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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best water softeners for hard water

If you’re one of the majority of homes in the U.S. that have hard water, the minerals in that water could cause problems. You could get a crusty buildup on your showerhead and faucets or find stains on your drinking glasses. Before these issues become more than a minor nuisance, you may want to purchase a water softener.

A water softener reduces certain minerals that are commonly found in water. While these minerals are not currently considered harmful by the medical community, the trouble they can cause could range from being an inconvenience to requiring plumbing repairs.

The best water softener for you depends on your needs. To learn about and understand what’s available, it’s helpful to read a comprehensive guide on the topic. Additionally, examining an unbiased list of top models will let you know, at a glance, what’s available. Utilizing these two tools, you can make a confident, well-informed purchasing decision.

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Water hardness is not regulated by state or federal agencies because it isn’t currently considered to pose a health risk.

How to buy the best water softener for hard water 

What is hard water?

Hard water is water that contains high concentrations of minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Some consider higher levels of minerals to be more healthful because the body needs them to function properly. However, with a proper diet, you can get the recommended daily intake of these minerals through food sources, such as yogurt, almonds, and legumes.

The problem with hard water isn’t what it does to your body, however, it’s the issues it can create with your home’s plumbing and general household cleanliness.

Signs that you have hard water

If you’ve ever noticed any of these in your home, you may have hard water:

  • There’s a crusty buildup on your showerhead.
  • Soap scum builds up in your sink and shower.
  • Your laundry isn’t as bright as it should be.
  • Your clothes come out of the washing machine feeling stiff.
  • Your dishes have watermarks on them after they dry.
  • You have dry, irritated skin.
  • Your head is itchy after a shower.
  • You have plumbing issues.
  • Appliances that use water break down quicker than expected.
  • You have low water pressure.

What is a water softener?

A water softener is any type of water filtration system that reduces concentrations of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, that make water “hard.” This system should be installed at the incoming water source, which ideally will also have a nearby power supply and a place for the wastewater to drain. Typically, these systems are installed close to the water heater to centralize large equipment.

How does a water softener work?

A water softener is essentially a magnet. When water enters the unit, it passes through resin beads that have a negative charge from sodium ions. Since calcium and magnesium naturally have a positive charge, these minerals are removed and replaced with sodium ions as they pass through the resin beads. This way, only soft water enters your home. 

Pros and cons of a water softener

There’s no health law stating you must install a water softener; it’s a choice the homeowner must make. To help you understand the value of a water softener, here are some pros and cons of having one.

Pros: Having softer water means less soap scum buildup, appliances may last longer, your skin will feel softer, and your hair will feel cleaner. Having softer water can reduce your cleaning and water heating bills, combat plumbing issues, and give you brighter clothes and cleaner dishes.

Cons: Although it’s a matter of preference, some don’t like the taste of softer water. Also, the wastewater from a water softener isn’t suitable for irrigation and upfront costs may be prohibitive.

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Did You Know?
Since hard water can create stiff or yellowed clothing, one of the hidden problems with hard water is it can cause you to do your laundry at higher temperatures while using more soap.
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What features do water softeners for hard water have?

Size

The quickest way to get a rough estimate of the size water softener you need is to multiply the number of people in your home by 80. Then, multiply that number by the grains of hardness in your water. Most water softeners have a grain rating, so it’s a simple matter to find a model suitable for your daily needs.

Dual-tank systems

A dual-tank system means you’ll never have to wait to use water while your system regenerates or recharges. If this is a concern for you, you’ll need a dual-tank system, which can cost twice as much as a single tank system.

Removes sediment

Some water softener systems are two-in-one systems that also offer additional filtering to remove sediments and reduce unpleasant odors and tastes. If this is desirable, you’ll have to pay more or purchase a second system, such as a reverse osmosis system.

Demand-initiated regeneration

You can either purchase a water softener that recharges when the system needs it or one that recharges at a designated time. A demand-initiated system ensures your water softener is always running at peak efficiency while a timer guarantees you always have water when you need it.

