Electric vs Non-Electric Water Softener Systems

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If you’re shopping for water softeners, it’s important to be aware of all your options so you can make the best investment for your needs.

Here, we’ve shared what you need to know about electric vs non-electric water softeners, including how they work differently, and how to choose between the two systems.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Electric water softeners use an electric timer to regenerate, OR they might regenerate using a non-electric process but have an electric control head.
  • Non-electric water softeners regenerate based on the volume of water that flows through the system, measured by a mechanical water meter.
  • Most modern water softeners use electricity because they have a digital control head.

🆚 Main Difference Between Electric & Non-Electric Water Softening Systems

The main difference between electronic water softeners and non-electric softeners is that electric softeners use electricity, while non-electric softeners don’t.

  • An electric water softening system typically uses a timer, which monitors the softener’s service time and initiates the regeneration process after a set amount of time.
  • A non-electric water softener doesn’t need electricity because it uses a mechanical water meter, which measures water usage and programs the softener to regenerate once a certain volume of hard water has been treated.

Note that even if a water softener uses a non-electric method of regeneration, it might still need to be plugged into a power outlet if it has a digital control head. Many modern water softeners are demand-initiated, meaning they regenerate based on water usage, but they have digital control heads and so are still technically classed as electric softeners.

Electric vs non-electric water softener

🔌 Electric Water Softening Systems

Electric water softeners are units that initiate a regeneration cycle with electric parts.

These systems typically track the amount of time that they’ve been in service between regeneration cycles using an electronic timer.

Once the pre-determined time is reached, the softener will regenerate, flushing the water hardness minerals out of the resin bed and replenishing the sodium ions, ready for the water softening (a process called ion exchange) to begin again.

A timer-based electric water softener system follows a set pattern of regeneration cycles regardless of your water usage and regardless of the resin’s remaining softening capacity. So, if you use a lot more water than usual one week, the resin’s softening capacity may run out, and you may end up with a hard water supply again until the softener regenerates.

Electric Water Conditioners

You might also be considering an electronic water conditioner, also called an electric descaler, as an alternative to a conventional salt-based electric water softener.

Electronic descalers work by using electricity to create a magnetic field around your main water pipe, which conditions water (prevents mineral buildup without physically removing the hardness minerals) as it travels through the pipe.

👨‍🔧 Learn more about the differences between descalers and softeners in our water softener vs electronic descaler guide.

Electric water conditioner

⏱ Non-Electric Water Softening Systems

Non-electric water softeners are units that don’t use electricity to program regeneration cycles.

The traditional water softener was entirely non-electric. Now, it’s rarer to find water softeners that don’t need electricity for at least one purpose, because most softeners have a digital control head that acts as the water softener’s “brain” and requires an electrical connection to work.

A non-electric water softener works by measuring water usage between regenerations with a mechanical water meter. Once a certain volume of water has been used, the system regenerates.

During the initial setup, you can program your water hardness into the softener to give it the data needed to schedule regen cycles. It’ll determine the frequency of regenerations based on the amount of water that can be softened before the resin capacity runs low and the system needs to regenerate.

These non-electric softeners are known as on-demand systems because they regenerate when necessary, not based on a timer. So, if you use more water than normal one week, the softener will regenerate after a shorter amount of time has passed to account for the fact that the resin capacity has been depleted faster.

Non-electric water softener

🤔 Electric Vs Non-Electric Water Softener: Which Is Better?

So, now you know the differences between electric and non-electric water softeners, which one of these systems is best for you?

It depends on your personal circumstances.

For instance, if you live in a region that has frequent power outages and you don’t want to rely on electricity to keep your water softener running, opt for a non-electric system.

To save money on a softener with the most efficient performance, we recommend looking for a system that uses demand-initiated regeneration based on water usage rather than a timer.

However, that doesn’t mean looking specifically for a non-electronic water softener.

Most modern softening systems are now demand-initiated, meaning they offer the benefit of only regenerating when necessary, which will help you save salt and money. But they’re technically classed as electric softeners because they have an electronic control head.

Electronic control valves are much easier to operate and give you more programming options than mechanical valves, which is why they’re a popular choice on modern softeners.

Demand initiated water softener regeneration setup

📑 Final Word

There’s some confusion when it comes to differentiating between an electronic and a non-electronic water softener.

Both systems offer the same results: softened water that’s free from dissolved minerals and unable to form scale buildup around your home.

But a water softener’s power source – or lack of one – often indicates how the system achieves these results, and the efficiency of its softening and regeneration processes.

In our opinion, you shouldn’t worry too much about whether a water softener does or doesn’t use electricity – unless you have a specific reason to need a water softener that you can use in a power outage.

Otherwise, your priority should be to look for water softeners that use demand-initiated regeneration, so they soften water as efficiently as possible, only regenerating when absolutely necessary.

  • Brian Campbell
    President & CEO, CWS, CWR

    Brian Campbell, a WQA Certified Water Specialist (CWS) and Certified Water Treatment Representative (CWR) with 5+ years of experience, helps homeowners navigate the world of water treatment. After honing his skills at Hach Company, he founded his business to empower homeowners with the knowledge and tools to achieve safe, healthy water. Brian's tested countless devices, from simple pitchers to complex systems, helping his readers find the perfect fit for their unique needs.

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