Most people are unfamiliar with a water softener actually does to water. In short, it reduces the number of minerals in the water. This means you do not have to deal with gross mineral deposits in your sink. Hard water can even damage certain appliances.
This article will cover everything you need to know about
water softeners. We’ll even suggest some of the best water softeners of 2018 for your home.
The first question people usually have about water softeners
is, “Why should I buy a water softener? The water that comes from my
municipality is OK.” Well, that’s wrong. Municipality water in the United
States is usually always safe to drink. However, that does not necessarily make
it safe for use in appliances. Furthermore, hard water can have some negative
effects on humans.
For instance, using hard water can cause itchiness. It might
also cause issues with your hair. As for appliances, hard water will leave mineral
deposits in your water heater tank. This will reduce the efficiency of the
water heater over time. It can also do the same to your washing machine as
well. Finally, it can stain clothes over time. All in all, hard water is nasty
stuff. Not the kind of stuff you want in your water.
Now, soft water does not have any negative effects. It has a lot of positive benefits. Mainly, it will stop the damage to your appliances, skin, clothes, and sink. This will save you time, money, and frustration.
Table of Contents
The Best Water Softeners
1. Top Pick: ABCwaters – Fleck 5600sxt
This is the first softener on the list and one that we
strongly recommend. It is a Fleck 5600sxt softener built by ABCwaters. This is
by far the best softener available today. It has a digital display, which
really takes out any of the guesswork involved in determining the amount of
resin you need to add. This also means the unit will auto regen. You can even
choose how often you want it to auto regen.
ABCwaters also ships this unit with an entirely full resin
tank. Yes, this makes it heavy. However, you do not have to worry about filling
it up with resin when you fill it up.
The best part is the unit is 10% resin media. This means it
will last slightly longer than the usual 8% units.
Finally, this unit has two brine tanks both built in America. These tanks both have a 10 year warranty on them. ABCwaters really stands behind their products.
10% resin media increases the lifespan of the softener.
Installation so you can install yourself (we still recommend hiring a plumber).
Digital display takes the guesswork out of adding resin.
10 year warranty on the two tanks.
48,000 grain capacity. Very large.
5 year warranty on the digital valve.
This unit is somewhat large.
2. Runnerup: Tier1 Digital Water Softener
This is the second water softener on our list. And with a
good reason. In fact, this is another great electric water softener for those
of you looking for one. We prefer this display to the Fleck 5600sxt and the
price is much lower. However, the Fleck still has some advantages because it
has two tanks provided by ABCwaters.
The installation of this unit is also simple. Tier1 even
provides excellent customer support in the event that you have difficulty
setting up this softener. Even simpler than the installation is the operation
of this softener.
Yes, it really is easy to operate. The digital display is very intuitive and makes it extremely simple to operate. You can easily adjust the amount of resin in the tank and set it up to automatically deposit more, or less, resin in your water. More resin will mean softer water. However, it will make the water even saltier, which some homeowners really do not enjoy.
Easy installation with customer support available.
Digital display makes operating this extremely simple.
Five year warranty.
WQA certified (this is a very good certification to have).
Difficult to install. Be careful.
3. The Best Salt-Free Softener: Triple Action Poly Salt-Free Water Softener
The first salt-free softener on the list is an excellent
system. As the name suggests, it actually has three functions.
The first function is to break down the calcium into
aragonite crystals. These are the crystals that will stay suspended in the
water. In other words, they will not attach themselves to your appliances and
After the first stage it then goes through a second stage
called siliphos treatment. This stage uses polyphosphate crystals that add
siliphos to the water, which helps keep the aragonite crystals suspended. This
actually prevents the formation of rust on your pipes.
Finally, the last stages involves the water passing through a 50 micron screen filter. This filter is somewhat large, which means that it only removes sediment and other large objects from the water. Still, this is a better feature than that available on many of the other water softeners.
Has filtration and softening in one unit.
The stainless steel micron filter is easy to clean.
It does not require that much maintenance (only to clean the filter and add polyphosphate crystals every year).
