Water Softeners for Well Water: Finding the Best Water Softener

Water Softeners for Well Water: Everything You Need to Know

Do you get your drinking water from a well?

Many homeowners who have wells are familiar with the headaches caused by water hardness and iron. Luckily, there are ways to soften your hard water and deal with the iron fouling associated with groundwater.

If you’re dealing with hard water, it can be difficult to get your dishes clean and clothes bright. It can also affect the taste of your drinking water and leave stains on everything from sinks to bathtubs. If you have high levels of iron in your water, you likely have rust stains and brown clothes as well.

A water softener can help solve your hard water problems. Hard water contains high levels of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, that can cause scale build-up on fixtures and appliances, and make it difficult to get a good lather when bathing or washing dishes. A water softener will remove these minerals from your water, making it softer and easier to use.

Iron can complicate your water treatment requirements, but we present a range of solutions that can remove iron from your water and make it safe to drink.

In this blog post, we discuss everything you need to know about water softeners for well water!

Read Also: Pros and Cons of Water Softeners: Are They Worth It?

Water Hardness Problems with Drinking Water Wells

Hard water signs to look for
Hard water leaves mineral deposits on plumbing fixtures and other surfaces.

Hard water is the most common problem with drinking water wells. Hard water contains high levels calcium and magnesium (hardness) that can cause scale build-up on fixtures and appliances. These minerals make it difficult to get a good lather when bathing or washing dishes.

Iron is another common contaminant of well water. Iron can cause rust stains and brown clothes. Dissolved iron also promotes the growth of iron reducing bacteria that can foul your pipes and appliances.

What is hard water

Hard water is water that contains high levels of dissolved calcium and magnesium. These minerals can cause deposits of white scale on surfaces and fixtures throughout your house.

Hardness is a measure of the concentration of calcium and magnesium ions in the water. It is measured in grains per gallon (gpg) or milligrams per liter (mg/L). Both of these units are an indication of the mineral concentration in water.

  • Soft water: Less than 1.0 gpg
  • Slightly hard water: 1.0-3.5 gpg
  • Moderately hard water: 3.5-7.0 gpg
  • Hard water: 7.0-10.5 gpg
  • Very hard water: Greater than 10.5 gpg

Water hardness varies depending on where you live. The map below shows the hardness of water in the United States.

USGS Water Hardness Map
Water hardness varies significantly by where you live.

Problems with hard water

Hard water leaves white deposits on everything. You’ll find this scale on your plumbing fixtures, in your shower, and on your countertops.

The scale accumulates inside your pipes. Over time, this buildup can restrict the flow of water and cause low pressure throughout your house. The mineral deposits can cause shut-off valves to stick and prevent them from opening and closing.

Hardness damages appliances, especially those that heat water (coffee maker and water heater). If your water is especially hard, you may discover that your water heater only last 3 or 4 years before it has to be replaced.

Many people complain that hard water makes their skin dry and their hair dull and brittle. Their soap doesn’t seem to lather as well, and they often have to use more of it. They notice that their clothes are dull and dingy.

Hard water can also affect the taste of your drinking water.

Read my article on cities with hard water.

Unique issues with well water

Well water, also known as groundwater, is affected by the minerals and soil conditions in your area.

Iron is a mineral that occurs naturally in groundwater. It can cause rust stains and brown clothes. Dissolved iron also promotes the growth of iron reducing bacteria that can foul your pipes and appliances. The presence of iron in your water will complicate the process of softening your water.

Depending on conditions at your house, you may have a wide range of problems with your water. Common problems associated with well water include:

  • Hardness
  • Dissolved iron
  • Dissolved manganese
  • Low pH (acidic water)
  • High turbidity (TSS)
  • Iron reducing bacteria
  • Dissolved sulfur
  • Hydrogen sulfide

How Do Water Softeners Work

Water softeners use a process called ion exchange to remove the minerals that cause hardness from your water. All water softeners have three main components:

  1. resin vessel or tank
  2. control valve
  3. brine tank

The softener resin tank is filled with ion exchange resin – small plastic beads – that attract and hold the calcium and magnesium ions in the water. This resin is covered in sodium ions. As hard water passes through the tank, the calcium and magnesium ions replace the sodium ions on the bead.

