The 2024 Buyer’s Guide to Water Softeners

If you live in a hard water area, a water softener is a great addition to your home. By getting rid of mineral buildup, you may extend the lifespan of your pipes, get better results from soaps and detergents and improve the health of your skin and hair.

A water softener makes it easy to improve your home’s water quality, as well as a variety of other benefits. Our Water Softener Buyers Guide will help you make an informed decision about renting or buying a water softening system that’s right for you. You’ll learn about:

What Is Hard and Soft Water?

The water coming into our homes doesn’t come completely free of chemicals or contaminants. Municipal water comes with chemicals in it, like chlorine for sanitation, but also minerals like magnesium and calcium. The amount of minerals in the water is what determines whether your water is hard or soft. Hard water contains a high amount of minerals dissolved in it, whereas soft water has lower quantities.

How Is Water Hardness Measured?

Hardness can be measured using different units of measure, including parts per million (ppm), milligrams per liter (mg/L) or grains per gallon (GPG). This buyers guide will be using GPG when discussing water hardness.

One grain per gallon (1 GPG) is equal to 17.1 mg/L or 17.1 ppm. For GPG, the scale goes from 1-10 as the primary range1:

  • 0–3 GPG is considered soft water.
  • 3.5–7 GPG is considered moderate and ideal.
  • 7 GPG and over is considered hard water and should be treated with a water softener.

Total PPM (parts per million)

Find your city in this table to discover how soft or hard your city’s water supply is. If you have hard or very hard water, go ahead and contact us for a free no-obligation water test and water softener price quote.

Negative Effects of Hard Water

Limescale Buildup

A chalky, white deposit that lingers when hard water comes into contact with  hard surfaces and evaporates. Accumulation of scale or mineral deposits can block the pipes in your home. This can cause not only reduced water pressure but also costly repairs in certain cases.

Shortened Appliance Lifespan

The buildup of scale in appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers can decrease their effectiveness. Over time, this can lead to expensive repairs and also increased energy usage.2

Reduced Soap and Detergent Efficiency

The minerals in hard water make it difficult for soap and laundry detergent to lather, reducing their ability to clean. Daily routines like removing makeup and showering ends up taking more time and being less effective. Hard water can also leave a film (commonly referred to as “soap scum”) on your hands that occurs when the soap reacts with the high amounts of calcium in the water.

Skin and Hair Issues

Hard water not only reduces how well your soap works— the residue left on your skin can also lead to a dry, itchy scalp and clog your pores. This can cause skin irritation like acne breakouts and make sensitive skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis worse.3

Faded Laundry

The minerals in hard water can build up over time. This can make your clothes feel stiff and appear faded as well as prevent the detergent from working effectively. Extreme cases of mineral buildup can even cause fabric to weaken and break, creating holes in your clothing.4

Foggy Film on Surfaces

If you often find cloudy stains on your glassware after cleaning, hard water may be the culprit. The mineral buildup in hard water leaves behind a foggy film on your glassware when the water dries. This also extends to other surfaces in your home that come into contact with hard water, such as your shower/bathtub and bathroom tiles. The foggy stains make them more difficult to clean on top of being unsightly.

How Water Softeners Work

A water softener is a water treatment system that removes the minerals (calcium and magnesium) that are found in hard water through a process called ion exchange.

Here’s how it works: Minerals in hard water contain a positive charge. Through ion exchange, hard water is run through negatively charged resin beads or zeolite to trap the minerals and exchange them for sodium ions. This removes the minerals and “softens” the water.

The resin beads need to be reloaded from time to time with the sodium ions through what is called the “regeneration process.” This involves flushing the resin beads with salt from the brine tank — the high concentration of sodium ions in the salt removes the calcium and magnesium ions from the resin beads and replenishes the layer of sodium ions that was removed. Water can’t be softened during the regeneration process, so the process should be scheduled during hours when you won’t need soft water.

How often do I need to replace the salt?

Since water softeners need salt to regenerate, the amount of salt your softener uses depends on how much soft water your home uses. The more often a unit has to regenerate, the more often you’ll need to fill up the brine tank with salt. On average, most units need to have their salt refilled every two to three months, but that can change depending on use. There are many types of salts to choose from, and even salt alternatives (such as potassium chloride) for those who are concerned about their salt intake. With so many different considerations, it’s important to have a professional help find the right combination of softener and salt to meet your home’s needs.

