How to choose a water softener?

Last updated on: July 1, 2022.

Water is an essential commodity that we need in our daily lives. The quality of water we consume can make a profound impact on our lives, even if it is not immediately apparent. Hard water has many dissolved minerals, such as magnesium and calcium. These hard minerals are not harmful to human health, per se. However, they can shorten the lifespan of household appliances and plumbing infrastructure.

Hard water can also affect your cleaning capabilities since it does not react well with cleaning agents like soaps, shampoos, and detergents. To preserve their infrastructure and appliances, several households are opting to install water softeners that can convert hard water into soft water, which is safe drinking water and will meet your water consumption needs. Softened water also preserves pipes and plumbing systems.

There are so many water softener systems currently on the market. It can often be confusing to narrow them down into a final choice that is perfect to improve your water quality. This article offers a comprehensive guide on choosing a water softener based on the factors that are relevant to you.

When do you need a water softener?

culligan water softener

The first indication of water hardness is noticing its effects on your household. If you see lime-scale deposits on your pipes and appliances, it indicates that you have hard water.

Another simple test you can conduct is comparing soap results with your tap water against bottled water. If you notice that the soap does not lather up much in tap water, it is a good indication that your water has hard minerals. If these tell-tale signs are predominant and easily observable, it may be time to get a water softener.

The next step is to determine what kind of water softener you need. You can decide this by conducting a simple water test. This test will let you know how hard your water is, which is measured in grains of hardness per gallon of water or gpg in short. It will let you know the magnesium and calcium minerals concentration in your water.

This test will confirm the presence of hard water instead of any other kind of contamination. It will also give you the information you need to choose a water softener that can handle the hardness minerals of your water.

Observing the effects of water hardness in combination with a simple water test to determine hardness levels will let you know whether you need a water softening system.

BluePrint To Buy The Perfect Water Softener For Your Home: 7 Expert Tips

choose the right one

When buying a new water softener system, there are several factors to consider. You can determine which water softener is right for your household by following the tips in this water softener buying guide. You can start with answering a few questions, such as:

Do you need a water softener?

Hard water pertains to the levels of minerals like magnesium and calcium in your water and varies depending on your specific water source. It is possible that some of the contamination in your water is not due to hardness but from other contaminants in your water.

Water softeners are only helpful for specifically handling hard water. The first step is to determine your water’s hardness level, which can be done with home testing kits or professionally for more accurate results.

Once you know precisely how hard your water is, you will be able to choose a water softener that can cater to your needs.

How much water does your family consume?

Drinking water

Your water softener must successfully provide enough soft water for your entire household’s consumption. Water softeners come in various capacities and sizes. It is measured in grain capacity, which indicates how many grains of hardness your water softener can remove before regenerating.

The amount of water your family consumes is essential to measure because your water softener should be able to provide the equivalent amount of soft water daily.

The hardness of your water and the amount of water you consume daily should help you determine the correct size of water softener you need for your household.

What type of water softener should you use?

Water softeners use different types of technologies to soften water. Which type of water softener you choose depends on your household’s specific water treatment needs. Each has different merits and demerits, so you should choose one based on your needs and requirements.

Salt-based water softeners operate based on an ion exchange process to replace the magnesium and calcium in your water with sodium or potassium. For instance, the softening process involves swapping salt for the hard minerals with the help of the resin bed.

This technology has existed for decades and is one of the most reliable and efficient ways of softening water that will last for several years.

Water conditioners do not soften water but condition the magnesium and calcium minerals with chelating agents to convert them into an inert and insoluble form that will not cause damage.

Water conditioners offer the same benefits of softened water but keep the minerals in your water which can be good for health. They are less expensive but do not last as long.

Template-assisted crystallization (TAC) is a relatively new technology that converts magnesium and calcium into microscopic crystals that are insoluble in water and enter the water flow without causing damage to your appliances. It is a modern way of conditioning water to prevent the ill effects of hard water.

Reverse osmosis (RO) systems push water through an RO membrane at high pressure to remove contaminants at molecular levels. This system can remove a wide array of pollutants, not just the minerals that cause hard water.

RO water is neutral as it doesn’t have harmful or beneficial minerals in it. RO systems can be quite expensive and produce a lot of wastewater, but they are the most efficient at removing various contaminants from your water.

How much space will it take?

home water treatment

Water softeners come in different forms and do not take up the same amount of space in your home. Magnetic descalers are the most compact type of water softeners and simply attach to your pipes. Water conditioners are a little bulkier as you will need enough room to store them.

Salt-based water softeners are the biggest and will require a dedicated space created for them. The space around a unit will help with installation and service. Once this space is created, the water softener will last for several years, even decades.

What is your budget?

Even if you find the perfect water softener, you should be able to afford it. Luckily, water softeners come in different price ranges, and you should be able to find one within your budget that caters to all of your needs.

For budget-conscious people who still want the best cleaning possible, renting a water softener temporarily instead of purchasing one may make sense. It makes sense if you frequently move houses but still need soft water. Renting water softeners will become expensive in the long term.

These products can last for decades, so if you have a permanent residence and no plans for moving, it is more economical to buy a water softener, even though it is more of an upfront cost. This initial investment will provide for the next couple of decades and is worth it if you need a long-term water treatment solution.

Durability and maintenance

Water softeners have different levels of durability and maintenance requirements. Water conditioners are mostly maintenance-free.

Conditioners that use chelating agents can last up to 5 years, and TAC water conditioners will need the TAC media replaced every 6-8 years.

