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Hard well water can be a problem; hard well water containing iron even more so:
- Limescale deposits in pipes can reduce water pressure and eventually cause leaking. It also lowers the efficiency of your water heater and other appliances. Both leads to higher maintenance requirements and more frequent repairs.
- Hard water/iron staining are often more of an aesthetic factor but troublesome nevertheless.
- Soft, iron-free water is also less of a burden for our hair, skin, and clothes.
Many good reasons to invest in a water softener system!
So, here is our collection of the 9 best water softeners for well water. Enjoy!
- 1 Best Water Softeners for Well Water – Top Picks
- 2 Best Water Softener for Well Water with Iron Reviews
- 2.1 1. Best Overall: SpringWell SS Water Softener System
- 2.2 2. Best for High Iron: SpringWell WSSS & WSSF Well Water Filter and Salt Based/Free Water Softener
- 2.3 3. SoftPro Elite Well+ Basic Water Softener for Well Water
- 2.4 4. Best Descaler: iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Descaler
- 2.5 5. Best for Lower Budgets: Tier1 Essential Series 48,000 Grain High Efficiency Digital Water Softener
- 2.6 6. Best for Lower Budgets: Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener System
- 2.7 7. Review: AFWFilters Iron Pro 2 Combination Water Softener with Fleck 5600SXT
- 2.8 8. Best for Iron + Chemical Removal: Crystal Quest Water Softener with Pre/Post Water Filtration
- 2.9 9. Aquasana SimplySoft Salt-Free Whole House Water Softening System
- 3 Well Water Softener System Comparison Chart
- 4 Buyer’s Guide – How to Choose a Well Water Softener for Your Home (+ How We Tested)
- 5 What is Hard Water?
- 6 How to Test for Hard Water
- 7 What is a Salt-Based Well Water Softener and How Does it Work?
- 8 Other Types of Water Softener Systems for Well Water and How They Work
- 9 Salt-Based Water Softeners vs Salt-Free Water Conditioners
- 10 Advantages and Disadvantages – Why is it Important to Use a Water Softener for Your Well Water?
- 11 Water Softener Installation
- 12 Maintenance
- 13 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- 14 Conclusion
Best Water Softeners for Well Water – Top Picks
Best Water Softener for Well Water with Iron Reviews
The order of the following water softener reviews is deliberate. Our favorite products are at the top.
1. Best Overall: SpringWell SS Water Softener System
Coupon Code (5% Off): Masterz5
In our opinion, the best water softener for well water in 2023 is the SpringWell SS. It’s a traditional salt based system that applies ion exchange to remove calcium and other minerals from hard water.
The main benefit of reducing water hardness this way is that you can prevent scale buildup in pipes, fixtures, and home appliances. As a result, everything from your water heater to the washing machine works at optimum efficiency. And, above that, less maintenance and fewer repairs are required. Other positive side effects of soft water include healthier hair and skin, softer fabrics, and reduced spotting and staining on surfaces.
By the way, the SpringWell SS is also the best water softener for well water with iron.
See More Product Images at springwellwater.com
- Price: $$$
- Type of water softener: Salt based
- Max iron removal: 3 ppm ferrous
- Flow rate and grain rating depend on which unit size you choose
- SS1: 11 gallons per minute (1-3 bathrooms), 32,000-grain capacity
- SS4: 13 gpm water flow (4-6 bathrooms), 48,000-grain capacity
- SS+: 20 gpm (7+ bathrooms), 80,000-grain capacity
- Best for: The SpringWell SS is best for iron removal and overall water softening.
- The SpringWell SS is fully automated, meaning the control head takes care of system regeneration. All you need to do is choose cycle frequency, backwash length, and how much salt to use.
- This initial programming can be done using your mobile phone or tablet, or the system’s head unit directly. If you want to try the former just install the free configuration app available for both iOS and Android.
- In order to save water and salt regeneration only kicks in if really necessary. Salt dose and the amount of water used for backwashing are automatically adjusted according to your prior water usage.
- The large tank that holds the softening resin also contains a Vortech plate which increases backwashing efficiency by up to 30%.
- The softening resin itself is 10% crosslink resin which is more resistant against chlorine than regular 8% resin – 10% crosslink resin is supposed to last up to twice as long.
- Up to 3 parts per million clear water iron as well as 1 part per million manganese and hydrogen sulfide can be removed.
- A neoprene tank jacket protects the tank from damage.
- For people that know how to use tools the installation process is easy. A full kit and detailed written instructions and a video tutorial are provided by the manufacturer.
