You want the highest quality of water available for your family to drink, cook with, bathe with, and use for laundry and other household routines. Water that is “hard” contains minerals, usually calcium and magnesium, which can build up and leave deposits in your appliances, sinks, and tubs, or even in your plumbing.
While water is in the ground, it has a tendency to pick up little pieces of soluble matter, such as minerals that are found in the earth. Other matter may cause contamination when the water picks it up, but minerals such as magnesium chloride or calcium are not truly harmful to the body if ingested. However, they can be harmful to the pipes and appliances in your home.
As hard water is harder, cleaning agents may become less effective and can even cause a sticky residue when combined with the minerals. Dirt and other gunk can get trapped and begin clogging up pipes. Appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines may begin to work less effectively as soap can be deposited on dishes as well as keeping clothing from getting clean.
Scale buildup can be especially detrimental in reducing the efficiency of water heaters as they provide hot water to your home.
Hard water also may leave the skin feeling dry or itchy, leave water spots on your dishes, and also may require a significantly greater amount of soap in order to create suds.
So what’s the best way to fight hard water? With a water softener, of course!
Click here to check out our top choice on Amazon!
Top 5 Water Softener Comparison Chart
|Aquasana EQ-1000-AST-AMZN||9 x 44 x 46 in.||Removes 97% of chlorine for up to 1,000,000 gallons||$$$$|
|WaterBoss 220 22000||18.8 x 14.8 x 25.8 in.||Compact and super quiet||$$$|
|Eddy Electronic Water Descaler||6.7 x 1.6 x 3.5 in.||No salt alternative||$$$|
|Fleck 5600SXT||10 x 54 in. tank, 14 x 17 x 33 in. brine tank||Digital metered, on demand valve||$$$|
|Nuvo H20 DPHB||5 x 5 x 24 in||Evironmentally conscious||$$$|
How do Water Softeners Work?
When choosing a water softener, it is important that you understand how the unit works and to consider the cost of upkeep as you determine affordability and functionality. These appliances typically work by using a process of ion exchange, whereby the water is exchanging the pesky minerals that you don’t want
Depending on the type you choose, water softeners may need to be maintained by adding salt or potassium chloride a couple of times a year. Otherwise, the upkeep is typically fairly minimal.
Types of Water Softeners
There are basically two categories of what are referred to as water softeners: salt-based and salt-free. Models that use salt are truly softening the water by removing the minerals, while salt-free models work by changing the minerals so that they do not stick.
Both types have pros and cons depending on what you are looking for in a softener, but here’s a basic run-down of how they work.
Salt Based Water Softeners
The most standard type of water softener typically uses the process of ion exchange to soften the water. Because minerals are what makes the water hard, a water softener will effectively trade the minerals for something else, such as sodium chloride (salt) or sometimes potassium.
How it Works
The main part of the water softener is the mineral tank which houses small beads of resin (polystyrene), which carry a negative charge. Because magnesium and calcium carry positive charges, the minerals attach themselves to the negatively charged beads.
When a saltwater brine solution is washed over the resin, the positively charged sodium ions push the calcium and magnesium ions out. Some softeners have a separate tank which houses the brine solution, while others may keep the two tanks together in one casing.
So the hard water moves through the mineral tank where the calcium and magnesium ions cling to the resin and are exchanged for sodium ions. Eventually, however, the resin beads become saturated with minerals and need to be removed. In this regeneration phase, water is reversed to clean the tank and flush out the dirt.
Then the sodium brine solution is pushed back through the tank, the sodium ions stick to the beads, and the calcium and magnesium are sent down the drain. The tank is then flushed, refilled, and ready to start again.
Salt-Based Softener Regeneration Process
The control system that determines the timing of regeneration works one of two ways. Originally regeneration always worked on an electric timer, usually set to regenerate at night when household water is least likely to be used.
Soft water is not available during the regeneration cycle. This may happen once a week, or 2-3 times per week, depending on the capacity of the unit, size of household, etc.
Another type of controller uses Demand Initiated Regeneration (DIR). This means that regeneration only happens as often as it is needed. Instead of gauging the amount of time, it determines the amount of water that has been sent through the system and then triggers regeneration.
Because this may happen at any time of day, this type of system often has a reserve tank to be able to provide soft water even during the regeneration process. Many people prefer this type of system because it does not use any more salt than necessary, and does not produce any more waste than necessary.
