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 for your home, 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 whole house water softeners, I’ll also be providing a comprehensive buying guide.
What is Hard Water and How do You Know 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 whole house 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 the water softener buying guide.
Salt Based 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. 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.
2. Whirlpool WHES30E 30,000 Grain Softener
Whirlpool is more than a respected appliance brand. They are practically an American institution since 1911. Generations have come to trust this name for just about everything we use around the home. So it goes without saying that the Whirlpool WHES30E is one of the best home water softeners.
It doesn’t have quite the same capacity as the Fleck model (reviewed above), but costs around $100 less. This is a wonderfully affordable option for a less busy house, rated for 1 – 4 people. Whirlpool have other water softener models with a greater capacity. These obviously cost more but are quite competitively priced.
I like the elegant sleek design of this water softener. You don’t have to hide it away in the garage. The unit is arrives fully assembled and is easy to install, perhaps the best in this regard. It measures 19” X 18” X 43”. You plug the Whirlpool into a conventional 120V socket. A 24V power supply and bypass valve (1” connector) are included. Simple electronic controls and a warning light for low salt, make this an easy, low-hassle water treatment system. It monitors your water usage, to avoid wastage.
This a 30,000 grain system for small to average homes. Though, depending on your maximum water supply needs, it can supply soft water for most family needs. It has a maximum flow capacity of 7.9 gallons per minute (GPM). At maximum flow rate, expect a pressure drop of about 1.5 Psi. The flow rate to grain capacity calculates to 95 grains per gallon, providing a water hardener removal of 8 Parts per Million (PPM). That’s pretty impressive and it is capable of removing the expected calcium and magnesium, as well as manganese and iron.
Affordable quality is always a great find. So this home water softener, around $500, is a pretty amazing deal. You don’t have to worry about spending your hard-earned cash on the Whirlpool WHES30E water softener, the name says it all. I’m sure you’ll agree, you can’t go wrong with whirlpool. This product has a standard 1-year general warranty, 10-years for the brine tank, and 3-years for the electronics. That’s pretty good peace of mind.
3. Iron Pro 2 Combination Water Softener Iron Filter
For large homes, and a busy family with high water demand, the 64,000 grain Iron Pro 2 whole house water softener is an ideal all-in-one solution. It has a really high flow rate and high-quality components. Abundant Water Flow Systems (AFW) is a specialized water purification and softener manufacturer based in Pfeifer, KS. Expertise in the field of water treatment has earned this company a solid reputation over the last 20-years.
A testament to high-quality you’re getting is the use of the Fleck 5600SXT controller. This is the same as the one used for the Fleck water softener at the top of the review. Many consider this to be the best water softener digital control system, for its easy to use functions and incredible durability. It monitors water usage, so you’ll be saving on water bills.
Apart from the additional capacity, this water softener compares quite closely to the high-end Fleck system in all other respects. The high-quality brine tank is bigger than most home systems, 64,000 grains. This provides a pretty impressive 75 GPH flow rate with equally distinguished sediment and hardener removal rate, of 8 ppm for the common water hardeners and manganese, and 6 PPM for ferrous iron.
Your purchase includes all you need, making this system easy for DIY installation. You get the bypass valve with the normal 1” fittings. It also includes 2 cubic feet of fine mesh resin. The easy to follow DIY instruction guide is great. All around top quality, means the reassurance of a good investment. The controller is backed by the standard Fleck 5-year warranty, the tank has the same 10-year warranty as you get with most top-rated water treatment systems. For additional peace of mind, you also get a 30-day satisfaction guarantee.
4. On the Go OTG4-DBLSOFT Portable 16,000 Grain Water Softener for RV Camping
The On the Go OTG4-DBLSOFT portable water softener will come as great news for campers and people living in apartments. It is also a wonderful option if you’re renting, it’s easy to set up and remove. Above all, this is probably the most accomplished portable water softener you’ll find. It has an amazing capacity for such a small portable system.
Measuring only 22” in height, with a 9.5” diameter, you can fit this nifty little water softener in anywhere. Installation is an absolute synch. The unit comes complete with a flexible hose, a backflush adapter, and a 360° fitting for quick connection to a faucet.
It weighs 32-pounds and has a convenient carrying handle, as well as a travel cap for easy, spill-free portability. It does not need an electricity supply making for even greater ease and camping convenience.
The really amazing part about this portable water softener is the amazing capacity it provides. The 16,000 grain tank offers a great flow rate, with very little pressure drop. Using only 2 boxes of regular table salt, this little wonder will provide 1,600 gallons of soft water. This could be up to 40-days water usage.
This is a delightful little water softener. The fact that it is compact and portable is something that many will appreciate, not just RV owners. It installs in minutes, requires no to tools, and no electrical connections. Along with this, the On the GO water softener supplies a hugely impressive amount of soft water for something so small and easy to use.
5. Pentair WS48-56sxt10 Fleck Water Softener
Choosing between any of the best whole house water softeners might come down to brand preference. Especially when looking at the popular 48,000 – 56,000 grain size range. The Pentair WS48-56SXT10 water softener system costs about the same as the Fleck equivalent and is, for all intents purposes, basically the same. This model also uses the renowned Fleck 5600SXT controller. The Pentair brand carries a lot of weight, with a large and loyal following. Making this an immensely popular water softener.
