What is a water softener
It is a water treatment system that removes the water hardening minerals (calcium and magnesium),that’s what a salt based water softener does.
A water softener sometimes might just eliminate the effects of hard water without eliminating the water hardening minerals at all,that is what a salt free water softener does.
What to consider when buying a water softener
Choosing between a traditional salt based water softener and a salt free water softener requires you to know how hard your water is and other health considerations.
In this in depth article, i explain almost all you need to know about water softeners,from choosing the right one and how to maintain one
How hard is my water
Before you buy any water softener system, you must test your water for its hardness. Knowing your water hardness level enables you to consider which cost effective water softener works best to solve your hard water problems.
It is highly recommended that you buy a water test kit to measure your water hardness, amounts of chlorine as well as deadly toxins. You can get this test kit on Amazon or at your nearest home improvement store
The level of water hardness is measured by the number of grains of the ‘hard minerals’ per gallon (GPG).Some prefer to measure the severity of hardness by parts per million (PPM).
If you want to convert grains per gallon (GPG) into parts per million (PPM), you multiply your GPGs by 17.1 .So in short, 1GPG is equivalent to 17.1 PPM
Technically speaking, water that contains at least 1GPG of dissolved ‘hard minerals’ is termed ’hard’. But in reality, water that has a GPG of less than or equal to 3.5GPG is relatively soft .
Realistically, hard water contains at least 3.6 GPG of calcium and magnesium. Water with hardness ranging from 3.6 GPG and 10.4GPG is classified as moderately hard.
Anything from 10.5 GPG and above is classified as very hard. Well water is classified as very hard water in most cases.
For water that has a hardness level of less than 3.6, we recommend that you buy a simple water descaler like the ISpring Descaler reviewed below.
For water that has a hardness ranging between 3.6 and 10.4, a water descaler might not eliminate your water hardness problems completely .We highly recommend an AquaSana water conditioner or a traditional water softener instead.
Having this information beforehand ensures you don’t expect too much or too little upon purchase.
For example, buying an expensive salt based water softener when your water hardness levels are below 3.6 GPG, is a waste of money. You would rather buy a much cheaper electronic descaler at a fraction as this is enough to solve your hard water problems.
On the other hand if your hardness levels are above 20GPG, buying an electronic descaler will be expecting too much from this water conditioning gadget.
If your water hardness is that much, a salt based water softener will be best fit for the mammoth task
What size of a water softener do i need
You have to buy a water softener system that will condition enough water for your household.
The amount of clean water that a water softener produces depends on the flow rate of your house as well as the hardness level of your water.
To determine the quantity of hard water that needs to be softened to meet your daily needs as a household, we use the following formula.
Multiply the water hardness level by your daily water use
Let’s use a practical example:
Hardness level: 25GPG
Daily water use: 4 people X 68 Gallons per day =272 gallons
Daily water softening requirement: 25 Grains per gallon X 272 Gallons=6800 grains per day
You should note that a water softener is normally sized to regenerate roughly once per week although you can adjust it to suit your needs.
So let’s put this into perspective now using the above example, the capacity of the water softener should be as follows:
6800 grains X 7 days =47600 grains
So in this case a Pentair 48000 Grain capacity water softener will be the most ideal. This is the Soft Water Expert’s water softener system of choice. I give it an overall rating of 4.9 stars. You can read the full review here
Does the system use electricity
You have to seriously consider this factor before you buy a water softener for your home.
Some water softening systems like electronic descalers can only work when connected to the grid. So it might not be ideal for one to buy an electronic water softener when you live in the countryside or you live in your RV.
So to avoid disappointment, please do yourself a favor by finding out if the system you want to purchase uses electricity or not
Is it a whole house system or not
A whole house water softener is a system that softens your water at the main supply pipe level. This option is ideal if there is need for soft water all around the house.
