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Testing Soda Makers

By Kate Shannon Published

With a good machine, it’s fast and easy to make carbonated water at home. Which model is right for you?

The best soda makers carbonate water quickly, easily, and effectively. They sit stably on the counter, and their water bottles are convenient to drink from and store. We highly recommend four models, each of which is able to create lightly, moderately, and heavily carbonated water. Which one you choose will depend on your needs and preferences. The SodaStream Fizzi is our all-around top pick. A stylish metal model, the Aarke Carbonator III, was another top performer. If you prefer glass water bottles to plastic, we recommend the SodaStream Aqua Fizz. We also recommend one model with preprogrammed carbonation settings: the SodaStream One Touch.

What You Need to Know

To turn regular tap water into carbonated water at home, you need to add carbon dioxide (CO2). Some models (often called soda siphons) require tiny single-use CO2 cartridges. We’ve found this style of machine imprecise, and we think it’s a nuisance to buy, store, and dispose of all those tiny cartridges, so we didn’t include any in this review. We prefer machines that use tall, slim CO2 canisters that are big enough to carbonate dozens of bottles of water. Most soda makers—including all the models made by SodaStream, the biggest brand in home soda makers—use this style of CO2 canister. One machine in our lineup is different. It relies on small packets of powdered citric acid and sodium bicarbonate, which, when mixed with water, create CO2.

With manual models (left), you have to repeatedly press a button or pull a lever until you get the amount of carbonation you want. Automatic models (right) are a little easier to use because you just a press a button that corresponds to preprogrammed carbonation settings.

All the soda makers we tested come with reusable water bottles that are unique to that specific machine. Most of the bottles are plastic and must be hand-washed, but one machine comes with dishwasher-safe glass water bottles. With every model, you fill its water bottle with cold water and attach it to the machine. Five of the seven machines we tested are manually operated (you repeatedly press a button or lever until you get the amount of carbonation you prefer), while the remaining two are automatic (you choose from a selection of preprogrammed carbonation settings). The automatic machines are electric and must be plugged into an outlet for you to operate them. 

What to Look For

• A Machine That Uses 60-Liter CO2 Canisters: We prefer models that use tall, slim CO2 canisters that contain enough gas to carbonate dozens of bottles of water. They’re generally marketed as 60-liter canisters because manufacturers estimate that each one can carbonate 60 liters of water—though that number depends on how bubbly you like your water. We tested several of these models, all of which are compatible with the SodaStream-branded CO2 canisters that can be exchanged for full canisters at many retailers and through the mail.

• Sturdy Construction: With all the models, pressure builds up inside the water bottles as you add carbonation, so you want a machine that feels sturdy and secure. On one model, the bit of plastic that cradled the water bottle was thin and felt flimsy. It wiggled slightly when we attached or removed the water bottle and didn't feel secure.

Most of the water bottles that come with the soda makers were a convenient size—but one model came with a bottle that was ridiculously tall. It was uncomfortable to drink from and too tall to store upright in our refrigerator.

• Conveniently Sized Water Bottle: The water bottles of our favorite models were roughly the same size and shape as a 1-liter water or soda bottle. One model’s bottle was more than 14 inches tall and very narrow, which made it difficult to store in our refrigerator and awkward to drink from.

What to Avoid

• Machines That Use Powders to Carbonate: We were intrigued by the concept of using packets of powdered citric acid and sodium bicarbonate to produce CO2. You empty the contents of one set of packets into a hole in the top of the machine. Once activated, the machine adds water, which is held in a separate sealed chamber, to the citric acid and sodium bicarbonate powder, and the resulting CO2 is then directed into the bottom of your water bottle. When the carbonation cycle is complete, you remove your water bottle and empty the wastewater bin. It was annoying to fill the water chamber and empty the wastewater bin each time we carbonated a bottle of water, and the machine was slow and ineffective. It took 4 full minutes to carbonate a bottle at the highest setting, compared with just a few seconds for every other model. Even at the machine’s highest setting, the water was barely fizzy.

Soda makers typically use CO2 gas to produce carbonation. One of the models we tested used packets of citric acid and sodium bicarbonate powder instead, but it took longer to carbonate and the soda never got fizzy enough.

Minor Flaws and Quibbles

• Carbonating Caps and Slow Pressure Release: Several of the models had special carbonating caps. You fill the water bottle, screw on the carbonating cap, and then attach the bottle to the machine. After the water is carbonated, you remove the bottle and give it a shake to create a bit more carbonation. Next, you press a valve or give the cap a quarter twist to slowly release the pressure that’s built up inside the bottle. With other models, you attach the bottle to the machine without a cap and the water is ready to drink right away; there’s no need to shake or release pressure. Both systems can produce great results, but we prefer the ease of models that don’t require carbonating caps.

