What Is an RV Water Softener and Do You Need One?


Tucker Ballister

Favorite Trip

5 Months Solo on the Road

Home Base

Hendersonville, NC

Favorite RV

2008 Fleetwood Bounder

About Contributor

Tucker Ballister is our Technical Content Writer. He’s a lover of the open road and the proud owner of a 2021 Sunlite Classic travel trailer (his 3rd RV to date). Check out more of his RV adventures, gear reviews, and outdoor advice at thebackpackguide.com.

Too many RVers learn the hard way that water quality varies greatly from campground to campground. That’s why an RV water filter is a must-have addition to your campsite setup. But there’s more you can do to protect your RV, like installing an RV water softener. So what are RV water softeners, and do you need one?

Understanding Soft Water versus Hard Water

Photo by Camping World

To understand the importance of an RV water softener, we must explain what makes water soft or hard, which is determined by the mineral content of magnesium and calcium. 

Soft water has lower calcium and magnesium levels, making it less damaging for your body and your RV’s water systems. According to WebMD, soft water contains fewer than 17 parts per million of calcium and magnesium. 

Hard water is broken down according to the following mineral levels: 

  • Slightly hard water = 17 to 60 parts per million
  • Moderately hard water = 60 to 120 parts per million
  • Hard water = 120 to 180 parts per million
  • Very hard water = More than 180 parts per million

Short of using testing strips to test the water at each campground you visit, here are some common signs of hard water: 

What is an RV Water Softener?

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RV water softeners utilize common table salt to reduce calcium and magnesium levels in a campground’s water supply. Water softens through ion exchange; magnesium and calcium ions are replaced by sodium ions, resulting in softer water. 

An RV water softener uses standard hose connections for a quick and easy installation between the water supply and your RV’s city water inlet. Water flows through an external tank where that ion exchange occurs, and softer water is delivered to your RV’s water system.

The best versions work with a water pressure regulator while delivering a high flow rate and minimal pressure decrease. Some also include test strips to test water softness and quality to determine how much salt is needed at each new location you visit. 

Do You Need an RV Water Softener?

Photo by Camping World

Studies suggest that most of the US water supply would classify as “hard water.” So more often than not, you’ll be able to take advantage of the benefits of a water softener when traveling in your motorhome or travel trailer.

Installing an RV water softener protects the health of your RV’s water system and has other important benefits, including: 

  • Preventing mineral buildup. A water softener removes harsh chemicals before they can cause sediment accumulations in your RV’s water heater, faucets, or water filtration system.  
  • Increasing soap effectiveness. A higher mineral concentration in water actually causes you to use more soap to create a lather. So whether you’re washing hands, doing dishes, or showering, a water softener allows you to use less soap.  
  • Reducing skin dryness. Hard water dries out your skin, especially in cold and dry climates. Soft water helps you keep your skin softer and your hair silkier. 

Water is a finite commodity when RV camping. Utilizing a water softener dramatically reduces the amount of water you’ll use for dishes, handwashing, and showering. The holding tanks will take longer to fill up as well.

The bottom line: An RV water softener protects your RV’s water heater and faucets, minimizes water usage, and ensures the health of your RV’s inhabitants.

What is the Best RV Water Softener?

Of the many RV water softeners out there, these are a few of our favorites: 

On The Go Portable Double Standard Water Softener & Conditioner

Photo by Camping World

Our favorite RV water softener is the On The Go Portable Double Standard Water Softener & Conditioner. Here are the unit’s basic specifications: 

  • Dimensions: 22” tall by 9.5” in diameter
  • Weight: 32.6 pounds 

This water softener can deliver up to 40% softer water and is built with a large-mount opening for the mess-free addition of the included table salt. It regenerates with two boxes of salt in less than 30 minutes and then delivers up to 1,600 gallons (or up to 40 days) of softened water before requiring another regeneration. 

The On The Go softener also has a high-pressure, 4-foot water hose to connect the water supply. The outlet then connects to your standard potable drinking water hose. 

It also includes an optional cap and a plug to prevent leakage in transit and a back-flush adapter that allows for a seamless reverse connection when needed. There’s also a rope handle over the top that makes it much easier to carry than having to pick it up with two hands.  

