- 1 What is Hard Water?
- 2 The Disadvantages Of Hard Water
- 3 Signs You Have Hard Water
- 4 The Benefits Of Water Softening Systems
- 5 How to Soften Hard Water
- 6 How to Choose a Water Softener
- 6.1 Step 1: Determine the hardness level using a reliable water hardness scale
- 6.2 The Easy Method: Estimation And Assumption
- 6.3 The Accurate Method: Testing with a Device
- 6.4 The Professional Method: Complete Lab Analysis
- 6.5 Step 2: What size water softener do you need? Determining the grain
- 6.6 Step 3: Know your budget – How much should your water softener cost?
- 6.7 Step 4: Check for important certifications and extra features
- 7 Best Water Softener Reviews – (Updated List)
- 7.1 1. Pentair 5600sxt-48k-10 Water Softener – Best to Buy 2019
- 7.2 2. Fleck Iron Pro 2 Water Softener – Best for Well Water with Iron
- 7.3 3. Fleck 5600sxt BR8 Water Softener – Best Salt-Based Water Softener
- 7.4 4. Pelican Salt-Free Water Softener – Best Salt Free Water Softener/Conditioner
- 7.5 5. iSpring ED2000 Whole House Water Softener – Best Electronic Water Softener
- 7.6 Best Water Softeners Comparison Chart
- 8 The Various Types Of Water Softeners And How They Work
- 9 Salt-based vs salt-free softeners: Which one should you get?
- 10 How to Install Your Water Softener
- 11 How to Clean Hard Water Stains
- 12 The Best Water Softener Brands
So you think you may have hard water, and you’re looking for an effective solution to deal with it-perhaps the best water softener to take care of the issue.
That’s exactly what we’ll be sharing with you here.
As we see it, living with hard water is a little bit like living with an emotionally abusive person. The signs are, on the surface, usually subtle at the beginning, so it can be hard for you to immediately realize it. Instead, you’re gaslighted into thinking it’s all your fault (not spending enough effort on cleaning, for example). Very quietly, it causes severe internal damage over time.
Thankfully, hard water is a lot easier to handle. But before we can solve the problem at its root, let’s take a look at what hard water is, what it does, and why it is so important to soften it.
What is Hard Water?
Hard water is water that contains a large amount of dissolved compounds of calcium and magnesium, and sometimes, other minerals.
Specifically, any water with more than 7 grains per gallon (gpg) of calcium carbonate is considered hard water.
The hardness level can also be expressed in parts per million (ppm), or milligrams per liter (mg/L).
The Disadvantages Of Hard Water
Thankfully, calcium in water is not a health hazard. On the contrary, multiple studies have proved that it can be beneficial to your body in various ways. That is the reason why some quality household water filters may involve a step called remineralization, during which it is added back into your drinking water.
Despite all the possible health benefits when consumed, the calcium, along with other minerals, can still cause problems at a high concentration in the water.
1. Damages on water pipes and appliances
Many households with hard water deal with limescale buildup inside their pipe systems as well as water fixtures and appliances.
Depending on the level of hardness, the residue can ruin the appearance of the equipment (causing stains on the faucets, for example), or wreak havoc on them internally (forming limescale in the pipe system and appliances, resulting in broken details, clogging, and leakage). Damage tends to take less time to become visible and is more serious on equipment where the water flows are slow. It’s the worst on your boiler, traditional or tankless water heater, washing machine, and pipes.
2. Skin irritation
The high pH and mineral content in hard water can be the cause of various skin problems, including dryness, itchiness, clogged pores, and acne. That’s the reason why a dermatologist may sometimes suggest using bottled water for face wash when you’re having an acne breakout.
Furthermore, water hardness is associated with worsened existing skin problems such as eczema and dermatitis. The mineral residue is also blamed for hair brittleness and scalp irritation after washing.
3. Stains that persist
The minerals in hard water tend to stick to surfaces. That’s how they create unhygienic looking spots and stains on your glassware, tiles, cars, shower heads, toilet bowls, and bathtubs. To add insult to injury, they have the ability to neutralize soap and detergents. As a result, these stains usually take extra effort and extra solution to clean.
Signs You Have Hard Water
If the symptoms below sound familiar, it’s likely that you’re exposed to hard water.
- A clogged showerhead.
- A subtle layer of white on your skin after shower.
