Best Water Softener Resins of 2020

Categories Hard Water
When your water softener stops working well, you might need to use some resin.

Have you had your water softener for several years and noticed it’s not working as efficiently as it should? You might have noticed you’re using more salt and regenerating the system more often. If so, consider changing the resin and/or upgrading to a better softener.

Unfortunately, while softener resin lasts quite a long time, it’s life isn’t infinite. Eventually, it stops capturing the minerals that make your water hard, which is when it needs changing.

Here’s what you need to help you find the best water softener resin.

Choosing the Best Water Softener Resin

There are a few things to consider when choosing the best resin for water softeners:

1. Crosslink Percentage

Resin beads are generally made from divinylbenzene (DVB), which is wrapped in lots of strands of polystyrene, or crosslinks. This is what gives the beads strength and enables them to expand and contract without breaking.

The percentage of crosslinking indicates the amount of DVB in the resin beads. The higher the percentage of crosslinking, the smaller the beads and the better their life expectancy and efficiency (1).

2. Cations

Cations are positively charged ions that attract the hard water-causing minerals in your supply. For the exchange of ions to take place to soften water, you want strong sodium cations in your resin (2).

3. Quantity

Your manufacturer’s instruction manual for your water softener should tell you how much resin you need. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to measure the circumference and height of your tank. Once you have these details, you can use one of the many calculators available online to ascertain your needs (3).

4. Materials

We have already mentioned some of the materials used to make resin for softening water; DVB and polystyrene. You might see these referred to as polystyrenic or gel resin.

The Best Water Softener Resins of 2020

To make the task of choosing a resin to replace your existing one easier, we have consulted industry expert views and customer feedback. The result is our top 5 picks of the best water softener resins, detailed below.

1. Aquatrol Water Softener Resin

Best Overall

Water Softening Resin Softener Media 100% Ion Exchange Replacement - 1 CuFt Bag
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Aquatrol brings us a premium quality resin made from polystyrene and DVB beads with an eight percent crosslink.

The FDA approves the resin for use in treating food for human consumption. That means it won’t affect your drinking water after it’s been through the softening process.

We’re advised it’s suitable for any residential water softener. But it’s always best to check with your manufacturer’s specifications for your system.

  • Eight percent crosslink.
  • FDA approved.
  • Easy pour spout.
  • Might not be suitable for commercial systems.

Additional Specs

Quantity1 cubic foot
Weight50 pounds
Type of ResinStrong acid cation sodium exchange
MaterialsPolystyrene divinylbenzene (DVB)

2. Purolite C100E Cationic Resin

Best USA-made Resin

Purolite C100E Resin C-100E Cationic Replacement for Water Softener 1 CuFt Bag Media
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This eight percent crosslink resin is manufactured in the USA. The beads are a polystyrene gel style with DVB, making it a good choice for domestic water softener systems.

The strong acid cations are sodium-based to help remove hard water minerals and replace them with softer ones. This could mean less buildup in your plumbing and appliances.

This resin could also be suitable for commercial systems as the company advises its principal application is for industrial water softeners.

  • 1 cubic foot bag.
  • Strong acid cation.
  • Made in the USA.
  • Might need more than one bag for large systems.

Additional Specs

Quantity1 cubic foot
Weight50 pounds
Type of ResinStrong acid cation sodium exchange
CrosslinkNot specified
MaterialsPolystyrene gel, divinylbenzene

3. AFWFilters SOFRES1 Water Resin

Best Certified Resin

AFWFilters SOFRES1 Water Resin 1 cu. ft. Bag Replacement Softener
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While this resin is produced in India, it has the seal of approval for use in the USA having been tested by the Water Quality Association (WQA). The WQA sets out the standards that must be adhered to for products imported for use with water softeners and other water quality materials (4).

The eight percent crosslink polystyrene and DVB beads are designed to remove calcium and magnesium from your water — it’s a strong acid sodium cation blend.

The company advises that this product, while sold as 1 cubic foot, might be delivered in smaller bags with a combined volume of 1 cubic foot.

On the downside, some people notice a strange taste in their water after replacing their existing resin with this one. Some describe it as a plastic flavor.

  • WQA tested.
  • Eight percent crosslink resin.
  • Strong acid cation.
  • Might give your water a plastic taste.

Additional Specs

Quantity1 cubic foot
Weight50 pounds
Type of ResinStrong acid cation sodium exchange
MaterialsStyrene divinylbenzene copolymer

4. Liquagen Water Softener Resin

Highest Crosslink Resin

1.5 Cubic Feet of Water Softening Ion Exchange Resin Cation + Resin Loading Funnel
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This food-grade water softener resin has a ten percent crosslink. These stronger beads could last longer, meaning more time before they need changing again (5).

This higher crosslink could be particularly useful if your water supply contains a lot of chlorine or iron, like that from a well. These can wear down your resin beads, so the stronger the bead, the better (6).

You get 1.5 cubic feet of resin and a free funnel for your money. This is great when you are trying to refill your tank and find those beads don’t pour easily out of the bag. The funnel can be used to direct them to exactly where they need to be.

  • Strong resin from 10 percent crosslink.
  • Free funnel provided.
  • Larger 1.5 cubic feet size.
  • Funnel ships separately from the resin.

