Pros and Cons of Salt-Free Water Softeners for Your Home

Updated July 14, 2021
Water running from sink
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Salt-free water softeners have gained popularity in recent years, but it's important to understand the pros and cons before going saltless in your home

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If you have hard water, then you know what a pain that can be. Hard water can leave mineral deposits on your skin, dishes, and clothing. It can even speed the deterioration of your plumbing and appliances.

Water softeners can be a tremendous help in battling the scaly beast of hard water, and lots of homeowners are turning to salt-free water softeners to get the job done. But should they? In this guide, we’ll show you the pros and cons of these increasingly popular systems.

What Are Salt-Free Water Softeners?

Technically, salt-free water softeners don’t “soften” the water at all. They’re not true water softeners; they’re descalers or water conditioners. Salt-free water conditioners work by altering the chemical structure of water minerals through the descaling process, which prevents solids from depositing in pipes and water-using fixtures.

On the other hand, in conventional water softeners, salt removes minerals, including calcium and magnesium—which cause hard water—through a process called ionic exchange and replaces them with soft minerals like potassium and sodium.

The Pros of Salt-Free Systems

Saltless water conditioners have a lot of advantages. Like conventional water softeners containing salt, saltless systems can help reduce the buildup of limescale, the chalky substance you see in dried hard water spots, as well as other chemicals.

Not only this, but saltless systems don’t waste water like conventional water softeners can. They also tend to cost less to operate and require less maintenance. And because the systems tend to be simpler and less upkeep-intensive, you can expect these systems to last at least as long as conventional softeners, around 10 years, if not longer.

That means you can use all that money you’re saving on system maintenance for something a bit more fun—maybe some shiny new faucets to replace the ones scarred by limescale and calcium. Conditioned water also doesn’t have the “slippery” feel you get from a water softener.

Water falling from shower
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Cons of Salt-Free Water Systems

For all the pluses of saltless systems, there are also some minuses. One concern is that salt-free systems may be slightly more expensive than conventional systems. Where conventional systems may cost between $100 and $1,800, depending on the size and type of the system, salt-free water conditioners average between $500 and $3,000.

Another concern with no-salt systems is they’re not as effective in places where water sits, like in your water heater. Those areas can still get a buildup of limescale.

Another issue is that saltless water conditioners don’t work equally well in all conditions or for all systems. For instance, salt-free conditioners generally should not be used with well water. Also, the types of contaminants you have in your water, which can vary widely from one municipality to another, can affect the operation of your system.

Some saltless conditioners work really well and others don’t live up to their claims, so it’s important to do your research. Reach out to a local water specialist if you’re considering one but aren’t sure what’s right for your home.

The Water Softener Advantage

Depending on where you live and the amount and type of contaminants in your water, you may need to bite the bullet and opt for a water softener over a saltless water conditioner. 

One advantage of water softeners is they can extend the life of your water-using appliances, plumbing, and even your clothes. With water conditioners, though, the effects may not be as significant or protective. Limescale can still build up in some appliances, such as your water heater, if you’re only using a water conditioner.

Is a Salt-Free Water Softener Right for Your Home?

Salt-free water softeners certainly have their pros, as they can be highly effective in removing water contaminants without wasting your water. They also require less maintenance than conventional water softeners.

Still, the cons are that saltless water conditioners may not be as effective as conventional water softeners in certain situations. And that means that saltless systems may not extend the life of your appliances and plumbing as much as conventional ones. In other words, you’ll likely need to do a bit of homework to figure out which system is best for you. Talk to a water softener company near you about your options. 

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