Salt-Free Water Softeners
Technically, in order to be a water softener, a unit must actually remove the minerals or “hardness” from the water. Units that do not use an ion exchange method should probably truly be referred to as water conditioners instead.
In the salt-free processes, minerals are not removed, but they change form so that they no longer stick to surfaces. This is more of a de-scaling process than an actual softening process.
How it Works
In these types of conditioners, the water is sent through a non-chemical process called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). Specially treated resin beads are used in the tank which create a change in the minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium.
The minerals remain in the water but they are neutralized and become more soluble: from an ionic form to a crystalline form. The crystals are so miniscule that they are simply washed away by the flow of water in your household.
This means that they do not adhere to surfaces such as pipes, appliances, and other surfaces—including your skin and hair.
Because this is a physical process, many of this style do not use electricity, there is no need for adding salt, and no dumping of waste water--making this a fairly eco-friendly option.
In addition, there is no need for a regeneration process so soft water is always available, any time of day or night. A salt-free unit may, however, require the use of replacement cartridges, depending on the particular type you choose.
Recommended Salt-Free Water Softeners:
Differences in the Results
People who are health conscious may prefer a water conditioner for the fact that the minerals are still in the water and that there is no additional consumption of sodium. In addition, water that is conditioned will not have the soft or “slippery” feeling of salt-treated water, which some people find preferable.
And because they are more eco-friendly, there are typically no community restrictions that keep individuals from using a salt-free conditioning unit.
Ultimately, the magic of a water softener or water conditioner is that the water goes into the unit one way, and comes out without all of the minerals sticking to everything. Which type of system is better depends completely on the needs and preferences of the individual household, how hard the water is to begin with, and what are the desired results.
Deciding Which to Buy
A water softener is a large purchase that you want to make well. Deciding which brand and model to buy can be difficult when considering all of the options that are available. In order to make the most intelligent and affordable choice for your family, you should have access to recommendations.
Rather than hearing from the companies about how great their products are, you may want to hear from actual customers who give the best water softener reviews—and that’s exactly where our recommendations come from!
Rankings from 1-5 don’t always mean much, so here we’ve categorized our top picks based upon various categories and the best water softener reviews we could find!
Top Water Softener/Filter Combo
Aquasana Premium Rhino (EQ-1000-AST)
This system offers unique upflow engineering with dual tanks so that there is increased time for the water to be in contact with the media that removes contaminants. This is a top notch system that includes SimplySoft Salt-Free Water Softener, Whole House Water Filter, and Pro Installation Kit.
- Product: 10 Year Salt-Free Softener + Filter
- Model #: EQ-1000-AST
- Dimensions: 9” x 54” x 46”
- Flow Rate: 7 GPM
- Max Pressure: 100 PSI
- Warranty: 90-day guarantee/10 year limited warranty
How it Works
SimplySoft uses Nucleation Assisted Crystallization (NAC) softening technology, conditioning the water without ever having to add salt. The system works without having to remove minerals from the water, but instead it alters the structure of the minerals to prevent them from producing buildup and scale. Softens the water in the whole house in conjunction with the filtering system and is proven to reduce scale by up to 99.6%.
Aquasana UV Sterilight filtration system is built to maximize performance without clogging. It removes 97% of chlorine from regular tap water and reduces heavy metals, organic chemicals, and industrial solvents. This makes for tastier drinking water, improved cooking, healthier skin, and even easier breathing.
- Salt-free conditioning means no excessive amounts of salt added into shared water systems.
- Does not demineralize water and these trace minerals in drinking water can be healthy.
- Dual tank filters up to one million gallons of water.
- Whole house filter lasts for 10 years.
- Professional grade installation kit.
- Risk-free warranty with free return shipping and a full refund.
- Top of the line retail price at over $2800 but available for under $2000 with FREE shipping.
- Requires professional plumber installation to keep the warranty intact.
- Fittings are ¾” and included connectors for 1” fittings are plastic and not durable.
- Water may not feel as “soft” on the skin as with traditional salt softeners.
If you are looking for the Cadillac of whole-house water filtration systems and conditioners, this is definitely a contender. You get the sound mind of knowing that your family is not ingesting unhealthy chemicals and the convenience of having your water filtration and softener systems interconnected. Most reviewers love this product and are excited about the results.
