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Water Softeners | Salt-Based vs. Salt-Free Water Softening Systems

Water is an essential resource for living beings, and it is necessary to ensure that the water you drink has removed the impurities and chemicals present in hard water.  

To do that, you need a water softener.

The question is whether you should buy a salt-based or salt-free water softener.

To make this choice, you must know both types of water softener.

There is lots of technical information that goes along with how both kinds of these water softeners work.

However, in this article, we will provide a brief comparison of these two types of water softeners to help you determine which meets your requirements best.

Salt Based Water Softeners

 Salt-Based vs Salt-Free

Salt-Based water softeners use a process known as ‘ion exchange,' to eliminate calcium and magnesium minerals by exchanging them with sodium (salt).

Salt-based water softener systems require the use of regeneration periods and salt pellets, which in simple terms, is similar to a' recharge' of the device.

Salt-based water softeners are best for non-drinking applications like showering, cleaning dishes, washing clothes and outside work.

You may not like the taste of water you end up with after using salt-based systems (or you might be considering your sodium levels due to health problems), but there are three easy solutions for this:

Install a bypass valve; you can deactivate your water softener with the turn of a handle.

Install a filter tap to filter your own water for drinking

Bypass the machine to a supply point on your home – you will need a plumber to do this.


  • A salt based softener guarantees that minerals such as calcium and magnesium are filtered before you get water from the faucet.
  • This will prevent you to deal with the irritating lime-scale build up that appears to stick everything like glue.
  • Appliances that consume water will last longer, and your pipeline will also remain clean.
  • A salt-based water softener gives your water an extra “soft water” touch, leading to especially frothy lathering in the shower.


  • A salt-based water softener is costly to purchase.
  • This kind of water system requires more maintenance due to its functionality.
  • You will find that this softener requires extra expense as you will need to buy salt.

Best Situation to install a salt-based water softener at your home: Salt-based water softening is the most powerful way to remove hardness from water, so you should use a salt-based softener if your water hardness levels are very high.

Salt-Free Water Softeners

best whole house water filter

Salt-free systems are often called ‘water conditioners.’

Salt-Free Water Softeners do not actually remove minerals present in hard water, but they do prevent them sticking to metal surfaces in your piping and appliances.

Hard water undergoes a procedure in which the hard water minerals are 'crystallized,' meaning that they cannot adhere to surfaces, like on your kitchen utensils or inside your plumbing.

This method isn't as effective as a salt-based system and won't work well when subjected to really high hard water levels.

Some salt-free water softening systems in the marketplace comes with an internal water filter to remove hard water minerals.  In this way, it conditions your water.

Some don’t even consider these systems as a water softener because they do not lower the hardness of water to less than 1 grain per gallon, the official standard as set by WQA.

That is why these systems are referred to as water conditioners or descaled.

However, people actually only care about the outcome, so the choice of water softening depends on your requirements.

So, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of this particular water softener:


  • They are more affordable than salt-based water softeners.
  • If you don't like the idea of using chemicals to soften the water in your house, a salt-free system is a right choice.
  • This kind of softener neutralizes the minerals present in hard water like calcium and magnesium rather than eliminating them, so they do not stick to the pipeline or dishes. The problem is, these minerals in non-crystalline form also have health benefits. You will lose that.
  • They are easy to install. Some models of water softener need to have the cables wrapped around your plumbing, be fastened, and you are ready to plug it in. One example of this is the Clearwave CW-125 Electronic Water Conditioner.
  • Maintenance cost: salt-free water softening systems cost almost nothing to maintain. As salt-free systems make use of magnets or electricity for softening your hard water (other kinds of the system may require the replacement of cartridges or other components)


  • These systems are not as effective for health management as salt-based water systems because you retain the elements that make lime-scale build up on your water pipeline, which means your body is exposed to them.
  • Salt-based water softening systems show faster results because the filter starts the moment you start using it. Since salt-free conditioners use power, it may take longer for results to show (keep this in mind when buying one!)


best water softeners

OK, we have described both kinds of water softeners.

Both salt-free and salt-based have advantages and disadvantages.

Which one you buy entirely depends on your requirements and choices.

If you want a water softener that is affordable, easy to install, inexpensive to maintain and does not entirely remove healthy minerals like calcium and magnesium, then definitely go with a salt-free water softener.

On the other hand, if you desire for a water softener that is fast, efficient and eliminates the hard water minerals, a salt-based system is the right choice.   

Ed Carmichael

About the Author Ed Carmichael

Ed is a water specialist in Tampa, FL. He built to help his friends and family learn about DIY solutions to common water quality issues in the home.

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