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The Best Ion Exchange Water Softeners for Your Home

Fact checked by Stephen Conklin

best ion exchange water softener

The best ion exchange water softener can protect plumbing and water appliances against limescale formation while giving families more efficient washings and pleasant showers. Moreover, families who choose the right ion exchange water softener do not need to worry about inefficient pipes and water fixtures.

Unfortunately, first-time buyers of ion exchange water softeners often find the process confusing, if not challenging. We will highlight three crucial factors in this article to help prospective buyers choose the right water softener for their homes.

  • Capacity: An ion exchange water softener’s capacity impacts its regeneration requirements and cost-efficiency. In general, the higher the water softener’s rated capacity, the less frequent the recharging. High-capacity softeners can save households sufficient money to buy other things. For example, a 48,000-grain unit is more cost-effective than a 12,000-grain ion exchange water softener.
  • Valve Control System: Water softeners feature a valve controller for regulating water movement in and out of the resin tank. The controller can be timer-mediated or volume-based. Ideally, a volume-controlled (also known as meter-controlled) unit is better than one with a timer function.
  • Removed Minerals: All water softeners replace hard minerals with either sodium chloride or potassium chloride. Most products remove only calcium and magnesium, while others can also reduce manganese and iron levels in the water.

While these factors are essential, other parameters are equally crucial when buying an ion exchange water softener. We will discuss the other ion exchange water softener attributes necessary for making an informed buying decision in our guide and the following product reviews.

Top 1

Whirlpool WHESFC

Weight 112 Pounds
Capacity 31,000 Grains
Certification NSF

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Top 2

Aquasure ‎AS-HS32D

Weight ‎88 Pounds
Capacity 32,000 Grains
Certification NSF

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Top 3

AFWFilters ‎WS48-56SXT

Weight 20.7 Pounds
Capacity 48,000 Grains
Certification NSF

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Table of Contents

Top 6 Ion Exchange Water Softener Reviews

1. Whirlpool WHESFC Pro Series Softener

The Whirlpool WHESFC Pro Series is perfect for families who want a reliable and high-performance water softener system that also functions as a whole-house water filter. This device is not only efficient in reducing hard minerals in the water, but it also guarantees more enjoyable and better-tasting water.

Of all the ion exchange water softeners I reviewed, I love this the most. After all, one can never fault a system with a Whirlpool badge. Besides its big-name branding, I like this system’s water softener-filter combo. There is no need to install a separate CTO and sediment filter because this product already has both.

The water softener component is also ingenious, reducing iron molecules by as much as 3 ppm. Families will notice fewer reddish to brownish stains on their sinks while relishing the astonishing improvement in water appearance, taste, and smell. Making beverages is as pleasant as having a warm shower.

Although this unit only has a 31,000-grain capacity resin, it remains more cost-effective than 24K units. My friend uses this product in her home, and it only regenerates once a month. The savings she gets is sufficient to return her investment after about twelve months.

I am also pleased the company designed this water softener to use 25% less salt than its previous models. That is additional savings for families who want exceptional value for their investment. There is also an NSF certification for doubtful folks.

However, I wish the user interface also displayed daily water consumption in gallons per day. It is a minor issue since the machine automatically recharges upon reaching a predetermined limit.
  • Two-in-one design for optimum water softening and filtering
  • Removes hard minerals, iron, and sediments
  • Cost-effective 32,000-grain resin
  • Improves water appearance, taste, and smell
  • 25% savings on salt regeneration
  • NSF Certified for quality assurance
  • No water consumption information in the display
Overall, I recommend this water softener to anyone who needs a more comprehensive water treatment system.

2. Aquasure AS-HS32D Whole House Water Softener

The Aquasure AS-HS32D Harmony Series is an excellent ion exchange water softener for medium-sized households. It has customizable programs, a bright LCD user interface, and a performance that leaves the competition in the dust.

I love this water softener’s ion exchange resin because it does not only remove calcium and magnesium that cause limescale buildup in plumbing systems and water appliances. This product also removes iron, allowing users to avoid skin irritations during showering and protect their water fixtures and pipes against rust.