50-micron filter only filters out sediment. You will need a better filter if you want to remove more contaminants.
4. Best Pressure: Fleck 7000SXT
Another Fleck makes the list. This is the 7000SXT, which
works a little different than the 5600SXT. The main difference is that this
unit only has one holding tank and a brine tank. This makes it better if you
have to fit it in a tight space.
However, the valve is designed for large households that
have more need for constant water pressure. In fact, most households report no
drop in water pressure with this unit. Definitely a nice boost compared to some
of the other filters.
This unit actually is very similar to the Tier1 Digital Water softener. Though it is slightly smaller than that unit. In addition to that, this unit ships with the resin already preloaded. It weighs a whopping 132 pounds because of the preloading, so be prepared when you order it because this thing is HEAVY.
No pressure loss even for big homes.
Easy to maintain and repair because of the easy-snap connectors.
More expensive than other similar units.
5. Iron Removal + Softener: Iron Pro 2
Do you have rust stains around your sink?
Then you probably have too much iron in your water. You will
most likely notice rust stains
in your toilet bowl near the water line. Sometimes you might notice them on
your driveway if you have an outdoor sprinkler system. I actually had a
neighbor that had the most beautiful lawn I’ve ever seen. However, their entire
driveway was rust colored from all the rust
It took away from the look of the grass. Anyway, that was
all caused because they had too much iron in their water. They eventually got
an iron removal filter and the rust stains never appeared again.
This unit has the Fleck
5600SXT digital valve on it that was mentioned earlier. This is a great valve. It really takes a
lot of the hard work out of maintaining a water softener. You can refer to the first
review for more details.
The size of the Iron Pro 2 is quite nice though. It is a 64,000 grain unit (other options available), which means you will have to do fill it up less frequently. The extremely fine resin is specifically designed to help remove the iron from water.
Water softener and iron removal.
Fleck 5600SXT digital valve.
Stainless steel bypass valve.
64,000 grain capacity
Difficult to install yourself. You might need a plumber to do install it for you.
Benefits of a Water Softener
A water softener has a few benefits. Actually, it has a lot
of benefits. This section will outline some of those benefits to using one in
Appliances Last Longer
This is probably the biggest advantage to using a water
softener. Hard water means that the water contains a lot of minerals in it.
These minerals build up in appliances that use water. Mineral buildup leads to
a shorter appliance lifespan.
This buildup also reduces the efficiency of your appliances
particularly your water heater. Less efficiency means a higher electric bill.
Yes, hard water really does increase your electric bill.
Improved Water Flow
Those mineral deposits don’t just end up in your appliances. They also build up in your water pipes. This buildup can, and will, slow down the flow of water. If left unchecked, then this buildup can easily block the flow of water. Eventually, this means you will have to replace the pipes. Replacing the pipes in your home is expensive. Very expensive.
However, this buildup usually just results in decreased
water pressure. Most homeowners probably don’t even know the cause of their
reduced water pressure. They have just come to accept the water trickling out
of their sink. Now, who here likes low water pressure?
Not many people. Even those that like weak water pressure
still prefer having the option to use high water pressure. You don’t have that
option with hard water.
Less Soap Scum
Using hard water for clothes washing or dishes results in
soap scum. Everyone hates soap scum. That grimy deposit you find on the edge of
your sink. It also is in your washing machine.
Yes, soap scum gets on your clothes if you use hard water.
You can avoid that whole mess with a water softener. [Editor:
This is the reason I purchased a water
softener for my home. I hated the soap scum with hard water. –JW]
What type of water softener to buy?
First, there are two
types of water softeners. This makes the selection process much easier.
Two Types of Water Softeners
Salt-based Water Softeners
Salt-based systems work by using salt. The salt removes the
minerals from the water via ion exchange. In simple terms, salt replaces the minerals
in your water.
Yes. This makes your water salty.
This method has a few advantages. Mainly, it is extremely
effective at softening water. These systems also tend to cost less.
However, it comes with a few disadvantages. Most
importantly, your water will taste salty. Now, the salt will not kill you.
