If you live in an area with hard water, you might not realize the harmful effects this can have on so many aspects of your life. Hard water can ruin your home's pipes and hurt appliances such as the coffee maker, the dishwasher and the icemaker in your refrigerator. It can even damage your skin and make your hair look drab. Luckily, the right type of water softener can protect your house from clogged pipes and subsequent water leaks and lengthen the life of your household appliances.
The trick is to pick the right water softener for your home. To do that, you will need to know a few things about hard water, as well as the different types of water softeners on the market. Armed with this knowledge, you can read our water softener reviews and choose the best water softener to fix hard water problems in your household.
Which Is the Best Water Softener for Your Home?
There are several factors to consider when choosing a home water softener system. Among other things, you need to think about how much water your household uses overall so that you get a softener with a high enough flow rate. You'll also want to figure out how much softening power you need, and it's helpful to decide first how much maintenance you're willing to undertake.
Best Flow Rate
Flow rate measures how quickly a water softening system produces conditioned water. You need to weigh this against your average and peak household water use. Most softener manufacturers provide a maximum flow rate in gallons per minute (gpm) for their products so you can calculate what will work best. Products like the US Water Aquatrol have flow rates as 20 gpm. You can call your local water district to get information about the average and peak water use in your home.
Best Softening Capacity
Water softeners' capacities are typically measured in grains per gallon (gpg) so you can calculate your water's hardness. Most water utilities provide detailed water quality reports that include your water's hardness, or you can purchase a test kit and check it yourself. You can subtract this value from your water's original hardness rating to get an estimate of the system's output hardness level.
Salt home water softeners usually provide a rating for how much hardness they remove from your water. Water with a rating of 1 gpg or lower is considered soft. A rating of 7 gpg or more is considered hard. Saltless systems do not remove minerals; they change the minerals to inert forms, so these units do not affect water hardness. Some of General Electric’s salt-based water softeners have a very high softening capacity.
Best Maintenance Requirements
All water softeners require some periodic maintenance. Salt softeners, such as Morton water softeners, require regular additions of salt, plus power to run the regeneration cycle, so they'll show up on your electricity bill. The salt-free water softeners usually have filters that you need to replace on a regular basis. It is good to think about the ongoing costs and work required when choosing a water softening system.
Once you have installed a home water softener, you can expect your plumbing to be much safer, with far less risk of leaks that can damage or even destroy your property. In addition, your water will feel and taste the way you want it to, and you will get the results you prefer when it comes to laundry, showers, baths and household appliances. When you have the right water softener for your home, you can relax and enjoy the short- and long-term benefits of this investment in your property, clothing, home appliances and health.
Hard Water Facts
Hard water is water that carries a high mineral content. It occurs when water moves through areas that contain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and sometimes manganese or other minerals, which are absorbed into the water. The presence of these minerals is not harmful to humans as far as health matters go, but they can be problematic in daily living.
These minerals produce scale deposits that, over time, can clog plumbing pipes to such an extent that it slows water movement or even blocks it altogether. With blockage, you can end up with water leaks that seriously damage your property and are costly to repair.
In addition, the presence of these minerals can be troublesome on an aesthetic level. They can leave spots or an unsightly film on shower doors and drinking glasses, reduce the effectiveness of soaps and detergents, make your laundry look dull and dingy, and create a tough-to-remove ring around the water level in your toilet.
How Does a Water Softener Work?
Traditionally, water softeners have replaced the minerals in hard water with sodium using a process called ion exchange. There are two tanks inside this type of water softener. One holds little polystyrene beads, sometimes referred to as resin beads or zeolite, while the other holds salt and a liquid brine. Water flows through the resin tank, and the positively charged molecules in the water are drawn to the negatively charged resin beads. The minerals attach themselves to the beads and the water takes on sodium ions.
The result is water that contains salt rather than minerals. Water softened with salt does not leave scale deposits, so your pipes and appliances are better off. It has a kind of "slick" feeling, and soaps or detergents produce far more bubbles in this water than in hard water. People with dry skin generally like salt-softened water because the minerals that dry out their skin are not present. Water treated this way also does a good job cleaning clothes and other items.
High-quality water softeners that use salt include such models as the Kenmore 38300 24,000 Grain High-Efficiency Water Softener and the Krystal Pure KS15HE Water Softener.
There are some drawbacks to water softeners that use salt, however. The regeneration cycle uses up some electricity, you must have a drain for the wastewater, and you need to buy salt and replace it periodically. This softening process adds salt to the water, which could be troublesome if someone in your household needs to adhere to a low-sodium diet. Some individuals also find that water softened with sodium can be detrimental to the kinds of houseplants they grow. In addition, some people dislike the slippery feeling of water that has been softened this way.
With plenty of use, the resin beads in a salt-using water softener eventually become filled with minerals, and they need to be adjusted through a regeneration process. During this process, the household water temporarily stops running through the water softener. Many top-quality water softeners do this automatically at hours of low water use, typically during the night. When the regeneration process is underway, the fluids in the brine tank flow into the resin tank and sodium clings to the resin beads. This replaces the minerals, which flush out of the system through a drain.
Other Types of Water Softeners
Some consumers favor water softeners that do not use salt. A salt-free water softener does not technically make hard water soft. Instead, it essentially neutralizes the minerals in the water so they do not cling to anything. This occurs when the household water runs through a catalytic media and the minerals change into a crystal that does not stick to surfaces. As a result, you will not get the mineral buildup that comes with hard water.
Water softeners, such as the Aquasana 1,000,000 Gallon Rhino, the EvoClear Salt Free Water Softener, and the Pelican Whole House Filter and Salt-Free Softener, can do the job quite well without the salt-based process.
Water like this does not have that slick feeling when you touch it. It also doesn't add sodium to your drinking water that could be problematic for anyone who needs to restrict sodium intake.
Many industry experts consider the salt-free water softeners to be less effective at such tasks as cleaning laundry, hair and skin. However, these kinds of water softeners need little maintenance, as you do not need to buy salt and remember to put it into your softener. You will need to change a filter from time to time, but otherwise, the salt-free water softeners are straightforward appliances that require little effort on your part.
Some water softeners are designed to handle extremely hard water such as the salt-using Whirlpool WHES44 44,000 Grain Capacity Water Softener and GE 30,400 Grain Water Softener.
In addition to these two types of water softeners, there are water softeners on the market that remove iron from your well or community water. The Morton 45,000 Grain Capacity Water Softener not only functions as a top-quality, salt-using water softener for very hard water, but it also can handle water from either wells or municipal supplies. This is a welcome feature for people who have dealt with iron stains on their clothing, sinks, tubs or toilets, or with clogged pipes and off-tasting foods prepared with iron-filled water. You can also buy water softeners with special filters that rid your water of chlorine and other chemicals that affect aspects of water quality, including such things as the taste. For example, the WaterBoss 700 22,000 Grain Capacity Water Softener, which uses salt, can remove calcium, magnesium and clear-water iron.
You also can buy water softener brands that come in different sizes to accommodate the water flow and hardness capacity of your water supply such as the salt-using US Water Aquatrol 56SE Metered Water Softener.