- The control valve features a bypass. Thus, you don’t have to install one yourself. Generally speaking, bypass valves make it much easier to maintain a water softening system.
- SpringWell offers a 6-month money-back guarantee. You can test their water softener during that trial period and, if you’re not happy with its performance, send it back for a full refund.
- You also get a limited lifetime warranty for peace of mind.
- At this point in time we’re unaware of any disadvantages.
Or read our complete SpringWell SS water softener review
2. Best for High Iron: SpringWell WSSS & WSSF Well Water Filter and Salt Based/Free Water Softener
Coupon Code (5% Off): Masterz5
A combination of whole house water filter and water softener is recommended if you’re dealing with high levels of iron in hard water.
The SpringWell WSSS filter-softener combination filters any iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide from your water and softens it afterwards. The pre-filtration system guarantees that the majority of iron will be removed from the water before it touches the softener’s resin bed. Thus, fouling of the bed can be prevented. The salt-based softener then removes any remaining iron as well as all calcium and magnesium ions to stop scale from building in your plumbing system.
Applying pre-filtration also allows you to use SpringWell’s salt-free water softener that is sensitive to common well water contaminants (iron, manganese, sulfur): The SpringWell WSSF combo features the same filter from above plus the FutureSoft water conditioner that reduces hard water scaling by as much as 99.6% without actually removing anything from the water. 
- Price: $$$$
- Water softener type depends on which version you choose
- WSSS: Salt-based
- WSSF: Salt-free
- Max iron removal depends on which version you choose
- WSSS: 10 ppm ferrous and ferric iron
- WSSF: 7 ppm ferrous and ferric iron
- Flow rate and grain rating depend on which system size you choose
- WSSS1: 11 gallons of water per minute (1-3 bathrooms), 32,000-grain water softener
- WSSS4: 13 gpm (4-6 bathrooms), 48,000-grain water softener
- WSSF-1: 12 gpm (1-4 bathrooms)
- WSSF-4: 15 gpm (5+ bathrooms)
- Water filtration system capacity: 18 to 25 years
- Best for: The SpringWell WSSS & WSSF are best for well water with high iron levels.
- The whole house water filter uses air injection and greensand filter media to remove up to 7 ppm ferric and ferrous iron, 8 ppm hydrogen sulfide a.k.a. rotten egg smell, and 1 ppm manganese. This eliminates staining and improves water aesthetics by a great deal.
- Daily reset of the air pocket and periodic backwashing of the Greensand are fully automated – set and forget.
- The process is safe for your septic system.
- Greensand media lasts up to 25 years with no maintenance needed from your end.
- The electronic valve(s) can be programmed using the electronic head console itself or via app.
- Neoprene sleeves protect the fiberglass tanks.
- Both combos are relatively easy to install if you have some prior experience. The setup isn’t more difficult than installing just a water softener but certainly takes more time. An installation kit and detailed instructions are part of the package. Both filter and softener come with a built-in bypass.
- SpringWell provides a 6-month satisfaction guarantee and a lifetime product warranty.
- About the salt water softener
- It replaces hard water ions (mainly calcium and magnesium) with sodium. The end result is soft water that doesn’t form scale in your plumbing system and home appliances. As a result, efficiency and service life increase; maintenance and repair needs decrease.
- Soft water is also better suited for irritated, dry hair and skin.
- Your clothes will be brighter and softer.
- The system uses 10% crosslink resin which lasts longer than regular 8% resin when chlorine is present.
- The only maintenance task is refilling the brine tank with salt.
- Metered regeneration saves water and salt.
- A vortech tank plate improves backwashing efficiency.
- About the FutureSoft saltless water conditioner
- A sediment pre-filter prevents clogging.
- The system itself uses catalytic media to crystallize hard minerals so they remain suspended. This technology is called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). Water hardness levels of up to 81 grains per gallon can be handled. The highest scale reduction that could be achieved in scientific testing under real-life conditions was 99.6%.
- TAC can also dissolve already existing scale deposits.
- Any remaining scale is soft and can be easily cleaned.
- Unlike regular softened water, water conditioned with the FutureSoft doesn’t feel slippery.
- No salt or chemicals are used. System regeneration isn’t necessary. This saves you money and it helps the environment.
- The catalytic media has no expiration date.
- For maintenance, all you need to remember is to replace the sediment filter about every to 9 months.
- Our only complaint is that you might want to use brass fittings instead of the plastic fittings that are provided.
3. SoftPro Elite Well+ Basic Water Softener for Well Water
The SoftPro Elite Well+ Basic Water Softener for Well Water by Quality Water Treatment is another one of our favorites. In a nutshell, it makes a great choice if you want salt-based well water softening combined with up to 3 ppm ferrous iron filtration.
