Differences Between a Salt and Non Salt Water Softener

Cartoon of a water drop holding a sign that reads No Salt!People trying to decide between a salt and non salt water softener often don’t realize how fundamentally different the two appliances are. If they were the same in operation and effectiveness, the choice would be easy. Why wouldn’t you choose a no salt water softener, unless you like lugging around large bags of sodium chloride?

In fact, the only thing the two types of appliances have in common is a name and an end goal – the softening (or effective softening) of water. Beyond that, the differences are many. Here are a few.

Non Salt Water Softeners Don’t Use Salt (duh)

The big selling point of these systems is obviously that they don’t require a continual supply of water softener salt to operate. However, some do require you to replace a filter every so often, which may cost the same as what you might pay for salt. Still, that’s more convenient than picking up sodium chloride (or potassium chloride) pellets at your local superstore every month.

Salt Water Softeners Work Through a Well Understood Process

The reason you have to feed salt into a salt water softener is to facilitate the process of ion exchange.   Unlike the methods used by many saltless systems, this process is well documented and uncontroversial. The salt is used to charge resin beads, which replace the hard water minerals in your water with sodium. This is a pretty clear cut process that has been proven to work time and again, as opposed to the softening methods employed by salt free softeners, which are relatively new.

No Salt Water Softeners are Eco-Friendly

Some non salt water softeners use electricity, while others operate completely through filtration. However, either is more environmentally friendly than salt-using systems, which tend to use a lot of water. The waste water they produce is also contaminated with chlorine, which is why many cities – particularly in California – have taken the unusual step of prohibiting conventional softeners.

Salt Water Softeners Require More Maintenance

In addition to needing a regular supply of salt, conventional water softeners often keep their owners busy in other ways. Since they’re typically more complex in design than saltless systems, there’s more that can go wrong. Salt bridges can form, filter screens can get gummed up, lines can get clogged, motors can fail – the list of potential water softener problems is long.

The Effectiveness of Non Salt Water Softeners is Tough to Measure

Salt free softeners are somewhat controversial, and the main reason is that there’s no easy and objective way to verify that they work. For salt-using softeners, there’s a simple yardstick – the water hardness test. This measures the amount of dissolved minerals in a sample of water. Since no salt water softeners don’t do ion exchange, this test does not apply to them. Many people swear by saltless water softeners, while others claim that they’re a scam – but without a test, there’s no way to sort through which systems work and which don’t.

Essentially, the non salt water softener is an attempt to solve a problem for customers – how do you get soft water without salt? The technologies used to get there differ greatly, and absent a clear cut test of softening effectiveness, we only have anecdotal information to determine how effective they are. Check out our no salt water softener reviews for a summary of customer feedback for different systems. And whatever type of water softener you’re leaning towards, make sure you do plenty of research on the specific models – and buy from a reputable dealer.