How to Choose a Water Softener – A Step by Step Guide

Water softeners are an excellent way treat hard water and effectively remove the minerals that cause havoc and destruction on household appliances, pipes, clothes, skin and hair among others.

However, choosing the right water softener can get overwhelming, as there are many factors to consider as well as endless models to choose from. We’ve simplified it in this article, by breaking down the steps you need to take to choose the right softener for your home.

If you want to know what the best water softeners are, go here. If not, keep reading for a step-by-step guide on buying your water softener.

Step 1 – Do I need a water softener?

The first and most important step is to consider whether you need a water softener. If the mineral content in your water is high, you probably would benefit from a water softener. Do a home water test or request a water quality report from your public water supply. Alternatively, you can have a water test done via a professional laboratory. Once you know your water hardness level, you can consider the size of the water softener. 

Step 2 – How hard is my water?

We’re going to get a little bit technical but bear with us because this is useful for calculating your water softener capacity.

Water hardness is typically reported in milligrams per liter (mg/L) with the scale outlined as follows:

  • Very Hard Water – Over 180 mg/L
  • Hard Water – 121 – 180 mg/L
  • Moderately Hard Water – 61 – 120 mg/L
  • Soft Water – 0-60 mg/L

When talking about water hardness, however, we speak in Grains Per Gallon (GPG). Municipal water supplies typically measure water hardness in milligrams per liter (mg/L) or parts per million (PPM). One GPG equals 17.1 mg/L or PPM. So, if your water hardness is measured in mg/L or PPM, simply divide it by 17.1 to get the GPG.

Step 3 – How much water do I use?

How much water does your household use? This is important because it’ll help you choose the best water softener for your home according to capacity. One way to check your usage is to look at your water bill, which tells you how much water you’ve used over a certain period.

If you don’t have access to a water bill, multiply 80 gallons (the average water consumption per person per day) by the number of people in your household. Next, multiply that number by the GPG in your water. This will give you the amount of hardness minerals you want to remove from your water. Here’s an example:

  • Hardness GPG – 10
  • Number of people in household – 4
  • Daily water usage – 4 x 80 = 320
  • Daily softening requirement – 10 GPG x 320 gallons used = 3200 grains per day

You may need to adjust this for iron if you have iron in your water supply. Experts recommend adding 5 grains of hardness for every 1 PPM of iron.

Step 4 – Choosing the water softener capacity.

Now that you know your water hardness level and water usage, you know how much water you need to soften per day and at what capacity. A water softener usually regenerates once per week, so if your water softening requirement is 3200 grains per day, this amounts to a weekly softening requirement of 22,400 grains.

Water softener capacity is defined by its grain rating, which is determined by the amount of resin in the tank.

  1. cubic foot of resin – 32,000 grains
    1. cubic feet of resin – 48,000 grains
  2. cubic feet of resin – 64,000 grains

These can be approximately categorized as follows:

  • Small Softeners: 16,000+ grain rating – Suitable for small households up to 3 people. Most portable softeners are in this grain range.
  • Medium Softeners: 32,000+ grain rating – Suitable for mid-sized households of 4-6 people.
  • Large Softeners: 64,000+ grain rating – Suitable for larger households of more than 6 people.

Note that these are just guidelines and will vary depending on your individual situation.

Check out these water softeners with different grain capacities as examples:

Step 5 – Considering additional features.

Now that you know the size of your water softener, consider additional features. These include:

  • Does the softener remove iron?
  • Does it come together with a whole house water filtration system?
  • Does it have a salt level indicator which indicates when you need to refill the brine tank?
  • Is it a demand-initiated regeneration system as opposed to a timer-initiated regeneration system?
  • How well does it use salt?
  • What is the flow rate of the water softener?
  • How energy and resource efficient is the system?

You’ll have to take each softener on a case by case, checking its features against the requirements of your home.

The Bottom Line

A well-chosen water softener can do wonders for your home, ridding it of the negative effects of hard water. Careful research will help you to zero in on the best water softener for your home.

We’ve already done this for you in our comprehensive reviews and buying guide on the best water softeners on the market. There, we cover a range of water softeners to suit a variety of households and requirements. We’re sure you’ll find one for you on our list.

Alternatively, if you’re interested in the regeneration cycle, the most technical and possibly the most important aspect of water softeners, check our article here.

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