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If you’ve got hard water, you know that you need to get a water softener. Hard water is simply water that is rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium carbonate, and manganese. If you find that soap and shampoo don’t lather well, dishes have spots, the bathtub has a ring, laundry looks dingy, and the coffee maker has scale deposits, your home probably has a hard water problem.
Before you rush out to the store to make your purchase, you need to carefully weigh the different models’ capacities, water flow rate, dimensions, and warranty before pulling the trigger. We’ve spent hours researching and reviewing products to help make your purchase process easier and made the list of the 6 best salt-free water softeners. We’ve chosen the Aquasana EQ-1000-AST as our Editor’s Choice.
Extra features: comes with pro-grade installation kit, reduces harmful contaminants such as heavy metals and VOCs
The Aquasana Whole House Water Filter and Salt-Free Softener coats hard water molecules without the negative effects of using salt to make your water safer. What’s more is that this complete system is designed to remove harmful contaminants, like chlorine, pesticides and herbicides. This particular model can remove up to 97% of the chlorine from city water.
This model is a little heavier and larger than others on the market, weighing in at 16 pounds and measuring in at 54 inches, but it’s still possible to mount this model above the floor. However, you should note that because it’s a complete filtering system, your water flow rate may drop to 7 gallons per minute. This flow rate will provide enough power to run 2 showers, a dishwasher, and the kitchen faucet all at the same time.
As far as maintenance goes, this model requires a filter change at least once every six months, but the filters aren’t that expensive. You will also need to replace the polyphosphate material the model uses every 5 years or so. The price for this all-encompassing model, which has earned our All-around Pick nomination, is around $1,500, but that comes with a 10-year or 1 million water gallon warranty, so you can bet that your money will be well spent.
One final thing to consider is that if you have well water, you’ll need to pair this system with another filtering system to ensure maximum softening and filtration.
Extra features: design ensures no pressure loss or reduction in water flow rate
The in-line Aquios FS-220 Filtration System unit is a combination of polyphosphate and filter only models. Like the Aquasanas, it coats grains with polyphosphates while also removing chlorine, sediment and other pollutants. It’s not as small as some other models, but it is still relatively compact and lightweight .
One downside is that you’ll need to change this model’s filter every 40,000 gallons of water. And, you’ll have to estimate when this time comes, as there is no indicator – but this is an issue found in many salt-free water softeners. A rough estimate of how often you’ll need to change it is every 125 days for a family of four.
Of course, depending on the condition of your water, you might not have to change it as frequently. Unlike other models, this filter also renews your supply of polyphosphates, which means you won’t have replace both components separately. You will, however, have to use this unit in conjunction with other water softening or filtering units to achieve the best results, as it doesn’t kill bacteria or viruses.
Extra features: can be used as stand-alone softener or an upgrade to whole house system, easy installation
This Aquasana product is designed for tankless water heaters, but you can also install it in your water line to use for full home water softening. While this budget pick is a great option, it’s only designed to last for two years, which means you’ll have to spend this money again if it breaks. Fortunately, the model is known to last longer for the two years, so you could just get away with updating the filters and such to make sure it lasts.
The Aquasana EQ-SS20 SimplySoft Salt-Free Water Softener is a light, 13.1 pounds which will make it easy to maneuver and manage during installation. Its flow rate is around 7 gallons per minute, which should be plenty for the needs of a normal household. The SimplySoft media is designed to last up to six months or 50,000 gallons. Depending on the size of your household, this will allow you to have softer water for a good while without much maintenance or having to give it much thought.
Having hard water can greatly reduce the effectiveness of your water and can introduce other potential problems as well. Getting that kind of problem addressed is important for you and your family. The EQ-SS20 gives you the ability to address this problem without breaking the bank. If you have hard water problems and are looking for a quick, easy, cheap fix, then this Aquasana EQ-SS20 is a great choice.
Extra features: NSF certified, reduces VOCs, heavy metals, herbicides and more
Similar to the other Aquasana pick, this pick also removes 97% of chlorine that’s in the water. However, this model is fully loaded and ready to tackle whatever hard water is thrown its way. The Aquasana Rhino 6-Stage 500,000 Gallon Well Water Filtration System with SimplySoft with UV Filter is a complete filtering system that also comes with UV light to kill whatever is trying to infect your water.
While the other filtering system wasn’t recommended for well water, this version is the most complete salt-free system that you can purchase. It features a 20-inch pre-filter to catch sediment from your well, the SimplySoft that coats smaller hard water grains in polyphosphate, the Rhino filter and a .35 micron post-filter to remove chlorine, chloramines, herbicides, pesticides, and additional contaminants, and a UV light to kill viruses and bacteria. The .35 submicron filter is dense enough to catch even the smallest pollutants in your water.
