If you live in an area with hard water, you’ll know it can play havoc with your kitchen appliances. Limescale clogging pipes can stop dishwashers and washing machines in their tracks, and that can be an expensive business.
Investing in a water softener is an economical fix – but how do you know which one to choose? Our guide to the best water softeners out there will give you all the information you need. Then check out our hints and tips to help make your final decision.
If you’re looking for a complete system to soften water throughout your home, check out the Tier1 Everyday Series.
It’s available in a choice of three different sizes: 32,000, 48,000 and 64,000 grain. That refers to the number of grains of hardness the system can deal with before needing to be regenerated.
Regeneration takes place automatically, and the system is clever enough to deal with different rates of use.
During set-up, you can input the number of people in your household as well as the water hardness. The system will then schedule the regeneration cycle that’s needed. About 2,500 gallons or a week’s usage between regenerations is a reasonable rule of thumb.
Regeneration takes two hours to complete. While it’s taking place, there’ll be an interruption to the water supply. Fortunately, it’s possible to adjust the timing so the inconvenience is minimized. For many households, a good time is in the dead of night.
But if an uninterrupted supply is a must, there’s also a Tier 1 system with an automatic bypass control valve. That will keep the water flowing while the system regenerates.
The system is easy to use, with a digital meter control valve and LCD display. These make programming very straightforward. And if you don’t want to play around with the settings, you can always stick with the factory pre-sets.
The one limitation with the very user-friendly controls is that they won’t let you fine-tune details. If you want to get into reserve capacity management, for example, this won’t be the right system for you.
You’ll need to add salt to the brine tank during set-up. If you want to limit sodium intake, you can use potassium chloride instead. The system is very efficient, so you won’t have to top it up often.
One of the major issues for whole-house water softening systems can be the amount of space they take up. Here, Tier1 offers a major advantage. Its precision turbine meter is incorporated inside the system bypass valve. This clever innovation saves over four square feet of floor space in comparison with systems like the Fleck.
Simple to program with user-friendly controls and LCD display
Clever space-saving design
Regeneration cycles are tailored to your levels of water use and hardness
The water supply is interrupted for two hours during regeneration
It’s not possible to fine-tune detailed technical settings.
The Fleck 56000SXT is another digital water softener for your whole house.
This model will handle 64,000 grains of hardness before the system needs to be regenerated. The two cubic feet tank comes pre-loaded with high-capacity resin. It also comes with mineral and brine tanks.
Programming is not quite as simple as the Tier1 system. The instructions aren’t particularly detailed, and you may find yourself having to do some online research.
It does, though, allow plenty of scope for customization. The LED display will show you the time of day, remaining capacity, and when a regeneration cycle is underway.
And you can choose from three different operational settings: immediate, delayed or delayed time clock meter regeneration. A microprocessor records and measures daily levels of water use, allowing the system to regenerate automatically when necessary.
The clever use of data means this system is very efficient in its use of salt and water for regeneration. A large bag of salt can last for several months, bringing significant savings in the longer term. Exactly how much salt you’ll use will depend on how hard your water is, and how much you use.
One thing to bear in mind about regeneration is that the process is quite noisy. If your system is installed anywhere near where people are sleeping, you may find it wakes them up.
Unless you’re very confident in your DIY skills, installing this system is a job for a professional. Even then, expect it to take several hours. We’ve heard some complaints that the instructions aren’t as clear as they could be. There are, though, some handy online videos that can help.
And on the plus side, the drain line can go upwards as well as downwards. That’s great if you’re installing the system in a basement and need to drain to a higher level.
Overall, then, this is a highly effective and efficient system, and it’s competitively priced too. Just be ready to spend a bit of time on the research needed to get it up and running.
If you want to prevent limescale without worrying about salt or chemicals, an electronic system may be the solution. The iSpring ED2000 uses an electric current to break down existing limescale and prevent any more from building up.
We’re stretching the definition of a water softener here, because this gadget doesn’t actually remove hard minerals from the water. It simply prevents them from turning into limescale. So it won’t lower the level of total dissolved solids in your water either.
But use this and you won’t have to worry about limescale damaging your appliances. And if you’re concerned about the salt used in traditional water softeners, it’s a good alternative.
You won’t need any adaptations to your plumbing to install it. It will work with any kind of pipes, including PEX and PVC. It’s maintenance free too – there’s no salt to add or cartridges to replace.
So how does it work?
Two cables twist in a coil around the main water pipe to produce an electromagnetic wave. This agitates the water molecules, releasing carbon dioxide. The chemical changes in the water allows the limescale to dissolve and be removed.
Over time, the treated water will also break down and remove existing deposits of limescale in the same way.