Although this unit only has a 32,000-grain capacity, it is still higher than what other products offer. Households can still enjoy substantial savings from less frequent regenerations.

I also like its digital controller with a manual system. One can program the unit to automatically regenerate after softening a predetermined water volume or activate it manually for emergency recharging. The detachable bypass valve also aids in regeneration, ensuring the family has a sufficient water supply while the unit recharges.

Backwashing is a breeze because of the unit’s double backwash capability. One does not need to worry about regeneration or cleaning efficacy with such a system.

My only concern is its instructions. Because the writing is not very clear, users will be better off watching Youtube videos for directions.
  • Removes not only calcium and magnesium but also iron
  • High capacity resin for improved savings
  • Customizable digital valve control unit for more efficient operation
  • Detachable bypass valve for uninterrupted water supply during regeneration
  • Double backwash capability & bright LCD display
  • With NSF certification
  • Instructions aren’t helpful
This water softener’s ability to remove iron and magnesium makes it an exceptional choice for households with high ferrous iron and magnesium levels in their water. It is cost-effective and performs exceptionally, with an NSF certification backing it up.

3. AFWFilters WS48-56SXT 5600SXT Water Softener

I trust AFWFilters like many homeowners who are confident with the brand’s range of high-quality water treatment products. The company’s WS48-56SXT ionic water softener is one of the best on the market, providing families with soft water for their various water-related chores and activities.

This water softener is a must-have for any home, capable of removing 48,000 grains of magnesium and calcium before requiring a recharge. It also has an NSF certification to prove its claims, something people will appreciate.

I like its high-capacity resin, which translates to extended use between regeneration cycles. Families will save more money this way compared to a unit that requires weekly recharging.

I also appreciate its advanced digital metered flow controller with its easy-to-operate interface. People can set their units to accommodate a specific water volume before regenerating, which is more efficient than timer-controlled devices.

With its high-capacity design, this product manages to provide households with a sufficient water supply. The unit has a peak flow rate of 28 gallons per minute (GPM), with an average of 12 GPM. It is the perfect water softener for a six-member household with water hardness levels exceeding 180 ppm (mg/L) or 10.5 grains per gallon (GPG).

While DIYers can install this water softener, I still recommend getting a professional. One must also know that the product does not include drainage tubing. Buyers must also purchase this accessory to complete the installation.
  • High grain capacity for increased cost-effectiveness
  • On-demand metered controller for enhanced efficiency
  • High flow rate for exceptional water consumption
  • Recommended for 6-member families
  • User-friendly controls for effortless operation
  • NSF certification for water softener quality and safety
  • No drainage tubing included
  • Expert installation recommended
There are many reasons why I recommend this ion exchange water softener to families. Essentially, it is the best unit money can buy, providing households with soft water without worrying about high operating costs. Operating it is a cinch, and families will never fret about hard water effects ever again.

4. Pentair WS48-56SXT10 Fleck Water Softener

People looking for an ion exchange water softener lasting 15 to 20 years should consider the Pentair WS48-56SXT10. This product has robust chemical bonds between resin beads, allowing it to remove more hard minerals continuously for up to two decades.

Most water softeners people encounter only feature 8% crosslink resins, lasting only 10 to 15 years. Increasing the crosslink to 10% improves the water softener’s durability, empowering households to enjoy continuous soft water for the next 15 to 20 years.

I also appreciate this unit’s 48,000-grain capacity, and I am confident potential Menards water softener buyers will find it appealing, too. It makes the system suitable for households with very hard water, although residences with low to moderately hard water levels can also benefit from the product’s water softening capabilities.

There is also no doubting this water softener’s performance, quality, and safety because it has a valid NSF certification. At 14 GPM, it also has one of the highest water flow rates among the many units on the market. Families will like the system’s water flow rate, giving them an uninterrupted water supply with simultaneous use.

I appreciate this unit’s Fleck 5600SXT controller because it is a reliable and proven system. People can set it to automatically regenerate after a given water volume or override it for instant recharging.

