After more than 42 hours of research and 150 hours of testing, we’re confident the SodaStream Source is the best home soda maker you can buy. Over the past three years we’ve tested 10 soda makers and siphons, made our own DIY version, and talked extensively with home soda-making experts and scientists about carbonation (as well as consumed many liters of seltzer!). The Source makes the absolute bubbliest and best-tasting sparkling water, it’s easier to use and clean than most of the competition, and its carbon dioxide cartridge refills are among the most affordable.
For years, SodaStream has dominated the world of home soda makers. After looking at new offerings from a range of companies for this update, we found that they still make the best. We do find it mildly annoying that the company uses proprietary carbon dioxide cartridges, but their machines work better than any other store-bought option we’ve found. We think the Source is the best of SodaStream’s offerings, with its mid-level pricing, optimal fizz-making capabilities, and sleek design.
If the Source sells out, SodaStream’s Power is another good option. It made the second-bubbliest water in our tests, and like the Source, it allows you to pick your fizz level. But the Power requires an outlet and is currently around $50 more expensive—a price hike that gives no added functional value, just a marginally sleeker design.
In reporting this guide, we sought the advice of some of the best soda experts we could find: Emma Christensen, recipe editor at The Kitchn and author of True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home; Jackson Anderson, founder of Blue Blaze Soda Company; and Jeremy Butler, food scientist, blogger at The Homemade Soda Expert, and author of Making Soda at Home: Mastering the Craft of Carbonation. We also spoke with Jeremy Faludi, a sustainable design strategist and analyst, about the environmental impacts of home soda makers versus store-bought soda. For the science behind carbonated water, we talked to Dr. Gavin Sacks, associate professor at Cornell University’s Department of Food Science
Anna Perling has researched and written about kitchen gear for The Sweethome for several years. She is a longtime seltzer lover known for going through 12-packs of seltzer cans in just a few days. Jamie Wiebe, who wrote our 2013 review, has written about food and recipes for the likes of Men’s Journal and Eater. She also built a DIY soda maker for our original review.
If you love sparkling water and are tired of lugging home bottles or cans, investing in a soda maker allows you to carbonate regular tap water easily. Soda makers are great tools for making cocktails or experimenting with homemade soda syrups, too. They allow you to carbonate about a liter of water, if you’re looking to share, and experiment with your beverage choice at a moment’s notice. Since these gadgets use recyclable or refillable chargers of carbon dioxide, you’ll also have a slightly lower environmental impact.
Soda makers work by injecting carbon dioxide into water to produce effervescence,1 and the best add enough carbon dioxide to produce water with Perrier-like fizz. Most use a cartridge to inject the carbon dioxide, but a few newer designs use pods or tablets to create carbonation.
The best home soda makers have cartridges that can carbonate many liters of water. SodaStream, for example, promises that each 60-liter cartridge (which contains 14.5 ounces of carbon dioxide) will fizz up to 60 liters of water on average. If you want more carbonation, you’ll use more carbon dioxide and go through the canisters quicker. Models with pods or tablets don’t allow you to adjust the carbonation level. You’ll also find soda siphons, which use small one-time-use cartridges, good for carbonating about 1 liter of water. These are great for experimenting with cocktails, but not for making large quantities of seltzer (and they don’t tend to make the bubbliest water anyway2).
Most machines simply require you to press a button after installing the carbonator and popping in a bottle of chilled water. Some models use electricity to help carbonate, while others are purely manual.
A soda maker that’s efficient at injecting carbon dioxide will not only make fizzier water, but also increase its bite, the quality that sparkling water enthusiasts love. Dr. Gavin Sacks, associate professor at Cornell University’s Department of Food Science, explained that when carbon dioxide combines with water it makes carbonic acid, which produces a slightly sour tang. But as Dr. Sacks said, “This is only half of the story (if acidity was all of the story, then lemon juice should cause the same tingle). The other part of the story is that carbon dioxide stimulates tactile receptors responsible for sensing chemical irritants, such as the active compounds in mustard.” It’s this mild irritation that seltzer produces on the tongue (a sensation called chemesthesis) that attracts us. “You can put your tongue over a bottle or glass of soda and you can feel that irritation,” said Dr. Sacks. “It’s not the bubbles that you’re feeling that cause that irritation, it’s dissolved carbon dioxide.” We crave this tingling sensation—akin to the pungency of mustard—and that’s why half-flat seltzer isn’t nearly as fun to drink as the bubbly stuff.