Benefits of Water Softeners

Soft water has several benefits that you’ll notice both immediately and over time:

  • Faster Water Heating —Want hotter water faster? —Hard water can leave scum and scale deposits that could lead to blockages and cause damage to your water heater. The scale acts as a layer that restricts the transfer of heat into the water and reduce your water heater’s efficiency by up to 50%.5 A water softener removes magnesium and calcium ions from the water before it passes through your equipment so heat is maintained more efficiently.
  • Savings — As soft water increases the efficiency of your water heater, it could help reduce your energy usage .
  • Faster Household Cleaning —Soft water helps cut back on cleaning time by leaving no soap scum to clean from shower heads, faucets or humidifiers. Your floors, windows and woodwork will thank you for cleaning with soft water too.
  • Brighter and Softer Clothes —Washing your laundry in soft water is more effective and leaves your clothes cleaner as well as more vibrant and durable.
  • Cleaner, Healthier Skin and Hair —Soft water can benefit your health as well as your home: It leaves your hair silkier and more manageable and your skin less dry. It’s also better for people with skin issues like eczema and acne since soft water washes away more cleanly and is less likely to clog your pores.
  • Cleaner Dishes — Cleaning your dishes with soft water uses half the amount of soap that hard water does. It also gets rid of spots on your dishes so they can be truly sparkling clean again.
  • Reduced Scale Buildup — Less buildup means your taps, fixtures and appliances can perform like new for longer.

Types of Water Softeners


Traditional standalone, salt-based water softeners remove calcium, magnesium, low traces of iron and other minerals from hard water. Standard water softeners contain a brine tank and a resin tank. The resin tank softens the water through the ion exchange process while the brine tank flushes the resin beads during regeneration. Water softeners typically last 10-15 years with proper maintenance and care before needing replacement.

Softener with Dechlorinator

Enercare offers softeners with dechlorinator units that filter out chlorine and volatile organic chemicals from the main water supply. Chlorine is one of the biggest complaints about water, and Enercare’s water softeners with dechlorinator are specifically designed to work in the Canadian municipal water markets.

Dechlorinating water softeners are available in the standard softener model containing a brine tank and resin tank, as well as a cabinet model. The cabinet model is an all-in-one unit where the brine and resin tanks are stored in one compartment. This makes it more compact and also more versatile when installing.

Effects of Chlorine in the Water
The government of Canada states that the levels of chlorine found in drinking water likely do not pose a health risk when consuming it. There are still possible negative effects that come with chlorine in the water though: unusual taste, possible skin irritation, or breathing issues (in asthmatics) when showering are all reasons why you might want to remove the chlorine in your home’s water.6

Salt-Free Water Softener

Salt-free water softeners, as the name suggests, don’t require salt to treat hard water. They use a process called template-assisted crystallization (TAC) that conditions the water to prevent deposit buildup instead of removing it with salt. During TAC, a bed of polystyrene beads acts as a template that attracts calcium as water flows through. As calcium carbonate crystals grow on the surface and the template gets filled, the crystals get naturally released as water runs through it. This provides more surface for the template to attract more crystals. Salt-free water softeners aren’t recommended for treating very hard water or for homes with heavy water usage.

Dual-Tank Water Softener

Dual-tank water softeners are salt-based and have two resin tanks to soften water with no down time. While one tank is softening the water, the other tank is either on standby or regenerating to ensure a steady supply of soft water. Single-tank water softeners have a limit on how much soft water can be provided before the system has to go into regeneration.

Water Softeners Cost

Various factors affect the cost and type of water softeners:

  • Soft Water Demand —A water softener’s grain capacity determines how much hard water it can soften before needing regeneration. The more soft water your household needs, the more grains will be necessary in your softener to handle the demand. An Enercare Water Management Consultant can help determine the amount of grains appropriate for your soft water needs and find the perfect size fit for your home.
  • Features — Although all water softeners are designed to remove minerals from hard water, there are some that remove chlorine as well. Enercare offers water softeners that remove both the hardness from water and the chlorine, providing you with a comfort and peace of mind beyond soft water alone.                                                                                      
  • Available Space in the Home — The amount of space available to install a water softener that contains a brine tank and resin tank can be a limiting factor. If two separate tanks will take up too much space in the home, Enercare also offers a compact cabinet unit with the resin and brine tanks stored in one compartment  — perfect for smaller homes and condos. Contact an Enercare Water Management Consultant to help find the perfect-size softener for your space.

The following are estimates of the starting costs for each unit:

Water Softener TypeStarting Rental Rate (monthly) + HSTStarting Purchase Cost (including installation) + HST
Softener with Dechlorinator$32.22$2,729
Cabinet Softener$31.99$2,870

Should I Rent or Buy?