See More Product Images at qualitywatertreatment.com
- Price: $$$
- Type: Salt
- Max iron: 3 ppm ferrous
- Flow rate: 10-20 gpm (up to 7+ people)
- Rating: 24,000-80,000-grain
- Best for: The SoftPro Elite Well & Basic Softener is ideal for low to high flow rates.
- The well water softener features “Precision Brining” to save up to 30% salt when regenerating. Also, it’s a metered, on-demand system meaning a regeneration cycle is only started when really needed.
- There are a bunch of convenience features such as quick recharge which kicks in when the total remaining softening capacity goes below 3% and vacation mode which, when activated, pauses the water softener from regenerating while you are away. Only if no water is use for 7 days will the system do a quick refresh to control bacteria.
- A large LCD display allows for easy system programming and monitoring.
- Fine mesh resin improves iron removal.
- A protective neoprene tank jacket provides insulation and cover.
- Thanks to a built-in bypass and quick connect hoses as a free upgrade, this water softener is easy to install.
- QWT provides a 100% no-risk money back guarantee. If you are unsatisfied for any reason, you may return your purchase within 60 days of the ship date.
- Tank and control valve are covered by a limited lifetime warranty. Above that, you get a limited 10-year warranty on the resin beads.
- This section will be updated if need be.
4. Best Descaler: iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Descaler
The ED2000 electronic water descaler by iSpring is the best in its category for a couple of reasons; affordability being the most important if you ask us.
The descaler works by emitting electromagnetic waves which alter the structure of water molecule clusters so they bind hard water minerals. This, in turn, keeps the minerals from adhering to pipe surfaces and thus prevents scaling by about 50%. Existing limescale buildup also breaks down over time – both promotes a long service life of water heaters and other water-using appliances as well as the rest of your home’s plumbing.
See More Product Images at amazon.com
- Price: $
- Type: High Quality Salt free softener
- Flow rate and grain rating: –
- Best for: The iSpring ED2000 is ideal for electronic descaling.
- Water descalers don’t use salt which is ideal for people on a salt-restricted diet.
- No chemicals and regeneration cycles is great for the environment.
- Limescale on faucets and shower heads etc. will soften for easier cleaning after regular contact with the conditioned water.
- Installing the iSpring ED2000 is simple. All you need to do is wrap the two antenna cables around your main water line so they form a coil.
- The system is completely maintenance free.
- The package includes a 1-year satisfaction guarantee.
- iSpring Water Systems tech support is based in Georgia.
- A number of people saw no improvement in their water quality. This may have something to do with the fact that the ED2000 was designed for hard water containing 10 to 19 grains per gallon water hardness at max. For well water, iron content should not exceed 0.3 ppm.
- The conditioning effect wears off after 50 feet. This is why large homes may require two or more units.
5. Best for Lower Budgets: Tier1 Essential Series 48,000 Grain High Efficiency Digital Water Softener
Tier1 is a solid brand fitted for people looking for cheap solutions to their water problems. The Tier1 Essential Series 48,000 Grain High Efficiency Water Softener is one of the most affordable in our list and softens water just fine. There are a few trade-offs, though.
See More Product Images at discountfilterstore.com
- Price: $
- Type: Salt Based
- Flow rate and grain rating depend on which model you choose
- 10 gpm (1-3 bathrooms), 32,000-grain capacity
- 11.2 gpm (1-4 bathrooms), 48,000-grain capacity
- 11.2 gpm (1-4 bathrooms), 64,000-grain capacity
- NSF: 44
- Best for: The Tier1 Essential Series water softener is ideal for basic softening on a budget.
- The water softening system is NSF certified against Standard 44 for hardness reduction. This guarantees the effectiveness of the softening process.
- A neoprene tank jacket which protects the resin tank from damage is included.
- Installation is easy. As a do-it-yourselfer you shouldn’t experience any problems.
- The deal includes a 90-day satisfaction guarantee. You can return the water softener within this trial period and get a refund. The only constraint is that your well water parameters must be within the stated manufacturer specifications.
- A one-year warranty covers the mineral tank and control head.
- The provided peak water flow is too slow for large homes with more than 3 or 4 bathrooms.
- There is a built-in bypass valve which is good. However, it needs to be operated manually and the water supply will be shut off for roughly 2 hours while the system is regenerating.
- Water and salt efficiency during regeneration is not as good as with most of the higher priced softeners.
- Some reviewers said installation instructions could be improved.
