Approximately 85% of American households suffer from hard water. What is it? Hard water contains minerals that make soaps difficult to lather, leave spots on dishes and form rings on bathtubs, among a host of other problems. The main mineral culprits making household life difficult are calcium, magnesium carbonate and manganese, which absorb into the water from the ground.
Although chemicals are sometimes used to combat hard water, most homeowners turn to water softeners for their hard water issues. They are mechanical appliances that link into the home’s water supply system.
There are a plethora of options out there to choose from. This buying guide will explain the benefits of using them, features to consider when purchasing, and water softener reviews to help you pick the best water softener for you.
Top 10 Best Water Softeners Comparison Table
48,000 (sizes available)
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|Aquasana Rhino EQ-600|
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|Watts RV PRO-1000|
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|Nuvo H20 DPHB|
12 - 15 GPM
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|On The Go OTG4-DBLSOFT|
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|AQUIOS Water Treatment System|
12 - 15 GPM
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|APEC Water ROES-50|
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The Negative Effects of Hard Water
Hard water is simply water that has a high content of minerals, such as magnesium and calcium. Unfortunately, even though hard water is safe to eat, drink, and bathe with, other effects of hard water are far from simple. Here’s a quick look at how it can impact your skin and hair, washing, plumbing, and appliances.
1. Skin and Hair
Hard water affects the quality of your bath or shower and can make it tough to rinse off body cleansers, as well as shampoos and conditioners. Not only can this make it tough to get dirt and bacteria off of your body, but it also tends to leave a film on your skin referred to as soap curd. As a result, your skin and hair may be irritated and look a tad dingy and dull. Also, as hard water deposits build up inside your home’s pipes, you will begin to notice a decrease in water pressure, which will only add to the problem of getting thoroughly clean.
Hard water can wreak havoc on your dishes and clothing due to the extreme density of the minerals in the water. Typically, dishes, including plates, cups, and utensils, are left with a white, chalky residue that can be almost impossible to remove in a single cleaning. At the same time, clothes and other linens frequently begin to feel rough and brittle, lose their vibrant colors, develop a sour odor, and wear out much more quickly with repeated washings. You will also observe that your white clothes begin to turn gray or yellow, regardless of what type of detergent or bleach you use.
The vast mineral and sediment particles found in hard water can quickly and easily build up inside of water heaters, making it tougher for the heater to warm up the water and increasing energy usage, which leads to increased energy bills. Over time, a scale of magnesium and calcium may form inside the appliance, which reduces water flow, clogs pipes, and eventually results in the need for new pipes, a costly expense.
While it isn’t easy to see the effect of hard water on the interior of your water heater and pipes, it usually becomes very noticeable inside your home. For example, it often causes an ugly scale buildup on shower walls, bathtubs, and faucets. You may also notice that white porcelain sinks, tubs, and showers begin to look grimy and discolored. Before too long, ugly stains may appear that can be almost impossible to remove. It is worth noting that scale deposits will build up in any appliances that use water. Most scale deposits are brown in color, leading to rust.
Scale deposits, which have a rough, uneven surface, are also an ideal hiding place for bacteria and other potentially harmful microorganisms. When this happens, you are always at risk of potentially dangerous bacteria growth on the scale, which could cause you or someone in your family to get sick.
Testing Water Hardness
Water hardness is measured by grains of the minerals found per gallon (GPG), or milligrams of the mineral per liter (mg/l, which is equivalent to parts per million, or ppm). Water is considered soft if it reaches a threshold of 1 GPG or 17.1mg/l. Moderate hard water ranges from 3.5 to 7.2 GPG. Water tested at 10.5 GPG or over is considered extremely hard. Test kits can be easily attained online to use in your home, or by contacting a company that sells water softening systems.
How Do Water Softeners Work?
Many homes have water softeners, though they are more likely to be found in suburban and rural areas than in cities. You can look at them as mini-water treatment plants, though they do not clean the water. Their primary function is to remove mineral particles that have been picked up from the earth. The presence of these particles makes water “hard” and decreases the effectiveness of soaps and detergents used around the home.