Unfortunately, increasing the crosslink percentage also increases the unit’s retail price. That said, I think this product is still more economical than 8% crosslink units in the long term. Its high grain capacity and 15-year service life span contribute to this water softener’s cost-effectiveness.
  • 10% crosslink ion exchange resin for durability
  • High capacity for medium to large-sized households
  • Programmable controller for hassle-free operation
  • 14 gpm water flow rate for stable water consumption
  • NSF certification for safety, performance, and quality
  • A bit pricey
Overall, this ion exchange water softener is perfect for modern families who want exceptional value for their money. Operating the unit is a breeze, and its performance is beyond expectations.

5. DuraWater 48K Mechanical Fleck Water Softener

The problem with digitally controlled water softeners is the loss of control during brownouts or power outages. People who live in areas where electricity is not as stable as others might want to consider getting the DuraWater 48K Mechanical Fleck 5600 Water Softener.

This product still has Fleck’s proven metered flow valve controller, but with a mechanical design. The feature frees users from electrical constraints, allowing them to control their water softeners even in power outages. Manipulating the control knob and water volume dial is also a breeze.

I like this water softener’s mineral tank and valve head because of their sturdy build quality. Users can expect this product to last many years, extending to 25 years with proper maintenance.

I also appreciate its 48,000-grain capacity. Households with low hard water levels can wait many weeks before recharging their system, adding substantial savings to the family. On the other hand, residences with excessive hardness minerals can expect more frequent regeneration cycles of at least once every two weeks.

The 8% crosslink resin is standard for this water softener, removing calcium and magnesium from the water and saving the household from limescale formation and unpleasant showers. Although it does not last as long as a unit with a 10% crosslink resin, it is still commendable.

With an NSF seal, people will never doubt this water softener’s performance and quality construction.

On the downside, you’ll need some DIY or plumbing experience to set up this unit.
  • High-capacity 8% crosslink resin for longevity
  • Mechanical controller for uninterrupted operation even in power outages
  • Easy to use
  • Robust structural tank & valve construction for durability
  • NSF certification for performance and safety
  • Substantial time between regenerations, depending on water hardness levels
  • Installation requires plumbing experience
Still, I consider this ion exchange water softener a must-have for some households. It is perfect for those who want an old-school controller with proven water softening capabilities.

6. Tier1 Everyday Series WS-165-150 Grain Water Softener

One concern about ion exchange water softeners is their high salt requirements. People must use up to 350 pounds of salt to regenerate the system every one to two weeks. While salt is an inexpensive commodity, it can still add up through the years.

The Tier1 WS-165-150 Everyday Series is a water softener that removes hard minerals from the water. The secret is in the system’s upflow design, promoting extended contact between hard water and the high-efficiency resin beads. This structure allows the water softener to reduce hardness mineral levels with less sodium or potassium chloride.

At 48,000 grains, this water softener can handle water with exceptionally high hardness mineral levels. City homeowners can use it and rely on the water softener’s outstanding performance. Regeneration doesn’t take much time, either, only two hours, allowing users to avoid prolonged disruption to the water supply.

I also like its 11.2-GPM flow rate, which is sufficient for most households.

While I laud its better-than-Fleck metered valve controller, I cannot say it is for beginners. Some users found the programming confusing. However, repeated use of the system can make its operation as effortless as possible. One must also understand this product does not remove iron and manganese, only calcium and magnesium.
  • High-efficiency, high-capacity resin design
  • Short regeneration time to minimize disruption to the water supply
  • Uses less salt than other ion exchange water softeners
  • High flow rate for convenient water use
  • Removes calcium and magnesium
  • Programming the controller can be confusing
  • Not for iron & manganese removal
Despite these concerns, many people still get this ion exchange water softener because of its higher efficiency and lower salt requirement than other water softeners. That is why I also recommend it to anyone who requires a cost-efficient system for softening water.

What to Look for When Buying Ion Exchange Water Softeners


Choosing the most suitable water softening system should not be that difficult, especially if one understands and considers the following factors.

