Let's imagine a scene with our protagonist... we'll call him "Tim". Tim comes home after a hard workout and has just enough time to jump into the shower before dinner. This is not the ideal time for his wife to tell him that the showerhead isn't working, the sink is backed up, and the weird build-up around the faucets has returned. Adding to Tim's frustration is that he's replaced the shower head twice in the past year, he's poured more Drano than he cares to see down all the sinks, and he's replaced the sink in one bathroom because of a blockage in the pipes that one plumber called "real impressive."
He can't understand why his plumbing keeps on causing issues, except to conclude that his karma is very bad. Now, is Tim being plagued by his past misdeeds? Well...no. All signs indicate that Tim lives in an area with hard water, where the magnesium, calcium, and likely iron levels are high, forming deposits around the faucets and drains, scalage in the piping which destroys the hardware, causing dishes to emerge from dishwashers streaked with grime, and resulting in itchy, irritated skin as well as lank hair.
Tim will soon come to his senses and call in a professional to analyze his water problems, after which he will soon be searching for the best water softener, as are you. In this article, we'll explore the necessary things to know when buying a water softener, and which water softener is right for you, so that both you and Tim can find solace in the knowledge that science has expunged superstition from our routine.
Table of Contents
The Winner: Ecopure 42,000 Grain Water Softener
Even very hard water requires a "grainage per gallon" of around 10.5 for softening. The Ecopure has a sensitivity of up to 110 grains per gallon. It's a high-performance softener, suited for households with 5 or more people. It's relatively affordable compared to other softeners and comes with a long 10-year warranty (on the tank and mainframe). It's a hard choice to beat for most people and most hardness levels.
Ranking the Best Water Softeners
While compiling my list of the best water softeners available on the market today, I had the challenge of narrowing my findings down to a list of 5, in a market inundated with high-quality goods. It seemed that every water softener had good reviews, affordable pricing, was helpfully and efficiently designed, and in general, a good investment for any household large or small.
Therefore when reading through the list below, understand that it is formatted not from best to worst, but instead highlights each machine's unique strengths, as well as the specific niche it excels in, thus making it more suited to satisfy a specific need. If you're interested in my research process, I identified the top-selling water softeners available and then one by one eliminated or kept them based on their comparative value to one another, using the criteria listed above, until only the best water softeners remained.
#1: EcoPure 42,000 Grain Water Softener (Best Value - All-Purpose)
EcoPure is a streamlined, new-age machine, consolidating the classic two-part water softener setup of a mineral tank and a brine tank into a single, efficient capsule. The EcoPure is extremely affordable, and on the lower end of the price spectrum, while still providing all the functionality of an expensive machine.
For those of you finally replacing the old Kenmore model, this is perfect for you (as well as our new owners buying their first water softener) as the EcoPure is designed to be a perfect switch. Although it is worth noting that, depending on which Kenmore model you own, it is recommended to replace the bypass valve. Consumers reported high satisfaction with their experience in replacing the systems and were enthusiastic when reviewing this product on its ease of installation, as well as its performance in softening their water and negating scalage on showerheads and faucets.
The EcoPure is a 42,000-grain water softener compared to the Whirlpool WHESFC (which will be later discussed) numbering at 31,000 grain, meaning that it is on the higher end of the average water grain spectrum when it comes to time between regeneration. While the household size and water usage will of course play a part in this, EcoPure's demand-initiated regeneration coupled with its high grainage allows it to go longer durations before its next backflush, cutting down on water utilized for the flushing and brining process.
The EcoPure is suited for 5 or more people and has a sensitivity of up to 110 grains per gallon, essentially making it incredibly overqualified for the job, as even very hard water levels require a grainage of about 10.5 grains per gallon (gpg).
The EcoPure is certified by the National Sanitation Federation and has a warranty of 1 year for all parts, 3 years for the electronics, and 10 years for the tank and mainframe - a standard and respectable coverage. Finally, the EcoPure includes small, but key, features like its low salt light, giving you a heads up days in advance when its time to replenish the salt, and its specially added High Flow Valve, a function that keeps the water pressure high - a feature I was surprised not to find in more water softeners, as a pervasive critique of them is that they lower the water pressure.