- A film of residue on your glassware, mirrors, tiles, or your car after cleaning. If the hard water also happens to contain a decent amount of iron, you will find yourself spending hours scrubbing yellowish stains on your tiles, toilet bowl, and bathtub.
- Roughened laundry, clothes that fade quickly, and white clothes turning yellow after a few washes.
- Slower flow over time and your plumbing requiring constant maintenance due to limescale.
- Mineral residue at the bottom of the kettle or the water container of a coffee maker. Leakage and damages to various water appliances.
The Benefits Of Water Softening Systems
There are good reasons why household water softening systems are becoming so popular.
Scale-free Pipe System
As explained earlier, the minerals in hard water tend to stay and create limescale on pipes and cause frequent damages.
The whole house water softening process removes the minerals responsible for the formation of limescale. Thus, it can effectively eliminate the cause of the problem in the first place. It’s one of the most effective ways to cut maintenance costs on your plumbing in the long run.
By preventing mineral buildup, a water softener helps reduce leakage and prolong the life of your household appliances.
Smoother Hair and Skin
Shower head filters, while proven to be effective at improving water quality, do not have the capability to remove the hard minerals in it.
If it’s hard water you’ve been using and you’re having little luck with your skin and hair care, try a softener. It can really be a game changer in reducing skin irritation and hair dryness.
That said, while most people enjoy the smoothness and “clean” feeling of soft water, some may find it unpleasant. When it’s not a medical or dermatological problem, it will become a matter of personal preference.
Soft, Durable Clothes That Won’t Discolor
When you wash with soft water, your clothes won’t get hard mineral stains. Detergents and soap also dissolve better, and as a result, you will need less detergent to wash the same amount of clothes.
Shining Clean Glassware And Silverware
A water softener either removes or alters the structure of the minerals, preventing them from sticking to surfaces. Thanks to that, you should no longer see a calcium film on your mirrors, glasses, or annoying spots on your car after washing.
How to Soften Hard Water
Below are the two most effective methods to take care of water hardness.
1. Whole-house filtration
Modern whole house water filtration systems are a common solution to sediment, rust, algae, and even harmful contaminants. Unfortunately, most of them are not designed for the removal of minerals.
At the moment, the only type of whole-house filter that can deal with hardness is the reverse osmosis (RO) filter. However, while they’re highly effective at purifying and softening water, whole-house RO systems can be quite expensive. This is because of the initial cost of the system itself, installation and maintenance costs, and wastewater. Plus, you don’t need potable water for laundry or toilet flushing anyway.
2. Whole-house water softening
Water softening systems can either replace the minerals in the water with sodium, or change their forms so that they won’t adhere to surfaces. That’s how they reduce limescale.
Whole-house water softening systems are very efficient at eliminating hardness-related issues, at much cheaper prices than RO systems. The problem is that they may introduce sodium into your water, while not removing other harmful substances. Nonetheless, that is solvable if you install a small RO system under the sink. That way, you can have both soft water for hygienic purposes, and salt-free, chemical-free, and heavy metal-free water for drinking.
The Ultimate Setting
The softener + under-sink RO filter layout is the most practical and budget-friendly solution to hard water and contaminated water, as we see it.
How to Choose a Water Softener
Here’s our step-by-step guide on how to pick the best water softening system for your household.
Step 1: Determine the hardness level using a reliable water hardness scale
Given the symptoms, you most likely can confirm if it is hard water you’re dealing with in your household. But how hard is it, exactly? There are three ways to determine the hardness levels.
The Easy Method: Estimation And Assumption
You may get a rough idea of how hard your water is from this water hardness scale integrated into the US map, modified from the USGS’s concentration of hardness map.
Apparently, high mineral concentration in the water is a problem affecting more than half of the US. That’s the bad news, but the good news is our treatment technology has evolved to minimize the impact.
The Accurate Method: Testing with a Device
Another way to determine the hardness level is to get a testing kit or a TDS (total dissolved solids) meter. These handy tools are very popular in households with health-conscious individuals who want to get a closer control of the various kinds of water used in their houses (water for drinking, for fish tank, etc).
More often than not, the hardness level will be expressed only in ppm or mg/L on your device. In case you want the results in grains, here’s the formula for conversion:
Hardness in grains = hardness in parts per million/17.1
For example, if the mineral concentration is 190 ppm, your water hardness level would be 190/17.1 = 11.1 (very hard).
