What Are Magnetic Water Softeners & Do They Work?

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If you’re deterred by the expense, complex installation, or long-term maintenance requirements of a conventional ion exchange water softener, you might be considering alternative solutions to your hard water problems.

Magnetic water softeners are tankless systems designed to prevent scale formation without removing calcium and magnesium from water and without adding sodium.

In this guide, we’ve shared everything you need to know about the magnetic water softener, including what it is, how it works, and whether it’s a reliable method of conditioning your water.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • A magnetic water softener is a low-maintenance salt-free water conditioner that converts calcium from calcite to aragonite, which has reduced scale-forming abilities.
  • Magnetic conditioners use two strong neodymium magnets or electromagnetic coils that sit around your main water line and produce an electromagnetic field.
  • There are numerous studies that prove the effectiveness of a magnetic water treatment, but no studies have found this treatment capable of complete scale prevention.

🤔 What Are Magnetic Water Softeners?

Magnetic water softeners, also called electromagnetic water softeners or electric water conditioners, use a physical water treatment that subjects water to a magnetic field, which alters the adhesion properties of calcium carbonate.

There are a couple of different designs for magnetic softeners:

  • Several large neodymium magnets are placed around a water pipe
  • An electric wire is coiled around a water pipe, inducing a magnetic field

In the case of a system with electric wiring, the current through the wire is controlled by a transformer. The magnetic field can be oriented in the direction of the flow of water, or against the water flow.

As water passes through the pipe, it’s treated immediately by the device. There is no required contact time, and water doesn’t have to sit in a tank before it can be delivered to your home.

Magnetic systems are commonly referred to as “water softeners”, but the correct term is “water conditioners” because they don’t actually soften water. The only true method of softening water is ion exchange, which removes calcium and magnesium minerals, therefore altering water’s properties and turning it from hard to soft.

Electronmagnetic water descaler installed in main water line

👨‍🔧 Related Article: June 2024‘s Top 5 Electronic Water Descalers: A Comprehensive Review

🔎 Do Magnetic Water Softeners Work? What Scientific Evidence Says

When magnetic water softeners were first manufactured, there wasn’t much evidence to support the manufacturers’ claims that these systems actually work.

Now, more research has been conducted, and we have more scientific evidence, which gives greater insight into the effectiveness of magnetic water treatment devices.

We’ve referenced a couple of these studies below.

One California Water Boards review of the various different hard water treatment methods highlighted a 2003 study that examined the effectiveness of a permanent magnet in reducing water scale. The study found that magnetic water treatment could reduce an average of 34% scale, with test results ranging from 17-70% scale reduction in heated storage tanks. The tanks containing untreated water had visible scale on the base and heating evidence.

There’s also evidence that a magnetic field causes calcium carbonate to convert from calcite to aragonite, which has an altered structure and is less likely to produce scale. A 2000 study found that untreated water had a 7% ratio of aragonite to total calcium carbonate, while magnetically treated water had a ratio of 54% – proving that magnetic water treatment is capable of increasing calcium aragonite formation. The result is “soft” scale, rather than calcite, which more readily forms scale.

What do these studies tell us? There is proof that magnetic water treatment works to reduce scale formation, and there’s evidence to help us understand how this method works. But the data tells us that a magnetic water softening system is unlikely to eliminate your water’s scale formation abilities, even if it might reduce them.

We also found a 2020 review of some of the more recent studies into magnetic water treatment. The review concluded that electromagnetic fields facilitate “bulk precipitation of crystals” instead of adhesion to pipes and surfaces.

However, the review also noted that in some studies, an electromagnetic field was found to make no difference in the formation of scale deposits, and some even noted negative impacts, potentially as a result of variations in water chemistry, pipe materials, or the course of treatment used.

showerhead with limescale buildup

📖 How To Know If A Magnetic Water Softener Is Working

The only way to know if a magnetic water softener is working is to check your fixtures, water heater, and pipes for new scale deposits .

Before you install your water treatment device, do a deep clean of your kitchen and bathroom, removing all traces of scale.

Then install the system and keep an eye out for new signs of hard water on your fixtures.

Note: A hard water test won’t work to determine the performance of a magnetic water softener because this method of treatment doesn’t remove calcium and magnesium from water. So, water will have the same mineral content – the only difference is that these minerals should be less capable of forming limescale.

🔂 Alternatives To Magnetic Water Softeners

While the performance of a magnetic water softener is supported by scientific studies, it’s important to note that the results aren’t conclusive.

