Water softening systems – Buying guide
How we choose the best water softener systems
This list of the best water softeners was compiled using thorough research and our years of professional expertise. We judged products on the features consumers are most interested in, including the type of water softener, it is capacity for different family sizes, ability to also filter water and remove iron, and any unique characteristics that set it apart from competitors.
The benefits of a water softener
Homeowners with mild to heavy hard water, which may cause blocked pipes and leaking faucets, should consider purchasing a water softener. Because of the high concentration of minerals in hard water, it may cause discoloration in laundry and discoloration in dishes, as well as causing hair and skin to become dry and brittle.
All of these problems may be solved by using a water softener, which prevents heavy minerals from binding or moving through water. When you use softened water, your skin and hair regain their elasticity. Using a water softener also extends the life of your clothing and reduces the amount of time you spend cleaning. Use a water softener to :
- Safeguard your plumbing against scale accumulation
- Use fewer detergents and soaps
- save your hard-earned cash over time
- Leave your hair and skin feeling softer and cleaner.
- Clean and sanitize your clothing.
- Make dishes easier to clean
- Reduce the overall time you spend cleaning
Types of water softener
Ion exchange softeners, salt-free conditioners, reverse osmosis filters, and electro-magnetic water softeners are the 4 main categories of softeners.
Ion exchange and salt-free water softening systems have mainly been discussed in this article. But other options are out there that may be right for certain households with specific needs. Before making a purchase, it is important to analyze the differences between each type of softening system.
Some of the reasons why people choose salt-free water softeners are as follows: a water conditioner does not add anything to water. A salt-free water softener does not need chemicals, salt, or potassium to do its job. The minerals in the water remain unchanged.
The difference between salt-free and salt-based softeners is that salt-free softeners just condition water, whereas salt-based softeners actively reduce water hardness. As a result, it changes the water hardening minerals, making them less effective in adhering to surfaces. This is referred to as Template Assisted Crystallization in certain circles (TAC).
The primary advantage is that no chemicals or salt are required for water conditioning. These alternatives to salt-based systems are also often less costly and easier to maintain. However, they are not recommended for use in exceptionally hard water and may not be successful in eliminating chlorine, pesticides, herbicides, and other contaminants from drinking water.
Ion Exchange Softeners
Softening water using an ion-exchange or cation-exchange water softeners is the most straightforward and traditional softening method.
Sodium and potassium ions are exchanged for water ions. This process eliminates the ions responsible for water hardness. This is a result of chemistry. Minerals have an electric charge because they are ionic.
Ion-exchange water softeners include three components:
- Softening resin is embedded with a layer of microbeads.
- Brine tank– The brine tank stores salt for regenerating the resin bed.
- On top of the resin tank, the control unit or control valve is located, which controls flow over the resin. Every water softener has a brain, and that brain controls the whole system.
Because calcium and magnesium ions have a larger positive charge than sodium, the resin bed draws them when water flows through the system. It’s yet another way to do ion exchange.
The softener’s exchange media is coated with sodium ions during this ion-exchange process. As hard water is sent through a softener, calcium and magnesium ions are exchanged for sodium ions.
In addition, it eliminates these hardness ions, which reverses the effects of the water. You’ll save money in the long run if you keep your appliances in good working order by keeping them clean and dry at all times
Reverse osmosis softeners
Reverse osmosis softeners work by forcing pollutants through a semi-permeable membrane. Using reverse osmosis eliminates up to 98 percent of pollutants such as fluoride and minerals from water.
Reverse osmosis filters purify water more effectively than most types of water filters. They also reduce hard minerals, though at a much slower rate than softener-specific devices.
If you don’t mind the restriction in flow rate, using reverse osmosis produces highly pure water in your house. It’s possible to receive bottled-water grade water directly in your own house. Filters should be replaced every 6 months to a year. The system may last 10-12 years.
If you don’t have access to an electrically powered resin-based ion exchange water softener, you may want to consider using a magnetic device, which softens water by passing it through a magnetic field.
The concept behind this system is to place a strong magnet on the outside of your pipe; the magnet will draw or change the ions in your water before it reaches your home’s plumbing system. Flowing water is best for this method—it doesn’t function on stationary water, such as water in a tank.
Do I Need a Water Softener?
To find out levels of water hardness in your region, look at the water hardness map or perform a home water test. Before you choose which system to install, be sure it can address your unique water hardness issues.
