Hard Water

Salt-based water softeners sometimes get a negative reaction from the water quality industry. Increased water and electricity consumption, constant maintenance, and continuous purchase of chemicals and salt have made several homeowners step back from using these water softeners.

A possible alternative to salt-based water softeners is saltless water softeners. These softeners tend to be less expensive than their salt-based counterparts. Not to forget there is no wastage of water and electricity, no maintenance, and best of all, no salt. But do saltless water softeners work?

Continue reading to find out your answer.

Salt-Based Water Softener

A salt-based water softener uses a process known as ion exchange to remove the minerals that result in hard water. Such minerals include magnesium and calcium.

Here’s how these water softeners work:

A regular salt-based water softener comprises two tanks, namely the resin tank and the brine tank. The resin tank has a metered valve on top and is filled with tiny resin beads. The brine tank contains a brine mix of water and salt.

Hard water enters the resin tank. The resin beads eliminate the hard water minerals to soften the water. The now softened water is sent to your house for you to use.

The resin beads can only collect a fixed amount of magnesium and calcium before they have to be cleaned. This is what the brine tank is for. After every few days, the water and salt solution from the brine tank goes into the resin tank, where the sodium cleans the resin and is then washed away.

Saltless Water Softener

The term saltless water softener is slightly misleading. This is due to the fact a saltless water softener doesn’t soften the water. Rather, they condition the water by crystallizing the magnesium and calcium ions to prevent them from forming scale within a plumbing system. Thus, the right term would be saltless water conditioners.

As opposed to salt-based systems, saltless water conditioners comprise only a single tank containing small particles of potassium. A chemical reaction occurs that crystallizes the magnesium and calcium particles when hard water flows through the potassium particles. Then the water goes back into your plumbing system, where it will not be able to form scale.

Do Saltless Water Conditioners Work?

To answer this question, we will need to take a look at the pros and cons of saltless water conditioners.

Pros of Saltless Water Conditioners

There are many advantages of saltless water conditioners that set them apart from conventional water softeners.

  1. Reduced Maintenance
    Saltless water conditioners are quite low-maintenance systems. The installation is fairly simple as the systems comprise either a cartridge or a single tank. As water conditioners don’t backwash or go through regeneration cycles, they don’t require drain connections. Plus, they don’t need storage tanks to regenerate brine or control valves to manage the flow and initiate backwashing cycles.

    Lastly, saltless water softeners don’t need any electricity to run, helping you cut back on energy bills.

  2. Diverse Applications
    If you don’t wish to install a whole-house system, scale inhibitors are available in a variety of flow rates and cartridge sizes. This means you can install a single anti-scale filter cartridge in front of your tankless water heater, or line with your other water filtration systems.

    If you need a whole-house system with more comprehensive filtration abilities, a saltless conditioner and whole-house chlorine reduction system are available. This won’t just prevent the accumulation of scale and enhance the odor and taste of your water supply. Rather, the removal of chloramines and chlorine will also secure the crystallization media and increase the life of the system.

  3. Eco-Friendly
    As saltless water conditioners don’t go through regeneration cycles, they don’t result in any wastewater. They do not dump chlorides into the waste stream, which can put a huge strain on municipal water treatment plants. Moreover, they also save water as all the water processed by the water conditioner goes directly into your tankless heater or home.

Cons of Saltless Water Conditioners

Even though they do have their own set of pros, there are multiple downsides to water conditioners.

  1. No Removal of Minerals
    Saltless water conditioners don’t eliminate the dissolved minerals and rock from your water. Rather, they only change the chemical structure of water minerals via the descaling process to stop solids from building up in your house. However, in places where your water sits, such as the water heater, there will still be a buildup of limescale. Such kinds of systems also operate more slowly as they depend on electro-magnets to alter the chemical composition of water, as opposed to simply filtering the water through a resin bed.

Which One to Use?

Now, the question is if you should use a salt-based water softener or a saltless water conditioner.

Salt-Based Water Softener
Salt-based water softeners are going to give you more of the “slick” feeling of the water when you shower. This is because the minerals are being taken from the water and are no longer present to dry up your skin. Other benefits you might see include brighter colors in your clothes. A salt water softener will be your best choice if

  • You want to prevent your clothes from becoming dull
  • Your skin from feeling dry
  • You are experiencing scale buildup on glassware

Saltless Water Conditioners
Saltless water conditioners create hardness crystals but don’t remove minerals from the water. The crystals will not adhere to the surface, so you will witness a reduction in the scale buildup. The key benefit you will get from a saltless system is the low-maintenance aspect. A saltless conditioner will be your best choice if

  • You want to keep the scale from forming on plumbing
  • You wish to have a low-maintenance system


We hope this article helped you understand the difference between saltless water conditioners and salt-based water softeners and make the right pick for your needs and requirements.

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