coconut shell granulated activated carbons (standard and catalytic GAC). The media is infused with Eagle Redox Alloys 6,500 and 9,500.
An ion exchange resin removes heavy metals (like lead and mercury) as well as chemical toxins, including chlorine, organic compounds, pesticides, and industrial solvents. Ceramic and tourmaline balls correct the PH to a healthy level.
Finally, a solid carbon post filter ensures that no chemicals or odors remain in the water, leaving it crystal clear, pure, and healthy. An optional 12 GPM ultraviolet filter is also available to kill bacteria and you can also get a leak detector valve as an option.
Some of the best filtration media combine to provide a complete whole house water filtration system. Options include a salt-free water softener (or water conditioner) and an ultraviolet water sterilizer. This is a wonderfully durable product with exceptional capabilities. It is also good for your budget, providing 1-million liters of filtered water. All at a pretty reasonable price for such a competent whole house water filtration system.
Whole House Well Water Softeners
8. SoftPro Elite Water Softener for Well Water
The SoftPro Elite is one of the highest quality, most efficient consumer well water softeners available today. If you’re upgrading from an old softener, you could see up to 38% lower operating cost savings. Better yet, you may only need half as much salt, saving money and reducing the work needed to maintain your water softening system.
The well water version of the SoftPro Elite is available in 6 sizes from 24,000 to 80,000 grains of filtering media. Each of these sizes has options for fittings and valves that work with 6-7, 8-10 or 11 and greater GPM well pumps.
The media is pre-loaded at the factory, so installation is just a matter of attaching the plumbing and plugging in the controller. SoftPro uses 10% crosslinked resin in this system, the longest lasting media on the market. This filter media removes magnesium and calcium, as well as iron particles as small as 3 PPM.
When it’s time for a full filter cleaning, only 70% of the brine made ahead of time. As the cycle runs, the controller adds just enough brine to flush out the media, conserving salt. If the media capacity falls below 3%, the controller runs a 15 minute quick recharge cycle to regain some capacity. The brine tank is filled with softened water from the filter, so it stays clean longer.
The Elite Pro uses one inch ports for the inlet and outlet for maximum flow. These can be adapted to fit ¾ inch pipes for smaller plumbing systems. The bypass valves and pump mount to the top of the media tank, putting them within easy reach. SoftPro includes a tool to help open and close these valves.
Most well water has problems other than just hardness. SoftPro offers three upgrades that can deal with these issues:
SoftPro offers a 6 month return guarantee on the Elite for Well Water. However, the buyer pays shipping for returns, and they may be charged a 25% restocking fee. The control valve has a limited lifetime warranty, the circuit board has a 7 year warranty, the media has a 10 year warranty, and the tanks have a lifetime warranty. On-site repairs are not covered by this warranty.
9. Fleck 2510SXT Water Softener System for Well Water
The Fleck 2510SXT water softener system is designed around the needs of consumers who source their water from a well. This includes features like a high capacity media filter and valves designed to match the flow of your well pump. It’s also offered with accessories that improve the quality of your tap water.
This water softener system is available in 5 sizes from 24,000-64,000 grains, with options for tanks and valves that work with 6-7, 8-10, and 11 and greater GPM water pumps.
These tanks are filled with 8% cross-linked resin, offering a good balance between media life and cost. The 2410XT comes with a space saver brine tank that’s about the size of two salt bags. The bypass valve is on top of the tank behind the controller, putting it within easy reach.
The controller manages regeneration automatically, cleaning the system as needed. It monitors flow through the media filter, adjusting for spikes and drop-offs in water use. It also has a manual control option, letting you also lets you choose regeneration and backflush times. The controller has a built-in diagnostic system, and a self-charging capacitor that can keep the system online for up to 48 hours without power.
Hardness is rarely the only problem with well water. Fleck offers upgrades to address specific issues you may be having, including contamination, sediment and flavor:
Fleck has a a 6 month no questions asked return guarantee on this water softener. However, the buyer pays shipping for returns, and they may be charged a restocking fee as high as 25% of the purchase price. The 2510XT water softener is covered by a 5 year warranty on the control valve, a 10 year warranty on tanks, and a one year warranty on distributor. There is no warranty on the filter media.