We’re not talking about ocean water. You will notice the salt. Some people get
stomachaches from it.
You also have to refill the salt somewhat frequently. So it
requires a bit more maintenance than the other type of water softener.
Salt-free Water Softeners
These systems work without the use of salt. Now, technically
these are not water softeners. They are actually “water conditioners” because
they do not remove the minerals from the water. The effect is still the same.
These systems work by making the minerals not stick to your
appliances. They do this by crystalizing the minerals. Crystals can’t stick to
your pipes or appliances. Instead, they just float through like normal.
The advantage of these systems is that they require much
less maintenance. You don’t have to constantly add salt to it. Even better,
these systems do not use any chemicals or electricity. The process is 100%
natural. This means you also can use it when you have no electricity.
They have one major disadvantage. That is they do not work
nearly as well at softening water. Sure, they can soften relatively soft water.
If your water is hard as diamonds, then you’re going to have a bad time.
What to look for when buying a water softener?
There are some things that you should consider before you
run off and purchase a water softener. This list will give you some things to
consider before purchasing a softener.
This might be the biggest consideration to make before
purchase. You have to understand the needs of your household. If you have a two
person house, then your needs are obviously less than an eight family house.
A good way to begin is to take the number of people in your
home and multiply that by the amount of water they use per day. Alternatively,
you can take a look at your water bill for the month and divide it by 30. This
will give you the daily use of each person.
From that number, you can easily determine the size of your
Your water softener should be certified by NSF
International. This is a certifying body that determines the quality of sanitation
devices. All the devices on our list have been certified by NSF International.
Type of Softener
You want the most effective softener for your home. This
means you should purchase a salt-based ion replacement softener. You might be
able to use a salt-free system in the case that you have relatively soft water.
However, water can always become harder over time depending on your municipality.
You should avoid a salt system if you have high blood
pressure or other heart conditions. Keep in mind that you can still use a water
filter to remove the salt as well.
Why is water hard?
Now, after reading all that you might wonder, “why is water
hard in the first place?”
Well, that is a great question.
Water is hard for one reason. It absorbs a little bit of
everything that it passes through. This means that if water goes through a rock
with a load of calcium and magnesium that it will pick up some of that calcium
Those are both great for the human body to function.
However, they will give appliances trouble. This trouble usually involves a
buildup of calcium deposits – known as limescale.
Sure, on your sink it just looks bad. It won’t usually
damage your sink. However, it will wreak havoc
on your appliances as stated earlier.
Another annoying affect of hard water is the reaction is has
with soap. The soap will bind to the calcium and magnesium. This might sound
good on paper.
It is very bad in real life. First of all, this reduces the
effectiveness because it binds to substances that you do not want clean. Next,
this binding forms this gross thing called “soapscum.”
Have you ever done dishes and seen that oily film on the top
of the water?
Yes. That is soapscum.
When the sink drains this will get stuck to the side of your sink. It then
hardens and becomes a pain to clean.
You can eliminate soap scum with a
How to find out if you have hard
The most obvious way to figure out if you have hard water is
to testing your water hardness.
This begs the next question, “How do I test my water hardness?”
Great question. We have an answer. It doesn’t even require
any fancy equipment.
You can still use the fancy equipment if you want though.
Trust me. It’s fun.
Soup Bubble Test
This is one of the “no fancy equipment” methods to test the
hardness. It won’t tell you the exact measurements or anything. However, it
will tell if your water is hard or not.
Fill a normal plastic bottle with 8 ounces of water.
Add 5 drops of liquid soap.
Shake the water bottle.
If you get bubbles on top relatively fast and
have clear water, then you have soft water.
If it takes a long time for bubbles to form and
the water is cloudy, then you have hard water.
As I said, this method isn’t exactly scientific. It just tells you a good ballpark estimate of the hardness of your water.
You can order a water hardness test kit if you want a more scientific method. The kits are easy to use too. Just dip the paper into the water and it will change color. Compare the color to the color key to determine your water hardness.
