Salt vs. Salt-Free Water Softener

Water is one of the earth's essential substances needed by every living thing for survival. The absence of water would mean that there is no life. It contains vital nutrients that play a massive role in the human body.

Hard water is a result of mineral build up in the water. Conversely, soft water has the most minerals reduced through treatments and improves water taste.

Water treatment methods vary, which includes using salt or salt-free water treatment systems. In this article, we will be looking at salt vs. salt-free water softeners to find out which is the best option.

Salt vs. Salt-Free Water Softener Comparison

According to the Water Quality Association, soft water is "any water which has been processed in some manner to reduce the total hardness." It means removing calcium and magnesium from water to improve quality. 

Salt Vs. Salt-Free Water Softener Comparison

Soft water systems soften hard water, which often contains high levels of magnesium and calcium. So, if you notice that there are stains or watermarks on your sinks and clothes, then your water is hard. Hard water contains high levels of calcium and magnesium. A water softener offers better water quality.

Also, water softeners help increase the lifespan of the plumbing and appliances that function with water. Since hard water affects everything it comes across, water softening will also help make your water useable. 

Salt-water softeners turn "hard" water to "soft" water. It removes hard minerals from water through ion exchange, thereby ridding the water of hardness minerals, which makes soap challenging to lather.

So, ion exchange usually speaks of the water purification process using polymer resin, which discharges sodium particles in return for hard minerals. High-level hard water requires the use of salt softeners.

In contrast, salt-free water softeners do not soften water, as it does not purge hardness minerals from water. Instead, it retains these minerals in the water but converts them to another form, so they will not stick on surfaces. 

The salt-free conditioner does not offer benefits like salt-based softeners do, though, by crystallizing calcium, it will reduce its buildup in pipes. 

Additionally, in salt-free systems, hardness crystals could revert, forming scales on surfaces, and over time, there will be a buildup of hardness minerals in the water.

More so, comparing salt-based water softeners vs. salt-free, only the salt-based softener proves to offer softened water in the real sense.

What is Salt-Based and Salt-Free Water Softener?

Sometimes, minerals can accumulate in the water, which will lead to calcium and magnesium buildup. This buildup, over time, begins to form into a chalky substance and limestone. And if this remains untreated, it can affect the quality of the water. So, water softeners are needed to avert this effect. They are systems that are attached to a water supply.

What is Salt-Based and Salt-Free Water Softener?

Salt-based water softeners are used in treating severe occurrences of hard water. It is common knowledge that salt contains a high volume of sodium. So, salt-based water softeners remove hardness minerals from water by adding sodium to it. The negative charge of the sodium ion attracts and removes calcium and magnesium that makes water hard.

On the other hand, salt-free water softeners change the form of hardness minerals in the water. It does not remove calcium and magnesium from water and does not soften water. Salt-free water softeners are better classified as conditioners since they crystallize calcium.

How Salt-Based Water Softeners Work

How Salt-Based Water Softeners Work

Softening water with salt removes minerals like calcium and magnesium, which are responsible for making water hard.  A salt-based water softener system uses an electronic metered valve that is mounted on the top of a fiberglass resin tank.

Firstly, untreated water enters the tank and is saturated with salt.

When the ion resin reaches a point of saturation, a cleaning process then begins. During this process, a series of black flushes are released into the water,  purging it of the hardness minerals. This process involves the capturing of hardness minerals in the system by the electronic valve.  Then the hardness is flushed down the drain.

What Maintenance is involved in Salt-Based Water Softeners?

What Maintenance is involved in Salt-Based Water Softeners?

Every appliance requires periodic maintenance to remain functional. Though salt water softeners are low-maintenance equipment, several things can be done to keep it in good shape and to operate efficiently.

Check Salt Entry Every 4 to 6 Weeks

Checking this will help you observe a developing issue on time. How frequent this should be is dependent on the type of equipment you have and the hardness of the water. 

Always leave your salt level half-full to allow you to monitor the drop in level and to keep a salt bridge from occurring. 

Use the Right Type of Salt

All types of salt will not work with this system. Salts that are designed for water softeners come in two forms: cubes and crystal.

