Nowadays, millions of people struggle with securing for themselves an access to clean water – worldwide.
Some simply decide to keep buying bottled water and use it in cooking, for example, and then they use regular tap water for washing, bathing, and other activities. While this option does make a lot of sense, it tends not to pay off well in the long run, as the amount of money you will end up spending on water over time will keep mounting.
In this article, we’re going to talk about a special breed of water filtration systems called water softeners. These contraptions work in a similar way the other water filters do, but the main point of differentiation would lie in what is being filtered out.
To help you understand what the important factors are when buying these contraptions, we’ve organized a buyer’s guide with the details about various parts of a water-softening system. Also, we’ve answered some of the most common questions about these contraptions, so you can learn further pieces of information related to these systems.
Of course, there is also a top 10 list of the best water softeners we’ve prepared, and here you can see what the most popular models are currently on the market.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
Our 5 Favorite Water Softener
10 Water Softener Ratings Consumer Reports
1) AFW Filters – Fleck 5600SXT Digital SXT Metered Whole House System
If you need a reliable filtration system for the entire house, this model from AFW Filters can be a great idea thanks to its excellent flow rate, as well as the ability to tackle moderately hard and hard water from the pipes.
This means that no matter how hard the water is in your tap, this thing will be able to take care of it fairly well. Of course, the harder the water is, the sooner you may have to change the filter, but other than that this system will work like a charm ten times out of ten.
As far as the precise flow rate value of this model, it measures in some 12 GPM (gallons per minute) in ordinary circumstances. In case you need more water right away because you want to take a bath or have a large cooking task coming up, for example, this system can stretch to give you 28 gallons per minute.
(Of course, it’s not recommended to use it at this rate all the time, as the constant strain can reduce the lifetime of both the filter and the system itself.) By the way, this flow rate is suitable for families of up to 6 members.
- Easy-to-use digital control panel
- Can filter up to 12 gallons of water per minute (28 GPM at its peak performance)
- Covers the water-related needs of up to 6 people in a household
- Comes with a brine tank with a safety float
- 5-year warranty on the valve
- Tackles 48,000-grain of sediment
- 10-year warranty on the tank
- Some users reported problems with the LCD screen
- It is necessary to buy additional drainage tubing for installing this thing properly
2) AFW Filters – Fleck 5600 SXT Water Softener
At our entry number two, we’ve got another product from AFW Filters that possesses many of the positive characteristics of the model from above. Similarly to its cousin from above, this contraption can tackle a water hardness level of up to 48,000-grain, which tends to cover the needs of most households.
To ensure that the brine tank won’t overflow in case of an emergency, for example, the folks at AFW Filters have installed a special overflow elbow within the tank, which will prevent the brine water from leaving the container in case its levels rise too high too quickly.
An interesting feature on this Fleck 5600 model would certainly be the valve, which comes with a special digital display that measures how much water you’ve used. If you’d like to learn about the detailed technicalities of this system, you’ll be glad to hear that this filtration system comes with a special Scan & Service App.
Here you can check the configuration of the system, see its technical papers, and even check for spare parts. Also, there is a troubleshooting manual included, so you can have some basic idea of what to do in case something goes wrong with it.
- Can go through water hardness levels of up to 48,000 grains
- Advanced softener valve that measures your water consumption
- Comes with a safety float
- There is an overflow elbow for the brine tank
- Made in the USA
- Features a special Scan and Service Mobile Application
- Does not come with a ‘low salt light’ (so, you can’t be sure about the salt levels unless you open the brine tank)
- Some users complained about the quality of the customer service
3) iSpring – ED2000 Whole House Water Conditioner, Alternative Water Softener
In case you have the need to provide yourself and your family with clean potable water devoid of harmful chemicals and sediments, but dislike the idea of having to buy salt all the time and performing messy maintenance now and again – this here thing is a perfect solution for you.
Coming from the inventive iSpring company, this water conditioner and alternative water softener requires no salt or elaborate filters that you have to clean every couple of months. Instead, what you get is a smallish contraption you strap to the water pipe in your bathroom and then it will use electricity to promptly get rid of the sediments such as calcium and magnesium.
