No-Salt Water Softener Info and Options
Treating Hard Water - Without the Salt
Hard water can be a real hassle. Not only does it leave your hair, clothes and dishes looking drab, but it can actually clog pipes and damage appliances over time. But as much of a pain as it is to live with hard water, many people would rather do that than get a conventional water softener. Why? Because they're expensive, difficult to install, and maybe most importantly, force you to deal with giant bags of water softener salt. Besides all that, they're bad for the environment, and even illegal in some places.
No salt water softener systems avoid all these problems by treating hard water through alternative means that are low-maintenance and eco-friendly. To date, no one has come up with a technology that's as effective as the conventional, salt-based method. However, there are already a number of saltless systems that many customers swear by, and the technology keeps getting better and better.
Of course, there are also many critics (including many in the conventional softening business who have a vested interest in the status quo). It seems like only a matter of time until a saltless technology emerges as the new norm in water softening. Until then, consumers need to do their research before buying a no salt system.
Popular Salt Free Systems - A Sampling of Some of the Best Selling Brands
Here are some of the most popular no salt water softeners on the market, along with the type of technology they use. Buying from Amazon or another large retailer is a good idea, as there's a strong sense of accountability (at the very least, you can leave a nasty customer review if it doesn't work as well as expected). Most of these are significantly cheaper than the more common salt-based water softeners, especially since they don't typically require professional installation.
The NuvoH2O is probably the most popular no salt water softener. It uses a process called chelation to counter the harmful effects of hard water.
Eddy refers to itself as a "descaler" rather than a water softener, probably because there's considerable controversy over whether electronic systems can actually "soften" water. However, electronic/magnetic systems do have many fans, especially in Europe.
Clearwave is another popular and affordable electronic system. Besides the price, one of the things that makes these electronic softeners so attractive for many people is the fact that they're easy to install (you just attach some wires).
3 Things to Know About No Salt Softeners
Basic Terms to Get You Started
The subject of hard water can be confusing, especially if you're getting your information from a slick salesperson trying to get you to purchase a water softener. However, if you just understand a few of the major concepts at work here, then the whole thing becomes much less daunting. If I called this a glossary of water softening terms, you'd probably go running the other way. So let's just call it an overview of hard water and the systems used to treat it.
Hard Water is water that has a lot of dissolved minerals in it. These minerals aren't in rainwater - they get picked up as water flows underground and eventually makes it into the water supply that flows into people's homes. The trouble is that the minerals eventually come back out of the water, forming deposits in your home that can cause problems. This can result in spotting on dishes and, more seriously, buildup in your water heater that can make it run less efficiently.
Water Softeners offer the best solution to hard water problems. They filter your home's water, replacing hard water minerals with sodium in a process called ion exchange. However, these salt-based systems aren't ideal for a variety of reasons - the main one being that you have to keep them filled up with salt, which is not only heavy to carry around but is also bad for the environment.
No Salt Softeners treat hard water without the use of salt. How they do this differs depending on the type and brand of softener. However, none of these systems technically soften water because they don't remove the hard water minerals - only traditional softeners do that. Instead, no salt systems aim to change hard water so that it doesn't form that nasty scale that causes all the problems.
How effective salt free water softeners are is another debate. It depends a lot on the brand and type of technology used, but generally if you have really hard water, you're best served with an old-fashioned system that uses salt. If your hard water problems are less serious, a good no salt system could be right for you.
How a Salt Based Water Softener Works - Learn Why Conventional Water Softeners Need Salt
If you're wondering why you have to fill up a conventional water softener with salt, this is a good video to watch. It explains the process pretty well. Keep in mind that this is not how salt free systems operate - they use various processes to avoid the use of salt.
The Pros and Cons of No Salt Water Softeners, in a Nutshell
So why all the interest in no salt softeners? Here are the three main reasons people want an appliance that doesn't use salt:
1. No one likes to deal with huge bags of water softener salt. This is absolutely the biggest advantage as far as consumers are concerned.
2. They're environmentally friendly. Traditional water softeners spit out a lot of brine water, which is bad for the environment. In fact, in some areas, water softeners have been prohibited for this very reason.
3. They're cheaper. This isn't true across the board, as some saltless systems are actually more expensive than conventional softeners. However, electronic/magnetic softeners are the cheapest water softeners you will find anywhere.
So why the controversy over these systems? Here's an overview of the counterargument:
1. They don't work as well as conventional softeners. This is the biggie. Scientific studies haven't really confirmed the effectiveness of no salt softeners.
2. They don't really "soften" the water. Because they don't remove hard water minerals, a lot of people claim no salt systems can't honestly be called "water softeners" at all. They really designed to limit the effects of hard water, but they don't actually soften it.
3. They're shady. Many saltless systems are sold only through the manufacturer's website, with no independent customer reviews made available. This lack of transparency naturally makes people suspicious.
In reality, these arguments are nearly as clear cut as some people would have you believe. There's plenty of truth on both sides.
Tips on Choosing a Saltless Softener
Lots of Choices, Little Information
If you're looking for a no salt system, there are certainly plenty of options to choose from: NuvoH2O, Pelican, Easy Water, and many more brands. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of reliable information to base your decision on. Water softeners in general aren't easy to rate due to expense, complexity of installation, and lots of variables that make a head-to-head comparison difficult. In some ways, no salt softeners are even harder to judge because they all work differently.
First off, if you have very hard water, then you should strongly consider getting a traditional water softener. In general, salt free systems aren't great at treating water with a high concentration of hard water minerals.
If you do opt for a no salt softener, here are a few tips on choosing the right one:
1. Buy through a reputable company. Ideally, you should buy through a major retailer that can be held to account for its products. Barring that, you should order through a well-known local operation. Companies that are more remote and hard to contact should be avoided - no matter how good their website looks.
2. Look at customer reviews. If you can't find unbiased reviews of the softener or conditioner, make sure you look closely at customer reviews to see what the pros and cons are. If the company doesn't allow the product to be reviewed openly, then that's a sign that maybe they're not to be trusted.
3. Don't just look at the price. Many salt free softeners are dirt cheap - often being half or less the price of traditional softeners. However, you're not really saving anything if the thing doesn't work.
As you can see, a lot of these tips apply to buying any major appliance. But because no salt softeners are relatively new, you need to be extra vigilant to avoid getting a bad deal.
Learn More About No Salt Water Softeners - Resources for Further Reading
Looking for more information? Here are my picks for the best websites/articles covering no salt water softeners.
- The Water Softener Hub
The most comprehensive source on the internet (that I'm aware of) for information about no salt water softeners. Lots of news and general coverage here.
- Consumer Reports
What Consumer Reports has to say about water softeners in general, and no salt (saltless) water softeners in particular. Consumer Reports doesn't actually rate water softeners, but that doesn't mean they have nothing to say.
- Wikipedia: Magnetic Water Treatment
Wikipedia article on the controversial subject of magnetic water treatment. A very skeptical (but balanced) look.
- Mayo Clinic: How much sodium does a water softener add to tap water?
An article about the health concerns of adding sodium to your water via traditional ion exchange water softening. Their conclusion? It's probably not a significant amount of sodium, but you might want to check with your doctor to be sure.