6. Best for Lower Budgets: Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener System
This is another water softener setup by QWT. It combines the Fleck 5600SXT control valve with a no-name resin and brine tank for a product that’s far more affordable than most of the competition. The Fleck control valve has been on the market for quite some time and remains one of the most sought-after head units for water softeners, albeit it’s not the most efficient one.
See More Product Images at qualitywatertreatment.com
- Price: $$
- Type: Salt based
- Capacity: 24,000–64,000-Grain Water Softener
- NSF: 44
- Best for: The Fleck 5600SXT is best for low budgets and people that require a salt-based system.
- The Fleck 5600 SXT valve is metered digitally. This means it monitors your water usage per day and adjusts the salt dose and the amount of water used for the next regen cycle accordingly. The goal is to save resources.
- Thanks to the electronic interface system programming and monitoring is simple.
- The included 10% crosslink resin lasts longer when used with chlorinated well water supplies.
- Installation is relatively easy. The system features a bypass valve and you can even add quick-connect hoses to your cart as a free bonus.
- Manufacturer provides a “100% NO-RISK MONEY BACK GUARANTEE” which is valid for 60 days.
- Both resin tank and brine tank are warranted for 10 years. The 5600 SXT control valve is covered by a 5-year warranty.
- Since the launch of the Fleck valve, water softener technology has improved a lot. Up-to-date systems are much more salt and water efficient.
Or read our detailed Fleck 5600SXT review
7. Review: AFWFilters Iron Pro 2 Combination Water Softener with Fleck 5600SXT
The AFWFilters Iron Pro 2 Combination Water Softener with the Fleck 5600SXT digital control valve eliminates hard water scaling and iron staining at the same time.
See More Product Images at amazon.com
- Price: $$
- Type: Salt Based
- Max iron: 7 ppm (ferrous)
- Flow rate: Up to 16 gpm
- Rating: 64,000-grain water softener
- Best for: The AFWFilters Fleck Iron Pro 2 is best for well water with high iron levels.
- The softening system can handle up to 70 gpg hardness, 7 ppm ferrous (clear-water) iron, and 6 ppm manganese. Sediment particles will likewise be removed from your water.
- The regeneration process is metered to conserve water. Simply put, a regeneration cycle is only started when really needed.
- Fine mesh resin was specifically designed for removing iron. It also lasts longer in the presence of iron.
- A complete install kit including lubricant and sanitizer is part of the Iron Pro 2 package.
- The Fleck 5600 SXT control head comes with a 5-year warranty. A 10-year warranty covers the mineral tank.
- Reviewers said the AFWFilters customer support is not the best. Phone calls weren’t returned and the instructions lacked details or were missing.
- As mentioned before, since the release of the Fleck valve regeneration technology has greatly improved. Up-to-date systems use less water for backwashing and less salt for recharging the softening resin.
8. Best for Iron + Chemical Removal: Crystal Quest Water Softener with Pre/Post Water Filtration
This Crystal Quest water softener comes with pre and post-filtration. This is great if your well water is hard and laden with sediments and water contaminants that originate from agricultural runoff, such as VOCs, pesticides, and herbicides.
See More Product Images at crystalquest.com
- Price: $$$
- Type: Salt-based
- Flow rate and grain rating depend on which system size you choose
- 1.5 cu. ft. model: 9-11 gpm (1-3 bathrooms), 48,000 grains
- 2.0 cu. ft. model: 10-13 gpm (4-6 bathrooms), 60,000-grain water softener
- Best for: The Crystal Quest is ideal for well water with chemicals.
- The softening system applies a basic ion exchange process to soften water.
- In addition, a bunch of water contaminants will be removed for improved water taste and smell.
- To safe resources, the water softening unit only regenerates when its remaining capacity is low.
- The 20-inch sediment pre-filter removes sand, silt, and other dirt.
- The 20-inch coconut shell activated carbon block post-filter removes chlorine, volatile organic compounds, pesticides, and industrial solvents.
- You can upgrade the standard fiberglass tanks to stainless steel for longevity.
- Even with the additional filter stages maintaining this water softener is a piece of cake. Pre and post-filters need changing every 12 to 18 months. Replacement cartridges are affordable.
- A 1-year limited warranty has everything covered.
9. Aquasana SimplySoft Salt-Free Whole House Water Softening System
Making use of scale control media (SCM), the Aquasana SimplySoft inhibits scale buildup by transforming dissolved hard minerals into inactive microscopic crystals. In their crystalline form, these particles pass through your water system and down the drain without causing trouble.