The particles that are usually picked up are calcium and magnesium. Their presence leaves a residue that can spot clothes, leave hair lifeless, and in some cases build up in your shower and bath, requiring you to clean the build-up before it clogs up shower heads and drains. If the deposits can build up in your shower head, they will eventually build up in your entire plumbing system. Water will flow more slowly, and pipes will take longer to drain. And don’t forget about the water heater.
What follows is the basic operation of a water softener. Some technical details will be left out, but we will provide enough information that it will make sense to the average homeowner.
Obviously, the goal is to eliminate the calcium and magnesium particles from the water before it gets into your plumbing system. A water softener has the following essential parts:
- An intake valve that fills the tank with water from outside the home
- An outtake valve that distributes the water back into the home water system
- A mineral tank that processes the water
- Brine (salt) tank that flushes the magnesium and calcium out of the water system
As the water comes into the home and passes into the water softener, it is ionized. This process uses chemical attraction to remove the calcium and magnesium from the water by a law of attraction. The mineral tank contains a resin or zeolite that is negatively charged. Calcium and magnesium have positively charged particles. When positive meets negative, the positive clings to the negatively charged resin and is removed from the water system.
Of course, the mineral tank can only be so large, and the question is where do the ionized particles of magnesium and calcium go. Here is where the brine tank comes in. The sodium, which is a major component of salt, attracts the newly mated particles of resin and calcium/magnesium. It flushes these materials out and removes them from the water.
So far we have:
- Water that is brought into the tank that goes to the mineral tank that removes the calcium and magnesium particles by a resin compound
- Once the resin mixture has completely is saturated with the new particles, it is moved to the brine tank, which removes the newly created particles from the water
Now the tank is filled with this briny water free of the calcium and magnesium deposits. What happens next is that the water goes through a backwash that is part of a 3 phase process that removes not only the salt but other contaminants such as dirt down a drain.
The water softening system uses electricity to continually recharge and regenerate the negative ion particles on a regular schedule. During this recharging process, soft water will not be available. Technology has made this regeneration process more efficient by monitoring the amount of available negative ion particles available in the system and can recharge it with always having to wait for all of the available soft water to be used.
The Fundamental Causes and Processes are:
- Groundwater picks up calcium and magnesium particles as it flows through the ground and pipe- before entering your home’s plumbing system, the water softener removes the particles from the water by using resin in a process called ionization.
- The result of ionization is water that needs to have the newly created particles flushed out, done by a brine tank.
- The briny water is sent through a 3 phase process that sends the water back through the system to remove the salt and any other dirt particles that remain.
- The treated water is then sent to the home to be used or stored in a separate tank.
What are the Benefits?
Having hard water in your home will not necessarily result in serious health issues, but it will result in additional expenditures to resolve the problems created by it.
Water softening pertains to the process of eliminating water impurities, whereby the minerals are dissolved to clear its adverse effects. Here are the advantages of getting a water softener system to treat your water at home:
1. Less Soap and Shorter Cleaning Time
Did you know that soaps exhibit different chemical reactions depending on the water you use? Hard water makes soap resistant and difficult to lather. Soaps, shampoos, detergents, and cleansers lose their effectiveness when combined with hard water because they fail to dissolve completely, reducing their ability to lather and clean. This means using more product to get the intended outcome, although the outcome itself isn’t so desirable when paired with hard water. Also, hard water mixed with soaps and detergents leaves undesirable spots and soap scum in its wake.
Soft water uses less soap yet can clear up stubborn dirt in no time. Your car, glass, silverware, tiles, and mirrors will be returned to its original luster. There’d be no spots and stains nor marks due to minerals that are present.
2. Minimize Plumbing Repairs
Water that’s loaded with many deposits tends to cause clogging and blockage on a plumbing system. Heated hard water minerals form scale buildup, clogging pipes and reducing water flow in your home. Scale and lime deposits can also reduce the life and efficiency of any water-heating systems including water heaters, dishwashers and coffee makers.
