Salt Vs. Salt-Free Water Softeners: What You Need To Know

Salt Vs. Salt-Free Water Softeners: What You Need To Know

Anthony Barnes

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Salt-free water softeners are gaining popularity because they don’t require salt. They also save energy and reduce maintenance costs. But are these claims true?

Water softening systems remove calcium and magnesium ions from tap water using ion exchange resin. Salt-based water softeners are effective at removing hardness minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, from water.

Salt-free water softeners rely on other methods to soften water, such as ion exchange resins or carbon filtration. They crystallize instead of removing the minerals.

There are pros and cons to both types of water softeners. We look at salt vs salt-free water softeners, comparing the two and figuring out which one might be best for you. 

Salt Vs. Salt-Free Water Softeners

What Is Water Softener?

A water softener removes hard minerals like calcium and magnesium from your home’s water supply. These minerals can cause soap scum buildup in tubs and sinks, and make it difficult to clean dishes and clothes. The most common type of water softener uses an ion exchange resin that removes calcium and magnesium from tap water.

If you have hard water, you may notice that your showers and dishwashers take longer to get clean. Also, your skin feels dry after washing with regular water. Using a water softener can help solve those problems.

If you live in an area with high levels of naturally occurring minerals, like California, you may need to use a water softener. Hard water contains higher amounts of calcium and magnesium than normal tap water. Calcium and magnesium buildup in pipes and plumbing fixtures over time, causing them to rust and corrode.

You may also choose to use a water softener if you are concerned about lead contamination in your drinking water. Lead poisoning can occur when lead leaches from old pipes and plumbing fixtures.

The process of water softening begins when the water enters the water softener tank. A brine solution (a salty liquid) sits inside the tank. When the water flows through the tank, it picks up some of the salt in the brine solution.

This causes the water to become slightly saltier than before entering the tank. As the water leaves the tank, any remaining salt is removed by the brine solution.

The next step involves passing the softened water through a filter. In this case, the filter is made of activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is porous and will absorb unwanted chemicals, including chlorine, from the water. After the water passes through the filter, it goes into a holding tank where it remains until it needs to be used again.

Method: Salt-Based System

A salt-based softener uses sodium to reduce the mineral count that could damage your plumbing, boiler, and even skin or hair.

If you have a salt-based water softener, you use salt to soften your water. When you add salt to your water, it dissolves into tiny particles called ions. These ions then attach themselves to the calcium and magnesium in your water, making them easier to flush away. This process is called “ion exchange.”

If you use a salt-based water softener, you’ll need to buy salt every month. Some people think this is too expensive. However, when you consider how much time and effort it takes to scrub your pipes, sinks, and tubs, buying salt may end up saving you money over the long run.

A salt-based water softener does not increase the sodium content of your drinking water. It will only prevent scale buildup in pipes. Your sodium intake will still come primarily from foods you eat, not from the water softener.

The water will not become harmful. There is a much greater risk of Americans overconsuming sodium through diet. The amount of sodium added to water is only about 12.5g per 8oz glass.

Why Is A Salt-Water Softener Good?

Salt-based softeners remove calcium and magnesium from the water but do not remove minerals such as potassium. Salt-free softeners also use chemicals to soften the water, but these chemicals are less effective than those used by salt-based softeners. They have increased effectiveness and you can usually buy them in bulk in most grocery stores.

Method: Salt-Free System

No-salt water softeners use potassium instead of sodium. Potassium causes minerals to crystalize, making them less likely to clog pipes. A no-salt water conditioner isn’t a water softener because it doesn’t soften water directly. It crystallizes minerals in the water.

This is useful as it prevents the minerals from sticking to the sides of your plumbing, laundry, or surfaces that hard water can grow scale on.

Why Is A Salt-Free Softener Not So Good?

Why Is A Salt-Free Softener Not So Good?

A salt-free water softener may seem like a good idea at first. They do not add extra sodium to your diet and appear to have the same effects as a salt-based water softener. Moreover, some might find a saltless softener better suited due to its carefree usage. What we mean by this is that you don’t have to refill the system with salt regularly.

A salt-free water softening system is more expensive than a regular salt-based system, however. The potassium pellets used by a salt-free water softener need to be replaced every 2 years or so. Salt-free water softeners do not provide the benefits of a salt-based water softener and though they are expensive, are less effective.

A salt-based water softener reduces scale buildup in equipment where the water rests for long periods, but a non-salt-based water softener doesn’t do any such thing. Salt-based water softeners work harder than non-salt-based ones, so the systems in your house that aren’t equipped to handle minerals don’t have to be serviced as often.

Magnet-Based Softeners

Potassium-based water softeners aren’t a scam, and though they are less effective than salt-based, are completely trustworthy and will get the job done.

Magnetic water softeners on the other hand are a scam and you should be aware of this. There is no proof that Magnetic Water Softener (MWS)  works. Many other methods work better than MWS. Often, with these systems, you will need to replace them regularly and they will not be installed by any reputable company.

Magnetic water softeners are supposed to reduce hard water’s effects using a magnetic field, however, they do no such thing. They don’t do anything but cost you lots of money and any effectiveness has only been seen in infomercial-type advertisements. These advertisements often include vague before and after images and unverified testimonials.

The truth about magnet-based water softeners is that they are a scam and if you want to save yourself time and money, you should avoid them.

Salt-based and salt-free potassium-based water softeners have scientific evidence backing results that MWS does not have. They produce results that you can trust. The water that travels through either one of them will not test the same as hard water.

On the other hand, if the same travels through a magnetic water softener, it will usually test no different at all.

How Do I Install A Water Softener System?

You’ll need to install a water softener system yourself. Most systems come preassembled and ready to install. Follow these steps to set up a new water softener system:

1. Turn off all power to the house.

2. Remove the existing faucet assembly.

3. Disconnect the hot and cold water lines coming from the main shutoff valve.

4. Unscrew the top of the water softener tank and remove it.

5. Place the new water softener tank in its place. Make sure the drain hose is connected properly to the drain pipe.

6. Screw the top back onto the water softener tank using the included screws.

7. Connect the hot and cold water line connections to the main shutoff valve using the provided hoses.

8. Turn on the main shutoff valve and test the water for hardness. If the water is still too hard, repeat the installation procedure.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is A Salt-Based Water Softener?

As written above, a salt water softener uses sodium to get rid of a section of the mineral count (usual calcium with magnesium for the most part) that could damage your plumbing system, boiler, skin, and hair.

What Is The Impact Of Softeners On Drinking Water?

The sodium content that a salt-based softener adds to your drinking water is negligible; normally about 12.5mg of sodium per 8oz glass.

What Are The Benefits Of A Water Softener With No Salt?

For starters, they don’t add any sodium to your diet and they are geared toward someone searching for a carefree way of softening their water. However, they are more of a conditioner than a softener. They require less attention, but they don’t work as hard.

Final Thoughts

We hope after reading this article you have learned a little more about water softeners and how a salt-based compares to a salt-free water softener. We also hope that you now know which type of water softener is right for you!

Remember, water softeners are a great investment if you live somewhere with hard water, so why not take a look at some systems today!

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By Anthony Barnes

Anthony Barnes is the founder of Water Heater Hub and a second-generation plumber by profession. Before developing Water Heater Hub, Anthony Barnes was a full-time plumber, and he has undertaken a wide variety of projects over the decades. As a second-generation plumber, it was easy for Anthony to get used to the technicalities of all from a tender age