Do Salt-Free Water Softeners Live Up to Marketing Claims?

Photo of salt pellets for water softeners.

Salt-based or salt-free water softeners: which are the better option?

Saltless water softeners claim to deliver the same results without the size and hassle of salt-based systems. These salt-free setups promise no more large salt tank taking up room, no more spending money on salt bags, and no more back pain from hauling them home to refill the system. Sounds great, right? So, how do they really measure up?

The truth is that salt-free water softeners aren’t water softeners, don’t provide many of the same benefits that salt-based systems do, and aren’t certified to meet industry standards. Here’s a breakdown of how they compare and why a salt-based system is a better investment.

For a broader overview of softeners in general, click here to visit our complete water softener guide.


Salt-Free Water Softeners Don’t Soften Water

Despite having “water softener” right in the name, salt-free water softeners aren’t actually water softeners and don’t give you soft water. They’re actually just water conditioners, and they do nothing to reduce water hardness.

Water hardness results from excess mineral content in the water, like calcium and magnesium. A salt-based water softener removes those minerals, thus lowering the hardness and creating softer water. On the other hand, a salt-free system works by crystallizing calcium, but not removing it.

If you’re wondering whether that defeats the whole purpose of buying a water softener, you’re on the right track.

A Salt-Free System Lacks Most of a Water Softener’s Benefits

Since a salt-free system crystallizes the calcium in your water, the calcium won’t be able to adhere to the insides of your pipes. That reduces scale buildup in your plumbing, which is the only benefit which a salt-free system offers. This falls far short of the many benefits a real water softener.

Infographic comparing salt vs salt free water softeners.

A salt-based water softener actually removes minerals like calcium and magnesium from your water, giving you soft water. Benefits from a salt-based system include:

  • Preventing scale buildup
  • Softer, healthier skin and hair
  • No stains on dishes and laundry
  • Reducing the amount of cleaning and hygiene products you use
  • Increasing the efficiency of water-using appliances

Overall, a salt-based water softener saves you money and gives you more pleasant water. So, what do industry regulators think of these two types of systems?

Only Salt-Based Water Softeners Meet Industry Standards

In Illinois, the Department of Public Health sets codes that all newly-constructed buildings must meet. This includes regulations on what types of equipment can be installed within. For example, all water softeners have to meet NSF/ANS 44—which salt-free systems do not meet.

Only salt-based water softeners are certified by the NSF and can meet NSF/ANS 44. Only salt-based systems can legally be installed in new construction projects. If a system doesn’t even meet industry standards and building codes, why would you bother?

The choice is clear: only a salt-based water softener is proven to provide softer water, healthier skin, and no scale buildup or soap scum. We at Angel Water have been installing and servicing water softeners in Barrington, IL and the Chicago area for decades, and have the hands-on experience necessary to give you the system you deserve. Give us a call at (847) 382-7800 and talk to a water expert today!

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