November 21, 2018
We’ve researched the top 10 whole house water softeners, so you don’t have to. Simply match your need with the categories below and read our evaluation on the best water softeners available. You’ll find recommendations for:
- General softening needs
- Well water
- Iron and/or sulfur
- Full filter and softening systems
- Salt-free options
We’ve assessed each whole home unit for efficiency, features, ease of installation and use, and overall value.
If you’d rather pick out your own product or evaluate the model you’re considering, you can use our buying guide below. We’ve provided information on the most important factors to making a buying decision.
In a Rush?
Fleck 5600 SXT 48,000 Grain
Options For Different Uses
Our research revealed the following models to combine the best efficiency and features at the convenient prices. You can read more about each model below or go directly to the seller’s page for more information.
For well water: Fleck 5600 SXT 64,000 Grains
For iron and/or sulfur: AFWFilters New Iron and Sulfur Filter Pro 3 5600 SXT 64,000 Grain
Full filter and softener: Aquasana Whole House Filter and Salt-Free
Salt-free softener: Hard Water Bullet Triple Action Poly Salt-Free
This page also includes alternatives to these models. If you’re interested in a category, read about both models that we’ve selected as the top in their class. In many cases, the alternative model includes more features but at a higher cost.
Top Brands on the Market
Best Whole House Water Softener Systems Reviews - [Updated List 2018]
What is the perfect home system? The answer depends on your needs. Here are the full reviews of our recommended models. We’ve included 2 models for each category: General Use, Well Water, Iron and/or Sulfur, Full Filters, and Polyphosphate Softeners.
In each one, we include information on the grain rating, flow rate, notable features, installation, and price
For General Use
These two are perfect for well or city water as long as you don’t have any additional pollutants or want to remove chlorine. They soften your water. One is a conventional model while the other uses an upflow system.
1. Fleck 5600 SXT 48,000 Grain Water Softener
The Fleck 5600 SXT 48,000 Grain is our site-wide favorite model. It’s not the largest model, but it reliably softens water for well or city users for a very long time at a very low price.
First, the 48,000 grain filtering capacity ensures that the softener only needs to regenerate once a week in a home on city water or 2-3 times per week for a mid-size family on well water. And speaking of regeneration, the Fleck 5600 SXT control head measures your home’s water usage and schedules a regeneration cycle the night before it reaches filtering capacity. You’ll never be without soft water!
Some models wait until it’s already exceeded the capacity limit to regenerate. Others regenerate on a cycle regardless of how many gallons have been used and how many grains it’s filtered.
Purchasing a metered system like the SXT control head and valve saves money on salt and water consumption as you program it to accurately count your average number of grains per gallon and only regenerate as needed without no other instruction from you.
It does reduce your plumbing’s flow rate to 12 gallons per minute, but that high of a flow rate should ensure adequate water pressure for up to 6 people sharing the house.
The Fleck 48,000 Grain Water Softener is extremely easy to install. It even comes with a USB drive with instructions and videos on tips for installation and entering your information into the program.
The LCD display shows errors when they occur so that they can quickly troubleshoot the problem or call for assistance. And a built-in backup capacitor keeps the control head charged and its memory intact for 48 hours in case of a blackout.
If you haven’t tested your water already, you can use the kit included in this model. Take a sample before and after you install it to see how effective it is.
It’s not uncommon for this model to last 27 years, but it comes with a warranty of 5 years on the SXT head and a warranty of 10 years on the salt and resin tanks. The total cost for the unit is less than $600.
2. Fleck 5600 SXT 48,000 Grain Water Softener with Upflow Carbon Filtration
The Fleck 5600 SXT 48,000 Grain Water Softener with Upflow Carbon Filtration is similar to the model above except for the fact that it doesn’t drain and thus uses less salt and water. It also filters out chlorine and chloramines out of city water and herbicides and pesticides out of well water, combing some of the nicest features of conventional and full filter systems.
The salt water does not drain out of the system after it regenerates and the only electricity it uses is to power the control head. The control head is the same Fleck 5600 SXT that measures your water flow and automatically regenerates the night before you need it to. It also has the same 12-gallon per minute flow rate, sufficient for a family of 5-6 people.