Some people assume that buying a home soda maker will ultimately be cheaper than buying cases of sparkling water. By and large, this is true (see our cost comparison table). But nearly all makers require that you purchase their proprietary cartridge, pods, or tablets, so there’s always a built-in cost to making your water bubbly after you’ve bought the actual machine. (See our DIY alternatives for ways to work around this.)
In looking at models to test, it quickly became apparent that SodaStream is the brand to beat and has a good reputation for longevity. “I started using the first generation SodaStream,” said Blue Blaze Soda Company’s Jackson Anderson. “I think it’s the Fountain Jet. I still use it. That was the easiest one for the countertop.” True Brews author Emma Christensen said, “I have the SodaStream, and I’ve used it for years. I keep waiting for it to break so I can replace it with something that’s shinier, but it won’t break. I like being able to serve sparkling water at dinner parties and not buy a ton of bottles.”
For this update, we wanted to find a soda maker that would produce the zippiest bubbly water that tasted crisp and clean (meaning sufficiently carbonated with no off-flavors), be easy to use, and include an easy way to replace carbon dioxide once it ran out. We looked at some of the older models we tested for our original guide and checked to see what else has been introduced since 2013. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many new soda makers on the market.
We decided to test the SodaStream Power, the SodaStream Source, the Bonne O Carbonated and Mixed Beverage Maker, the Keurig Kold, and the iSi Soda Siphon against our former favorite, the SodaStream Jet.
For our 2015 tests, we weighed water before and after carbonating to see how much carbon dioxide was added to the water in grams. (Gases have mass, just like anything else, so when carbon dioxide is added to a container it gets heavier.) We also did two long-term tests over 72 hours to see how carbonated the water would stay over time. We tested water both in 16-ounce Nalgene bottles and in the proprietary bottles of each model and weighed the contents after 72 hours.
All water (besides the water in the Keurig, which is stored in a separate vessel) was kept in the same container and at a temperature of 39° Fahrenheit. The Kold produces drinks at about 39°F, so we chose this temperature as a control (and chilled water carbonates more effectively, as we explain in our Care and maintenance section). After pouring the carbonated water into clear glasses, we looked at how many bubbles were in the water from each soda maker and tasted the water from each one. We took into account ease of use and storage, price, carbonator refill options, and ease of cleaning.
For our taste test, we asked four seltzer lovers to rank each soda maker’s water based on bubble size, taste, and overall fizziness in a blind tasting. Each tester was given six different cups filled with approximately 4 ounces of seltzer from each soda maker. The water was carbonated at 39°F from the same container of water (with the exception of the Keurig) and served in the same clear plastic cups. Testers were asked to score the variables on a scale of one to 10 (10 being highest) and comment on the criteria.
Unlike the widely-used SodaStream Jet, which requires you to press a button down and count the number of loud buzzes the machine makes to determine the carbonation level, the Source does the work for you. With the Source, you simply press down on a button until a battery-operated light indicates your desired level of carbonation. Opting for level three, the most carbonated option, produces bubblier water than the similar and spendier SodaStream Power. “Lots of bubbles, good even distribution of bubble size, and great fizz. This is my favorite one,” said a taste tester of the Source. We weighed water from each model to measure how much carbonation was injected, and the Source scored the second highest after the iSi, with 7 added grams of carbonation (strangely, the iSi produced some of the flattest water). The Power’s water gained 4 grams of carbon dioxide, as did the Jet’s, and these models were the next-best performing.
The Source’s seltzer tied with the Power for best taste. “It just tastes clean. I would drink a lot of this,” said another tester. Our group of testers found it to be the more clean-tasting than the taste of water from the iSi, which they described as more mineral-y, and the hit-or-miss residual salty, sulphuric aftertaste of the Bonne O. The Source won against six other models for all around fizziness, bubble size, and taste.
The Source also has the best combination of ease of use and streamlined design out of the soda makers we tested, thanks to its easy carbonating button and a bottle that snaps onto the machine. Simply attach the neck of the bottle to the machine at an angle and push it in until it locks into place. By comparison, the clunkier Jet requires some maneuvering to screw in the bottle, and its loud noise to signify maximum carbonation is a little off-putting. The Source takes up less space on the counter, and its sleek design makes it less of an eyesore than other machines. It measures 16 inches tall, 5 inches wide, and 8.5 inches deep, compared to the Keurig, at 19 inches tall with a footprint measuring 12 by 15 inches. The quietness and efficiency of the Source’s approximately 20-second carbonating process stood out; the Bonne O’s 4-minute process is long and makes a series of alarming noises, and the Keurig Kold is loud as well.
