This expert, unbiased water softener buying guide will help you choose the best water softener for hard water problems. Includes salt-free-water-softeners, dual-tank softeners, and more. 

 

Water coming out from a large water softener shower head.
Water softener makes showering luxurious. © Nouubon | Dreamstime.com

What is a water softener? Water softener systems (often misspelled “water softner systems“) are products that solve hard water problems. Hard water is simply water that is rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium carbonate, and manganese. If you find that soap and shampoo don’t lather well, dishes have spots, the bathtub has a ring, laundry looks dingy, and the coffee maker has scale deposits, your home probably has a hard water problem. In this case you might consider purchasing a water softener.

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Though the natural minerals in hard water don’t typically pose health risks, they can create damaging deposits in your plumbing, water heater, and other water-using appliances, and make washing dishes, clothing, skin, and hair more challenging. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 85 percent of American homes have problems with hard water.

Solving Hard Water Problems

Hard water comes from aquifers and other underground sources that collect dissolved minerals from rock—particularly calcium, magnesium carbonate, and manganese. These minerals give water undesirable characteristics that collectively are dubbed “hardness.” The severity of hardness is measured by grains (of mineral) per gallon (GPG) or, in some cases, by parts per million of mineral (PPM). One GPG equals 17.1 PPM.

What Is Hard Water?

Technically, any water that contains more than 1 GPG of dissolved hardness minerals is considered hard, but, realistically, water with up to 3.5 GPG is relatively soft. Water with more than 10.5 GPG is very hard. Between these extremes is typical, moderately hard water. You can buy a water test kit on Amazon.

A Watersafe home drinking water test kit showing the test strips and a test vial.
Mailorder Water Test Kit. Buy on Amazon. WaterSafe

Hard Water Problems

Hard water is less an issue of health than of potential expense. Many of the problems created by hard water stay hidden until some type of malfunction occurs in your home’s plumbing system or in a water-using appliance. When heated, dissolved hard-water minerals recrystallize and form scale that eventually clogs plumbing, reducing water flow. Scale and lime deposits also take their toll on water-heating appliances such as dishwashers and coffee makers, increasing the need for repairs.

Worse yet, scale cakes onto interior surfaces of water heaters, making them more likely to fail. According to a study commissioned by the Water Quality Research Council at New Mexico State University, water heaters operate 22 percent to 30 percent less efficiently when plagued with hard-water scale.

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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years as a remodeler and builder, Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort