A quality water softener removes calcium, magnesium, and other minerals that cause hard water—which can damage appliances, dry out hair and skin, and leave buildup on the surfaces in your kitchen and bathroom—from your water supply. "The most important thing for finding the right product for your home is understanding the water in your home," says Tim Dunphy, a water expert at Leaf Home Water Solutions. "That really comes from getting your water tested, so then you can get the right product recommended to solve your home’s unique water challenges."
If you've had your water tested for hard water, there are plenty of water softeners available on the market to purchase. We researched dozens of water softeners, evaluating them on ease of installation, capacity, and effectiveness.
Backed by our research, here are the best water softeners for different home plumbing systems.
GE GXSH40V Water Softener
Smart features to optimize regeneration schedule
Relatively compact for its capacity
Adjustable water hardness controls
Useful digital indicators
Long regeneration cycle
"Smart" and "efficient" are two ways to describe the functionality of this popular whole-house water softener. The GE GXSH40V has a 40,200-grain capacity—sufficient for typical four-person households. It features GE’s SmartSoft technology, which allows the system to detect water usage patterns and optimize regeneration schedules so that softened water is available during peak periods of usage such as during your family's morning shower rush or at dinnertime. Regeneration takes about two hours and uses 37 gallons of water.
Its advanced features aren't the only thing that makes this water softener our top pick. This model only takes about 30 minutes to an hour to install, which is much less time than other water softeners on the market. At 14.4 by 22.4 by 47.6 inches, it's likely small enough to fit in your laundry room or water closet.
One of the most unique features of the GE GXSH40V is its blending valve, which allows you to adjust the hardness of your water to match your needs. Using the digital controller, you can adjust water hardness levels, conserving salt usage or increasing water softness to suit your preference. The controller will also provide you with a "Days to Empty" indicator, giving you an at-a-glance view of when it’s time to add more to the 230-pound capacity salt bin.
This water softener not only delivers on its promise to remove iron and grains from your water, but its smart technology almost anticipates your needs, which is why it's our top pick.
Price at time of publish: $649
Type: Salt-based | Grain Capacity: 40,200 | Maximum Hardness Removal: 126 GPG | Regeneration Cycle: About 2 hours using 37 gallons of water | Ideal Household Size: 4 people
GE GXMH31H 30,000 Grain Water Softener and Filter in One
Indicator screen tells you how many days until the unit needs a recharge
Sediment and chlorine filter
Long regeneration cycle
Regeneration requires more water than other models
When paired with water filtration components, a water softener system can reduce the mineral content of your water while also improving the smell and taste of your drinking water. The GE GXMH31H Water Softener and Filter in One accomplishes both purposes with one compact set-up.
This water softener system is capable of reducing hard water up to 120 grains per gallon and can filter 31,100 grains before regeneration. Regeneration can be time-intensive, taking between 105 and 152 minutes, and it also requires a hefty amount of water (54.7 gallons) when compared to similar softeners. On a positive note, many users have reported it runs quietly.
In addition to softening water to your preferred hardness using a custom blending valve, the GE Water Softener and Filter in One reduces chlorine taste and odor in your water.
Price at time of publish: $499
Type: Salt-based | Grain Capacity: 31,100 | Maximum Hardness Removal: 120 GPG | Regeneration Cycle: 105-152 minutes using 54.7 gallons of water | Ideal Household Size: Not listed
On The Go Portable Double Standard Water Softener
Compact design fits anywhere
Rope carrying handle
Low grain capacity requires frequent regeneration
The On The Go Portable Double Standard Water Softener is the best option for RVs, boats, buses, or any other situation where a water softener needs to be compact and movable. This water softener has a 16,000 grain capacity, which is the lowest capacity of any of our recommendations, but it makes up for it with a straightforward regeneration cycle that takes less than 30 minutes and uses two boxes of table salt. Regeneration is made even easier thanks to the system's large, open mouth. Depending on how hard your water is, the On The Go has a high enough grain capacity to provide between 640 and 1,600 gallons of softened water in between regenerations.
True to its name, the On The Go has a number features that make it ideal for travelers and anyone likely to uninstall and reinstall the unit in multiple locations. In addition to its 22-by-9.5-inch design, it has a carry handle on top, plus a cap and plug to prevent leaking during travel. It also uses a standard hose connection and requires no tools to install.
With a flow rate of 3 gallons per minute, this water softener is more than capable of keeping up with an RV or marine shower. It also comes with hardness test strips, hose adapters, and a cradle base for stable installation. On The Go also offers a smaller Portable Standard Water Softener, without about half the capacity, but we believe it's worth the upgrade for the extra capacity.
Price at time of publish: $250
Type: Salt-based | Grain Capacity: 16,000 | Maximum Hardness Removal: 58 GPG | Regeneration Cycle: 24-30 minutes | Ideal Household Size: Mobile, RV
Best for Well Water
Aquasure Harmony Water Softener with Fine Mesh Resin for Iron Removal
Iron filter ideal for well water
Fine mesh resin to capture wide range of minerals
Ability to handle very hard water
Useful digital controls
No way to quickly check salt levels
A water softener for well water is typically equipped with an iron filter. This additional filter helps to address the specific needs of homes supplied by well water and reduces the presence of iron and rust stains on sinks, tubs, and toilets.
Aquasure’s Harmony series is outfitted with fine mesh resin that captures minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron. It has the ability to filter water with a hardness up to 110 GPG. Choose between water softeners with the capacity to filter 32,000, 48,000, or 64,000 GPG before regeneration is needed. The regeneration cycle uses 40 gallons of water and lasts 98 minutes. Regardless of the size tank you choose, the Aquasure has a digital control console that monitors water consumption and regulates the frequency of regeneration.