If you need soft water for bathing, cooking and washing dishes, then a whole house system might make life easy for you. If you need soft water for just one thing like cooking only, then a small under the sink system might work just fine
Which technology does the water softener use
Your water hardness levels might determine which type of water softener to buy
If your water hardness levels are below 26 GPG, a salt free water softener can work well. Salt free technologies include descaling and SCM technology which i will elaborate in a moment.
Basically they change the structure of the dissolved hard minerals so that they won’t stick to each other and form lime scale .Using these 2 technologies solves the water hardness problems for 48 hours only ,so it’s not a permanent solution .
If your water hardness levels are above 25GPG, a salt based water softener is highly recommended .
Salt based water softeners use the ion exchange technology which I will explain in detail below. Basically they take all the hardness causing minerals (calcium and magnesium) out of your water.
Using the ion exchange technology, once water has been softened, it’s permanently soft
So you have to test your water hardness levels first before you determine which technology to use to soften your water
Water softener maintenance costs
When you determine the cost of acquiring a water softener system for your house, there are many other hidden costs that you have to consider as well. You spent a lot of money once off when buying a water softener but might also spend a fortune to maintain it overtime.
The maintenance costs include buying bags of salt, replacing the cartridges etc.
The cost of buying a water softener depends with the type you are interested in .
Generally electronic water descalers cost between $149 to $199 per unit. Electronic water descalers have almost zero maintenance costs.
Salt free water conditioners(non – electronic) cost around $1000.It might sound expensive but the good part of it is that you won’t fork out much on maintaining the system.
A salt free water softener(conditioner) like the Aquasana does not need any salt to condition water neither does it waste water by back-washing
Salt based water softeners are relatively cheaper than salt free water conditioners .
Whole house salt based water softeners normally costs between $400 to $1500 depending with capacity and the special features of the unit.
Although they might be relatively cheaper, salt based water softeners are costly to maintain as you have to constantly buy salt and cartridges for the water softener system to continue working optimally
Water softener types
There are two broad types of water softeners in use today. These are salt based water softeners and salt free water softeners .
Under the salt free category you find the electronic water descalers and water conditioners(they descale water but not electronically)
Although salt free softeners are becoming very popular these days due to their low maintenance costs, the traditional salt based water softeners still remain the gold standard especially for very hard water.
Below I will explain each and every type in greater detail.
How does a water softener work
How an electronic water descaler work
A number of wires are tied around the main water supply pipes.
The water descaler creates a magnetic waveform when connected to electricity. This ever changing waveform results in alteration of the chemical structure of the dissolved hardness causing minerals in water.
The end result of this complicated process is that the hardness causing minerals are suspended in water so that they won’t stick to the inside of water pipes and water using appliances .
By suspending the hardness causing minerals, the electronic water descaler prevents scale build-up and dissolves existing scale with time
How a water conditioner work
The most popular water conditioning technology in use these days is the SCM (Scale Control Media) which is the innovation from Aquasana.
The dissolved water hardening ions are changed into inactive microscopic crystals by altering their structure. The altered minerals cannot bind together to form scale build-up. The existing lime scale is dissolved with time.
Benefits of a salt free water softener
Good for those on low salt diet. It has been proven over the years by veteran scientists that salt exacerbate heart failure, weight gain as well as edema.
Because this system does not use salt, it is the best type of a water softener for those with heart and blood pressure complications .
So if you don’t have any of the above mentioned health complications, you can still buy a salt based water softener if you believe that it can perform the water softening business better .
It is environmentally friendly .When salt based water softeners discharge saline (salty) water into rivers, most aquatic life will die as a result.
This system doesn’t interfere negatively with aquatic life as does salt based water softeners
Dissolves existing scale and prevents scale build up. What scale does is that it corrodes the inside of water pipes, plumbing fixtures and water using appliances like washing machines and water heaters .
The salt less water softener ensures that existing scales are broken as it also prevents scale build-up with time.
So installing a whole house salt less water softener will ensure that your appliances and plumbing lasts for a long time
Cheap and easy maintenance .Once you buy a salt less water softener, you ‘install and forget’.
