Hard water can clog up your appliances and plumbing with scale, leave unsightly marks on glassware and dishes or make your clothes scratchy and grey. Fortunately, there’s a solution: installing a water softener in your home.
These devices can remove the hardness from your water, preventing all the frustration it can cause. Deciding on the best water softener is where we come in. Sure, you could grab any old model, but there’s much more to it than that if you want the best results.
- Digitally metered control valve
- Installation kit & bypass valve
- Quick-connect fittings
- Space saving
- Demand initiated regeneration
- Meter-based regeneration
- Peace of mind
- Complete system
- Great choice for large homes
- Up to 11% more energy efficient
- Customizable digital control head
- Easy installation
- Choice of water output
- Excellent filters
- Good for smaller spaces
- Flow rate of 12 gal/min
- Installation instructions
- Made in the USA
- Whole-home system
- Grain capacity
Do I Need a Water Softener?
The majority of states in the U.S. have hard water to some extent. Water runs through rocks and soil, picking up minerals on its way to reservoirs and water supplies. Of these minerals, magnesium and calcium carbonates are the main culprits that make your water “hard” (1).
This water then enters your home, traveling through your plumbing and appliances, leaving minerals behind. These build up over time, leaving you with limescale and other deposits.
Additionally, white, cloudy marks can be left on dishes and around your tubs, faucets, and sinks. Even more frustrating, your skin and hair could be dry and dull; soap and shampoos might not create the amount of suds you would expect, and your laundry might be grey and stiff.
Aside from the above, if left untreated, hard water can cause reduced water flow, and possibly higher energy and cleaning costs.
How Do Water Softeners Work?
Water softeners help remove the minerals that make your water hard, such as calcium and magnesium. This can be done in several ways, depending on whether you want a whole-home solution or only on certain faucets. These include:
Ion-Exchange Salt-Based System
The most effective water softener for your whole home is an ion exchange system with salt. They usually have two tanks, one for the softening resin (softener tank), and one for salt (brine tank). Some models come with two softening tanks, so you don’t have any downtime while one is being cleaned or regenerated.
- Resin tank: Inside are lots of tiny beads covered in sodium or potassium (salt). As water passes over the beads, they attract the magnesium and calcium ions in the water and release the sodium ions, a process called ion exchange (2).
- Brine tank: The brine tank contains salt and water (brine) and flushes this through the softener tank. Reverse ion exchange takes place, and the hard water minerals are washed down the drain, and the salt ions are replaced on the resin.
Demand Initiated Regeneration System
These systems are one of the most common. They work on the same principle as an ion exchange system, but they only regenerate the softener tank when it’s needed. They measure the amount of water that passes through the tank to calculate when the ions have become saturated, and then start the cleaning process (4).
Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC) or Nucleation Assisted Crystallization (NAC)
These systems are salt-free and condition your water rather than soften it. They descale water by passing it through a TAC media, which converts the hard minerals into crystals. These crystals can’t adhere to pipes and appliances, and so don’t build up. This could also be a more environmentally friendly option as you aren’t putting sodium into the drainage system, or wasting water cleaning them.
Similar to TAC systems, these are water conditioners. They use a chelating agent like nitriloacetic acid to attract hard water minerals (5). This suspends the minerals in the water, preventing them from attaching to your plumbing.
Magnetic or Electronic Water Softener
These devices are easy to fit and can provide conditioned water to your whole home. All you need is a power outlet near your incoming water supply. They then connect to a power supply and clip to the water pipe.
They go to work by creating magnetic fields that change the chemical composition of your water. They can help prevent scale from forming but don’t remove the hard minerals from water.
The effectiveness of these devices seems to remain questionable in comparison to ion exchange water softeners (6). Then again, they aren’t designed to soften water, just to prevent the deposits from forming.
If this is the type of system that appeals, then one like this from iSpring could be a good option.
Reverse Osmosis System
If you don’t want a whole-home system, but want cleaner drinking water, a reverse osmosis system could fit the bill. They generally fit under your sink and use multiple filters to remove contaminants from your water. These include calcium, magnesium, organic materials, and chemicals (7).
How to Choose the Best Water Softener
Apart from the different types of water softeners, some additional factors might make your buying decision easier:
What Size Do I Need?
