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The Ultimate Guide To Water Softeners: A Buyers Guide

A comprehensive look into the world of water softeners here in the UK from how they work to the benefits they can bring to you and your home – let’s take a deep dive into the world of soft water…

The Ultimate Guide To Water Softeners: A Buyers Guide

It’s no secret that water quality plays a pivotal role in our daily lives, affecting everything from the efficiency of our appliances to the comfort of our skin and the cleanliness of our clothes.

In the United Kingdom, the issue of hard water is one that many of us are intimately familiar with, as regional variations in water hardness can have significant implications on our lives. In this guide, we will delve into the intricacies of water softening, dispel common misconceptions, explore the benefits, and provide practical insights to help you make an informed decision about whether a water softener is right for your home. Get ready to unlock the secrets of achieving softer, cleaner and more efficient water for your household.

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Water Softener Myths

First, let’s get started by clearing up some of the most common misunderstandings about water softeners. We’ll debunk the myths that often create confusion, helping you to make an informed decision.

Water Softeners Are Unnecessary In The UK

Many people believe that the water in the UK is naturally soft – meaning it is unnecessary to install a water softener. While this is true for some, over 60% of residential addresses in the UK are recorded to have hard water measured at over 200ppm (parts per million). This means that the majority of households could benefit from installing a water softener to protect their home from hard water.

Water Softeners Are Expensive To Maintain

While there are initial costs associated with purchasing and installing a water softener, the long-term running costs are relatively minimal. Plus, over time the benefits often far outweigh these expenses. We’ll go into greater detail on this later, but you can expect reduced heating bills, extended appliance lifespan and reduced use of soaps or detergents to name just a few.

Softened Water Is Not Safe To Drink

Water softeners use a technology called ‘ion exchange’ to remove hardness minerals like calcium and magnesium, replacing them with sodium ions. The sodium levels in softened water are usually not a health concern for most people, although those on a strict low-sodium diet might need to consider salt-free alternatives or keep a hard water line for drinking.

Water Softeners Waste A Lot Of Water

Some people believe that water softeners waste a significant amount of water during cleaning cycles. While there is some water usage during regeneration, modern water softeners are designed to be more efficient, and water wastage can be minimized through proper sizing and efficient programming.

Understanding Hard Water

Before we dive deeper into the world of water softeners, it’s crucial to understand what hard water is and the potential issues it can present.

In simple terms, the hardness of water is a measure of the dissolved mineral content, primarily calcium and magnesium ions. These minerals are naturally present in groundwater and it is the concentration of these ions that determines whether water is classified as soft or hard. The higher the mineral content, the harder your water.

Measuring Water Hardness
The hardness of water is typically measured in milligrams per litre (mg/L) or parts per million (ppm). In the UK locations with hard water can vary significantly from one county to another – as you can see from the hard water map below.

Hard Water Locations Map Of The UK
  • Soft Water: Contains less than 50mg of calcium carbonate per litre. This is relatively low in mineral content and is typically found in regions with naturally soft water such as Wales.

  • Moderately Hard Water: Contains 51-200mg of calcium carbonate per litre. Many areas in the UK fall into this category, where the water has a moderate mineral content.

  • Hard Water: Contains over 201mg of calcium carbonate per litre. This is common in parts of the South and East of England including London, where the water has a high mineral concentration.

Effects Of Hard Water
Hard water has an impact on various aspects of your daily life, some of which might go unnoticed. The most common effects of hard water include:

  1. Limescale buildup on fixtures and inside pipework
  2. Decreased lather from soaps and detergents
  3. Irritated skin and dry unmanageable hair
  4. Decreased lifespan of appliances
  5. Reduced heating efficiency

Checking Water Hardness
To determine the hardness of your water, you can use a water hardness testing kit, contact your local water authority or use our handy water hardness checker below to give an instant reading. Water hardness test kits provide the most accurate, straightforward and cost effective way to assess the hardness of your water. Knowing your water hardness level can give a good indication of whether a water softener would be beneficial and is useful for ensuring the valve is programmed efficiently – more on this later.

Understanding the hardness of your water is the first step in addressing its impact on your home. In the following sections, we’ll explore how water softeners can help mitigate the effects of hard water, making your daily life more comfortable and cost-effective. For now, feel free to enter your postcode below to get an approximate water hardness reading for your area.



