Many of us reside in hard water areas, whether we know it or not. For those who prefer softer water, there are several consumer water softener systems available on the market which are designed to specifically treat hard water problems. Simply put, the best water softener will provide you and your home's occupants with water that is more enjoyable to bath and shower in and will even benefit your laundry cycle.
There are of course several orders of magnitude when it comes to quantifying hard water – but as a guide – anything above 60mg of magnesium and calcium will place your water supply into hard water territory.
Reducing the hardness of your water is straightforward but it does require the purchase and installation of a suitable water softening system. And you’re in luck, because we have tested and reviewed the best water softeners that are currently available to buy, helping you in your purchasing decision over which type of water softener is right for your home.
Best Water Softener Reviews For 2020
Our winning recommendation and the first of our 2020 reviews is Fleck’s 5600SXT model which provides everything that you could wish for in a home water softener.
This model is suitable for households which feature a water supply that is classified as medium to very hard water, essentially making it suitable for every home if softer water is your goal.
In addition, the Fleck 5600SXT Digital features a 12 GPM flow rate which a temporary peak limit of 28 GPM, making this water softener system suitable for households with up to 6 occupants without a drop in water pressure.
We like the fact that this water softener is made in the USA with the construction of this model exhibiting an impressive level of build quality. Simply plumb the 5600SXT into your water supply and add salt to benefit from a reliable supply of soft water.
Fleck have been nice enough to include a comprehensive set of instructions which are sufficient to see this water softener installed in no time at all with some basic plumbing skills.
At this price range, we feel that the Fleck 5600SXT represents exceptional value for money and should be a serious consideration if you’re looking to purchase a new water softener system in 2020.
Runner Up: Fleck Iron Pro 2 48,000 Grain Water Softener
Our runner up is Fleck’s Iron Pro 2, another great entry within our 2020 water softener reviews that has stood the test of time and impressed many homeowners with its efficient iron filter removal process.
The Iron Pro 2 combination system is similar to our winning Fleck model, but this model places a specific emphasis on the iron content of your water supply, containing a special mesh resin filter that is designed to greatly reduce the presence of iron. Included in the packaging is also an iron hardness testing device which will tell you the iron content of your water supply to help you set up this water softener properly.
You will also notice that this model can remove sulphur from water, up to a level of 2ppm.
The Fleck Iron Pro 2 is available in several different sizes depending on your requirements, with the top tier 80,000 grain model suitable for those households with the highest demands. The flow rate is also set at an impressive 14 GPM, making it suitable for most people’s needs.
Available in 3 different colors, the Iron Pro 2 combination water softener is a great choice for any household that wishes to benefit from soft water with a vastly reduced iron content.
Next on our list is this salt free water softener from Aquios. As with all Aquios products, they’ve made a real focus on quality and it shows with this multi-function water softener.
The first thing that you will notice is that this is a salt-free water softener which means that it softens water using different methodology. The jury is out on whether salt-free systems are as efficient as salt-based systems, but we found this model to be very impressive during our testing.
What we will say is that if you’re suffering from particularly hard water, you may be better off with one of the salt-based models for maximum performance and efficiency.
What we particularly liked about this model is the fact that it also features a built-in water filter (water filtration system) which is capable of removing chlorine, sediment and other unwanted particulates, essentially making this a 2 in 1 model for any household that doesn’t wish to purchase a separate water softener and water filter.
It should also be noted that Aquios water softeners have a minimal impact on water flow rates, meaning that you shouldn’t notice a marked difference after installation.
All in all, the FS-234 is a great model with impressive performance that is compact and simple to install and maintain.
Providing another alternative method of softening water, the Eddy Electronic Water Descaler is a worthy entry in our review of water softeners.
What we have here is a salt-free alternative to softening water that relies on electromagnetic manipulation to achieve its goals. As you can see by the product image, this device is placed next to your incoming water mains pipe where the charge wires are then tightly coiled around the pipe itself.
