Most important water softener questions
You’re Thinking About Buying a Water Softener, But You Still Have Questions…
There are a lot of water softeners on the market and a lot people selling water softeners. It’s just not obvious which product to buy and who to buy from. So it’s fine if you have lots of questions: Who can you trust? Will the product do what you need it to? Will you get value for money? Maybe you’re upgrading your current water softener, or maybe you’re researching for your first purchase. Either way, you have a bunch of questions and are just looking for some straight answers.
To be sure we’ve answered the actual questions you have, we surveyed our valued visitors – people just like you – and asked them which questions were most important.
What type of water softener should I buy?
Well, let’s assume you want one that works. After that, the type of water softener you’ll want depends on what factors you consider important. Is it price? Is it how well it works at preventing scale deposits? Is it the impact on the environment?
Firstly, you need to decide whether you want to use a salt-based or salt-free water softener. Check out our Salt V No Salt Article Here. In summary, this article challenges the need to use salt systems as nowadays salt-free technology has advanced so far. Salt-free systems are now outperforming the old salt technology with much less impact on your pocket and the environment.
Assuming you do go for a salt-free water softener, you’ll likely be looking for the best all-around product. The one that does the best job at preventing the harmful effects of hard water for you and your family, while minimizing the damage to the environment and giving you the best value for money.
How does a water softener actually work?
Essentially there are two ways a water softener works. Your hard water is caused by higher than normal levels of minerals like calcium and magnesium in your water. Put simply, some water softeners remove these minerals (salt systems), while others bind them to other molecules preventing them from causing scale build-up around your home (salt-free systems).
Salt-based softeners work on a process called ‘ion exchange’. This works by passing water through a tank containing resin beads that are saturated with salt crystals. When the calcium and magnesium in your hard water come into contact with these salty resin beads they change places with the salt (hence the name ion exchange). So in effect, the salt is released into the water and the hard water minerals become attached to the resin beads. This removes these minerals from the water, preventing any chance of scaly deposits around your home.
Salt-free softeners work in a number of ways. For example there is the water softening process known as ‘Chelation’. This is a simple process where water passes through a citric acid mixture, causing the hard water minerals to bind with the citrus. When the two combine it creates a new molecule that remains suspended in the water and is no longer able to be left behind on your faucets, showers, sinks and appliances. But this time the good minerals are left in the water for your benefit.
I just want to know one simple thing: overall, which is the best water softener?
There are a lot of factors to consider when buying a water softener: cost, effectiveness, value for money, reliability, salt or no salt, product guarantees, company credibility, ease of installation, after sales service and on and on. It’s tough to make an informed decision with all these variables. With all things considered though there is one product that stands above the others, the nuvoH2O. [Insert affiliate link] That’s not to say it’s the best in every category, but overall it ticks more boxes than any other water softener on the market.
With all things considered, how much is a water softener going to cost me?
Again, it depends on which water softener you choose. For salt-based systems you’re looking at a larger upfront payment and a larger annual maintenance charge than salt-free systems. There are four main factors to consider: the product cost, the shipping fee, the installation cost and any annual maintenance costs. Adding these up for some of the leading products on the market you get total year one costs of:
|Salt-free:||Year 1 Cost|
What do you think are the best water softeners?
Should I go for a salt-based water softener or a salt-free alternative?
This is down to personal preference as both salt systems and salt-free softeners will help tackle your problem of hard water. But you also need to make sure you’re basing your decision on all of the facts.
Salt systems do work, but they come with a lot of negatives. They tend to be much larger systems so take up a lot of space in your home. If you have a smaller house or apartment, their size can be a real issue. Salt water softeners are also more expensive to run, requiring the hassle and cost of regular salt top-ups. There is also a significant impact on the environment. Salty waste water from households impacts local ecosystems and reduces the success of your local farmer’s crops.
Salt-free systems on the other hand do not have this environmental impact. They are often cheaper to buy, cheaper to install and cheaper to maintain. And are just as good at getting rid of the hard water mineral deposits that cause you issues around your home.
For a more detailed answer to the this question check out our Salt Vs No Salt analysis. [LINK to the Salt Vs No Salt article].
Do salt-free water softeners really work?
Yes they do. Because of the financial and environmental cost of using salt-based systems, non-salt water softeners are clearly the future. But with that said, the answer to this question is still sometimes ‘no’. There are some very good salt-free water softeners on the market but there are some other products that are, frankly, based on pseudo-science. So you need to be careful when purchasing.
A classic example is magnetic water softeners. These claim to ‘treat’ hard water by passing it through a magnetic field, preventing the harmful effects of the hard water. Scientific studies have been conducted on these types of magnetic water softeners and the evidence does not seem to back up the claims of companies selling these products.
However, don’t let a few bad products put you off salt-free softeners in general. If you go to a bad restaurant, it doesn’t mean that all restaurants are bad.
Is it worth getting a water softener, what exactly are the benefits?
