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11 Best Water Conditioners for Your Home

Homeowners will ultimately have to deal with treating the water at some point during ownership. Water filters from vendors like Pur or Brita are useful for providing clean drinking water from a single tap but that’s not going to help the rest of the pipes in the house.

Scale, calcium, and minerals occur naturally in most municipal water systems. If left unattended, this material can reduce water pressure and potentially require the costly replacement of plumbing systems and appliances. To reduce deposits or eliminate them entirely, homeowners have two choices.

Water softeners are large appliances that may require professional installation and the addition of sodium to your system. Water conditioners are smaller units that are salt-free and can be added to the water supply fairly simply by handy people who know how to turn a wrench.

Water conditioners will not get rid of minerals entirely but will go a long way to reduce the amount of scale and material that tend to clog up sink faucets and leave hard water stains. Let’s face it: most of us aren’t plumbers, so the idea of a simple appliance that can be installed by the average person is attractive.

And while water conditioners won’t completely remove all of the natural material in your system, they don’t require the addition of salt and other chemicals that may influence the taste and feel of your water. Read on to find out the water conditioners we think you should consider for your home.

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How Do Water Conditioners Work?

If you've ever used a filtration system with your kitchen tap or even a stand-alone pitcher, you're already familiar with the process. Water conditioners are salt-free filtration systems for the entire house.

Hard water coming in from your water main contains minerals like magnesium and calcium. If left alone, all of that material will attach to pipes in the form of scale.

Scale is destructive and will cause the premature demise of appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, and especially hot water heaters. Scale will lower your water pressure over time and do even worse in some cases.

Water conditioners (sometimes called water filtration systems) house filter media in the form of cartridges. These cartridges feature tiny polymer beads with pits all over the surface. When minerals attempt to pass through, they're caught in those pits.

Once the minerals combine together in a large enough particle, they'll be knocked free. Most likely, you'll see them in the form of sand-like particles caught in your aerator.

The most important thing to understand is that water conditioners prevent scale from forming on your pipes. They also remove chemicals such as chlorine from your water. Because water conditioners use filtration media, the filter cartridges must be changed on a regular basis.

Is a Water Conditioner the Same as a Water Softener?

No. Water conditioners serve a purpose and go a long way toward removing foreign materials and preventing scale. They're smaller, less expensive, and somewhat easier to install into your plumbing system than a water softener.

Water softeners physically remove minerals and other materials by changing their chemistry by using sodium ions. Water conditioners don't technically turn hard water into soft water but water softeners do. 

People who use water softeners will experience a "slicker" feel to their water. Soft water tends not to dry out skin and hair. And soft water allows for soap to lather more while washing dishes and clothes.

Water softeners require the use of sodium to operate (most typically in the form of large salt pellets). What basically happens is that the salt is used to create a brine solution which rinses over plastic beads.

The brine charges each plastic bead with a sodium ion which is exchanged with a mineral ion as it flows through, effectively removing it from the water supply.

A challenge with this is that, while much better today than in the past, salt is introduced into the water. The sodium content is completely negligible and shouldn't be perceived in the taste or smell of the water. That said, it may be detected by some people with heightened sensitivities.

Also, because water softeners use a regeneration cycle to flush their systems, wastewater weighed down with brine is flushed into city drain systems. Some locations have looked into bans on water softeners because of this so check with your local building and planning department just in case.

When Should I Use a Water Conditioner? 

Water conditioners have a lot of advantages over water softeners. For one, they're incredibly easy to maintain. A typical conditioner system features just one small tank and they don't require a drain connection.

Water conditioners don't need regeneration cycles and they don't flush brine (or anything) down the drain. Because of this, they're much more environmentally friendly than softeners.

No salt or additions are required for operation and since they're so simple they rarely, if ever, will need a plumber to check things out. They also don't need electricity to function.

Do you have a tankless water heater in your home? If so, you'll definitely need some sort of water treatment to prevent scale from building up on the heating element. Water conditioners do that.

Plus, due to the way they operate, a water conditioner will help knock off the scale that has already built up in your water pipes. That won't happen with a water softener.

One important note: if you get your water from a well, you may not be able to use a water conditioner. Well water is most likely full of certain minerals like iron and manganese that water conditioners can't treat effectively. Iron is especially rough on filter media, rendering it useless to treat other minerals.  

Finally, and this is totally a personal thing, I simply can't stand the feel of soft water. I can never get the soap rinsed off my hands when I'm using it. Your mileage may vary.

A water conditioner does what I need it to do at my house (remove junk from the water and preserve my house systems), it's much less expensive than a softener, and is a lot less trouble overall. But that's just for me.

See Also:

11 Best Water Softeners for Your Home

15 Best Gifts for Plumbers

11 Best Water Descalers for Your Home

11 Best Outdoor Heaters for Your Patio