Salt-Free Vs Salt-Based Water Softeners: Pros & Cons

Access to good quality water for domestic use is essential for drinking as well as cooking and other household chores. However, if you receive your water from a private well or a small community system in a mineral-prone area, the water is bound to be hard. It may be comprised of  heavy metals such as iron, zinc, or manganese that stain or have an unpleasant taste.  The water could also contain minerals that create a hard scale which make cleaning and bathing difficult.  These metals and minerals need to be treated to make the water potable and fit for use.  Water treatment options may include traditional salt-based water softeners or salt-free water conditioners. There are limitations for each of these options and this article will cover some of the common questions the homeowner might have.

Salt-based water softeners can be used to remove both the hardness minerals and metals commonly found in water. On the other hand, salt-free water softeners do not actually remove the hardness of water, rather they condition it. This post discusses the working of salt-free or salt-based water softeners, and which system would work best for the end user.

Salt-free vs Salt-based Water Softener


Pros and Cons of Salt-Free or No Salt Water Softeners

Here are some pros of no-salt water conditioners:

  • Does not require the addition of salt
  • Does not require electricity to operate.
  • Does not backwash or regenerate which would waste water.
  • In this process, no ion exchange process is utilized (sodium for hardness mineral ions). The water is not actually softened but the hard minerals are transformed to crystals.
  • Technically, the water remains hard but the properties are altered and hence, they do not adhere on to surfaces and create scale. In fact, the process can remove some of the existing scale found in plumbing and appliances.
  • This process actually conditions the water and does not soften it.
  • This system maintenance is less expensive and has zero maintenance compared to salt-based systems.
  • There are more options for installation and the installation is generally less expensive since running an extra waste line nor electricity is required.
  • This is considered a green technology that is eco-friendly.

Here are some cons of salt-free water softeners:

  • This process conditions the water, so the softened (at times stated as slimily) feel will not be there on your hands after you wash them or even after you wash your hair.
  • Since the minerals are not removed, a dusting of these mineral may be found on utensils and glassware after running a dishwasher. This can be wiped or rinsed off easily.
  • The media is very expensive and has a finite life. Depending on the hardness level, it may last from 2-6 years. The costs associated with replacement is roughly the same amount that would be spent on salt.
  • All chlorine, hydrogen sulfide, and all metals must be removed of it will drastically reduce the life of the media

Pros and Cons of Salt-based Water Softeners

Here are some pros of salt-based water softeners:

  • Softeners can address both staining metals and hard minerals unlike the conditioner that can address only calcium and magnesium mainly.
  • Salt-based water softeners actually remove all the nuancing metals and hard minerals from the water to make it soft. Dishes and laundry require less detergent and look better after being cleaned compared with other options.
  • Softening uses an ion exchange process wherein sodium particles are exchanged for hard minerals and metals.
  • This eliminates issues such as deposits on faucets and utensils, frizzy hair after hair wash, rough hands, and strong flavor of hard water.
  • These can be used and pretreatment is not required for chlorine, hydrogen sulfide and metals. The process will not remove hydrogen sulfide and other treatment options may be required for elevated iron and manganese levels.
  • The typical life of the resin is 10 years. However, if it is properly maintained, the resin can last twenty years or longer.

Here are some cons of salt-based water softeners:

  • Softeners require regular maintenance of adding salt and at time a conditioner to keep the resin working properly. Failing to do so can result in premature fouling rendering the system useless
  • The cleaning cycle is long and a lot of water is being wasted in this method. If the waste water runs onto the ground, it can kill grass, plans, and other vegetation. Some municipalities are considering banning salt-based softeners as the waste treatment plants cannot treat the high TDS levels.
  • Installation could be an issue if the waste line has to be run under a sidewalk or driveway. Running electricity to the install site could be expensive and needs to be taken into consideration very early.

Yes, there are other treatment options and a there are a few more pros and cons for each technology that are a little too technical to cover here.  If you are looking for water softeners/conditioners for residential use or even on a larger residential complex, these can be the perfect solution for good quality and safe water. If yes, ensure you approach a reliable player such as Intec America, which offers safe water treatment solutions for domestic consumption. They offer end-to-end solutions for residential water treatment systems, such as water filtration, UV disinfection, water softening, pH control, reverse osmosis, and emerging technologies for water treatment.

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