The capacity of an ion exchange water softener is expressed in the grain capacity of the resin in the softener tank. The higher the grain capacity, the less frequently it will need to be regenerated. This will mean savings on salt and water in the long run.
To calculate the capacity for your home, you’ll need to collate some information and do a few calculations.
1. Water Hardness
Water hardness is calculated depending on the amount of calcium carbonate it contains. There are a few ways you can find out how hard your water is:
- DIY: Test it yourself with a water test kit. These are readily available, like this one from JNW, and are easy to use.
- Lab test: Ask an independent laboratory to test your water for you.
- Water supplier: Request a water report from your local supplier, or call them and ask.
Water hardness is measured in ppm (parts per million), or gpg (grains per gallon). The industry standard is grains per gallon. The measurement can be calculated from ppm by dividing by 17.12.
For example: 100 ppm divided by 17.12 = 5.84 gpg
If you have high iron content in your water, or your supply is from a well, it’s advised that you add 4 gpg for each 1 ppm of iron to your water hardness figure.
2. Daily Water Consumption
The next figure you need to obtain is your home’s daily water consumption. Use your water bill for this and convert it to a daily average.
If you don’t have this information, you can estimate it. The USGS estimates that each person uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water per day (8). So, multiply the number of people in your household by about 90 to give you gallons per day.
For example: 5 people x 90 gallons per person = 450 gallons per day.
3. Daily Softening Requirement
The final figure you need is the softening requirement, measured in hardness grains per day. This is done by multiplying the hardness level — step 1 — by the gallons per day consumption — step 2.
For example: 5.84 gpg (hardness in grains per gallon) x 450 gallons per day = 2,628.
4. Calculate Your Required Grain Capacity
To calculate this figure, you need to think about how often a system needs to regenerate itself. The recommendation is about every six or seven days. Using this as a guide, multiply your daily softening requirement by 7.
For example: 2,628 grains per day x 7 days = 18,396 grains per week.
This means that the capacity you would be looking for based on the above data would be an 18,000-grain capacity as a minimum.
The best water softeners’ grain capacities start at about 16,000 and can reach up to 96,000 if you have a system with dual softener tanks.
Consider how much space you have to place a water softening system where your water supply enters your home.
Many ion-exchange models consist of one softener tank and one brine tank; some are single units and some have dual tanks and a brine tank.
Undersink water conditioners or magnetic water conditioners could be a good choice if you’re pushed for space in a small home or apartment.
The bypass valve is fitted to the softener, allowing you to divert water away from the softener when it’s not needed. This could be used for doing repairs or filling an aquarium, and is easy to find and operate.
While not essential for a water softener, a bypass valve sure makes life easier.
Regeneration can be set manually for a time that suits you, such as at night when water isn’t needed. On the other hand, there are metered systems that measure the water used and only regenerate when the system needs it.
Manual timers can use more water and salt by regenerating when the system might not need it. Metered systems might kick in at a time when water usage is high.
The flow rate of a water softener indicates how much water it can supply, usually denoted in gallons per minute (gpm).
Consider how much demand there is at the same time from members of your household, and how much each appliance or faucet needs. To give you an idea (9):
- Faucet: 2.0–3.0 gpm
- Toilet: 2.0–3.0 gpm
- Bathtub: 4.0–8.0 gpm
- Shower: 1.5–3 gpm
- Washing machine: 3.0–5.0 gpm
- Dishwasher: 2.0–4.0 gpm
A good rule of thumb is to aim for a flow rate of 4 gpm for the first person in your home and then an additional 1 or 2 gpm for each extra person.
- 2 people: 5–6 gpm.
- 3 people: 6–8 gpm.
- 4 people: 7–10 gpm.
The beads in the resin tank are usually made from polystyrene and divinylbenzene (DVB). Crosslinking refers to the process where the DVB has been wrapped in strands of polystyrene to make it durable.
The more DVB and strands, the higher the crosslink percentage and the smaller the beads. Smaller beads mean for more in the tank, giving a larger resin area for ionization.
Most systems have a crosslinking percentage of either 8 or 10 percent.
Peace of mind if something goes wrong with your system could be important to you. Many manufacturers offer warranties on their products. These could cover parts and labor and could vary from 1 year to 10 years or more.
