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Even in 2023, hard water is a nuisance for countless Americans. In contrast to general contamination, water “hardness” is the amount of dissolved sediment in water. Though hard water might not sound any worse than a bottle of mineral water, it presents a whole cocktail of inconveniences, including brittle hair, cloudy stains on dishes, faded clothing, and sediment buildup inside pipes.

To fix this problem, water softeners use a chemical reaction to remove sediment from water.  But there are so many to choose from, so which one is best for you?  In this blog, we’ll address different types of water softeners and tell you the one we think is best.

Price and Quality Inform Three Water Softener Categories

The sheer number of available water softeners doesn’t lend itself to easy solutions. To make the process less overwhelming, we’ll outline three practical categories as they relate to your needs.

Big Box” companies, like General Electric, Rheem, Morton and WaterBoss, offer the least expensive, most accessible water softeners, many of which you can find in department stores. Big Box water softeners are suitable for condominiums and small homes.

Second, “Sticker” companies put water softeners together after receiving parts from a manufacturer. Because Sticker water softeners are more effective and expensive than Big Box water softeners, purchasing them is easier online than anywhere else. Sticker companies make up most of the water softener market.

Finally, “Pro-Grade” water softeners are NSF 44-certified, which means that the National Sanitation Foundation can vouch for their quality and durability. They are generally the best ones with the highest costs.

Comparing Types of Water Softeners

The most effective way to find the best water softener for your home begins with a comparison among Big Box, Sticker, and Pro-Grade companies. For each of these categories, we’ll compare five traits:

  • Warranty – What warranties do vendors place on the water softener’s electronics, tanks and filters?
  • NSF 44 certification – Has the water softener endured a series of expansive tests that demonstrate its effectiveness?
  • Serviceability – With how much difficulty can a licensed plumber service the water softener?
  • Pressure Loss – How much does the water softener reduce water pressure?
  • Whether It’s Made in America – Is the manufacturer liable if the water softener breaks down or needs maintenance?

Big Box Companies Offer Cheapest Options

Big Box companies offer their one-size-fits-all water softeners in major retail stores, like Lowe’s, Menard’s or Home Depot. What’s often most striking to potential customers about this type of water softener is its small profile. The smallest water softeners are the easiest to use and store, so they’re perfect for condominiums. Installations cost about $900, but without installation costs, they’re around $700.

A Moderate Warranty

While the tank’s warranty doesn’t expire until after a decade, the electronics have only a one-year warranty, and the filter has no warranty. This is fairly standard among Big Box companies.

No NSF 44 Certification

Big Box water softeners don’t have NSF 44 certification, so extensive testing hasn’t guaranteed their effectiveness or longevity.  You won’t know how well they’ll work until after installation.

Poor Serviceability

Big Box water softeners might be the easiest to store, but they’re the hardest for licensed plumbers to service. Their cheap and shoddy parts call for more frequent visits from a plumber. On a scale from 1 to 10, we give Big Box water softeners a 2 for serviceability.

Impactful Pressure Loss

These water softeners may also reduce water pressure if multiple people are using running water at the same time. Big Box water softeners can cause water to trickle from showers and faucets much more slowly.

Not Made in America

Finally, these aren’t made in America, and here’s why that matters: If a flood or accident puts your water softener out of commission, you or your insurance company must pay, and the overseas vendor is off the hook. Water softeners from overseas are also made from cheap, shoddy parts.

What’s the Verdict?

Big Box water softeners aren’t worth pursuing unless you’re temporarily living in a condominium with one other person. Otherwise, we don’t recommend them.

Sticker Companies Are Slightly Better

As the intermediate option, Sticker companies comprise most of the water softener market. Pelican, Aquasana and Discount Water Softeners are good examples, but they’re far from the only ones. To summarize the extensive research you’d have to do on this category, Sticker water softeners prioritize serviceability much better than Big Box ones do.

A Common Warranty

Warranties on Sticker water softeners are usually the same as those on Big Box ones.  These warranties are unremarkable, though they’re not particularly bad.

