The issue of hard water is widespread across whole USA territory. Based on the region, the depth of the well and the quality of city water treatment plant the hardness indicators may vary.
There are 3 main things I’ll talk about in this article:
1) Why you’d want to soften the water in your house
2) What the difference between salt-based and the salt-less system is
3) What are the 6 best hard water treatment systems available on the market
It is rarely possible to meet a person who didn’t face the problem of hard water.
The truth is:
Hard water (that has high mineral content) is not a unique phenomenon.
I mean, think about the residue that forms at the bottom of your kettle.
For some it’s even worse:
They even have their washing machine/dishwasher destroyed because of hard water
The image below shows the location in the US that are exposed to hard water. Apart from that, people who are using well water are more likely to be exposed to it as well.
Such inconveniences are forcing us to soften the water, even though hard water is not a threat to your health. However, it might be a threat to your wallet destroying your home appliances.
What is Hard Water?
Two main elements are responsible for water hardness, calcium and magnesium, and other minerals to some extent. Generally speaking, we can split water hardness by the following table.
|Milligrams per liter (mg/l) and parts per million (ppm)||U.S. Geological Survey Classification|
|17.1 - 60||soft|
|60 - 120||moderately hard|
|120 - 180||hard|
As you can see from the table if the amount of calcium and magnesium is less than 17 mg/l we can say that water is soft. When the number of contaminants exceeds 120 mg/l water is hard.
The best way to tell how hard your water is to let it test in a professional lab. This will show you an exact amount of calcium and magnesium salts. However, there are ways to tell that your water is hard without testing it in a lab.
If you see one of the following signs, it means that you have hard water.
Scum usually appears on your home appliances that are using hot water. The most obvious place to notice it is a kettle. When water is heated, there is a process of salts decomposition into carbon dioxide which leaves the stain on the bottom of the appliance.
The bits of scum in boiled water is not only unpleasant to see, but also harmful to your health. Apart from that, the sediment on the heating element lowers the appliance lifetime, slowly destroys them. Also, you need more time to boil the water which will consume more energy.
White stains on the faucets and a clogged shower head are other signs of hard water. The water stone is formed out of mineral salts, significantly shortens the lifespan of the plumbing.
If you feel the excessive dryness, itching or flaking after the shower, there is a chance that you have very hard water.
Bad foaming soap, large consumption of washing powder, poor washed laundry or change of color and structure of clothes are another way to tell that you might have hard water.
It might be strange, but hard water really lowers the absorption of washing chemicals into the laundry, thus increasing its consumption.
The blue-ish shade of water
If you have noticed that your water has a strange blue shade, it might be a sign of hard water as salts of calcium and magnesium give this color shade to water.
Why You Might Want To Make Water Soft?
Soft water has a large number of advantages. The biggest one is that soft water will not cause any harm to the human body, but it will extend the lifespan of your appliances, which will save you money in a long-term run.
Salts that are settled in your plumbing system will decrease the flow and pressure of the water. This will increase the maintenance costs of plumbing and don’t forget about appliances.
For this reason, a water softening system is a necessary component of a household with hard water. I will also advise you to install whole house softener to ensure that the plumbing system is protected within the whole house.
Difference Between Salt-Free And Salt Based Systems
Salt Based Systems
We have two types of water softening systems. First one is salt based. The way it works is by the ion-exchange method. Water passes through a layer of ion-exchange resin. Calcium and magnesium ions are replaced by sodium ions that are stored in the resin.
The process occurs until the ion-exchange capacity is reduced to the minimum level. This means that all sodium ions are gone from the resin. At this point, the regeneration cycle begins. Regeneration means that resin needs to be filled with new salt.
Salt-based softeners usually consist of a filter, control mechanism with a backwashing unit that can be automatic or manual, and a tank for salt. The softening tanks are typically made of fiberglass and are seamless.
These units require a time to regenerate therefore they need a break in water consumption. Usually, they need up to 2 hours to restore, 1-4 times a week.
Some systems have two resins so they can work without the need to regenerate.
Let’s have a look at the advantages of such a system.
Such a system also have some drawbacks.
These units do not remove calcium and magnesium minerals. Instead, they make those minerals inactive which means that those are not able to adhere to the heating unit surface. This is because minerals become crystallized in water.
This method is not as efficient as the salt based unit, however, will make water softer and is the ideal solution for people on a sodium-restricted diet. Also, this unit is not suitable when your water is extremely hard.
Let’s summarize the advantages of saltless systems.
Some of the drawbacks.
Based on my explanation above, the difference is that salt based units do actually remove minerals from water making it soft. Saltless units do not remove minerals, but make them inactive so, those cannot adhere to the surface of your appliances and pipes.
Now let’s have a look at the various products available on the market. I will cover both types of products. With salt based units I would recommend having a look at additional filter for the whole house.