From there, a current is passed through the pipe which alters the adhesion property of limescale which prevents it from adhering to surfaces. And so, whilst the chemical composition of your water isn’t changed (chlorine and calcium and magnesium will be retained), you will still be able to benefit from longer lasting appliances, reduced water spotting and cleaner clothes.
We can also say that we noticed a difference in the taste of tap water from our sink in addition to much softer feeling water when showering whilst using this device.
Cost effective and easy to install, the Eddy Water Descaler is well worth a look.
Returning to salt-based water softeners, the Whirlpool WHES30 makes for an interesting alternative to other models that utilize salt.
You will notice that the design of this water softener is completely different to traditional models that utilize a cylindrical tank and a control head. In practice, this model works much the same and is capable of reducing water hardness in addition to removing other particulates such as iron.
One beneficial feature of this type of water softener is that it has the ability to automatically calculate the exact quantity of salt that is required for it to regenerate itself. This translates into a significant reduction in the quantity of salt used.
Simply add salt pellets when required for years of trouble free and efficient water-softening. If you like the look of this system, be sure to check out the unit that Morton manufacture.
It should be note that due to its size, this Whirlpool model is perfect for apartments.
As part of our test, we thought that it would be a great idea to include a portable water softener for those who spend a lot of time on the road in their RV or other similar residence.
On The Go manufacture several different RV water softeners, but we feel that this model offers the best value for money as well as a great compromise between size, capacity and performance.
In fact, this 16,000 grain water softener is so good it is even suitable for smaller homes or homes with a low water demand.
As you would imagine, this model requires more frequent top ups of salt, but this is only a slight drawback – as in actual fact – this model is one of the most efficient on the market, supplying 40% more soft water than any other comparable filters.
2 boxes of table salt every 40 days or 1600 gallons of water will ensure that this water softener is ready to go at all times. If you’re always on the road or live in a home with a lower water demand, this water softener is for you.
Water Softener Buying Guide
A whole house water softener is a water treatment device which many households find beneficial in improving the quality of their house water, whether in the kitchen or bathroom. The amount of benefit your household will receive depends on the water quality (hardness) of your existing water supply.
Municipal water or city water supplies typically contain a significant number of minerals which produce hard water. Hard water contains large amounts of dissolved calcium, magnesium, iron, chlorine, potassium chloride and several other substances.
Well water will also contain these minerals in varying quantities so a water softener is a good idea even if you draw your water from a well.
Why Is Hard Water Undesirable? The Benefits Of Water Softening Systems
Hard water is rarely preferable to soft water. Hard water isn’t dangerous by any means, but it does have a noticeable difference to soft water which will become apparent in several ways:
- Residue On Surfaces – Hard water contains several minerals which are present in varying quantities. These minerals react to soap, and once dry, these minerals leave a residue or scale on plates, dishes, cutlery and every surface they come into contact with, including stainless steel countertops and glass shower screens.
- Your Skin Will Feel Dry – The same residue left behind on surfaces will remain on your skin, even after thorough rinsing. This can lead to dry and itchy skin as well as dry and flaky hair.
- Limescale Build Up – Hard water is the cause of limescale within your home’s pipework. This crusty build-up of minerals has the ability to reduce the flow rate of your home’s water supply as it finds its way through faucets and showerheads. You will also notice that water-based appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines begin to suffer and become less efficient.
- Reduced Efficiency Of Water Heaters – Water heaters rely on heating elements which are placed within a tank or cylinder of water. Over time, hard water will render them less efficient due to a thick layer of limescale. You will also find that your tank or tankless water heater may consume more electricity.
- Poor Quality Of Soap Lather – Hard water doesn’t allow soap and other sanitary products to formulate a good lather. This may be an issue for those who appreciate soaking in a bath.
- Laundry Quality – Clothes washed in hard water are more difficult to clean and will require more laundry detergent. You may also find that powdery residue accompanies your freshly washed clothes which is a by-product of the detergents you use.