Unlike salt based water softeners which need addition of salt from time to time, there is no need for consumables like salt when using salt less water softeners.
There is no need for back-washing and drainage of waste water when using a non-salt based water softener .In other words there is virtually no maintenance needed for a salt less water softener to continue working
.Generally salt free water softeners are relatively cheaper to maintain than their counterparts (salt based water softeners).
If you have the necessary equipment ,you can install it yourself (DIY) without any need for a professional plumber
Retains healthy minerals. Salt free water softener systems do not remove magnesium and calcium from water
.Salt free water softener system crystallizes these calcium and magnesium to eliminate the challenges of hard water without actually removing these healthy minerals.
Calcium and magnesium are critical for preventing osteoporosis and maintaining healthy bones
Disadvantages of a salt less water softener
It does not remove the hardness causing minerals like calcium and magnesium.
What salt-less water softeners simply do is that they delay the effects of hard water but do not eliminate the hardness causing minerals.
Salt-less water softeners suspend the dissolved hardness minerals for up to 48 hours so that they won’t stick to the inside of water pipes.
So salt-less water softeners do not render any permanent solution to hard water
Might incur an added cost of redoing your plumbing. Electronic water softeners do not work with iron and lead pipes.
So if your plumbing is made out of iron or lead, you need to change your plumbing to PEX or PVC
When to choose a salt free water softener
When your water hardness is less than 26GPG
When you use municipal or city water. City water normally has a hardness which is not more than 25 GPG.If you use well water, then you have to forget about a salt free water softener as well water hardness is above 25GPG in most cases
If you are on a low salt diet. Unlike the traditional salt based water softener, a salt free water softener does not leave salt in your drinking and cooking water.
Salt has been proven to exacerbate heart failure and other cardiovascular conditions .
Medical doctors normally recommend heart patients to reduce their intake of salt so as to combat these cardiovascular conditions.
Salt based water softener
This is the most effective and popular water softening system that you can ever find out there.
This type of water softener outperforms the salt free water softeners by far as it actually removes the hardness causing minerals from your water permanently
How does a water softener work: Salt based system
Salt based water softeners use a natural process termed ion exchange.
As hard water passes through a salt (sodium chloride) soaked resin bed, water hardening minerals are trapped onto the resins .
The soft ions (sodium) on the resins are released into the hard water. This cycle happens until the next regeneration/recharging.
You might be wondering what regeneration is
.As the system softens water again and again, the salt on the resins gets depleted .When the salt on the resins becomes low, ion exchange won’t be all that efficient .
That’s when regeneration comes in.
Recharging is when salt is added to the brine tank so that the resins get soaked again with enough salt for optimum ion exchange .
The resin bed gets rinsed of all the magnesium and calcium and finally flushed out of the system via the drain with waste water
The resin beads also traps some debris and with time the debris compromises the efficiency of the water softener .The compromise might be in the form of reduced flow rate. That’s when back-flushing comes in .
Back-flashing is a cleaning process whereby water is forced into the water softener system via the outlet valve. When the system is clean, the flow rate and efficiency is greatly improved
Benefits of a salt based water softener
Can soften even the hardest water you can think of. Most electronic water softeners can soften water with a hardness of up to 20GPG only .
If you test your water hardness and get a result of more than 20GPG,don’t worry as a salt based water softener can perform the job very well
It can soften water permanently. Unlike salt less water softeners which only delay the effects of hard water by 48 hours, salt based water softeners eliminate the hardness causing minerals(calcium and magnesium ) from water
Lathering of soaps improves. Because the hardness causing minerals would have been eliminated, lathering of soaps becomes more effective.
When soaps lather more effectively, you use less soap. Some users of salt based water softeners have reported a massive reduction in the amount of soap used by up to 50%
Prolonged lifespan of your plumbing and water using appliances. Corrosion of water using appliances is caused by accumulation of water hardening minerals (calcium and magnesium) which form scale.
