The Truth About a Salt-Free Water Softener

The Truth About a Salt-Free Water Softener

In water softening, magnesium (Mg2+) and calcium (Ca2+) ions are eliminated from the water in a process known as ion exchange. But the real question is, what is a salt-free water softener, and does it really deliver actual results?

In general, people associate salt-based water softening with salt-free water softening. In reality, these two processes are different. Read on to learn the truth about a salt-free water softener.

What is the Difference Between a Salt-Based and Salt-Free Softener?

A salt-based water softener removes minerals like magnesium and calcium, while a “salt-free” water softener neutralizes the minerals (magnesium and calcium) instead of removing them.

“No-salt water softeners” use a technology known as Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). The principle behind TAC is simple—it alters the minerals from their ionic form to a harmless crystalline form.

TAC has several benefits. For example, the crystalline minerals do not attach to the pipe walls and are readily rinsed away by the normal flow of water. Consequently, salt-free water softeners (or water conditioners, to be more accurate) physically alter hardness minerals and prevent scale build-ups.

Your No-Salt Water Softener is Actually a Salt-Free Water Conditioner

During the water softening process, traditional water softeners remove minerals from hard water. However, salt-free water softeners do not remove minerals from hard water; they just neutralize the minerals, meaning that these minerals are still present in the water.

Therefore, the water you get from a salt-free water softener isn’t actually soft water. It is “conditioned water.” It isn’t providing you the benefits that you expect from a water softener.

The word ‘softened’ is used for business purposes, as companies perceive it would be complex to make customers understand how the TAC process works.

Although salt-free water softeners do address some of the problems caused by hard water, people invest money in these devices to soften their water and should be aware that they will not get all the benefits brought about by water softening. Instead, they will be getting hard water with crystallized minerals.

No-Salt Water Softeners Versus Traditional Water Softeners

Are you still wondering whether you should buy a no-salt or a salt-based water softener? Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a no-salt water softener. As mentioned earlier, you would be getting a “water conditioner” and not a water softener.

Bear in mind that if you are opting for a salt-based product, you will be getting “softened water” with all the benefits associated with soft water.


Many independent performance tests have demonstrated that traditional water softeners are superior over salt-free water softeners.

In 2001, the Army Corps of Engineers conducted a research, and they reported that salt-free water softeners do not provide the soft water benefits that they are purported to offer. Similarly, Penn State University researchers also did not find any solid scientific data to prove that “salt-free” water softeners provide soft water.

Unfortunately, the Water Quality Association (WQA) states that there are no performance test standards for salt-free devices in the United States. Therefore, it won’t be a good idea to trust ratings from NSF 44, which is often described on product pages and brochures.

In all, the term “salt-free water softener” appears to be just a means to increase sales, and it is deceptive to customers.

What Are Some Advantages of a “No-Salt” Water Softener?

If you are still interested in a salt-free water softener, here are some pros and cons that may help you to make an informed decision.

  • The use of a salt-free water softener is an eco friendly method of water treatment. Unlike traditional water softeners, no-salt water softeners do not release brine-heavy wastewater into water drain lines.
  • You don’t need to worry about the lifespan of your appliances or the cost of maintaining them. Although hardness minerals are still present in water treated by a salt-free water softener, these minerals are present in the crystallized form and cannot form scale buildups.
  • The water from a salt-free water softener often tastes like high-quality water. This is probably because it reduces chlorine and counters the negative effect of hardness minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
  • These systems are immensely easy to install too; there’s no need for you to have any plumbing or technical knowledge. Everything is defined in the instruction manual.

Some of the Downsides of a Salt-Free Water Softener

  • It is not as effective as a salt-based water softener in that it does not eliminate the minerals that cause water hardness. It only crystallizes these minerals, which means that hardness minerals are still present in your water. You will still need to use twice as much the amount of laundry detergent and dishwashing liquid to only achieve substandard results.
  • A no-salt water softener is ineffective when water used on water containing high amounts of iron and manganese. Thus, you cannot use this type of water softener with water that is rich in these minerals (such as well water).

Still not sure whether a salt-free water softener is for you? Do your research before investing your money on a water softener labelled salt-free.

You should bear in mind that the term salt-free does not reflect the function of the water softener. Also, it is important that you understand whether such a softener would meet your needs, especially if you are concerned about a health condition that can be affected by the intake of certain minerals such as sodium.

Jon Agarwal

Jon Agarwal works as an environmental consultant focused on water resources, and he volunteers his time for non-profit organizations. He lives in the heart of Melbourne with his beautiful wife, two sons, and three Persian cats. He particularly enjoys working part-time as it leaves him the time to work on his own writing and share his knowledge. Visit our About page to learn about the contributors of Healthy Buddys.

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