A shower head water softener is a device that attaches to a shower valve and produces soft water solely for the purpose of showering. These miniature softeners should not be confused with shower filters, which filter out harmful chemicals but not the dissolved minerals that make water hard.
Shower head water softeners are a good choice for people who are primarily concerned with the effect of hard water on their hair or skin, or who simply like the feel of soft water. They’re also a logical choice for people who live in apartments, need to save space, or just want to be able to take their water softening system with them when they move.
Installing a shower head water softener is usually very simple, especially compared to whole house softening systems. The device typically includes a shower head, a small filtering tank, and a component that attaches to the shower valve. Professional installation is not necessary in most cases.
This is in stark contrast to whole house water softeners, most of which require invasive installation in which they are hooked up to your water supply. With the exception of some electronic water softeners, most whole house systems must be installed by professionals (usually at significant expense).
Cost and Maintenance
Shower head water softeners typically cost $100 or more (if you see something for less, make sure that you’re not looking at a shower filter). As with other water softening systems, some maintenance is required. However, instead of dealing with hefty water softener salt or potassium pellets, you typically only have to replace a filter. In other words, there’s significantly less hassle and expense to owning one of these devices as opposed to whole house water softeners.
When buying a water softener shower head, make sure you factor in the cost of replacement filter and find out how they can be obtained. In some cases, you may have to order replacement filters direct from the manufacturer.
Don’t let a sales person convince you to buy a large and expensive appliance that is more than what you need. While traditional and saltless whole house systems do offer a lot of advantages over smaller devices, those benefits are only meaningful if you have water that’s hard enough to scale in your pipes and appliances. If your concerns are more cosmetic or aesthetic, a cheaper and more eco-friendly shower head water softener could be just the thing for you.
Update: A number of people have emailed asking for recommendations of specific models or dealers. While there are a few shower head softener products on the market, we have not tested them or come across reliable customer reviews that would allow us to make a recommendation. Due to the lack of information on these products, we suggest buying a whole house softener or a shower head filter like the one pictured above.