Moderately Soft


Slightly Hard


Moderately Hard




Very Hard

(300+ ppm)

Benefits Associated With Soft Water

No unsightly water marks or visible scale on taps and fixtures

Enhanced lifespan for water using appliances such as boilers and washing machines

Heating system able to work at full efficiency

Healthier skin and hair thanks to less mineral deposits

Less money spent on expensive cleaning products and detergents

Time spent cleaning decreased

Congrats… with over 60% of homes in the UK having hard water, you are in the lucky minority! Although no treatment is recommended to soften your water, you might benefit from a drinking water system instead. Drinking water systems improve the taste, appearance and odour of drinking water, making it more palatable for daily consumption. It can also reduce your reliance on bottled water too!

Browse Drinking Water Systems

Problems Associated With Hard Water

Unsightly water marks and visible scale on shower heads, taps and fixtures

Decreased lifespan and reduced efficiency for water using appliances

Increased heating bills due to limescale build up inside boiler

Dry hair and irritated skin causing increased eczema risk

Increased spend on cleaning and descaling products

Spend more time cleaning

You’re not alone. Did you know that around 60% of homes in the UK are in a hard water area? Hardness in the UK is usually measured in parts per million (ppm) or milligrams per liter (mg) and is a measure of it’s mineral content. A higher mineral content creates limescale deposits around your home including within your pipework, boiler and appliances.

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What Is A Water Softener?

By definition a water softener is a device designed to combat the effects of hard water by reducing the concentration of the minerals responsible for limescale. The core principle behind how a water softener works is something called the ‘ion exchange’ process. This process is highly effective at transforming hard water into soft, more manageable water – let’s briefly explore how this works.

The Ion Exchange Process
The beating heart of a water softener is what is known as the resin tank. This tank is filled with tiny, negatively charged resin beads. These beads are treated to carry a negative charge which attracts the hardness molecules. Here is a simplified summary of what the ion exchange process involves:

Water Softener Ion Exchange Process
  1. Hard Water Inflow: When hard water enters the resin tank, the calcium and magnesium ions in the water are positively charged. These ions are attracted to the negatively charged resin beads.

  2. Ion Exchange: As the hard water passes through the resin bed, the calcium and magnesium ions cling to the resin beads, effectively replacing the sodium ions that were initially attached to them.

  3. Softened Water Outflow: The water that exits the resin tank is now softened, with reduced calcium and magnesium ion content. This water is then sent out of the water softener and distributed throughout your home.

The Regeneration Process
Over time the resin beads become saturated with calcium and magnesium ions and need to be cleaned or ‘regenerated’ to continue to soften the water effectively. This is where the regeneration process comes into play. The frequency of this process depends on a number of factors including the capacity of the system, your water hardness and your total water usage. Here’s a simplified breakdown of this process:

Water Softener Regeneration Process
  1. Backwash: The first step involves flushing the resin bed with a brine solution, which is essentially a concentrated salt water solution. The brine helps release the excess calcium and magnesium ions from the resin beads.

  2. Rinse: After backwashing, the softener is rinsed to remove any excess brine solution and any residual calcium and magnesium ions that were released during the backwash. The rinse water is then sent down the drain, which also removes any excess brine from the resin bed.

  3. Recharge: The softener is now ready to soften water again. The resin beads are loaded with fresh sodium ions and the system is back in operation.

Different Types Of Water Softeners

There are several so-called “types” of water softener available, each with its own set of unique features and benefits. Let’s briefly explore the different types of water softeners on the market to help you make an informed decision.

Electric Water Softeners

Electric water softeners are the most common type and are known for their effectiveness in combating hard water. They typically operate based on an automated control system that initiates the regeneration process when the resin beads are saturated with hardness minerals. This is usually controlled by a metering system, or in some cases a timer clock. Unlike non electric water softeners they can be programmed to your specific water hardness figure and usage patterns, making them more efficient by only regenerating when necessary.

Non Electric Water Softeners

Non electric water softeners, as the name suggests do not require electricity to function. These systems rely on mechanical components to monitor flow rates and to initiate the regeneration process. While they do not require electricity, they do require good water pressure and protection from sediment ingress. Non-electric water softeners may require more frequent manual adjustments and are often much more expensive than their electric counterparts.

Selecting the right type of water softener depends on your specific needs, water usage patterns and preferences. Another subset of water softeners worth mentioning includes what are more aptly known as water conditioners, limescale inhibitors or salt free water softeners. These offer an alternative to traditional salt-based water softeners.

It’s important to note that these systems do not remove calcium and magnesium ions from the water but instead alter their structure, which reduces the chance of forming limescale deposits. Water conditioners are a more eco-friendly option and are maintenance-free, but because the hardness minerals are still in the water, they do not provide several benefits that a true salt-based ion-exchange water softener would – such as softer skin, clothes and hair.

