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Water Softeners: With Salt and Without Salt – Which One To Choose?

For a long time, most homes have been using the salt-based water softener for their home water softening needs

…until recently when the salt-free models were introduced into the market.

And now nobody’s quite sure which of the two models will reliably, efficiently, and smoothly soften their household water.

If you’re also confused on which water softener to choose or your home, this post is for you.

I’ll discuss with you everything you need to know about the two water softeners (including their pros and cons) to make it easier for you to select the most suitable one for your needs.

Let’s start with the salt based model…

Salt-based Water Softeners

These are the most popular systems on the market today, probably because they hit the market earlier than their counterparts.

Their water softening mechanism involves removing the minerals that cause the hardness, a via a process known as ion exchange…that is hard minerals (usually magnesium and calcium) in the water exchange places with softer minerals (sodium or salt).

For the entire process to be successful, these units use resin beds which actually make the sodium ions available for exchange with magnesium and calcium.

As you might have noted, most of these units usually come with a metered valve- located on the top of the fiber glass resin tank. The valve is tasked with metering water (in gallons) and cleaning up the unit when resin bed hits a given saturation point.

The clean-up bit is important as it gets rid of the hardness minerals that have been trapped during the previous softening sessions plus it allows for replenishing of sodium in the resin compartment.

It’s also worth noting that salt-based systems require regular refilling with salt to keep working efficiently, and base their softening in the “regeneration” periods.

A simple turning on and off of the knob puts the system on and off respectively.

If you’re observing sodium levels in your diet, you might argue that this is not the right unit for you. But that’s not really true; you can install a filter that efficiently removes up to 99.99% of all the ions present in your water. Problem solved?

Benefits of using salt-based water softeners:

  • They completely eliminate all the hardness in water before you can utilize it
  • They've got a longer lifespan with excellent service delivery (some can go for as long as 15 years!)
  • They extend the life of your water using appliance and plumbing lines
  • Say goodbye to limescale formation on your sinks, bathtubs, shower heads, etc.

Cons of salt-based water softeners:

  • Most of the units are pricey (but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a unit with a limited budget)
  • Regular maintenance required
  • Frequent refilling of salt means you’ll have to incur extra expenses to keep it going

And now to the salt-free units…

Salt-Free Water Softeners

As their name implies, these units do not require you to frequently refill them with salt for them to keep softening your home water.

So, how do they work?

It’s interesting to learn that they don’t actually remove the hardness minerals in your water. Instead, they alter their form such that they cannot stick to various surfaces and cause the build-up of limescale.

To alter the chemical structure of hard water, they usually utilize a physical process known as TAC (Template Assisted Crystallization) that converts the hardness minerals into some kind of hardness crystals that have no power to stick to any surface. This is more like conditioning the water.

With that said, it’s safe to say that these systems aren’t as effective as the salt-based models. It’s not a surprise that most homeowners regard them as water conditioners and not water softeners.

I also suggest that you don’t think of this type of water steer if the hardness in your household water is extremely high.

The fact that most of these systems come with a filter section means you can simply remove all the impurities in your water after the conditioning is done.

Benefits of using salt-free water softeners:

  • They cost less than water softeners
  • Because it doesn’t remove the hardness minerals in your water, it means you’ll be able to enjoy the health benefits associated with these minerals
  • It doesn’t use any chemicals in the softening process, making it a safer option
  • Extremely easy installation process; just connect the wires and plug the unit in
  • Because they use magnetic or electric technologies to soften water, they’ve low maintenance cost; no refilling of salts and replacement of cartridges

Cons of using salt-free water softeners:

  • They’re less effective compared to the salt based water softeners
  • The softened water doesn’t remain in this state for long. It gets hard after a period of time, say 24 hours
  • They’re usually slower than the salt using models with regard to the time they require to deliver the expected results

Salt-based vs Salt-free Water Softener- Which One Should You Pick?

That’s it! We have looked at the two popular categories of water softeners on the market today- the salt based and salt-free models. As you have seen from the above discussion, each of these models has its own unique working mechanism. Each comes with its set of advantages and a few downsides.

But the question is- which outperforms the other in softening your water?

Without a doubt, the salt-based model does an excellent job. It actually knocks out the minerals that cause water hardening.

This is unlike the salt-free models that let these minerals freely stay in your water, only with the limitation of adhering to the surfaces of your appliances and plumbing pipes and causing limescale.

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