The Professional Method: Complete Lab Analysis
For the ultimate accuracy, it’s best to send the water to a professional lab for a full composition analysis. You will get to know from there the exact elements contributing to the hardness, and what else in the water you may need to beware of.
For those living in areas where water is only moderately hard from calcium and magnesium (TDS < 7gpg), there’s no need to soften it. The health benefits from an adequate amount of minerals most likely outweigh the risks of limescale buildup.
It’s when the TDS reaches 7 gpg that the minerals start to become problematic. To protect your skin, and save time and maintenance costs on your household pipe system and appliances, consider solutions to minimize the impact of the dissolved compounds.
If you live in one of the areas colored red or orange on the map, and are experiencing symptoms of hard water, a softening system would be a necessity.
Step 2: What size water softener do you need? Determining the grain
A water softening system is most likely installed at the point of entry – the point where water first enters your home. Therefore, the size of the softener should reflect not only the hardness level but also your household’s daily usage.
Usually, the capacity of a water softening system is expressed in grains, which indicate the amount of grains in hard water it can handle between regenerations. The higher the grain, the higher the capacity.
Here’s a good formula you can use to determine your softener capacity:
Capacity = Number of People (+1 for appliances) x Hardness x 80 Gallons x Days Between Regeneration
- The hardness must be in grains per gallon. Add 5 grains for every parts per million of dissolved iron detected.
- 80 gallons represents the average amount of water used per day by one person. Actual mileage may vary, so feel free to adjust the number accordingly.
- Regeneration should not be more often than once every 3 days, since the backwash does involve wasting some water, depending on the size of the softener. Plus, it typically takes an hour or two at a time, during which you will have no soft water. On the other hand, the duration between regeneration should not be longer than 14 days, even if your system is a high grain water softener. Otherwise, a foul smell from the minerals, especially iron, is sure to emerge.
For a family of four, with hardness level being 9 gpg, and a 7-days-regeneration cycle, the minimum softener capacity would be
(4+1) x 9 x 80 x 7 = 25,200 grains.
If the water has iron at 1.5 ppm, the minimum softener capacity would be
(4+1) x (9 + 5 x 1.5) x 80 x 7 = 46,200 grains.
Step 3: Know your budget – How much should your water softener cost?
A residential water softener can cost anywhere between $500 and $2500. Higher grain water softeners tend to be more expensive than low-grain ones. For monthly maintenance costs, add $5 – $10 for the average 40 lbs of softening salt (or more if you’re using potassium instead of sodium). Also, don’t forget the cost of wastewater during backwashes (3 gallons per minute, which translates to 960 – 1080 gallons per month for a 7-day cycle).
With installation and maintenance costs taken into account, a salt-based softening system is usually slightly harder on the wallet than a descaler. For those on a particularly tight budget, the latter might look like the better option.
However, if you have severe hardness and it’s affecting your appliances, going for a salt-based softener is better. Considering the extended life span of the appliances, it’s not necessarily the more expensive choice.
Step 4: Check for important certifications and extra features
Apart from type, size, and price, there are other features to look for when buying a water softener.
- Cross-link figure (on salt-based softeners’ basins)
“Cross link media”, or S/DVB, in the world of softeners, means media that are made from styrene and cross-linked with divinyl benzene.
People can write a whole book on how it works. If you’re feeling nerdy and want to read about it, here’s an interesting article. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that the number of crosslinks affects the plastic density of the resin. A higher cross link means the resin is more resistant to both oxidation and physical damage.
Now, most softening resins in the US are 8% cross-link, but there are a few systems, some of which are in our review list, that come with a 10% crosslink resin. While the difference looks insignificant in numbers, it can mean years of extended life for the resin. This is especially true with chlorinated water, which is known to be very damaging to the crosslinks.
TL;DR: 10% cross link = a much more durable softening resin = longer softener life.
Having certifications does not necessarily mean your water softener is error-proof. However, if a softener is NSF-certified to remove certain elements, it means it has proved to be effective to the industry standards through rigorous testing.
Likewise, it’s an indicator for high quality if the softener has a Gold Seal from the Water Quality Association (WQA). This means it has passed the strict requirements of industry standards and annual manufacturing facility audits. That should give you some confidence in the quality, durability, and safety of the product.
- Automatic features
If you’re using a salt-based softener, it would be very helpful if the device can add salt on its own, or notify you when the salt is running low. Who wouldn’t prefer some peace of mind instead of being kept wondering whether it’s time to get a little maintenance work done?
