Explained: The Difference Between Salt-Based and Salt-Free Water Softeners
If you notice stains, watermarks and filmy residue on your sinks and bathtubs, you might have a problem with hard water. Hard water contains high levels of minerals such as calcium and magnesium and can cause problems in any household.
Luckily, there’s a great way to tackle this issue: purchasing and installing a water softener in your home.
A water softener helps increase the lifespan of your plumbing and water-using appliances, and even lowers your water bill. Heck, it can even soften your skin and hair.
Bear in mind that water softeners come in two different variants: salt-based and salt-free softeners. Many people believe that the only difference is that one doesn’t use salt, but that is far from the truth.
Each system has several distinctions that one must consider before purchasing. But which one is better? To answer this question, we must take a look at how each system works, the pros and cons for each and what situation each type is best suited for.
How Salt-Based Water Softeners Work
Salt-based water softeners turn hard water into “soft” water through a process called ion exchange. Using the electronic metered valve mounted atop the resin tank, the system measures water by the gallon before running a cleaning cycle. Once the resin bed reaches its saturation point, the cleaning cycle begins. During the cycle, a series of back flushes purge the trapped minerals and flushes them out of the system. When water flows through the resin bed inside the tank, salts like sodium and potassium chloride are exchanged with hardness-causing minerals (primarily calcium and magnesium), resulting in “soft” water. The salts are also replenished in the resin bed during the cycle and the system is ready to go again.
Should You Buy a Salt-Based Water Softener?
Salt-based softeners are designed to completely remove hardness-causing minerals from your water. As a result, you’ll probably notice little to no limescale buildup on fixtures and appliances in your home. You’ll also see your clothes appearing brighter and cleaner and your hair and skin no longer feeling dry and itchy. Other long-term benefits include more efficient and longer-lasting appliances as well as fewer repairs and plumbing maintenance. But despite all these great benefits, most salt-based softeners are more expensive than their salt-free counterparts in the long run and often require regular maintenance.
How Salt-Free Water Softeners Work
Unlike salt-based softeners which use ion exchange to remove hard water minerals from water, salt-free water softeners use a physical process known as Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). This process converts the hardness-causing minerals in the water to a hardness crystal that will not stick to any surface in your home. Again, keeping your appliances and hot water heaters free of hard water scale build up. Salt-free softeners are also known as water conditioners because they do not actually “soften” the water; They condition (or neutralize) it. And because these types of systems do not trap any minerals, there’s no need for a cleaning cycle to remove captured ions.
Should You Buy a Salt-Free Water Softener?
On average, a salt-free softener is usually less expensive than a salt-based softener in the long run and is very easy to install once you have the right equipment. Also, this type of system requires less maintenance since no electricity is needed to run the cleaning cycle and no water is wasted when purging the minerals from the resin bed. And as easy as that, you can save on your water and electricity bills. If you’re health-conscious (as you should be), you’ll appreciate the fact that no added salts are used in the softening process.
In terms of overall water “softening”, you’ll probably be happier with a salt-based system if you prefer a slippery feel to the water. Or if you are concerned about wasting water and adding salt back into your environment than a salt free system is the choice. Both types of systems are designed to combat the negative effects of hard water. If you are more concerned with price, a salt-free system may work for you, if you find you can’t live without that slippery feel to the water than maybe a salt based system is the answer. At the end of the day either system will eliminate the negative effects of hard water it is just preference on which technology you decide to go with.