You’ll find cleaning faucets, showerheads and shower screens become much easier, with calcium deposits simply wiping off.
There are, though, some restrictions to bear in mind.
The system is designed for areas with hard water of between 10 and 19 grains of hardness. For very hard water of over 25 grains, the manufacturer recommends using a traditional softener as well as the ED2000. That might seem like one water softener too many!
And if your water is high in iron, you’ll need an iron filter before the water reaches the ED2000.
Finally, bear in mind that this won’t deal with the problems hard water can cause for laundry. The calcium and magnesium present in hard water will still be there. That means they’ll still prevent the soap mixing effectively with water. If you’ve got problems with soap residue on your clothes, this won’t help.
Very easy to install, with no adaptations to plumbing required
No maintenance needed
No salt is added to your water
Won’t actually reduce water hardness – although it stops limescale building up
Eddy’s electronic water descaler works on exactly the same principle as the iSpring. It too uses an electric current to prevent limescale forming and to soften existing deposits. It is, though, roughly a quarter more expensive. So is it worth the extra money?
Well, the systems look pretty similar. Eddy’s also attaches to your existing pipework with two coils of wire. These are responsible for producing the electric current that agitates the water molecules and deals with the limescale.
Installation is exactly the same. There’s no need for any replumbing, and it will work with any kind of pipe except lead or iron. (And who wants lead or iron pipes for their water?)
The one difference between the Eddy system and the iSpring is the warranty. Eddy is the only manufacturer of these kinds of systems to offer the reassurance of a 12-month money-back guarantee. They also offer a lifetime repair or replace guarantee too.
We think that’s a fair return for the extra spend.
Bear in mind, though, that the same limitations apply here as with other electronic descalers. This doesn’t actually reduce water hardness, so you won’t find soap or shampoo lathers any better. And it won’t deal with soap residues on laundry.
And if you have very hard water, you’ll get better results from a traditional water softener.
It will, though, effectively prevent the build-up of limescale. Your dishwashers, steam irons and washing machines will thank you for it. And you won’t have to worry about regeneration cycles, adding salt to your water, or regular maintenance.
And unlike traditional softening systems, you won’t need to find room for brine and mineral tanks. If you don’t have the luxury of extra space, it could be a great option.
Couldn’t be easier to install, use and maintain
You won’t be adding salt to your water
Comes with a 12-month money-back and lifetime repair or replace guarantee
Doesn’t reduce water hardness – so won’t improve soap lathering
As with other electronic systems, it won’t be effective if you have exceptionally hard water.
If you want a single solution for water filtration and softening, Whirlpool’s WHESFC could be the perfect choice. It will work for households of between one and five people.
As you might expect from a hybrid system, the grain capacity here isn’t as high as dedicated water softeners. It will deal with 31,000 grains of hardness before needing to be regenerated.
It is, though, just as clever in its use of data. It will record your water use in order to calculate precisely how much salt is needed for regeneration. That means you won’t waste either salt or water in the process.
The filtration system included in the unit will deal with an impressive range of contaminants.
It will reduce chlorine odors and tastes, as well as substances including lead, calcium, magnesium and manganese. It will also filter out sediment and iron, dealing with any rust stains in your bath and toilet bowls.
And unlike many other filtration systems, here there’s no filter to replace. Instead, the system cleans the carbon filter every 14 days, keeping it working efficiently.
The whole thing looks like a giant wheelie bin, minus the wheels. It stands just under four feet tall, is 18 inches wide and 19 inches deep. Installation is very easy if you have the right connectors. Be prepared to do some replumbing if you don’t. It’s still a task that can be handled by a competent DIY-er.
Programming is fairly straight forward too. And when it’s time for the system to regenerate, it’s reasonably quiet. That’s good news if you plan to do it at night – you won’t have to worry about disturbing anyone’s sleep.
The system comes with a two-year warranty. This can be extended to ten years if you use Whirlpool’s own-brand softener cleaner.
Two-in-one water softener and filter
Analyses water usage and hardness for efficient use of salt and water
Simple to install and program
The 31,000 grain capacity isn’t as big as most dedicated water softeners
You’ll need to do some replumbing if your existing connections aren’t compatible.
So far we’ve focused on whole house systems – but what if you want something simpler?
The FreshFlow water softener is designed for anyone who wants soft water specifically from their showerhead. If you long for softer hair and skin, this could be the answer. And it comes at a fraction of the price of whole-house systems.
It’s also multi-purpose. As well as softening the water for your shower, it will filter it too. That means it will get rid of any unpleasant chlorine odors. And if you’re worried about fluoride, it will remove that too.
