What Is the Best Water Softener Option for Me?

Chris Knippa
Written by Chris Knippa
Updated June 15, 2021
tub water faucet
Consider your budget and salt sensitivity when deciding which system is best for your family. (Photo by Summer Galyan)

When buying a water softener or descaler, you have a few choices. Here's what you need to know about the different systems.

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When it comes to softening water in the home, there are two major ways of tackling the issue: water softeners (using sodium or potassium) or descalers. Each system has its own set of unique features, and it will depend on your individual needs when it comes to which is the best option. 

Traditional water softener choices

Water softeners do their job using a process known as ion exchange. By using resin beads containing either sodium chloride or potassium chloride, the ions in the beads swap places with the minerals that make the water hard.

While sodium chloride is the most common and budget-friendly choice, some who are sensitive to the effects of sodium choose to use potassium chloride salt instead. 

Salt vs. potassium for water softening

Both sodium chloride and potassium chloride are popular choices in the water softening market, and either can be considered a respectable choice. In addition, both are naturally occurring minerals.

While sodium chloride's primary application is typically for water softener tanks, potassium chloride is used widely in the agricultural industry and can be found in a wide variety of food products. Potassium chloride is the pricier choice because it is costlier to mine.

hard water stains
Water softeners help keep plumbing fixtures clear of hard water stains. (Photo courtesy of Kinetico San Antonio)

Water conditioner as an alternative

As another option for those who prefer to avoid salt, descalers (also known as water conditioners) are a popular choice. Rather than softening the water through ion exchange, descalers keep the scale out to your water using methods that vary but include the use of electrical current or through reverse osmosis. 

When water is conditioned through electrical current, it doesn't mean it is operated by electricity. Rather, the descaler is designed using an alloy that, when combined with tap water elements, creates an electrical current (much like a battery).

In saltless water systems, hard pressure is applied to force water through a semi-permeable membrane that filters out the minerals causing water hardness.

Proponents of saltless water systems enjoy that they cost less than water softeners and do not require salt. However, some may find that their needs call for something stronger, such as a traditional water softener. 

Which is best for you?

When working with a water softener technician on how you will soften your water, determine what things are most important to you. Budget and salt sensitivity are a couple of things you'll want to consider when shopping around.

Do you have a water softener or descaler? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below. 

As of Jan. 7, 2016, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List. 

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