Similar to the other Aquasana model, you’ll need to do maintenance on this model. You’ll need to change the polyphosphate material once every five years. You’ll also need to change the pre- and post-filters once every six months.
The price on this unit is steep, which is why it’s listed as our Best Splurge Pick, but it delivers powerful results. Its warranty is limited to five years, but you’re sure to love what it delivers, and as long as you conduct proper maintenance, you will be able to enjoy the system for years to come.
If you’re looking for a maintenance-free water softener that prevents 99.6% of hard water buildup, the Pelican Water Systems NS3 NaturSoft Salt Free Water Softener System is a premium choice for you. This product provides a lifetime warranty which demonstrates the confidence that the manufacturer has in their product. It also comes with scale reduction, improved cleaning/housekeeping and subjective improvements in personal care without the use of salt. The Pelican Water Systems NS3 System is designed for 1-3 bathroom homes. That means that if your home is bigger than that, this might not be the best choice for you.
The Pelican NaturSoft is WQA tested and certified according to NSF/ANSI 61. NSF/ANSI Standard 61 (or NSF-61) is a set of national standards that is used to refer to water treatment equipment and establishes very high requirements for the control of purification equipment that comes in contact with drinking water or products that are designed to produce potable water. With this kind of certification, you can buy with confidence knowing that the product is safe for you and your family to use.
With a flow rate of 10 gallons per minute, the Pelican system also doesn’t strip the beneficial minerals from the water, and you won’t get a slippery feel after the water’s been treated. It’s also made out of stainless steel, which will resist staining, rusting and oxidizing.
Extra features: BPA-free plastic, comes with wall bracket
If you have well water, this is the pick for you. This system has a 30-micron filter that catches sediment particles, but allows the mineral grains to pass through and be coated by the polyphosphate. And, the system still provides a 30-gallon-per-minute flow rate—something that’s unheard of in comparison to other models. You won’t have to worry about not having good water flow ever.
The unit is pretty small, weighing in at only 4 pounds and measuring 9-by-10 inches. It attaches to the wall as an in-line unit, so you won’t have to give up floor space for it. Because it attaches to your water line though, you should seek expert help for its installation.
Like other full-filtering systems, you’re going to need to do maintenance with this model. You’ll need to replace the polyphosphates every 6-12 months. And you’ll need to clean the filter once a year. For under $500, this pick is a great option if you’re looking for fast flow rate and effectiveness at softening well water.
What makes it special?
Effective for well water
Fast water flow rate
What cons did we find?
Only 5-year warranty
May not filter out chlorine or bacteria
Will need regular maintenance
Things to Consider
Ready to search for your perfect salt-free water softener, but don’t know where to start? Let us help you. We’ve reviewed the leading products in a variety salt free water softener categories, and have also done research on features to consider so you don’t have to.
You can use our buying guide as a reference or starting point for your shopping, but the end decision is ultimately up to you and what your house (and budget) is calling for. Remember, having a water softener is important to protect your home from the dangers of damaging hard water. Having a salt-free water softener also affords advantages such as lower maintenance costs and keeping extra minerals out of your home.
Advantages of having a top-quality salt free water softener
As previously mentioned, it’s important to have a salt-free water softener to filter out the hard water that’s running through your home. Having a top-quality salt-free water softener is important so that you can make sure your purchase is reliable, long lasting and actually does what it’s supposed to!
Where to start
Before you get to shopping for a water softener, you should take the important step of testing how hard your water is. This is because you need to select a model that’s capable of softening your home’s hard water. Testing your water also can also illuminate you to potential other issues that you’ll want to make sure your softener can remove, such as chlorine or bacteria and viruses.
Features to consider when choosing a salt free water softener
As mentioned in the introduction of this guide, there are certain features that you’ll want to consider when choosing your salt-free water softener. This section details what to look for with each feature.
Rating capacity of salt-free water softeners (and softeners in general) is done by rating the grain count, or the number of minerals grains that it removes before it flushes the remaining material. However, salt-free units don’t need to flush the filtered resin material, they actually retain the grain rating to show how long the unit will last, or how effective their filtering of hard water particles is.
This is one reason why it’s so important to test your water prior to shopping for a water softener. By testing your water, you’ll determine how many grains of minerals are present in each gallon of your water, which tells you what type of grain rating you need to look for when you’re shopping. If you don’t want to test your water and you have city water, you can call the city to inquire about their allotted grains per gallon in water that they pass through their treatment systems.
There’s a big difference between city and well water, as you can imagine. While most cities allow a tolerance of 15 grains per gallon, well water can contain almost as much as 40 grains per gallon.
Regardless, you’ll want a water softening system to remove the remaining mineral grains. The majority of products on the market can tackle the 15 grains per gallon city estimate. If you have well water though, you’ll likely need to use more than one type of water softener or product.