On The Go Portable Standard Water Softener & Conditioner

Photo by Camping World

For those looking for a more compact water-softening solution, On The Go also makes a smaller version of their standard softener and conditioner. Here are its basic specs: 

  • Dimensions: 22” tall by 7.75” in diameter
  • Weight: 16.9 pounds

It includes all the additional water-softening accessories as the double standard version. Because of the tank’s smaller size, it regenerates in roughly 15 minutes using one box of common table salt and can then deliver soft water for up to 20 days.

Camco TastePURE Portable Water Softener

Photo by Camping World

Camco’s TastePure Portable Water Softener is another excellent option for those that don’t mind the larger tank size of the On The Go Double Standard model. Here are its size specs: 

  • Dimensions: 20.5” tall by 8.5” in diameter
  • Weight: 25.1 pounds

This water softener delivers a flow rate of up to four gallons per minute and softens water using the same principle of ion exchange used in the On The Go models. It has 50 water testing strips, a 4-foot water hose, and a male-to-male fitting for easy installation and regeneration. 

Explore Camping World’s complete selection of RV water softeners.

Protecting your RV’s water system is vital to your health and the health of your RV. Here are a few more resources to help you keep your water fresh and your system working at optimal efficiency: 

What experience do you have with RV water softeners? Let us know in the comments below. 

  • Comment (6)
  • Norm says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation. This is a preview; your comment will be visible after it has been approved.
    Your signs of hard water is incorrect. That slippery feeling when washing your hands or showering (feels like soap is not rinsing off), is a sign of SOFT WATER, not hard water. Hardness minerals plug your pores and the natural oil in your skin cannot get out. That is why your hands or body feel dry from hard water. The oils of your skin can get out in soft water and your hands, hair and body feel softer. But the skin oils and water is what feel slippery. The soap has actually rinsed off. I retired from the water conditioning and purification business after 26 years in it. Specializing in residential Reverse Osmosis and water conditioning.
  • Jim says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation. This is a preview; your comment will be visible after it has been approved.
    Great article however, washing hands, or your whole body in SOFT water will leave your skin feeling like you are still soapy because you are feeling the body’s natural oils. Hard water on the other hand won’t leave you feeling slippery because the soap and minerals don’t rinse away.
  • Henry fine says:

    Comparison between water softener and water filter. Why not just water filter instead of water softener.

    • Hi Henry!

      Water filters will remove contaminants to make your water safer, but will not actually alter the hardness/softness of the water entering your RV. Water softeners provide more protection for your RV’s fresh water plumbing and fixtures.

      Let us know if you have any other questions!

  • Alan Markowicz says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation. This is a preview; your comment will be visible after it has been approved.
    Water softener is no good if you have high blood pressure. You should mention it.
  • Jack Caufield says:

    You should discuss the danger of s water softener for people who drink the softened water from the increase sodium the water contains. Most people already get to much sodium daily

    • Hi Jack!

      Water softeners make a strong brine, or salt water solution and then use it to regenerate a passive membrane in a tank with ions, or free electrons. The hard, or mineral laden, tap water passes through the membrane on it’s way to your faucets. The ions attach themselves to the minerals rendering them harmless to your fixtures, piping, and skin. The amount of true sodium left in the drinking water is typically around 10-50ppm, which is less than the sodium level in some municipal unsoftened water.

      It is considered to be perfectly safe to drink for the vast majority of people. That being said, if someone has a serious problem with hypertension and their doctor has recommended that they not drink softened water, a reverse osmosis filtering system can be added under the sink to provide sodium free drinking water to a separate faucet. The softened water can still be used for dishes, laundry, bathing and so on without causing any health concerns. Bottled water for drinking water is another alternative for those with such restrictions.

      Hope this helps!

  • Penny Ackley says:

    Hello – why don’t you consider the Berkey in your discussion of water treatments? It is very easy to use and needs no salt or testing! You do your readers a disservice not to present this option!!

    • Great point Penny!

      I’ve heard nothing but positive things about Berkey, but I’d only seen their countertop filters and didn’t deem them as a great solution for RV use due to their size and the difficulty of securing them in transit. However, now that you mentioned it, I see that they have a Travel system and a filter that looks like it can be implemented along with an RV potable water hose. So I’ll add a link here to anyone that wants to learn more about Berkey: https://berkeyfilterwater.com/

      Thanks for bringing them up!

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