The Source is one of the easiest soda makers to operate. It doesn’t require an outlet, like the more-expensive, and less-fizz-producing Power, or any time to chill before using, like the Keurig. It does use a battery, but this is only for the LED lights that indicate carbonation levels. If the battery dies (which SodaStream says is rare) you can replace the machine under the Source’s limited lifetime warranty.
Compared with the other models we tested, we think the Source brings the most bubble for its buck. With the Sodastream Power and the Bonne O at roughly $150 each at time of writing, and the Keurig closer to $300, the Source is much more affordable. The cheapest model we tested is the iSi at about $50, but it scored lowest for fizz all around. Our former pick, the SodaStream Jet, sometimes drops to $75 or lower, but at the time of publishing this guide the Jet and Source were selling for about the same, and the Source is a much better machine overall.
As you’ll see in the chart below, SodaStream’s refill cartridges are also cheaper per liter (about $0.25 per liter) than any of the other options. And compared to buying bottles of seltzer, the Source is a deal. For example, bottles of San Pellegrino cost roughly $2.29 per .75 liter. For $98, the initial cost of the Source (including a 60-liter carbon dioxide cartridge), you’d only get roughly 42 bottles of the store-bought stuff. And your costs per liter for the Source would decrease significantly from there on out.
Finally, the Sodastream Source is easy to clean and refill. Its bottles require hand washing, but unlike the Keurig or the Bonne O, it doesn’t require a flushing cycle to rinse the machine. We also like that it’s easy to fill and rinse, unlike the iSi’s narrow mouth that makes it difficult to fill. The iSi also requires a special tool to remove an inner plastic chamber for cleaning.
The Kitchn also loves the Source, and Cook’s Illustrated recommends the Source as their preferred home seltzer maker, noting that it’s incredibly easy to use and has relatively longer-lasting cartridges. Both Emma Christensen (author of True Brews) and Blue Blaze Soda’s Jackson Anderson recommend SodaStream (although both own the Jet). It’s clear that SodaStream has a great reputation amongst soda connoisseurs despite its proprietary refills.
That brings us to the Source’s flaws. The main issue people have with SodaStream lies in the need to continually exchange their proprietary cartridges. Soda makers across the board, however, use proprietary carbonators. The Keurig Kold uses a pod per use, the iSi uses one proprietary 8-gram carbon dioxide charger per use (if you use ones from another company, you void your warranty), the Bonne O uses a tablet per use.
There are some options out there for hacking the proprietary carbonating method of the SodaStream (more on this in our DIY alternatives section). “That’s one of the things I didn’t like about the SodaStream, the fact that you had to keep buying those carbon dioxide cartridges,” Anderson said. Ultimately, it’s not the best or most efficient system, but it beats the annoyance of a single-use option like the Bonne O’s tablets or the iSi’s single-use cartridges (which leave soda relatively flat anyways).
The Source also doesn’t take the larger 130L SodaStream cartridges, so you’re stuck with purchasing the smaller 60L cartridges more often.
If you can’t find the Source, we also like the SodaStream Power. Its carbonator and refill systems are the same as the Source’s, and it also has three levels of carbonation to choose from. Yet the Power requires an outlet and currently costs around $50 more than the Source. It also won’t fizz water quite as well as the Source (it made the second-bubbliest water in our tests). For the money, it’s the next best thing to the Source that we tested. It still delivers great fizz and is easy to use, store, and clean. But we would definitely grab the Source instead, if you can.
The SodaStream Source’s bottle components need to be hand washed, and if the battery for the LED indicator lights dies, you will need to contact SodaStream’s customer service. SodaStream says that the battery should last for several years, and under the Source’s limited lifetime warranty, they’ll replace the whole machine if the battery dies (the machine will still work without the lights).
You will also need to periodically exchange your empty cartridges. Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Staples, and a range of smaller stores have exchange programs, and SodaStream has a participating store locator to help you find one near you. Exchanging a 60L cartridge runs about $15 at time of writing, while a 130L cartridge runs about $30.
To make the fizziest water, water should be cold. Jeremy Butler, food scientist, blogger at The Homemade Soda Expert, and author of Making Soda at Home: Mastering the Craft of Carbonation, explained that colder water helps carbonation. “The science behind it is that gas is more soluble in a colder liquid than it is in a warmer liquid,” he said. “So if you wanted to carbonate warm water you could carbonate it to the same level but you’d have to do it at a higher pressure.” This would translate into more pushes on the SodaStream button and going through canisters faster, so using cold water will also extend the life of your cartridge.