  • Capacity

According to Consumer Reports, ion exchange water softeners work by swapping sodium or potassium ions (in the resin) for calcium and magnesium molecules (in hard water). That is why an excellent indicator of a water softener’s performance is its ability to remove as many hard minerals as possible, measured in grains, before regenerating.

In general, the higher the water softener’s grain capacity, the greater its efficiency. For example, a 48,000-grain unit is better than a 24,000-grain device. It handles more hard minerals and requires less frequent regeneration.

  • Valve Control System

Ion exchange water softeners can feature one of two valve control types: volume or meter-based or timer-controlled.

A meter-controlled unit only regenerates once it reaches a predefined water volume setting. On the other hand, a timer-controlled device recharges the system at predetermined time intervals, regardless of water consumption.

Most water softeners today use a meter-based valve controller for improved efficiency and cost savings.

  • Removed Minerals

Water softeners replace magnesium, calcium, and other water hardness compounds with either potassium chloride or sodium chloride. The hard water elements adhere to the ion exchange resin, packing the matrix to its rated capacity until regeneration.

However, some products also remove manganese and iron. These water softeners provide the added benefit of protecting the plumbing system against corrosion. They also keep water appliances and fixtures free from rust while preventing the unpleasant reddish stains on sinks and other surfaces.

  • Impact on Water Consumption

An ion exchange softener must not affect current water consumption. For example, it should not reduce the water flow rate and make the family suffer because of insufficient water supply. The good news is that many water softeners have a flow rate of 8 to 15 GPM, which is well within the average water flow rate in American households.

Still, it would be best for potential buyers to check the water softener’s water flow rate. It should be similar to the household’s current water flow rate, if not better.

  • Salt Requirements

Ion exchange water softeners replace hard minerals with either potassium or sodium chloride. That is why these systems require periodic salt replenishment. Some products require more than 300 pounds of salt to regenerate, while others need less.

In general, smaller-capacity water softeners (i.e., 12,000-grain) require less salt at more frequent intervals than a large-capacity unit (i.e., 48,000-grain). On the other hand, a large-capacity water softener may need more salt but at longer intervals.

An alternative is to get a water softener with an upflow design because it reduces salt regeneration requirements by up to 30 percent.

  • Quality Certifications

It is one thing to say a water softener effectively removes minerals that harden water. It is a different matter to support such claims with certifications or assurance from quality organizations. It would be best to check the water softener’s compliance with the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) and Water Quality Association (WQA) standards.

Certifications from these organizations are not a guarantee of a product’s performance. However, they do give prospective buyers confidence in the water softener’s quality and safety.

Do Ion Exchange Water Softeners Work


Yes, ion exchange water softeners remove magnesium, calcium, and other hard minerals from the water by replacing them with sodium or potassium ions. Water softeners contain resins that attract hard minerals, preventing them from adhering to the interior surfaces of plumbing and water appliances.

Is Ion Exchange Resin Expensive

Yes, ion exchange resin is expensive if one compares it to an ordinary bag of salt. Specialty resins can cost between $500 and $2,000 per cubic foot.

Unfortunately, water hardness levels, high water consumption, and maintenance concerns can shorten an ion exchange resin’s service lifespan.

Can You Drink Water From Ion Exchange Water Softener

Yes, you can drink water from an ion exchange water softener. It removes calcium, magnesium, and varying levels of iron and manganese.

However, an ion exchange water softener does not remove or reduce microorganisms, sediments, hydrogen sulfide, and inorganic and organic compounds.

Hence, it would be best to install a water filtration system. Ideally, one will want a sediment filter before the water softener and a combination of KDF, activated carbon, and reverse osmosis after the ion exchanger unit.

In addition, there are many other quality water softeners available. Click these links for more features of the top-rated citric acid water softeners, portable water softeners reviews.


Buying the best ion exchange water softener for the home is less complicated than most people think. Prospective buyers must only understand and appreciate essential factors, such as grain capacity, valve control type, minerals removed, water flow, certification, and salt requirement.

Making a shortlist is now easier with the buying guide in this review, empowering homeowners to make the correct buying decision.

5/5 - (3 votes)