Most people are unfamiliar with what a water softener actually does to water. In short, it reduces the amount of minerals in 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, but not always. However, that does not necessarily make it safe to use in appliances. Furthermore, hard water can have some negative effects on the body.

For instance, using hard water can cause itchiness and under sink filter. It might also cause issues with your hair. As for appliances, hard water will leave mineral deposits in your water heater tank. This will lead to reduced 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.

The Best Water Softeners

PictureNameCapacity (grain)Resin/Mineral Tank DimensionsHardness RemovalView on Amazon
ABCwaters Built Fleck 5600sxt 48,000 Black WATER SOFTENERABCwaters - Fleck 5600sxt 48,000 Black WATER SOFTENER48,000 grain10 x 54 in75 gpgView on Amazon!
Tier1 Digital Water SoftenerTier1 Water Softener48,000 grain10 x 54 in75 gpgView on Amazon!
Triple Action Poly Salt-Free Water SoftenerTriple Action Salt-Free Water SoftenerN/A (Salt-free)N/A (Salt-free)N/AView on Amazon!
Fleck 7000 SXT (94FL-7000S) Water SoftenerFleck 7000 SXT 48,00010 x 54 in75 gpgView on Amazon!
Iron Pro 2 Combination Water SoftenerIron Pro 2 64,000-80,000 grain10 x 54 in75 gpgView on Amazon!

1.      Top Pick: ABCwaters – Fleck 5600SXT

ABCwaters Built Fleck 5600sxt 48,000 Black WATER SOFTENER

This is the first softener on the list and one that we strongly recommend. It is a Fleck 5600sxt valve with an ABCwaters tanks. 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 regenerate. You can even choose how often you want it to auto regenerate.

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 first purchase it.

The best part is the unit is 10% resin media. This means it will last longer than the usual 8% units.

Finally, this both the tanks on this unit are built in America. They also both have a 10 year warranty on them. ABCwaters really stands behind their products.

We did a comprehensive review of the Fleck 5600SXT. Check it out.

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Pros

  • 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.
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Cons

  • This unit is somewhat large.

2.      Runnerup: Tier1 Digital Water Softener

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.

This tank also has a relatively simple installation. 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 use. 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.

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Pros

  • 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).
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Cons

  • The adapter can be difficult to install. Be careful.

3.      The Best Salt-Free Softener: Triple Action Poly Salt Free Water 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 sink. Cool stuff.

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 stage 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.

Again, we did a comprehensive review and explanation of this water conditioner. Give it a look.

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Pros

  • Has filtration and softening in one unit.
  • Stainless steel micron filter is easy to clean.
  • Does not require that much maintenance (only to clean the filter and add polyphosphate crystals every year).
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Cons

  • 50 micron filter only filters out sediment. You will need a better filter if you want to remove more contaminants.

4. Best for Large Households: Fleck 7000SXT

Fleck 7000 SXT (94FL-7000S) Water Softener

Another Fleck valve makes the list. This is the 7000SXT, which works a little different than the 5600SXT. The main difference is that this unit has a much larger valve. This valve allows much more water to flow through at once. This makes it great for those of you with large families or households.

Yes, the valve is designed for large households that have a need for constant water pressure. This also applies if you have a lot of rooms in your house or any other need for a large of softened water (commercial use, boats, etc.). In fact, most households report no drop in water pressure with this unit. Definitely a nice boost compared to some of the other filters with smaller valves.

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.

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Pros

  • No pressure loss even for big homes.
  • Easy installation.
  • Easy to maintain and repair because of the easy-snap connectors.
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Cons

  • More regeneration because of more water pressure and GPM.

5.      Iron Removal + Softener: Iron Pro 2

Iron Pro 2 Combination Water Softener

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 buildup.

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, which makes it great for large houses. The extremely fine resin is specifically designed to help remove the iron from water.

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Pros

  • Water softener and iron removal.
  • Fleck 5600SXT digital valve.
  • Stainless steel bypass valve.
  • 64,000 grain capacity
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Cons

  • 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 your home.

Appliances Last Longer

appliances

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 such as a whole house humidifier. 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 increases 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

soap-scum (1)

Using hard water for clothes washing or dishes results in soap scum. Everyone hates soap scum. Very bad. That grimy deposit you find on the edge of your sink. It is also in your washing machine.

Yes, you might find soap scum on your clothes if you use hard water. Gross.

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

The most common water softener system is a salt-based system. This works 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.

Salt Mine

This is actually a salt mine.

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. These systems are not particularly common in the industry. Our list reflected that trend.

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.

Size

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. For instance, a family of five will likely consume 35 gallons per day (7 gallons x 5 people). 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 softener system. You want to make sure the holding tank is big enough that it won’t regenerate too frequently. The valve also must be big enough to handle the water pressure throughout your household.

Certification

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 and magnesium.

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 and can damage your skin 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 to clean. In effect this means you need more soap because a lot of is bound to water molecule. 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 water softener. Also, if you have a lot of soapscum, then that is not normal. You have hard water. [Editor: Can someone this article to my mom? Thanks. -JW].

How to find out if you have hard water?

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.

Soap 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.

  1. Fill a normal plastic bottle with 8 ounces of water.
  2. Add 5 drops of liquid soap.
  3. Shake the water bottle.
  4. If you get bubbles on top relatively fast and have clear water, then you have soft water.
  5. If it takes a long time for bubbles to form and the water is cloudy, then you have hard water.

Like I said, this method isn’t exactly scientific. It just tells you a good ballpark estimate of the hardness of your water. People have been using this method to determine water hardness for the past 40 years.

If you want a more scientific methods, then you can order a water hardness test kit. You can do it yourself at home. It’s easy. Just dip the paper into the water and it will change color. Compare the color to the color key to determine your water hardness.

Easy.

A good one is the ProAktive DIY water hardness test. Super easy.

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

plumbing maintenance

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 stuff.

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 something.

·         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

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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, which can dry out your plants. It might kill them.

Only use water that has been conditioned and not softened. Ideally, just use tap water to water your plants. The water is much cheaper.

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.

Final Thoughts

Well, I hope you all learned something before making your next water softener purchase. All things considered, I would look at a Fleck 5600SXT valve for most homes. You can use the 7000SXT, but remember that the unit is very large. It will use a lot of water.

As for maintenance and all that. Easy.

These units are all high quality and will last you a long time with the proper maintenance.

One final note, install the softener yourself. These things are just a pain in the butt to install for the average person.