Water softening process

Eventually, the beads become saturated and can no longer remove the hardness ions from the water. At this point, the resin is regenerated to restore its treatment capacity. Regeneration involves backwashing the resin with salt water. The calcium and magnesium ions on the resin beads are replaced with sodium ions from the brine solution. The hardness ions are flushed out of the system.

The control valve monitors the water softener and initiates the regeneration process when needed. How often a softener is regenerated depends on how hard your water is and how much water you use.

Read my Guide to Water Softeners for a complete discussion of this treatment process.

Water Softener System Components

Water softeners come in a variety of sizes and shapes. They all have a resin vessel or tank, a control valve, and a brine tank. There are optional features available depending on your needs and budget.

Here is a summary of the basic components.

Pre-filter water filters

A good addition to a water softener, especially for well water, is a pre-filter. This filter removes sediment, dirt, and rust from your water before it enters the softener.

Sediment can clog the resin beads and cause the softener to work less effectively. A pre-filter prolongs the life of your water softener by keeping sediment out of the system.

Resin vessel for your system

The resin vessel is usually a cylindrical container made of plastic, glass, or fiberglass. It is filled with ion exchange resin – small plastic beads – that attract and hold the calcium and magnesium ions in the water.

The vessel has internal piping to divert the water through the media when the system is softening your water. There are slotted screens that allow the water to pass through, but keep the media in place.

Some resin vessels are designed to be placed outdoors. These models have a UV-resistant cover to protect the resin from sunlight, which can degrade the beads over time.

Control valve

The control valve is the heart of the softener. It monitors the water usage and initiates regeneration when necessary. The type of valve used depends on the model of softener.

Some valves are simple mechanical timers that initiate regeneration at set intervals. Other models have electronic sensors that monitor water usage and calculate when regeneration is necessary.

The control valve is usually located on top of the resin tank.

Brine tank

The brine tank holds the salt and produces the brine solution needed for regeneration. The tank has water lines that allow fresh water to flow in and the salt water to flow out to the resin vessel. These tanks also have high water level floats to prevent them from overflowing.

If you have something besides a salt-based water system, then you won’t need a salt water tank.

Considerations for Water Softeners for Well Water

Well water is not the same as tap water. It is important to choose the right water softener for your needs. Here are a few things to consider when shopping for a water softener.

When selecting a water softener to use with your well water, you need to think about these important factors.

Water system efficiency

System efficiency relates to how effectively your water softener reduces calcium and magnesium in your water. Two important considerations for system efficiency are:

  • Salt usage: The amount of salt your system uses is related to the hardness of your water and the volume of water you need. A good number to shoot for is 3,350 hardness grains for every pound of salt.
  • Water waste: During regeneration, salt water is used to restore the treatment capacity to your resin. The backwash water is dumped down the drain as waste. You should shoot for no more than 5 gallons of backwash water (regenerant) for every 1,000 hardness grains removed from your drinking water.

Softening capacity

Your water softener has to be sized appropriately to allow it to completely soften your water. Two factors determine what the capacity of your water softener should be:

  • Hardness: The amount of calcium and magnesium in your water directly affects how much treatment capacity the water softener must have.
  • Water usage: The volume of water your family uses every day is another important factor. A family of four uses an average of 400 gallons (1514 liters) of water per day.

To calculate the softening capacity you need, multiply the hardness of your water by the daily usage. This will give you the number of grains per day that your water softener must remove.

Read my article How to Properly Size a Water Softener: The Definitive Guide for more information.

Flow rate capacity

When you use water in your home, you expect to have enough flow so you don’t have to wait around. Imagine having to wait 5 minutes to fill a glass of water!

Here is the flow rate required for various water uses:

  • Bathroom faucets: 1.0 gpm
  • Showering: 2.0 – 2.5 gpm
  • Toilets: 1.0 – 3.0 gallons per flush
  • Kitchen sink: 1.5-2.0 gpm
  • Dishwashers: 6.0 – 16.0 gallons per load
  • Washing Machines: 25.0 gallons per load

Maintenance requirements

Water softener maintenance requirements
Water softeners must be properly maintained to keep them operating properly.

