Waiting for Consumer Reports to Weigh in on Water Softeners

Cartoon man waiting impatiently with arms crossedMuch to the chagrin of many of its subscribers, Consumer Reports hasn’t published water softener ratings in years. As a result, countless Google searches for phrases like water softeners consumer reports and best water softener consumer reports have come up empty – or worse, landed people on company websites purporting to offer unbiased information. This is a shame, because there’s a lot of confusion among consumers, much of it surrounding saltless water softeners.

Why People Look to Consumer Reports for Water Softener Info

Water softener prices being what they are, homeowners naturally want to do plenty of homework before pulling the trigger on a new system. While ion exchange systems have been around for a long time, many people still don’t understand how water softeners work – why they need salt, how they change the water, or for that matter, what soft water is. And while all water softeners are expensive (excluding some of the magnetic and electronic systems), they vary a lot in price. Without independent tests of these systems, how can you tell you’re getting what you pay for?

Adding to the confusion are saltless water softener systems, which are growing in popularity but are poorly understood. These systems use a variety of different technologies, some of which have a mixed record in scientific tests. But mostly, they just haven’t been tested enough. Even among water professionals, there’s no consensus on how well they work. This is unfortunate for people who live in areas where conventional softeners have been banned due to the waste water they produce – for these people, salt free systems are the only option.

To sum up, there are two main questions consumers would like to have answered: 1) which conventional water softener models are worth the money, and 2) which saltless technologies actually work.

Why Water Softener Ratings are Difficult

The last time Consumer Reports looked at water softeners, they determined that there was little difference in performance between brands. In other words, the softeners were equally effective at getting rid of all of the hard water minerals in a water supply. That’s the easy question that can be answered with a standard water hardness test. Here are some other measures it would be nice to know:

  • Do some softeners use less salt than others?
  • Do some waste less water?
  • More expensive systems presumably last longer – but how much longer?
  • How important is it to have a metered softener vs. a timed one?

One question Consumer Reports has recently answered concerns whole house water softeners – which they recommended over point-of-use systems like shower head water softeners. However, that still leaves a lot of unanswered questions for consumers, and many of them are difficult to answer. In particular, how do you rate the durability of a system without using it for an extended period? It’s possible that the reason Consumer Reports has declined to look at water softeners is that the question of performance is a no-brainer, whereas the other criteria are just too difficult to judge.

How to Find the Best Water Softener

The main reason we started this site was to collect the best information out there on water softeners. However, we don’t claim to have the resources to test each system individually. Our advice for finding a water softener is to do plenty of research, put together a list of options, and look for unbiased customer reviews of the the individual brands you’re considering. Until Consumer Reports or another authoritative group comes along with a comprehensive review of water softeners, that’s the best you can do.