Shopping for any expensive home appliance can be an experience fraught with stress and self-doubt. This is especially true if you’re looking for the top rated water softeners, because there’s so little to go on. As we noted recently, we’re still waiting for Consumer Reports to cover softeners again. For that matter, it would be nice if any similarly unbiased organization would tackle water softener ratings. But for now at least, finding the best system is a project consumers have to do for themselves.
Nevertheless, it’s true that some brands do enjoy a better reputation than others. In the absence of rigorous testing, it’s hard to say whether these reputations are earned or not. Still, it’s one factor to weigh when looking for the right system for your home.
Salt Water Softeners
One of the problems with water softener ratings is that there are a lot of different types of systems, and comparisons aren’t always apples-to-apples. However, when most people talk about water softeners, they’re talking about the conventional salt based kind – you know, the ones you have to keep filled up with salt. These types of systems have been around for a long time, and some of the companies involved in manufacturing them are household names.
The most well known is probably Culligan. Not only do they make their own softeners, but they offer an array of complementary services – including installation, general maintenance, and salt delivery. Some Culligan systems actually feature sensors that can alert your local “Culligan Man” when your salt is running low, which is about as hands-off as it gets.
While it might not be as well known among the general public, Kinetico water softeners are highly respected in the industry. As their name suggests, their softeners run on the kinetic energy of running water, so no electricity is needed. Many people feel these are the best systems on the market – and they’re certainly priced that way. One of these systems can cost you $4000 or more.
Less pricey alternatives are Kenmore and GE, which make whole house water softeners that cost less than $1000.
Saltless Water Softeners
For one reason or another, an increasing number of homeowners are looking for saltless water softeners. In some cases, this is because people simply don’t want to deal with large bags of salt. In others, it’s because they don’t like adding sodium to their tap water. For those reasons and many others, there’s a growing demand for alternatives to the traditional water softener.
Because saltless technologies are relatively new, there’s no brand that has really built a reputation comparable to the top rated conventional water softeners. However, NuvoH2O and Pelican are two examples of saltless water softeners that are widely talked about and have loyal followings. For a more detailed summary of what customers are saying about different saltless water softener brands, see our water softener reviews.
Choosing Between Top Rated Water Softeners
Brand reputation is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a softener, but it’s not everything. The last time Consumer Reports looked at (salt based) water softeners years ago, they found the softening ability of most brands was the same – that is, they all were pretty effective at softening water. It’s true that there are still differences in durability and efficiency, and those differences shouldn’t be overlooked. But if you’re looking for something basic and affordable, that’s a valid choice to make.
Whatever type of water softener you’re looking for, make sure you do your homework before plunking down a lot of money. Because if you don’t do the research, nobody is going to do it for you.