Traditional Water Softeners Vs. Salt-Free Water Softeners: What's The Real Difference?

Hard water is a common annoyance in homes. It makes it difficult to lather soap onto your skin, can cause limescale buildup in your home's plumbing, and can make your tap water taste awful.

If you're tired of dealing with the hard water in your home, you've probably thought about purchasing a water softener system. However, the prospect of periodically refilling them with heavy bags of salt, and having a higher water bill due to their needed brine cycles might sound unappealing. Thankfully, there's an alternative available that avoids both of these problems: salt-free water softeners. Here's how they work.

Understanding Hard Water

First, you'll need to understand a little about what hard water is, and what causes its negative effects. Hard water refers to water with a very high concentration of calcium and magnesium ions. Ground water picks these ions up from the surrounding rock as it flows around its aquifer. The calcium and magnesium ions are responsible for limescale formation, reducing lather, and making your water taste unpalatable.

How Do Water Softeners Fix Hard Water?

Water softeners work on the principle of ionic exchange. The salt that you fill them with replaces the magnesium and calcium ions in the water with sodium ions. The end result is soft water.

This approach leads to the downsides of a traditional water softener. You need to periodically fill them with salt, because all of the sodium ions in the salt end up flowing into your home. Brine flushes are necessary in order to remove the waste magnesium and calcium ions.

What's Different About Salt-Free Water Softeners?

Salt-free water softeners are commonly referred to as conditioners rather than softeners. They don't create soft water in the technical sense. All of the calcium and magnesium ions in the water are still there at the end of the process.

Instead of replacing the magnesium and calcium ions, a salt-free water softener uses polyphosphates. Polyphosphates react with the calcium and magnesium in hard water and binding them. This keeps them soluble in the water, and prevents them from forming scale on your pipes. Since they can't bind to anything, they're eventually flushed into the sewer system.

Since there's no salt to consume or excess calcium and magnesium to flush from the softening process, you don't have to refill them with salt or waste any water with brine cycles. In fact, they don't even need electricity. The process simply requires water to flow through the filter. They also remove sediment and chlorine, which improves the taste of your tap water.

Ultimately, a salt-free water softener allows you to negate the harmful effects of hard water without the need to use salt or waste water with the traditional softening process. If you'd like a solution to your home's hard water problem that is easy to maintain, it's a good idea to go salt-free.