The upflow system keeps the filtering material cleaner and helps it to last longer. The included filter also removes chlorine, which can eat away at the resin. And the fact that it filters common pollutants found in well water makes it a great choice for any home.
An upflow system does take longer to regenerate as it cleans the resin more thoroughly. To minimize any inconvenience, the dual tank system ensures that you’re never without soft water, even in the middle of the night during a regeneration cycle.
The Fleck 48,000 Grain Upflow model comes with the standard 5-year warranty on the control head and a 10-year warranty on the tanks.
This is our second favorite general use whole house unit not for lower performance (it actually filters more) but because it is more expensive and takes up more floor space for the twin resin tanks. It costs less than $1,070. If you have room for it and want to take advantage of the additional filtering power, longer lasting resin, and lower salt, water, and energy costs, this might be the water softening system for you.
For Well Water
While the two general use models can be used perfectly well with well water, you might want something with a little higher grain capacity. The increased filtering power of these models will keep your system from regenerating as often on hard water.
3. Fleck 5600 SXT 64,000 Grains Water Softener
If a 48,000 grain belonging to a family of 4 would need to regenerate three times a week, the Fleck 5600 SXT 64,000 Grains model reduces that number to twice. Fewer regeneration cycles add up to significant savings in salt and water over the 20+ years this model will last.
With the increase in grain filtering capacity comes an increase in the unit’s maximum flow rate as well. Providing 18 gallons of softened water per minute, you could probably run all of the water faucets, fixtures, and appliances in your house without a problem.
It has the same Fleck 5600 SXT control head and valve for smart regeneration timing and salt and water conservation. The head stays powered up when you lose electricity, so it should never miss a regeneration cycle or ask you to reprogram it.
The SXT unit and the tanks are guaranteed for 5 and 10 years, respectively, so you don’t have to worry about manufacturing errors.
The nice thing about the Fleck 5600 SXT 64,000 Grain is that it doesn’t cost much more than the 48,000 grain general use model. You can pick up this larger size for less than $670 and install it with the same amount of ease.
4. ABCwaters Pentair Fleck 5600 SXT 80,000 Grains Water Softener with 10% Resin
For homes with very hard water or for those who want to conserve the maximum amount of salt and water, the ABCwaters Pentair Fleck 5600 SXT 80,000 Grains with 10% Resin offers the highest grain filtering capacity of any single tank model. You could even use this for city water (the upgraded resin filters chlorine) and enjoy the savings of a softener that only regenerates once every 2-3 weeks. If it could last that long on city water, it will certainly go 1 week on well water.
With the Fleck 5600 SXT control head, it will wait until a low water usage period (typically 2 or 3am) and then regenerate when it calculates it’s close to its 80,000 grain filtering capacity. The smart timing allows it to clean the resin without interrupting your water flow when you need it.
You’ll also enjoy the back-up power capacitor included in the head. It retains enough electricity to power the head for 48 hours after a service interruption. When the power comes back on, the Fleck SXT picks up where it left off. All of your settings are saved, and it remembers how many gallons it has processed since its last regeneration cycle.
We like this particular model because you can purchase it in black, blue, or almond. If you have a finished or walk-out basement, the color options help you make your home’s water treatment area more attractive or subtle.
The video instructions will show you how to install the ABCwaters Pentair Fleck 5600 SXT 80,000 Grains with 10% Resin in a couple of hours. It comes with the same 5 and 10-year warranties and is available for less than $855. For nearly double the filtering capacity at less than one and a half times the price, it’s certainly a cost-effective deal.
For Well Water with Iron and/or Sulfur
If you have additional elements in your water supply, you’ll need additional filtering material. This first option below is built to filter iron out of your water while the second also removes sulfur and manganese.
5. ABCwaters built Fleck 5600 SXT 64,000 Grain Water Softener with Iron Mesh
As part of the Iron Man series, the ABCwaters built Fleck 5600 SXT 64,000 Grain with Iron Mesh is able to soften your water and filter out iron. You’ll know you have iron by the reddish-orange stains it leaves in the bottom of your sink, shower, tub, and dishwasher. It’s a pain to clean.