Note that the most often warrantied parts are the valves and the tanks.
Best Water Softener Reviews of 2022
From the views of industry experts and customer feedback, the most popular seem to be ion-exchange salt-based units. As a result, most of our top 7 picks fall within this category.
1. AFWFilters Fleck 64k Water Softener
Best Overall Water Softener
Suitable for the whole house, this 64,000-grain water softener comes fully loaded with eight percent crosslink resin.
It has a bypass valve, brine tank, and valve included. This means all you need to do is get it set up and you’re good to go.
The blue resin tank measures 48 inches by 12 inches and is made in the USA, and the brine tank is 15 inches by 17 inches by 33 inches.
With this in mind, make sure you have enough room to accommodate both tanks.
Digitally Metered Control Valve
This system is fitted with a Fleck 5600SXT digital valve. This valve measures the water passing through the softener tank and regenerates only when needed. This means you could save on water and salt as it will only clean the system when it’s needed.
The valve has an LCD that shows you the current status of the system and will display error codes so you can troubleshoot problems. It also has touchpad controls so you can adjust and program the settings if you want to take full control.
After taking delivery of your system, the company offers technical support and after-sales care to help you install your unit, via a toll-free number. They’ll also answer any questions you have about programming your system.
Following this, you get a five-year warranty on the valve and a 10-year warranty on the tanks.
Installation Kit & Bypass Valve
The tanks come with an installation kit, which includes a standard 1-inch male national pipe thread. This should be easy to connect to your plumbing yourself.
A bypass valve is included so you can easily disconnect the softener from your water system. This is great when you want to clean your brine tank or renew your resin.
Video instructions are supplied on a USB drive to help you install the system. Some find these hard to follow. On the plus side, many find telephone support from the company very knowledgeable and helpful.
|Flow Rate||App. 14–16 gpm|
|Valve||Fleck 5600SXT digital metered regeneration|
|Type||Ion exchange, salt-based|
|Warranty||5-year valve, 10-year tanks|
2. Tier1 Everyday Series 48,000 Grain Water Softener
Best Water Softener for Hard Water
Tier1 brings us an ion exchange water softener that has 48,000 grains of resin. It’s a whole-home system available in blue or black tanks. This basic system can remove hardness from your water, making your soap work better and preventing limescale buildup in pipes and appliances.
It regenerates within two hours, and this can be manually set to take place while you sleep at night. It has a digital control valve with an easy-to-read LCD, which gives you relevant information for your system. The information is clear and concise, so it shouldn’t confuse you.
All the fittings you need to hook this up to your water pipes are supplied with this system. It has three-quarter-inch connections, tubing for the brine tank and drain line, and all mechanical components. Some customers have reported that additional 1-inch connections are supplied as well.
The company does advise that homes that have CPVC or PEX plumbing might need to purchase additional compression fittings. If so, it recommends the Sharkbite brand.
The softener tank measures 54 inches high and 10 inches in diameter, and the brine tank measures 14 inches by 42 inches. The proprietary turbine meter is incorporated in the bypass valve, meaning this whole unit takes up less room.
The company advises this can save you up to 4 feet of floor space.
Dedicated Customer Support
This system comes with a 100 percent no-worries guarantee, although we aren’t told how long this lasts for. Tier1 has a dedicated customer support team that speaks English and Spanish. Additionally, they’re US-based and on-hand to help with any queries about the product and its installation.
Demand Initiated Regeneration
The valve on this water softener is fitted with a water probe (propeller) that measures the amount of water you use. Based on this information, it will regenerate the resin tank when necessary, although you can set a manual override.
The advantage of a demand regeneration is you can save on salt and water as the system won’t regenerate when it doesn’t need to.
Unclear Installation Instructions
Some found the instructions supplied a little confusing. While patience and customer support paid off in most cases, it does mean a longer time to get set up.
|Flow Rate||11.2 gpm|
|Valve||Digital metered regeneration|
|Type||Ion exchange, salt-based|
|Warranty||No worries guarantee, duration not specified|
3. AFWFilters Iron Pro 2 Combination Water Softener
Best Water Softener for Well Water
Water supply from a well can present homeowners with many challenges; after all, it’s your responsibility alone and is generally not regulated. Apart from harmful chemicals and bacteria, the chances are your water will be hard and could contain higher levels of iron (10).
