Do saltless water softeners really work?
Saltless Water Softeners
If your home has hard tap water, you need to take action now to protect your pipes, water heater, and appliances from scaling. In other words, you need a water softener. In this article, we’ll break down what water softeners are and how they work, while also exploring the key differences between salt-based water softeners and salt-free water conditioners.
There’s no better time than the present to improve your home’s tap water. Here at King, our plumbers help Chicagoland homeowners filter and soften their water. Contact us today to get started.
Why do I need a water softener?
If your home has hard water—water with a high mineral content—you need a water softener. As the name suggests, water softeners “soften” hard water, removing its mineral content. Let’s discuss why this is so important.
The two main culprits in hard water are magnesium and calcium. Contrary to what many homeowners believe, hard water isn’t bad for your health—in fact, magnesium and calcium are vital minerals that your body needs to survive. However, they are bad for your pipes, your water heater, and your faucets and fixtures.
When mineral-rich water passes through the pipes of your home, some of this mineral content ends up adhering to the inside of the pipe. On its own, this is relatively insignificant: most of this material is microscopic. However, as time passes and more of this mineralization builds up, it can end up forming a solid layer inside of the pipe. We call this “scaling,” and it’s a major problem.
As scale collects, it starts to restrict the flow of water through the pipe. With enough time, it can even cut the flow of the water off altogether. This damage isn’t just limited to your pipes. In your water heater, scale can build up at the bottom of the tank, preventing the heating element from effectively warming the water. Even flushing your water heater may not remove years of built-up scale from your system.
In water-filled appliances like your dishwasher and washing machine, scale wears down everything faster. This includes water intake valves and hoses. Your clothes and dishes are also affected. Hard water makes detergents and soaps work less effectively, which means you’ll have to use more of each to get your clothes and dishes clean.
Here’s the bottom-line: you can get your calcium and magnesium from other things you eat and drink. Cutting it out of your home’s tap water is the smart play for extending the lifespan of your plumbing and appliances.
How do standard water softeners work?
Standard water softeners use salt to remove minerals from the water. As tap water enters the softener, it comes into contact with specialized mineral-absorbing pellets. These pellets do the vital work of removing magnesium and calcium from the water. However, they can only absorb so much before they themselves need to have the minerals removed from them.
To accomplish this, your water softener mixes salt and water together to form something known as a “brine” mix in a separate tank. Every so often, it goes through a cycle where it purges the mineral pellets with the brine mix. The salt attracts the minerals off of the pellets. This used brine water is then flushed out of the system.
How do no salt water softeners work?
Unlike salt-based softeners, no-salt systems don’t actually remove the minerals from hard water. This might sound counterintuitive, but what these systems are really doing is using physics to change the way hard water interacts with everything it touches. This is known as “descaling,” and it prevents magnesium, calcium, and other minerals from adhering to surfaces—including the inside of your pipes, appliances, and more.
What are the advantages of salt-free systems?
– System Lifespan: By virtue of the chemical process used to condition water versus soften it, most salt-free systems end up lasting longer than their salt-based counterparts. Salt-free conditioners come in many forms, so talk to our plumbers to learn more about what type of system might work best for your home.
– No Salt Refill: While the salt used in water softeners is relatively inexpensive (it’s salt, after all!), it still costs you money to refill your softener’s supply. You also have to think about the hassle of carrying heavy, 40lb bags of salt into your home on a regular basis. For this reason, salt-free systems are a lot more convenient.
– Environmental: That salty brine mixture we mentioned earlier is bad for the local environment. Much of this hyper-saline wastewater ends up getting back into local water sources, such as lakes, ponds, rivers, and groundwater wells. While your individual home isn’t necessarily causing a problem by itself, entire neighborhoods with water softeners can start to increase the salinity of freshwater.
What is the difference between a softener and
Technically speaking, salt-based water softeners soften water, while salt-free water softeners condition it. No-salt systems are actually water conditioners. However, most homeowners and retailers tend to refer to any descaling solution—whether it uses salt or not—as a “softener,” so the difference often ends up being academic.
Here’s what you really need to know: both softeners and conditioners are effective at preventing scaling damage to your pipes, faucets, and fixtures. The only thing that’s different is the way by which they do this. As described above, softeners actually remove minerals from your home’s tap water, while conditioners do not, instead rendering them unable to form scale.
Which should I buy?
As we’ve explained so far, both salt- and saltless water softeners / conditioners accomplish the same goal: protecting your home’s pipes, appliances, and fixtures from hard water scaling.
If your only concern is scaling, a water conditioner might be a good choice for you. If, on the other hand, you need a water softener for other reasons—like a need to avoid sodium in your diet absorbed through drinking water, or improve the feel of your shower’s water—you may want to go with a softener, instead.
Still on the fence? Our plumbers can help you make the right decision for your home. At King, we’ve been helping Chicagoland homeowners for decades. We install water filters, water softeners, water conditioners, and a number of combination systems, all designed to protect and improve your home’s drinking water.
To talk with our plumbers about your options, give us a call.