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The 5 Best Water Softeners for Well Water in 2019

In Well Water Pumping by Jeremiah CasteloLeave a Comment

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Water hardness is a term many homeowners come across when discussing simple plumbing and water supply issues, but it isn’t unusual for some not to have a complete understanding of what it means.

There certainly are concerns for excessive hardness and other contaminants in the water supply especially when sourced from a well, as it can cause damage to the plumbing system over time. Installing a water softener, the device used to regulate water hardness, is an effective way of reducing water hardness and reaping the many benefits of having a soft water supply.

Calcium, Magnesium, and Iron are some of the most common elements present in hard water. While most water softeners will remove iron just as efficiently as calcium and magnesium, higher concentrations of iron may require additional treatment methods.

This article will discuss the following:

  • What is Water Hardness?
  • How to Test for Hard Water
  • How do Water Softeners Work?
  • Benefits of Water Softener Systems?
  • Setting Up a Water Softener for Well Water with Iron
  • Maintenance and Troubleshooting
  • A Review of the Best Water Softeners for Well Water with Iron


Editor's Choice for Best Water Softener for Well Water



  • Removes Hardness, Iron, Manganese, and Sediment
  • 32,000 Grain Capacity
  • 5 Year Warranty for Control Head
  • Made in USA

Fleck's IRON Pro 2 is by far the best water softener for well water with iron. Fleck's trusted brand features quality design and engineering to ensure proper softening with efficiency. For well owners with hardness and iron content, the IRON Pro 2 is the best choice. Read our review at the end of the article.


Read Reviews on Amazon

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ModelGrain Capacity
1. Fleck Iron Pro 232k grainFleck Iron Pro 2 Water Softener
2. Fleck 5600SXT24k grainFleck 5600XT Water Softener
3. Aquasure Harmony32k grainAquasure Water Softener
4. Tier 148k grainTier1 Water Softener
5. Whirlpool WHES3030k grainwhirlpool water softener

What is Water Hardness?


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The “hardness” or “softness” of a water supply simply refers to the presence of dissolved minerals in the water. Water with a higher concentration of dissolved particles is considered hard, while a lower concentration is considered soft.

The criteria for determining water hardness might differ from region to region based on measuring standards, the types of elements present, and testing specifications. But in general, hard water can always be associated with a higher concentration of dissolved minerals.

Effects of Hard Water

A variety of elements may be present in order to determine hardness including iron, aluminum, and manganese, but the two most prevalent elements are calcium and magnesium. The presence of calcium and magnesium isn’t harmful to the human body if ingested but can, in fact, be beneficial in moderate amounts.

However, calcium and magnesium can cause limescale buildup in pipes and faucets and ultimately clog up the plumbing system over time. If left untreated, the damages that hard water can cause to a water system can certainly be costly.

Causes of Hardness of Water

Calcium and Magnesium are particularly prevalent in well water systems. As groundwater flows through porous rock, minerals are gradually collected and introduced into the water supply. Iron, evidenced by the orange-red tint it leaves in faucets and bathtubs, is another troublesome element that is often present in well water systems.

While iron in low concentrations may be efficiently removed through the softening process, higher concentrations of iron may require additional treatment methods which will be discussed in this article. Nevertheless, calcium, magnesium, low concentrations of iron, and any other mineral present in the groundwater supply may be treated by incorporating a water softener into the well system.



The Top 4 Water Softener Benefits


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Prolonged Life of Plumbing System

Perhaps the most damaging effect of hard water is the limescale build-up it can cause inside of water pipes and fixtures. Prolonged exposure to magnesium and calcium-rich water can cause limescale buildup which can prevent adequate water flow and also cause corrosion. Water softeners can significantly prolong the life of a home’s plumbing system simply by reducing the damaging effects of limescale buildup.

In addition to the plumbing system, household appliances and fixtures are significantly affected by hard water as seen by scale buildup in coffee makers, sink fixtures, and bathtubs. Water softeners can eliminate unsightly and troublesome buildup on home fixtures.

Lowered Energy Bill

Most appliances work more efficiently when using soft water as opposed to hard water due to the scale buildup which can prevent proper flow of water. Water heaters in particular can perform significantly better with soft water due to less strain on the system that hard water build-up can cause. The Water Quality Research Foundation performed a study which revealed that water heaters can save up to 27% on energy costs in a single when used with a water softener.