Best Water Softener Reviews – (Updated List)
To save you the time and headspace, we’ve listed out the best residential water softening systems to handle hard water. A simple yet detailed review is also available, based on our analysis of the specs and the thousands of reviews from the customers. In this section, we will explore the most prominent features, as long as the pros and cons of each single system.
Here’s our picks for the Best Water Softeners in 2019:
- Pentair 5600sxt-48k-10 Water Softener – Best to Buy in 2019
- Fleck Iron Pro 2 Water Softener – Best for Well Water with Iron
- Fleck 5600sxt BR8 Water Softener – Best Salt-Based
- Pelican Salt-Free Water Softener – Best Salt Free Water Softener
- iSpring Whole House Water Softener – Best Electronic Water Softener
1. Pentair 5600sxt-48k-10 Water Softener – Best to Buy 2019
For the effectiveness, ease of control, and reliability in operation it offers, the salt-based Pentair 5600sxt is easily the best residential water softener to buy in 2019.
The Pentair 5600sxt comes full with a softener tank of 48,000 grains in capacity, a brine tank of standard size with float, a 1.5 cubic feet commercial-standard 10% resin, and a control system that can’t be any easier to navigate.
A complete on-demand metered system
Like many other salt-based softening devices on the market, this Pentair can regenerate following a preset time cycle. However, what makes it an outstanding softener is its ability to rejuvenite based on actual usage.
The mechanism is actually not that complicated: it measures the amount of water used in your household with a meter, and regenerates itself when reaching the maximum capacity, or following your preset cycle, whichever comes first.
This seemingly simple feature can save you a lot of salt, water, and electricity. Combined with the timed cycle, the system makes sure you always have soft water while preventing the excessive usage of salt and energy.
This digital water softener comes with a small LCD screen that displays the current system status. It’s no Retina, but it shows error codes when there’s a problem. That means you can always refer to the user’s manual and get an idea of where to start with troubleshooting. It will take a while, but you will eventually find it helpful.
The touchpad is really simple, yet intuitive. If you are capable of turning a TV on with a remote, set-up will most likely be a bliss.
The Pentair 5600sxt is a credited system. It got a certification from the WQA as it passed all the testing against NSF standard 44 and proved to be effective in water softening.
If the WQA gives confidence to a system, I’d say it’s probably safe for us to trust it.
2. Fleck Iron Pro 2 Water Softener – Best for Well Water with Iron
If you’re using water from a well, iron is an extra nuisance, apart from the usual hardness issues caused by calcium and magnesium. Thankfully, there’s a solution for it all: the Fleck 5600SXT Iron Pro 2 water softener.
A strong capacity
Whether you are an individual or a big family of 7 – 8, if you have a hardness problem, the Fleck 5600SXT will solve it. The unit comes with 5 different capacity options, ranging from 32,000 grains to 80,000 grains. It offers to bring you the right amount of soft water no matter the size of your household.
Should you take a look at the hardness scale in the previous section, you will see that water with more than 7 gpg or 120 ppm lies in the category of hard water. Astoundingly enough, the Fleck 5600SXT can handle hardness up to the level of 85 gpg or 1456 ppm. It’s no doubt one of the best softeners for your home with an iron-laden source.
Designed to remove iron
The name of the product, Iron Pro, speaks it all.
The softener can remove, via ion exchange, ferrous iron and ferric iron. It effectively eliminates the root cause of those annoying iron stains on your tiles and equipments, as well as buildup in the pipes. This removal of iron also helps improve the metal taste in your drinking water.
Made to handle iron of up to 8 ppm, the Iron Pro comes with a fine mesh resin that survives well in iron-rich environment. That, unfortunately, is not always the case with other softeners out there.
Note, though, that 8 ppm is only the medium concentration of iron. There have been customers stating it operates just as well at 10 ppm. But to be safe, install an extra iron filter if your water is iron-ridden at a higher level. The filter will support iron removal and lengthen the softener life.
There are two ways you can set the Fleck 5600SXT to regenerate by itself: either by a certain amount of water used, or by a certain amount of time. The touchpad controls – it’s a digital water softener – are pretty straightforward. Give it a couple of minutes to set things up, and feel free to leave the rest to the unit.
3. Fleck 5600sxt BR8 Water Softener – Best Salt-Based Water Softener
Salt-based systems are no doubt the ultimate choice when it comes to handling hardness at a residential level. Only second in durability to the 5600sxt – 10, this Fleck 5600sxt -8 is one of the MVPs among salt-based softeners.