Why You Should Install A Water Softener

Living in a hard water area in the UK comes with a unique set of challenges. Fortunately, there are several benefits of installing a water softener in your home. The benefits of using a water softener in regions with hard water are numerous and can significantly improve your daily life and the condition of your home. Here’s why you should strongly consider investing in a water softener if you live in a hard water area:

  1. Limescale Prevention: Hard water is notorious for causing limescale buildup in your plumbing fixtures, appliances and even on your glassware and dishes. By installing a water softener, you can eliminate limescale formation once and for all. This not only keeps your fixtures looking cleaner and functioning better but also extends the lifespan of your water-using appliances, saving you money in the long run.

  2. Improved Appliance Efficiency: Water-using appliances like washing machines, dishwashers and boilers are susceptible to limescale buildup. Which can lead to reduced energy efficiency and increased energy bills. Softened water allows these appliances to operate more efficiently, reducing energy consumption and lowering your utility costs. By feeding your appliances with soft water, existing limescale build up will be slowly removed, further improving their efficiency.

  3. Enhanced Cleaning: Unknown to some, hard water is much less effective at lathering with soaps and detergents. This means you might find yourself using more products to achieve the same level of cleaning in your daily routines. Softened water vastly improves the effectiveness of soaps and detergents. You’ll need less product to achieve the same level of cleanliness, which not only saves you money but also reduces the environmental impact of excess cleaning chemicals.

  4. Kinder To Your Skin And Hair: Washing with hard water can leave your skin feeling dry and itchy. You may also notice your hair becomes dull, frizzy and difficult to manage. Softened water provides a more luxurious bathing experience, leaving your skin feeling nourished and your hair silky smooth. University studies have also highlighted links between soft water and a decreased eczema rate in children and young adults.

  5. Less Time And Effort Cleaning: Say goodbye to scrubbing away limescale from your bathroom and kitchen fixtures. With softened water, cleaning becomes more straightforward and less time-consuming, allowing you to enjoy a cleaner and more hygienic home with less effort.

  6. Prolonged Lifespan Of Clothing: Softened water is gentler on fabrics, which means your laundry will stay in better condition for longer. It can also help prevent the greying of white clothes, dulling of colours and the stiffness that hard water can cause to clothes over time.

  7. Environmental Benefits: While water softeners do use salt in the regeneration process, modern systems are designed to be more environmentally friendly, using less salt and water during regeneration. Combined with reduced energy and detergent usage a water softener can help lessen your environmental impact.

  8. Cost Savings: While there is an initial investment in purchasing and installing a water softener, the long-term cost savings on energy bills, cleaning products, appliance repairs and the replacement of damaged items can make it one of the only home appliances that will pay for itself over time.

Installing a water softener is a practical and cost-effective solution to combat the challenges posed by hard water. It can enhance the quality of your water, reduce household maintenance, and improve your overall quality of life. In the following sections, we’ll provide guidance on selecting the right water softener for you and offer tips for maintenance and care to ensure your water remains consistently soft.

Hard Water Significantly Reduces The Lifespan Of Appliances By Up To 50%

Just 1.6mm Of Limescale Reduces Heating Efficiency By Up To 12%

Shower Heads Lose 75% Of Their Flow In As Little As Just 18 Months

Which Water Softener Is Best?

There is no one size fits all when it comes to choosing the best water softener, so let’s explore the different types available including electric, non-electric, single and twin tank systems. The right water softener for you mainly depends on personal preference, but some factors will help to narrow down your choice such as whether there is access to a power supply where it will be installed.

Electric Versus Non Electric Water Softeners

The choice between electric and non-electric water softeners largely depends on your budget, power supply availability and preference. However there is another thing worth considering, and that is whether you would like a ‘single tank’ or ‘twin tank’ system. Twin tank systems are a more modern advancement in water softening with the technology being taken from larger, more commercial systems. Although for most homes 24/7 softened water is not a requirement, twin tank softeners are an excellent option for shift-workers and busy homes with varying water usage.

Single Versus Twin Tank Water Softeners

In summary, the best water softener type and configuration depends on your specific needs and budget. If you’re not sure which option would work best for you, then a member of our experienced team will be more than happy to advise.

Choosing The Right Water Softener For Your Home

Selecting the appropriate water softener for your property involves considering several key factors to ensure optimal performance and the perfect fit. Here’s how you can make an informed decision when choosing a water softener for your home:

Step 1: How Many People Live In The Home

We have made choosing the right water softener simple, displaying our range by number of occupants. Each person uses an average of up to 250 litres of water per day, so we have done the maths for you and categorised our water softeners this way. Simply choose a system that covers the number of people that usually live in your home. If you regularly have guests, then it may be worth choosing a slightly larger water softener to accommodate this.