The Most Popular Types Of Water Softener You Can Buy
What many homeowners may not realize is that there are several different types of water softeners available for home use. For that reason, it is very important to ensure that you buy the model most suitable for your needs.
We have listed each type to provide you with an overview of their features and the levels of performance you can expect.
Salt-Based Water Softeners
The most popular and common type of water softener available for domestic use is the salt-based variety. As the name suggests, these salt based models utilize salt during the ion exchange process which is what removes all of those undesirable minerals from water.
Each model will need to be topped up with the appropriate type of water softener salt periodically, which is an ongoing cost that needs to be taken into account.
Salt-Free Water Softeners
Salt free water softeners condition water without the use of salt which is desirable for many households who wish to reduce their salt consumption. Unfortunately, this type of softener isn’t as efficient as the salt variety and isn’t capable of reducing water hardness to the same extent.
These water conditioners are designed to make it more difficult for the minerals in hard water to attach to surfaces and form a build-up which is still beneficial for your home’s water infrastructure. You might also prefer that there is no added salt or sodium present within your drinking water - providing salt-free water for your entire home.
Some homeowners find that the symptoms of hard water are reduced such as the benefit of softer skin and improved hair quality, but many fail to notice a marked difference.
Dual Tank Water Softeners
This type of water softener is designed to be more heavy-duty in nature and features an additional iron tank to accompany the brine tank. If you live in an area with a particularly bad water supply or live in a home with a high demand for water, this type of system is for you.
The unique selling point of the dual tank system is that they are operational 24 hours a day, even during the regeneration process. When the system needs to regenerate, it will ensure that only one iron removal tank is taken offline, allowing the additional tank to continue supplying softened water.
Magnetic Water Descalers (Electronic Water Softeners)
The final type of water softener is an alternative system known as a water descaler electronic water softener. They do not treat water in the conventional sense, as they do not add anything or remove anything from your water supply.
Instead, these electrical devices are attached to your incoming water pipes where they pass an electrical current through the metal pipe itself. This electrical charge creates a magnetic field which changes the composition of the mineral deposits suspended within hard water and keeps them from adhering to surfaces.
If you would rather not plumb in a traditional water conditioner, an electronic descaler might be the right choice for your home.
Buying The Right Water Softener For Your Property
It is important to take into consideration where you will be installing your new water softener, as different types are better suited to different applications.
An industrial or commercial water softener will have different specifications to a residential or domestic water softener, usually because they will be under greater stress during routine operation.
If you intend to install your new system within a hotel for instance, it will be worth speaking to a manufacturer that is familiar with this type of application.
Choosing Your Water Softener: Important Features To Consider
Now you’re aware of the types of home water softening system that are available to buy, we are going to provide an overview of the variations in specification that each model usually features. This section is key to getting the most out of your softener and making sure it is the right fit for your home.
Salt-based water softeners have their capacity rated in terms of grains. This specification relates to the number of grains of hardness that each system can remove from water before it requires replenishing with salt.
Grain capacity usually starts at around the 16,000 mark which is suitable for small households before increasing to the 96,000 mark which is more appropriate for larger households. We recommend testing the hardness of your water with a test kit before coming to a decision on which capacity is best for your home.
The larger the system, the more salt it will require but the longer you will be able to go between regeneration.
Larger capacity systems will require more space as their components are larger. Thankfully, most of the top water softeners can be installed outside if required. The ideal location is where your incoming water main enters your property so consider how suitable this area is before buying your softening system.
The specific measurements and dimensions of each system can be found throughout this website and elsewhere online.
The Presence Of A Bypass Valve
A bypass value will allow you to route water around your softening system, essentially bypassing it altogether. This is useful if you require a large quantity of water that doesn’t need to be softened (if you were filling an indoor pool for example).
If you ever decided to take your water softener offline, a bypass valve makes this process much easier and will save you the hassle of un-plumbing the system completely.