It’s safe to say that if you suffer from hard water purchasing a water softener is going to be an investment of money that you will not regret. This list of benefits are long:
- Your appliances last longer as their heating elements are not impaired, saving you real dollars each year.
- Soap and detergents go further because they lather up properly – meaning you also have to buy less of them
- No more ugly white scale build up around your shower head, faucets, sinks and baths
- White spotting on dishes and glassware is removed
- Softer skin and hair – no more slimy film left behind on you after a shower
- Reduced bills – less water used and less electricity (as appliances are more efficient)
- Better for the environment as no salty brine released into our rivers and waterways (salt-free softeners only)
Which water softener will last the longest?
This question is hard to answer. But a good way of looking at it is by comparing the product warranties that the various companies are offering you. A short warranty doesn’t necessarily mean a sub-standard product, but it does set off certain alarm bells. Product warranties range from one year for salt-systems such as CrystalQuest, to a lifetime warranty for the nuvoH2O.
Would a company offer a lifetime warranty if they expected their product to break after just a few years? Likewise, would a company giving you a one year warranty make such a bad offer to you if they expected it to last a lifetime?
Will it remove the white spots I find on my dishes and glassware?
Yes, if you purchase a good water softener then it will start to cancel out the effects of hard water. Calcium and magnesium (that cause the white spots) will either be removed or prevented from having an affect, like with the Chelation process.
It may take a little time for a water softener to start showing positive effects. Most water softeners will not remove the existing white scale build up on your shower heads, faucets and appliances (except the nuvoH2O). But once you have installed your water softener of choice, you can be confident that after a good scrubbing of the trouble areas it should be the last time.
No longer will you have to re-rinse glasses when guests arrive, or worse still apologize for the cloudy white spots, “They’re clean really… it’s just our hard water”.
Will a water softener protect my appliances from scale damage?
Yes. Mineral deposits (scale) build up on the heating elements of washing machines, dishwashers and water heaters – making them work harder to heat the water. This both reduces the life of the appliance and the parts within it, but also means you have an increased electricity bill.
And let’s be honest, appliances are expensive items for the house and so protecting them – making sure they work efficiently and last as long as possible – is very important. That is one of the greatest benefits of buying and installing a water softener.
Will my water softener require maintenance of any sort and what costs are involved?
The bad news is that, yes, all water softeners require some maintenance. But there is a big difference between products and, therefore, how much of your time, effort and money is required to keep them running effectively.
Salt-based water softeners require you to periodically top up the salt level. This means regularly purchasing heavy bags of salt and pouring these into the system tanks. They’re not cheap, too. You’ll be looking at about $250 per year just on salt.
When you compare it with the salt-free alternatives, the level of hassle you have drops considerably. Many salt-free systems just require a change of the cartridge housed in the main unit. This can be as simple as unscrewing a lock, lifting the spent cartridge out and replacing with the new one. These replacement cartridges will only need to be replaced once or twice a year, depending on the water softener, and will cost you somewhere between $40 to $80. Apart from this, most salt-free softeners can be forgotten about, quietly going about their business softening your family’s water.
Are water softeners difficult to install?
This depends on how familiar you are with a tool box. If you’re used to a bit of DIY around your home, very basic plumbing skills will be good enough to install the salt-free systems such as the APEC, Pelican and nuvoH2O.
However, for the salt-based systems unless you’re a confident plumber you’re going to need a professional.
How much is installation going to cost me?
Well, plumbers are not cheap. We can’t give you hard facts here because different plumbers will charge different prices. As a guide, though, the more complex the installation the more time it will take a plumber and, of course, the more it’s going to cost you.
That means the salt systems are going to be the hardest and most costly to install. Systems like the CrystalQuest and Fleck will cost you about $400 to install.
Salt-free systems like the APEC, the Pelican and the nuvoH2O will be much easier to install. In fact if you’re handy with a wrench you could install the Pelican and nuvoH2O yourself.
Some of the water softeners I have seen look huge. What if I live in an apartment or smaller house?
You’re right, some water softeners are huge. These are almost always the salt-based products though. Multiple tanks and complex plumbing, not to mention the big bags of salt that you need to store.
If space is an issue for you, then there are a number of salt-free softeners that are very compact. Take the nuvoH2O, for example. This comes in a range of sizes for large homes down to small apartments. You can even install the smaller version in the cupboard below your sink. Very convenient.
How do I know I can trust a company selling water softeners?
There are a number of things to consider. How long has the company been around? Have you heard of them before? Do they have positive customer reviews? Do they have any well-known existing clients?
And don’t discount your instinct – your instincts are good. Read the company’s words: do they sound genuine and well thought through? When reading their marketing do you get the sense that this is a company that cares for its customers or just another website that wants your money? Do you feel there is a person on the other side of their marketing message? If yes, then that’s normally a good sign.
Of course, the great safety net is a product guarantee. Look for a company with the longest guarantee and you’re normally looking at the company to trust.