12 GPM treatment rate, LCD display, Flow meter to measure usage and regeneration
Tier1 48,000 Grain
Easy to program control unit, Less water waste, easy fit, Fiberglass pressure tank
Established brand, 30,000 Grain capacity, Built in USA, NSF Certified, great warranty
Saltless unit, Established Brand, Slow Phos technology, 50,000 gallons lifespan
WQA and NSF Certified, Filtration included, Maintenance free
Included filtration, 150,000 gallon lifespan, No pressure loss
Salt Based Softeners
Before I actually start talking about the products I would like to give a little explanation to the number you will see later. Salt based softeners have a capacity measured in grains. So, you might see the capacity of 30,000 Grains.
This number refers to the amount of resin in the softener. I am not going to dive into many details, but the critical part you need to know is that. The more the capacity is, the more water it can soften before it needs to be recharged.
There is a great and deep explanation of the softeners’ capacity in this article. I think this is a great explanation and a lot of myths about this are busted. Make sure you read it and based on this you can select the suitable capacity you need.
Fleck is one of the most popular softeners available on the market. Whos unit has the capacity of 48,000 grain which is enough for the household of 5-6 people. The packaging includes tank, control head, ion-exchange resin, and brine tank.
As I mentioned earlier, such systems require a lot of space and this unit is no exception. The softening tank has a size of 10” x 54” and the supply tank is 15” x 33” big.
The whole unit required access to electricity at 120 volts so make sure that space you want to place it has the plug.
What you would like is that the control unit has 4 modes of operation and you can select when your softener needs to be regenerated. You can set the immediate regeneration, delayed, delayed time clock regeneration or you can just schedule a day of the week when the recovery will be done.
Users reported that regeneration is required once in 2 weeks, but this heavily depends on the number of people in the house and water usage, so please do not stick to this number. Regeneration itself takes up to three and a half hours.
This unit does not have a reminder that will note you when the salt in a tank needs to be refilled. Therefore it is up to you to ensure that you check the tank regularly. For this reason, this is the major drawback of the system.
However, users have reported that the tank needs to be refilled once in a month, so the system is not that maintenance heavy after all.
Manufacturer provides a 5-year warranty on a control head and 10 years on the tank so you can be sure that the whole system is durable.
The installation is easy, however, if you don’t feel like it, just go with a professional plumber and don’t take the risk.
For the average family this is a great softener that will do the job. You pay for what you get and even slightly more. The regeneration is done automatically and the unit is able to schedule it needed.
The only negative thing I can say about the Fleck is that it does not have a reminder mechanism when the tank needs to be replaced, so you just need to be aware of it.
Tier1 system is very similar to the Fleck reviewed earlier in this article. It has the capacity of 48,000 Grain as well which is enough for the household of 6 people.
The manufacturer claims that comparing to the Fleck system their Tier1 is better when it comes to user experience with the control unit. Also, the 4 cycle technology should save about 2,100 gallons of wastewater a year.
The pressure tank is made of fiberglass and salt tank is made of polyethylene. The good news is that this softener is NSF certified so, you can be sure that you are buying a high-quality product. This unit is also WQA Gold Seal approved which is another sign of a quality build.
Comparing to the Fleck, users have reported that this system bypass is more compact and more comfortable to fit.
Although the programming of the Tier1 is more straightforward, the level of details and amount of setups is less than with the Fleck system. If you are looking for the system to be easy to control you will appreciate it.
Users also reported that on average this softener generates about 2,500 gallons of soft water per regeneration.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the information about the warranty. The only info I have seen is that the manufacturer provides 90-Days Guarantee. In this period you can return the product, but I am not sure if that’s it or not. So, for more warranty information you will have to contact the manufacturer.
You can see detailed table that compares both softeners here.
This system is a straight competitor to the Fleck softener. It has a similar features, although it has improved the overall user experience and made it simple to set up. So, this softener might be a great option for you if you are not a tech savvy person.
The only drawback for me is the lack of information on warranty and the fact that you will have to contact the manufacturer to get more info.
First, two products have both the capacity of 48,000 Grain. I have also decided to include a product with a smaller size in this article for people who live in smaller houses.
Whirlpool is a well-known brand, and my experience with its products is fantastic. I still have a washing machine that we have bought, back in 2007, and it is still working with no issues at all after more than 10 years.
So, when I found a softener made by this company I have decided to have a closer look and now let’s see what I have found.
The first thing that makes this unit stand out comparing to the other two systems is that it doesn’t have a brine tank. The whole unit is just one box where you pour the salt from the top. This being said, this unit will require less space than the previous two systems.
As well as previous units, Whirlpool requires access to the electricity socket which is a standard 110V.
As I have said, earlier this system has a capacity of 30,000 Grain. This should be enough for the household of up to for 4 people with the medium hard water. If you water is very hard you might need a more powerful system to soften it.
The softener is made in the USA which means, that by purchasing this unit you are supporting a home production.
The manufacturer offers a full warranty 1-year warranty that covers parts and labor. Interesting part is that if you purchase three Whirlpool WHE-WSC cleaners in 12 months period, you can extend the warranty up to 5-years.
The warranty can be extended up to 5-years when buying and using Whirlpool cleaner every 4 months. For this you need to register your product and cleaner on this website.
I am sold to this and think it is a great deal. I would suggest you contact the manufacturer to get a confirmation and more information about it.