While it's hard to wax too rhapsodic about a water softener, I have to say that I found no downside to this machine. It scored well in every category, whether that be design and function, price, certification, or reviews. A good choice for a family of any size, the EcoPure is a great purchase for anyone living in an area with a range of mild to very hard water.
#2: Pelican NaturSoft® Water Softener Alternative using Salt-Free Technology (Best Machine for Very Hard Water)
As you've probably guessed from the title, the Pelican NaturSoft is a salt-free water softener, something worthy of elaboration. While many of you might be familiar with the debate between salt-based and salt-free water softeners, it is less known that a salt-free water softener technically doesn't exist. A water softener removes harsh minerals like calcium and magnesium, an act impossible without the chemical dynamic of sodium (salt provided) to magnesium and calcium. The better-classified water conditioner doesn't need salt, as instead of removing the hard minerals from the water, it causes them to form microcrystals, making them unable to build up as the scalage so harmful to water-based appliances.
Indeed, this is how the Pelican NaturSoft works, conditioning, instead of softening, your water - an important distinction that will help you to match your expectations and needs to the very real benefits of this machine. The Pelican is roughly three times as expensive as any other softener included on this list, being priced very comfortably between $1,000-$2,000, making it a much greater investment than any of its water softener competitors. However, it is the only water conditioner ranked as 99.6% effective in limescale prevention and has the significant benefit of not adding sodium to your water.
Now, this is only relevant if your ppm is very hard. For instance, if your water is around 90ppm, then for every 8 oz. glass of water, your drinking an additional 10.5mg of sodium. Comparatively, a spoonful of ketchup has a sodium level of 204 mg. Now, your daily water intake is approximately ten 8-ounce cups a day, meaning that your added sodium intake is approximately 105mg - 4.6% of the 2,300mg recommended for the average adult. While worth noting, the sodium increase for lightly to moderately hard water is not detrimental, simply a small addition (unless you are sodium sensitive). However, for those who live in very hard water areas where the ppm is over 400, the sodium increase is significant enough to make purchasing the Pelican a prudent decision.
While the Pelican does provide a viable alternative to salt-based water softening, it is important to keep in mind that while the Pelican is the highest-rated machine for preventing calcium buildup, it does not provide all the function of a classic water softener. What it does do is prevents further buildup, allowing the already-present build-up to erode over time. But dish-streaking and dry skin are unsolved and require further solution.
The Pelican is available in two sizes, making it ideal for both large and small families, and has adaptive pricing based on the size of the home and the daily water usage. Adding to the benefits of the Pelican NaturSoft is that it requires no electricity to run, has a limited lifetime warranty, and is certified by not one, but three, separate bodies - the National Sanitation Federation (NSF), the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), and the DVGW (a German third party that tests the performance of other companies at an international standard).
With high reviews and high performance, the Pelican is a wise buy for anyone in a very hard water area who can spend a little more on an appliance and aims to minimize their daily sodium intake.
#3: GE Water Softener (Best Price)
When I explained above that this is not a list starting with number one followed by the four best losers, I truly meant it. The GE company stretches as far back as the late 1880s, and so, while not lacking in expertise and pedigree, this specific model of water softener outstrips any other model produced by the company prior, both in terms of water efficiency and design.
Like the EcoPure, the GE is a single tank arrangement, something I personally appreciate from an ergonomic standpoint. Available in four sizes of 30,100, 40,000, 40,200, and 45,100 grains, the GE water softener is a machine designed to address the needs of each consumer, and the pricing varies accordingly.
Certainly the most comparatively affordable out of all the listed options, this model has the highest gpg at 125gpg and can store up to 230 lbs. of salt, prolonging the time between refills. The range of sizes makes this water softener suitable for small, medium, large, and even extra-large families. Small things like SmartSoft technology, which is utilized to learn the water usage pattern of the home, help match the machine to the needs of every household and allow it to prepare the correct amount necessary for the house to run smoothly.
Added benefits, like being able to customize the water softness, an indicator of salt levels, and low salt alarm, all show that this machine was designed from every possible angle to make using it as easy and comfortable as possible. I really can't emphasize how great this water softener is except to mention that its many consumers were equally enthusiastic.
