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A water softener may not sound like the most exciting product that you will ever buy. Researching these type of system and choosing which type of softener will do the job for you is well worth doing, though. The best water softener systems can provide better drinking water, better washing for your skin and for your clothes and can even prevent limescale from building up in your appliances, which can significantly lengthen the lifespan of dishwashers, heaters, washing machines and even kettles!
In this article, we’ve taken into account some of the top features which are vital to ensuring you find a system which softens water perfectly for your home. We’ve considered the grain capacity and the flow rate, both of which have an impact on how effective the softener can be, and the amount of water and ‘hardness’ of the water they can handle. Naturally, we’ve also considered the features you should always consider when buying this type of product such as the dimensions, how much they weigh and the warranty offered by the manufacturer. It is far better to be protected.
Our team have based these reviews on firsthand experience as well as information gathered from consumer reviews. We’ve structured our information in a way to make it easy to compare, with a table, featuring recommendations of which product is best for which purpose, as well as individual reviews followed by a buying guide to help educate you when it comes to making your decision.
This is our top recommended all-around water softener system as it has an exceptional amount of features for even a busy home with a full family in. On top of this it is relatively simple to install, and doesn’t take a huge amount of time and effort to do so if you know a little about DIY.
It is sold as a complete water softener system, meaning this doesn’t need to have anything attached to it, it comes with two tanks which are constructed in America, the 12” diameter mineral tank and also a brine tank. These have an exceptional 10 year warranty so if anything happens to them in a decade of owning, you can take advantage of ABCWaters’ exceptional support.
The capacity of this system is one of its biggest plus points. It has a 64,000 grain capacity (other models in the range are available with less if this is overkill). It can flow at 13 gallons per minutes so even houses with a full family can make use of this system.
All-in-all, with such a strong warranty and lots of features, as well as the capacity to handle a whole family and not overly difficult installation, it is hard to look beyond the ABCwaters Water Softener as one of the very elite softener systems.
Why is it special?
Exceptional customer support
Video guides and full installation kit so you don’t need to buy anything to fit the softener
10-year warranty on some parts, 5 for others
64,000 Grain capacity means longer between regenerating
Pelican manufacture a huge amount of water softeners and they have continued to try and evolve their range to offer new and exciting products to suit everybody’s needs.
With the Pelican Water NS3 NaturSoft, they have created an unbelievably clever system which could in the future revolutionize the way water softeners work. This is a totally salt-free water softener, so it doesn’t need electricity and it doesn’t need regeneration at any stage, unlike most of the other softeners on the market. Because of this, it also has an unlimited capacity.
The flow rate is decent, with 10 gallons per minute able to flow through the softener. This is more than enough for most homes with one, two or even three bathrooms. It doesn’t require electricity and does not produce any waste water. It is also incredibly small and compact, a fraction of the size and weight of some of its competitors.
So where is the downside? The truth is, it is very hard to find one, which is why we recommend this as one of the best products on the market. One of the troubles salt-free systems have is being as effective as those which use a brine system. This is 99.6% effective which is about as great as you can hope to get at the moment, but there are softener systems which use salt which are more effective. If you have a need for extreme amounts of softening such as 99.9%, this will come up short.
Generally, this seems to be the way that most softener systems will go in the future, at the moment, this is the best salt-free option.
The Pentair 5600SXT 48k Grain Water Softener is one of the best softener systems for installing yourself. It ships with all of the installation instructions on a pen drive so that the consumer can go through the process without the need of a plumber.
This product offers an upgraded Cross linked resin which means longer between regeneration. It has an on-demand control valve and uses the traditional salt-using methods to get rid of calcium and magnesium from your water supply.
The regeneration is done on a meter, which basically entails the Pentair 5600SXT 48k Grain Water Softener measuring exactly how much water it needs to use and regenerate so that it doesn’t waste any resources.
The 5600 valve is one which a lot of the Pentair products use, and they have been tested to the equivalent of an amazing 27 years worth of usage, so you should be able to expect decades from your softener system, but the five year warranty protects your purchase.
It also has a 48-hour backup system in case the power goes out, an LCD display and the actual tank itself has a 10 year warranty to offer even more protection. The brine tank has the capacity of 250 lbs but also comes with a float which can detect and prevent any overflow issues.
Why is it special?
LCD display and controls
Easy to install with instructions on a pen drive
Great for chlorine
What are the flaws?
A few users have reported issues with the display screen after years of use
The On The Go OTG4-DBLSOFT-Portable is one of the only products on the market which is designed to be totally portable. It can be used in an RV or on camping trips or in a holiday home, for instance. It has been designed to be compact and not rely on being installed within a home, so you can use it anywhere. It is even relatively lightweight at just 32 lbs.
