Have you struggled enough with hard water?
Does your water heating appliances run below optimum while increasing your electricity bills due to limescale buildup?
Many households suffer from the negative effects of hard water. If you have read our article on water softeners and decided it is time to get one, or you have just made up your mind after descaling your kettle, AGAIN, keep on reading!
We will guide you through the main factors to consider when looking for a water softener.
In this article I will discuss:
Hard water, a quick review
If you are reading this article, you probably know exactly what hard and soft water is.
However, if you don’t, you can read my article on it here.
To recap, hard water and soft water refer to the amount of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium, in water. Hard water is the cause of limescale buildup. Limescale is the white to light brown mineral layer that forms over time in mostly appliances that heat water, like kettles.
Where the concentrations of these minerals are high enough, you will also have limescale buildup in systems that handle colder water as well. Those could include faucets and shower heads.
So let’s dig in!
Factors to consider when buying a water softener
There as basically five factors to consider when you buy a water softening system.
Type of water softener
You get three main types of water softeners.
Salt-based softeners are the most common and the most popular for regular household use. They are the ones that use the ion-exchange mechanism to remove calcium and magnesium from water.
Salt-based softeners do require maintenance. They need salt and have a tank that needs to be filled with either sodium chloride or potassium chloride as needed for the regeneration cycles.
A regeneration cycle is the cleaning process of a salt-based water-softening system. It uses the salt in the salt tank to flush the absorbed calcium and magnesium ions out of the filtering media.
This resin filtering media has an average lifespan of about 10 to 20 years, depending on the quality and volume of water treated.
The other two types of softeners are electromagnetic and salt-free systems. They are also called water conditioners.
They are less common and do not remove the calcium and magnesium from water like the salt-based systems. Instead they modify the particles in a way that minimal scaling can occur.
The advantages of these systems are that they don’t need topping up with salt compared to the salt-based systems.
Also, since they don’t remove the calcium and magnesium from water, there is no need to supplement your diet to replace lost calcium and magnesium as you would with salt-based water softeners.
Water softener capacity
This is more applicable to salt-based systems.
The capacity rating of water softening systems are done in terms of the number of particles the system can remove before it needs a regeneration cycle.
Water softening capacities range from about 30 000 grains for a smaller household system to more than 80 000 grains for heavier duty systems.
An average household of 4 would need a system with a capacity rating of about 35 000 grains.
Efficiency of the water softener
The efficiency of water softeners are given as grains per pound of salt.
It tells you how many grains are removed from the water for every pound of salt used.
The more effective a water softener, the less often it would need regeneration and at the end of the day you will save on your salt bill.
Integrated water filter
Many of the more advanced models of water softeners also have a water filtration system built in.
You then only need one system to both soften your water as well as remove chlorine and odors.
Most of these inbuilt water filtration systems also don’t require you to change the water filters due to the cleaning and backwashing mechanisms of these systems.
On top of it all, you only need to instal one system instead of two.
Does the system have a bypass valve
A bypass valve is a valve that gives you the option to manually bypass the water softening system.
This is not really a factor to consider when looking for a water softener since most modern water softening systems will have an inbuilt bypass valve. It is good, though, to know that older models didn’t have them and you had to have a 3-way plumbing bypass plumbed in.
There are several reasons you would want the capability to bypass the system. The first and foremost is to save the system from softening water that doesn’t need softening. Depending on where the system is plumbed in, that could be water going to the garden or water for cooking.
Another reason is to be able to cut off water going to the system in case of a malfunction without cutting off the water supply.
If, for whatever reason, there is a system you want to buy that doesn’t have an inbuilt bypass valve, don’t despair. It is easy to have a 3-way plumbing bypass installed at minimal cost.
What is, however, a factor to consider when buying a water softener, is the presence of a blending valve.
This is a variable bypass valve where you have the option to decide how soft you want the water. This is done by adjusting the ratio between the water going through the softener and the water bypassing it.
Best water softeners
There are many great water softeners available today and deciding on one could seem like a daunting task.
I will try and make that a bit easier by listing 5 of the best buys according to me.
GE Appliances GXMH31H
The GXMH31H is a water filter and water softener in one. It is equipped with a sediment filter and also removes chlorine and odors. And you don’t need to replace the filters!
It has a softening capacity of 30 000 grains with an efficiency of 4230 grains per pound of salt and a salt storage capacity of 230 pounds.
The system uses GE’s SmartSoft technology which “learns” a family’s water use patterns to ensure there is always enough softened water available. It is equipped with a custom blending valve with which you can adjust the softness of the water.
Upfront electronic controls with a status light indicator makes it easy to operate.
It is also smart enough to tell you how many days are left before you need to refill the salt tank.
For more technical specs you can visit this site.
GE Appliances GXSH40V
The GXSH40V is another excellent water softener from GE Appliances.
It is very similar to it’s cousin above. The main difference is that it is a larger more effective water softener without the chlorine and odor filtration capability.
This model does, though, also have the sediment filter.
It has a softening capacity of 40 000 grains with an efficiency of 5090 grains per pound of salt and the same salt storage capacity as the GXMH31H, 230 pounds.
For some more tech specs, visit the manufacturer’s site here.
The 40 000 grains capacity WHES40E uses Demand Regeneration technology, it only regenerates when you need it.
It has an efficiency of 2071 grains per pound of salt with a minimum salt dose of 2.4 pounds (4970 grains per 2.4 pounds of salt).
The system comes with a low salt indicator light, water flow indicator and ultra high flow valve.
For more specs visit the manufacturer’s website here.
Another great product from Whirlpool, this WHESFC Pro-series hybrid water softener and water filter ticks all the boxes.
It has a 31 000 grains capacity for water softening.
The whole home water filtration side of it reduces chlorine and odors in the water.
It can automatically flush, clean and drain it’s filter screen and carbon bed so there is no need to replace the filters, ever!
Like the WHES40E it uses Demand Regeneration technology, so the system regenerates only when needed, saving you salt and money.
You can read more about this system here.
The Aquasure Harmony AS-HS48D has a 48 000 grains softening capacity. This make it suitable for homes with up to 4 bathrooms.
It comes equipped with an Aquatrol Electronic Control head that allows for precise backwashing only when it is needed.
In fact, this system gives you three options of regeneration: time clock delayed control, meter immediate control and meter delayed control.
These Aquasure systems are built to last and comes with a 1″ bypass valve, premium grade resin and corrosion resistant high strength fibreglass lined tank.
You can read more about this more heavy duty water softening system here.
There are numerous water softeners on the market and that list just grows as time goes by.
Newer technologies are being developed all the time and it may seem daunting to choose a system with all the fancy terms being thrown around.
Always remember to just keep it simple. Consider the features promoted by every brand while looking at the factors that matter most: System type, system capacity, system efficiency, inbuilt water filtration and the presence of a blending valve.