Only two details detract from the GE's overall appeal. Firstly, the general warranty coverage is only that of a year - disappointingly short. Secondly, I found no listed certification for the model - an unfortunate absence on the record of an otherwise incredibly impressive machine. Nevertheless, due to the GE water softener's extensive positive feedback and user satisfaction, the product is a smart investment and a good addition to anyone's home.
#4: Whirlpool WHESFC Pro Series – Softener/Whole Home Filter Hybrid (Best for Minimum Fuss)
Following my preferred 2-in-1 model, the Whirlpool Softener is another example of an excellent machine with virtually no cons. While all models, except for the Pelican, are unbelievably affordable and comparably priced, the Whirlpool is slightly more expensive - a small expenditure increase that is only significant because the other models are so affordably priced.
The smart regeneration means that this design, like most of the models included here, is water-efficient and doesn't ring up water bills on unnecessary regenerations. Instead, the water softener regenerates only when the resin beads need replenishing.
One noteworthy perk of this machine is that it has a carbon filtration system, essentially meaning that the filter never needs to be switched, thus providing a no-fuss user experience. Additionally, the added carbon helps to eliminate extra irritants like sediment and chlorine.
A convenient install and running with 120 gpg, this water softener is suited to any household and has the added perk of being another replacement option for a beloved but ailing Kenmore model. This water softener is NSF certified and has high user satisfaction, once again making me admit that this model has no downsides. While not including small things like an indicator for salt level, this model possesses all things necessary for effective water softening and a positive user experience.
One important feature perhaps making the Whirlpool more eligible for a smaller family, is that it has a 31,000-grain value and can produce less soft water between regenerations than the EcoPure (its Kenmore replacement adversary). A smaller family doesn't need endless water capability and can be serviced just as well by a lower producing machine. While you might feel like bigger is always better, consider that it is a key process for the machine to back-flush itself with relative frequency, so that the brine solution does not become stagnant.
If you are not a small family, this could still be your ideal machine. Consider if your family conserves water and has low water bills. If this is the case, then this model's lower grainage is perfect for you, and its regeneration cycles in the preprogrammed hours of the night will help keep your family in softened water through the course of the day. For a small family or one that conserves its water, the Whirlpool is an excellent choice.
#5: Fleck 5600 SXT On Demand Water Softener (Best for Longest Periods Between Regeneration)
Last but certainly not least, the Fleck 5600 ranges from 32,000 to an incredible 96,000 grains (although it can only be found in the higher grain count through the company's site, Discount Water Softeners), meaning that with 96,000 grains, if you have a medium to medium-high water hardness, you could have enough soft water for 23 people to comfortably live for 5-day spaced out regeneration cycles. Therefore, the Fleck is the ideal model for running a small business like a bed and breakfast where many people are using the water, and it is equally suited to a larger business plan in any sort of office space.
With the additional option of upgrading your resin cross-linkage to 10% adding 20+ years of longevity to your machine, the person looking for quality water (and lots of it) need look no farther. The Fleck water softener is extremely affordable and has regeneration cycles based on need and not on a set schedule, saving you water over time.
The Fleck model does not come with fancy bells and whistles. It won't tell you when it's running low on salt, and you cannot regulate how soft your water is, but there is no better product that costs so little yet provides so much. Never having to worry that your settings will be lost, as the memory is permanently stored, owners who live in areas of harsh climate conditions should also be comforted that in the case of a power outage. The internal capacitor of this water softener stores enough power to continue functioning for up to 48 hours.
The Fleck, sold by Discount Water Softeners, has a 5-year control warranty and a 10-year warranty on the tank, providing security for any Fleck owner. While the Fleck, like the GE, has no listed certification, the reviews show very high customer satisfaction, as well as an appreciation for the efficient and personable customer service.
Finally, Discount Water Softeners is an American small business, making them a company that cares a great deal about making you happy and making your shopping experience the best it can be. It also has the added perk of keeping all revenues and all jobs securely within the States, so buyers can be happy knowing that they are directly investing in the American economy. An all-around great purchase, built to last, the Fleck is a very worthwhile buy.
On a Tight Budget? Try These
#1 Under $400: Capacitive Electronic Water De-scaler System - Salt Free Water Softener Whole House System
An interesting, salt-free, water conditioning alternative, this machine descales through small electrical pulses that force the hard minerals into microcrystals and fix your hard build up over time. If scale is your main issue, this could be exactly what you're looking for. With a 1-year, money-back guarantee, it's a serious consideration for someone under budget watching their sodium intake.