Another excellent property of this model is that it prevents the buildup of sediment in the pipes, so you can rest assured that the pipes that have one of these iSpring ED2000’s on won’t be getting clogged any time soon.
- Prevents scale buildup in the pipes
- Does not require any salt to work
- Lifetime tech support
- Works on a wide variety of pipes including PVC and PEX pipes
- No maintenance required
- 1-year warranty
- Some users complained that this unit is not efficient enough at removing sediments from pipes (could be that the grain level in their tap water is too high)
- Some users may not like the functioning principle of this unit
4) Fleck – 64,000-Grain Water Softener
Here we have a water softener system that doesn’t differ too much from the rest of the models you’ve seen above. That said, one of the few differences between this model and the other water softener systems before it is that this one can filter water that’s got a rating of up to 64,000-grain. This means that, where the aforementioned water softener systems can’t cope with the sedimentation and the hardness of the water, this Fleck model will plow right through it.
This is fairly important to take into consideration if you happen to live in an area where the water is particularly hard, as the additional 16,000-grain levels of water hardness can mean the difference between being able to make your tap water potable and failing to do so for an extended period. Also, using a filter that cannot process ‘too many grains’ means that you will not only not have drinkable water – but you will also ruin the water softener, as well.
- Digital water softener valve for monitoring your water usage easily
- Can go through 64,000-grain of water hardness
- Comes with a built-in capacitor that will keep the programming memory for up to 48 hours (it will work even if there’s a power outage)
- Paddlewheel meter
- Features a safety float
- Some users reported problems with the pressurized tank (some leaks can occur)
- Some users complained that the instruction sheets weren’t clear enough
5) Whirlpool – 40,000-Grain Water Softener
If you happen to be a member of a household that counts no more than six people and your tap water isn’t exceptionally bad, but still needs some thorough softening, this Whirlpool model can be just the thing for you. Featuring a softener that can cut through up to 40,000-grains of magnesium and calcium particles, this model would suit your needs quite well. (As long as the water hardness level where you leave is kept below the 40,000, of course.)
On the outside, this elaborate contraption features a fairly straightforward build. It sort of looks like an elongated water heater, because the whole system is housed in a single container. This way, the tanks, the pipes, the valves, and other smaller parts are kept neatly beneath the hood, so all you have to worry about when it comes to installing this thing is connecting the two water pipe outlets that are sticking out of its back.
- Comes with a DIY installation kit
- Made in the USA
- 1-year warranty on parts and labor
- 3-year warranty on electronics
- 10-year limited warranty on the tanks
- Easy maintenance
- Gets the water rid of lead, chlorine, manganese, and iron in addition to magnesium and calcium
- Some users reported problems with leaks
- Some users may not like the design of this unit
6) Whirlpool – 30,000-Grain Water Softener
If the previous Whirlpool model was suitable for up to six people, this cousin of his can be more than enough for 4 people. For example, a four-member family can have a steady supply of potable water all the time with this Whirlpool model installed in their bathroom. (Or, wherever else you may choose to install it.)
The thing is, Whirlpool’s 30,000-grains of water softening, so to speak, may not seem as much – especially in comparison to some other models, but this doesn’t mean that this thing is not efficient – only that it cannot tackle sediments and other pollutants over 30,000-grain. For all water hardness levels up to 30,000, though, this thing works like a charm.
One of the interesting properties of this Whirlpool water softener would certainly be the fact that it has an automatic calculator for figuring out how much salt and water is necessary to regenerate the tank, so to speak. This means that this softener itself will put adjust the levels of salt and water that are being used, saving you a lot of money in the long run. Plus, you won’t have to perform tank maintenance as often.
- Suitable for households of 1-4 people
- 1-year warranty on parts and labor (can be extended to two years if you purchase 3 bottles of Whirlpool water softener cleanser)
- Made in the USA
- Automatic salt & water calculator
- Low-salt indicator
- Some users may not fancy the water heater-like design
- Can’t tackle as many grains of hard water as other models (though it will work beautifully for households with low levels of sedimentation in their tap water)
7) Fleck – 5600 SXT Water Softener System 32,000-Grains
Yet another product from the Fleck folks comes in the shape of this water softener system for the entire house that will work well for households of up to 4 people. (Provided don’t use more water than a typical family does.) In case they’ve got a zoo in their backyard and they plan to give their animals high-quality filtered water, this model may not be able to support it. For all other common household uses, this thing will work just fine.
