Types of Water Softeners

Faucet with water drops pouring out of it, representing the different types of home water softener systemsIf you’re searching for a new water softener, the number of options can be dizzying. There are so many companies offering so many different products that it’s easy to fall victim to paralysis-by-analysis. Before you even begin to compare different brands, it helps to know what kind of system you need. To help you along, here are the major types of water softeners to consider.

Whole House vs Point of Use

Whole house water softeners are large appliances that treat your entire home’s water supply. These systems are expensive and can be difficult to maintain, leading many people to opt for point-of-use systems that treat water only where it’s used. The most common type of point-of-use system is a water softener for the shower, a small device that attaches to your shower main. You can also get dishwashers with water softeners built in to prevent spotting on dishes.

Ion Exchange vs Salt Free

The majority of water softeners work via the same method – ion exchange. These systems strip out hard water minerals and replace them with sodium or potassium. Because ion exchange softeners require a constant supply of water softener salt, a new type of system has become popular in recent years – the salt free water softener. Salt free systems use a variety of different methods to treat hard water, some of which are questionable. In general, however, they’re smaller and easier to install than traditional softeners, though whether they work as well is a matter of debate.

Salt free systems are also called saltless water softeners and no salt water softeners. Because they don’t actually remove hard water minerals, some people also prefer to call them conditioners rather than softeners.

Different Types of Salt Free Water Softeners

The term salt free water softener describes what the systems aren’t rather than what they are. That’s because they use a bunch of different technologies, most of which are proprietary. There are magnetic water softeners that use magnets, electronic water softeners that treat water with electrical pulses, and chelation water softeners that filter hard water with citrus and other media. Magnetic and electronic softeners are the cheapest water softeners you can find, whereas chelation systems can cost more than a conventional ion exchange system (especially when you factor in the cost of filter replacement).

Deciding Between the Different Types of Water Softeners

The safest type of water softener to buy is the whole house ion exchange system. The technology is proven, and there’s not a huge difference in softening ability between the different brands. Instead, the main issues are cost and durability.

As you go off the beaten path and look at nonstandard types of water softeners, you need to increase the amount of research you do. Point-of-use systems may do a good job of treating water in one part of the house, while leaving unseen hard water problems to fester. Unlike conventional systems, salt free water softeners can differ a lot in effectiveness. When considering any alternative system, pay particular attention to the manufacturer’s reputation and look over any reviews that may be available. Also check out the return policy to see if you have an out if the system doesn’t meet expectations.