A small water softener, but with high user satisfaction, this model is designed to sustain an RV but can also be utilized in an apartment or small home. The goal of this model is ease and flexibility, so with a 16,000-grain count, the machine regenerates on common salt and is ready to go in under 30 minutes, providing soft water for up to 40 days. For someone on a tight budget, constantly on the move, or even just in a very small space, this is a great option for you.
#3 Under $200: Eddy Electronic Water Descaler - Water Softener Alternative
Similarly to the Capacitive De-scaler, this interesting alternative hooks up to your water and, with no salt or chemicals, causes noticeable softening in scalage through electronically stimulating your water to break down build up over a matter of weeks. On a very tight budget, this is a cheap substitute.
Verdict: The Best Water Softener for You
If you are in doubt, buy the EcoPure 42,000-grain model, guaranteed to perform and serve your daily water softening needs.
In summary, while it's true that, faced with so much choice, it is sometimes hard to choose, I hope that this has clarified and helped you along in your search. Happy hunting.
What Should I Look For When Buying a Water Softener?
When making any purchase, the two factors most commonly considered are cost and value - how much something is vs all the myriad advantages of owning it. However, when it comes to unfamiliar products, judging value is difficult and knowing which to buy from multiple models in a similar price bracket is a frustrating experience, similar to looking at mathematical equations we once knew how to solve in high school. So our criteria read as follows - cost, need, certifications, and perks.
#1. Cost: An important consideration, cost differentiates between the water softener we can afford and the one that, while very nice, is not in our price range. Additionally, things like water usage during regeneration and how rapidly the softener goes through salt affect the cost when calculated over time.
#2. Need: What is the hardness of your water? How much water is used daily? Do you use well water? All these considerations matter when deciding which machine to buy. While one water softener may have the capability to support more people and harder water, this isn't a necessity for a small family with moderate water hardness levels, and even more unreasonable that you should pay more for redundant capabilities.
#3. Certifications: A big purchase and one that directly affects the health of your household, water softeners are machinery that undergo (hopefully) rigorous tests, and should have official certifications given by a reputable agency vouching for their effectiveness in purifying and softening water from harsh minerals.
#4. Perks: Simply put, perks are those additional add ons to any purchase that display a company's understanding of how the user can have the best experience with the product. Small things like an indicator when the salt is running low or even an automatic salt replenishment function, can be the difference between a frustrating and abruptly curtailed relationship between man and his softener and a relationship that can last for over twenty years.
Water Softener Questions & Answers
I'm sure that most of you have done your research, and yet there's always that one detail that fell through the cracks. These are the essential, commonly-asked questions and ones you should definitely know the answer to.
What Types of Salt Can I Use in My Water Softener?
To clarify, you should only ever use salt specifically sold as suitable for a water softener. Under no circumstance should you put pool salt or table salt into your brine tank.
The appropriate salts come in three forms - pellet, crystal, and block salt - and are actually available in two different chemical compounds - sodium chloride and potassium chloride. Sodium chloride, which is the standard salt you know and love, swaps out the harder minerals like magnesium and calcium with sodium, meaning that any water which has been softened will be sodium enriched.
Potassium chloride, another form of salt that, while slightly less ubiquitous, is just as used and appreciated as its competitor, functions exactly the same as sodium chloride and swaps out your minerals to produce potassium-enriched water. The results are essentially the same, but if you're trying to cut down on your sodium, it's helpful to know your options when it comes to softening your water.
Another thing to consider is that the purity of the salt you use will directly affect the functionality of your machine. For instance, 99.9% pure salt will be better for your water softener than 99.6% salt because, in the lower purity, there are more insoluble substances that over time clog up your softener. The higher the purity, the more expensive the salt - not a requirement but definitely good to know.
Where Can I Get Water-Softening Salt for the Cheapest?
Basically, any store resembling Home Depot will carry water softening salt bags. Home Depot specifically sells 40-lbs. bags for under $6, but any other store will have them. If in doubt, call ahead and double-check, but there won't be any issues.