Step 2: Where Can It Be Installed

Where you are going to install the water softener is another important consideration. Water softeners are typically installed close to the stopcock where the water enters your home. This is so that a hard water line can easily be retained for drinking water if necessary and to ensure that all of the other water distributed around your home is softened.

It is important to check how much space there is and compare it with the dimensions of the water softener to make sure it will fit. Remember that you will need easy access to top-up the salt on regular occasions.

Common locations for installation include:
Underneath the sink
Utility room or garage

Step 3: Checking Pipework Size

To ensure that installation is practical, you should check the following:

Incoming Pipework Sizes: Verify the size of your incoming pipework (15mm and 22mm are the UK standard). This will help you to choose the correct installation kit to connect your water softener to your existing pipework.

Drain Connection: Ensure there is a suitable drain nearby that can be utilised for the drain line.

Overflow Location: All water softeners have an overflow in case of failure, the overflow should be able to run unrestricted either outside or to a drain with a suitable air-gap.

In most homes the stop-cock is located under the sink or stairs, where there is usually already a drain line. If this is the case in your home, installation should be quick and easy!

Step 4: Assessing Water Pressure

Water pressure is another critical factor to consider. If your water pressure is too low or too high then you may need to increase it or decrease it accordingly.

Low Water Pressure: Water softeners require a minimum water pressure to operate effectively. Ensure that your water supply meets this requirement. Typically, a minimum of 1.5 bar is necessary, though this may be higher for some non-electric models. If your water pressure is too low, a booster pump might be required for the softener to work effectively.

High Water Pressure: It is equally important to control water pressure if it is too high, as surges in pressure can not only cause problems with your water softener but can increase the likelihood of water leaks throughout the home. If your water pressure exceeds the maximum recommended for your water softener, it is important to install a pressure regulator.

Taking the time to size your water softener, select an appropriate installation location, and verify pipework sizes and water pressure will help you enjoy the full benefits of soft water and avoid any issues or delays during installation. For those who prefer a visual representation of the steps involved, check out the video below.

How Much Does A Water Softener Cost?

Investing in a water softener can offer various benefits as we’ve identified, but it’s essential to understand the associated costs before making a decision. Here’s an overview of the typical costs you can expect in the UK:

Water Softener ModelsUnit Costs
Entry Level Models (1-3 Occupants)£300-500
Mid Range Models (3-6 Occupants)£500-1000
High End Models (6+ Occupants)£800-2500+
*Unit costs based on our range of water softeners – actual costs may vary by supplier

Installation Costs
While some homeowners may choose to install water softeners themselves, professional installation is recommended to ensure correct setup. Installation costs can vary, but they typically range from £100 to £500. Factors that influence installation costs include the complexity of your plumbing system, location of the unit and the need for additional plumbing work (such as re-routing pipe work).

Running Costs
The running costs for a water softener are relatively minimal, with three main things to consider. These include the cost of salt, electricity and water consumption. Here’s a short breakdown of the average costs you can expect.

Electricity Costs

Electric water softeners use very little energy, comparable to a small alarm clock. Costing less than £20 per year on average.

Salt Usage

Your water usage and hardness will impact the amount of salt your softener uses. Typical salt costs are between £50 to £150 per year.

Water Consumption

Larger systems use more water during cleaning cycles. For the average household this equates to an additional water cost of £10-30 per year.

Service & Maintenance Costs
Although not a requirement, it is beneficial to service your water softener periodically. Over time debris can build up inside vital components, reducing their ability to soften your water efficiently – which is why servicing is recommended if you notice a drop in water quality. This service can cost approximately £50 to £100 or if done yourself can be as little as £30. Here are our 5 tips for maintaining your water softener to keep it in the best condition.

In summary, the total cost of a water softener in the UK can vary depending on the unit you choose, installation requirements, and ongoing expenses. To get an accurate estimate tailored to your specific needs, it’s advisable to consult with a water treatment professional who can assess your water conditions and provide a more accurate cost breakdown.

Making Your Water Softener Pay For Itself
Don’t let the running costs put you off, a water softener is one of the only household appliances that can pay for itself over time. Consider the money you will save on energy bills, cleaning products, skincare and the extended lifespan of appliances like kettles, washing machines and boilers.

Final Considerations

In this comprehensive guide to water softeners, we’ve covered key topics to help you make an informed decision when considering the installation of a water softener in your home.

In conclusion, installing a water softener in your UK home can offer significant advantages in terms of water quality, appliance efficiency and overall quality of life. By considering the information provided in this guide and factoring in potential costs, you can make the right choice for your needs and budget. If you have any specific questions or require personalized advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch for tailored recommendations.

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