See More Product Images at aquasana.com
- Price: $$
- Type: Salt free softener
- Water flow rate: 7 gpm (1-2 bathrooms)
- Best for: The Aquasana SimplySoft is best for salt-free softening and low flow rates.
- A sediment pre-filter rated at 5 microns removes large particulates. This keeps the conditioning tank from clogging. The cartridge needs to be replaced every other month. The good news is that replacement cartridges are low-cost.
- You can install the Aquasana SimplySoft yourself, no problem. Prior experience as a handyman definitely helps, though – especially because there is no built-in bypass.
- You can return the softener within the first 90 days after purchase for a full refund.
- The whole system is covered by a 6-year warranty.
- For a number of people the actual softening capacity was shorter than advertised. Instead of 6 years, their unit stopped working after around half a year to a year.
- You should also note that the maximum recommended water hardness is 25 gpg. You can expect optimum performance at around 15 gpg.
- The water flow is just enough for 2 to 3 bathrooms.
Or read our detailed Aquasana SimplySoft water softener review
Well Water Softener System Comparison Chart
How do the top water softeners for well water with iron perform when directly compared to each other?
|Product||$$$||Type||Grain Capacities||Flow (GPM)||Iron||Best For||Details|
|SpringWell SS||$$$||Traditional||32,000-80,000 Grain||11-20||3 ppm Ferrous||Best Water Softener for Iron Removal||Digital Control Head with Touchpad Controls (User Friendly), Single Tank, Easy to Install|
|SpringWell WSSS/WSSF||$$$$||Softener-Filter Combo||32,000-48,000 Grain||11-15||7-10 ppm||Best for Well Water with High Iron||Digital Control Head with Touchpad Controls, Suited for Drinking Water (Clean Water)|
|SoftPro Elite Well+ Basic||$$$||Traditional||24,000-80,000 Grains||10-20||3 ppm Ferrous||Best for Well Water or City Water Supply||System Comes with Intuitive Control Head, LCD Display, Single Tank, Easy Installation, 10-Year Warranty on Resin|
|iSpring Water Systems ED2000||$||Electronic Descaler||–||–||–||Best Choice for Electronic Descaling||Does Not Remove Magnesium and Calcium, Easy Installation, User Friendly|
|Tier1 Essential Series||$||Traditional||32,000-64,000 Grain||10-11.2||?||Best for Basic Features||Single Tank, NSF Certified|
|Fleck 5600 SXT||$$||Standard||24,000–64,000 Grain||?||?||Best Salt-Based System for Low Budgets||5-Year Warranty on Fleck 5600 SXT Electronic Control Head, 10 Years on Tanks|
|AFWFilters Fleck Iron Pro 2 Water Softener||$$||Standard||64,000-Grain Capacity||Up to 16||7 ppm Ferrous||Best for Well Water with High Iron||Uses Fleck Control Valve, Fine-Mesh Resin, 5-Year Warranty|
|Crystal Quest||$$$||Standard||48,000-60,000 Grains||9-13||?||Best for City Water or Well Water Supply with Chemicals||One Tank, Metered System, Suited for Drinking Water|
|Aquasana SimplySoft||$$||Salt-Free||–||7||–||Best Salt-Free System for City Water or Well Water Supply||Does Not Remove Magnesium and Calcium|
Buyer’s Guide – How to Choose a Well Water Softener for Your Home (+ How We Tested)
This buying guide explains how to choose a water softener for your well.
Hardness of Water
Measured in grains per gallons, an extremely high water hardness level can exclude the use of certain types of water softeners.
To give you an example: The Aquasana SimplySoft from above performs best at 15 gpg water hardness. The maximum level that the system can handle is 25 gpg. If your water reads more than 25 grains per gallons, you should definitely opt for a different system.
That being said, such high levels of hard water are rare.
Depending on the condition of your well water, pre-treatment may be required to allow your new water softening system to reach its full potential.
For pre-treatment or filtration it might be enough to install a simple sediment filter ahead of the softening system. This is to block any large particles that would otherwise clog the softener’s resin bed.
The same applies if your well water contains high amounts of hydrogen sulfide, iron, and manganese, and a bunch of other contaminants.
An activated carbon filter is great to get rid of excess chlorine from shock chlorination.
All in all, make sure to test your water thoroughly. Tip: Why not rely on Tap Score to take care of all your well water testing?
Ferrous and Ferric Iron
Standard ion exchange water softeners are only capable of removing ferrous iron – most system can handle around 2-3 ppm.
However, removing iron with the help of a water softener almost always fouls the resin bed eventually. Thus, you want to check it on a regular basis. You should also consider using a chemical iron remover and doing more frequent and longer backwashes. Higher salt doses can also help to delay fouling.