The Iron Pro 2 is designed to soften water by removing hardness up to 75 gpg. It can also help remove iron in the 6–8 ppm range and manganese below 6 ppm. On top of that, the fine mesh resin can also help eliminate sediment, rust, and sand.
As well as less buildup in pipes and appliances, this system could help eliminate red rust stains on sinks and tubs, which result from iron in the water. The system has a flow rate of 16 gpm, making it suitable for households of up to seven people.
The system comes with a Fleck 5600SXT digital control, which operates on a metered regeneration. This means your system gets cleaned of the hard water minerals only when it needs to.
If your water consumption increases, the meter will detect this and regenerate more often, so you always have soft water. Likewise, if your consumption decreases, it will regenerate less, conserving salt and water.
Peace of Mind
A 30-day satisfaction guarantee accompanies this system. If you decide to keep it, further warranties of five years on the control head and 10 years on the tanks are offered.
This water softener comes with a softener tank containing a 64,000 grain count, fine mesh resin, a brine tank, a metered control, and a bypass valve. It has all you need to soften your hard water and remove some iron.
Inadequate Installation Instructions
While the company provides toll-free telephone and email support, many find there are either no instructions included or if there are, they lack detail. If you don’t have plumbing knowledge, this could mean you need to get a professional to install it for you.
|Flow Rate||App. 14–16 gpm|
|Valve||Fleck 5600SXT digitally metered regeneration|
|Type||Ion exchange, salt-based|
|Warranty||5-year valve, 10-year tanks|
4. Aquasure Harmony Series Water Softener
Best Water Softener for Reducing Limescale
Limescale is a horrible side effect of living in a hard water area. It can cause many problems since all your pipes are vulnerable to limescale. That’s where we recommend the Aquasure water softener. It eliminates these problems by softening the water and reducing limescale build-up throughout your home.
It treats 48,000 grains of hardness. It removes hard minerals — including iron and magnesium — which can significantly benefit your skin. These minerals are harsh on our skin and can cause irritation and clogged pores.
So if you want a more luxurious water experience in your home, have a think about this product.
Great Choice for Large Homes
This water softener is designed for families of up to five people or those living in a four-bathroom home. So if you have a larger house and a bigger family, this will cover all bases.
Up to 11 Percent More Energy Efficient
Take one for the environment when you choose this product. It saves water since it takes less time to clean. You can also use less detergent since soap is more effective in softer water.
Last but not least, it’s more energy-efficient, saving you money and repairs in the long run.
Customizable Digital Control Head
The easy-to-use digital control head allows you to customize the settings to suit your needs and applications. The digital display is easy to read, too, even in the dark.
Customer Service Isn’t Reliable
Some customers report that Aquasure has impressive customer service, while others say they don’t. You might be waiting a while for a response, or they might just be careless about your issues. It’s quite unpredictable!
Brine Tube Leaking Issues
Many customers experienced some leaking due to the brine tube connection. You can easily fix the issue, but it is something to be prepared for.
|Flow Rate||12 gpm|
|Valve||Bypass valve with 1” and out NPT yoke|
5. iSpring Six-Stage Undersink Drinking Water Filter
Best Salt-Free Water Softener
When you don’t have room for, or don’t want, a whole-home softening system then this reverse osmosis water conditioner could be what you need. It has a six-stage filter system: five to remove contaminants in your water and one to replace useful minerals.
iSpring claims this reverse osmosis filter removes lead, chlorine, fluoride, sodium, bacteria, and viruses. It also replaces minerals such as calcium and magnesium at the sixth filter stage.
The unit measures 14.5 x 5.2 x 18.5 inches and is designed to fit under your sink. This makes it a great option when you’re tight on space but want better water from your faucet. It can filter up to 75 gallons of water a day.
All parts needed to install your unit are included. It comes with written instructions and illustrations that are easy to follow. Also, there are instructional videos and access to iSprings technical support team, if needed. We really like that the fittings are push-to-connect and color-coded to make it easy to identify what goes where.
Choice of Water Output
The system comes with a nickel-plated brass faucet included, which is designed to be mounted on your countertop. You can also connect the output lines to a coffee maker or ice maker if you prefer.
