What Are The Differences Between Salt And No Salt Water Softeners?

A salt-free water purifier with a blue tube and a blue bottle.

Are you wondering about the differences between salt and non-salt water softeners? Many people think that they work exactly the same but that isn’t actually how it works. While there are differences between how each type of system works, keep in mind that you’ll be able to basically achieve the same benefits no matter which type you choose for your home.

With that said, let’s take a look at what the differences are between these two kinds of water softeners.

Water Softeners Using Salt

Ion exchange is the process used to soften water. This is a process where magnesium and calcium are removed from water. Magnesium and calcium are the elements that cause hard water.

Technically speaking, here is what happens: A resin tank made of fiberglass is used that has a metered valve on top of it. Sodium is released via an ion resin bed that is used throughout the cleaning cycle. The electronic valve helps to get rid of any hard minerals during the cleaning cycle by flushing them through a drain line. As the system cycles, sodium gets replenished so that the process can repeat.

Water Softeners Without Salt

Keep in mind that a saltless water softener doesn’t actually remove the hard minerals from water like the salt-based softeners do. This means that hard minerals such as calcium and magnesium are technically still present in the water. The process is actually called water conditioning because the form of the hard minerals is changed, resulting in their future inability to build up on surfaces.

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Which System Should You Use?

The main question you must ask is which process does your situation call for? Once you know that, it makes it easier to decide which system to use. Remember that both types of systems are used to handle water hardness. They both work to help eliminate hard water’s propensity to cause buildup on surfaces.

Using a salt-based water softener results in a situation where soap bubbles up more easily in the shower. Your water will have more of a slick-type feeling to it.

The reason it feels this way is because those hard minerals are no longer present. Without those minerals, your skin no longer feels like it is getting dried out. You might also notice that your clothes stay brighter once you start using softened water. Here are the situations that necessitate a salt-based water softener:

  • You’re noticing scaling or buildup on your shower glassware and/or door
  • You’d like to lessen the amount of soap needed to feel “clean”
  • Your skin feels too dry
  • The colors of your clothes don’t look as bright anymore

A saltless water softener that conditions your water doesn’t remove the hard minerals. Those minerals are still present in your water. However, you’ll notice less scale buildup, your clothes will stay bright longer and you may not need as much soap in the shower or when washing your hands.

The big benefit this process offers is less maintenance when compared to salt-based systems. You eliminate any waste water and there aren’t any chemicals or salt used. Here are situations that may cause you to use a salt-free water conditioner:

  • Your clothes are losing their color
  • You’re seeing shower door buildup
  • You don’t want your water to end up having that slick feeling to it
  • You’d rather avoid the use of salt or chemicals in the process
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Keep in mind that you won’t get the exact same results using a water conditioner as you will a salt-based water softener. For actual water softening, the best option to choose is the salt-based water softener system.

Pros of Salt-Based Water Softeners

  • Salt-based water softeners are guaranteed to completely remove the hard water minerals such as magnesium and calcium
  • It lessens the possibility of hard deposits inside your piping, ensuring that you have less blockages and expensive plumbing fixes
  • You’ll notice that any water-based appliances, such as a washing machine, last longer
  • If you like more bubbles in the shower, you’ll find that soap lathers up more easily, due to that slick feeling
  • You’ll no longer experience any lime-scale buildup. This eliminates the annoyance of sticky residue on your surfaces

Cons of Salt-Based Water Softeners

  • These systems need more maintenance when compared to salt-free systems
  • This option will cost more money to install
  • There are ongoing expenses associated with these systems, such as the need to buy salt

Pros of Salt-Free Water Softeners

Remember that many people will not consider a salt-free system to be an actual water softener system. The reason is that these systems don’t remove the hard minerals. That’s why you’ll hear these systems referred to as water conditioners.

However, they come with results, which is what we’re actually looking for at the end of the day. Here are the pros of salt-free systems:

  • This is a great option if you’d rather not use a system that includes the use of chemicals
  • These systems will normally come with lower price tags than salt-based water softener systems
  • Very easy to install. If you’re not mechanically inclined, you’ll find that some models are so easy to install that all you do is wrap wires around your pipes, secure them and plug everything in
  • With salt-free systems that use magnets or electricity to operate, there are almost zero costs involved in terms of maintenance (unless you use a system that operates with cartridges)
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Cons of Salt-Free Water Softeners

  • It’s highly likely that you’ll see results in less time with a salt-based system. This is because the salt-based water softener filtration process begins immediately. Since a salt-free water conditioning system uses electricity, it will typically take a bit longer to see it working
  • Some people don’t like this system because of the fact that the minerals causing hard water and scale buildup are still present in the water. Although you still get the same result as when using a salt-based system, you’ll need to make the call on this part of the decision

There is another important factor to consider with salt-based water softener systems. It’s possible that the taste of your water changes. Also, you may have a health condition that requires you to be careful about sodium intake levels. Here is how you can solve these issues:

  • You can turn off your water softener quite easily if you take the time to install a by-pass valve
  • Ask a plumber to by-pass your system to one single point of entry
  • If it’s the taste of the water that you don’t like after your system is put to use, use a water filter at the tap where you draw your drinking water from

As you can see, there is much to think about as you consider which of these two options is best for your personal needs. Don’t be overwhelmed, however. Use the above tips to think about the pros and cons of each. Then, make a decision and take action on the system of choice.

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