Price at time of publish: $579
Type: Salt-based | Grain Capacity: 48,000 | Maximum Hardness Removal: 110 GPG | Regeneration Cycle: 98 minutes using 40 gallons of water | Ideal Household Size: Up to 5 people
Rheem RHS32 Preferred 32,000 Grain Water Softener
Large salt storage reservoir
Low salt monitor
Angled design and inner tank light for easy maintenance
Long two-hour regeneration cycle
Salt-based water softeners are a familiar sight in homes supplied by hard water. A popular and affordable salt-based softener for average-sized households is the Rheem Preferred 32,000 Grain Water Softener.
This model from Rheem uses a treated resin bed to capture calcium and magnesium particles from hard water. After processing 32,000 grains, the system will regenerate—which takes two hours and uses 24 gallons of water. The salt storage tank holds 175 pounds and needs periodic refilling, but the system monitors salt levels and provides a visual alert when the salt supply is running low. Rheem also equipped this model with technology to detect water usage patterns and optimize regeneration cycles to conserve salt, water, and energy.
Price at time of publish: $419
Type: Salt-based | Grain Capacity: 32,000 | Maximum Hardness Removal: 105 GPG | Regeneration Cycle: 2 hours using 24 gallons of water | Ideal Household Size: Up to 4 people
The GE GXSH40V Water Softener is our top pick as a water softener for average-size households. It filters 40,200 grains before triggering a two-hour regeneration cycle that uses just 37 gallons of water. If you're on a budget, check out the Waterboss 36,400 Grain Water Softener, which can accommodate up to four-person households.
What to Look for in a Water Softener
There are three types of water softeners: salt-based softeners, salt-free water conditioners, and electromagnetic conditioners.
Salt-based softeners are the most popular systems for residential use. However, they do require ongoing attention and maintenance. Homeowners will need to purchase a supply of sodium chloride or potassium chloride regularly and keep the salt holding tank full for regeneration. Resin media generally has about a 10-year lifespan, but it depends on water quality and usage.
Salt-free conditioners don’t remove calcium and magnesium particles from the water. Instead, these systems neutralize the particles to eliminate their ability to stick to plumbing fixtures and appliances. The benefit of conditioned water is that it prevents scale build-up without the need to buy salt regularly and add it to the system. Although electromagnetic water conditioners have great potential in theory, we recommend against purchasing this type of water softener because they do not work well in a home setting.
Water softener capacity is usually indicated in how many particles the system can filter before needing a regeneration cycle. Capacity generally ranges from about 28,000 grains for small water softeners to 80,000 grains for heavy-duty softener systems. An average-sized water softener for three to four-person households is usually in the range of 32,000 to 40,000 grains.
A bypass valve enables you to divert water from the softener system, which can be useful in a number of situations. When turned on, the valve will direct the flow from your water pipe past the softener system—enabling you to work on the softener without shutting off water to the whole house. A bypass valve is also sometimes useful when using a volume of water where water hardness is not an issue. For example, if you’re doing yardwork it might make sense to divert water from the softener. Doing so saves the resin media from filtering water unnecessarily and shortening the time until the system’s next regeneration cycle.
What are the pros and cons of a water softener?
If you have hard water, a water softener can reduce the number of mineral spots on glassware and prevent the build-up of minerals on the inside of your pipes. Water softeners work by using coated resin beads (which have a negative ion charge) to attract and capture particles responsible for water hardness—specifically calcium and magnesium (which have a positive charge). These particles bind to the resin while the treated water flows through the resin bed and through your home’s plumbing system.
A water softener helps prevent potential long-term damage to your plumbing and can extend the life of your dishwasher and washing machine. Conversely, for some people, the extra sodium in softened water can be harmful. Anyone with high blood pressure should check with a doctor before installing a water softener. According to guidance released by the Minnesota Department of Health, people on a low-sodium diet should keep a separate, un-softened tap for cooking and drinking.
The addition of another appliance in your home does come with added maintenance requirements to ensure the water softener is functioning as intended.
Do electromagnetic water softeners work?
No, according to Tim Dunphy, a water expert at Leaf Home Water Solutions. This style of water softener is not as efficient as salt-based softeners. There's also little evidence to support that magnetic water softeners are effective at softening water, as they only temporarily change the composition of the water, rather than removing the minerals.Learn More: 6 Types of Water Softeners and How to Choose One
What size water softener do I need for a family of 4?
For a family of four, look for a water softener with a grain count between 30,000 to 40,000, with a minimum grain capacity of 30,000 units.
Can I install a water softener myself?
While installing a water softener yourself allows you to save money, a water professional can test your water to ensure the system you've purchased is best for your home. Professional installation services may also save you a headache if your home has an older plumbing system.
How much does it cost to install a water softener?
The cost to install a water softener depends on the type of system and how much time the installation will take. Some water softener systems are easy enough for a DIY installation. For a straightforward installation that doesn’t require installing or cutting pipes, the cost may be $300 or less. More complex systems may cost $500 to $6,000, or more.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was researched and written by Erica Puisis, a professional writer that specializes in large and small appliances for the home. She has written more than 200 articles for The Spruce, including articles on water testing kits, water heaters, and filtration systems.
Emma Phelps, an updates writer for The Spruce, also contributed to this article by interviewing Tim Dunphy, a water expert at Leaf Home Water Solutions. Dunphy provided insightful context for understanding how water softeners function, as well as best practices for maintaining their systems.