Portable RV Water Softener
10. SoftPro Portable RV Water Softener
When you live on the road, there’s no telling what quality of water you’ll get when you stop at an RV park. With SoftPro’s portable RV water softener, you don’t need to worry. It’s small enough to fit in a storage cabinet, while providing the performance needed to supply your entire plumbing system.
This water softener is available as a 6 inch wide tank that holds 8,000 grains of filter media, or a 10 inch wide tank that holds 16,000 grains of filter media. Both tanks are 21.5 inches tall. For most use cases, the 8,000 grain filter is sufficient for single person part time use, while the 16,000 grain filter can handle the needs of two part-time users.
Unlike household water softening systems, this RV system has no controller, nor does it use a separate brine tank. To install the tank, you just have to screw the connections into your RV’s water inlet hose. To regenerate the filter media, you add table salt directly to the tank using the built-in cap. It takes one cup of salt to clean the filter on the 8,000 grain tank, and 2 cups for the 16,000 grain tank. Once the tank is salted, you let water trickle through one of your RV’s faucets until it no longer tastes of salt. From start to finish, this process takes about a half hour. Since there’s no built-in monitor for the condition of the filter, you need to rely on test strips to check water hardness.
Want more protection for your tap water and your RV’s plumbing? This water softener can be paired with an optional spin down sediment and sand filter. This filter can be cleaned in place: just open the flush valve, and water pressure will force out sediment. There’s no filter cartridge to replace. It has a maximum flow rate of 25 GPM.
If you want better tasting tap water, you can install SoftPro’s reverse osmosis filter and alkalizer. This is the same upgrade sold with the company’s household water softeners. Since water usage is lower for an RV, water from this filter can supply your entire plumbing system. This add-on processes water, removing contaminates and reducing acidity, making it taste better. SoftPro covers their RV water softener with a limited lifetime warranty.
Salt Free Water Softeners
Salt free water softeners are more correctly referred to as water conditioners. This is because they don’t actually remove the unwanted elements from the water and flush them down the drain. An obvious advantage to this is no wastage. Salt based water softeners dispose of a fairly large amount of water.
Essentially, salt free water conditioners alter the chemical structure of the water. This is a descaling process that is highly effective for flowing water, but not as good for stagnant water, like the water in your boiler. I’ll give a more comprehensive analysis of water softeners and conditioners after the review, for those who want to know more.
11. SoftPro Elite Salt Free Water Softener / Saltless - No Salt Conditioner
The SoftPro Elite Salt Free Water Conditioner is a great alternative to high maintenance water softeners. While it may seem expensive when you consider its lifespan, this conditioner’s cost of ownership is the same or lower than most water softeners. It’s also nearly maintenance free, and it doesn’t use salt or require extra water for backflushing.
This water conditioner uses 5 liters of Filtersorb SP3 media to convert calcium and magnesium bicarbonates into harmless carbonate crystals. This reaction also creates water as well as microbubbles of carbon dioxide. These CO2 bubbles gently scrub surfaces, gradually cleaning your plumbing as you use water from this filter. The kit includes the Big Blue Carbon Filter, a 5 micron chlorine and sediment filter that goes before the reaction chamber. This keeps the SP3 media from clogging with fine debris.
The SoftPro Elite flows up to 12 GPM, so it’s suited for most household plumbing systems. It’s also capable of handling water with a hardness up to 17 GPG. That means it can handle almost any water supply, whether it’s municipal or sourced from a well. Depending on the hardness of the water supply, and the amount of water used, SoftPro says most users can expect this system to last between 5 and 10 years.
This water conditioner alone may not be enough to treat your water, so SoftPro offers several upgrades for this system. This includes a UV light disinfection filter, a catalytic carbon filter, and a reverse osmosis filter with an alkalizer. These add-ons probably aren’t necessary for city water, but they can solve problems you may have with your well water.
Installation and maintenance is simple. The kit uses ¾ inch connections, which are standard in most home water softening loops. The kit can be attached with SoftPro’s quick connect kit, as long as your loop doesn’t use PVC pipes. The pre-filter needs to be backflushed with bleach once per year, while the neoprene jacket that covers the media chamber should be washed on occasion to prevent mold growth. This system requires no other maintenance.