When it comes to storing carbonated water in the fridge, our experts said that water will stay fizzy for several days. Our own testing showed barely any difference in fizz level of carbonated water after 72 hours in the fridge. Blue Blaze Soda’s Jackson Anderson said that the carbonated water from the SodaStream lasts for several days in his fridge. “I think probably after about 5 or 6 days, like most seltzer water it will lose its carbonation,” he said.
Emma Christensen, author of True Brews, said that the amount of liquid remaining in a bottle will affect how long water stays carbonated. “I notice that it goes flat when there’s less liquid in there,” she said. “When you have a lot of airspace the carbon dioxide just bubbles out the top and fills out the extra space in the bottle, and that’s what makes the liquid go flat.” This phenomenon is due to Le Chatelier’s principle, which explains that when there’s more space in the bottle, there’s more room for carbon dioxide to expand into that space, leaving water flat.
SodaStream says that each 60-liter or 130-liter cartridge (14.5 or 33 ounces of carbon dioxide, respectively) will fizz about that many liters (the Source and Power only take 60-liter cartridges). Because of carbon dioxide regulations, these cartridges are not recyclable. If you ever want to opt out of the SodaStream you should return your cartridge to a retailer with a cartridge exchange program, who will send it back to SodaStream where it will be reused or recycled.
If you want to bypass SodaStream’s proprietary refill system, you can purchase an adapter that allows you to refill a SodaStream canister at a local restaurant or homebrew supply store (or with your own larger canister). Jackson Anderson, of Blue Blaze Soda, uses one from SodaMod. The company offers a 12-ounce food-grade carbon dioxide tank and adapter for the SodaStream Source.
But if going this route, skip the refills at the paintball shop and look for homebrewing or restaurant suppliers. There’s a lot of internet chatter (see here and here) concerning whether or not it’s safe to refill a carbon dioxide tank at sporting goods stores and whether that carbon dioxide has to be “food grade.” We reached out to the FDA and one of their reps told us that “food grade” carbon dioxide doesn’t actually have a regulated definition, but they consider ≥99.5% carbon dioxide by volume acceptable for use with food/drink. While the tanks at sporting goods or paintball shop might be that pure, we’re not sure. You might as well stick with the so-called food grade gas sold through restaurant and homebrew shops, where you may have to buy a tank. You can also order a 5-pound food-grade carbon dioxide tank from Airgas, a supplier that sells gas nationwide, for about $20 (that’s about five times as much carbon dioxide as a 60-liter/14.5-oz. SodaStream carbon dioxide cartridge, with a refill cost of $15).
Food scientist and author of Making Soda at Home: Mastering the Craft of Carbonation Jeremy Butler opted to go the DIY route with a traditional homebrew kit, complete with keg and 5-gallon carbon dioxide tank, to make soda at home. “As far as price, it costs more initially, but you end up saving money,” he said. An all-inclusive kit with a used keg that includes a carbon dioxide tank, gas line, gauge, and tap runs about $190. “It doesn’t fit as nicely on the countertop, and it’s not as convenient to use if you’re just doing one or two liters here or there. Once you have the general idea of how to operate the system it’s fairly simple. It does take more tinkering and small adjustments. If you want something that you can just push a button, the SodaStream is definitely easier to use.”
For our 2013 review, we also tried making a DIY soda maker (from these instructions) using parts bought on Amazon and a carbon dioxide canister rented from a welding shop. We had trouble getting usable soda from the machine, and it took a lot of fiddling with the psi level to get anything resembling the quality of the store-bought soda makers. Ultimately, this method takes a lot of tinkering. You’ll find lots of different sets of instructions on the web—here and here are two more. It’s more upkeep and work than something like a SodaStream, but it can be a fun experiment.
In the end, a homebrew keg or DIY setup is probably best for people looking to make seltzer on a larger scale for parties or catering events.
SodaStream Jet: We decided to retest our original winner, which was also the model our experts recommend, but it didn’t hold up compared to the Source. (SodaStream has also since discontinued this model, though it’s still available on Amazon.) The Jet performed well in taste testing, but after injecting six button-presses worth of carbon dioxide (the suggested amount is three for normal fizz), its water was still not as fizzy as the Source’s or Power’s. You can always keep pressing the button to add more gas, but we like that the Source takes the guesswork out of it. We also find the Jet’s design far clunkier. You have to screw in the bottle instead of just popping it in—it’s hard to operate and isn’t as streamlined as the Source. Screwing in the carbonator is easy, but the back part of the machine feels flimsy. The Jet doesn’t require a battery and just operates off the carbonator. Considering these two machines sell for roughly the same amount, we think the Source is a far better deal.