You can reduce damage to your pipes over time by using a water softener. It will also solve inadequate water supply due to mineral build-up as hard water converts into soft water towards a smooth flow and overall clean system.
3. Optimal Care for Your Clothes
Frequent washing of clothes in hard water can damage and lessen the material’s quality. The substances in the water harm tiny fibers in clothing and linen such as bed sheets, towels, and blankets. On the contrary, washing them in soft water renders you with softer, cleaner, more comfortable clothes that will last longer.
4. Healthier Hair and Skin
Because soap is harder to rinse off in hard water, some people may suffer from rashes and other skin problems due to the resulting change in their skin’s pH. It is often the culprit of lifeless hair and dull-looking skin. This is why getting the best beauty products, shampoo and soap may not give you complete treatment. A water softener helps flush away microscopic particles and bacteria, leaving you with the youthful skin and shiny hair you want. It also protects your skin from irritants that may cause rashes or minor skin diseases.
5. Maintenance Made Easy
Appliances that utilize water like washing machines, humidifiers and dishwashers tend to have a shorter lifespan when using hard water during its operation. Over time, it will no longer be efficient in doing its job since the inner workings are somehow affected by the water. Changing your water makes home equipment less prone to repair and entails less maintenance. You attain maximum performance and lifespan of your home appliances. The water softener system is an investment in itself with the significant savings, safety, comfort, and convenience it brings.
Different Types of Systems
1. Salt-Based Ion Exchange
This softener requires two tanks: a mineral tank and a brine tank. This system uses an ion exchange to extract the problematic minerals and replace them with sodium. The mineral tank is filled with sodium and beads that carry a negative charge. The positively-charged calcium, magnesium, and iron latch onto the beads, releasing the lesser positively-charged sodium as water passes through the system. The system then enters into a three-phase regenerating cycle. First, it reverses the water flow to flush dirt from the tank, then it carries the sodium-rich salt solution to the mineral tank, and finally, the sodium replaces the calcium and magnesium which goes down the drain. Before the process is initiated again, the tank is flushed of the excess sodium-water solution and the brine tank is refilled.
This type of softener replaces problematic minerals with potassium chloride rather than sodium. If you are trying to reduce your salt intake, this softener may be a good option for you. Salt-free softeners are descalers and do not reduce water minerals. They prevent minerals from depositing as scale, saving your pipes and appliances that use water in your home. Although not the best type of water softener, it is still better than untreated water.
Most systems require recharging, so they need to disconnect from the water supply system. Usually at night, when a household does not need the water. Dual-tank softeners have two mineral tanks so that if one is regenerating, the other can be of use. These softening systems are ideal for large families or where water is difficult to come by. However, keep in mind that these tanks require space in your home, as well as a drain for backwashing.
4. Magnetic or Descaler
This electronic, or magnetic, softener clips onto the water supply pipe of your home and uses a magnetic field to alter the electromagnetic properties of calcium carbonate without the use of chemicals. As a result, theoretically, the minerals are repelled by each other and pipes. Although in existence, this type of softener is not very well promoted in the engineering community.
Water Softening Capacity
When looking into buying the best water softener, not only should you read reviews but you also need to consider the size of your household. It needs to be large enough to handle the demands of your family but does not have to be overly large or expensive to be the best for your needs. Softeners are sold in different sizes, which are rated by how many grains of hardness they can remove from your water supply without recharging. The best softening system for your family should have the capacity to handle three days worth of water before regenerating. To calculate the correct size for your household, multiply the number of people in your family by 75 (the average number of gallons a person uses daily). Then, multiply the result by the number of GPG in your water. Keep reading on, and we will have reviews of the top 10 options on the market.
What Size to Buy
You know that you need to buy a water softener for your home. However, how do you know what is right for you? There are many things that you need to keep note of. For instance, you do not need to buy a large enough one that you would be able to use for a long time. You need one that can handle all your daily household needs easily, which can be many.