SoftPro offers a 6 month return guarantee on the Elite. However, the buyer pays shipping for returns, and they may be charged a restocking fee up to 25%. The control valve has a limited lifetime warranty, the circuit board has a 7 year warranty, the media has a 10 year warranty, and the tanks have a lifetime warranty. These warranties do not cover on-site repairs.
12. Aquasana EQ-WELL-UV-PRO-AST - Whole House Well Water Filter System
While not as expensive as the Pelican WF10 (reviewed above), the Aquasana EQ-WELL-UV-PRO-AST whole house water softener and filtration system isn’t exactly cheap. Comprehensive, multistage salt-free softeners and filters are never the cheapest option. They do more than simply soften the water in your home, there is added value in this higher price, when compared to the salt based water softeners that have been reviewed here.
This is one of the best systems recommended for well water. This is because of the UV filtration stage which kills bacteria and other organisms that may be found in well water.
Drinking water is deemed free of viruses and bacteria up to 99%. It is also one of the best for homes on a municipal water supply as it removes many harmful contaminants that could found here too. Toxins, like mercury, lead, VOCs, as well as herbicides and pesticides that may be found in well water.
The stages also include a sediment prefilter and carbon filter. This means that up to 97% chlorine and other harmful chemicals are removed, and your water is left smelling and tasting great. Naturally, to make it into this review, it also includes a salt-free water conditioner. This is a really comprehensive whole house water treatment system. When you add all the benefits provided, it actually amounts to good value for money.
Savings come in the form of zero water wastage, as this system does require back flushing. The pre and post filters need replacing approximately every 3-months and general lifespan of non-service items is around 500,000 gallons of clean, soft water. This could be up to 5-years with very little maintenance, at an estimated cost of a about 1-cent a gallon. This all puts the purchase price into perspective, when you consider the longer term savings.
The kit comprises everything you need for DIY installation and, for a sophisticated system, it isn’t all that complicated to do. High-quality brass fittings also mean that this water purifier and softener is built to last, making it a worthwhile investment in your home.
While spending close on two grand for a salt-free water softener may seem like a big expense. The top-of-the-range Aquasana water treatment system offers a lot, both in terms high-quality and additional filtration. More than just soft water, you’re guaranteed that you and your family have safe, pure drinking water – no matter the source. This type of reassurance cannot have a price. When you look at your running costs, it really isn’t that expensive when pitted against comparable whole house systems. Even models that don’t have the added benefit of a UV filter, which ensures that your water is free of bacteria and viruses.
Commercial Water Softener
13. Fleck 9500 SXT Commercial Water Softener - Twin Tank
The Fleck 9500 SXT Commercial Water Softener is a straight-forward solution for buyers who need an uninterrupted supply of softened water. By using two filter tanks, this system always has a filter ready to remove calcium and salt from water entering the plumbing system. While marketed towards commercial use, it’s also a good option for large houses that require more capacity than what’s available from standard consumer systems.
The 9500 SXT is available with media tanks that hold 120,000, 150,000, 210,000 or 300,000 grains. These tanks use 8% cross-linked resin to extend the filter life, as well as increase the time between backflushes.
Most models come with a 100 gallon brine tank that holds 900 lbs. of salt, while the 300,000 grain model comes with a 145 gallon tank that holds 1,200 lbs. of salt. Flow rates range from 20 GPM of normal flow, 40 GPM of peak flow and 7 GPM of backwash flow for the 120,000 grain model to 40 GPM of normal flow, 55 GPM of peak flow and 15 GPM of backwash flow for the 300,000 grain model.
This water softener uses a a single Fleck 9500 meter and SXT controller that attaches to an NSF/ANSI-61 certified valve. The controller monitors each tank’s resin capacity. When the operating tank reaches capacity, the controller switches to the unused tank. The dirty tank is recharged and left on standby until it’s time to switch tanks again. This lets the water softener stay in continuous use. Both media tanks share the same brine tank. The valve on the pipe to the brine tank has a built-in air check to purge air from the system.
The valve on this system uses 1 ½ inch connections, which are the standard for most commercial applications. The space required for the media tanks, salt tanks and controller ranges from 62 x 24 x 75 inches to 84 x 30 x 85 inches, depending on the model.