The first-stage filters are transparent, which makes it easy for you to see when they’re becoming clogged with sediment and need changing.
A granulated activated carbon filter (GAC) helps remove contaminants, and a CTO (color/taste/odor) filter is designed to improve the water’s taste and remove odor. The final stage remineralizes the water.
All filters are replaceable, albeit this could be at different, recommended times. Check the manufacturer’s directions as to what need replacing when.
The faucet supplied with this system might tend to spring a small leak. Luckily, the system is guaranteed for a year so you should be able to get a replacement if this happens.
|Capacity (Grain)||Cleans 75 gallons per day|
|Flow Rate||Information not supplies|
|Valve||Information not supplies|
|Type||Reverse osmosis filter|
6. ABCWaters Fleck 48,000-Grain Water Softener
Easiest to Install Water Softener
This system from ABCWaters is designed to provide a family of up to five with softened municipal water.
It has a 48,000-grain capacity, and the softener tank is prefilled with 10 percent crosslinked resin. This higher percentage means the beads are smaller and the resin has a longer life expectancy.
The package includes almost everything you need for a complete home water-softening solution.
You get the brine and softener tanks, a Fleck 5600SXT valve digital meter, a bypass, and a yoke.
Good for Smaller Spaces
The tanks on this system are smaller than some others on the market and could suit you if you’re short on space. The softener tank has a 10-inch diameter and is 2 inches high, while the brine tank measures 14 inches by 36 inches.
With a flow rate of 12 gallons per minute, this unit can easily supply a family of four with more than enough water when needed. So, you can put the laundry on and run a nice deep bath to have a soak at the same time.
An experienced technician wrote the installation guide supplied with the system. Once complete, it was then revised after feedback from a novice installer. The result is an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide.
There are also videos on the manufacturer’s website to further help with installation and programming the digital meter.
Additional Parts Needed
It’s worth noting that the drain line and water connectors aren’t included with this system. Some find it might need a few trips to the plumbing supply store as there also isn’t a complete list of any extra parts you need.
|Flow Rate||12 gpm|
|Valve||Fleck 5600SXT valve digital meter|
|Type||Ion exchange, salt-based|
|Warranty||5-year valve, 10-year tanks|
7. Whirlpool 30,000 Grain Water Softener
Best Compact Water Softener
Whirlpool brings us a whole-home system with a difference. Both the softener tank and brine tank are enclosed in one unit, making it a space-saving option. The housing measures 19 inches deep by 18 inches wide by 43.5 inches high.
The bypass valve and salt indicator are also built-in. We love that the meter measures the amount of salt needed each time and lets you know when it requires topping up.
Made in the USA
This unit has been designed, assembled, and engineered in the USA. This means replacement parts, should they be needed, could be readily available. The system is also NSF-certified, ensuring the product has been tested for safety and quality (11).
Whirlpool offers a one-year warranty on parts and labor. This can be extended to two years if you purchase three bottles of their branded water softener cleanser.
A further warranty of three years is offered on the electronics and 10 years on the tank.
The grain capacity on this softener is 30,000, and we’re told it removes 95 gpg of hardness and up to 8 ppm of iron. This makes it suitable for a household of between one and four people.
Some have found it extremely difficult to install the unit although the majority of people did not enocunter problems with the installation process. Whether this applies to you, or not, depends entirely on your current plumbing knowledge. Remember that you can always call in a plumber if you need help.
|Flow Rate||Not specified|
|Valve||Demand calculated regeneration.|
|Warranty||1 year full parts and labor, 3 years electronics, 10 years tank.|
|Product||Best||Capacity (Grain)||Flow Rate||Type||Warranty (year)|
|AFWFilters Fleck 64k||Overall Pick||64,000||14–16 gpm||Ion exchange, salt-based||5-year valve, 10-year tanks|
|Tier1 Everyday Series||Hard Water||48,000||11.2 gpm||Ion exchange, salt-based||N/A|
|AFWFilters Iron Pro 2||Well Water||64,000||14–16 gpm||Ion exchange, salt-based||5-year valve, 10-year tanks|
|Aquasure Harmony Series||Reducing Limescale||48,000||12 gpm||Resin-based||5-year|
|iSpring Undersink Water Filter||Salt-Free||75 gal. per day||N/A||Reverse osmosis filter||1 year|
|ABCWaters Fleck Water Softener||Easiest to Install||48,000||12 gpm||Ion exchange, salt-based||5-year valve, 10-year tanks|
|Whirlpool Water Softener||Compact||30,000||N/A||Salt-based||1 parts/labor,3 electronics,10 tank|
How to Install a Water Softener
Many water softeners can be installed with a little know-how. Here are the basic steps for fitting your water softener to your plumbing system.