The large 14” X 33” brine tank is suitable for most family homes, providing a 14 GPM flow rate. This is a 48,000 grain system, supplying enough soft water for the average family of 4 – 6 people. It uses 1.5 cubic feet of crosslink resin which offers some of the best water softening capabilities. Like any similar system from a reputable manufacturer, you get a 1” bypass valve and an intelligent controller.
The Fleck controller is known for its reliability and efficiency. Keep in mind that this requires a 120V power connection. The system has a 3.5 GPM water consumption rate and wastage is minimized using the sophisticated controller that measures your water consumption. It will only provide as much soft water as you actually need, based on your current consumption rate.
The Pentair WS48-56sxt10 water softener provides the same peace of mind as the other high-end whole house systems in this review. This means a 10-year warranty on the tank and, of course, the 5-year warranty on the Fleck controller.
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.
1. Pelican Iron/Manganese Whole House Water Filter & Salt-Free Softener
You may gasp at the price, this is a high-end, commercial grade salt-free water softener. There are two options, the larger of which is rated for 4 – 6 bathrooms. I’ll start by saying that the Pelican WF10 series no average water treatment system. The 5-stage filtration and softening technology is, arguably, the best of its kind.
Along with all this technical genius comes a level of quality that can only be described as totally awesome. If nothing but the very best is good enough for you, then paying a premium for the Pelican water treatment system will make perfect sense.
Top quality, rust-free materials means that you’ll be spending once and never again. I would hope so, when looking at the price. Though it’s in the superior filtration and water softening that this system really shines. It does a lot more than simply remove iron and manganese, as well as soften your water.
The first stage of filtration is a fairly common one and helps the rest of the system function perfectly, as well as removing unwanted solids that could block your plumbing over time. This is a 5 micron sediment pre-filter, removing small particles up to 20 times less than the diameter of a human hair.
Stage two involves chlorination. This is done using the water pressure and requires no electrical components. Always reliable and accurate, the chlorinator supplies the perfect ratio, based on the water flow through the injector.
The stage three greensand-plus filter has earned the prestigious WQA gold seal for it’s effective removal of iron and manganese, not to mention low maintenance. The high-tech filter media and gravel under bed, effectively reduces iron and manganese, flushing them away through an efficient backwash system.
Stage four consists of a carbon filter, the best way to remove excess chlorine, chloramines, and sediments in the water. It also improves the taste and removes bad odors. Like the greensand stage, the carbon filter requires virtually no maintenance.
Water softening occurs during the fifth stage, using an advanced commercial grade media with an unlimited lifespan. The NatureSoft system not only prevents the buildup of unwanted hardeners, it also removes existing scale from your pipes. Proven and tested, this system is used in domestic and industrial water softeners without the need for replacement, even after more than 250 million gallons of water. That’s pretty much a lifetime guarantee. The system includes a controller for automated backwash and a large storage tank, flow rate: 15 Gallons per Minute (GPM).
Suitable for even the largest homes and small to medium commercial applications, the Pelican WF10 whole house Iron/Manganese water filter and softening system can easily be considered the best there is. With an incredibly high water flow rate, combined with virtually no maintenance for a lifetime, this system offers superior performance and ultimate durability. Bottom line; you’re paying top dollar for top quality.
2. 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.
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.
1. iSpring ED2000 Whole House Salt-Free Electronic Descaler
Affordable and easy to install, the iSpring ED2000 whole house electronic descaler is a wonderfully practical solution for homes with a high level of limescale buildup. While you don’t have all the benefits of a true water softener, this system will ensure that your pipes remain in good condition and won’t have to deal with unsightly staining of your bathtub, shower head, or toilet.
Using an advanced computerized controller this descaling system generates a frequency modulated electromagnetic waveform.
This agitates the scale buildup in your pipes which not only prevents the adverse effects of hard water on your plumbing, it also removes existing scale. Residue on your fixtures is easily wiped away and, over time, appliances like kettles become easier to clean.
Installation is quick and easy. Coil the antennae around your water inlet pipe (up 1” diameter) and connect the power. It is suitable for hard water of 10 – 19 grains. If your water supply requires a higher level of hardener control, or your inlet pipe is greater than 1”, you can always use two iSpring ED2000 descalers. The system is compatible with most conventional pipes, including PVC.
There is basically no maintenance required. There are no additional running costs, like replacement cartridges. Simply connect up the iSpring ED2000 hard water descaler and your set. This is the most economical and hassle-free solution. Though you can’t expect all the soft water advantages, like better results for your laundry.
2. Eddy Electronic Water Descaler
Costing a little more than the iSpring ED2000, the Eddy Electronic Water Descaler is very similar. Though this one may be a better option for higher levels of water hardeners. It is just as economical to use and as easy to install.
The Eddy Electronic water descaler is rated for upwards of 20 grains per gallon (GPG). So it should perform better in areas where the water has an above average hardness factor. It works in the same way as any similar descaler, generating an electromagnetic wave, by means of a computerized controller.
It can be installed quickly, fitting onto your existing water inlet pipe. The system is compatible with most conventional pipes, copper, PVC, or galvanized. Like any electronic descaler, it’s pretty much plug and play. Once installed, you don’t need to do anything. No salt, chemicals, or replacement cartridges.
If you haven’t been able to find an electronic descaler capable of dealing with high levels of scale buildup, this Eddy model may be just what you’ve been looking for. It is a highly competent little device with a 30-day complete satisfaction guarantee and a lifetime repair or replace warranty.
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 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.
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 be cheaper, $300 - $700. 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.