Many companies actually sell their own brand of water softener, and it's important to check what kind of special consideration the company includes in their warranty for users of their salt with their water softeners. For example, one company includes an extended warranty for buyers of their water softener, if it is used in conjunction with their salt - lucrative to know.
What Happens If I Mess Up the Installation of My Water Softener?
This one is a toughy. If you have no experience installing appliances, it is really worth your while to call around to all the companies and see how much it would cost to install before deciding to wing it on your own. It's possible someone will give you a reasonable rate that you'd prefer to have a professional install your water softener for you.
That being said, if you're like me and like to do it yourself, many models are specifically designed to be user-friendly. However, while some warranties forgive possible installation mistakes, I did come across some that specifically state that a mistake during installation not done by a professional would nullify their warranty.
Worst case scenario, you could end up with a broken machine with no warranty coverage, but again, these water softener warranty plans are relatively rare. Just double-check before you self-install.
How Does Water Softener Technology Work?
Well, as you know, a water softener removes your hard minerals. These, like magnesium and calcium, are positively charged ions. Within your water softener are resin beads coated in sodium, which is also positively charged. As the water flows through the resin beads, the magnesium and calcium displace the sodium, taking its place on the resin beads and allowing the sodium to flow through the water in its place. When the resin beads are completely covered with magnesium and calcium, the brine tank flushes through the resin beads, effectively replenishing them of their sodium charge, and readying your water softener for all the softening to come.
What Is the Difference Between a Water Softener and a Water Conditioner?
Water softeners remove the hard minerals from your water, replacing it with sodium. Water conditioners leave the harsh minerals in your water but cause them to form microcrystals, effectively stopping them from forming scalage but not solving the other myriad problems caused by hard minerals.
If you live in an area with water that is only slightly hard, and your main issues are just build up around faucets and showerheads, it might actually be worth your while to get a water conditioner that you can find cheaply. But if you suffer from appliances failing before their time, find dishes appearing dirty after running through the dishwasher, have itchy skin, lank hair, clogged pipes, etc., then you have very hard water and only a water softener will solve these problems for you.
Why Should I Get Whole House Water Softening?
It's really up to you. Whole house water softening will solve scalage, itchy skin, and lank hair problems, as well as dishes emerging from your dishwasher still streaked with grime. It will also be easier on your household appliances that run on water like the coffee maker or the washing machine. Finally, you will never have staining or marks from harsh minerals on the inside of your toilets or around showerheads and faucets. However, if the main concern is kitchen appliances, a smaller, cheaper option like at-site water softening, which can be installed under the counter, can soften your kitchen water while leaving the rest of the house mineral-rich.
Will the Water Softener Lower My Water Pressure?
This depends on the quality of the water softener you purchase. All of the above-researched water softeners have good reviews on their water pressure, but a water softener can definitely affect the pressure of your water. If in doubt, read the reviews of any product you're considering. Any time there is a real issue with the water pressure, it will be listed in the comments.
How Long Will the Resin Beads Last?
Resin beads differ in their cross-linkage, directly affecting how long they will last before it's time to replace. 8% cross-linkage is pretty standard and should last you about 10-15 years, depending on the quality of your water, the salt used, and the general maintenance. Some models offer a 10% crosslink, which has been shown to increase your resin bead life span by 200%. If upgraded to 10%, your resin beads have been tested to last 20+ years, of course taking into consideration your water quality and maintenance practices.
How Do I Know How Big I Need My Water Softener to Be?
A good rule of thumb is...
Capacity = (Number of people +1 for appliances) x Hardness levels x 80 Gallons x Days between regeneration.
The above equation shows the standard way of calculating how large a water softener you need. Capacity is how much water your machine can effectively soften before it is no longer able to soften your water.
The number of people in your household is pretty self-explanatory, and in order to account for appliances like dishwasher, washing machine, etc., it's necessary to add 1 extra to the "number" of people in the house. Hardness level is the hardness of your water in grains per gallon. Days between regeneration applies for the models of water softener that have regeneration cycles on a set time schedule like once every 5 days.
For example, let's say I had a five-person household with a hardness level of 10gpg and wanted my water softener to only regenerate once per week. My total grain capacity necessary would be 33,600 grains. (5 + 1) x 10 x 80 x 7 = 33,600.