A True Water Softener Comparison

Color-coded comparison chartIf you find a water softener comparison chart on the internet, odds are it is – how can we put this delicately? – full of it. Most of these water softener comparisons are marketing materials made to look like unbiased consumer information. Even when the data isn’t outright falsified, it’s manipulated to make one brand obviously stand out above all others.

Why Making Stuff up is so Easy

Independent analyses of water softener brands are hard to come by. For example, Consumer Reports hasn’t reviewed water softeners in some time, and they’ve never weighed in on saltless water softeners. For some brands, even customer reviews are scarce (and, we hasten to point out, easy to rig by people trying to sell the product). In other words, there’s no yardstick you can use to tell whether a particular water softeners comparison is way off base.

Another fact is that it’s simply not that easy to compare water softeners. In the short term, all salt based systems work about equally well. Saltless water softeners may differ a lot in effectiveness, but there’s no easy way to tell because the standard water hardness test doesn’t apply to them. Short of dissecting each water softener to see whether each component works, the only reliable way to judge is to use one for years and see how it performs.

An Unbiased Water Softener Comparison Chart

Despite the difficulties in comparing water softeners, there are some generalizations you can make about the types of technology they use. Here’s a water softener comparison chart that looks not at different brands, but different types of softening.

Water Softener Type Effectiveness Maintenance Cost
Salt Water Softeners Very High High Medium
Magnetic Water Conditioners Low Very Low Very Low
Electronic Water Conditioners Low Very Low Very Low
Other Saltless Water Softeners Medium Low High


As you can see, salt water softeners are the most reliable, but they come with inconveniences that have driven people to look for alternatives. Obviously, the big one is their reliance on large amounts of water softener salt. Still, knowing that the system is actually going to work is a big point in their favor.

Magnetic and electronic water softeners aren’t well understood. Different products offer different explanations for the process that is supposed to soften water, and the standard water hardness measure doesn’t apply to them. A number of studies have been done on these systems, and the results are mixed. Still, magnetic and electronic systems have their fans, especially given all their other advantages.

By other water softeners, we’re mainly talking about systems that filter water using citrus or similar substances in a process called chelation. The scientific process behind these systems seems sound, but they’re relatively new and there’s not enough data to say if they work as well as salt based systems.

This isn’t the sort of water softener comparison chart that will tell you exactly what to buy, but it hopefully gives you a high-level overview of the different types of softeners available. For a closer look at saltless brands, see our water softener reviews section. Don’t stop there, though – before plunking down your money, make sure to get all the information you can.