The manufacturers describe this as the largest portable softener out there. It can run at six gallons per minute which isn’t huge compared to home use but it is plenty for a portable product. Likewise, 16,000 grains would not be hugely impressive for a permanent home product but for a portable system it is great. It can regenerate using standard table salt, and this can then provide 40 days of use.
Other features which have been incorporated to help the portable nature of this product include a simple to use handle, a large opening for when the time comes to add salt to regenerate, and it has 360 degrees of movement for allowing the hose to be installed quickly and easily.
For a compact, relatively affordable option which can be taken on the road with you, this is worth a second look.
This is a very intelligent whole-house system which is not only effective but also extremely lightweight at just 6.25 lbs, and compact at 3.9 x 3.9 x 23.7, so it can fit into relatively small spaces but can work for a whole home.
The incredible grain capacity of 185,000 means that this works for a long time before it needs to regenerate. When it does, this can be done simply and easily just by adding a fresh cartridge, so you don’t have to do anything like salting your softener system.
The clever, salt-free system uses fruits polysaccharide and coconut activated carbon. This means there are no chemicals used and it helps to keep the minerals within the water whilst still removing bad tastes and smells and any chlorine which has worked its way in.
The GPM isn’t as good as some other models at between 5 and 10 GPM, but it is still plenty for most peoples’ needs.
It is also made out of only the best and safest materials which are resistant to both acids and to alkalis, and stainless steel which is designed not to corrode over time.
A solid five-year warranty also confirms the build quality of the Hansing Whole House Water Softener System.
Whirlpool WHES30 water softener is a very big and bulky product, but it is built with a focus on appliances as you might expect from this brand, as Whirlpool manufacture a wide range of kitchen products and appliances and are known for giving a huge amount of support and info on their website.
This is an NSF certified product which is designed to prevent limescale such as calcium depositing on your dishes, faucets or even worse, in your appliances.
The clever design of these water softeners allows it to automatically work out how much salt is needed to regenerate, and this saves a lot of both water and salt in the long run by making the regeneration process far more efficient. This is an alternative to using a timer, which can sometimes result in wastage of salt and water.
Make no mistake, this is a huge product, and if you are looking for a compact water softener system this isn’t for you. However, if you want something to make your appliances run for longer and with more efficiency, the Whirlpool brand can offer plenty of experience.
One downside is that this only offers one year of warranty, though this can be extended if you buy the cleaning solution and use this for the time you have the softener system. This can lead to having up to 5 years of warranty, which is more in line with what you might expect. The tank itself is protected by a ten year warranty.
Why did it make our list?
Reduces waste by only using water and salt required
This is a very hefty water softener, and is another which uses the Fleck 5600SXT valve which is popular among water softener systems. In spite of weighing a lot it is actually relatively compact and doesn’t need the hugest of spaces to be fitted due to its cylinder design.
This is a high flow product with up to 16 GPM making it one of the best high flow water softeners on the market, and as an all-in-one product it ships with everything you need to get it up and running. The grain capacity is 80,000, but there are problems within this range that are available with lower capacity if 80k is likely to be overkill.
In terms of the installation this shouldn’t be too difficult to do as an individual, even if you don’t know too much about DIY. The manufacturers email out DIY instructions to help both install and start to program your system.
The Fleck valve removes a huge amount of hardness if needed and is very effective, making it very popular among these sorts of products. It is also very well made in the USA, and the filter is even made of iron, which means it is built to last. The softener backs up their claims here by offering an impressive five-year warranty on the whole unit. If you don’t mind a slightly heavier softener and have room for it, this can be one of the best options to consider.
What do we love it for?
Full instructions to install yourself
Incredible 16 GPM flow great for using as a whole house softener system
Tier 1 have made an excellent water softener here which has embraced the high tech abilities available. For instance, there is an LCD display which can allow you to control the cycle times and other factors with a touch pad. You can even tell it how many people are in your family and the softener will adjust accordingly.
It has everything you need including a brine tank, valve, mineral tank and even the adapter, so you don’t need to purchase anything separately for installation.
Perhaps the best feature this has to offer is the fact that it uses such an incredibly low floor space, so if you want a hefty product which can soften the water for a whole household, but don’t have a lot of floor space to work with, you can tuck this away in a corner with no issues. It is a heavy product at well over 100 lb, but this isn’t too unusual for larger softener systems. It manages to include a 10 x 54’ mineral tank and 15 x 34 brine tank.
In tier 1’s own words, this brand stands by its products. This softener system has a 5 year warranty on the head, and 10 years on the tank itself.
This is a product sold as a ‘filtration system’, meaning there are two different softeners within the system. This gives the incredibly high capacity of 300,000 gallons.
The system is designed not just to impact the water your appliances are using and you are consuming, but also to make the air cleaner by getting rid of any chemicals which may have otherwise got into the air through steam from your shower. This not only softens but it clearly filters the whole water supply of even large homes due to its huge capacity.