A good one is the ProAktive DIY water hardness test. Super
How to Install a Water Softener
Installing a water
softener in your home will vary depending on the type of softener that
you purchased. However, the general steps still remain the same. This section
will outline those general steps to help prevent any form of confusion.
Keep in mind that you can also hire a professional to install your water softener. This isn’t
completely necessary. Installing a water softener is definitely a more
difficult task that may require some specialized tools, so hiring a plumber
might be a better option.
This video is a great guide to installing a water softener.
As you can see it does require some special tools and soldering. Not something
for those of us that are not mechanically inclined!
Properly Maintaining a Water Softener
Unfortunately, you can’t just set it and forget it with a
water softener. I mean, you can. The results will not be very pretty though.
These systems do require about an hour of easy maintenance per month, so
nothing too bad. Here are some steps to help you maintain your water softener
and keep it functioning.
Fill it with salt
This is an easy
step to take. Make sure your water softener stays filled with salt
(resin). Otherwise it defeats the purpose of using the water softener.
Furthermore, you don’t want to wait for your salt levels to drop to empty before refilling.
You’re going to have a bad
time if you do that.
Instead, you should fill it once it reaches the halfway
point. About one month or so. 4-6
weeks. This will save you a lot of problems
in the future.
By the way, when I say it doesn’t refer to table salt. This
is special salt for a water
softener. You can easily find this salt on Amazon. Whether you need crystals or cubes will depend on
the type of softener. Take a look at your manual.
[Editor’s Note: Seriously, trust us on this one. I forgot to
refill my softener for a LONG TIME and nearly destroyed it. I’m still not sure
if it works properly. – JW]
Clean the brine tank
Yes, this step is miserable. However, it is super important. Remember what
we mentioned about hard water
clogging appliances. Well, that applies to the brine tank.
It’s literally full of hard water. So it is very susceptible
to a buildup of sediment and other gross
Clean this every 6
months. It really is not as difficult as it sounds. Each system is a
little different, so consult your manual for this one.
Fix Your Salt Bridges
Do you know what a salt bridge is?
Neither did I, until I got a water softener. Anyway, a salt
bridge is really just a big clump of salt. This prevents the water from
reaching a high enough level to contact the salt.
It’s fairly easy to fix. Just get a rubber mallet and tap
the edge of the tank. It might not loosen up.
If that doesn’t work, then you can scrape the salt with the
rubber mallet and try to loosen it up. Just hit too much or you might break
Do a monthly visual inspection
Perform a monthly visual inspection on the water softener. Just
make sure there aren’t any leaks or anything terribly wrong. It doesn’t have to
be a super in depth inspection.
You should also check the salt level every month. Really,
you should check it every two weeks to make sure that there aren’t any salt
bridges. However, once a month is the minimum.
That about sums it up for the maintenance. Following those
tips will put you in a good spot with your water softener. Honestly, most
owners don’t do that much maintenance and are fine. This is mostly
precautionary type stuff.
FAQ: Water Softeners
Do Water Softeners Waste Water?
Yes. Part of the process involves flushing the hard water
from the brine tank. This will usually use anywhere from 50 gallons to water
for a smaller tank all the way to 500 gallons for a large dual tank system. You
can expect about 250 gallons per regeneration for the average tanks.
Now, keep in mind that soft water will save your appliances.
Water is much cheaper than a new appliance.
Will a water softener make my water taste salty?
Yes. The exact level of saltiness depends on the hardness of
your water. It will still be drinkable though.
You can also avoid this problem by using a salt-free water
conditioner. Just remember that they are not nearly as effective as a water
softener that uses salt.
Can I use softened water to water my plants?
No. It has too much sodium that can dry out your plants.
Only use water that has been conditioned and not softened.
Do I still need to filter water softened water?
Yes. A water softener does not
remove the contaminants that make the waster taste bad. Treat this water as
normal tap water that is just soft.
We recommend an under sink filter
if you have a water softener. A reverse osmosis system is not really necessary
in most circumstances if you already have a water softener.