All water softeners require routine maintenance to keep them running at peak performance. This typically includes checking the salt levels in the brine tank, cleaning the ion exchange resin and brine tank, and inspecting for leaks.

It is important to have a water softener that is easy to maintain. Look for systems with easily accessible components and simple instructions.

I prepared a complete guide to maintaining water softeners you might be interested in.

This table provide all of my maintenance tips for keeping your water softener working at its best.

Maintenance Tip Explanation
Check the salt level The salt in the brine tank is what removes hardness minerals from the water. Keep the tank at least half full of salt at all times, and check it regularly to ensure it doesn’t run out.
Clean the brine tank Over time, salt and sediment can build up in the brine tank, reducing its efficiency. Clean the tank every six months to prevent this from happening. Turn off the system, drain the water and salt, remove any debris, and refill with salt and water.
Check the resin tank The resin tank contains resin beads that attract and remove hardness minerals from the water. Inspect the tank regularly for any signs of damage or wear and tear. If the resin beads appear clumped together or discolored, it may be time to replace them.
Check the control valve The control valve is the heart of the water softening system. Check it regularly to make sure it’s functioning correctly, and there are no leaks or malfunctions.
Perform a backwash A backwash is a process that cleans the resin tank by reversing the flow of water. Perform a backwash every few months to remove any accumulated sediment or debris.
Test the water Test the water regularly to ensure the system is working correctly. Use a water test kit to check the water’s hardness level and adjust the system accordingly.

Programmable features

Water softeners have improved tremendously over the past few years. Many models now have programmable features that allow you to customize the operation for your needs.

Having a water softener with programmable features gives you flexibility and control over how your system. Look for systems that allow you do the following:

  1. set the time of day for regeneration
  2. adjust backwash and rinse water volumes
  3. enter the hardness concentration of your water
  4. program for higher flow rates for certain times of the day


Water softener cost can vary depending on the type and features of the system. As a general rule, whole house water softeners can range in price from $500 to more than $3,000, with installation costs adding an additional $50 if you do it yourself to more than $2,000 if you have a large house and add in bypass valves and zones of operation.

When considering the cost of a water softener, it’s essential to factor in the ongoing cost of maintenance and replacement parts. A good quality water softener should last 10-15 years with regular maintenance, such as cleaning the brine tank, replacing the resin beads, and checking the control valve.

As an example, I recently purchased and installed a Fleck 5600SXT water softener in my home for around $600, which included the system and all necessary installation materials. While this may seem like a significant upfront cost, I’ve already noticed a significant improvement in the quality of my water and expect the system to last for many years with proper maintenance.

It’s always a good idea to do your research and compare different water softener options before making a purchase. Read reviews, ask for recommendations, and consult with a professional if you’re unsure which system is best for your home and budget.

Read my article on the cost of water softeners for more information.

Space to install softener

Before you purchase a water softener, you need to do some planning. Make sure you have enough room to install the system – this includes having plenty of space to do the maintenance. You’ll be adding salt to your brine tank every month or so. Give yourself room to pour bags of salt into the brine tank.

Once a year you’ll have to clean the brine tank and service the resin vessel. Make sure you can walk around the tanks so drain them and scrub the interior.

NSF certification

Look for third-party testing and certification before you buy a water softener. Organizations like NSF have standards for water softeners. They also conduct testing to verify the claims a manufacturer makes about their product’s performance.

NSF Standard 44 was developed for cation exchange water softeners. This is the gold standard you should look for.

Pros and Cons of Using a Water Softener

Having a water softener in your home has many benefits, but it also has a few drawbacks. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons:

Benefits of water softeners

Here are the benefits of having a water softener for well water.

  • Extends the life of appliances by reducing scale build-up
  • Eliminates lime and calcium deposits on fixtures
  • Saves time and money because you use less soap, detergent, and shampoo
  • Keeps your pipes and plumbing system clear and free of build-up

There are many benefits to using a water softener in your home.