This is a great option for small households that don’t have a lot of space. I love the way how can you extend the warranty up to 5 years. You are taking care of the system regularly, and by doing this, you extend your warranty.
If you are on a sodium free diet, the salt based units will not be a great option for you. Additional benefit that you might like is that these units will not release any sodium back in a communal water system. Note, that salt-free units are not a good option for very hard water.
The Aquasana is a well-established brand in the market for water filtration. You might have seen probably its most popular all in one whole house filter called Rhino Series in my other article.
This time let’s have a look at their saltless softening system and what it has to offer. Aquasana presents this product as something that has a unique technology called Slow Phos.
Although it might have a fancy name, I wouldn’t say that this technology is unique. Fundamentally, this technology just alters the ionic charge of minerals in water and make them inactive and unable to pack together to create a scale.
On this principle, most of the saltless softeners work. Therefore I am saying that it is not something special.
What I need to point out that comparing to salt based units this unit is much more compact and will not take a lot of space. Also, the unit comes with a filter but don’t expect that it will resolve all your water problems.
This particular unit has a flow rate of 7 GPM and manufacturer states that the softener should last six months or 50,000 gallons, whichever comes first.
The product comes with a standard 1-year warranty.
This softener will do what it says it will do. It will reduce the scale on your pipes if your water is not very hard. I like that Aquasana doesn’t present it as a miracle.
If you live by yourself or in a couple in small property this is a great option to consider, I am sure you won’t be disappointed.
Despite its size, this unit has received some great feedback from customers. I have had a look at it, and it has made it to my list of best salt-free softeners list.
OneFlow is made by the company called Watts. You may have seen the Watts review of reverse osmosis system on my website.
The system uses a technology called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). The way it works is that minerals that make water hard, such as magnesium and calcium are converted into crystals. These crystals are unable to stick to your plumbing and appliances; however, they still remain in the water.
What I love about OneFlow is the fact that it is literally maintenance free. There is no need to change and monitor the salt. The whole unit doesn’t require electricity as well.
Also, it doesn’t create any, and there is no need for backwashing. The ideal system for people who want to install the unit and forget about it for a while.
The softener operates at maximum water flow 10 GPM. As always you need to remember that the unit needs to be installed on the cold water supply. More detailed information can be found in a product manual.
The manufacturer reports that OneFlow will prevent you from scale up to 3 years. You need to remember although that the unit was lab tested. In the real environment, you can expect I would say half of this time.
Also, the chlorine filter will purify up to 50,000 gallons of water, but again it is only the lab test.
You can install this unit either on the floor or mount it on the wall as packaging includes the mounting bracket.
Watts offers a limited 1-year warranty on this product. For more details, you will have to contact a manufacturer.
If you are looking for the softener that will last for ages without any or minimum maintenance this unit is the one you are looking for. Although it will not replace a whole house water filter, it will prevent you from a scale and reduce a certain amount of impurities.
I have selected the Aquios Jumbo system because of the capacity that it can filter and soften before cartridge needs to be replaced. The number is 150,000 gallons of water. Wow, that is quite a lot and based on your consumption and number of people, it can last up to 12 months.
As other saltless systems in this article, this Aquios will turn magnesium and calcium into harmless sift minerals. Therefore they will not build up on your pipes and appliances.
If you have low water pressure in your house, you probably want to look around for a unit that does not lower the pressure even more. Aquios system is designed to keep the pressure on the same level, so this might be a solution for you.
I need to stress again that salt-free softeners will not remove those minerals but only make them harmless, but still present in water.
Similar to other softeners this one comes with filtration as well. It is interesting as I wasn’t able to find a saltless softener that would be entirely a softener without the filter.
The filtration cartridge is made of 1-micron carbon block, and the whole unit is fitted in one housing.
Aquios offers an incredible 20-years warranty if you have a proof of purchase. The warranty is on the housing and valve that it will not corrode, leak, burst, and also other issues that cause that the system fails to perform correctly.
Without the proof of purchase, there is a 1-year warranty from the date of manufacturing. For more information visit a manufacturer website.
If you are looking for a system that will not drop the water pressure after the installation, Aquios will be an excellent solution for you. It will provide a filtration as well as eliminate the scale.
The manufacturer also offers 20-years warranty on housing and valve. However, please contact the manufacturer to be clear on this as I think it is too good to be true.
Regardless you go for salt-based or saltless softener, remember to test your water before. The test will help you to identify what you actually need, and the last thing I want you to do is to spend money on a unit that is not suitable for your needs.
I believe that you have found this article informative and helpful. Now, let’s wrap up the article and see what I am recommending as the best option and why.
My winner in a salt based softeners is definitely the Fleck softener.
This is because the whole unit is at the affordable price, offers the substantial amount of features and great warranty.
In the salt-free category I would select a Watts OneFlow.
OneFlow has a compact 10” x 10” x 18” size, and within this size, the filter and softener are fitted. There is no maintenance required, and the whole unit has very positive feedback from customers.
If this article had helped you to select a right product feel free to share it with your friend and family. Also, I would love to hear your experiences with softeners in a comment section below. If you need any help with the selection or you don’t understand your water lab results, please feel free to contact me.