Reduce Soap Usage and Improve Skin Health

Hard water negatively affects the soap lathering process as the ions make it harder for soap molecules to form bubbles. Soft water creates soap lather much easier and is much less harsh on the skin. Hard water also leaves magnesium and calcium build-up on the skin which can cause itchiness and irritation.

Keep Fabrics Soft, Colorful, and Fresh

Minerals from hard water can damage clothing, leaving them feeling stiff and reducing the vibrance of the colors. Water softeners can have a significant improvement on laundry.



How to Test for Hard Water


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The two most common units of measurement for water hardness in the US is parts per million (ppm) and grains per gallon (gpg).

PPM

The term, parts per million, is defined as having 1 milligram of dissolved minerals for every Liter of water. For example, a Liter of water which measures as 1 ppm contains 1 mg of dissolved minerals within it.

GPG

The term, grains per gallon, is defined as having 1 grain (which is equivalent to about 64.8 mg) of dissolved minerals for every gallon of water.

There are several other units of measurement used for testing water hardness, but in the United States, ppm and gpm are most commonly used. While the different units of measurement can often become confusing in determining water hardness, each unit can be converted to suit measurement needs.

1 PPM = 0.05842 gpg

1 GPG = 17.2 ppm

The US Geological Survey categorizes water hardness into different levels of concentration as explained by the following chart. While there are many other factors involved which ultimately determine hardness, the four categories of soft, moderately hard, hard, and very hard are precise enough for practical purposes. Water which is less that 60 ppm or 3.5 gpm is generally considered soft in most cases and should be the target range for those with concern for the negative effects that hard water can bring.

Classification

Hardness in PPM

Hardness in GPM

Soft

0-60

0-3.50

Moderately Hard

61-120

3.56-7.01

Hard

121-180

7.06-10.51

Very Hard

≥ 181

≥ 10.57

Water can be tested by using test strips which are dipped into a glass of water. As the color on the test strip changes, it can be matched with the provided color chart to determine the level of hardness. Hardness can also roughly be determined by dispensing drops of liquid soap into a glass of water. As a general rule of thumb, the more drops of soap required to produce soap suds, the harder the water is.



How Do Water Softeners Work?


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Water softeners work by treating magnesium, calcium, and iron-saturated water through a process called ion exchange. Ion exchange works by replacing these unwanted elements with a more desirable element such as sodium. The entire water softening system, comprised of a brine tank, resin tank, and control valve, can be better understood by explaining the function of each of these components.

Prefilter

In addition to the calcium and magnesium which groundwater is naturally saturated with due to the porous rock which it flows through, particles of sand and debris are commonly found in well water systems. Because small particles can potentially damage and clog a home plumbing system, it is reasonable to attach a pre-filter before the water reaches the softening system. A pre-fliter blocks larger particles such as sand, rock, and debris from entering the resin tank and causing further complications to the system.

Resin Tank

The resin tank houses the ion exchange resin – tiny beads which conduct the ion exchange process and are pre-charged with sodium ions. As hard water flows through the resin tank, the magnesium and calcium ions come into to contact with the resin beads and attach to them, ejecting the sodium ions and releasing them into the water. The water is now sodium-rich and magnesium and calcium-free. Sodium is a much more preferential element to have in the water as it is less damaging to home plumbing as iron, calcium, and magnesium can be.

Brine Tank

The brine tank houses the sodium pellets from which the sodium ions are generated. At regularly scheduled intervals, sodium-rich water from the brine tank is flushed into the resin tank to redistribute sodium ions back to the resin beads and to “clean” them of the hard ions. The magnesium, calcium, and iron ions which were collected from the hard water can now be flushed out of the resin tank, leaving the resin beads fresh and ready for the next exchange.

Control Valve

These ion exchange cycles can be controlled electronically through the control valve which dictates the cycling schedules. Throughout the week, and depending on how much water is used, the water softener system will go through several of these exchange cycles – with hard water first entering the resin tank, being released into the home as soft water, and then “regenerating” the resin tank with sodium-rich water from the brine tank.






Using a Water Softener for a Well Water System with Iron


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It is not uncommon for well systems to contain magnesium, calcium, manganese, and iron. While these minerals can be effectively treated with a water softener, higher levels of iron may need an iron filter in addition to the water softener.