Disadvantages of water softeners

There are several disadvantages of having a water softener to treat your well water.

  • Requires regular maintenance, including checking salt levels, cleaning the resin vessel, and inspecting for leaks
  • Can be expensive to install depending on the model you choose
  • Requires adding salt routinely, which is expensive and time consuming
  • Allows bacteria to grow which can cause odors or illness

Water Softener Problems Caused by Well Water

Water softeners can remove hardness from water very efficiently. However, well water presents unique challenges that can reduce the efficiency of the softening process, increase maintenance requirements, and shorten the life of the equipment.

Excess demand on softener

Groundwater travels through soil and rock on its way to your well. As it moves through the subsurface, it dissolves the minerals and metals that are in these materials.

In addition to calcium and magnesium (hardness), your well water also picks up some of the following minerals and substances:

  • iron
  • manganese
  • silica
  • sulfur
  • barium
  • carbonate
  • arsenic
  • nickel
  • chromium

Many of these substances, especially iron and manganese, can exert an additional demand on your softener. This demand is a form of competition for the treatment capacity of your softener’s resin. If you have a lot of these compounds in your water, your softener may have to regenerate more frequently than normal. This can result in reduced softening and increased use of salt.

Hardness of water

The hardness concentration of your well water can impact your salt-based water softener’s performance. Hard water requires more softening than soft water. You may need a large (e.g., > 10-grain water softener) to meet your water softening requirements.

Fouling of water softener

Many of the minerals and substances present in your well water can foul your water softener. Iron and manganese can leave deposits on the resin. When this happens, the resin loses its ability to soften your water.

Iron reducing bacteria can grow in the presence of iron and manganese. These bacteria can cause black slime to form in your softener tank and pipes. The slime can foul the resin, clog your pipes, and damage your appliances.

Sulfur can also cause problems for water softeners. Sulfur not only fouls the resin, but it also produces an unpleasant odor.

If you have a lot of suspended solids, then adding one or more water filters may improve the performance of your well water softener. Excessive solids accumulation can reduce the efficiency of your water softener system.

pH problems

The pH of your water is a measure of how acidic or basic it is. Water with a pH below seven is considered to be acidic, while water with a pH above seven is considered to be basic.

Neutral water has a pH of seven. Well water is often slightly acidic because it picks up carbon dioxide from the air as it percolates through the soil. This makes the water slightly acidic

Some sensitive individuals may notice that their skin feels dry after showering in acidic water. Acidic water can also be corrosive and can cause metal pipes to corrode.

Iron in well water

Iron is a common contaminant in well water and can cause significant problems for water softeners. When iron is present in well water, it can foul the resin beads in the water softener, reducing their ability to remove hardness minerals effectively. As a result, the water softener may need to be regenerated more frequently or may lose its treatment capacity altogether.

Iron can also cause staining on fixtures and appliances and give water a metallic taste or odor. These issues can be especially frustrating for homeowners who have invested in a water softener to improve the quality of their water.

To prevent iron fouling in a water softener, it’s essential to remove as much of the iron as possible before the water enters the softener. This can be achieved through the use of a pre-filter or an iron filter. A pre-filter is a simple sediment filter that can remove larger particles of iron, while an iron filter is specifically designed to remove dissolved iron from the water.

It’s important to note that even with a pre-filter or iron filter, some iron may still be present in the water and can still cause problems for the water softener. Regular maintenance of the system, including backwashing and cleaning the resin tank, can help to prevent iron fouling and ensure the water softener continues to work effectively.

Types of Water Softeners for Well Water

When it comes to treating well water, there are two main types of water softening systems to consider: whole house systems and point of use systems.

Whole house water softening

Whole house water softening systems treat all of the water that enters your home, whereas point of use systems only treat the water that is used at a specific location, such as a faucet or showerhead.

Whole house systems typically consist of a water softener unit that is installed at the point where water enters your home, such as in your basement or utility room. These systems are designed to treat all of the water that enters your home, including the water that is used for washing clothes, dishes, and bathing.

