Buying a new softener

One of the most common questions we get is, "what kind of water softener should I buy?" Due to the variety and complexity of water softeners, there is not a simple, universal answer to this question. Instead, you can use these guidelines when shopping for a new water softener:

  • Look for a softener that can achieve an efficiency of at least 4000 grains per pound (the higher, the better). You can ask the seller or look in the user's manual for this information.
  • Provide your water softener vendor with these best practices for softening efficiency.
  • Ask your installer to set up your new softener at its lowest salt setting and at a hardness setting that matches the water hardness at your address.
Alternatives to water softeners

There are devices on the market advertised as "salt-free" water conditioning systems. These products are designed to reduce mineral buildup (scale) on appliances and fixtures. They are not the same as water softeners, so they have different effects on the treated water. The Region of Waterloo and City of Guelph in Canada recently conducted a study on the performance of one type of water conditioner; you can read a summary of the findings here.

The District supports the installation of salt-free devices approved for use by the State of Wisconsin.

Reducing Salt Use at Home

All the salt used around your home, whether in the water softener or on your driveway or sidewalks, ends up in local fresh waters. You can protect our lakes, streams and drinking water by using only as much salt is necessary to soften water and keep surfaces ice-free.

Softener pilot programs
The District is currently working with some of the communities in our service area to test out a program that helps homeowners reduce their home salt use. This program, called the Salt Savers pilot program, is currently active in the Town of Dunn and the Village of McFarland. Find program details on the Salt Savers page

Water softener salt

Water softeners use salt to remove minerals from hard water that could build up on fixtures and appliances. If softeners are old or set up incorrectly, they can use more salt than necesssary, and the excess salt contributes to elevated chloride in the sewer system. One of the most effective things you can do to reduce salt is to make sure that your water softener is operating efficiently.

  • Track how much salt your water softener uses. A typical single-family home uses less than one 40-pound bag of softener salt per month, so if you're using more than that, call a softener service provider to assess your softener for repairs or improvements. Service providers who have been through MMSD's softener efficiency training are listed here.
  • Check for leaks in fixtures that use soft water. Whenever soft water is wasted, salt is wasted, too.
  • Some homes send softened water to toilets and/or outside hoses. Consider removing those feeds from the softener so that you only soften hot water. Disconnecting cold water from the water softener can reduce your home's salt use by over half. Request a test kit (we'll  send it in the mail!) to see if your outdoor water or toilets are hooked up to the water softener. You can also test for hard water using certain types of soap, as demonstrated in this video

Ice melting salt

While salt is part of the winter maintenance toolbox, it's not the only tool! A little salt goes a long way in melting ice on driveways and sidewalks. A 12-ounce mug or cup of salt is enough to salt about 10 sidewalk squares after the snow has been shoveled off.

The District is a founding member of the Wisconsin Salt Wise partnership, a collaboration between several local and state agencies working to protect fresh water from salt pollution. Head to for actions you can take to reduce your winter salt use at home.