Please note: Water softening systems are not designed to remove ferric iron, iron bacteria, or organic iron.
Type: Water Softeners and Water Conditioners
Traditional water softeners apply a process called ion exchange to substitute hard water ions, primarily calcium, with sodium or potassium ions. Ion exchange water softening has proven itself over the years and is highly effective. However, it also wastes resources: About once a week the softening resin needs to recharge which requires water + salt.
That’s why innovators have tried to come up with new methods to eliminate hard water scaling. So far, some approaches were quite successful. Our favorite methods of salt-free water conditioning are Template Assisted Crystallization followed by electromagnetic wave induction. Both won’t actually remove hardness ions from your water but only keep them from adhering to pipes and other surfaces to form limescale.
Grain Rating or Capacity
As mentioned before, your first step when buying a new salt based softener for your well water system is to measure your hardness level – you can do this yourself using one of the many available test kits or commission a professional service provider.
The next step is to size your water softener accordingly. Put simply, a system needs a high enough softening capacity so that it can operate around one week without regenerating. How much water do you use?
An undersized unit will deplete its softening capacity quickly so that frequent regeneration cycles are needed. This usually results in higher water and salt wastage. Too large of a system means you’ll overpay.
Water Flow Rate
Shower heads use around 2 gallons of water per minute. Faucets use between 0.5 and 2.5 gallons. A toilet can send several gallons of water down the drain with each flush.
Why are we mentioning this? Because the water softener you are planning to buy must be capable of providing enough softened water even at times of peak water use, such as in the morning on a regular weekday when your family is getting ready for school and work; taps, and showers are running, you put a new load into the washing machine, and your spouse starts the dishwasher before leaving home. In such a scenario, too small of a water softener, meaning a system with a low gallon rating, may cause a drop in water pressure or leak unsoftened water.
Our recommendation: 8 or more gpm water flow for the average family of four. Large households may need up to 15 gpm or higher.
There are 3 cost factors to consider:
- Initial price
- Installation cost
- Ongoing expenses for operation and service
First and foremost, a softener’s price tag depends on its type and size. Salt based water softeners usually are more expensive than saltless water conditioners. And a large system costs more than a small one.
When it comes to installation cost, it depends on whether you are a do-it-yourselfer or not. A plumber may charge between $300 and more than $1,000, depending on the scope of the project. Water descalers can be installed by anyone without prior experience.
For salt based well water softeners, the ongoing expenses for operation and service include salt and extra water for regeneration. With most salt-free systems, the only expense if any is buying replacement cartridges for the pre-filter.
With all this in mind, a high quality water softener for well water pays for itself in the long run.
What is Hard Water?
Hard water contains high levels of calcium and possibly magnesium. It forms when water seeps through limestone or other deposits in the earth that largely consist of calcium and magnesium carbonates. The WHO classifies it as follows:
|Water Hardness Class||Calcium Carbonate in Grains Per Gallon||Calcium Carbonate in Parts Per Million|
|Soft Water||< 3.5||< 60|
|Moderately Hard Water||3.5 to 7.0||60 to 120|
|Hard Water||7.0 to 10.5||120 to 180|
|Very Hard Water||> 10.5||> 180|
Water containing calcium carbonate at concentrations below 3.5 grains per gallon is generally considered soft water, 3.5 to 7.0 gpg moderately hard water, 7.0 to 10.5 is considered hard, and more than 10.5 gpg very hard water.
It is important to note that water hardness does not pose a health threat. But hard water can cause scale build-up in the entire plumbing of your home. This also affects water-using appliances. Possible consequences include increased energy consumption, reduced water pressure and flow, and, if the problem exist for long enough, leaking. And there are other hard water issues!
How to Test for Hard Water
Do you even need a water softener?
You can easily test for hard water and determine the exact level of hardness using a simple test kit. Kits are available online and at your local hardware store. Another approach is to hire a lab to do the testing for you. Lastly, you can check your latest Water Quality Report in case there is one.
Once you know how much hardness grains per gallon your water contains you can size your softener accordingly. Remember: It must be able to handle your level of hardness as well as your daily water demand.
What is a Salt-Based Well Water Softener and How Does it Work?
We can group well water softeners into salt-based and salt-free systems. Both types have their pros and cons.
What’s great about salt based water softeners is that the process they use to remove hard mineral ions works with almost all water conditions and hardness levels. However, they need to regenerate on a regular basis to recharge their softening capacity which wastes salt and water.