How to Set up a Water Softener with a Well Pump

Because well pump systems rely on an accurate reading of water pressure in order to properly pump and distribute water to the house, there shouldn’t be any interference between the pump and the pressure tank. The water softener system should therefore be placed AFTER the water flows from the pressure tank and BEFORE it is ready to be distributed to the house.

Typically, the step up should be in this order:

  1. Well Pump
  2. Pressure Switch
  3. Pressure Tank
  4. Pre-filter (optional)
  5. Resin Tank
  6. Iron Filter (optional)
  7. Fine Carbon Filter (optional)

For well systems with high sediment content, optional sand filters can be placed before and after the water softener to reduce debris.

How to Treat the Iron Problem

As mentioned before, small amounts of iron will be treated in the resin tank along with the calcium and magnesium, producing soft water for the household. Regions with iron concentrations of 1 ppm or less may not need an additional treatment and can rely on the water softener to treat all of the minerals in the water. The are some regions, however, where iron concentration can reach 10 – 15 ppm or more, and may need the help of an iron filter.

There are three main types of iron issues that home owners may experience: ferric iron, ferrous iron, and iron bacteria. Ferric iron, also known as “red water iron”, are insoluble iron particles which are visible to the naked eye and can be easily filtered through the proper media. Ferrous iron, also known as “clear water iron”, is dissolved into the water and invisible to the naked eye. Iron bacteria, on the other hand, aren’t iron particles at all but tiny microorganism which feed on iron and can be evidenced by the red slimy residue which remain in toilet tanks and pipes.

How Iron Filters Work

Dissolved, ferrous iron in low concentrations (1 ppm) can be softened with a standard water softener. Ferric iron, iron bacteria, and higher concentrations of ferrous iron will need an iron filter or a water softener with an iron filter built into it.

Iron filters, which look very similar to water softener tanks, work by filtering out the different forms of iron through the necessary media filters. Most iron filters will contain the media required to treat all three types of iron issues and can be incorporated into a water softener system. The most cost-effective and space-efficient way to solve an iron problem is to purchase a water softener which includes an iron filter. Many water softener manufacturers have built-in iron filters which eliminate the need for an additional tank.






Maintenance and Troubleshooting


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Proper maintenance of a water softener can prolong its life and save time and money in repairs. These are some of the best maintenance and troubleshooting tips for ensuring a well-managed system.

Maintain the Brine Tank

To ensure that the brine tank is in good order, be sure to check the salt levels once per month. As a general rule, the brine tank should be at least half-full with salt and about 3 inches above the water level. Salt bridges, or layers of hardened salt within the brine tank, can form over time and need to be periodically broken to ensure proper water flow. They can be broken up by pouring hot water to dissolve it and stirring it with a clean stick.

Clean the Brine Tank

While older water softener models can benefit from an annual cleaning, newer models can endure 5-10 years without the need for cleaning if proper maintenance has been kept. Brine tank cleaning may be required if the softener has lost the ability to remove hardness and if troubleshooting methods have failed.

  1. To clean the tank, use the bypass valve to shut off water intake and dump, the entire contents of the brine tank, salt and water together.
  2. Wash the entire inside of the tank with a generous amount of soap and water. Use a hose to thoroughly rinse.
  3. Pour a ¼ cup of bleach and 2-3 gallons of water into the tank and let sit for 15 minutes.
  4. Rinse the tank once more and refill with salt. Wait a few hours before restarting the tank so the salt can dissolve.

Use Proper Salt

Each water softener will have its preferred type of salt to use in the brine tank and can be referenced in the manual. Only the manufacturer’s recommended type of salt should be used. While rock salt is less expensive, it also contains impurities which may decrease the efficiency of the system. Evaporated salt is the purest form available.

Cleaning Iron-fouled Resin Beads

For water softener systems without an iron filter, high deposits of iron can eventually cause the resin beads to have too much iron deposits and may require cleaning. In order to clean iron-fouled resin, iron removal solutions such as Iron Out or Rust Out. To clean iron fouled resin beads, pour the cleaning solution into the brine tank and regenerate the resin tank as normal. Heavily fouled resin tanks may require several cycles.



