How to choose the best home water softener for your budget

How to choose the best home water softener for your budget



You might imagine that all water is the same, but that isn’t the case. Hard water, full of water minerals, can cause issues for your home, clothing and appliances. It can cause low water pressure, scale buildup on shower heads, clog pipes and affect drinking water. Luckily, whether you have city water or well water, a home water softener can help.

A whole house water softener system can help eliminate the minerals that cause hard water, leaving your mineral buildup and hard-water stains in the past. But finding just the right water softener can be tricky, especially if you’re on a budget. Here are a few tips on what to look for when choosing a water softener. Make sure to choose the one that fits your needs and is within your budget.


Who should use a water softener?

As water moves through soil and stone, it picks up different minerals — this is what makes water “hard.” The two main minerals found in hard water are calcium and magnesium. The more of these minerals found in a water sample, the harder the water. A water softener filters out these minerals, improving your water quality.

If you notice that your clean clothes aren’t as soft, your dishes aren’t as clean, or your shower is a bit scummy, look to hard water. To avoid mineral buildup, plumbing problems and other issues, invest in a great water softener. Test your water to see if you have hard water or need to replace or upgrade your water softener.

What to know about testing for hard water

There are several different ways to test your home’s water. You can DIY or call in a plumber. Either way, there are a few important things to know:

  • Purchase a water-testing kit from any home-improvement store.
  • Check with the city, county, university or soil-and-water conservation for any water-testing services available in your area.
  • Measure water-hardness levels in grains per gallon (gpg) or parts per million (ppm). Water with more than 7 gpg is hard.
  • Well water tends to have more minerals and heavy metals due to its source. 

Knowing the hardness of your water and the types of minerals and metals found in it can help you choose the best water softener and water softener accessories for your home. 

How does a water softener work?

A water softener is a water treatment system that sends softened water through your plumbing system. It removes hardness and minerals through an ion exchange process, usually with sodium or potassium.

While every water softener is different, they all work in similar ways. There is a mineral tank containing resin beads and a brine tank with salt. The resin beads create the ionic process that removes calcium and limescale. Once the resin beads are full of hard-water particles, the softener begins a regeneration cycle that flushes the particles away using a saltwater mixture.


What to look for when choosing a home water softener

When choosing the best water softener for your home, there are a few things to consider. First is the type of water softener. They each have pros and cons, so consider what will work best for your home. You should also know what capacity your home needs. Then, of course, there is the overall cost of the unit. 

Types of water softeners

There are four types of water softener systems available for your home. Each type works differently, but they will all deliver softened water to your faucets and appliances. 

  • Salt-based water softeners. Considered the most common water softener system, they come in a variety of sizes, making them perfect for any size home. This softener is an ion exchange water softener that replaces mineral ions with sodium ions. The downside is the resin bed needs recharging once a week.
  • Salt-free water softeners. This water softener is a salt-free system that removes minerals using template-assisted crystallization. The TAC system forces the minerals to form into crystals, which will not bond to anything, eliminating buildup and scale from hard water. While the salt-free softener system is smaller than a salt-based system, it is also more expensive. However, these are durable and have a three-year life span. 
  • Dual-tank water softener. This salt-based tank uses two resin tanks to remove hard minerals. This process makes it the perfect tank for those using well water. This system works the same way as the single-tank salt-based system, except that when one tank is in the regeneration cycle, the other tank still provides soft water to the home. These tanks are large, difficult to install, and do need recharging. They are also more expensive. However, you will always have soft water, even during the regeneration cycle.
  • Magnetic water softeners. Great for small spaces, this softener connects directly to your water-supply pipe. Magnetic water softeners use a magnetic field to strip positive or negative ions from the minerals, similar to a water descaler. This neutralizes them, dissolving them in the water. This system might have a difficult time with heavy hard water, but it works wonderfully for light to moderate hard-water issues. 

Water softener capacity

You measure the capacity of a water softener by the grains per gallon in the water per week. This means the harder the water, the more capacity you need.

After determining the hardness of your water, estimate the amount of water used by your family. A small space can use a small softener with grain capacities of 16,000, 24,000 and 32,000. Medium water softeners come in 40,000, 48,000 and 64,000 grain capacities and work well for medium homes. Larger systems come in grain capacities of 80,000 or 100,000. However, large grain water softener systems take up a lot of space.  

Water softener regeneration cycle

If you choose a salt-based water softener system, it needs to regenerate or refresh. There are two different ways to do this, depending on the system. 

  • Metered water softeners. These systems work by counting the amount of water flowing through the system. After a certain amount of water consumption, the system automatically regenerates. This system is great for homes that aren’t regularly used because the regeneration cycle will only trigger when needed.
  • Timed water softeners. This system regenerates automatically at a designated time, giving you more control over the regeneration process. However, if the intervals are too short, you could end up going through more salt than a metered system. If intervals are too long, hard water could make its way through your water pipes. 

Water softener cost

Prices of water softeners depend on many factors, including brand and type. Here are some of the best water softener systems on the market, with their prices and features.

  • Pentair Pelican NS6-P. Certified by the NSF, ANSI and other organizations, this model comes with 99.6% scale prevention. This salt-free model requires little maintenance outside of replacing the sediment pre-filter every six to nine months. It also comes with a lifetime warranty and a 90-day money-back guarantee. However, it is expensive, selling for around $2,000 on Amazon.
  • Aquasana EX-100-AST Whole House Water Filter and Salt-Free Water Conditioner. This water softener system is part softener and part water filtration. It lasts up to 10 years and has additional features you can attach. However, if you don’t need the water filter, you can find a more powerful and less expensive model, priced around $1,800.
  • Fleck 5600SXT. With the ability to adapt to your needs, the Fleck 5600SXT increases regeneration as needed. You can also set parameters to help conserve water usage overall. With an affordable price, 10-year warranty and small design, it’s a great choice for any home. It is also reasonably priced at under $1,300.
  • FutureSoft Salt-free Water Softener. Another system that filters and softens water, the FutureSoft filtration system comes with a pre-filter that removes dirt and dust, and it has a high-quality KDF media to remove contaminants. This system does not require electricity, can filter up to a million gallons of water, and cleans existing scales. The only downside is that it is a larger unit. It can also cost upward of $2,900.


Protect your home systems from expensive repair costs with a Cinch home warranty

Hard water can cause limescale and sediment buildup inside your appliances and plumbing, meaning you never know when you might need a repair. Help cover the costs of expensive home repairs with a Cinch Home Services home warranty. The Cinch Appliances plan helps cover repairs on major appliances, like dishwashers and washing machines, while the Built-in Systems plan will cover your plumbing system. 

Get a quote today and join the nearly 1 million homeowners who trust their home repairs to Cinch.


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