TOP Compact Traditional Water Softener
The WaterBoss 220 is a compact water softener which uses traditional Sodium Chloride to prevent scale buildup. It helps to keep fixtures clean, and reduce the cost of cleaning supplies by making soap much more efficient.
It can also make appliances run more efficiently and may be better for your skin and hair.
- Product: WaterBoss 220
- Model #: 220
- Dimensions: 18.8” x 14.8” 25.8”
- Weight: 73 pounds
- Flow Rate: 12 GPM
- Voltage: 12
Warranty: 3 years on valve and electronics/10 years on media tank and outer cabinet
How it Works
WaterBoss 220 is an efficient, traditional water softener that uses salt to soften and also reduces ferrous iron while filtering dirt and sediment. This compact model is ideal for use for up to four people and fits perfectly in a small space for condos or smaller homes.
- Regenerates in as little as 18 minutes.
- Built-in 20-micron whole house filter which is self-cleaning.
- Quiet operation.
- Regenerates on demand for best efficiency and no waste.
- Fine mesh resin reduces salt consumption and uses less water.
- Simple, 3-step installation.
- Designed to soften up to 70 grains per gallon of hardness.
- Consumers report effective customer service from the manufacturer.
- Adds trace amounts of salt to drinking water.
- Removes minerals which may be healthy.
- Not useful for families larger than 4 people.
A great little affordable appliance, the WaterBoss 220 takes up very little space while working rather efficiently. Cost is mid-range at around $700 plus shipping, and if you are looking for a smaller version of a traditional water softener then this seems to be a well-loved model.
TOP Affordable Water Softener
This little Eddy Electronic Water Descaler is an affordable alternative to a salt system that keeps the healthy minerals and reduces lime scale.
- Product: Eddy Electronic Water Descaler
- Model #: ED6002P
- Dimensions: 6.7” x 1.6” x 3.5”
- Voltage: 110 volts
- Wattage: 5 watts
- Warranty: 12 month money back guarantee/Lifetime Repair or Replace warranty
How it Works
Eddy Electronic Water Descaler fights against
- Retains minerals that can be important to health.
- No plumbing installation necessary.
- Salt free system is considered eco-friendly.
- Super lightweight and compact, weighing less than 2 pounds.
- Makes glass easier to clean.
- Costs only around $200.
- Water may retain the feeling of “hardness” on skin.
- May not be effective on extremely hard water.
Many consumer reviewers like the Eddy, but those who compare it to water softeners agree that it isn’t quite up to the same standards. But since it also isn’t up to the same cost, this qualifies as an exceptional, affordable alternative to high-cost water softeners with less upkeep. With a one-year money back guarantee, this is a pretty low-risk purchase and is worth a trial for those who are looking for something small, affordable, and alternative to traditional salt water softeners.
Top Capacity Water Softener
The Fleck 5600SXT water softener has a good reputation and is a commonly used model. Ideal for a home housing 3-5 people, this Fleck has 48,000 grain upgraded high capacity and works best on
- Product: Fleck 5600sxt Upgraded Water Softener
- Model #: 5600SXT Digital Control
- Dimensions: 15” x 34” brine tank, 1.5 cubic feet
- Shipping Weight: 130 pounds
- Warranty: 5 year valve warranty/10 year tank warranty
How it Works
Traditional salt based water softener system uses ion exchange process to eliminate scale buildup from hard water and increase efficiency of soap use. Solid and reliable, the Fleck is a well-known and respected brand. Keeps appliances free of buildup to extend life.
- Cross linked resin upgrade for longer life.
- 48 hour internal power backup.
- Backlit LCD display; easy to program.
- Meter based regeneration means water is only regenerated when needed, for more efficiency.
- 5600 valve has been tested to run up to 27 years. You may never need another water softener!
- Safety float to prevent over filling; overflow drain avoids messes.
- Mid-range affordability.
- Water may feel “slimy” to those who like hard water.
- Minerals that could be healthy for drinking are eliminated.
- Installation may be challenging/time consuming. Some users may want to hire a plumber.
This automatic metered on-demand appliance offers whole house softening in the traditional salt ionizing process. Affordable and reliable, this is a solid, standard choice which top capacity for those who aren’t looking for bells, whistles, or new-fangled technology.
Top Warranty Water Softener
The nuvoH2O is a Salt-Free alternative water softening system that provides whole house conditioning without salt, magnets, electricity, or waste. This little unit is compact but power-packed to removed existing scale from fixtures, appliances, and pipes as well as increasing the efficiency of the water heater.