Although most modern water softening systems use cubes, consult the manual to ensure you use the right type of salt.

Inspect the System Every Three months

Apart from the periodic checks, you do between 4 to 6 weeks, always inspect the equipment every two to three months. 

Look out for salt bridging, which is solid buildups in the tank. Bridges prevent the proper cleaning of the resin beads and make water softening not so effective.

Clean Bridges

Keeping salt level half-full will prevent the salt from crusting because of moisture. This occurs when too much salt is added or frequently added.

Once bridges occur, it will likely keep reoccurring even after being cleaned. However, if you discover bridges in the brine tank, use a broom-like stick to break it up.

Clean the Brine Tank

Consult the equipment manual to find the best and easy way to clean your brine tank. This cleaning is best done every 6 to 12 months.

However, it can be cleaned by breaking up the bridges with a broomstick and disposing of the particles. Also, use soap and water to clean the tank thoroughly and rinse with clean water.

Fix a Pre-Filter

Most water contains sediments. Since the equipment has gaskets, small ports, and seals, particles in the water will damage it.

You can prolong the lifespan of your water softener by adding a pre-filtration system, which can also remove chlorine from water.

How Salt-Free Water Softeners Work

Salt-free water softening works by changing the way calcium and magnesium react to surfaces. They used a process known as Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC).

This means that the hardness minerals in water are converted to hardness crystals, which cannot bind to surfaces. So, it removes the harmful effect the hard water will have while keeping it positive.

What Maintenance is involved in Salt-Free Softeners?

What Maintenance is involved in Salt-Free Softeners?

Salt-free water softeners do not make water soft, so they are instead referred to as water conditioners. They do not trap the hardness minerals and thus do not require a cleaning cycle to remove bridges.

Once a salt-free water conditioner is installed, the only maintenance needed to change the pre-sediment filter at least once a year.

Which System Will You Be Happy With?

Both salt-based and salt-free water softeners are designed to address the issue of scaling while taking care of water hardness. 

A salt-based water softener could be an excellent choice. It will give you a clean feeling because the hardness minerals are entirely removed from the water. Using the water for laundry will also give you brighter colored clothes.

Salt-free water conditioners create crystals from the hardness mineral while retaining the mineral content in the water. It will also offer a reduced scale buildup. However, the crystals will revert to hardness minerals over time, thereby forming scales on surfaces.

Is Softened Water Unhealthy?

Softened water is healthy for the body. However, the decision to either drink it or not is based on whether you like the taste or not. 

Over the years, questions have been asked on how safe it is to drink softened water considering the amount of sodium in it. But, there has been no proof of how unsafe it may be.

However, for health reasons, 200mg/l has been set as a limit on the recommended level of salt intake in water.

Water Softener vs Salt Free Water Conditioner. What is the difference?

Salt vs. Salt-Free Water Softener FAQs

What If Water Softener Runs Out of Salt?

A water softener should never run out of salt. If it does, it can halt ion exchange and allow hard water flow in through the pipes, thereby harming the plumbing system and causing scale buildup. Scale buildup can reduce the flow of water, and makes water-using appliances burn more energy.

What is Water Softener Salt?

Water softener salt is made of sodium and is similar to cooking salt. Sodium chloride and potassium chloride are the two main types sold with water softeners.

Can I Put Bleach in My Water Softener? 

Bleach should never be used on a water softener as it can interfere with the resin and completely ruin it. It is a harsh chemical that should only be used by the manufacturer’s recommendation, but it should not be used on a water softener. 

Can I Install My Own Water Softener?

Yes. Installing a water softener yourself will save you money and allow you to work at your pace. But, make sure you know how to install one properly.

Can You Eat Water Softener Salt?

Yes. Water softener salt is safe for consumption. But, if you have health issues that require you to reduce your sodium and potassium intake, you should reconsider and consult your doctor.


Water softeners are effective methods of removing hardness minerals like calcium and magnesium from water. Understanding salt vs. salt-free water softener comparison will help you choose the better of the two.

However, salt water softeners are preferred to salt-free conditioners. They are effective in softening water and should be used if the water contains a high level of hardness. But, they are more expensive than salt-free conditioners and require regular maintenance.

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