Salt-free water softeners, or water conditioners, are rapidly increasing in popularity – but are they worth it?
In this guide, we’ve helped you answer this question by outlining the key benefits and setbacks of this type of hard water treatment system.
📌 Key Takeaways:
- Salt-free water softeners use a salt-free conditioning process to prevent calcium and magnesium ions from forming scale.
- Some of the pros of salt-free systems include their low-hassle and low-maintenance performance, their suitability for low-sodium diets, their effective limescale reduction, and their retained healthy minerals.
- Some of the cons of saltless water softeners are that they’re expensive, challenging to install, and not always 100% effective.
Table of Contents
🚿 What Is A Salt-Free Water Softener?
Feel free to skip this section if you just want to see the pros and cons of salt-free softeners.
A salt-free water softener, or a salt-free conditioner, is a water treatment system that addresses limescale without using salt.
Traditional salt-based water softeners use a process called ion exchange to swap calcium and magnesium (hard water minerals) with sodium ions, preventing scale formation.
Salt-free water softeners retain hardness minerals in water but prevent them from forming scale. These systems typically use a conditioning process called template-assisted crystallization (TAC) or nucleation-assisted crystallization (NAC).
👍 Advantages of Salt-Free Water Softeners
Read on for the pros of salt-free water softener systems.
Effective Limescale Reduction
The most effective saltless water softeners use a conditioning process called template-assisted crystallization, which has shown in studies to reduce more than 90% of scale.
This is a great statistic considering the other perks of saltless water softening (mentioned below).
While saltless conditioners don’t offer 100% scale reduction, some can remove up to 99.99% scale, which is about as good as it gets.
Plus, most saltless systems reduce existing scale, too, so they can reverse the damaging effects of hardness minerals on your pipe, hot water heater, and other water-using appliances.
Salt-free conditioners are virtually maintenance-free.
Since they don’t use salt, they don’t have a brine tank that needs to be topped up every few weeks. They’re automated systems that are smart enough to know when to run a cleaning cycle without your prompting.
The low-maintenance aspect of saltless conditioners means they’re low-hassle and have low running costs – best for people who value their time and money.
The only maintenance task involved in owning a water conditioner is changing the pre-filter.
All good saltless water conditioners should come with a sediment pre-filter to prevent sediment from damaging the conditioning media. This filter needs changing every 6 months on average.
Better For The Environment
Traditional salt-based softening methods (i.e. the ion exchange process) waste water during regeneration – up to 25 gallons per day.
Not only will this increase your water bill, but it’s also bad for the environment. The salty water produced during a regeneration cycle could result in excess salts being leaked into rivers, reservoirs, and other natural water sources, harming aquatic life.
Saltless systems don’t use salt, so they’re a better choice for folks who are environmentally conscious.
Suitable For People On Low-Sodium Diets
Unlike salt-based systems, saltless conditioners are entirely salt-free because they don’t use the ion exchange process to prevent scale formation.
If you’re on a strict low-sodium diet for health reasons or you just don’t want to add sodium particles to your water, a saltless water softening system is the smartest choice.
Saltless conditioners don’t add anything to your water, so your water quality is essentially the same when it leaves the system.
Suitable For Areas With Restrictive Plumbing Codes
Certain states in the USA, including Texas, Michigan, Connecticut, and Wisconsin, have strict plumbing codes that restrict the type of water softener that can be installed by residents.
While salt-based water softeners are banned in certain regions, there are generally no restrictions against the use of saltless conditioners, since they don’t waste water or introduce sodium into the waterways.
If you live in a region that strictly monitors the use of water softeners, you’re best opting for a saltless conditioner.
No “Slippery” Water Feel
Thanks to their salt-free design, salt-free conditioners retain drinking water’s normal taste and feel.
Adding salt to water, even in low amounts, leaves water feeling smooth and “slippery”. If you don’t want to alter the feel of your water, stick with a saltless water softener.
Retain Healthy Minerals
Finally, salt-free water softener systems don’t remove calcium and magnesium minerals from water, so water retains its health properties and pleasant alkaline taste.
Calcium and magnesium have numerous health benefits, including helping the body to build and maintain strong bones, maintaining proper-functioning muscles, nerves, and organs, blood pressure regulation, and improving sleep.
These minerals also give water its natural alkalinity. Many people buy bottled mineral water due to its enjoyable taste.
👎 Setbacks of Salt-Free Water Softeners
It’s worth also knowing the setbacks of owning a salt-free system.
The cost of a salt-free water conditioner is $800-$2,200 on average. Some systems are more expensive than this, depending on their size (capacity & flow rate) and complexity.
The reason why salt-free systems are so expensive is that they’re large point-of-entry systems. You also pay more upfront for the perks of minimal maintenance and the convenience of no salt (which can’t be said for a salt-based water softener).
Some manufacturers offer financing programs to allow customers to split the cost of a purchase over a period of months, but these aren’t available to everyone.
Don’t Address All Water Hardness Issues
Salt-free water conditioners don’t actually remove calcium and magnesium ions from water, and they don’t produce soft water. These systems simply crystallize the minerals to prevent them from forming scale.
That means that you don’t get all the benefits of soft water, like better skin and hair health and less soap required in your dishwasher and washing machine. You just get reduced scale formation.
A salt-free water conditioner is a point-of-entry system that provides whole-home water treatment. That means the system should be installed on your main water line, as close as possible to its entry point into your home.
Most salt-free systems are designed for DIY installation, but the installation process is still challenging due to the size and location of the system, and the fact that it has to be directly plumbed in.
If you’re not up for the challenge, you’ll probably have to spend $200 or so on a professional installation.
Not Ideal For Well Water
Salt-free water conditioners aren’t intended for use on well water. Why? Because well water often contains high levels of sediment and minerals like iron, which could damage the TAC media and shorten its lifespan.
If you have well water, a salt-free system isn’t normally recommended for you. You’ll have to look at other options; namely salt-based water softeners.
Not Always 100% Effective
Not all water conditioner models are designed to completely eliminate scale. Certain types of salt-free water conditioners, such as electromagnetic descalers, can only offer around 50% scale prevention.
💡 If you’re looking for complete protection against the effects of hardness minerals, make sure you do your research and settle on a TAC system (which is up to 99.99% effective).
📑 Final Word: Are Salt-Free Water Softeners Worth It?
Whether you’re trying to decide between salt-free and salt-based water softeners or you’re only considering saltless conditioners, you need to figure out whether or not a salt-free system is worth it for you.
Do the following:
- Test your water hardness
- Determine your budget
- Look at systems that can address your water hardness and are within your budget
- Read customer reviews and expert third-party guides
- Buy one of the best saltless conditioners based on your findings
Essentially, if the pros of a salt-free water softener outweigh the cons, and you have the budget to buy this type of system, it’s most likely worth it for you.