Fleck covers the 9500 SXT with a 5 year warranty on the control valve and electronics, not including wear parts. The media tanks and brine tank tank are covered for 10 years. The distribution valve, which directs flow to and from the media tanks, is guaranteed for one year. If you’re considering this model for your home, keep in mind that commercial products don’t carry the same 6 month return policy as Fleck’s residential products.
14. SoftPro Commercial Progressive Flow 95 Series Duplex Water Softener
If you were to describe the SoftPro Commercial Progressive Flow 95 Series Duplex Water Softener in one word, it would be “overbuilt.” Through the use of top quality components and redundancy, SoftPro has designed a water softener that should offer years of uninterrupted service.
SoftPro says this system can handle water with a harness of 100 GPG. Yes, that’s grains per gallon, not parts per million. With the hardest water topping out at a little over 10 GPG, the Flow 95 is more than up to to the task of softening your building’s water.
To add to this robustness, the Flow 95 uses two of everything. There are two valves, two media tanks, two brine tanks and two meters. If any part of the system fails, you have a backup. Under normal use, one media tanks is always clean. This tank goes into service when the other tank needs recharging or backflushing. That way, your building has a continuous supply of softened water.
This is more than just a pair of 95 Series single tank systems. The Progressive Flow 95 includes a remote, so you can check up on the system without going to your basement or utility room. This single point of access gives you control of the entire system. You can also use the meters directly, just like a stand-alone system. This makes it easier to isolate and diagnose problems with the controls and valves.
SoftPro makes 5 versions of this water softener system with capacities ranging from 81,000 to 189,000 grains. Service flow rates for these models range from 15 to 35 GPM. 1, 1 ¼ and 1 ½ inch tail pipes are available, letting you pick the size that matches your building’s plumbing loop. The Flow 95 is designed to work with water pressures ranging from 40 to 100 GPM. The tanks flex slightly during use, requiring the use of flex connectors and a vacuum breaker as part of the installation.
The warranty on this system covers control valves, tanks and electronics for 5 years of use, while other components are guaranteed for one year. This coverage only extends to the equipment. If you need on-site repairs, you’ll have to pay for them out-of-pocket.
Electronic Descalers to Remove Hard Water Deposits
While not technically water softeners, electronic descalers are a cost effective method of preventing buildup in pipes that can cause blockages and plumbing issues. Using a magnetic field, these devices alter the chemical structure of limescale, making it soluble, thereby flushing it from the pipes in your home. Though electronic descalers do not remove or neutralize these elements like water softeners do.
Whole House Water Softener Buying Guide
There is a lot to consider before buying the best water softener for your home. When comparing prices, $150 is obviously much more attractive than $5,000. While budget is often foremost on our minds, there is more to making the best decision than the balance on your credit card.
Naturally, you want the best system for your needs, at a price you can afford. You also need to consider the running costs. It might be that the cheapest water softener can actually end up costing you more in the long run. What are the maintenance costs involved? How much water does your water softener consume? In terms of general convenience, you may not want any maintenance at all.
Let’s start with the basics and then move on to all the nitty gritty details. I suppose the staring point for anyone is deciding whether you actually need a water softener at all. It would be a good idea to first understand the science of hard and soft water and how various types of water softeners work.
What is Hard Water?
Hard water is defined by the presence of certain minerals in the water. Depending on your area, there can be any number of minerals in the water. Municipal water treatment systems may add chemicals as part of their water treatment program.
Rainwater is naturally soft. It is when the water seeps down into the ground water supply that minerals are absorbed which can cause the water to become hard. The most common water hardeners are calcium and magnesium. Not that these elements are necessarily bad. They are essential minerals and are actually healthy. The negative effects of hard water are not based on health related problems, they are of a more practical nature. I’ll be listing these lower down the page. Though some preexisting skin conditions may react adversely to hard water.
How Can You Tell if Your Water is Hard?
Hard water looks just like any other. You can’t tell by looking at a glass of water whether it is hard or soft, as the hard element particles are dissolved in the water. There will, however, be other visible signs that the water in your home is hard:
The Science of Hard Water
While all the signs of hard water that I’ve just listed are a pretty obvious indication that a water softener is needed, scientific testing is the only certain way to determine beyond any doubt. Water is tested by measuring all the particles in the water, expressed in parts per million (PPM).