As far as this softener’s ability to tackle magnesium in calcium in your tap water system, as long as the level of hardness doesn’t exceed 32,000-grain, you’re all good. As the title suggests, this particular model has a filter that’s capable of tackling up to 32 thousand, but there are different variations of this Fleck contraption, too. (Those softeners can tackle up to 48,000-grain, or 64,000-grain, for example.) There’s also a model designed for mildly hard water filtration, and it has a filter that can go through no more than 16,000-grain.
- The digitally-metered on-demand softener system
- 32,000-grain of filtering capacity (works for smaller homes up to 4 permanent residents)
- Comes with a DIY installation guide
- Easy-to-use touchpad controls
- Highly-efficient, salt-saving valve
- 3 modes of operation (immediate and delayed meter regeneration + delayed time clock regeneration)
- Some users complained about the quality of the instruction sheets
- Only suitable for smaller or medium-sized families
8) Whirlpool – WHESFC Pro Series – Softener/Filter Hybrid for Entire Home
When it comes to designing their water softeners, the folks at Whirlpool have gone out of their way to make their filtration appliances as versatile as possible. While the most water-softening system only tackles the sediments such as magnesium & calcium, this Whirlpool contraption can not only soften the water it treats but also remove, to a great extent, other intrusive sediments, as well as get rid of most of the chlorine odor in water.
Perhaps one of the most interesting features this model comes with would be the excellent way it takes care of filters. With most softeners and filtration systems, you are forced to change the filters at regular intervals, as they will gradually lose their efficiency over time. Now, as far as this Whirlpool model is concerned, you wouldn’t have to worry about that too much, because this model will do it. Thanks to the smart inbuilt system that makes this contraption clean itself out every 14 days, you won’t need to worry about changing filters ever again.
- 2-in-1 system – water softener + sediment and chlorine smell removal
- Self-cleaning filtration system (you don’t have to worry about ever-changing the filters)
- 31,000-grain hard water filtering capacity
- Easy maintenance
- Comes with a DIY installation kit
- Some users complained about incomplete instructions
- Some users reported that this unit requires too much salt to function
9) iSpring – RCC7 High-Capacity Under-Sink Filtration System and Water Softener
Last but not least, as our entry number 10, we’ve got an elaborate water-treating contraption that works both as a softener and as a filtration system. This model is mounted under sink and once it’s up-and-running, it will start removing up to 99% of over 1,000 different contaminants including lead, chlorine, calcium, sodium, asbestos, and many more.
So, instead of getting the regular water-softening treatment, so to speak, with this model, you get a proper filtration contraption, too. The installation of this system, while not simple, is not nuclear physics, either. So, if you’re willing to take your time and invest a couple of hours into setting this thing up yourself, you won’t have to pay someone else to do it.
All the parts on this thing have been purposefully made to be easy to install, so you shouldn’t have any major problems with it. Of course, depending on the design of your bathroom and the below-the-sink area, you may have to shorten or lengthen the pipes, but that would probably be the worst deviation from an otherwise fairly straightforward procedure.
As a finishing touch, the folks at iSrping included a stylish European-style faucet out of which you can pour the filtered and softened water.
- Works as both a filtration system and a water softener
- Lifetime support phone line
- Removes up to 1,000 different contaminants from the tap water (including lead, calcium, asbestos, arsenic, and sodium)
- Simple DIY installation
- 1-year manufacturer’s warranty
- Some folks may not appreciate the design of this unit
- Some folks reported leaks during installation (can be easily fixed, especially if you contact the live phone support)
10) On The Go – Double Standard Water Softener
If you’re looking for a small but plucky water-softening contraption, this model from On The Go can be just the thing for you. Thanks to its compact build and lightweight design, you will be able to move this thing from room to room or carry it somewhere with you with ease. All you need to do to move this thing around with ease would be to be able to lift its weight, which amounts to about 32 pounds.