No NSF 44 Certification

Like Big Box water softeners, they don’t have NSF 44 certification.  There isn’t much of a guarantee as to how well they’ll work.

Much Higher Serviceability

We’ll give these water softeners an 8 or 9 of 10 for serviceability. Sticker companies allow for easier replacement of intermediate parts and give licensed plumbers enough space to work.

Noticeable Pressure Loss

As for potential problems, Sticker water softeners have a noticeable effect on water pressure, but they’re not nearly as bad as Big Box ones.  There will be enough pressure loss to dampen the speed of water coming out of a faucet.

Not Made in America

Again, they’re usually not made in America.  Their parts are shoddier, and manufacturers don’t bear responsibility for accidents.

Salt-Based and Salt-Free Aren’t the Same

Since Sticker companies are the biggest category, make sure you distinguish between salt-based and salt-free water softeners while you search, as salt-free ones don’t soften water. Salt-free water “softeners” only condition the water to keep sediment from sticking to pipes. While Sticker water softeners are less of a fit for condominiums, their significantly greater efficacy can make them a nice choice for large homes.

Water softener salt in an open tank

Water softener salt is essential for fully softening water.

Pro-Grade Water Softener Brands Are Best

The immediate downside of Pro-Grade, top water softeners is that they can cost thousands of dollars, but the following companies are among the best providers of water softeners. Each presents its own benefits and potential problems. While pro-grade water softeners can still lower water pressure and have poor serviceability, many offer NSF 44 certification and long warranties.


Like other water softener companies, Culligan offers a 5-year warranty with its devices, while the dealer selling the devices adds another five years to that warranty. We call this arrangement a 5-plus-5 warranty. Culligan water softeners are easy to service, and there’s negligible pressure loss. However, because Culligan devices are made overseas, they’re not NSF 44-certified.


Rainsoft products also have a 5-plus-5 warranty. They’re as easy to service as Culligan devices, and the effect on water pressure is insignificant. Especially if you know an experienced dealer, Rainsoft softeners might be worth investigating, but they’re also made overseas, so they’re not NSF 44-certified either.


Not only does Kinetico offer a 5-plus-5 warranty, but its water softeners are made in America and NSF 44-certified, so they’re more unequivocally dependable than the former two options. Kinetico water softeners don’t use electronics, so they’re good for 24-hour usage without wasting energy. 24-hour usage shouldn’t be a big benefit in most homes where people sleep at night.

Serviceability isn’t great. We give it a 5 of 10 because the water softener’s unique design splits the tank into two smaller tanks. This also has a profound effect on water pressure. Kinetico water softeners provide some of the lowest water pressure of all pro-grade water softeners.


In addition to a 5-plus-5 warranty, EcoWater provides a more direct option. For extra money, you can purchase a 10-year warranty from EcoWater without any warranty from the dealer. EcoWater offers filter material directly, and it’s one of the only companies that puts a warranty on its filters. Many vendors don’t like putting warranties on filters because it makes them liable for leaky faucets among other issues that’d be within the homeowner’s control.

EcoWater softeners are made in America, and they’re NSF 44-certified. Between amazing performance and durable warranties, these water softeners can last for decades. High serviceability and indiscernible pressure loss force us to give these softeners an overall 10 of 10. They’re the best.

As you’ve read, there are stark differences among water softeners across this single category, though we stand almost exclusively by EcoWater. Water softeners can be great long-term investments in your home and your family’s health, so we hope you’ll at least consider the best.

A blue water softener works in a furnace room.

Angel Water can professionally install your water softener for the best results.

A New Water Softener for 2023

Ultimately, we just want to provide healthier water to you and your family. Under the PurASoft brand, we make effective water softeners ourselves, but our inventory includes some of the devices from brands we’ve listed above, and we’re happy to install whichever one’s best for you.

If you see something you like among our water softeners, please call us at 847-382-7800 to schedule a free consultation with an expert. You can also browse water softeners at our store in Barrington. Whomever you work with, we advise you to have your water softener professionally installed by a licensed plumber.

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Andrew Wilson of Angel Water standing by water softener systems

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