Keurig Kold: We tested this soda maker from the company behind the coffee-pod machines found in offices everywhere. The concept behind the Kold was to make flavored soda using pods to carbonate instead of directly injecting carbon dioxide into water. We weren’t impressed with the soda from the Kold, and apparently others weren’t, either: It was discontinued a little over a year after we tested it. (Incidentally, that’s about how long it was available to purchase.)
Bonne O Carbonated and Mixed Beverage Maker: We were intrigued by the Bonne O, which didn’t have that many reviews and was a new model since our last guide. The Bonne O, unlike any other soda maker we looked at, uses tabs of “citric acid, potassium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), potassium carbonate” to carbonate water instead of injecting carbon dioxide. The first four times we tested the Bonne O, the water was not carbonated and had a salty, sulphuric taste. Although the tabs go into a separate chamber and are not supposed to enter the water bottle, it was clear from the water’s taste that they did. We decided to eliminate the Bonne O after our first four uses. We also found the bottle difficult to attach and the machine cumbersome to clean.
iSi Soda Siphon: We tested the iSi for our original guide and decided to retest this round as it has better current reviews than either the SodaPlus or the Mastrad (other soda siphons we tested last time). In both our initial and latest round of testing, we found it made water that was less fizzy than that from the SodaStream makers. This may, however, be a good choice if you like to make cocktails and want to carbonate things like juice or other mixers. “I’ve heard a lot of people really love their siphons,” said author Emma Christensen. “One of the things that the SodaStream is not awesome for is carbonating anything except for water. In a siphon, you can carbonate juice, you can carbonate a cocktail.” It ranked the lowest overall among the taste testers when it came to taste, bubble size, and overall fizziness of water. There are a series of steps to carbonate, and the mouth of the bottle is narrow, making filling difficult. Cleaning is also hard: You need a special tool to remove an inner chamber to clean the bottle (and that’s something we’re sure we would lose in about two weeks). iSi’s cartridges are also proprietary; using some from another brand will void your warranty.
For our 2013 guide, we initially really liked the Mastrad Purefizz, choosing it as our original top pick. But we quickly demoted it due to continuing complaints of rust and poor customer service.
We tested the BestWhip SodaPlus hoping it would be a suitable replacement for the Purefizz. It’s also made of aluminum and uses the exact same cap and carbon dioxide charge. Unfortunately, it’s also a lot larger—which means the soda isn’t nearly as strong and delicious as from the Purefizz or the Sodastream.
We initially had high hopes for the SodaSparkle, which looked like it might be a suitable replacement for the recalled iSi Twist ‘n’ Sparkle. However, it didn’t work with generic 8-gram cartridges and ultimately produced a weak fizz. It looks like the company is distributed and branded stateside by Cuisinart, but we couldn’t find any evidence or support on the website. Ultimately, the Sodastream beats it on taste alone.
SodaStream has 11 different models of soda makers, and we looked at them all before deciding what to test. SodaStream has decided to discontinue many of their models in an attempt to redesign–-they’ll be continuing the Source, Crystal, Splash Play, and Power. Here’s a breakdown of the models we didn’t test:
KitchenAid KSS1121TG Sparkling Beverage Maker: This soda maker is highly rated on Amazon, but it’s also made by SodaStream (SodaStream also partnered with Samsung to make a refrigerator with a built-in carbonator). It may be more sturdy on the counter due to its metal base and construction, and people may like its vintage aesthetic, but its $240 price tag at time of writing caused us to skip testing.
Hamilton Beach Fizzini: This is an extremely inexpensive option. It gets varied reviews, and only produces one liter of water per cartridge. A pack of 10 8-gram refill cartridges currently costs around $15 on Amazon, which is as much as the machine itself, so we decided to eliminate the Fizzini.
Cuisinart CSS-100 Compact Sparkling Beverage Maker: This newer soda maker gets poor reviews, and each one-time-use carbon dioxide canister costs $20.
Liss Siphon: There are a lot of bad user reviews, many complaining of leakage. It also has the same finicky nozzle spray structure as the Mosa and the iSi, which means you should pass, at least for making seltzer.
Originally published: January 11, 2016