Water hardness tests are conducted by measuring the presence of calcium carbonate in the water sample:
Having your water tested, even if all the visible signs are observed, may of great value. This will help you determine which is going to be your best whole house water softener. High concentrations of calcium carbonate will require a higher removal rate from the water softener that you’re using.
Hard Water Areas
High rainfall areas will typically have the lowest presence of water hardeners. There is more water passing through the ground with higher rainfall, so the ratio between water and hardeners favors the hydrogen content of water over the hard metals. More gallons of water, relative to the amount of calcium and other hardeners, will obviously mean a lower hard mineral PPM rate in every gallon of water.
PH of Hard and Soft Water
Alkalinity and acidity is measured in PH. This is the concentration of hydrogen ions. A high volume of hydrogen is deemed acidic and lower concentrations will be alkaline. Since pure water is 2 parts hydrogen to 1 part oxygen (H₂O), water in its natural state is more acidic. It can be a little confusing as low PH indicates high acidity.
A neutral PH is around 7, this is ideal for our skin and eyes. If the PH level of water is below 7, the water can be considered acidic, or soft water. A high PH (above7) indicates alkaline water, which is hard.
What is Soft Water?
Having established what hard water is, the definition of soft water is quite obvious. Soft water is the opposite of hard water. This means low levels of calcium, magnesium, and other hard metals, accompanied by a PH higher than 7.
Soft water is generally preferred to hard water for several reasons:
Do You Need a Water Softener?
Not everyone needs a water softener. In areas where hard water is a problem, it is obviously a good idea to install a water softener.
If you need one, you may need some advice on how to set about buying the best water softener for your home.
How Water Softeners Work
I’ll now be discussing the types of water softeners and how they work. As part of the water softener buying guide, I’ll also be offering some valuable advice on what to look for when buying a water softener for your home.
How Does a Water Softener Work?
Water softeners remove hard elements in the water in a process known as ion exchange. A water softener often forms part of a whole house water filtration system. These systems can consist of several stages, doing more than removing hard metals from the water. They can also be stand-alone water treatment systems that only remove calcium, magnesium, small amounts of iron, and other elements, like manganese.
There are two basic types of water softeners, salt and salt-free water softeners. A third option would be descalers. Though water system descalers are not technically water softeners. They are used mostly to remove scale buildup in your pipes, faucets, and shower heads.
What are Salt Based Water Softeners?
Salt based water softeners use sodium, derived from regular table salt (NaCl). They consist of a mineral tank which uses a resin medium which is ionically charged using sodium. The sodium is positively charged and will attract any negatively charged metals.
When hard water passes through the resin, magnesium and calcium are trapped in the resin beads. The ionized resin will also retain other metals, like iron.
In order to maintain their ionized (positively charged) state, the resin needs to be reenergized, through a process known as a regeneration cycle.
A concentrated solution of salt and water is stored in a brine tank. When needed, the brine is passed through the mineral tank. This rinses the resin beads, removing the hardeners and flushing them out through the drain. The sodium-rich salt then ionizes these beads, allowing them to continue softening the water.
For convenience, most water softeners have a programmable, computerized controller. This will allow the user to decide when the regeneration cycle should happen. This can be every day, at a time when water is not being used in the home. Most people prefer a time around midnight, when everyone is asleep. Some, more advanced controllers will monitor the water consumption during the day and only regenerate the mineral tank as needed. This helps reduce water loss. Each time the resin is flushed, water is dumped into the drain and this can have an effect on your water bill.
For busy water systems, where it is not possible to stop the water consumption during the regeneration process, a dual tank system can be installed. This means that when one mineral tank is being regenerated, a second tank will be used. This ensures a continuous water supply. While seldom used for homes, these systems are fairly common in commercial installations, like hotels. Dual tank salt based water softeners require more space, for the second mineral tank, and will obviously cost more than conventional single tank water softeners. Salt based water softeners can be used for well water and city water, depending on the type and quality of water supply.
Regeneration of the resin in the mineral tank, means that the resin media will last a long time, up to 20-years or more. The brine tank will need to be replenished. This means filling it with salt when needed. This is not a complicated procedure and salt is inexpensive, making salt based water softeners economical and easy to use.
There are some who may be wondering about the health implications of using salt to soften the water in their homes. Sodium, found in table salt, is not recommended for people suffering from certain health problems, like hypertension.