When calcium and magnesium are eliminated from water, corrosion will be terminated immediately, thereby prolonging the lifespan of your plumbing and water using appliances.
Shorter cooking time. When water is soft, it takes much less time to heat it to a boiling point. Shorter cooking times also translates to a longer lifespan of your pots
Disadvantages of a salt based water softener
This type might be a drawback for those on low salt diet. This system softens water by replacing hard minerals (calcium and magnesium) in water with salt.
A lot of researchers have mentioned salt as one of the most common factors that exacerbate heart failure
High maintenance costs. You need to replace the resin bed every 5 to 10 years as well as buying bags of salt from time to time
Water is wasted. When you perform a recharge and back-flushing ,water is wasted down the drain
Not eco-friendly. During regeneration, salty water is discharged into the rivers, where aquatic life succumbs to the effects of salt.
Space issues. Unlike salt free water softeners which are compact, most salt based water softeners are bulky and need enough space for the unit and drainage system.
When to use a salt based water softener
Any water regardless of its hardness as this type can soften even the hardest water
Water softener reviews
Fleck water softener brief review
The Fleck water softener is a high capacity system designed to service a household of 4 to 6 members.
The 10 year and 5 year warranties on the tank and valves respectively makes it the most popular system for many prospective and current users.
You can use the softened water in 3 bathrooms simultaneously without noticing much decrease in pressure.
In the mini review below I highlight some of the features and specifications of the Fleck water softener
Features and specifications
It is a whole house water softener system
It is a salt based water softener
The Fleck water softener uses ion exchange to soften water
Can easily install the system with limited to no plumbing skills .All you need is to read the easy to understand manual
On demand regeneration saves you some dollars as usage of salt is significantly reduced
The safety float ensures that there are no water messes
Can work under temperatures of up to 120° F or 43 Degrees Celsius
You can have peace of mind as this system has an outstanding 10 year warranty
Replacement parts can be bought locally as this system is made in the USA
The Fleck water softener is weather proof as this can be installed outside
Ideal for a home of not more than 3000 square feet
It uses A/C current to perform its work
Ideal for a family of about 5 people on average
Can soften hard to extremely hard water like well water
Removes healthy minerals like calcium which are important for healthy bones .So if you buy this system, you might find it necessary to buy a remineralization filter.
You have to constantly check the level of salt left in the brine tank as this particular system doesn’t have a low salt alert/indicator
On the Go OTG4 Small Water Softener brief review
Regarded as the largest portable RV water softener system on the market, this water softener has got a capacity of 16 000 grains.
In the brief review below I highlight some of the specifications and features of this small and yet powerful water softener
Specifications and Features
A space saver. It measures 22 x 9.5 x 9.5 inches only
You don’t need to buy a special hose to connect your water softener to the park faucet as you can still use a standard hose
Can operate under temperatures of up to 110o F
Technology used by this system to soften water is ion exchange
Can make between 3 to 4 gallons of soft water per minute
Regeneration takes around 30 minutes to complete
Does not use electricity
Can be installed easily without need for specialized tools
Can service a household of up to 3 members
Has an option of using potassium chloride instead of salt for regeneration. This might be the best option for those who need a traditional water softener and yet are on a low salt diet
Can be used by RVers, marine owners, campers as well as small apartment owners
The large mouth on top of the unit makes it easy to pour salt into the system
Easy to transport as the rope handle makes it easy to move the unit from one place to the other
The unit has got a sturdy and stable base
Comes with a 1 year warranty although it does not cover damages due to negligence and lack of proper and regular maintenance
iSpring Electronic water softener brief review
The iSpring electronic water softener is a maintenance free unit that does not use salt.
Because iSpring knows that their product is the best, they allow you to use it up to 1 year after which you can decide to keep it or return it and get a refund. That is how confident they are with their product.
