A saltless water softener, also known as a salt free water softener, a no salt water softener, or simply a descaler, prevents hard water scaling on the inside of your pipes without using the water softener salt required by conventional water softeners. Instead, saltless water softeners use a variety of technologies, from filtering through various media, to electrical pulses or magnetic treatment.
Conventional salt-based water softeners completely remove the calcium, magnesium, and other minerals dissolved in hard water. In addition to keeping your pipes clear, this changes the way the water feels, and allows soap and detergent to lather more easily. On the downside, they use a lot of salt, which is difficult to transport and produces waste water that is bad for the environment.
How a Saltless Water Softener is Different
In contrast, saltless water softeners leave the minerals in the water, but condition the water so that the minerals don’t build up in pipes or household appliances. Many saltless water softener models are also designed to remove existing scale.
Salt free softeners don’t typically claim to alter the feel of tap water as much as salt based water softeners do. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion. Some people describe the water produced by salt based water softeners as smooth and silky to the touch. Others find it slippery or oily.
The technology behind salt free water softeners varies by brand. Some use electronic pulses to prevent scaling. Other saltless water softener systems – including some of the most popular brands – use no electricity at all and simply filter your water through a medium of one sort or another. Finally, some companies claim their products work through miscellaneous methods that range from unproven to downright dubious.
In fact, the whole concept of saltless water softening is questioned by some people. Many of the criticisms come from manufacturers of traditional, salt-based water softeners, or companies that exclusively sell those systems. However, there are legitimate scientific questions about how well these alternative methods work. There is also data supporting their effectiveness (not to mention plenty of customers who swear by them).
It’s tough to weigh the arguments of people who have a vested interest in the debate. Adding to the confusion is the fact that there are multiple saltless technologies – some of which, as we mentioned, are undoubtedly sketchy. Unfortunately, unbiased opinions about these systems are hard to come by. Many people turn to organizations like Consumer Reports whenever they purchase a large appliance, but they do not currently test whole house water softeners, and have not officially weighed in on these salt free technologies. In other words, consumers are on their own when it comes to judging the merits of different models.
Reasons to Buy
So, who should buy a salt free water softener? Assuming you’re not squeamish about trying a relatively new technology, you might consider a salt free option if you:
- don’t want to deal with expensive (and heavy!) water softener salt
- want an eco-friendly alternative to salt-based systems
- don’t have space for a conventional water softener system and its bulky tank
- live in an area where conventional softeners have been banned (typically due to the increased cost of waste water treatment)
- don’t want to strip healthy minerals from your drinking water
- are on a low sodium diet and don’t want to introduce salt into your tap water
- don’t like the feel of soft water, but want the other benefits of softening
No salt water softeners range widely in price, but are often more expensive than their salt based counterparts. However, before deciding between salt free and conventional, be sure to factor in the cost of installation and maintenance. Installation of a conventional salt-using water softener can be complex, and may require the services of a professional at a cost of hundreds of dollars. Also consider the cost of salt and possibly a tap water filter or separate water line to ensure your tap water remains drinkable.
Don’t fret too much if neither option seems perfect for you. These aren’t always one-size-fits-all solutions. The right choice for your home may be a combination of products. It may be worthwhile to consult with a company that can assess your needs and suggest a configuration that fits the bill.