Point of use water softening

On the other hand, point of use water softening systems are installed at specific locations throughout your home, such as under a sink or at a showerhead. These systems only treat the water that is used at that specific location, which can be useful if you only have hard water issues in certain areas of your home.

Best configuration for homes with well water

The main advantage of whole house systems is that they provide a comprehensive solution to hard water problems throughout your entire home. This means that you don’t have to worry about installing multiple point of use systems or dealing with hard water issues in areas of your home that don’t have a point of use system installed.

However, point of use systems can be more cost-effective and efficient for treating hard water in specific areas of your home. For example, if you only have hard water issues at a specific sink, you can install a point of use system at that location instead of installing a whole house system. This can save you money on the initial installation cost and reduce the amount of salt and water that is used to treat your water.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to choose a whole house or point of use water softening system will depend on your individual needs and budget. If you have hard water issues throughout your home, a whole house system may be the most effective solution. However, if you only have hard water issues in specific areas of your home, a point of use system may be a more cost-effective and efficient option.

Salt-based water systems


Iron and Water Softeners

Iron fouling
Iron fouling is a common problem with well water.

Iron can cause a number of problems for water softeners. Iron oxide, or rust, can foul the resin and reduce the efficiency of the softener. Sometimes, the dissolved iron can deposit on the resin, reducing its ability to soften your water.

Iron bacteria can grow on your softener in the presence of iron. It forms slimy black deposits in your softener tank and pipes. The slime produced by these bacteria is very sticky and can damage your appliances and pipes.

If your water has a lot of iron, you may need an iron removal system to protect your water softener system and improve its performance. There are several types of iron removal systems available, including mechanical filters, chemical treatment systems, and ion exchange systems.

Iron pro water softener

Iron Pro is a type of water softener that is specifically designed to remove high levels of iron from well water. This system uses a combination of ion exchange and filtration to remove not only minerals that cause hard water, but also iron and other contaminants. Iron Pro water softeners typically feature a specialized resin bed that is designed to remove iron from the water through a process called oxidation. This process involves converting the dissolved iron in the water into a solid form that can be removed by the resin bed.

In addition to its iron removal capabilities, Iron Pro water softeners also typically feature other filtration media, such as activated carbon, that can remove other contaminants such as chlorine, sediment, and volatile organic compounds. The end result is water that not only tastes and smells better, but is also better for your skin and appliances. However, it is important to note that Iron Pro water softeners can be more expensive than traditional salt-based water softeners, and they may also require more maintenance and upkeep to ensure that they are working properly.

Using air injection to oxidize iron

Air injection is a common method used to oxidize iron in well water before it is removed through a water softening or filtration system. The process involves injecting air into the water supply, which allows the dissolved iron to oxidize and form solid particles that can be filtered out of the water. This can be an effective way to remove iron from well water without using harsh chemicals or expensive filtration systems.

One of the main benefits of using air injection to oxidize iron is that it is a relatively simple and low-cost solution for homeowners who are experiencing iron contamination in their well water. The system typically consists of an air pump or compressor, a mixing tank, and a filter, and can be easily installed by a professional plumber or water treatment specialist. However, it is important to note that air injection may not be effective for all types of iron contamination, and other treatment options may be necessary for severe cases. Additionally, regular maintenance is required to ensure that the air injection system is working properly and that the filter is changed as needed to prevent clogs and blockages.

How Hard is Your Water

Soap test for measuring water hardness
A simple soap test can tell you how hard your water is.

If your drinking water comes from a well, it is important to know how hard your water is. Water hardness is measured in grains per gallon (GPG) or milligrams per liter (mg/L).

Water with a hardness of less than 1 GPG is considered to be soft. Water with a hardness of more than 7 GPG is considered to be hard. The harder the water, the more difficult it is to remove the minerals that cause hardness.

For people who get their water from a public water supply, they can call the water department and ask for the most recent testing results. If you have a private well, you’re responsible for maintaining and testing your drinking water.

If you have a water softener, it is important to know the hardness of your water. The water softening system should be set up to remove the correct amount of hardness from your water. Most water softeners allow you to enter the hardness into the control system. Others have a dial that allows you to adjust it up or down based on “hard” or “soft”.