Some studies found that this method of water conditioning worked to some extent, while others concluded that the method didn’t work at all.

If you’re not sure there’s enough consistent evidence for you to spend your money on a magnetic water softener, you might want to consider an alternative choice.

Since there’s likely a reason why you don’t want to spend your money on a conventional ion exchange water softener, we won’t recommend this as an option to you.

But if you’re looking for a salt-free method that doesn’t require much upkeep, consider a water conditioner.

Water conditioners use a conditioning process (either template-assisted crystallization or nucleation-assisted crystallization) to crystallize hardness minerals, preventing them from sticking to your pipes, water heaters, and water-using appliances as limescale.

A 2013 WateReuse study found that of all the salt-based water softener alternatives, template-assisted crystallization systems worked best, offering scale reductions of over 90%.

👨‍🔧 So, if you want the most effective, low-maintenance solution to treat water with a high mineral content without actually removing these minerals, TAC conditioners are our top recommended choice.

Salt free water conditioner for limescale prevention

📑 Final Word

There’s lots of scientific evidence to suggest that a magnetic water treatment device will reduce your water’s scale deposits, but studies can’t agree on the exact effectiveness of this treatment – largely because it seems that there are different factors that affect the performance of a magnetic water softener.

Customer reviews for the popular magnetic water softener products are mixed, too, with some people noticing big changes, and others being disappointed by a lack of results.

The good news is that many manufacturers of magnetic water softeners offer a trial period for their products, meaning that you can install the unit in your home and try it out for a few weeks. If you don’t notice a reduction in limescale deposits, you can return the system for a full refund.

Do we recommend magnetic water softener systems? Yes, we think there’s enough evidence that they work to at least some extent, but we think it’s important to note that these systems aren’t as effective at salt-based water softeners and are unlikely to eliminate limescale in your home.

  • 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.

6 thoughts on “What Are Magnetic Water Softeners & Do They Work?”

  1. Avatar for Brian Campbell

    I am slightly concerned about the drinking water, planning to use RO-filter for the same. As per the article, there are two choices
    1. magnetic conditioners : calcium carbonate to convert from calcite to aragonite, whether RO would be able to remove, and no impact on the quality of drinking water
    2. Ion-exchange method: Calcium and Magnesium ions are exchanged with Sodium, would it be entering into drinking water.

    Local supplier is claiming to provide 4 stage filtration system which is different from Ion-exchange. Requesting to comment on the following claims

    “Supreme Tank filter is a Unique 4 Stage tank filteration / Whole house water filteration system , Comes with an Integrated UF filter that does both Mechanical and Bioilogical filteration with a Filter life of 10 years , Supreme tank filter can filter out bacterial / Virsuses which is first for any Tank filteration system”

    Whether it would be effective, and same concern about the effect on the RO-filter drinking water

    1. Avatar for Brian Campbell

      Water conditioners are intended to treat the water with the goal of protecting the home’s internal plumbing and water based appliances from hard water minerals (primarily calcium and magnesium, which are actually healthy, necessary minerals for humans to consume).

      There are two types of ion exchange: cation exchange and anion exchange. Each method targets different types of contaminants with cation resins exchange positively charged cations, while anion exchange resins exchange negatively charged anions.

      Reverse osmosis is a different treatment method and removes contaminants by sub-micron separation in the reverse osmosis membrane.

      UF (ultra filtration) is another type of membrane system (similar to reverse osmosis), just with larger pores. Learn more about RO vs ultrafiltration here.

      All that said, the best method for you depends on what contaminants are present you need to target. Have you had the water tested by a certified lab?

  2. Avatar for Brian Campbell

    We have a magnetic water conditioner. When we replaced a 30 year old water heater, the plumber warned that we would see “sand” draining out of the old unit as they rolled it away. We saw none which convinced us and the plumber that the conditioner is working. However, we see scale buildup in our coffee maker and water kettle. IMHO, the minerals not adhering to our pipes are flowing out of the taps. Is this correct?

    1. Avatar for Brian Campbell

      Theoretically, electromagnetic conditioners alter the chemical structure of the hard water minerals which should prevent them from sticking to eachother or surface to form difficult to remove limescale.

      My question to you would be, is the scale on the coffee maker and kettle difficult to remove? Or can it easily be wiped away?

      Since magnetic conditioners don’t actually remove the minerals, it makes sense you are still seeing the precipitated. The difference should be that they are easily cleaned. And theoretically they should be flowing through the pipes building up inside them.

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