It is not a salt-based system, so you don’t have to take out any of the minerals you may actually want for the water. On top of that you don’t have to hook it up to electricity or even replace any salt within the system.
This softener system certainly has plenty to offer, the dual tank design means that water can be very quickly processed so the flow rate is exceptional, and the added filtration is a real bonus.
This is an expensive softener system, however, and another drawback is that some have reported charcoal leaks from the filter. It is also pretty bulky due to the dual tank design, so won’t fit in tiny spaces.
The idea of a water softener which is salt free can be quite appealing for many of us, and with good reason. It makes it a lot simpler and means you don’t have to periodically replace salt. The Aquios FS-220 is not only salt-free and good for softening water, it also has an inbuilt filtration system which gives the added benefit of getting rid of more of the unpleasant stuff that can work its way into the water supply.
It is in our list as a budget pick and it is one of the more affordable options out there. It has no need for regeneration or creating extra waste when it comes to softening as it doesn’t regenerate, this would require salt and water to be wasted.
It is a very small, compact system which can fit in almost anyone’s home, designed to operate anywhere between 40 and 115 degrees F. Installation is relatively simple and fits with the standard pipe size in most homes. It also comes with the bracket and the materials needed to install it in your home.
This softener has received a little bit of criticism from some sources due to the fact that the filter doesn’t always last very long, and that some users have reported clogging.
A water softener is not an everyday purchase, especially if you don’t work in plumbing! For that reason, it is important to spend some time reading up on the subject, and our buying guide has been put in place to allow exactly that, showing you what you should look out for as well as why you should get a softening system in the first place.
Softeners aren’t cheap, so it is important to make sure that when you are going to make the investment you ensure you aren’t wasting your money on a product which won’t work or won’t fit in your own home and water system.
Advantages of having a top of the range water softener system
A top of the range softener usually works by allowing water to flow through resin beads which are kept within. The softener then filters out hard elements and ions within the water leaving you with soft water which doesn’t have as much of all the negative stuff you are trying to get rid of. If you live in a hard water area, this can be an especially big issue.
The benefits of having a system which can do this are surprisingly far-reaching, and can even have a money saving effect in the long run by keeping your appliances working longer. Using soft water as opposed to hard is much easier for washing machines, dishwashers and any other appliance which uses water. On top of this, it can mean better water for drinking, cooking with and even cleaning with.
Features to consider when choosing a water softener system
Water softeners don’t always work in exactly the same way, and in fact they have a lot of different features. Each softener is designed to suit a different set of circumstances so whereas some will suit a couple of people traveling in an RV, others will only suit large families in a house.
As well as having different capacities and functionality, the softeners are also made out of different materials and have different levels of technology. Some have LCD displays and are programmable whereas some work in a totally manual way. Understanding the features will ensure you can make the correct choice.
Softener grain capacity
Softeners can only work for a certain time before they need to ‘regenerate’. The regeneration process depends on each individual model and what resources they use (more on this later). “Grains” refers to the grains of hardness within the water, and therefore the ‘grain capacity’ is how many hardness grains the softener can process and soften before you need to perform the maintenance of a regeneration cycle.
Grain capacity can differ a huge amount from one model to another, and some of the portable models have a low capacity (40,000 or so) which is often fine because they aren’t processing loads of hard water. If you are in a large home with a lot of people using the water, a higher grain capacity such as the 300,000 on offer with the Aquasana Rhino Series can be exactly what you need to ensure you aren’t regenerating or adding salt all the time just to keep the softener running.
Type of media/grains used
Historically, most water softeners use salt as a part of the solution which is used to soften the water. This salt water solution can cause resin beads within to effectively grab the harder minerals and unwanted, harmful materials from the water.
Some of the systems have evolved to use different resins and this can mean you don’t have to periodically add salt. These use other solutions and filters to do the same job, and these types of filters seem to be growing in popularity.
Water flow rate
When a softener system describes the flow rate, it means how many gallons of water can flow through the softener per minute (or sometimes measured in gallons per hour). The flow rate should be linked to the amount of people within your household. Think about how much water will be used within your home. For instance, if you are likely to have multiple showers running at the same time, you need a high flow rate which will ensure that your water is sufficient and has been softened when it comes through your shower head.
Operating temperature range
Many of the softener systems will have an operating temperature range which will tell you just what temperatures the softener will be effective within. If you are living in an area where it can get either very cold or very hot then this may be more of an issue for you, so ensure you get a product that won’t stop working if the temperature drops. Many softeners can be installed in parts of your home that aren’t otherwise heated, either.
A plumbing system within a home inherently has a pressure. This is measured in PSI, much like car tires and similar. The operating pressure is the level at which the water softener system can work. For instance, if the softener said it can only work at over 40 PSI and your pressure at home is 30, then it wouldn’t work.
