Water softeners could seem like a frivolous expense, particularly if you haven’t felt the effects of hard water. But the minerals in such H2O can wreak havoc on your plumbing and skin. Growing up, I suffered from eczema that would worsen in the colder months. Thinking it was simply a condition I would have to deal with forever, I was astonished when I went to college and my skin completely cleared and softened. Who knew water could make such an impact? Whether you’re like me or concerned about mineral buildup in your pipes, a water softener is a great way to go easier on your skin and your home.
Check out quick reviews below of the top five water softeners, then scroll deeper for buying info and full reviews of these models plus other high-ranking options.
What Is a Water Softener and Do I Need One?
A typical water softener is made up of a tank that connects to your water-supply line. The tank is filled with resin beads, and on top is a brine tank, which can be filled with salt or potassium chloride pellets. As the water enters the tank, it runs through the resin, which has a negative charge and draws out the positively charged minerals in the water. Once the resin beads are filled to capacity, the salt pellets cleanse the beads, replacing the mineral ions with salt ions—hence why softened water often has a higher salt content. Eventually, this will cause the pellets to dissolve and they’ll need to be replenished.
As for whether you truly need a water softener, that’s up to you—but here are some reasons that you might choose to invest in one. Hard water can affect everything from laundry to dishes to your skin. It leaves hard-to-remove mineral deposits on appliances such as tea kettles, cause your white laundry to turn gray and discolored, and prove harsh for your body causing dry skin and limp hair. While these are more annoying than truly concerning, hard water can be incredibly destructive over time—particularly concerning plumbing systems, fixtures, and appliances that frequently have water running through them. As minerals begin to build up, they can cause clogs, and in extreme situations, even reduce water pressure to the whole home, putting extra pressure on your entire plumbing system.
Types of Water-Softening Systems
There are two main types of water softeners: those that use salt and those that don’t. The salt systems have been around for years and are both popular and effective. While they work well, they can also have some unpleasant (but not harmful) side effects like imparting your water with a slippery, soapy feeling and an aftertaste.
Salt-free systems use either electromagnetic pulses or a filtration system to rid the water of unwanted minerals. While they can be less expensive, these systems can’t always process as much water. But it you aren’t looking for anything too high volume, they’re a great option.
How We Selected and Rated Them
We researched expert sources as well as 5,000 consumer reviews to select the top five water softening systems. Our Consumer Score represents the percentage of customers who rated the product at least four out of five stars on retail and review sites like Amazon, Home Depot, and manufacturers’ websites.
Pelican Water NaturSoft Water Softener Alternative System
Consumer Score: 94% of people gave it 4 stars or more
Incredibly high purification levels and no salty aftertaste
While salt-based systems are popular, they’re definitely not for everyone for the reasons we laid out above. This softener, however, rids your water of minerals without using any salt. It uses a 5 micron (very fine) sediment filter to take out the larger, harmful minerals while letting smaller beneficial ones fall through. And while it does cost a hefty $2,000, it’s a reliable and effective softener that won’t add any unwanted substances to your water.
Eddy Electronic Water Descaler
Consumer Score: 73% gave it 4 stars or more
Say hello to the softener of the future.
This unit easily hooks up to your existing plumbing and doesn’t require the use of any chemicals, making it a great option for the environmentally conscious. Its electronic system uses electromagnetic waves to break up the minerals in the water. It’s specifically designed for removing calcium, magnesium, and manganese compounds, but can also reduce limestone buildup in places like bathtubs and appliances. And while the tried and true salt systems have certainly worked in the past, electronic softeners like this are the way of the future. And this is one of the best, as evidenced by some of the rave reviews on Amazon.
—FOR WELL WATER—
Consumer Score: 93% gave it 4 stars or more
Produces better than bottled spring water right out of the faucet
If you grew up with well water, you probably think that it’s superior to public water. But along with the brisk cold temperatures and cleaner flavor can come a lot of things you might rather not know about. This filter uses reverse osmosis to remove harmful contaminants and then replaces beneficial minerals before releasing it back into your pipes, providing you with good tasting, clean water. It’s designed for mounting under the sink but can be connected next to your fridge if you get drinking water from there. Reviewers claimed that installation was a breeze, which avoids the extra cost of having a professional install it for you.
—FOR LARGE FAMILIES—
Abundant Flow Water WS-48k-91SXT 9100sxt
Consumer Score: 90% gave it 4 stars or more
Even the Duggar family couldn’t bring this softener down.
It would seem obvious, but the more water you use, the quicker you will wear out your water softener. By using two tanks, this system is able to alternate between the two, which means that one can work while the other regenerates and vice versa, creating a steady flow of water without interruption and prolonging the life of both. While it’s on the expensive side, the 9100sxt justifies its price with sheer volume and quality. This softener is able to process extremely mineral-dense water, and is particularly well suited to high iron levels. You should note that this is a salt-based system, so it may impart a slight aftertaste and that signature soapy feel.
Aquasana Salt-Free Water Conditioner
Consumer Score: 85% gave it 4 stars or more
Low maintenance and wallet friendly
Salt-Free Water Conditioner
Not everyone can or wants to spend upwards of $1,000 for a water softener, but clogged pipes can lead to an even costlier catastrophe. This system makes clear pipes affordable, coming in just over $160. It connects directly to your water pipe and softens the water using Aquasana’s Scale Control Media (SCM) technology, which changes the structure of the minerals into inactive microscopic crystal particles (using the water pressure already present in your pipes), preventing them from binding. This means that it will protect your pipes and appliances from buildup, but it doesn’t actually remove the minerals from the water. It’s a low-maintenance device that doesn’t require any additional pellets or solutions, and can last up to two years before needing a replacement.