Unfortunately, buying the wrong product can mean that you wouldn’t be able to deal with water hardness effectively – a reason that it is always preferable to buy one with an extra load than buying one with the bare minimum.
So, how do you know it is right for you?
Knowing the Right Size
It all depends on the number of people you have in your home and the gallons of water you usually use each day. For instance, 80 gallons is what a typical person uses on average a day. Now, if you have five people in your home, you will need a size of 5 x 80 = 400.
Now, check the hardness in your water. You will need to multiply 400 with the grains of hardness in your water – it will tell you the total grains that you need to remove every day.
Just check and buy one that is ready to handle such a load. For instance, most households with four persons use one with a 33,000-grain unit.
More importantly, water softener does not use much electricity. A standard model will use only as much electricity as a digital water clock – so you do not have to worry about using up a lot of power. Add to it the fact that the regeneration process is simple too – and you only end up using as much water for it as you would take to wash a load of laundry.
There are two ways in which softeners control regeneration cycles. Softeners differ in the span of each cycle and the amount of water and salt needed to recharge. Even fully automatic softeners need to be refilled with salt from time to time. The top two types of controls are timer controls and softener DIR controls.
1. Timer Controls
This type of control recharges automatically based on a set time and day. Timer controls fall short sometimes if you are consuming an unusually large amount of water, and they also waste good sodium and water because it regenerates when it’s not necessary.
2. Softener DIR Controls
DIR stands for demand-initiated regeneration. These sophisticated controls sense when the system needs to be recharged, electronically or with a meter. DIR controls do not waste sodium and recharged water because it does not regenerate if it doesn’t have to.
How About Pricing?
You can buy or lease a water softener. The cost of leasing ranges from $15 to $50 per month. Buying one will set you back much more than that and with an additional $150 per year for materials.
Be sure to get at least two quotes and make sure to compare the regeneration cycle, type of controls, the level of service and warranty.
Top 10 Water Softener Reviews of 2016
This salt-based ion exchange softener features a digital on-demand control valve, a 1.5 cubic foot high capacity mineral tank filled with high capacity, extra long-life resin. The Fleck 5600SXT regenerates using a meter, so the system only regenerates when it needs to. The SXT controller is built using a 5600 valve, a backlit LCD display, touchpad controls, a 48-hour internal power backup, and a user-friendly interface. The square brine tank comes with a 10-year warranty and has the capacity of 250 lbs. of salt in a 15” x 17” x 33” space. Installation can be done within one to two hours if you have basic plumbing skills.
Fleck 5600SXT owners rave that customer service is extremely helpful, so don’t hesitate to call should you run into issues with the system. Those that do choose this method to soften their water note that it is attractively priced compared to Kinetico or Culligan systems, although the 5600SXT shelf-life is five years less than its more expensive counterparts. This softener is extremely efficient at reducing levels of GPG, has a large capacity, and comes with an excellent warranty. However, potential buyers should note that the system is cumbersome and bulky, and may be too big in capacity for those with a smaller home.
This compact and portable salt-based option features a built-in drain line flow restrictor which makes regeneration more effective, a custom-designed flow valve to allow for regeneration without disconnecting from the system, a base that keeps the tank from toppling over, high flow rates with a low-pressure drop, a 1.3 cubic foot capacity. The system is just 26 pounds and uses up 8.5” x 20.5” of space.
Although very attractively priced and softens water efficiently, the Watts RV Pro-1000 does not have bells and whistles that come with other systems. With this softener, users will have to regenerate manually, which means owners will have to start the regeneration process, flush, backflush, and rinse manually. Although advertised as a softener for RVs and boats, this softener can also be used in a small home too.
This is another portable system designed for RVs and boats. It boasts a compact and space-saving design (22” x 9.5”) with a large mouth on top so owners can add salt easily, a 360-degree swivel to connect easily to the water supply source, and the ability to regenerate quickly. The OTG-4-DBLSOFT allows high flow rates with a low-pressure drop.
