When most people think of a water softener – if they think of it at all – they think of a large and unsightly home appliance hidden in a utility room, its tank full of gargantuan salt pellets. This is an accurate enough picture of ion-exchange softeners (the traditional kind of system that uses salt). However, there are many other types of soft water systems out there, including the electronic water softener.
Electronic water softeners offer a lot of advantages over conventional systems because they don’t require you to lug around large bags of sodium chloride salt (or hire a service to do it for you). They’re also comparatively easy to install and maintain. They don’t add sodium to your tap water. And while they do use some electricity, they’re more environmentally friendly than salt-using systems, which have been banned in some locales due to the waste water they produce.
Of course, the same advantages could be provided by a cardboard box with “saltless water softener” scrawled on the side of it. If a system doesn’t actually do anything, then it’s pretty easy to make it eco-friendly and easy to maintain. So, do electronic water softeners work?
Well, they don’t actually soften water in the technical sense. Only ion exchange systems can do that, by replacing hard water ions with sodium. An electronic softener doesn’t remove anything from your water, so a water hardness test will read the same before and after installation.
What an electronic softener does is send pulses through your water pipes that disrupt calcium and magnesium ions, preventing them from scaling and reacting in other ways that create familiar hard water problems. In other words, they effectively soften water, even if they don’t do it by the technical definition.
Now, the argument against electronic water softeners isn’t just about semantics. Some critics claim that they don’t even do what they claim to do. At the same time, there are plenty of customers who are happy with their electronic systems. Similarly, there are scientific studies that have produced conflicting findings about these systems. In general, it appears that electronic softeners work as advertised in highly controlled industrial settings, but are more inconsistent in residential settings where there are a lot more variables at play.
In any case, electronic softeners have been around for awhile, and they probably aren’t going away any time soon. Not as long as so many people long for the benefits of a traditional water softener system without the hassles that come with it.
If you’re going to buy an electronic water softener, do some research and select a model from a reputable manufacturer – and purchase through a retailer or dealer who you can hold to account if things don’t work as expected. If possible, look for a money back guarantee so you can try it out. The good news about these saltless water softener systems is that, unlike conventional water softeners, they’re easy to hook up. So if it doesn’t work as desired for your home, taking it out shouldn’t be a problem.