Salt vs. Salt-Free Water Softeners: What You Need to Know

When it comes to water softeners, the two most common referenced methods are as follows.

First, you can use a salt-based water softener that swaps mineral
ions for sodium ones, thereby removing the damaging minerals
from your drinking water.

Alternatively, a salt-free water softener will use potassium instead
of sodium to crystalize(not remove) the minerals.


Let’s explore each method in greater detail to help you figure out which is the best one.

(Hint: Only one of them actually results in soft water; the
other is not a softener at all!)

Method #1: Salt-Based
Water Softener


water softener phoenix

Our President water softener (pictured above) is a salt-based system that can be converted into a salt-free one.

As mentioned earlier, a salt-based water softener relies on sodium to reduce mineral concentrations (particularly calcium and magnesium) that would otherwise damage your plumbing, water boiler, and even skin or hair.

There is a common misconception that a salt-based water softener is
capable of increasing your drinking water’s sodium levels to a
point that would be harmful.

In actuality, the amount of sodium that a softener of this type adds
to your water is negligible; typically
about 12.5mg of sodium per 8oz glass.

Americans are at a much
greater risk
of sodium overconsumption through diet
(particularly restaurant food) than a water softener could ever

Why a Salt-Based
Water Softener is Ideal

At American Home Water and Air, we recommend salt-based softeners due
to their increased effectiveness. This can be attributed to the fact
that the sodium (which you can buy in large bags at most grocery
stores in the Phoenix area) actually removes the mineral
the buildup in your water.

Let’s look at the saltless water softener to understand why this is

Method #2: Salt-Free
Water Softener

A saltless water softener uses potassium in place of sodium. The
potassium produces a chemical transformation that crystallizes the
mineral buildup.

This is useful in that it prevents the minerals from clinging to your
plumbing, laundry, and other surfaces that hard water can develop
scale on.

However, there’s a contradiction in all of this, which is that a
a no-salt water softener is actually not a “softener” at all; it’s
technically a conditioner or descaler.

In other words, your water is still hard after it passes through a
salt-free water softener.

Why a No-Salt “Water
Softener” is Disadvantageous

A water softener with no salt may seem like a reasonable compromise
on the surface. For one, they don’t add any sodium to your diet.
Secondly, they appear (with a heavy emphasis on “appear”) to have
the same general effects as a salt-based water softener. Lastly, some
may find a saltless water softener appealing due to the carefree
nature of use; you don’t have to refill the system with salt

In reality, a salt-free water softener system is more expensive
(specifically, the potassium pellets they use) while being less
efficient. They require less attention because they don’t work as

One of the ways this is true lies in the fact that a water softener
with no salt does not reduce scale buildup in equipment where water
rests for long periods. This will necessitate more frequent

On the flip side, a salt-based water softener works hard so the
systems in your home that are ill-equipped to handle minerals don’t
have to.

Beware: Magnet-Based
Softeners are a Scam!

While potassium-based water softeners are ineffective, they’re by
no means a scam. In fact, we do install them for clients that are
insistent on forgoing sodium.

However, we (nor any other reputable water softener installer, for
that matter) will never install magnet-based “water
softeners.” These are a sham. We’ve unfortunately had to replace
many such systems over the years after clients learned about their
scammy nature the hard way.

As the promise goes, magnetic water softeners are supposed to reduce
hard water’s effects with a strong magnetic field.

In reality, magnetic water softeners don’t do anything besides cost
you money; any supposed effectiveness has only been “proven” in
infomercial-type advertisements through vague before and after
pictures and testimonials.

Salt-based water softeners and potassium-based descalers, by
contrast, have actual scientific
backing them. They also produce measurable
results; water that passes through them will test differently than
hard water, whereas water that passes through a magnetic system will
test no different than it would prior.

Trust American Home
Water and Air for Your Water Softener Needs in Phoenix

At American Home Water and Air, we’ve been providing residential water treatment systems since 1985. We have hundreds of five-star reviews from long-term clients that have been happy with our services, including water softener system installation and maintenance.

Phoenix has some of the hardest water in America, which necessitates a quality, durable water softener system.

If you’re in the Phoenix area, we hope you’ll give us a call or pay us a visit to learn more about how we can help you select, install, and maintain the best water softener system for you.

Frequently Asked

Is a salt-free water
softener better?

If softening your home’s water is the goal, a saltless water
softener is not the way to go. Such a system uses potassium in place
of sodium, which crystallizes the mineral deposits instead of
removing them entirely like a salt-based system would.

This results in reduced efficiency — not to mention the fact that
potassium pellets cost much more than salt would.

Do salt-free water
softener systems work?

A no-salt water softener does not work as far as softening water
goes. A more accurate way to describe them would be “descalers”
since they do reduce buildup in many (but not all) types of plumbing

There is one particular type of salt-free water softener that does
not work, however: the variety that relies on magnets, which is

What is the best
salt-free water softener?

Our Patriot and President water softeners will work with potassium
pellets in place of salt. They won’t be as effective — but they’re
still about as reliable as you can get when it comes to using water
softeners with no salt.

Are salt free water
softeners safe?

While a salt-free water softener system is ineffective compared to a
salt-based one, there is no reason to believe it is dangerous.

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The well-being of our employees and customers is a priority for us during these tough times; therefore, AHWA is taking extra precautions due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As a safety measure, all AHWA employees experiencing COVID-19 symptoms will be required to self-isolate. Also, all technicians visiting customers’ homes will be equipped with gloves and masks. We hope this won’t impact our service and we will remain open for business until further notice. Thank you for choosing American Home Water and Air!