In terms of size, volume, and its ability to fight off various nasty sediments and hard water, this model could be included in the featherweight category. That said since its main purpose is to provide you softened water on the go, using this on the road or at work can be a great idea.
As far as its ‘grain rating’ is concerned, this model can muster up to 8,000-grain of tackling hard water. The great thing about this model in this respect is that it carries a ‘double standard’ mark, meaning you can technically use it to soften hard waters of up to 16,000-grain.
- Quick regeneration
- Takes care of up to 8,000-grains of hard water (since this model is double-standard, this figure can be doubled)
- Compact build
- Perfect for vehicles and excursions
- Does not come with either mount or any mounting hardware
- Fairly small, so it’s only suitable for smaller-scale water filters, or vehicles (hence its name)
Water Softener Buyer’s Guide
Water Hardness Levels
Arguably the most important parameter of a water softener would be how any ‘grains’ of water hardness it can filter through successfully. The higher this value, the more powerful and efficient the water softener is.
The thing is, this ‘grain’ rating works thus – The ‘grains’ refer to the number of pieces of sediment in a gallon of water. Let’s say that some sort of tap water has 12 grains per gallon. Then you take into consideration the number of people using this same water source – let’s say there are four of them. If each member of this household uses 100 gallons of water a day (including drinking, cooking, showering, etc.), which is a value close to the overall median value. What you do is multiply 4 by 100, and then multiply that with 12. What you get is the daily water softener requirement. In this case, this requirement for an imaginary family of four would be 4,800 grains of sediment per day.
Now, to make sure their water softeners will be able to tackle all possible and impossible water requirements, the folks who make these machines typically make them capable of dealing with far greater values.
Typically, the most commonly-found models on the market will give you from 8,000 to 64,000 grains per day. Of course, if you don’t use much water, even a model of about 16,000-grain would be enough. If you have a larger family, on the other hand, then models giving you 32,000, 48,000, or 64,000 would probably be more suitable solutions.
Although water softeners aren’t the most complicated home systems to install, many people fear the installation process nevertheless.
Truth to be told, installing a water softener can get fairly complicated – all depending on what sort of bathroom arrangement you have going on in your house. In case you have to cut pipes and weld them back together, that can be fairly annoying.
On the other hand, if you only need to connect some pipes and hoses, you can complete the entire installation in minutes.
Many manufacturers of water softeners equip their models with DIY instruction sheets for installing them. Usually, there is also some sort of open phone line available to you, so you can consult it in case you get stuck somewhere. All in all, installing water softeners can at times be a bit tricky, but if you follow the instruction sheet and keep the customer service number handy nearby, you should be A-ok.
Digital Control Panel
To make the life of the user easier, an increasing number of brands producing water softeners opts to add small gadgets that can help you follow your water consumption, and check on the salt levels in the brine tank. (If your water softener model has a brine tank, to begin with.)
Typically, the way these little thingies look is like small Tamagotchi-looking gadgets with only a couple of buttons and an LCD screen you can read off of. The screen will show you the value in question, so you can decide what command to set for the control panel.
For example, many water softeners from Fleck have an inbuilt softener valve, where you can choose when to regenerate the system, depending on how heavily you’ve been using it lately.
When it comes to ensuring your water softener works like a charm at all times, you have to make sure that the filters are up-and-running. If the filters aren’t kicking, your water-softening system is as good as useless.
Now, when it comes to maintenance in general terms, water softeners typically don’t require that much cleaning or any special sort of maintenance for them to work like a charm.
There’s another important maintenance-related task you need to do every week or so when water softeners are in question – adding salt into the brine tank. The entire softening process depends on this tank, so if you fail to add salt periodically, the water softener won’t work as well as it should be.
The best way to ensure any sort of product will work fine when you get it would be to buy a product with a warranty attached to it.
Of course, the warranty itself does not mean that this product is indestructible or that it will work well, or at all – but what it does give you is the security that in case something goes wrong, you will be able to claim the warranty and get either a refund or a fix from the manufacturers.
For water softeners, warranties are typically issued on parts and labor, while some other forms of warranty are possible such as warranties on electronics, and tanks. Manufacturer’s warranties are also fairly common for water softeners. One other interesting thing would be that many brands that sell these water-softening contraptions also offer live phone lines, where you can contact the manufacturer’s customer service and have them help you with the problem you’re having.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1) Is buying a water softener worth it?
