Are Saltless Softeners an Urban Myth? 


If you have hard water, you are likely to have considered a water softener for your home. There are many different water softener systems available, and they use sodium chloride as a form of ion exchange. While there are some models which claim to be “salt-free softeners” these products are descalers, NOT water softeners. So is a salt-free softener a myth?Are Saltless Softeners an Urban Myth?

What is a Descaler?

A descaler or “saltless water conditioner” is not the same as a water softener. This type of device is often used for city water and is used to prevent the deposit of dissolved minerals inside appliances and pipes. Scale can form where water sits either in plumbing, water using appliances or fixtures. The crystals contained in the scale bond together and weave into long threads like dendritic crystal, which can be hard and brittle, making it tough to remove. When a descaler is used, the catalytic or electromagnetic charge changes the characteristics of the crystals, making them smoother, so they do not bond and can be easily washed away.

Why a Descaler is Not a Softener

The primary confusion occurs when descalers are marketed as a salt-free softener. This is deceiving since the very definition of a softener is that it reduces water hardness levels.  Conventional softeners use ion exchange to remove dissolved minerals such as magnesium and calcium which are creating increased hardness. During this process, the sodium ions are exchanged for the unwanted magnesium and calcium ions. A salt- less system does not operate in this way, so it should not be called a softener.

“Salt-free softeners” are often systems which are designed to reduce chemicals and sediment in the water. The system may use a similar looking tank to a standard water softener, which can add to the deception, but while descaling will improve the water quality, it will not reduce the hardness levels and produce the desired effects.

Although a descaler or salt-free system will reduce scale, this does not deliver all of the benefits of softened water. And while reducing the scale will provide some protection to your water using appliances and pipes, you will not enjoy the improved texture of truly softened water.

What About Potassium Chloride Softeners?

There are some models of softener that use potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride. This technically does make the softener salt free. Unfortunately, while this type of system will reduce hard water dissolved minerals, potassium is 30% less efficient and costs five times more compared to sodium chloride. This will dramatically increase your running costs while failing to deliver the same standard of water treatment.

Improving the Efficiency of Your Softener

If you are concerned about the amount of salt your water softener is using, it is possible to improve the efficiency. There are some excellent innovations including high-efficiency technology available on new models. These types of systems can use as much as 50% less salt compared to a conventional water softener. There are also systems that have features which allow for salt to be reused and recycled.

You should also look for a system which offers “on demand” softening. This type of system measures the volume of water being used in the household and can self-clean accordingly.

You may also wish to consider pretreating your water supply. For example, if your water has high iron levels, this could be filtered out using a chemical free filter system before it is softened. Since iron can significantly increase the salt required for softening, this simple step can dramatically reduce salt consumption.

About The Author, Terry Reeh, EcoWater Systems of Nebraska:

With more than 25 years experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Terry is a WQA (Water Quality Association) certified water specialist, LEVEL 3, as well as a WQA certified sales representative.  Terry currently sits on EcoWater Systems (a Berkshire Hathaway Company) national Peers committee, as a water treatment expert  advising other water professionals with less experience on best trade and technology practices. EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is one of the biggest water treatment and water delivery businesses in the state.  

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