Non-salt softeners or salt-free water softeners are a subset of water treatment applications that are focused on treating hard water problems and preventing lime-scale from attaching to surfaces and causing disruptions and damages to home appliances that use water. While traditional water softeners are salt-based, meaning they are equipped with brine tanks that are needed to flush the resin beads encumbered with turning hard water ions into sodium ions. This is how most water softeners work.

water softener salt

Non-salt water softeners are advertised as a low-maintenance, no waste alternative to salt-based water softeners, but do they really work? And if so, how do they operate and how do they produce soft water?

How it works

Before we delve into the details of how non-salt water softeners work, we should state from the beginning that they don’t actually soften water. This means that while these devices do target lime-scale, they do so by following a different mechanism and the resulting water is not soft. Non-salt water softeners alter the crystal structure of lime-scale rendering it unable to attach to surfaces. While the intended effect – scale control – is achieved by both types of water softeners, salt-free models are wrongly named “water softeners” when, in fact, they are more like water conditioners, or even more appropriately, scale control systems.

Salt water softener vs non-salt softener (conditioner)

So, now that we know salt-free models don’t produce soft water and don’t remove calcium and magnesium, merely neutralise them so they can’t stick to surfaces, are they really as effective against lime-scale as salt-based models? If we analyse things purely from a lime-scale control standpoint, both systems achieve the same thing through different means — prevent lime-scale deposits. But while salt-free systems don’t remove hardness minerals, don’t leave your skin, hair and clothes feeling much softer, and don’t reduce soap and detergent usage, salt water softeners on the other hand will exchange these hardness ions for sodium ions, reduce soap usage, leave your clothes feeling softer and your whites brighter. However, salt-based water softeners are harder to maintain, don’t boast the same economy as salt-free water conditioners, and are less compact.

Which one to choose?

You’ll certainly save time, money and space with a scale control system as opposed to a traditional water softener, but you won’t be able to enjoy the same benefits as you would with soft water. If you don’t like the idea of using up too much space, wasting water and dedicating time on maintenance, a non-salt based scale control system is a better option for you. If you absolutely need soft water, a water softener is your best bet.