Metered Or Timed Salt Regeneration Cycle
One final point for consideration is whether you would prefer a digital metered water softener or a timer based one. With the metered system, the system’s resin will regenerate after a certain amount of water has been treated.
With a timed softening system, the device will regenerate at a time to suit you. One disadvantage of this method is that using more water than usual will lead you to running out of salt prior to regeneration. Another disadvantage is that timed systems will continue to regenerate if you aren’t at home, using salt and water in the process. You could of course simply switch the system off to prevent water usage.
How Does Each Water Softening System Work?
We provided an overview of the softening procedure of each type of system earlier in this buying guide. In this section, we’ll go into more detail to provide you with a better understanding of what you’re buying.
The Salt Water Softening Process
The ion exchange system is designed to remove the metal particles from your water. It acts as a magnet to attract these hard minerals and dispose of them, preventing them from ever reaching a faucet.
When water enters your property, it is passed through a tank that contains resin. This resin contains a significant quantity of little ionic beads. As the water flows through this tank, calcium, magnesium, and other hard minerals such as iron are removed.
This type of water softening treatment utilizes two tanks. The second tank contains salt and is referred to as the brine tank. Softener salt sits in this tank and is combined with water which creates a salty brine solution.
When required, this salt brine is flushed into the resin tank to clean away and remove the collected ions of hardness. This solution is then drained away through your homes drainage system.
Once the salt has been consumed, simply replace it with more to restart the regeneration procedure and soften more water.
The Salt-Free Water Softening Process
This type of water softener changes the physical composition of your water, preventing the minerals from latching onto each other. This means that they are still present but are unable to create limescale build ups within your appliances or fixtures such as a shower head.
Usefully, chloramine, chlorine and other substances are removed from your water which will make showering and bathing more enjoyable.
The Dual-Tank Water Softening Process
Sometimes referred to as industrial water softeners, they work in exactly the same way as any standard salt water softener. The only different is that they are much larger and can treat a greater quantity of water without any downtime.
Perfect for hotels or larger buildings with more occupants.
The Magnetic Descaler Water Softening Process
The installation process involves winding and coiling a set of electrical wires around your incoming water mains line. Once in place, the device is simply switched on where it begins immediately magnetizing the pipework it is attached to which in turn will soften water.
The result is conditioned water which brings with it less limescale and a more pleasurable experiencing when using your home’s water supply.
How To Install Your Water Softener
The installation of any water softener system isn’t difficult even if you have no plumbing experience, but a little technical know how is required. You can either attempt the installation yourself or seek professional assistance.
The water softener installation process involves:
- Shutting off the main water supply to your property. You will then need to identify the incoming water main.
- Find a suitable section of pipework which is where the softener will be installed. You can then either cut the pipework or remove a suitable section if the appropriate joints are in place.
- You will then need to install three valves on your pipes. One to stop water from entering the softener, one to prevent water from exiting the softener, and a bypass control valve.
- Connect the resin tank to the brine tank using 3/8" plastic tubing.
- Connect the drain line to the drain elbow using a hose clamp.
- Connect the discharge pipe to the wastewater drain.
Each system is supplied with a user manual for reference which will also detail whether any ongoing maintenance is required.
To assist you further, we've included a short video below which will provide you with an overview of how to install your new water conditioner. Even if you end up purchasing a different system, this video will answer most of the common questions that are usually asked.
Each water softener that we have reviewed in our comparison features a raft of benefits; namely a reduction in water hardness which not only translates to more enjoyable water but also a possibility for improved skin and hair.
Our favorite model is the Fleck 5600SXT due to its feature set, performance and its attractive price. If you’re looking solely for the best water softener, this model is for you.
If however you’re looking 2 in 1 water filter and water softener combo we would suggest taking a look at the Aquios FS-234 as it also doubles up as an effective water filter for house water filtration.
Whichever model you decide to choose, we’re confident that you will enjoy years of high-quality soft water that is going to provide several benefits to you and your family.