Water flow rate
The water flow in salt-free water softeners isn’t like the water flow in traditional water softener. As previously discussed, the salt-free water softeners don’t flush the filtered materials. The media in these systems works instead as a catalytic media by causing crystallization of ions on the surface of the media while the water is in continual up flow. Thus, the system media remains in a fluidized state, pulling the hardness crystals on the top of the surface. Carefully consider the water flow rate on each system to decide if it’s enough for your house.
Some systems limit the water flow as it passes through the system, which means that a low flow could reduce water pressure if you’re using water in more than one location (think: doing laundry and showering). The average shower uses 2 gallons of water per minute, while the average washer uses 1.5 gallons per minute. And, the average rule of thumb is that one person needs a flow rate of 4 gallons per minute. Add 1-2 gallons for every other person living in the house.
The more people in your house, the higher flow rate you’ll need.
Every unit has different maximum pressures. Carefully consider the unit’s maximum pressure and weigh it against the current water pressure in your house. You don’t want to get a unit that takes up almost all of your current water pressure. Know that using a softener will decrease the pressure in your home, so don’t get one that will use up the majority of what you’ll need.
Water softeners vary in size. You will need to carefully consider if you actually have the space for the unit you’re looking at. Every unit will contain dimensions—don’t forget to read those and measure twice, and check again. There is nothing worse than getting your softener to your house and realizing it won’t fit.
In general, there are four different types of salt-free water softeners: filtering softeners that use polyphosphates, full filtering systems, softeners that use electromagnetic waves, and those that use magnets only.
Polyphosphate-filtering salt-free water softeners use safe chemicals (polyphosphates) to coat mineral grains so that they can’t stick to pipes or other surfaces in your house. These types of systems don’t remove the grains, but lessens their effects. A filter will, however, catch the larger parts, but the smaller parts will still pass through. And, these types of systems don’t remove chlorine, nor do they kill viruses or bacteria.
Full-filtering systems soften your water and remove the unwanted materials from your water. As water passes through the system, the system crystallizes the mineral grains and the additional filters remove unwanted materials like chlorine and viruses. The major downside is that these systems require new filters every 6-12 months, depending on the water condition and usage of your home.
Electromagnetic system types plug into your wall and send an electromagnetic wave through your pipes, which magnetizes the mineral grains and suspends them so they don’t stick to anything. If you go this route, you need to make sure that you have softer hard water. You’ll also need to know that they require constant energy output.
Magnetic systems work similar to electromagnetic systems, but without the electricity. Instead, a magnet is attached to the outside of your pipes. These systems are the least effective of the four, but do work well when used in combination with the one of the first two types.
You’ll need to read the product specs carefully to see how well each model filters chlorine, if it does at all. You’ll have to choose a full-filtering model if you want to see any of the chlorine get filtered out of your water.
You should also check your water to find out how much chlorine is present, so you know how much you need to have filtered out.
As with many of the other categories, the operating temperature will depend on the model you choose. Check with the manufacturer if you can’t find this information on the product specs of each model you’re researching.
If you don’t have experience installing a water softener, it’s recommended that you hire a professional. You’re going to be working with plumbing and shutting off your main water supply, so a lot can go wrong. While not typically as difficult as salt-based water softeners, installing the top two types of salt-free water softeners can be trick. You don’t want to be that guy or gal who floods their house just because they felt comfortable DIY-ing their way through a softener install. Check with your local plumber or local home improvement store to find out what your options are.
Check the types of materials that compose your water softener VERY carefully. With studies pointing out that BPA found in some plastics is a carcinogen, you definitely do not want a model that contains BPA going in your house and filtering all of your water. Look for BPA-free plastic components and stainless steel metals.
As with any home purchase, check the warranty on your softener. Look to see what’s covered and how long the warranty runs. If it’s a shorter warranty, definitely consider purchasing an extended warranty from the manufacturer or the home improvement store from which you bought the model to ensure that you’re covered if something were to happen to your model.
As we discussed above, it’s highly recommended that you get an expert to install a full-filtering system or one that uses polyphosphate because it involves plumbing experience and shutting off the water to your house. If you’re using electromagnetic or magnetic systems, you should be able to handle plugging in the electromagnetic system into your wall or attaching a magnet to your pipes.
If you start to notice that your water tastes funky, your soap doesn’t lather, your clothes are stiffer than normal or there’s a crusty buildup around faucets, you probably need to change the cartridge. These are all telltale signs that your softener isn’t functioning right.
When it comes to salt-free water softeners, you really need to consider your specific home. If you want to filter out chlorine, you’ll need to consider getting a full filtering model. If you have well water, you may need more than one unit. Our top pick is of course the Aquasana Whole House Water Filter with Salt-Free Softener – it effectively filters chlorine while still softening water.