On demand metered system
Most traditional softeners backwash following a preset time cycle. The Fleck 5600sxt BR8, equipped with a digital meter, regenerates after an actual amount of water is used. That prevents the waste of salt and water when consumption is low, such as during the days your family is on a trip elsewhere. Also, it makes sure the backwash is timely and you always have quality soft water even when there’s a sudden surge in the need, say when there are guests, or when you’re doing more car wash. With a tank that can hold 250 lbs of salt at a time, it can run for a good half year before a replacement is necessary.
A well-rounded package
This softener will arrive at your home almost complete. The package includes the tank, resin, control head, and brine tank with safety float, bypass valve, brine tubings and connectors. That’s pretty much everything you need to put it together and run it. The drainage tubing is, unfortunately, not part of the deal, but a trip to the nearest plumbing store should solve that problem.
The Fleck 5600sxt BR8 has a design to make installation a breeze, even for the non-professional. In fact, most handy laypeople can figure the system out and have it run smoothly after a couple hours. That said, it involves the set-up of some electrical outlet and the drain, the trickiness of which may depend heavily on the local weather, the landscape, and local safety regulations. Don’t feel like a failure if you must resort to calling an experienced plumber. You’re probably saving more money down the road that way.
4. Pelican Salt-Free Water Softener – Best Salt Free Water Softener/Conditioner
Do you not want to deal with mineral scale, but also are reluctant to introducing salt into your water? A strong salt-free softener like the Pelican NS3 Natursoft can be your solution.
The Pelican NS3 excels in what it’s supposed to do: to alter the forms of the minerals that are responsible for water hardness, making it difficult for them to stay on your pipe system.
Its effectiveness is not only a claim from the manufacturer. The system is certified by the DVGW – Deutscher Verein des Gas und Wasserfaches, the German association for gas and water, to prevent 99.6 percent of scale. While we’re at it, it also gets a gold seal from the WQA for structural integrity and material safety.
That said, it is not really helpful with mineral spots, as typical of softeners of its type. So, if you’re looking to shorten the time spent on cleaning your glasswares, mirrors, fixtures, and cars, you’re likely going to be disappointed.
A well rounded package
To boost performance, the package includes a fine pre-filter that can remove sand, dust, rust, and all sorts of sediment down to the size of 5 microns. That’s 1/20 the size of a human hair. The pre-filter eases the pressure on the resin to some extent, and betters the quality of the water. It comes with its own mounting kit and wrench, so you don’t have to worry about running to the plumber’s store for extra tools.
Also in the package are a male npt, rings, and connect nuts, just about everything you need to set the system up. Installation is a basic DIY job – you will most likely save some hundreds on that.
A high price
At the time of writing, this saltless softener (descaler) system costs more than 1600 US dollars. That’s quite a fortune for a simple filter softener system. At this same price, you can easily get a 5-stage filtration and softening system from Aquasana.
You do get what you pay for, though. The quality of water it offers is simply unbeatable. Plus, the system does not need salt or electricity; nor does it waste any water during operation. It doesn’t even require replacements, other than the semi-annual changing of the pre-filter. A BIFL that’s worth your investment to every penny.
5. iSpring ED2000 Whole House Water Softener – Best Electronic Water Softener
Personally, I would recommend sticking to a salt based softener, or a certified descaler like the Pelican if you want proven effects. However, if you are looking for a more budget-friendly and eco-friendly solution, the iSpring electronic descaler may be worth a try.
It’s affordable and convenient
The main reason why this descaler is so popular (it’s actually ranked as one of the top water softeners on various websites!) is that it costs a fraction of the cheapest salt-based or chemical softeners on the market.
The unit itself is cheap. Plus, it is compact, and can’t be any easier to install. No turning the water supply on and off, no pipe cutting, no soldering, not any of the plumbing work that would take hours. No handyman needed. Wrap the coils around your pipe, plug the device in, and boom! Your descaler is in operation.
The device works by employing electromagnetic force. This means that you’ll have no noise from the machine regeneration. This also means you won’t have to spend a dime on salt replacement every couple of months.
It’s simply too good a deal to ignore!
It works! At least for most people
I, personally, am skeptical about magnetic water descalers in general. That said, just because a device is simple and more affordable doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not effective.