Below are some highlights on the features and specifications of the iSpring Electronic descaler
Features and specifications
This unit softens water using a technology called descaling explained in detail above
Lightweight. This unit and the packaging have got a combined weight of only 2.69 pounds
Compact. This unit measures only 7 x 3.5 x 2 inches. One of the most compact electronic water descalers out there
Does not remove hard minerals from water, it simply suspends them in water so that lime scale won’t build up .
In simple terms, it delays the effects of hard water for 48 hours from the time the water is descaled .
If the system does not remove calcium and magnesium , lathering of soaps might improve but not that significant
Maintenance free. This system does not use salt neither does it need any replacement of filters
You need to change your plumbing. If you have iron and lead pipes installed, the descaling technology does not work on these pipes .You definitely need to change to PEX or PVC
Uses electricity. If you live in the countryside where there is no electricity, this system might not be for you .
This unit does not have internal power back up in case of power outage .If you need to continue getting descaled water when there is power outage, you need to get yourself an Uninterrupted Power Supply(UPS).
For this unit to work more effectively, the water hardness levels should not exceed 19 GPG
The Georgian based company (iSpring) promises lifetime support for their customers
Installation process takes about 15 minutes. All you need is to follow the instructions in the easy to understand manual, you don’t to be a tech savvy at all.
This system might expose you to nickel .In some isolated cases,Nickel has been identified as one of the causes of birth defects in California
Aquasana water conditioner brief review
This high capacity salt free system is both a water conditioner and filter.
So when you use this system, it would be more like killing two birds using one stone.
It has been selling very well online with most customers rating the system very high
Below I highlighted some of the specifications and features in brief
Specifications and features
This system uses scale control media technology (SCM) to soften water. SCM technology is explained above in detail
Bulky. This system weighs around 42 pounds .Lifting this unit might be a challenge for those with back pain problems.
The brass fittings that come with the system makes it easy to install and maintain the water softener system
The Sub-Micron Post-Filter guarantees another layer of protection from microscopic cysts
It is a whole house water softener system
It eliminates harmful pesticides, chlorine and mercury from water
This system does not use electricity, so it can be used in the countryside without a problem.
Does not eliminate hard minerals from water but simply suspends them in water so that they won’t form lime scale.
This unit is suitable for use by a household with 2-4 members and not more than 2 bathrooms
Flow rate is 7 gallons per minute
Works optimally when the water hardness level is not more than 25 GPG
The system comes with 2 tanks. The two tanks increases the contact time of water with the media
This system is a 2 in 1 system as it acts as a filter and water conditioner at the same time
1 Million gallons of water can pass through the main filter before a replacement is needed .This is how durable it is.
It is a maintenance free system as it does not need constant addition of bags of salt for regeneration .The only maintenance that is needed is to change the filters once in a while
Although the UV option of this system is more expensive than the other two options, it ensures that all micro-organisms including bacteria are killed
Best whole house water softener: Pentair 5600 SXT Review
This is a high end water softener of its kind as it comes with so many extras that other traditional water softeners doesn’t have .
The control head is endowed with a lot of automation and error detection mechanisms.
The LCD display shows the state of the system at a glance, if there are any errors on the system, the error codes will be displayed on the LCD screen. This makes it easy to troubleshoot the problem as fast as you can .
This unit has got a staggering capacity of 48 000 grains .
The Fleck valve has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt to last for 27 years, that’s how durable it is.
Below I will highlight some important features and specifications in brief.
Specifications and features
Manufactured by a veteran water softener expert(Pentair) with over 50 years’ experience under its belt
Capacity of 48000 grains .Its huge capacity is the main reason why it is considered as the best whole house water softener by big house owners
It uses electricity
The tanks are durable as they are made of poly-glass
10 year warranty on the tank
You can install the system by yourself even though you are not even well-versed with plumbing technology. Just use the manuals and installation guide provided with the purchase
Water wastage is greatly reduced as metered on demand is used .Metered on demand is a technology which ensures that regeneration is done whenever its necessary to do so
The unit is bulky .It might not be ideal for those with small apartments as it needs enough space to set it up
Ideal for a household of 3-5 members
This system can soften very dry water like well water
The valve has a staggering 5 year warranty
The system has a 48 hour power back up, so don’t worry when there is a power outage
I personally consider this as the best whole house water softener so far.
