Salt Vs. Salt-Free Water Softeners – With or Without Salt?

Water Softeners are widely acknowledged as one of the systems that can handle hard water issues effectively and reduce the negative effects that it has on your clothes, your skin, your home’s water system, and the water-using appliances in your home like your washing machine, water heater and other appliances such as your shower doors.  

However, they are built in two types of systems: salt-based systems and salt-free systems.

Both of these systems treat hard minerals perfectly, but in this article, we will be discussing and differentiating them, intending to find the best option to use. 

But first, let’s define them and look at how they work. 

What is a Salt-Based Water Softener? 

Salt-Based Softeners are salt water softeners that remove hard water minerals like magnesium and calcium ions and replace them with sodium ions to produce soft water.

How Does a Salt-Based Water Softener Work?

Salt-Based Water Softeners use the ion exchange process to remove hard water ions like calcium and magnesium ions and release sodium particles into the water to soften it. 

These salt systems are built with two tanks: the resin tank and the brine tank.

The resin tank contains the resin beads which carry out the ion exchange process, while the brine tank contains water and salt — usually sodium chloride or potassium chloride. 

Water flows into the resin tank, which extracts the hard water minerals like calcium and magnesium minerals using the resin beads and releases sodium minerals into the water to carry out water softening. 

In traditional salt-based water softeners, once water softening has been carried for a particular time and the polymer resin bed reaches its saturation point, the softening system undergoes a cleaning cycle to tidy the resin tank up and do away with any particles of the hard mineral ions that might have been left behind during the softening process. 

During the cleaning cycle, the softener carries out a series of back flushes to wash away the trapped minerals using its electric metered valve. 

And once you use this water softening system to treat hard water, you are assured of eliminating hardness minerals that cause lime scale formation from your water.

You are also assured of using less soap, no more dry skin and hair after bathing and washing, extended lifespan of your water-using appliances, fewer repairs and less maintenance of your plumbing system, and the end of any other hard water problem.

However, people on a low sodium diet might not be comfortable with the level of sodium in the soft water which they will be drinking and using to cook daily.

What is a Salt-Free Water Softener?

Salt-free water softener systems, unlike their salt-based counterparts, do not need salt to treat the hardness of the water. 

And instead of softening water and removing the minerals responsible for the hardness level of the water, they condition the water and make it lose its scaling ability by crystallizing it. 

A common misconception is that because these systems are called water softeners, they can soften water, but in reality, they are salt-free water conditioners. 

These saltless water softeners condition water rather than soften it.  

How Does a Salt-Free Water Softener Work?

Salt-Free Water Softeners treat hard water using a catalytic media called the Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC) process. 

This salt-free process involves the treatment of hard water by flowing it through its tank that contains potassium and using polymeric beads to stick onto the hard materials like magnesium or calcium and undergo a reaction that crystalizes the hard minerals.

This physical process separates them from each other and turns them into a hardness crystal, making it impossible for them to build scales in your plumbing system when they are sent back. 

Salt-free water softeners can be likened to saltless water conditioners as they don’t treat hard water by removing its hard minerals and replacing them with salts like sodium ions but instead crystallizes them and change their form.

However, due to these salt-free water conditioners’ inability to remove these hard minerals or soften the hard water levels, you will still encounter some hard water issues like dry hair and skin after taking your bath and washing, dull look of your clothes after washing them, etc. 

It could also lead to regular maintenance of your plumbing system and other water-using appliances. 

Salt-Based Vs Salt-Free Water Softeners: What Are Their Differences?

Salt-Based Water SoftenersSalt-Free Water Softeners
Requires salt to treat waterDoesn’t require salt to treat water
Reduces carcinogenic radiumDoesn’t reduce carcinogenic radium 
Treats water using the ion exchange processTreats water using the Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC) process 
Gives your clothes a bright look after you wash them Gives your clothes a dull look after you wash them 
Gives your water a slippery and slick feelDoesn’t give your clothes a slippery and slick feel 
Softens Hard waterConditions Hard Water 
Produces wastewaterDoesn’t produce waste water 
Built with two tanksBuilt with one tank 
Occupies more space at homeOccupies less space at home 
Are all certified by National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International, hence are more dependable.Not all are certified with National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International, hence are less dependable 
Requires electricity to workDoesn’t require electricity to work 

Salt-Based Water Softeners: 

• Gives your water a slippery and slick feel 

• Built with two tanks

• Reduces carcinogenic radium

• Requires salt to treat water

•Requires electricity to work

• Gives your clothes a bright look

• Occupies more space at home

• Treats water using the ion exchange process 

• Softens hard water

• Produces wastewater

• Are all certified by National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International, hence are more dependable.

Salt-Free Water Softeners:

• Doesn’t give your water a slippery and slick feel

• Built with one tank

• Doesn’t reduce carcinogenic radium 

• Doesn’t require salt to treat water

 •Doesn’t require electricity to work

• Gives your clothes a dull look

• Occupies less space at home

• Treats water using the Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC) process

• Conditions Hard water

• Doesn’t produce wastewater

•Not all are certified by National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International, hence are less dependable

Salt-Based Vs Salt-Free Water Softeners: Which One Should You Use?

When looking at both water treatment systems, it is safe to say salt-based water softeners are a better option because they can provide a healthier water supply to your home than the salt-free option and have other enormous benefits. 

Another feature that stands out about the salt-based softener is the ion exchange process, which eliminates hard water, unlike its salt-free counterparts. 

But, this doesn’t dispute the fact that salt-free softeners are also a great way of solving hard water issues, as they prevent the formation of buildup in your plumbing system perfectly. 

However, you can know which of these systems is the best option for your home by carrying out a water test or hiring the services of water industry experts to conduct a water analysis on your home.