In fact, a majority of users have noticed immediate improvements. The toilet stains, bathtub rings, and the buildup on their shower heads allegedly take much longer to reappear. Soap and shampoo reportedly seem to lather better, and shower water does have a more luscious feel.
Smoother, less tangled hair, and reduced skin irritation have also been reported.
iSpring is a renowned brand for water treatment devices, so it’s safe to give confidence to their products (speaking of which, you may want to install one of their under-sink reverse osmosis filtration systems for better drinking water quality, since the ED2000, like other descalers on the market, does not actually filter harmful substances). If your hardness is not yet in the “very high” level, it can’t hurt to give it a try for several months.
Even in the worst case scenario, it comes with a 1-year money-back guarantee and lifetime tech support.
Best Water Softeners Comparison Chart
The chart below features a detailed comparison between the best home water softeners on the market as of 2019.
|Product||Pentair 5600sxt Salt-Based||Fleck 5600SXT Iron Pro||ABCwaters Fleck 5600sxt||Pelican Salt-Free Water||iSpring Electronic/Magnetic|
|Weight||140 lbs||20.8 lbs||133 lbs||32 lbs||2 lbs|
|Dimensions||10 x 10 x 54 in||14 x 7 x 21 in||10 x 10 x 54 in||18 x 18 x 49.5 in||7 x 3.5 x 2 in|
|Flow rate||20 GPM||16 GPM||12 GPM||10 GPM||20 GPM|
|Grain capacity||32,000 - 48,000||32,000 - 80,000||48,000||-||-|
|Certifications||NSF/ANSI Standard 44 |
NSF/ANSI Standard 372
|NSF/ANSI Standard 44||NSF/ANSI Standard 44||NSF/ANSI Standard 61 and Standard 42 |
U.S. Green Building Council
|Warranty||+ 5 years for valves + 10 years for mineral tank||+ 5 years for valves|
+ 10 years for tanks
|+10 years for tanks||+ 90 days money back|
+ Lifetime against defects for whole system
|+1 year money-back guarantee|
The Various Types Of Water Softeners And How They Work
Water softeners come in 4 major types.
The Salt-Based Water Softener
A salt-based softener employs ion exchange, or ion replacement, to remove hard minerals from the water. In particular, calcium and magnesium ions in the water will be replaced with sodium ions that are attached to the resin beads before being flushed out of the system during the regeneration (or “cleaning”) process.
This is the type of softener most commonly used in households thanks to their high effectiveness in hardness elimination. In addition, although it typically requires occasional changing of the resin bed, the salt-based softener is still affordable to most household. It is in fact a very financially reasonable choice when compared to the costs of damages hard water can cause in the long run.
Of course these top water softeners are not without downsides. They do add a small amount of sodium chloride into your water, depending on the original hardness level. While this is generally not a problem to most healthy people, the softened water is not ideal for drinking if you’re on a strict low-salt diet.
The best solution? Add a counter-top or an under-sink RO filtration system to remove the salt, as well as other chemicals, heavy metals and contaminants that a softener cannot handle.
The Duo-Tank Softener
During regeneration, a salt-based machine cannot produce soft water. While this is usually set to happen at night, it does sometimes affect your cleaning and washing activities around the household. This is especially true if you’re a big family and need a large amount of water every day.
The duo-tank machine is the larger and slightly more complicated version of the simple salt-based softener. In particular, it comes with two tanks instead of one, apart from the salt container. These tanks can take turn to process the water and make sure the supply is stable no matter what time of the day it is.
The Salt-Free Water Softener (Water Descaler)
The saltfree softener, also called the salt-free descaler, uses a softening medium, polysaccharide being one of the most popular, to deactivate the scale-forming factors in hard water. That way, it becomes difficult for them to linger on any surface.
The saltless softener does not remove minerals; therefore, it does not actually “soften” water. Rather, it conditions the water to prevent scale formation.
Salt-free softeners can be very effective at descaling while not introducing any sodium into the water. That is why they are the best softeners for your home if you are on a low-salt diet. They’re also ideal for those living in areas where salt-based softeners are not allowed for environmental reasons. Unfortunately, because they don’t remove the minerals, they are not so useful at reducing stains and spots on your glassware, silverware, faucets, mirrors, and cars.