Generally, the sodium content of water that is softened using salt, is relatively low and not considered a health risk. Though I’d suggest consulting your doctor before installing a salt based water softener if you are on a low sodium diet. When it comes to medical matters, it is always better to be cautious.
Another issue that some have with regards salt based water softeners is the salty taste. As the actual salt content in the water isn’t too high, this is not something that everyone experiences. I suppose some may be more sensitive to water taste than others.
What are Salt-Free Water Softeners?
The experts will tell you that there is no such thing as a salt-free water softener. If we’re going to get technical, these are actually water conditioners, or scale inhibitors. Why the distinction?
Unlike salt based water softeners, that actually remove hard minerals, salt-free water conditioners only change the structure of these hardeners. Using a process called template assisted crystallization, a media transforms the structure of the hard minerals. Now this all sounds quite complicated and scientific, so let me explain how salt-free softening media works.
Water passes through a tank containing granules that alter the shape of the hard minerals. The media basically changes minerals, like calcium and magnesium, into a crystal structure. In this state, the minerals remain soluble, they cannot bond with the pipes, outlets and appliances in your home.
So, what’s the difference between removing the hard minerals (using a salt based water softener) and transforming these minerals using a salt-free water conditioner.
Salt Based vs Salt-Free Water Softeners
Both salt based and salt-free water softeners prevent limescale in pipes. They also both prevent the buildup of scale in appliances and prevent staining of fixtures like bathtubs and sinks. The difference comes into play when looking at the effects of hard minerals on our skin, soap, and laundry.
Because salt-free only changes the structure of these minerals, making them soluble, they are still present in the water. So may still notice a hardness in your laundry and, possibly, a decolorization of cloths washed in hard water, using a salt-free water conditioner. These effects may be less than untreated hard water but won’t be completely eliminated. The presence of diluted minerals will continue to reduce efficacy of soap and most detergents.
Another issue with salt-free water softeners is that they are rendered ineffective for water with high concentrations of iron and manganese. This makes them generally unsuitable for well water where these metals are often found in greater quantities.
There are some advantages to using a salt-free water conditioner vs a salt-based water softener:
What are Electronic Descalers?
An electronic water descaler is another type of water conditioner. These have the same effect as salt-free conditioners that use a medium to crystalize the hard minerals. The difference here is the use of an electronically generated wave form.
Electronic descalers, or water conditioners, are the easiest to install and require basically no maintenance or cartridge replacements. They are also very affordable. These devices work using an electromagnetic wave which agitates the ions, causing them to collide with one another. This causes the hard metals to become crystals that can no longer adhere to surfaces, like the walls of pipes, faucets, or plumbing fixtures.
While the price and ease of installation can make an electronic descaler a seemingly more advantageous solution, they are not as effective as salt-free water conditioners that use a chemical media. Electronic water conditioners are capable of removing low level scale buildup but cannot handle high volume grains per Gallon (GPG).
Water Softeners as Part of a Whole House Reverse Osmosis Water Purification System
There are pros and cons to every type of water softener. Most of the disadvantages can be overcome when a water softener is used as one stage of a multi-stage whole house water filtration system. Reverse Osmosis (RO) water purifiers are considered the best there is. These can have up to 7 stages of water filtration, softening, and purification.
Up to three stages of sediment filtration will remove solid particles down to 0.5 micron. Carbon filters will improve the taste and remove most chemicals, like chlorine. Other stages can include post storage filters, like a second (or third) carbon filter, or a UV filter that kills bacteria and viruses. Some advanced RO systems will even have a remineralization stage which adds essentials minerals lost during the water softening stage or stages.
What to Look for in a Water Softener
Once you’ve decided that a water softener is what you need, you now have to set about choosing the best system for your needs. I’ll provide some useful tips for buying the best whole house water softener and provide some answers to frequently asked questions.
What Size Water Softener Do You Need?
The physical size of your water softener will be determined mostly by the type of water softener you choose. Electronic descalers are the most compact and salt-based water softeners will require the most space.
More importantly, you need to choose a water softener that can supply your household needs. This means deciding how many gallons per hour (GPH) your water softener needs to supply.
