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Your water hardness, or the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium in your water, is dependent on where you live. An easy way to tell if your water is hard or soft is to wash your hands. If you feel a film of soap residue despite rinsing, you most likely have hard water.
Hard water impacts more than just the pipes and fixtures in your home. Excess amounts of the minerals in your water lead to limescale buildup on appliances, dishes, hair, and skin. Thankfully, there are water softeners that remove heavy minerals and prevent them from the water flowing into your home.
The best water softeners work by drawing heavy minerals out with an ion exchange process or by neutralizing the minerals so that they can not bind together and remain soluble in the water. There are many types of water softeners to choose from and picking one can get overwhelming.
To help you with our shopping decision, we’ve picked some of the best water softeners available for your needs.
Best Overall: AFWFilters Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener Whole House System
The Fleck 5600SXT is perfect for small to medium-sized households of up to six people. This whole house system is an industry favorite that, with basic maintenance, can last for two decades. It's an easy-to-use, highly efficient water softener with a user-friendly digital display that is featured on many other popular water softener systems. Once installed, feed in the estimated water hardness and the date, and the water softener's control valve takes care of the rest.
This water softener system is designed with 48,000 grain or 1.5 cubic feet of resin and the regeneration rate adjusts according to the usage of water in the house. The included brine tank can hold up to 250 pounds of salt so it only needs refills every couple of months. The system also has a built-in 48-hour backup system should your power go out. Installation is a straightforward process if you have basic plumbing skills, but the system does come with instruction videos to help you through the process.
Best Budget: Aquasana Salt-Free Water Conditioner for Tankless Water Heaters
The Aquasana water conditioner protects and extends the life of your tankless water heater, appliances, and plumbing without the use of salt. The system uses its proprietary SCM technology to naturally inhibit scale buildup by transforming dissolved hard minerals into inactive microscopic crystal particles, which pass harmlessly through your water and down your drain.
The system does not use salt or require electricity to operate. It’s a simple system that attaches to your water lines and softens the water before making it to your faucet. The filters last about two years and replacements are available for an additional cost. It’s a low-maintenance device that only needs checking if you are near the end of the filter life.
Best Electronic: iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Descaler-Grain Water Softener
The iSpring ED2000 descaler softens water without the use of salt or chemicals. It’s a computerized system where two thin coils of wire wrap around a home’s incoming water pipe to produce electromagnetic waves that keep hard minerals suspended in water. The system is technically a descaler and not a softener and does not remove hard minerals from the water. However, it prevents calcium and magnesium minerals from creating build-ups and scale deposits in your pipes.
Descalers are perfect for those on a budget, with limited space, or on a salt-restricted diet. The iSpring ED2000 is affordable and requires no plumbing skills for installation. It’s maintenance-free and will reduce white stains on fixtures and make showerheads less prone to clogging and allowing unimpeded water flow to appliances.
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Best for Well Water: AFWFilters Iron Pro 2 Water Softener Whole House System
Most well-water is naturally hard and tends to have higher concentrations of iron and other minerals, plus sediment, which requires a special filter to be drinkable and prevent buildup in your water lines. It takes a heavy-duty water softener such as the Fleck Iron Pro 2 to filter and soften well water.
This softener comes with a user-friendly Fleck 5600SXT digital meter with the additional ability to remove iron from the water. It features a 64,000-grain special fine mesh resin that resists the damaging effects of both chlorine and iron and removes sediment like dirt and rust. The Fleck Iron Pro 2 is a pricey but solid performer that will transform the hardest water into clean, drinking water.
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Best Salt-Free: Pelican Water Whole House NaturSoft Water Softener Alternative System
For homeowners that dislike the salty taste from salt-based water softeners or on a sodium-restricted diet, Pelican’s NaturSoft Water Softener Alternative System is a good option. The system uses a 5-micron sediment filter to remove larger, unpleasant minerals while letting smaller beneficial ones through. It’s the only water softener alternative certified 99.9 percent effective.
The system requires no electricity to operate. The Pelican consists of a two-part filter: a sediment filter and a main, whole house filter, housed in sturdy plastic and stainless steel casing. The sediment filter should be replaced every 6 to 9 months, depending on the amount of sediment present in the water supply. It’s pricey, but it’s a reliable and effective softener that will remove most of the unwanted substances from water without chemicals.
Related: The Best Reusable Water Bottles
Best for Large Families: Abundant Flow Water 48K 9100sxt Water Softener System
Large families use more water, of course. A water softener system designed for high water volumes will effectively soften hard water without sacrificing efficiency. The Abundant Flow features two 48,000-grain tanks and alternates between the two, allowing one tank to work while the other tank regenerates. The system creates a steady flow of water without interruption and prolongs the life of the system.
The Abundant Flow features Fleck’s 9100SXT Digital Control Head. This display makes it easy to adjust and monitor the system for high efficiency and consistent water treatment. The tank is an investment but processes extremely mineral-dense water and can handle high iron levels. It’s also a salt-based system with an accompanying brine tank that holds up to 300 pounds of salt.
Best Pellets: Morton Clean and Protect Plus Rust Defense Water Softener Pellets
Salt pellets and crystals enhance the function of a water softener and have to be added to the system regularly. Crystals are recommended for households with lower than average water consumption or those who use a two-part water softening system. Pellets, on the other hand, are the better option for moderate to high volume water users and an all-in-one tank system.
Morton’s water softener pellets do not contain harmful chemicals or fillers that can damage your water softening system. The pellets contain only 100 percent sodium chloride. They are formulated to help prevent buildup in pipes and appliances and remove excess iron, giving you better-tasting water and reducing rust stains.
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Debbie Wolfe is a freelance writer and an online shopping pro who spends hours researching and comparing household goods, so you don’t have to. She’s the proud owner of countless household appliances and can help you pick the right one no matter what your needs.
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