Several models required a few extra steps: screwing on a special carbonating cap, shaking the carbonated water to increase the fizz, and then slowly releasing pressure with a small valve. They worked well, but it took a bit longer to use them.

Other Considerations

• Plastic versus Glass Water Bottles: Most soda makers come with plastic water bottles, and repeated use and exposure to heat (most are not dishwasher-safe) can weaken the plastic. Even if you take care when using them, these bottles eventually need to be replaced. (On the sides of the plastic bottles we tested, we found expiration dates ranging from about two to four years after the dates we purchased the machines.) One machine in our lineup is equipped with a glass water bottle that can be cleaned in the dishwasher (though it’s a good idea to exercise care when using and cleaning any glass kitchen equipment). Glass water bottles are good options for anyone who prefers to avoid plastic or doesn’t want to do the dishes by hand; the trade-off for the model we tested is that its glass bottle is heavier and several ounces smaller than the plastic bottles in our lineup.

There are pros and cons to both glass and plastic water bottles. Consider what's important to you before picking your soda maker.

• Manual versus Automatic Machines: Manual machines require users to repeatedly press buttons or levers to carbonate water to their desired level, which can be personalized anywhere on the spectrum from lightly effervescent to very bubbly. They don’t need to be plugged into an electrical outlet. Automatic machines have several preprogrammed settings (corresponding to low, medium, and high carbonation) and require only gently pressing a button twice. They require electricity but are a good option for people with diminished hand or arm strength and anyone who wants a more hands-off, consistent option. Because each button corresponds to a certain carbonation level, you know exactly what intensity to expect. We found models in both styles that were capable of producing lightly, moderately, and heavily carbonated water.

FAQs

• How do I get the fizziest water possible?
First, use the coldest water possible. (Because gas is much more soluble in colder liquids, cold water carbonates more effectively than warmer water.) 

Second, don’t fill the water bottle beyond its maximum-volume line. If you do, the water will overflow as you carbonate it.

Third, listen to your machine. Most emit a sort of burping or squawking noise when they are approaching maximum carbonation. Once you hear the noise, you can safely continue to press the button or lever a few more times. 

Finally—if you want supercarbonated water—you can remove the bottle from the machine, allow it to release air for a few seconds, and then put it back on for a second carbonation cycle. 

For the best results carbonating water at home, follow these two simple steps.

• Can I carbonate liquids other than water? 
It depends on which model you buy. Although our highly rated models can be used to carbonate only water, a few models we tested are marketed as safe for use with everything from juice to tea to wine. With models that allowed it, we carbonated cranberry juice and white wine. The liquids foamed up a great deal during the process, so we could carbonate only a small amount at a time. The wine wasn’t as fizzy as store-bought sparkling wine, but it and the cranberry juice were lightly, pleasantly effervescent.

• Will I save money by using a soda maker? 
The exact cost of homemade carbonated water depends on several factors. First: the cost of the CO2 canister. Most models come with canisters that can be exchanged for full canisters for about $15.00 or purchased new for roughly $30.00. Second: how fizzy you like your water. Although standard CO2 canisters are marketed as producing 60 liters of carbonated water, that number is likely calculated for only mildly carbonated water. If you’re making more highly carbonated water, we found that you can get between 30 and 40 liters from a single canister. The price works out to about $0.38 to about $0.50 per liter. That’s a bit less than store-bought sparkling waters, which range from about $1.00 to about $3.00 per liter. Of course, carbonating water at home also offers convenience and is more environmentally friendly: no more hauling cases of water home from the store or dealing with the empty cans or bottles.

• How do you replace the CO2 canister?
Empty CO2 canisters can be exchanged for full canisters at many retailers and through the mail. The cost of exchanging a canister is usually about half that of a new canister. Tip: You’ll know that your CO2 canister is running out of gas when it fails to properly carbonate water. But if you want to double-check or see how much you have left, weigh your canister. A full CO2 canister weighs about 1,167 grams (about 2 pounds, 9 ounces); an empty canister weighs about 750 grams (about 1 pound, 9 ounces).

Methodology 

• Carbonate cold water to low, medium, and high levels 
• With compatible models, carbonate white wine 
• With compatible models, carbonate cranberry juice

Equipment Review Soda Makers

With a good machine, it’s fast and easy to make carbonated water at home. Which model is right for you?

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.