The average water consumption for one person is approximately 75-gallons per day. To calculate your daily household water needs, multiply the number of people living in the house by 75. You may want to add a percentage relative to the frequency and number of guests you might have at any given time. Then divide this total by 24 to get your hourly water consumption. Choose a water softener that supplies the closest GPH to your needs, preferably a little more.
Another consideration needs to be the hard mineral removal rate. You’ll see that all water softeners have a GPG specification. This is the grains per gallon. In other words how many hard metal particles the system is capable of removing per gallon of water used.
In an area with a high concentration of calcium and magnesium in the water, a water softener will need a higher GPG rate to effectively remove all the hard minerals present.
To save on consumable materials, and water consumption (in the case of salt based water softeners) you want to avoid using soft water when this is not needed, like watering the garden or filling your swimming pool. A bypass valve can be installed that will allow you to switch your water supply between softened water and the main (unsoftened) water supply.
Water Softener - FAQ
How Long Do Water Softeners Last?
As with all appliances, the lifespan of a water softener will vary, depending on the type and the quality of the product. It is always best to buy a water softener from a respected brand. An indication of a high-quality water softener can be certification from the Water Quality Association (WQA). A Gold Standard WQA certification is a good indication that you are buying a product that is of a suitable quality standard and delivers what it is supposed to.
On average the different types of water softeners last as follows:
Do Water Softeners Need Servicing?
There is very little maintenance required for water softeners and they seldom need professional service.
Salt based water softeners require replacement salt periodically. This will depend on how much water is used and how often the mineral tank is regenerated. You should check the salt in the brine tank every six weeks and replenish as needed. Check your owner’s manual for specific instructions on how to fill your brine tank and what salt should be used. If the system does not function properly, or if you notice excessive salt usage, you should seek the advice of a technical professional.
Salt free TAC media needs to be replaced every 3 – 5 years, depending on the manufacturer and water consumption rate.
Electronic water conditioners do not need any maintenance.
What Happens if Water Softener Runs Out of Salt?
Salt is essential for regeneration of the resin media in salt based water softeners. If the salt runs out, the resin will lose its ionization properties and no longer remove the hard minerals in your water. Basically, the system will stop working. You will continue to have water supply, but this will be hard water.
Can You Put too Much Salt in a Water Softener?
While it is important to ensure that your water softener always has sufficient salt, you should never overfill the brine tank. Too much salt in the brine tank will result in bridging, or solidification of the salt. This will harden the salt into as solid mass, restricting the regeneration process.
When checking the salt in your water softener break loose any salt that may have stuck to the walls of the tank. Fill the brine tank with salt to the halfway mark.
Is it Okay to Water Plants With Softened Water?
Soft water provides absolutely no benefit to plants. You are essentially wasting your softening media, or salt, when using soft water for your plants. A salt based water softener uses water for the regeneration stage, so using soft water unnecessarily is just a waste of water.
While it is okay to occasionally use soft water in your garden, plants actually benefit from the minerals in hard water. Because house plants don’t receive rainwater, it is not advisable not to use soft water for indoor plants.
How Much Does a Whole House Water Softener Cost and is it Worth it?
Prices for whole house water softeners vary greatly. There are several factor that may affect the cost of your water softener system:
Salt based water softeners can be the most expensive, ranging from $300 - $1,000+. Dual tank salt based water softeners usually cost upwards of $1,000.
Salt-free water softeners can also be in the $300 - $1000+ range. Portable units can be as low as $150 - $300.
Water softeners, particularly salt-free systems, often form part of larger, more comprehensive filtration system. These can include sediment filters, carbon filters, UV filters, and remineralization units. A system with additional filtration and water purification can cost as much as $5,000, sometimes more.
Electronic (or magnetic) water conditioners are usually the cheapest, costing anything from around $100 to a little over $150.
Installation costs can be avoided through DIY installation. Most water softeners do not require much skill to install. If you use a plumber or certified technician, it would be best to obtain a quotation first, as these prices will vary. Generally, the average cost to have a water softener professionally installed can be anything from $200 - $500. Electronic descalers will cost less as they require very little effort to install, most people do this themselves.
In areas where hard water is problem, a water softener is obviously worth it. The advantages have been listed above and you will save on costly plumbing repairs in the long run. Scale buildup in water pipes reduces the water flow and, ultimately, the water pressure in your home. If left unattended, scale in your pipes will eventually block your pipes entirely.
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