- Product: nuvoH2O Manor Complete Salt-Free Water Softening System
- Model #: M42150
- Dimensions: 31.3” x 10.1” x 8.8”
- Capacity: 2100 sq. ft. house or larger
- Warranty: 90 day money back guarantee/lifetime warranty for modification, repair or exchange at no cost. Transferable with sale of home. Must use nuvoH2O brand replacement cartridges.
How it Works
This system uses an innovative chelation technology to lower the PH level of the water. Similar to the process used in the Aquasana Simply Soft, the metal ions in calcium and magnesium are bound to the proprietary citrus formula which softens and conditions the water.
- Lifetime Warranty—if you use replacement cartridges by nuvoH2O.
- Affordable at just under $1,000 and low shipping costs.
- Extremely compact, weighing only a few pounds.
- Minerals that may be healthy are not removed from water but transformed to make water softer.
- Large capacity for homes 2100 square feet or larger.
- 60,000 gallon capacity for each filter.
- Replacement cartridges can be a bit pricey compared to salt bags.
- May not be able to keep up with residue from extremely hard, lime scale.
- Replacement cartridges may be heavy for some people to change.
- As with most non-salt softening systems, the nuvoH20 has mixed reviews from people who either love it or cannot get used to it.
It seems like most people who use this system either love it or hate it. There really is no middle of the road. If you’re looking for an alternative to salt then this compact setup may be just what you want. But if you are looking for a system that acts exactly like a salt system, this probably isn’t going to do it. The good news is that because of the 90 day money back guarantee there is little risk, except for possibly some shipping costs and installation time.
How do water softeners work?
Having hard water has many adverse side effects, but one of the worst would be the effect it has on your skin and hair causing dryness and irritation. Your clothes may also be affected and come out of the wash feeling hard and brittle. Generally the life of your fabrics will be cut very short.
Top Water Softener Brands
Many water softeners exist today, making it hard to make a simple choice of settling for one product. As part of selecting water softeners, the product brand always stands out. Anyone would feel comfortable when he or she gets to buy a product from a reliable company.
The same thing works for me, I would not want to waste my time on a product that am not so sure about its capabilities. For those who are looking to make their first or consequent water softener purchase, check out below the top water softener brands.
There are a few water softener manufacturers on the market, only a few stand out in terms of quality and design:
- Fleck – With over 50 years of experience behind their belt, Fleck is one of the front-runners when it comes to water softener solutions, leading the way in technology and innovative designing. Fleck come highly
reccommended world wideand have the best all around reviews on Amazon currently.
Most of its products are made to stay working for a long time and using the latest technology to ensure that you get the soft water needed. You are likely to find this product in large households, or commercial places for what it has to deliver.
Most people can simply agree that the company produces intelligent machines that works best for most situations. Most of the Fleck water softeners have a large capacity, making them reliable for different uses around the home.
- Waterboss – Another well established brand in the water softening arena, Waterboss is also very highly rated and are well known for providing quality solutions. With water wastage a very high priority, their units therefore use less water than the rest.
Other than removing calcium and magnesium from your water, it can also remove clear-water iron. The regeneration process of most WaterBoss softeners is fairly fast. You should be in a position to start working on the next cycle of clean and soft water within minutes.
The control panel of the softeners is easy to operate even for a person who has not used a softener before. The manual too helps a lot to work on your first time encounter with the product. The overall hardness and sturdy construction of the WaterBoss systems should make it easy for anyone to choose it.
- Morton – North Americas leading salt producer, Morton are very well known for their different kinds of salt. They also produce salt based water softeners which are rated very highly on Amazon with a lot of great reviews.
- Aquasana – With "green" at the forefront of their units, Aquasana's focus is on providing both water softeners and water filtration systems that reduce environmental footprint and water waste. If it's good for our environment and it's a quality product, Aquasana gets the all clear from us.
To make it to the best water softener brands list, there is always something special about the products made by this company. The Aquasana products are known to help remove up to 97% of the compounds that cause hard water.
It is easy to see why many people would end up leaving many positive reviews on Amazon. If you are always worrying about lime scale up, the use of Simplysoft softener will eliminate the scaling up to 99%. The moment you get to use such a product, there is no going back to your already unreliable water softener system in the house.
Updated: February 8, 2021 by Zac Harding