One of the bigger scams in the water treatment industry are products marketed as “salt-less water softener”. Many companies make outrageous claims saying that their salt-free system is as effective as a sodium water softener and more eco-friendly.
We want to set the record straight and give you the truth about these systems so you can make an informed decision.
Be Very Cautious About Products Marketed as a “Salt-less Water Softener”
First, and foremost, nothing will soften water as effectively as a traditional ion-exchange water softener. Period.
Traditional water softeners take hard water and pass it through a resin bed. The resin exchanges the hard water particles, like calcium and magnesium, with sodium to create soft water. These systems can take the hardest water in the world and bring it down to less than 1 grain of hardness.
You might see products marketed as “salt-free water softeners” on Amazon or online stores. However, it is important to do research on these products as most are nowhere near as effective as traditional water softeners and will end up costing you a lot more in the long run.
Read the user reviews and do research on their claims. Most of these systems have extremely poor reviews and some even claim they are dangerous to use. Here is the top review of an FDA approved salt-less water softener on Amazon.
Are Salt-less Water Softeners Really Eco-Friendly?
One of the main reasons people are so curious about salt-free water softeners is that they believe they are eco-friendly. However, that may not be the case.
Most products that market themselves as salt-free water softeners are typically made up of filter cartridges. These cartridges are rated for a certain amount of water usage before they need to be replaced.
These filters are not recyclable which means that every few weeks you are throwing them away to sit in a landfill.
They also are not as effective in softening water as traditional sodium water softeners which means you will be using more soap and detergent to clean your clothes, dishes, and yourself. It will also lead to a shorter lifespan for your water-using appliances.
What About Salt-less Water Conditioners?
While there aren’t any effective salt-less water softeners, there are salt-less water conditioners. The term "water conditioner" encompasses a very broad range of products, here are some of the main types of water conditioners.
- Electrically induced precipitation uses a direct electrical current to precipitate water hardness and other compounds. The hardness precipitate forms on an electrode that must be cleaned periodically. Some studies have shown that precipitate forms a soft sludge on surfaces, such as a heating element, that is easily removable by fast-flowing water near the surface.
- Electrochemical water treatment systems induce the removal of dissolved hardness minerals and other contaminants using electricity. The technology goes by several names: continuous electrolytic deionization, capacitive deionization or electrically regenerated ion exchange. The introduction of a negatively charged electrode, or cathode, into the water will cause positively charged cations to move towards it.
- Template-assisted crystallization uses surface-treated resin beads to convert (not remove) dissolved hardness ions to microscopic scale-resistant crystals. The polymeric beads are fluidized creating agitation that releases the microscopic crystals and allows for further formation of crystals. Once these crystals are formed and released from the beads, they are insoluble particles that will not form scale on surfaces.
- Magnetic water treatment, or the use of magnets and electromagnetic devices for water treatment, is a controversial method. The approach is to pass the hard water through a magnetic field in order to form microscopic precipitates that do not form scale on water heaters, pipes, and other plumbing fixtures. There is no scientific consensus as to the effectiveness of magnetic water treatment and as to its removal mechanisms. Thus magnetic water treatment, unlike the other technologies described above, should be regarded as an unproven technology.
The Differences Between Conditioners and Softeners
Water conditioners do not remove the hardness particles from the water like a water softener. They change the ions of hard water so that they won’t scale or build up in your pipes.
However, even the best conditions will not be 100% effective in doing this and they can only change the ions for a certain amount of time. At some point, the water will return to its original form and scaling will occur.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the water still hard and still has calcium and magnesium in it. So when you bathe you will still have the dry and brittle feeling on your skin from hard water. Also, water that is left to sit and dry in your sink, on your dishes, and in your appliances will show the scale and hard water build-up.
A benefit of a water conditioner is that some water conditions have media in their tank that will remove additional chemicals like chlorine from your drinking water. They also typically do not waste any water in the regeneration process.
Water Softener Technology Has Come a Long Way
Some people are lead to believe that a traditional water softener needlessly wastes water and energy. However, that is not the case.
water softener control valves have come along way in the past several decades. They are now able to automatically gauge and adjust regeneration times and the amount of water it uses for regeneration to be as efficient as possible.
They also use very little energy. The amount of electricity a water softener control valve uses would be equivalent to an alarm clock.
Don't be fooled by cheap marketing gimmicks. Make sure you know the facts and do your research before investing in a salt-less water softener system.