The Electronic/Magnetic Descaler
The magnetic descaler (electronic water softener), is a small device attached to your pipe system. It works to the same effect as the salt-free system: the softener does not remove minerals. Instead, it gathers the minerals and alters their forms to prevent them from sticking onto surfaces. It’s probably not one of the top water softeners when it comes to effectiveness, but for the ability, it’s still a very popular choice.
Salt-based vs salt-free softeners: Which one should you get?
Now that you’ve confirmed the hardness level, it’s time to decide the type of water softening system that’s the most suitable for your household. Two of the most popular softeners include the salt-based, and the saltless.
Should you get a salt based softener, or a salt-free one? For your convenience, here’s a brief comparison between the two types.
The major difference between the salt and the salt-free water softener is that the former removes minerals that cause hardness, whereas the latter doesn’t. Instead, it changes the structure of minerals to make it harder for them to stick to surfaces.
So, do salt-free water softeners work? They do, as in that they condition the water, reducing the chance of scale formation. If it’s pipe limescale you’re targeting, they can deliver about the same results as their salt-based counterparts. Plus, they require very little maintenance, and you don’t have to add salt every now and then.
Then why do salt-based water softening systems seem a lot more popular?
The deciding factor lies in the ability to avert the mineral buildup in appliances where the water does not run constantly. These include the heater, dishwasher, and coffeemaker, among others, which can be very expensive to replace. In this respect, salt softeners win hands down, as they actually do remove the minerals.
Salt water softening systems, of course, are not without flaws. They do leave sodium in the water. Thankfully, the amount is not enough to cause any problems to most healthy adults. Specifically, the mean sodium concentration of softened well water is 278 mg/L (it’s more than 400 mg/L in milk!). That means the amount you get from the recommended 2 liters, or 68 oz, is 556 mg. That translates to 24% of the standard 2,300 milligrams of salt a day as recommended by the American Heart Association.
The greater the hardness level, the more salt the whole house softening process will leave in your water. That means if hardness is serious enough, the salt can be a health risk to those on a strict low-sodium diet. In this case, use potassium instead of salt – it works in the same way and is just as effective. Otherwise, an extra reverse osmosis filter under the sink can take care of the salt, among many other impurities.
How to Install Your Water Softener
Water softeners are not particularly difficult to install. However, they do require some basic knowledge and experience in plumbing. The reason is that these systems are typically connected to the main water supply of the whole house, and thus will require pipe cutting, pipe connection, soldering, and sometimes ground digging to allow the placement of the pipes.
If you’re not familiar with these work, calling for a handyman or a professional plumber may be a good move.
Water Softener Installation Diagram
Below is a map after which you can install a typical saltbased water softener.
What you will need
The installation of a water softener will take at least one hour. Often, it takes 2 – 4 hours, given that the installation site is easily accessible, and the pipe system is in good conditions.
Preparing all the tools and equipments necessary in advance will save you a lot of time in the process.
Here are what you will usually need to install a saltbased water softener:
- Tubing to connect the system to the main supply, and drain tubing
- Tape measure
- Solder and torch
- Pipe cutter
- Slip joint pliers
- Teflon tape
- Pipe wrench
- Valves and fittings (sometimes included in the package with the unit)
How To Install A Water Softener
Here’s how to install a whole-house water softener in 10 steps.
Step 1. Shut off the water at the main line. Open the faucets to drain. Disconnect the heater.
Step 2. Install the bypass valve onto the softener.
Step 3. Place the unit at the intended position. Make sure the system will be safe in hard weather conditions (flooding or freezing).
Step 4. Install 2 elbow fittings to the inlet and the outlet ports of the bypass valve. Cut into the main pipe, and connect the pipe to the ports. Make sure you have connected the incoming water to the inlet, and the outgoing water to the outlet port.
Step 5. Connect the drain tube to the drain valve fitting on the unit.
Step 6. Install the brine tube to the overflowing valve on the brine tank. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions as to where to drain the brine – an air gap may sometimes be necessary.
Step 7. Put the distributor tube into the brine tank and pour salt to about ⅔ the capacity of the tank.
Step 8. Set the unit to the bypass mode, and slowly turn on the water. Wait a few minutes until you see a steady flow at the drain line to open it completely. Reconnect and turn the water heater on.
Step 9. Slowly open the bypass valve and wait for another couple of minutes for the air push through the system. Open the valve completely and run a backwash cycle.
Step 10. Configure the unit following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Note that the features may vary among different water softener brands. It’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure your system operates safely and efficiently.
