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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

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.

Contrary to popular belief, the installation of a salt-based water softener does not increase the sodium content of your drinking water to a hazardous level. In fact, a Phoenix drinking water softener only removes the calcium and magnesium particles that make the water hard, leaving your drinking water’s sodium levels as they were before. This means that the water you are drinking is as safe as it was before the installation of the softener.

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 cause.

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 buildup in your water.

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

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 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 heavy emphasis on “appear”) to have the same general effects of 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 regularly.

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 hard.

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 servicing.

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 evidence 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 maintenance and installation.

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. We also provide water softening services in Peoria, Glendale, Sun City, and surrounding areas.

Trust only American Home Water and Air for all your water softener, water heater, AC repair and installation needs in Phoenix, AZ.

Found this useful? Check out 4 Reasons You May Need A Water Pressure Regulator Valve or Air Conditioner vs. Heat Pump: Understanding The Difference for more useful plumbing and HVAC information.

Frequently Asked Questions

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 equipment.

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

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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