If you regularly buy bottled water, or you have a well in your backyard so you don’t need to, then buying a contraption such as a water softener may not be the best option.
That said, if you are dependent on tap water as your only source of this liquid, or if you dislike buying bottled water all the time, getting a water softener can be a great idea. In particular, these water-softening appliances will be most useful for the folks who have trouble with calcium and magnesium sedimentation. These two elements together with some other ones can clog the pipes and make the water that comes out of them taste and feel ‘hard’.
So, if you’re having trouble with these two polluting elements, obtaining a water softener can be a great way to go.
2) What are the disadvantages of drinking soft water?
The so-called ‘soft’ water does come with a couple of disadvantages when it comes to how it affects your plumbing and pipes, as well as when it comes to how it affects our health.
The problem with soft water is that it does a good job of getting rid of the sedimentation in the pipes – particularly against limescale. While this may sound counterintuitive, the cleanliness of this soft water destroys the limescale (which is harmful but protects the pipe from the inside against corrosion), which then can lead to the pipe corroding. Since chlorine is the main culprit for this, you can add a chlorine filter to your system.
Another problem with soft water would be that it has high levels of sodium. This makes the water both taste weird and can also present a health risk for the folks who already have heightened levels of sodium in their body due to some other disease.
3) Are water softeners bad for plumbing?
Water softeners serve to get the water rid of magnesium and calcium.
As you probably know, these two elements can cause sedimentation and hardening of the plumbing utensils such as faucets and showerheads – not to mention the terrible quality of water.
So, the job of these filtration systems is to catch the particles of magnesium and calcium and so improve the quality of water, as well as preserve your plumbing ware. That said, if the sodium content in the soft water is too high, this can sometimes have a counter effect on the pipes, which can start rusting from within.
A possible solution would be to fit plastic pipes, or, as we mentioned above, add an anti-chlorine filter to the water-softening system.
4) Is softened water bad for your hair?
Generally speaking, if you compare soft to hard water by the merit of which one is better for your hair, soft water would win every time.
Hard water carries with it a range of sediments and potentially harmful minerals (Ca and Mg), which can damage and weaken your hair over time. Soft water, on the other hand, tends to be more moisturizing, but if it has too much sodium in it, it can make your hair flatter and kill off some of its volumes. (This can be fixed by using a hair volume-enhancing shampoo and a conditioner.)
Overall, while it sometimes can make your hair look flat and boring, soft water would certainly be the winner in the battle of soft vs. hard water for washing your hair.
5) Is it better to drink hard or soft water?
There is no definitive answer to this question, but because soft water comes with only sodium as an extra element, while hard water has magnesium and calcium – it seems that soft water may be a better option for drinking – if you don’t mind the taste.
What’s more, the true ‘sin’ of hard water is the fact that it leaves sedimentation on cutlery and can clog the pipes, which can cause you a lot of headaches if you don’t notice the problem early on.
In conclusion, whether you are sick and tired of de-clogging pipes full of calcium and other sediments, or you prefer soft water to hard water concerning cooking, as well as drinking water on a day-to-day basis, getting a water softener system can be a great idea. It beats buying bottled water all the time and it is surely a better solution than drinking tap water. We hope this article helped you find the optimal water softener and we wish you a merry and hassle-free purchase.
Interestingly, while this problem predominantly affects poorer countries, even the folks living in first-world countries seem to have considerable trouble ensuring the water they and their families drink are potable and not contaminated with God-knows-what.
To make sure the water they use for cooking or drinking will be as clean as possible, different people resort to different ways of procuring clean water.
Other folks, on the other hand, prefer to install some sort of filtration system by attaching it to their plumbing and water-supply valves and pipes – the result being that they have a continuous source of clean water and only limited expenses down the road.
The reason this is possible is that once installed, water filtration systems can work their magic for months on end. In time, of course, and depending on how dirty the tap water is, these systems require a filter change. This is a sort of regular maintenance and it pays off way better over a longer period than constantly buying bottled water.