Additional Specs

Quantity1.5 cubic feet
Weight75 pounds
Type of ResinStrong acid cation sodium exchange
MaterialsGel polystyrene

5. Tier1 IER-100 Ion Exchange Water Softener Resin

Best Guarantee

Tier1 IER-100 Ion Exchange Water Softener Resin (0.88 Cubic feet)
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While we’re advised this is a premium grade high-quality resin, we aren’t told what the crosslink is. We can say that the gel polystyrene beads are a strong acid sodium cation, making them suitable for either home or commercial water softener systems.

This product also aims to inhibit limescale buildup in your plumbing and extend the life of appliances like dishwashers. Tier1 has such high confidence in its product that it offers an unconditional guarantee for the resin’s life.

Be careful when ordering to make sure you get enough. These are 25-liter bags, which equate to 0.88 cubic feet each.

  • Strong acid sodium cations.
  • High-quality resin.
  • Unconditional guarantee.
  • Smaller size bag than others, so be careful to make sure you get enough.

Additional Specs

Quantity0.88 cubic feet
Weight53 pounds
Type of ResinStrong acid cation sodium exchange
CrosslinkNot specified
MaterialsGel polystyrene

Detailed Comparison Chart

ProductBestQuantityWeightType of ResinCrosslinkMaterials
Aquatrol Water Softener ResinOverall1 cu ft50 lbsStrong acid cation sodium exchange8%Polystyrene divinylbenzene (DVB)
Purolite C100E Cationic ResinUSA-made Resin1 cu ft50 lbsStrong acid cation sodium exchangeN/APolystyrene gel, divinylbenzene
AFWFilters SOFRES1 Water ResinCertified Resin1 cu ft50 lbsStrong acid cation sodium exchange8%Styrene divinylbenzene copolymer
Liquagen Ion Exchange ResinCrosslink Resin1.5 cu ft75 lbsStrong acid cation sodium exchange10%Gel polystyrene
Tier1 IER-100 Ion Exchange ResinGuarantee0.88 cu ft53 lbsStrong acid cation sodium exchangeN/AGel polystyrene
Jump to the Full Water Softener Resin Reviews

How Does a Water Softener Work?

Water softeners work to remove hard water minerals, like calcium and magnesium, from your water, trading them for sodium, which is a softening mineral. This process is known as ionization and is the most common method of softening.

  1. Resin beads: The hard water ions are attracted to, and adhere to, the resin beads.
  2. Sodium released: Sodium ions are then released to maintain balance in the water. The resin is the media that allows this ion exchange to take place — it acts as a cation (positively charged) to attract oppositely charged negative ions.
  3. Regenerate: Over time, the beads become saturated with hard water minerals. When this happens, the system is regenerated (or cleansed). Water, which is rich in sodium, is flushed from the brine tank through the softener tank. The calcium and magnesium ions are released back into the water and washed away, while the resin is recharged with sodium ions.
  4. Repeat: Your system is then ready to start softening your water again (7).

When Does My Water Softener Resin Need Replacing?

Water softener resin generally lasts about 10 years (8). This can vary depending on the quality of your municipal water supply or if your water comes from a well.

Some municipal water supplies have high chlorine content, which can reduce the lifespan of your resin. Well water can be high in iron content or have sand particles in it, which can further degenerate resin (9).

Usually, the first sign that your resin might need replacing is that your water is not soft anymore. For example, you might notice hard water stains on glassware, or your soap isn’t performing as well as you’re used to.

Despite cleaning your brine tank, changing the salt and regenerating the system, the water coming through remains hard. This could be due to your resin having reached the end of its effectiveness.

Some of the causes of ineffective resin include (10):

1. Hydraulic Shock (Water Hammer)

A sudden interruption in the high pressure of your water flow can cause the resin beads to be smashed against the side of the softener tank. This could leave beads broken or cracked.

2. Chlorine

Chlorine can cause the beads in the resin to lose strength, which can then result in them swelling to a larger size. As there is limited room in the tank for them, it could cause the beads to crack or break.

3. Osmotic Shock

This refers to the process of the beads getting larger and smaller as they draw in minerals and then release them again. Over time, this can lead to breakage or cracking.

4. Reduced Quantities

When the beads get damaged and cracked, the volume in the tank will eventually drop. Bits can fall off and be washed away when the tank is regenerated. The lasting effect of this is less area for ion exchange to take place, and your water won’t be as soft.

5. Iron Buildup

Iron in your water can react with oxygen when your tank regenerates and leave behind iron oxide. The salt used to clean the resin can’t remove this, and it builds up on the beads. Again, the availability of the area for ion exchange will be reduced, and the performance of your system will be affected (11).

Time to Replace Your Resin

You’ve checked the salt in your brine tank and cleaned that out. You’ve regenerated your system as well, but your water softener is churning out hard water. It could be you need the best water softener resin to replace the old one in your softener tank.

Following your manufacturer’s directions, this is a task you can complete yourself, saving you money on calling out a specialist.

Any of the best water softener resins we’ve detailed are suitable for domestic systems, and some are fine for commercial use. Many manufacturers recommend a change every 10 years; however, we advise to keep a close eye on your resin, and be ready to make the change when necessary.

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About the Author

Peter Gray

Peter has been a homeowner for 35+ years and has always done his own repair and improvement tasks. As a retired plumber, Peter now spends his time teaching others how they can fix leaks, replace faucets, and make home improvements on a budget.
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