So, instead of scrubbing out iron stains, spend a little extra and get a higher grain filtering capacity for hard water and an iron filter. The regular use 48,000 grain Fleck model that we recommended costs a little less than $600. This is one is just below $750, so it’s definitely worth the price if you have iron in your water.
Like the general use model, this is controlled by the Fleck 5600 SXT head and valve. Once you input the number of grains that are in each gallon of your water, the head will keep track of how many gallons pass through it and thus how many grains it has filtered. It will then estimate how soon it will reach its 64,000 grain capacity and trigger a regeneration cycle the night before.
With a 64,000 grain capacity, your unit will probably only need to regenerate twice a week. The mesh filter removes any iron present in your water as well as any other large grains that the resin material won’t handle.
You will enjoy having ample water pressure with a 13-gallon per minute flow rate and the confidence that comes with a 5-year warranty on the head and a 10-year warranty on the tanks. You’ll also appreciate how easy it is to install, program, and maintain.
6. AFWFilters Water Softener New Iron and Sulfur Filter Pro 3 5600 SXT 64,000 Grain
If you also have sulfur accompanying the iron in your water, we recommend the AFWFilters New Iron and Sulfur Filter Pro 3 5600 SXT 64,000 Grain. You’ll know you have sulfur in your well water if it smells like hard boiled eggs. You’ll also taste it.
The Iron Pro 3 features the same 64,000 grain filtering capacity tracked by the same Fleck 5600 SXT control head as the model above. It also has a fine mesh for filtering iron. The difference is that it also includes KDF-85 mixed in with the resin.
The KDF-85 captures sulfur and manganese the same way resin beads capture calcium and magnesium. When your unit regenerates, all of the unwanted elements are flushed out and sent down into your septic system where it harmlessly absorbs back into the ground.
The SXT valve ensures that it only regenerates as often as needed at the most convenient time. The entire unit is easy to install and comes with a 4-month money-back guarantee, so you can live it for a while before you consider the sale final.
It has a flow rate of 16 gallons per minute, so it’s suited for even the largest of families.
It’s a little more costly at just below $840, but it’s also the complete solution for homes with less than ideal well water. It removes calcium, magnesium, iron, sulfur, and manganese all in one go. And it does so with a 64,000 grain capacity to conserve salt and water. The price isn’t a bad deal for a unit that will last 20 years or more
System With Filters
These two models can be used with city or well water and provide not only softened but filtered water. They feature no-salt polyphosphate technology and easy to change filters.
7. Aquasana Whole House Water Filter and Salt-Free Water Softener
The Aquasana Whole House Water Filter and Salt-Free Softener does not remove the hard water grains from your water. Instead, it coats them in natural polyphosphates so that they won’t stick together or to any other surface. You’ll have cleaner pipes and less mineral spotting.
You also won’t need to add salt or use any electricity for this model. If you have well water, you can rest assured knowing that the filters are removing any pesticides or herbicides that might have reached the groundwater supplying your well.
If you have city water, you’ll enjoy the fact that it removes chlorines and chloramines. These elements that cities add to treat the water can dry out your skin and make your hair more brittle.
You can mount the Aquasana Whole House Water Filter and Salt-Free Softener on your wall (it weighs approximately 16 pounds) or set it on the floor in place of your conventional softener. The length is 54 inches, and it’s as easy to install as a conventional system.
As the water flows through the various filters, the system still provides a flow rate of 7 gallons per minute. That’s usually enough water pressure for a family of 4.
This model has a warranty covering 10 years and costs less than $1400. About halfway through, you’ll need to renew the polyphosphate material in the SimplySoft tank (costs less than $100). You’ll also need to replace the filters on each end of the line about every 6 months (approximately $16 and $30 for a 2-year supply).
After 10 years, you can replace the Rhino tank for less than $785 and continue using the system as normal. With easy replacements and maintenance, this might be the perfect whole house water softener and filter system.
8. Aquasana Rhino 6-Stage 500,000 Gallon Well Water Softener System with Simplysoft Salt-Free and UV Filter
The Aquasana Rhino 6-Stage 500,000 Gallon Well Water Filtration System with SimplySoft Salt Free and UV Filter is an improved version of the above model. It still coats mineral grains in polyphosphate and filters out chlorine and groundwater contaminants. It also includes a larger filter and a UV light to kill bacteria and viruses.