How to Clean Hard Water Stains
A water softening system can prevent new hard water stains from forming, but it can’t remove the stains that are already there. Because hard minerals can neutralize soap, scrubbing them off is hardly ever a walk in the park.
If you are having no luck getting rid of them, read on.
We’ll present to you the proven ways to clean hard water stains and spots.
How To Clean Hard Water Spots
Not that I have a soft spot for hard water spots, but you’re lucky if it’s only spots you’re dealing with. They’re the weaker enemy here. You will find them on surfaces that aren’t usually dipped in water – your mirror or your car, for example. The whitish chalky residue tends to appear right after a wash, when the water has just dried up. They’re annoying, but are easily curable if you act quickly.
The easiest and cheapest way to clean hard water spots is to use a water – vinegar solution.
Make the solution by mixing some white vinegar with the same amount of water. Using a spray bottle, spray the solution onto the surface you wish to clean. Wait about one minute for the solution to take effect before wiping with a clean piece of cloth. Wipe the area dry afterwards with another clean cloth.
How To Clean Hard Water Stains That Have Been There Forever
The same water-vinegar solution can be applied on more stubborn stains, except some quick wiping may not work. You have to give the solution some time to really take effect.
So, make the solution with water and white vinegar at a ratio of 1:1. Dip a clean piece of cloth into the solution until fully soaked. Drape the cloth over stain, and leave it there for an hour. When you get back, use the cloth to scrub the stains off.
If it’s stains in a toilet bowl you’re dealing with, pour about ⅓ gallon of vinegar into the bowl so that it reaches all of the stains. Let sit for about an hour before scrubbing it away with a non-abrasive sponge and more vinegar.
The Best Water Softener Brands
These are the names you can trust when in search of a water softening system for your home:
Fleck is a brand of Pentair, a company founded over 50 years ago in Minnesota. It’s one of the oldest names in the field, and now a leading brand in water treatment in the US.
Fleck focuses on one single thing: making water softening products, and few, if any, other brands can get on par with its performance at that. It makes highly effective salt-based water softening systems that are also very affordable to most households. Its softeners vary greatly in capacity, making it easy for you to pick the right one for your water hardness level.
Whirlpool is not a new name – it has over a century of experience making home and water appliances. The Michigan-based company offers not only high quality water softening systems, but also excellent customer service.
Whirlpool softeners are known for their integrated self-cleaning filter screens, which are ideal for water with sediment issues, especially water from a private well. You can also sign up for a reminder from the company when it’s time to change the cleanser.
General Electric Company, as the name suggests, focuses mainly on electrical appliances, which water softeners are not usually categorized into. The few softeners they do manufacture, however, are tested and certified by NSF and WQA – two of the most prestigious organizations in water quality control in the US.
All GE softeners are salt-based. They come with GE SmartSoft™ technology, which allows them to regenerate based on a cycle that’s preset following the user’s household water usage pattern.
It was acquired by Pentair earlier this year (February 2019), but prior to this Pelican Water Systems had established itself as a rising star among the members of the Water Quality Associations. The brand offers a wide variety of purification products, from UV sterilizers to filters that address very specific contaminants in the water.
Pelican salt-free descalers are certified to be 99.9% effective, and come with excellent warranty plans (limited lifetime warranty). However, they are on the higher end of the price scale, as are all other Pelican products.
Founded only about 20 years ago, Aquasana has quickly gained popularity for the affordability and durability of their products. The brand is famous for its complex systems that can be customized to adapt to your various water treatment needs: filtration, descaling, and sterilizing for both communal and private well water.
Aquasana does not offer much choice in water softening, but their highly effective descalers will surely be among the recommendations when you’re on the hunt for a salt-free solution to hard water in the home.
Established in Illinois in 1936, Culligan Water products can now be found in over 90 countries.
As the company specializes in water treatment, water softening being one of the very first areas, they offer a large collection of quality salt-based softeners. It’s very easy for you to find the right Culligan system for your home, regardless of your budget, the water hardness level, your household size, or water usage pattern.
Kinetico Water came out of Ohio in 1970 and still has its headquarters there. In addition, it now has offices and dealers all over America and Europe. Its reverse osmosis water drinking systems, dechlorinators, neutralizers, and filters are enjoyed in over 100 countries around the world.
Kinetico softeners regenerate by the meter, which helps preserve water and energy. They are designed with twin tanks to provide soft water round the clock.