Low-salt indicator

If the salt gets too low, your water softener won’t be able to remove the calcium and magnesium. A low-salt indicator alerts you when the salt in your brine tank is getting low.

Showerhead filter

If you just want to feel cleaner after a shower and you’re not worried about other issues that may arise from having hard water, you can purchase a showerhead filter. These items won’t solve your water hardness problem, but they will make you feel cleaner.

Because minerals are the ingredient that provides water with flavor, you may notice your water tastes different after adding a water softener.

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How much do water softeners for hard water cost? 

Inexpensive 

If you just want to soften the water coming out of your showerhead so you have a better bathing experience, you can get a filter that removes minerals and sediments from your water as it flows. These devices cost less than $50 and are only suitable for providing a more enjoyable shower. They don’t protect your pipes from the damage that may occur from hard water.

Mid-range

Most homeowners are happy with a whole house filtration system. These models can cost anywhere from $300 to $800. The only downside to these models is you have roughly two hours every few days when the system is down due to regenerating. 

Expensive 

If you want to have softened water on demand, 24/7, it’s possible with a dual-tank system. These high-end models are larger than single tank systems and can cost twice as much. Expect to pay between $1,000 and $1,600 or more for a dual-tank system.

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Staff Tip
If you’re sensitive to sodium, it’s best to check with your doctor before installing a water softener in your home because it may raise your sodium intake.
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Tips

A water softener requires maintenance. Neglecting minor upkeep may create problems that require costly repairs down the road. Luckily, maintaining a water softener is inexpensive and easy to do. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your water softener.

  • Check the salt levels. Your water softener needs salt to operate. While you can probably go for a couple of months before you have to add salt, since it’s so easy to check, open the lid to the brine tank at least once each month to verify your level is good.
  • Only add the type of salt that the manufacturer recommends. Your water softener may support a variety of salts. But if it doesn’t, you don’t want to add rock salt when the owner’s manual calls for evaporated salt. Check the instructions before purchasing your salt.
  • Clean the brine tank. Some manufacturers recommend a yearly cleaning, while others say you can go longer. The quality of your salt can be an important factor here. Luckily, you can be the judge. When you open the tank to check the salt level, look for clumps of hardened salt. These can occur on the bottom of the tank, along the sides, or they might even make a crusty salt bridge across the surface of the water. If you see any, it’s time to clean your tank.
  • Be vigilant. Keep an eye out for any and all signs of hard water. If you find crusty buildup, water stains on your glasses, or your soap isn’t sudsing like it should, your water softener might not be performing as expected. Measure the hardness of your water. If it’s high, troubleshoot according to the manufacturer’s directions or call a professional out to service the water softener.
Water softener system
While some sources recommend only adding a water softener to hot water lines, this only solves part of the problems that are caused by hard water. You can still get buildup and have a lack of sudzing in cold water lines.

FAQ

Q. How do you measure the hardness of water?

A. If you want to find out exactly how many dissolved minerals there are in your home tap water, you need to purchase a water hardness test kit. The easiest ones to use are strips you dip in a glass of cold tap water. After dipping the test strip, it will turn a different color. Match the color of the test strip to the included chart to find out the overall hardness level of your water, which is measured in grains per gallon.

Q. What’s considered hard water?

A. If you use an at-home test strip: 0-3.5 gpg is soft, 3.5-7.0 gpg is moderate, 7.0-10.5 gpg is hard, and over 10.5 gpg is very hard. Other measurements of the hardness or softness of water are expressed in parts per million: 17 ppm is soft, 17 to 60 ppm is slightly hard, 60 to 120 ppm is moderately hard, 120 to 180 ppm is hard, and over 180 ppm is very hard.

Q. How do I know if I need a water softener for hard water?

A. If you’re finding clues that you might have hard water and want to determine if this is actually the case, there’s a quick test you can perform to see if you do have hard water. All you need is a clean empty bottle and pure liquid soap. Fill one-third of the bottle with tap water and add a few drops of the pure liquid soap. Shake the bottle and set it down. If the bottle is mostly full of suds and the water is relatively clear, you have soft water. If there are few to no suds and the water is cloudy, you have hard water.
 

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