Rent with Enercare Advantage™^Buy from Enercare
CostAffordable monthly costHigh upfront cost
RepairsFree repairs for the life of the water softenerOut-of-pocket repair costs
ServiceFree service calls for any issues with your unitHomeowner holds responsibility of maintaining and servicing the equipment
InstallationProfessional installation includedProfessional installation included

How to Choose the Right Size

A properly sized water softener should not only physically fit in your home but also be tailored to your home’s water quality and usage. This lets the softener operate at max efficiency by using as little salt as possible while ensuring a continuous supply of soft water. When choosing the right-size water softener for your home, our experts consider the following factors:

Water Hardness Level

Homes with very hard water will need a water softener with a high grain capacity to efficiently handle the hardness level. An Enercare professional can help measure your home’s water hardness level and find the right unit for your household.

Regeneration Rate

Once the resin beads have lost all their sodium ions from softening the water, the water softener will need time to regenerate its resin. Larger softeners can soften more water before needing to regenerate but will take longer to regenerate the unit. Likewise, smaller softeners can regenerate faster but will have to regenerate more often.

Household Size

Larger households will typically need a higher amount of soft water. Ensuring your softener can meet the needs of everyone in the home is crucial to make sure everyone is comfortable.


A properly sized water softener should not only physically fit in your home but also be tailored to your home’s water quality and usage. This lets the softener operate at max efficiency by using as little salt as possible while ensuring a continuous supply of soft water. When choosing the right-size water softener for your home, our experts consider the following factors:

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Space Requirements

Of course, it’s important for your home to have sufficient space for your water softener. Enercare’s water softeners are installed on the main water line (usually in the basement or near the garage) and provide soft water throughout the entire home. They come in a variety of sizes but generally take up about the same footprint as a washing machine. If space is an issue, switching your water heater to a tankless version can help free up room for your softener.

Potential Water Softener Problems and Repairs

Water softeners are built to last, but sometimes issues may occur. Our trained and qualified water technicians and plumbers will be able to diagnose and fix problems as quickly as possible. If you get a water softener under the Enercare Advantage™ rental program, all water softener repairs are done at no cost to you.^

Resin ReplacementThe resin beads are where the water softening occurs. The hard water flows over the resin beads, which then swaps the calcium and magnesium in the water for the sodium that’s attached to the beads. The resin beads can begin to break down and reduce the softener’s effectiveness as the softener is used over time. Resin should be professionally replaced if you start seeing sand-like particles in the resin tank — these particles could damage the rest of the appliance.
Bypass Valve ProblemsThe bypass valve is essentially the on-and-off switch for the water softening process.  Although soft water is great to have, you may not want it for every activity (like watering your lawn). If your bypass valve is malfunctioning, you may end up using soft water when not intended. This can leave you with less soft water for other tasks. It also works through your salt supply faster, which both wears down the softener from use and costs money to replace the consumed salt.
Motor ProblemsThe motor in your water softener enables the bypass valve to switch between the softening and regeneration modes. Like all machines, it will eventually wear down and work less efficiently. When the motor fails, it can seriously impact your water softener’s performance or cause the system to stop working entirely.

Water that is harder than before can indicate problems with the motor. This is because the motor is not allowing the resin to properly regenerate, so the resin beads cannot soften the water as efficiently. If you notice that your softener is not softening the water as efficiently as before but is still using salt, there may be an issue with the motor.
Leaking TankJust like any other water treatment product, there is the possibility of a leak with water softeners. This may be the result of wear and tear or a valve that needs to be adjusted. Regardless of the reason, it’s important to contact a professional if you notice a water leak to resolve it quickly and protect both your softener and your home from damage.
Salt BridgesA salt bridge is a hardened crust that forms in the brine tank and becomes a barrier that prevents the salt from dissolving properly into the water. This gives the appearance of a brine tank that may be full when there’s actually a hollow shell beneath the surface. As a result, the water can no longer be softened because the water softener can’t properly regenerate.

Some common causes of salt bridge formations are high humidity in the area where the tank is stored and low-quality salt — not all salt is created equal. It’s important to choose salt with high purity levels for your water softener so it can dissolve more easily in the brine tank and be less likely to clump.
Blocked Valve InjectorThe valve injector transfers the water from the brine tank to the resin tank. The injector can become clogged with iron or debris over time, preventing the brine solution from reaching the resin. This prevents the resin from regenerating and lowers the effectiveness of the softener. If the water in your brine tank is unusually high, that may be a sign that your injector is blocked.
Circuit BoardsThe components within a water softener’s circuit board can malfunction over time, either from wear and tear or electrical surges. When this happens, the water softener can stop working altogether. Your Water Management Consultants at Enercare can replace your softener’s circuit board to ensure that the issue is handled quickly.

Get a Free No-obligation Price Quote and a Water Test

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