It does all of this by passing the water through no fewer than 15 stages of filtration. These include steel mesh, activated carbon, maifan medical stone, negative ion balls and calcium sulfite.
The filter will last for between 10,000 and 12,000 gallons of water before needing to be changed. The exact lifespan will depend on the level of contaminants in your water. As a rough guide, this should mean changing the filter every six to eight months.
The filter installs just above your shower head, and it’s easy to do. The universal connections will fit all shower types, simply screwing into position. And you won’t need any tools for the job.
It also comes with a 30-day money back guarantee.
So is there anything to watch out for?
Well, the obvious limitation is that this will only soften the water for your shower. It will make no difference to kitchen appliances. And unless you routinely drink gallons of shower water, we’re not convinced the fluoride filtration is necessary.
And while the filter looks good, the construction is plastic coated with chrome. It’s not the most resilient.
But for the price of a few artisan coffees, this is an excellent solution for softer shower water.
Very cost-effective solution for softer shower water
Filters out chlorine odors too
Easy to install with no tools required
It won’t do anything to protect your household appliances from hard water damage
If you want soft water on your boat, caravan or RV, this portable water softener could be the answer.
It’s super-compact, making it easy to fit in locations where there’s not much room to spare. And despite its bijou proportions, it offers a capacity of 8,000 grains of hardness. That’s about an eighth of the biggest water softeners out there – not bad.
There are several nice features too. A large mouth makes it easy to add salt without creating a mess. And connecting to the inlet hose is easy with the shut-off control valve that swivels through 360 degrees.
It’s designed to allow high flow rates without causing a big drop in water pressure.
And when it comes to regeneration, the process is easy and no-frills. Just use a box of table salt, and the whole process will be completed in less than 15 minutes. The unit will treat anything between 325 and 375 gallons of water before regeneration is needed.
So are there any limitations?
Well, this will work brilliantly in campervans and suchlike – but it’s not the best choice for a standard domestic setting. The higher flow rate in such environments won’t soften the water as effectively.
And if you have very hard water, the system will struggle.
With such a small and lightweight water softener, perhaps those limitations aren’t surprising. But it’s those same characteristics which makes it such an excellent choice for use on the road or at sea.
Portable and lightweight – perfect for RVs, boats and campervans
Still not sure which is the right water softener for your needs? Here are some things to consider before you go shopping.
Why do you need soft water?
First of all, consider what’s driving your need for softer water.
Are you fed up of appliances stopping working because of limescale? Or do you want a better lather for laundry and bathing, and softer hair and skin?
Is hard water causing a problem in your conventional housing? Or do you need something to make life on the road – or open sea – easier?
The answers to those questions will determine what kind of water softener you need.
If you want softer water to shower, a softener that fits to your showerhead is a cost-effective option.
Alternatively, if you’re worried about limescale build-up throughout the house, an electronic descaler has lots of advantages. Its easy to install and requires no maintenance. But it won’t make soap dissolve in your water any better.
And if you want softer water everywhere, a traditional whole-house water system can’t be beaten. But it is more expensive, takes up more room and requires regular maintenance. If you’re on a low sodium diet, replace the salt with potassium chloride to regenerate the system.
Finally, if you want a system you can use in an RV or on a boat, look for something lightweight and portable. And make sure it will work with low flow rates.
What kind of maintenance regime are you prepared to follow?
If you’re looking for a traditional whole-house water softener, you’ll need to do a bit of maintenance. The key task is making sure there’s sufficient salt – or potassium chloride – to regenerate the system.
How often the system needs to regenerate will depend on its capacity, measured in grains of hardness. The higher the number of grains, the larger the capacity of the tank. That means it will need to be regenerated less often. And that means you’ll have to add salt less often too.
And if limescale is your main concern, consider an electronic descaler. With these, you’ll never have to add salt. They really are pretty much maintenance-free.
Do you want filtration too?
If you’re concerned about water quality, you might want to consider systems that come with a filter. Softeners that double as water filters can save space. And some never need the filter to be changed, saving on maintenance costs.
Just make sure you check the credentials to make sure it will handle the specific contaminants you’re concerned about. And if you’re using a showerhead system, remember there’s little point in removing contaminants that only matter in drinking water.
Ready to choose your water softener?
That brings us to the end of our round-up of the best water softeners out there. We hope we’ve helped demystify the wide range of options on the market.
Our favorite is the Eddy electronic water descaler. It’s a great choice if you want to avoid limescale build-up, and it couldn’t be easier to install and run.
But if you want softer water for bathing and laundry, go for the Fleck 5600SXT. It has unbeatable capacity and is incredibly efficient.
It’s time to choose – and to start enjoying the benefits of softer water!