If you have well water, this is the whole house water filtration and softener system you can buy. The larger 20-inch pre-filter catches sediment from your well while the rest of the filters take care of hard water grains. The UV light keeps your water healthy, neutralizing any living germs in your well water, thus serving the same purpose as chlorine in city water.
The UV light will need to be plugged in, and it will be on continuously, but it won’t take any more electricity than a normal lamp.
The only maintenance you’ll need to do on the unit is replacing the polyphosphates every 5 years (less than $100), changing the pre-filter every 6 months (less than $28 for 4), and changing the post-filter every 6 months (less than $30 for 4). The Rhino filter is rated to last approximately 5 years in homes with well water, after which you can replace it for less than $785.
You can purchase the Aquasana Rhino 6-Stage 500,000 Gallon Well Water Filtration System with SimplySoft Salt Free Water Softener and UV Filter to treat your well water for less than $2205.
System using Polyphosphates
These polyphosphate water softeners offer minimal filtering at a lower price. If you do not need additional filters for your water, these could be your cost-effective salt-free solution.
9. Hard Water Bullet Triple Action Water Softener Poly Salt-Free
The Hard Water Bullet Triple Action Poly Salt-Free Water Softener is a low-cost, durable, polyphosphate softener. It’s also incredibly small and light, perfect for mounting on your wall and saving floor space. It weighs approximately 4 pounds and measures 10 inches by 9 inches.
It comes with a wall-mounting bracket and is very easy to install as an-line pass through softener. It doesn’t even limit your water flow, providing up to 30 gallons per minute. Your home’s water supply line isn’t even rated to deliver that much water!
As the water passes through the Hard Water Bullet Poly, mineral grains are coated in polyphosphate, and a 50-micron filter catches sediment or other pollutants.
Maintenance is easy to perform on the Hard Water Bullet Poly. Once every 6 months, simply turn your water supply line off, empty the pipes by running the water for a minute, and then unscrew the top and bottom openings. Remove and rinse the filter, rinse the core with vinegar, and refill it with polyphosphates.
The refill polyphosphates cost less than $30, and the entire maintenance process will take less than 10 minutes. The unit itself can last a lifetime and will cost you less than $460.
Before the water leaves the bullet, it also passes through a 50-micron filter, making this a water softener and water filter in one. With a flow rate of 30 gallons per minute, you’ll never be without adequate water pressure.
Once a year, you will need to rinse the removable filter and the core with vinegar. It does not use electricity, salt, or excess water for a regeneration cycle, making the Hard Water Bullet an inexpensive choice for an initial investment of less than $460.
10. Aquios FS-220 Water Softener Salt Free and Filtration System
The Aquios FS-220 Water Softener and Filtration System is a similar model for less. It’s a slim pass-through unit that coats hard water minerals in polyphosphates. It also has a 5-micron filter, meaning the openings in the filter are small enough that it can even eliminate chlorine from city water.
The unit weighs 7.5 pounds and measures 27 inches with a 10-inch diameter. Support it with a wall bracket and easily install it as a pass-through in your pipeline.
The only maintenance you’ll need to perform is changing the filter. It will need to be changed after every 40,000 gallons. That works out to once every 4 months if you have a 4-person family, once every 16 months if you live alone.
We like that the filter also contains the polyphosphates, so when you buy one, you buy the other. The filters cost less than $65 each, and the Aquios FS-220 Water Softener and Filtration System itself costs less than $430. It comes with a 20-year warranty, but if you keep it clean and change the filters as needed, it can last much longer.
Fleck 5600 SXT 48,000 Grain
There are a lot of factors to take into account when purchasing a water softener. If you don’t have iron, sulfur, or manganese in your water and you don’t need any additional filtering, the Fleck 5600 SXT 48,000 Grain Water Softener is the top unit for its price. Once it’s installed, it will run itself with automatic regeneration cycles and continue to provide you with a 12-gallon per minute flow rate.
