The Truth: Salt -vs- Salt Free Water Softeners

by Admin on October 31, 2012

I am asked every day: “What is the difference between a Salt Free and Salt Based water softener?” In many cases we are led to believe both work the same, and the only difference is that one doesn’t use salt. This really isn’t the truth. So here’s the scoop:

Salt Based Water Softeners

Let’s take a look at how this system works. Water Softening by definition is REMOVING Calcium (Ca2+) and Magnesium (Mg2+) from the water through a process called ion exchange using a polymer resin bed which gives off a sodium particle in exchange for hardness minerals.

A water test would show this type of result –  Before treatment 10 grains/gallon, results after treatment 0 grains/gallon. The system works great.

Salt based water softeners use an electronic metered valve mounted atop a fiberglass resin tank that meter water by the gallon and then run a cleaning cycle when the ion resin bed reaches a saturation point. During the cleaning cycle, the electronic valve cycles a series of back flushes to purge the hardness particulates that have been captured from the system and flush them down a drain line. The sodium is also replenished in the resin bed during the cycle and all is ready to go again.

Salt Free Water Softeners – Descale Treatment

In the process above (true water softening), hardness minerals are actually removed from the water. In the salt-free process minerals are retained in the water, but their form is changed so they will not adhere to surfaces.

Water is processed through a catalytic media using a physical process called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). What happens is the hardness minerals are converted to a hardness crystal that is not able to bind to surfaces. This is actually water conditioning, not softening.

A water test would show this result: Before treatment 10 grains/gallon, result post/treatment 10 grains/gallon. Again, The hardness is still there… just changed so it won’t adhere to surfaces.

There is no electrical valve needed on a salt-free system because the system works as a conditioner and never captures anything therefore eliminating the need to purge any minerals.

Which System Will You Be Happy With?

So, now you are asking yourself: “Okay, now I know the difference in the technology and how it works…but what system will I be happy with?”

Even though both systems are set-up to take care of the water hardness issue of scaling, this is where the difference in the technologies become more apparent.

Salt-Based Water Softeners will  give you more of the “slick” feeling of the water in the shower and you will notice the soap creating more bubbles. The reason and what many water experts will tell you is “this is the feeling of being clean.” This is due to the minerals being taken from the water and no longer being present to dry your skin. Other benefits you’ll see include keeping brighter colors in your clothes with the abrasive minerals no longer present. Is your skin feeling dry? Are you getting scale build-up on shower doors/glassware? Are your clothes dingy? Do you want to use less soap?  A salt water softener would be your better choice.

Salt-Free Water Conditioners create hardness crystals but leave minerals present in the water. The crystals won’t adhere to surfaces so you will see a reduction in scale build up. You may see less soap usage and possibly brighter laundry. The main benefit you receive from a salt free system is the maintenance free aspect. No electricity, no waste water, and no salt/chemicals.  Are you getting build-up on shower doors/glassware?  Do your clothes not seem dingy? Do you NOT like the slick feeling of soft water?  Do you not want to deal with any salt/chemicals? You might consider salt free technology, as long as you are not expecting the same results as salt based technology. Salt based systems will outperform salt free for overall water softening.

The best way to tell what system you’ll be happy with is to have a water analysis done… and we can help you with that!

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