Pros and Cons to Buying a Salt-Based vs. Salt-Free Water Softener

Salt Based and Salt free Water Softener systems

From limescale build up in appliances and on dishes to dry and dull skin and hair, the problems caused by hard water around your home are pretty obvious. What is not so obvious is the solution to softening your entire home’s water in an affordable and convenient manner. By now you have probably done enough research to understand a water softener is the solution to hard water, but have seen misleading information online or from friends and family about whether a salt-free or salt-based water softener is best for your home. That is why we are providing information on the difference between the two systems and the pros and cons to buying each one.

How Salt-Based Water Softeners Work

Water softening literally means you are removing the hardness causing minerals (mainly calcium and magnesium) from the water through a process called ion exchange. Salt-based water softeners contain a resin bed which filters the water through, exchanging those hardness minerals for sodium particles. When the resin bed has reached a saturation point, the cleaning cycle (or regeneration) begins wherein a series of back flushes purge the trapped minerals and flushes them out of the system. The sodium particles are replenished as well and the system continues to soften.

Pros of Buying a Salt-Based Water Softener

Because salt-based water softeners actually remove the hardness causing minerals from the water, they outperform the salt-free systems. All of the advantages of softened water are present in a salt-based system: no scaling on fixtures or appliances, bright and hydrated hair and skin, spot-free dishes, bright and soft clothes, and less soap use across the home. Other long term benefits include more efficient and longer-lasting appliances as well as less repairs and plumbing maintenance.

Cons of Buying a Salt-Based Water Softener

Most salt-based water softeners are more expensive than their salt-free counterparts and require maintenance to clean out the resin bed and replenish the salt. Unfortunately there is water “wasted” during regeneration and the resin bed will need to be replaced every five to ten years.

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How Salt-Free Water Softeners Work

Salt-free water softeners do not use ion exchange to remove the hardness minerals like salt-based water softeners do. Instead, the water is processed through a catalytic media using a physical process called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). The minerals’ form is changed to a hardness crystal that does not adhere to surfaces. These systems do not actually “soften” the water, they simply condition it. And because these types of systems do not capture any materials, there is no need for a cleaning cycle to remove trapped components.

Pros of Buying a Salt-Free Water Softener

The main advantage of buying a salt-free water softener over a salt-based water softener is that there is less maintenance. You also won’t need to use electricity to run the cleaning cycle and won’t create waste water when purging the minerals from the resin bed. On average, the cost of a salt-free system is cheaper than a salt-based one and installation can be done yourself with the proper equipment. And because you are using electricity and magnets to “soften” the water, there is no added sodium to your diet.

Cons of Buying a Salt-Free Water Softener

At the end of the day salt-free water softener do not remove the dissolved rock and minerals from your water, they alter the chemical structure of water minerals through the descaling process to prevent solids from building up around your home. But in places where you water sits, like the water heater, you will still get a buildup of limescale. These types of systems are also slower to operate because they rely on electro-magnets to change the chemical composition of the water, versus simple filtering the water through a resin bed.

The sophistication of salt-based water softeners on the market today make them the best performing choice. Most systems are highly efficient and allow you to reuse and recycle up to 30% of your salt, while using 50% less salt than their older counterparts. But if you are still concerned with the “disadvantages,” you should consider a complete home water refiner. These systems include the deionization process while also removing sediments, bacteria and other contaminants in your home’s water. Talk with a Guardian water expert by scheduling a free in-home water analysis and see which system is best for your unique needs.