Testing your waterWater test strip chart

The best way to determine your water’s hardness is to test it. There are several methods you can use to measure the hardness in your water.

Test kits: There are several types of water hardness test kits available. Some are test strips that you dip in the water. Others are test tubes that you fill with water and then shake.

Premium Water Hardness Test Kit

These test strips provide accurate hardness results in 30 seconds. You just dip the test strip in your water sample and compare it to the color chart. Includes 50 strips.

Check on Amazon

Digital meters: These meters measure the hardness of your water in parts per million (ppm) or milligrams per liter (mg/L). Meters are very convenient because they give you instant readings that are fairly accurate. They don’t require much skill to use, either.

Hofun TDS Meter Digital Water Hardness Meter

This digital meter provides total dissolved hardness (TDS), conductivity, and temperature. The meter uses Automatic Temperature Compensation (ATC) to ensure measurement accuracy. Measures TDS from 0 to 9,999 ppm.

Check Pricing on Amazon

Lab analysis: If you need a more accurate reading, you can send a sample of your water to a lab for analysis. This method provides the highest accuracy, but it’s also the most expensive. It also requires shipping the water sample to the lab.

Specialized well testing: In addition to the testing methods listed above, you can also use specialty testing services that are specifically developed for well water. They also give you a sense of how your water system is performing.

My Tap Score

A testing service I frequently use is My Tap Score. They provide certified laboratory testing methods like a standard lab. In addition, they give you a great report that explains what everything means – so if your water requires treatment, they make recommendations about the best methods to use.

Check out My Tap Score to see if their service is right for you.

Signs you have hard water

In addition to testing the hardness of your water, you can also look for signs to give you an idea of how hard it is.

If you have hard water, you may notice:

  • Soap doesn’t lather well.
  • You need more soap to get clean.
  • Your hair feels dry and straw-like after shampooing.
  • Your skin feels dry and itchy after showering.
  • Laundry doesn’t get as clean as it should and is covered in spots and streaks.
  • Your dishes have a film or white spots on them after they’re washed.
  • You have to scrub your bathtub, sink, and toilet more often than you’d like.
  • The water leaves spots on your windows and car.


Is soft water safe for plants?

Yes, soft water is safe for most of your plants. It has the same pH as rainwater and will not harm your plants. However, some plants are sensitive to ion concentrations and may not do well with soft water. You can also use a rain barrel to collect and store rainwater for your plants.

What is the difference between softened and distilled water?

Distilled water has been boiled and the steam has been collected and cooled. This process removes all of the impurities from the water, including salts, minerals, metals.

Is it safe to drink softened water?

Yes, it is safe to drink softened water. The process of water softening removes minerals from the water. Some people are concerned about sodium concentrations, but the amount of sodium added by a water softener is extremely low.

Does well water need to be softened?

If your well water has high levels of hardness, it should be softened. Hard water can cause problems with appliances, plumbing, and your skin. It also makes it difficult to remove soap scum and dirt from surfaces. Water softeners for well water can be extremely beneficial for areas with high water hardness.

Not all well water contains calcium and magnesium, so it may not require a well water softener system. If your well system is fouling or shows signs of hard water, consider getting a water softener system.

What is a salt-free water softener?

A salt-free water softener is a type of water softener that does not use salt to remove hardness from the water. Instead, it uses a process called ion exchange. This process exchanges the ions in the water with other ions that do not cause hardness. Salt-free water softeners are more environmentally friendly than traditional salt-based water softeners.

Read my article on salt-free water softeners.


If you have well water, it’s important to consider whether or not you need a water softener. The hardness of your water will determine how severe the scaling and corrosion problems are in your home. If you decide that a well water softener is right for you, there are many different water softeners for well water available on the market. We hope this article has helped you understand what to look for when purchasing a water softener for well water.

Boch Richard

Richard Boch is a chemical engineer responsible for designing water filtration systems for industrial and residential customers. He has more than 20 years of experience with ion exchange, activated carbon, and reverse osmosis. Richard's expertise has made him a go-to source for municipalities and businesses looking to improve their water quality. When he's not working, Richard enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children.

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