The following are some of the most typical indications of hard water:
Scale deposits in pipes and appliances
There are several problems associated with hard water, but scaling is the most common one. Why? Because the accumulation of scale deposits can clog anything from plumbing fixtures to hot water appliances and even whole home water systems.
Scaling causes water flow rates and pressure to decrease over time. Eventually, pipes will wear out, your dishwasher will leak, and the lifespan of your appliances will be reduced by a few years.
Look for signs of scale on the heating elements of washing machines, water heaters, coffee makers, etc.
Hard water, when combined with soap, causes unattractive stains on any surfaces it comes into contact with, including bathroom fixtures, shower trays and doors, kitchen appliances, and plates and glasses.
Shampoos and soaps not lathering
The mineral composition of hard water affects the way that soaps and detergents lather, meaning that you won’t get the same frothy bubbles you might usually expect. You’ll also likely need to spend more money on laundry and shower products.
The same properties of hard water that make it difficult for soaps to lather can also affect the integrity of clothing and bedding. When repeatedly washed in hard water, fabrics can become though, scratchy, and faded.
Dry skin & hair
Many people complain of dry skin and hair after bathing in water with high levels of hard minerals. You may also find it more difficult to wash soap from your skin.
How to Install a Water Softener
Most water softeners come with a handbook, so reading the user guide is a good place to begin. Installing a water softening system might require professional input, so it’s important to have a good grasp of basic plumbing or other home maintenance skills if you’re planning to install it by yourself.
Regardless of the system, the installation process for most softeners follows the same or comparable procedures:
- Before you begin, make sure you have all the necessary supplies and a level surface where you can set your unit. Ensure that the platform is flat and dry.
- Measure the system to determine how much of your water line you’ll need to remove, then cut the pipe and connect the softener input and output fittings.
- The next step is to attach and program the water softener head and connect the discharge line in accordance with the manual’s directions.
- Before filling your softener, it is necessary to turn on all of the water outlets in your home. In addition, shut off the electricity and water heater.
- Once everything’s ready and you turn the power and water back on, you should initiate the backwash stage of your softener.
- Allow the conditioner to run through the backwash cycle while you finish things off. Your screws and nuts should be tightened to the point where they won’t come loose, and any plastic threading should be lined with Teflon Tape.
- Lastly, examine the installation for any leaks.
How much do water softeners cost?
Type, size, brand, and other features all factor into how much a water softener will cost.
A basic ion exchange system might cost anything from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Water conditioners tend to be less expensive.
Don’t forget to factor in the costs of installation and ongoing maintenance, including the price of periodic salt replacements.
Remember that a water softener will pay for itself in the long run when your household appliances and pipes are still in perfect shape years down the line!
Finding Your Hard Water Level
To find out how hard your water is, all you have to do is check its calcium content.
To test your water hardness, buy a hardness test kit (online or at your local hardware shop) or mail a sample to an independent or local college lab.
However, the simplest method for determining your hard water level is to check your water supply’s most recent Water Quality Report. All public suppliers in the US are required to produce this annual report that breaks down the makeup of their water in exact detail. This includes contaminants, risks, and mineral composition.
If you get your water from a private domestic well, then there is no water quality report to refer to, so you’ll need to perform your own tests.
Over half of American households have water that is moderately or severely hard, according to the USGS.
Salt-based softeners vs. Salt-free water conditioners
Experts generally agree that water softeners are superior at removing scale than salt-free water conditioners. This is because they tend to be more effective at treating water with a greater hardness level.
But salt-free water conditioners have their legitimate use cases. They have a number of benefits, such as:
- Conditioners can remove pre-existing scale deposits in a plumbing system
- Conditioners require little upkeep.
- You don’t have to deal with cumbersome salt bags
- People on a salt-restricted diet will appreciate the fact that no salt is added to the water – also good for the environment and sewage systems
- There is no need for regeneration, thus there is no downtime and no waste
In general, a water softener is easy to maintain. The key task is adding additional salt to the brine tank when the system begins to run low. However, you can do more to guarantee that your system functions smoothly and efficiently:
- Once a year, drain and clean the brine tank, then set the regeneration timer for the next night.
- Resin cleanser is recommended for water that has significant concentrations of iron, manganese, or tannins.
- Remove salt bridging or mushing from the brine tank if necessary.
- Make sure the float switch is able to move freely.
- Every few months, inspect the brine injector.
- O-rings should be inspected and replaced if necessary.
- Maintain the bypass valve’s lubrication by exercising it.