Water Softener Pellets or Crystals: Which Should You Use?

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Water softener salt typically comes in two forms: pellets and crystals.

We’ve been testing and using water softeners for over a decade, and in that time, we’ve sampled most types of water softener salt on the market.

In this guide, we’ll be comparing water softener pellets vs crystals, helping you to choose the best salt type for your situation.

Water softener pellets vs crystals

🆚 Water Softener Crystals Vs Pellets: Key Differences

Here are the key differences between water softener salt pellets and crystals:

  • Form – Water softener crystals are made from nearly 100% sodium chloride and are coarse and irregularly shaped, while pellets have been processed to form refined pellet-like structures.
  • Speed of dissolution – Water softener salt pellets dissolve more quickly and easily in water than crystals. This means you’re less likely to experience issues like bridging or clogging in your brine tank with this type of salt, and your water softener will need less maintenance over the months of operation.
  • Purity – Water softener crystals often contain impurities that may build up in the brine tank over time. Pellets are purer than crystals because they’re more refined during the manufacturing process, reducing their impurities.
  • Efficiency – Because of their higher purity, water softener salt pellets are a more efficient softening solution than salt crystals. You get more value per gram of salt because of the higher sodium chloride content. In our own testing, we’ve found that a 40-pound bag of salt pellets lasts 3-5 days longer than the same-sized bag of salt crystals.
  • Storage & handling – Salt crystals are bulkier, take up more room in the brine tank, and are more prone to forming a solid block if they’re exposed to moisture. It’s essential to store them in proper storage conditions. Pellets are less prone to clumping, less likely to spill, and easier to handle and store, especially in humid environments.
  • Cost – Salt crystals are more affordable than pellets, so they’re good for small budgets. Salt pellets are more expensive because of their faster dissolution rate and higher purity.
  • Suitability for different softener types – Crystals are ideal in a two-part water softener, or for homes with low water use. Pellets are best suited to all-in-one or cabinet-style water softener systems (which combine the brine and resin tanks in a single unit), or for homes with medium-to-high water use.
Deciding between salt pellets vs salt crystals

📆 When to Use Water Softener Pellets

Use water softener pellets if you need salt that dissolves rapidly – for example, if you have a high-demand water softening system or a big family with a larger water consumption.

The compact and refined structure of salt pellets enables water softeners to regenerate quickly, making them efficient for homes that need a continuous and reliable supply of softened water.

Plus, if you want the purest water softener salt that will minimize maintenance to the brine tank, water softener pellets are the best option due to their more refined manufacturing process, which reduces the likelihood of impurities.

Most manufacturers recommend that you use water softener pellets in all-in-one water softeners, so this is another occasion to consider pellets over crystals.

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📅 When to Use Water Softener Crystals

Use water softener crystals if cost is your primary consideration and you’re looking for the most economical choice for a smaller budget.

You might also prefer to use water softener crystals if you have a lower water consumption and the rate of dissolvability of your water softener salt isn’t important to you.

Because crystals may contain additives, they’re best used in a two-part or two-tank water softening system, and generally shouldn’t be used in single-tank softeners.

🤔 Why it’s Important to Use the Right Salt in a Water Softener

Choosing the right type of salt for your water softener system is important because it affects the amount of maintenance your water softener requires and the likelihood of salt bridging (when salt sticks together in the brine tank to form a hard crust).

It’s especially important to buy the right water softener salt if you use a single-tank or all-in-one water softener, which is more prone to clogging and bridging.

📖 How to Decide Whether to Use Water Softener Salt Crystals or Pellets

Here are our top tips for deciding whether to use salt pellets or crystals in your water softener:

  • First, consider your water hardness. Do a hard water test if you haven’t already – you can buy a DIY kit online for less than $20. Go for pellets if your water is particularly hard. For moderately hard water, you can consider either pellets or crystals.
  • Next, determine the type of system you own. Is it an all-in-one water softening system, or a two-part unit? Use salt pellets for an all-in-one system, and use salt pellets OR crystals for a two-tank system.
  • If you’re not sure, bring out your user manual. This should tell you what type of system you own and may also recommend the best type of salt to use in your brine tank.
  • Still unsure? Contact your water softener manufacturer. They’ll be able to give you dedicated tips on buying salt for your particular softener.
How to determine whether to use salt pellets or crystals

📑 Final Word

Whether you use water softener salt pellets or crystals in your softening system, you’ll still get the desired end result: soft water.

But there are certain instances when you’ll benefit from using a particular type of salt in your water softener brine tank.

Water softener pellets are best for all-in-one systems and dissolve more easily without clogging or bridging. They’re also less likely to leave a residual behind.

Water softener crystals are better for two-part water softening systems, but it’s still best to use pellets in homes with a high water (and therefore salt) usage, because they’re less prone to clogging the brine tank.

Which is better, salt crystals or pellets? Generally, we recommend pellets over crystals, but ultimately, the decision comes down to personal preference and what your water softener needs.

Related: Can you can mix pellets and crystals?

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  • Laura Shallcross
    Senior Editor

    Laura is a passionate residential water treatment journalist who holds an undergraduate degree in Print Journalism and a master’s degree in Creative Writing. Over a span of 5 years she's written on a range of topics including water softening, well water treatment, and purification processes.

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