The OTG-4-DBLSOFT is great because it requires small amounts of table salt to regenerate, connects quickly and easily to RV and boat standard hoses, is easily portable with a handle and cutoff valve, and includes strips to test water hardness. However, some users complain that the shutoff valve leaks.
This salt-free water softener doubles as a water filtration system that eliminates 97% of chlorine, pesticides, rust, herbicides, silt, sediment, industrial solvents and odors. The complex filtration process integrates a Sediment Pre-filter, a salt-free softener, a Copper-Zinc & Mineral Stone, an Activated Carbon Filter, a Sub-micron post-filter, and a UV filter.
The Aquasana EQ-1000-AST is ideal for a bigger home due to its large capacity, comes with an excellent warranty as well as a 3-month money-back guarantee, and effectively improves the taste and smell of your household’s water. However, this system is extremely pricey, the installation requires a professional, the unit takes up a lot of space, the fittings are made of plastic and not durable, and the water does not soften as well as traditional salt systems.
This salt-free choice is also a carbon block water filtration system using a polyphosphate additive, Siliphos. The Aquios AQFS220 is designed to work without losing pressure or water flow rate and does not require programming, electricity or maintenance. It also comes with a 20-year warranty.
It is perfect for households that don’t want added sodium in their water. The Aquios AQFS220 has a high flow and pressure capacity and is relatively low in cost. However, their filter cartridge has a short lifespan of 6 months, requiring added annual costs and frequent maintenance.
The WaterBoss 250 is 25 ¾” tall x 14 ¾” wide x 18 ¾” deep and regenerates in 18 minutes on a 2.5lb salt setting. It uses a mixed media resin bed that also filters chlorine, so this system acts as a water filtration system as well.
The WaterBoss 220 is ideal for tight spaces, and its capacity is perfect for four-person households. There are no cartridges to change because the filter is self-cleaning. The system is quiet compared to other systems on the market, and the on-demand regeneration saves on water and uses less salt. There’s also a built-in dirt and sediment filter. The only downside to this softener is the price tag.
This salt-free softener weighs merely 8 lbs with 5” x 5” x 24” dimensions. It uses a method called chelation to prevent calcium and magnesium ions from clumping and clogging up pipes. The unit has a capacity of 50,000 gallons, which is ideal for a household size of two.
Although the Nuvo H2O DPHB is perfect for those not looking to add sodium to their diets and for the environment, this softener requires you to change the replacement filters regularly and are not easy to come by. Users also complain in Nuvo water softener reviews that this softener does not adequately soften water.
This salt-based softener is similar to its Fleck 5600SXT sibling but is more efficient at fighting hard water. The unit is 15” x 17” x 33” with a salt capacity of 250 lbs. The flow rate maxes out at 35 gallons per minute.
The Fleck 7000SXT offers a high capacity outflow valve, demand initiated regeneration (DIR), easy installation, user-friendly LCD programmable electronic digital controller, and power backup option. However, this system is hefty (150 lbs), and not recommended for a small home, plus may need additional copper fitting adjustors that are not included.
Top Tips to Buy Right The Water Softener
For one, water softeners are an excellent choice if you have to deal with hard water. The hardness of water makes it tough for you to wash clothes and dishes. Measured in grains per gallon, one grain of hardness equals to as much as one per seven thousand pounds of rock.
- The capacity refers to the total number of grains of water hardness the unit could remove before regeneration.
- Regeneration refers to the process where the resin bed that is inside gets coated with hardness particles. After this happens, the regeneration cycle starts, and more water and salt help remove the coating making the water soft again for home use. You need a big enough water softener to have a quick regeneration cycle.
- It’s a good idea to use a clean pellet salt or even a nugget-style salt to get good results during the regeneration process, and it can help you with all your home purposes.
Water softeners lower the GPG in hard water, which increases the lifespan of water-using appliances while making soaps and detergents more effective. There are many types and brands on the market, the most effective and efficient being the salt-based ion exchange systems. When considering a product for your home, keep in mind capacity, control, and pricing. After reading our water softener reviews, you should now be able to choose the best water softener system for your home confidently.