Salt-Based Systems (Ion Exchange and Automatic Regeneration)
- Switch off and drain: Before beginning any installation, turn off your main water supply and drain the system by opening your lowest faucet or drainage valve. Also, turn off the power supply to your water heater.
- Location: Identify the location for the water softener. There should be enough room for the two tanks, power supply, and a drain for water discharge nearby. It will also need to be near your main water supply — after the meter but before your water heater connections.
- Bypass valve: Most water softeners come with a bypass valve supplied that attaches to the softener tank. Follow the manufacturer’s directions and lock this into place and secure it.
- Connect to the water: You can either hard pipe it with copper or PVC piping or use flex hoses and connectors. You will need to cut your main supply line and either solder or use push fittings to connect your flex hoses. Once they’re in place, connect them to your system, making sure you get the inlet and outlet the right way round.
- Drainage: When a water softener system regenerates, mineral-heavy water drains from the system. You could use a utility sink, standpipe or floor drain for the water outlet. Connect the drain hose to the softener tank and the overflow drain hose to the drain elbow located on the salt tank. Both these hoses then need to be placed and secured where they can drain the water from your home.
- Add salt and turn on: Add the amount of salt recommended by your manufacturer to the brine tank and turn your water back on. Don’t forget to restore the power to your water heater as well. It’s a good idea to open a faucet before turning the water on to release any excess pressure.
- Set up regeneration: The final steps will be to set up the time for regenerating your system and follow your manufacturer’s recommendations for initial regeneration.
Bypass Valves Are Important
- Switch off and drain: You will again need to turn off the water supply to your home and drain it. Again, disconnect power to your water heater.
- Location: Locate your filter system on the main water supply before your water heater so it will supply conditioned water to the entire home.
- DIY needed for the valves: Cut your main water pipe using a pipe cutter for copper or PVC, depending on your pipes. Install shut-off valves on either side of the pipe so you can disconnect the system if you need to for things such as changing the cartridges. Extend the pipes using elbow joints or flex hoses and connect them to the filter with compression joints.
- Check the flow direction: Make sure you have the flow of water the right way round and in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Switch on: Close the shut-off valves and open your water supply.
- Check for leaks: To check for leaks, open each valve individually and slowly.
Magnetic systems are much simpler to install.
They usually have a hinge that opens up or wires that wrap around a pipe. Place them over your pipe and secure them according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Reverse Osmosis Systems
Undersink Is Popular
- Switch off and drain: To mount one under your sink, turn off the water supply, either locally or at the mains, and drain that part of the system by opening the faucet.
- Dimensions: Check the correct height for your system and measure on your cabinet where your softener will fit. Mark this with a pencil. Fix your system to your cabinet with screws following the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Connect the water: Detach your cold water supply from the old valve. Attach the supplied saddle valves to the cold water supply, so the water diverts to the filter. Cut the tubing to fit if you need to.
- Faucet and drain lines: Now install the supplied faucet and drain lines — you might need to drill a hole in your countertop for the faucet.
- Switch on and check for leaks: Once everything is in place according to your manufacturer’s directions, turn on your water supply and check for leaks.
Ditching Hard Water
If hard water is plaguing your life with clogged plumbing and appliances, investing in one of the best water softeners is a popular solution. That’s not to mention the non-lathering soap and water stains on sinks and dishes.
The type you choose will depend on the size of your home and how many people live there. Also, consider testing the hardness of your water before purchasing a water softener — don’t forget to consult our testing methods above.
The most popular whole-home solution seems to be an ion exchange salt-based water softener. These come in various shapes and sizes; however, the same outcome is achieved — softer water. Any of our featured products could have your pipes, dishes, appliances, clothes, hair and skin thanking you.