A salt water softener requires 3 main components to function:
- A resin tank – This tank contains the resin bed. It’s where the actual softening happens.
- A brine tank – The brine tank contains salt used for mixing brine. The salt brine is used to restore the softening capacity of the resin bed.
- A control valve – The programmable control valve sits on top of the resin tank. It controls water flow direction, measures water usage per day, and schedules regeneration cycles.
The Ion Exchange Process
The incoming water is directed into the larger of the two tanks where it flows through the softening resin. The bed consists of thousands of microbeads, each supersaturated with positively charged sodium ions.
As the water gets in contact with the beads, calcium and magnesium are pulled out. They stick to the beads substituting the sodium ions. The sodium goes into solution.
Ideally, once the water has reached the end of the resin bed all hard water minerals have been removed. Then it’s ready for distribution.
Sooner or later all resin beads will be covered with hard water ions. This is when they have exhausted their capacity and need to regenerate:
The regeneration process starts with backwashing. The flow of water is reversed. Water gets pumped into the resin tank to expand the resin bed and remove all dirt that might have accumulated.
This is followed by a brining phase. The flow direction is returned to normal and brine is sucked from the brine tank into the resin tank. The highly concentrated salt solution washes over the resin beads. This releases all hardness ions and replaces them with a fresh layer of sodium.
In the final step of the regeneration cycle all brine and hard water minerals are rinsed away.
Dual Tank Water Softener
Dual tank water softener systems use two resin tanks instead of one. While one tank regenerates, the other can fill in – a 24/7 supply of softened water is guaranteed.
Other Types of Water Softener Systems for Well Water and How They Work
Salt-free water softeners, or water conditioners, include any type of system that reduces the scaling effects of hard water without using salt and without actually removing any hardness minerals.
Their biggest advantage is that they can dissolve even existing limescale buildup.
Template Assisted Crystallization
Our favorite sub-type is systems applying TAC. Based on catalytic media, TAC causes hard water ions to form crystals so they remain suspended in the water. According to a study up to 99.6% scaling can be prevented with this method.
(Electro-)Magnetic Water Descalers
Water molecules naturally form clusters. This prevents them from binding dissolved calcium and magnesium. Consequently, these ions can come out of the solution to form limescale build-up.
Electronic and magnetic water descalers conquer that by inducing an (electro-) magnetic field into the water. The emitted electromagnetic waves match the wave frequency of the water molecule clusters. They break down allowing them to bind more minerals. Thus, up to 50% of hardness ions remain dissolved in the water.
Some water softeners work with chelation: A chelating agent is released into the water. It binds hardness ions so they remain soluble. A common chelating agent is citric acid.
Salt-Based Water Softeners vs Salt-Free Water Conditioners
Salt based softeners or salt free conditioners, which are better?
Ion exchange water softening systems are certainly more effective. And they can handle almost any level of hardness as long as you’re using a large enough system. Actually taking all hardness out of the water also benefits irritated and dry skin and hair; shampoos, soaps, and detergents tend to lather better; and clothes and other fabrics stay soft and brightly colored.
What’s more, salt water softeners work with almost all water supply conditions. Their salt-free pendant often requires things like a certain water pH range or they become ineffective at a certain level of hardness.
One of the main benefits of using water conditioners is their ability to dissolve even existing mineral deposits. Above that, there is no need for system regeneration, which saves salt and water, and maintenance is either low or not required at all. Water without artificially added sodium is also better for the environment and for people on a salt-restricted diet.
Advantages and Disadvantages – Why is it Important to Use a Water Softener for Your Well Water?
The number one reason to install a water softener for hard well water in your home is a scale-free plumbing system. Your pipes, fixtures, home appliances – everything will be protected from scaling. Maintenance and repairs needs go down and the service life of each element increases.
Water Heating Efficiency
Water heaters save energy when heating soft water.
No spotting and no staining in sinks and showers and perfectly clean dishes is another reason to add a water softening system to your home.
Healthy Skin and Hair
Many people washing their bodies with hard water suffer from irritated skin and hair.
Shampoo, soaps, and detergent lathers much easier when mixed with softened water.
Less to no limescale allows you to be done with your cleaning routine much faster.
Your clothes and other fabrics remain brightly colored and soft when washed with soft water.
One of the disadvantages is the initial price tag which can be quite high. To this you have to add costs for installation and operation – think salt + water for backwashing and recharging the resin beads.
Proper Installation Required
Proper installation of a water softener includes plumbing.
The extra sodium and chloride may be released into our water bodies. Furthermore, softened water is hard to recycle in treatment plants.