How to Size a Water Softener


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Each water softener will have its own grain capacity, a measurement of how much ion-exchanging the resin tank can perform before needing to be regenerated with sodium. An improperly sized water softener can result in too much water and salt usage and/or oversaturation of the resin beads.

In order to avoid excessive water and salt usage, a water softener should ideally regenerate no sooner than every 3 days. And in order to preserve the life of the resin, it should regenerate no longer than 14 days in between cycles. On average, a 7-day regeneration cycle is ideal for most households.

In order to calculate the required grain capacity for a household, one would need to know the amount of water used per day measured in gallons, and the amount of hardness measured in grains per gallon (GPG).

  1. Determine Water Hardness - For those using city water, hardness is usually made public in online annual reports. Well owners can test their water with a test kit to determine hardness. Hardness should be measured in GPG and can be converted from mg/L by dividing by 17.1.
  2. Determine Daily Water Usage - In order to get a rough estimate of the amount of water used per day is count the number of people who live in the household and multiply it by the average number of gallons used per day, which is 70 in the US. For example, a household with 4 people uses about 280 gallons of water per day (4 x 70= 280).
  3. Calculate Daily Softening Requirement - To calculate the daily softening requirement, multiply the water hardness in GPG by the total amount of daily water usage in gallons. For example, a water hardness of 10 GPG multiplied by a daily water usage of 280 gallons, equals 2,800 grains. The water softener will need to regenerate 2,800 grains per day.
  4. Select a Water Softener with the Appropriate Grain Capacity - Because the target regeneration frequency for water softeners should be every 7 days, selecting one with the correct grain capacity is important. If the required daily softening requirement for our example is 2,800 grains per day, we'll need to multiply that by 7 days, which is 19,600. The water softener required should have a grain capacity of about 19,600.

Most water softeners are sold at 24,000, 32,000, and 48,000 grain capacities. In most cases, rounding up to the nearest grain capacity would be efficient. For our example, the water softener with the 24,000 grain capacity would suit the 19,600 grain capacity requirement.



Water Softener FAQs


Can You Mix Different Types of Salt in The Water Softener?

Mixing different types of salt together in the salt tank isn’t necessarily harmful but it may complicate the softening process and potentially damage the water softener system. Each water softener systems is designed to use a specific type of salt and should only be used with what is recommended by the manufacturer. Substituting a different type of salt may not allow the system to function properly. IF a particular system allows for more than one type of salt at a time, it is best practice to drain the unit of one type of salt before adding the other.

How Much Sodium is Ingested from Softened Water?

The amount of sodium ingested from a water softener unit largely depends on the hardness of the water, but on average, less than 3% sodium uptake comes from ingesting softened water. This estimates to about 2 teaspoons of table salt per day which is very minimal in comparison to the daily amount of sodium that should be ingested from foods.

Do Water Softeners Make Water Safe to Drink?

Water softeners do not purify water of contaminants and therefore should not be relied on to make water safe for drinking. Water softeners merely reduce the amount of minerals in the water, not harmful bacteria or viruses. A purification device such as a fine carbon filter or UV filter will make the water safe from contaminants.

When do the Resin Beads Need to Be Changed?

If a water softening unit is maintained properly, it may not need to have the resin beads replaced in its lifetime.

Why Does Soft Water Feel Slick and Smooth When Taking a Shower?

Hard water, which is high in calcium and magnesium, greatly affect the lathering ability of soap and prevents it from dissolving properly in water. This interaction makes soap scum adhere to surfaces more easily, including clothes, dishes, and skin. Soft water allows soap to slide off the skin more easily, as it is designed to do. This may make showering feel smoother.

Best Water Softeners for Well Water with Iron


A water softener is a large investment and should be carefully researched before purchasing. Water hardness, daily water usage, and the required grain capacity should all be predetermined beforehand. Selecting the right brand and size along with proper maintenance could mean 10-15 years of efficient softening before requiring any professional servicing.

For those with high iron content, it may be more cost-effective to purchase a water softener with an iron filter built into it rather than purchasing an iron filter separately. Several of the top water softeners reviewed below have iron filters built into them.



Our Top Choice




  • Water Softener and Iron Filter
  • Removes Hardness, Iron, Manganese, and Sediment
  • 32,000 Grain Capacity
  • 5 Year Warranty for Control Head
  • 10 Year Warranty for Tank
  • Made in USA

View Price on Amazon

Build Quality
Company Trust
Efficiency

Score: 96/100

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Fleck is the gold standard in home water softening systems and with good reason. This American based company creates high-quality water softening products which are trusted and used by homeowners and businesses worldwide.