There are some simple methods out there for you to check the pressure of your pipes, but this won’t often be necessary as a lot of water softening systems can work at pretty much any pressure, and the PSI from home to home shouldn’t very a huge amount.
This is one of the more self-explanatory considerations when you are trying to choose the right water softener system. Some can be incredibly big and bulky such as the Whirlpool softener in our reviews. The key here is to make sure you have room for your softener!
The weight is especially a consideration if you are going to take the DIY approach to installation.
It is quite incredible how much this can alter between products as some of the water softeners on our list are under 10 lbs, others are over 100 lbs.
Be sure to check so that you don’t get a shock when the softener arrives at your front door.
Any product which is dealing with water which will eventually be either drunk, used to clean or otherwise used around the home, should only come into contact with high quality materials. Softeners are designed to improve the quality of the water, so it is utterly vital that it doesn’t touch anything that could then harm this quality. This would defeat the purpose of buying a softener in the first instance!
The materials should also be hard-wearing and long-lasting. This will ensure that you get the maximum use out of the softener system. Just like poor quality materials can damage water, they can also be damaged by water, so you need to find a product which is anti-corrosive and will not be susceptible to rust or other issues from handling water.
Just like the size and weight can vary a huge amount when it comes to water softener systems, so can the installation process. Different softener systems are designed to be installed at different stages of your plumbing inlet, and some have different connecting methods such as different threads on their connections which you need to consider when you are choosing. The main consideration will probably be whether or not you plan to install the product yourself or get the help of a plumber.
Many of the products we’ve listed as some of the best at least have the option for you to install yourself. We’ve mentioned this in the reviews to help you work out whether your ability level will allow you to install the softener without any professional help. Some of the bigger, bulkier softeners will require you to get the help of plumbers. This is especially true if you don’t have a lot of DIY experience or don’t feel confident in the process.
LCD display and touchpad controls
Having an LCD display is all the range on products like these, and gives the indication of it being high tech. The actual functional use of having an LCD display can be for indicating things such as low salt, or when the product is operating at a low temperature or even for showing you that a regeneration is required. These can sometimes be combined with touchpad controls which make it feel more like you are controlling a smartphone!
This is a great option for programming, which you can do for things such as telling the softener how many (or few) people are in your home, and it can sometimes adjust the settings accordingly to ensure there is less waste being produced.
The warranty of a product like this is something which is vital to consider. Water softeners are not something you want to be replacing every year or two, and they should be able to last many years, ideally decades. For this reason, a softener system with a short warranty should send alarm bells ringing.
While some of the portable, smaller options don’t necessarily have the five or ten year warranties we’ve come to expect from a lot of these products. If it is a cheaper, lower capacity softener then you may be happy with one or two year warranties, but don’t settle for this if you are looking for a full-house water softener. At the very least, the tank should be warrantied for a long period of time.
Regeneration times vary from one model to the next and depend on the system, whether you have to add salt and the capacity of the softener. Some models can regenerate in a matter of minutes while others may take a few hours. Refer to your manual for the guide to this for each specific product.
It is definitely true that plumbing knowledge will be a help when it comes to installing a water softener system, the products are not the most complex to install. What this means is that many can be installed in a DIY way. Manufacturers often include very detailed instructions and some even have videos that can walk you through the whole process.
To work this out, you must know roughly how hard your water is as well as how many gallons of water you are using. A very rough guide is to allow 75 gallons per person per day. If your water had 20 grains of hardness and there were two of you living there, you’d effectively be treating 3,000 grains every day (75 gallons x 2 people x 20 grains). So, if your softener has a capacity of 45,000, you will get just over two weeks before having to regenerate.
Most softener systems can be installed in homes which use well water. If you have a well, it is especially recommended that you utilize filters and softeners to improve the quality of the water.
The ABCwaters 64K-56SXT-10BB makes our top spot in terms of the very best water softeners. With a large capacity, five year warranty and clever system meaning you won’t be regenerating all the time, there is a lot to like about this softener. It isn’t the only good option out there though, and we’ve also given high ratings to some similar products.
The Pelican Water NS3 NaturSoft comes in a close second place due to the fact that it is the best salt-free system. You don’t have to worry about replacing salt, and the 99.6% effectiveness is more than enough for most people to ensure they have a far superior supply of water in their home. This even has an incredible lifetime warranty so you can rest assured that it is extremely well made!
The Pentair 5600SXT 48k Grain Water Softener is highly recommended too, and though it lacks a little in warranty, it does have a lot of other excellent features and is one of the best for installing yourself as it comes with full instructions to do so.
With so many different options all giving something a little different, it is important to take your time reading through reviews in order to ensure you get the best water softener system for your home. We hope our guide has helped this process from start to finish and walked you through the process of deciding!