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Salt Free Water Softeners vs. Salt Based Water Softeners

A Water Softener Comparison

One of the most common water softener questions that we get asked by people in the market for one is whether it is better to have a salt free or a salt based water softener. To answer this question properly, let’s take a look at both types of systems, their pros and cons, and in what situation each would work best.

Salt-Based Water Softeners

salt based water softenerThese types of water softeners remove the hard water minerals from your water and leave you with “soft water”. The process used in these systems is called “Ion exchange,” which removes magnesium and calcium minerals and replaces them with sodium, or salt. Salt-based water softeners require an electric metered valve to be mounted on a tank that runs water through a cleaning cycle. Inside the tank the water comes into contact with tiny salt -covered resin beads that replace the waters hard ions with salt ions. As the tank becomes full, it is recharged with new salt and excess minerals are flushed into the wastewater drain.

Salt-Free Water Softeners

Salt-free water softeners are also referred to as “water conditioners”. These systems don’t remove the hard water minerals but do stop them from adhering to your pipes. The water conditioning that occurs actually changes the form of the water. This physical process is also known as Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). The hardness minerals in the water are converted to crystals that can’t bind to surfaces.

Which is the Better System for You?

Now that you know, the difference between the two systems, it comes down to making a choice as to which one will suit your needs the best. Part of the decision should depend upon your particular situation and the rest left up to personal preference.

Salt-Based Water Softeners

These systems actually completely remove the calcium and magnesium from your water before you ever touch your faucet. Another benefit is that you no longer need to worry about lime scale buildups so they won’t have to be removed later. Also, if you have water-based appliances (dishwasher, washing machine), these could last longer. There are of course some drawbacks; for example, these types of systems may require more maintenance than their counterparts. There is an added expense and inconvenience of having to buy salt for the system. Finally, some people don’t like the slick feel or the taste of the water that they get from these systems.

Salt-Free Water Softeners

salt free water softener

Salt-Free Water Softener

There is an assumption that salt-free water softeners are generally less expensive than their salt-based counterparts. However, you can find low cost models for both. For example, there are salt-based models available for under $600 with some salt-free systems costing over $1,000. As always, the best tactic is to shop around and compare at least three of each model before making a purchasing decision.

The systems are easy to install and maintain but do not think they are maintenance free as plenty of models use a blend of granular activated carbon filter to get rid of chlorine, odor and bad taste. However, water from these systems won’t have the slimy feel or strange taste that salt-based systems provide. On the other hand, some consider these systems to be not as effective as the elements are not eliminated from the water. However, these elements do have health benefits if exposed to them in moderation.

Also, results may not be as instantaneous as with a salt-based system. While a number of these systems use electricity to operate, the wide variety on offer means there are electricity-free options on the market. You may need to be patient with salt-free systems as they could take a short amount of time to become effective.

The best situation to use a salt-based system in would be one in which the hard water levels in your home are very high. Having your water tested is the best way to determine this. Generally, a salt-free water softener is best for those who want an affordable solution to a hard water issue with little to no maintenance involved.

There are pros and cons to each type of system and the right choice for you depends on several things: your particular home circumstances, your budget, and your tastes. A water analysis is a great place to start. However, if you don’t want a system that requires maintenance and upkeep, the salt-based water softener may not be the best choice. Also, the feel and taste of the water that comes out of the systems is a personal preference. Be sure to sample this as well before making the selection that is right for you.

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