The Fleck Iron Pro 2 is a combination water softener and iron filter which eliminates the need for an additional iron filter to be incorporated into the system. The iron filter eliminates ferrous and ferric iron from the water source while the softener treats calcium, magnesium, and manganese.

Fleck offers great customer service, tech support, and installation, as well as a 5 year warranty for the electronic control head and a 10 year warranty for the tank.

Because most well owners might experience iron in addition to the calcium and magnesium, the Fleck IRON Pro 2 is a highly recommended water softener for solving these problems in the most efficient way possible.

More Sizes in this Series:






  • 24,000 Grain Capacity
  • 5 Year Warranty for Control Head
  • 10 Year Warranty for Tank
  • Made in USA

View Price on Amazon

Build Quality
Company Trust
Efficiency

Score: 93/100

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If iron isn't an issue with the well water system, or if a separate iron filter will be added, Fleck's popular 5600SXT is the most efficient water softener for calcium and magnesium on the market.

Like the IRON Pro 2, the 5600SXT features a state-of-the-art electronic control head which regenerates on an as-needed basis rather than at scheduled intervals. This metered system ensures that regeneration occurs at the most efficient frequency possible to prolong the life of the resin tank and conserve water and salt.

The 5600SXT also features a 5 year warranty for the control head and a 10 year warranty for the tank.

More Sizes in this Series:






  • 32,000 Grain Capacity
  • Digital Metered Control Head
  • 5 Year Warranty

View Price on Amazon

Build Quality
Company Trust
Efficiency

Score: 83/100

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The Harmony Series Water Softener by Aquasure features a fully customizable control head which regenerates on an as-needed basis. The 3 types of regeneration modes available are: time clock delayed control, meter immediate control, and meter delayed control. This allows the user to have full control over the regeneration process, allowing for maximum efficiency and minimum waste.

Aquasure offers a 5 year warranty for the Harmony Series water softeners.

More Sizes in this Series:






  • 48,000 Grain Capacity
  • Digital Metered Control Head
  • Excellent Support Team
  • User-Friendly Control Head

View Price on Amazon

Build Quality
Company Trust
Efficiency

Score: 80/100

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In order to compete with Fleck's popular 5600XT model, Tier1 designed a user-friendly digital metering system which makes scheduling regeneration cycles easier and more efficient. Tier1's system incorporates all of the features a high-end softener would expect to have and supports it with a dedicated customer service team and step-by-step set up process.






  • 30,000 Grain Capacity
  • Salt-Saving Technology
  • NSF Certified
  • Made in USA
  • 1 Year Warranty

View Price on Amazon

Build Quality
Company Trust
Efficiency

Score: 80/100

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Whirpool's trusted brand offers a the WHES30 water softener with a 30,000 grain capacity for a small family. The NSF-certified design allows for efficient water softening for homes with high concentration of calcium and magnesium. The demand-initiated regeneration system allows for regeneration based on hardness level rather than at scheduled intervals. Comes with a 1 year manufacturer's warranty.

Summary


Hard water is a term that many might not have a full understanding of, but as we've discovered, water hardness isn't a health concern in terms of consumption. The danger of hard water is mostly related to the calcification of plumbing and household fixtures. Iron, an element that is often present in most well systems, can present its own set of problems. While low concentrations of iron can be remedied with most water softening systems, higher concentrations will need an iron filter.

It is important to properly size the water softener according to the level of hardness and the daily amount of water being used in the household.


Thank you for taking the time to read our article on the best water softener for well water with iron. We'd love to hear your feedback in the comments section below. If you've found this article to be useful and are interested in learning more, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.

worldwaterreserve.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Some links may be affiliate links.


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About the Author

Jeremiah Castelo

Jeremiah Castelo is the owner of World Water Reserve. He is a writer and researcher with a particular interest in sustainability and rural living, water scarcity, and innovative water purification methods. He utilizes his multimedia and communication experience in the NGO and humanitarian fields to bring light to important topics. His passion is to educate others on the reality of the global water crisis and on ways to sustain themselves and their families in the midst of it.

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