The resin filtering system is the most effective at removing hard water grains, and the salt flush periodically cleans the resin. You don’t have to perform any maintenance other than checking the salt level once a month.
It costs less than $600, comes with instructions for easy installation, and will most likely last more than 20 years. It’s a proven model that makes an economical choice for most homeowners. There aren’t many reasons not to buy it!
For other options, you can read this:
How to Pick the Right One for Your Needs?
Before you start researching water softeners, you should first know the condition of your water. How hard is it? Does it contain iron, sulfur, or manganese?
Are you concerned about other pollutants, such as herbicides, pesticides, or bacteria? Do you have city water and want to remove the chlorine and chloramines it’s treated with?
If you don’t know what your water contains, or if it’s been a while since it was tested, purchase a water test kit. Otherwise, you can estimate how hard your water is and determine whether it has other contaminants by the effects it has on your plumbing, sinks, appliances, and skin.
When people talk about hard water, they’re referring to the particles of minerals (calcium and magnesium) in the water. Those particles are called grains.
Many models are rated by how many grains or particles they will remove from your water before they need to regenerate or have their filter changed. Regeneration is the process conventional models use to flush the filtering material with salt water. The longer a unit can go without regenerating, the more money it will save you in salt and water consumption.
City water contains an average of 15 grains per gallon (GPG). Fifteen GPG is enough to show signs of hard water on your plumbing, sinks, and showers. Over time, the mineral deposits build up in the pipes and wherever they dry.
Well water can have as much 40 grains per gallon. With that heavy of concentration, your pipes will suffer frequent clogging and reduced water pressure. Your hair and skin will dry, and your clothes will look dingy.
If your current unit still shows the signs of hard water, you might need a model with a higher grain rating.
Alternatively, you can purchase a model with a lower grain rating and program it to regenerate more often. Doing so, however, will use more water and salt, costing more in the long run than the difference in price for a larger model.
Most models regenerate based on the number of grains per gallon you input as your water’s hardness and the number of gallons you use. It keeps track of the number of gallons it has filtered and regenerates when it nears its filtering capacity. Full filter systems, on the other hand, require you to change the filters as needed.
If the water passes through your unit (as opposed to electronic or magnetic systems), it could slow down your plumbing’s flow rate and reduce the water pressure. You can look at the specifications for most models to determine their flow rates – how many gallons they can process per minute.
If you live by yourself, you probably won’t need a higher flow rate than 4 gallons per minute (GPM). That would allow you to take a shower and run the dishwasher, washing machine, or sprinkler system at the same time.
If you have a family, you’ll need a much higher flow rate because there’s a higher chance that more people or appliances will need water at the same time. A family of 4, for instance, can usually get by with a flow rate of 7 GPM. A family of 5 or 6 will need 10-12 GPM.
Look for a model that will meet your water pressure needs at peak times of the day.
Water softeners that use polyphosphates do not remove hard water grains from your water. That’s because minerals are good for you. You need calcium and magnesium in your diet.
You don’t need calcium and magnesium in your pipes, on your fixtures, or making spots on your dishes. So these types coat the grains in polyphosphate, another natural and non-harmful molecule, to prevent them from bonding to anything as they pass through your pipes and down the drain.
Instead of using salt, you simply have to refill these systems with polyphosphate beads and rinse the filter.
Polyphosphate Full Filtering Systems
Full house softener systems with additional filters also use polyphosphates to reduce the effects of hard water in your home. They also remove a host of other pollutants that you don’t need in your water.
If you’re concerned about pesticides or herbicides, viruses or bacteria seeping into your groundwater, full filter systems will eliminate them. If you don’t care for the chlorine and chloramines in city water, a full filter will take them out, giving you softer skin and hair.
Besides refilling them with polyphosphates, you’ll also need to replace the filters in this style.
Well Water with Iron, Sulfur, or Manganese?
If you have a well and notice orange stains in your tub, you have iron in your water. If you have black stains, you have manganese. If your water smells like hardboiled eggs, you have sulfur.
Regular units won’t help with any of these elements. You’ll need to look for one that specifically filters them out. The optimum treatment method is adding another filtering material (KDF-85) to a conventional model.