The harder the incoming water, the more salty it will taste after it has been softened. Also, the added sodium isn’t good for people that need to follow a salt-restricted diet.
Septic System Overload
The wastewater that results from backwashing a salt water softening unit could overload the drainage field of your septic system.
Soft water is often more corrosive due to lower pH.
Water Softener Installation
If you install the water softener yourself you can save money by not needing a professional installer. The following instructions will give you a basic idea of what to expect.
A whole home water softener needs to be connected to the main water line; somewhere where no freezing temperatures occur. The best place is usually the basement or garage.
Please consider these general instructions. Remember to follow the instructions provided by your system manufacturer:
- Shut off the water supply.
- Turn off all electric water heaters.
- Open nearby faucets or other water outlets to drain all remaining water in the pipe.
- Remove a section of the main pipe. You might need to sand down sharp edges.
- The next step is to install the bypass valve to the water softener control head. Also consider installing additional bypass/shut-off valves on either side of the softener.
- Connect the incoming water line to the inlet port of the softening system.
- Do the same for outgoing water line and the unit’s outlet port.
- Establish a drain connection using the drain line.
- Establish a connection for the brine tank overflow.
- Connect brine and resin tank with the brine line.
- Fill salt into the brine tank.
- Set the water softener to bypass and slowly open the water supply.
- Check for leaks.
- Put the water softener into service mode.
- Check for leaks.
- Allow all air and installation debris to be flushed out of your water system.
- Power up the unit.
*Take care sealing all threaded ends with plumber’s tape unless instructed otherwise.
What is there to consider in terms of how to maintain a water softener?
Simply check the brine tank salt level once a month. Add new salt when the salt level is less than 25%. Don’t fill more than two-third. This alone can save you from a lot of trouble.
Removing Salt Bridges
Salt bridges prevent salt from reaching the bottom of the brine tank. Brine cannot form adequately which in turn keeps your water softener from regenerating properly. Therefore, you want to check for salt bridge on a regular basis.
You can easily crush salt bridges with a broom handle. But be careful to not damage the tank wall or salt grid.
Cleaning the Brine Tank
We recommend cleaning the salt tank once per year. This prevents salt mushing and ultimately clogging of the brine well. It also keeps mold at bay.
Once you’ve removed all the salt you can clean the tank inside using a mild dishwasher detergent. If you are dealing with mold consider adding mold remover. Rinse thoroughly afterwards!
Cleaning the Resin Bed
With high levels of iron, manganese, or organic compounds like tannins, regular cleaning of the resin bed may be necessary to prevent fouling. A specialized resin cleaner usually does the trick. It removes any contamination, restores the softening capacity, and extends the resin’s overall service life.
Cleaning the Brine Injector/Venturi Valve
A water softener has either a brine injector or a venturi valve. Both are prone to clogging. Your job is to check the injector/valve every 6 months and keep it clean.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Does a water softening unit help with well water?
Absolutely it does! Proper pre-treatment may be required, though.
How much is a water softener for a well?
A good water softener for a well costs somewhere between $500 and $2,000 depending on its size and features.
Will a water softener remove iron from well water?
Yes, it will remove iron. But the level shouldn’t be too high to avoid fouling of the resin bed.
What states have banned water softeners?
Texas has banned water softeners in the entire state. Many other states have partials bans. They include California, Connecticut, Michigan, and New Jersey.
A well water softener can make a great addition to your home. You just need to install one that’s suited for your water supply conditions and daily water consumption. Personally, we find the SpringWell SS to be the best system. If your well water is high in iron content check out the SpringWell WSSS iron filter/softener. The iSpring ED2000 is our number one electronic descaler and the SoftPro Elite Well+ Basic is great for people on a budget.
If you have questions about our reviews please leave a comment below!
- What is the Best Filter-Softener Combo?
- The Best Water Softeners in 2023
- The Best Salt Free Water Conditioner Reviews in 2023
- The Best Iron Filter for Well Water Reviews in 2023 (+ Buyer’s Guide)
- How to Remove Iron from Well Water – The Best & Cheapest Ways
-  https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/grants_loans/water_recycling/research/ion_exchange_water_softeners.pdf
-  https://www.dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/environmental-health-protection/private-water/iron-drinking-water
-  https://extension.psu.edu/water-softening
-  https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/water/factsheet/softening.html
-  https://www.healthline.com/health/hard-water-and-soft-water#soft-water-risks
Jason is the founder of Water Masterz and head of content creation. After six years in the industry, he has tremendous knowledge and first-hand experience on all things related to water treatment.
His credo: Not a single American should have to drink unhealthy water at home.