Salt-based water softeners need more maintenance due to refilling salt levels periodically, but they can last for decades and are very reliable devices.

Additional features and ease of use

Learn to calculate water softener size

Modern water softeners come with several additional features that make operating them much easier. You can get water softeners with Bluetooth connectivity for easier interaction.

Some water softeners come with a digital valve and display system that will let the system regenerate only when needed. Other water softeners have a metered regeneration option. It minimizes salt and water usage and is very useful for busy people who may neglect their water softener’s regeneration cycle.

With so many options available, you can choose the right water softener that will be a fit for your household.

The above steps can make it easier for you when you are ready to shop for the best water softener for your home.

What are the good brands of water softener?

water softener brands

Several good brands of water softeners make sturdy and reliable devices. The following points are what these brands have in common and what you should look out for.

  • High-quality materials with NSF certification – NSF stands for National Sanitation Foundation. Brands that use these materials will ensure that they are food-grade and safe to use.
  • Warranties for up to 10 years on the product
  • Additional features that promote ease of use.
  • Easy installation and operation.
  • Water flow rates that match the grain capacity of the water softener.
  • Durable and long-lasting performance.

A few brands that have all of these points covered are Pentair, AFWFilters, Fleck, FutureSoft, and SpringWell, amongst many others.

So, which water softener do we recommend?

After careful deliberation, we have concluded that our top pick is Pentair’s Fleck5600sxt water softener. It has a respectable 48,000-grain capacity that is capable of catering to a family of four. It comes with everything you need in the box and is easy to install and operate. 

Pentair has included the popular Fleck5600sxt digital metered valve, which will automatically regenerate your system only when it is needed. This can save a tremendous amount of salt and water. The unique valve also has a digital display to monitor your water quality at all times.

To further enhance user experience, Pentair has included a smart app through which you can control the system and which provides access to detailed configuration, technical documents, and more.

Pentair includes a five-year warranty for ease of mind and will ensure the smooth operation of your water softener with good customer care.

Do salt-free water softeners really work?

Salt free water softeners

The ion-exchange technology depends on salt to provide the sodium ions that are replaced by magnesium and calcium. If you don’t want sodium in your water, you can use potassium in regular ion-exchange water softeners.

Water softeners advertised as salt-free can be misleading and ineffective in softening water. Instead, they offer water conditioning. In the case of ion-exchange water softeners, you also have the option to go salt-free involves using potassium pellets instead of salt. 

Water conditioners are salt-free and work well, as do RO systems. A salt-free water softener will work as long as it is used as described above. You cannot expect your regular water softener to work without salt intake, but there are several technologies that can soften water without using salt.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How to Test for Hard Water

Water tests can be done at home with home testing kits. Alternatively, you can get your water tested professionally for more accurate results. These tests will determine the concentration of magnesium and calcium in your water and are measured in grains per gallon. This number will inform you of how many hardness grains are present in a gallon of water.

Soft water measures less than one GPG. Extremely hard water is above ten GPG, and moderately hard water is around five GPG.

Are salt pellets or crystals better?

Evaporated salt pellets are considered the purest form of salt available, with very few impurities. Salt crystals tend to have a few impurities in them, especially if they are solar or rock salt. The best choice for use in water softeners is evaporated salt pellets, as they are the purest form of salt available.

Should you buy or rent a water softener?

This depends on your budget and how long you plan to use your water softener. If you are moving houses within a year or so, it is more economical to rent a water softener.

However, renting a water softener can become expensive over time. If you are staying in a permanent residence with no plans for moving, it is worth spending more initially as your water softener will be able to last you for decades.

How much is a decent water softener?

Water softeners can cost anywhere between 500 and 2500 dollars. You can purchase a cheaper water softener that will cater to your needs, but if you are looking for quality and durability, a decent water softener will cost an average of around 1000 dollars.

Does water softener increase home value?

Yes, a water softener is a valuable commodity and can increase the value of your home if you choose to sell it. Research indicates that having a water softener in your home will increase its equity from anywhere between 5000 and 10,000 dollars.

Water softeners improve quality of life and are seen as a valuable product for future homeowners and real estate brokers alike. 

How to choose water softener salt?

It is tempting to think that any type of salt can be used in your water softener, and perhaps kitchen salt will be effective. This is not untrue, but salt can come with other impurities present.

These impurities can affect the performance of your water softener and cause issues such as salt bridging, where a layer of crust forms in your brine tank and obstructs water flow.

Poor quality of salt can also cause blockages in smaller valves and important parts of your water softener. It is recommended to use the best quality of salt available in your water softener so it can perform at peak efficiency,

Evaporated salt pellets are currently the best option to use in water softeners. They are more expensive than regular salt but are also free of impurities. This will lead to your water softener performing better and requiring less salt for the regeneration cycle.

Rock salt and solar salt both contain more impurities than evaporated salt pellets. They are cheaper and can be used in your water softener but could lead to issues later on. As long as you are vigilant and regularly service and clean your water softener, this should not be too much of a problem.

Conclusion

Hard water is a problem that is important to address before it is too late. Long-term hard water exposure can cause long-lasting and permanent damage that becomes very tedious and expensive to fix.

Preventing the problem before it escalates into irreversible and unwanted consequences is always preferable. The best and easiest way to tackle hard water is to invest in a water softener.

Different water softening systems use different technologies. It can be confusing to peruse this wide catalog of products to select one that is appropriate for your household.

We have tried to give you all the pertinent information in this water softening buying guide to make the best decision you can to have a steady supply of softened water for your family.