Eddy ED200 Water descaler
This electronic water descaler is one of the most loved salt free water softeners for so many reasons.
Chief among the reasons why many people are drooling for it is the low maintenance cost associated with it.
This summarized review will touch on the most important things you need to know before you make your final decision to buy or not
Features and Specifications
Technology used by this system to condition water is descaling
It’s one of the most compact water conditioners you can find on the market so far .It measures 6.7 x 1.6 x 3.5 inches
This unit needs electricity for it to work
Comes with a 12 month money back guarantee
Comes with a lifetime repair and replace guarantee
This unit does not remove calcium and magnesium from your water. Calcium and magnesium have been proven to help build and maintain healthy bones
Simply install and forget. This unit is maintenance free
It is Eco-friendly as it does not discharge salty water into stream and rivers
It’s cheap, it costs only a small fraction of a salt based water softener
It is a light weight system
Manufactured by a veteran in water conditioning systems .Eddy has got about 15 years’ experience
The system won’t work if your plumbing is made out of iron or lead
Ideal for homes with water hardness levels of not more than 20 GPG and not more than 2 bathrooms
The system does not have an inbuilt power backup .So for you to continuously enjoy conditioned water even when there is a power outage; it is highly recommended to have an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) system.
Water softener maintenance
To avoid your whole system from breaking down, you should maintain it .
In this guide I am going to impart some Do It Yourself (DIY) skills that can help you keep your water softener in working condition.
Refill the salt at least once a month
I recommend that you check your brine tank every month to check whether it’s necessary or not to replenish the salt.
Try to create a habit of checking your brine tank on a regular basis. If you think that you might forget about it, just set a reminder on your cell phone.
When re- filling the brine tank with salt, make sure that you replenish up to half tank.
Make sure you use the correct type of salt
You must read the user manual which comes with the unit very carefully before you buy the salt to use with the system.
Water softeners have got their own special salt; they don’t use the common table salt of course. Water softeners use salt in crystal form or cube shaped.
Conduct a visual inspection
You should always check every month or 2 if the salt levels in the brine tank are normal. Doing this ensure that bridging is prevented .
Bridging is the term we use in water treatment industry to describe a build-up of salt in the brine tank.
The build-up restricts the movement of salt to the mineral tank. As a result of this anomaly ,the salt won’t be able to reach the resin beads hence the resin beads are not cleaned.
If the resin beads are not cleaned with salty water for a long time, you will start experiencing hard water problems again just as before .
You might be asking yourself: what the solution to this is. Well, if bridges form, simply remove them using a stick
Always use a pre-filter
Municipal water normally comes with some sediments which could have accumulated along the way to your house.
Adding a pre-filtration system to your water softener system ensures that these sediments do not get into ports of the softener and harm it. So in other words adding a pre-filter extends the life of your water softener.
Water softener installation
I came up with a step by step installation guide to make your first experience with a water softener easy. Make sure you follow these instructions
Make sure you read the installation manual first
Read and follow the instructions as they are written in the product manual.
Installation guides are not always uniform; they differ from one manufacturer to the other. This is the first step before continuing with the next step
Position the tanks in the proper places
Make sure the installation site is tidy and clean and then position the tank(s) in the proper places
You must turn off your main water supply
You should do this as a precautionary measure. Turn off all water using appliances directly connected to the main water supply like water heaters etc.
Drain all water left in your pipes
Open all faucets around your house to drain all the water left in the pipes .Once done, proceed to the next stage below
Now for the detailed explanation on how to install the water softener yourself, watch the video below courtesy of izcoffeesz