If you use a water softener, you may have encountered discussions or sales material for a saltless water softener. Also called salt-free, these devices claim to soften the water without the use of salt, as their name implies. There has been a great deal of controversy regarding this type of water softener, and debate as to whether or not they actually work. What it comes down to is an understanding of what a saltless water softener actually does in comparison to what the traditional salt type does.
Hard Water and the Problems It Causes
To understand what a saltless water softener does, we must first take a look at what hard water is and why we would choose to soften it. Hard water is generally a term used to describe any water that contains large amounts of two particular minerals – calcium and magnesium. These are common minerals in water, but when they are present in large quantities the result can be two main problems. The first problem is known as scaling.
Scaling is when build-up from the minerals in the water starts to appear inside the pipes. This can reduce water flow and heat conduction through the pipes. Scaling can also occur inside things like kettles and water heaters. It is difficult to remove and can eventually clog up your pipes.
The second problem with hard water is that is often prevents soap from lathering properly. It reacts with the soap to create something commonly called “soap scum”. This can be left not only on your skin, but also on the walls of your tub and shower. You may also have heard of “hard water stains”, another difficult to remove result of using hard water in your home.
The solution to avoiding these problems is to soften the water by removing the excess of the two minerals involved. Traditional water softeners do this by means of using sodium. The water is run through beads known as zeolite which have been treated with salt. As the water passes through, the magnesium and calcium ions found in the water are replaced with sodium ions, which softens the water and eliminates most hard water issues.
What A Saltless Water Softener Does
A saltless water softener works differently. In fact, although they are called water softeners, they are not in fact softeners at all. The saltless water softener would be more accurately referred to as a water conditioner by those in the water industry. What they do is to condition the water – rather than replacing the calcium and magnesium with sodium, they use magnetic or electric methods to treat the water and prevent the minerals from scaling.
The water itself, however, is still hard, and will still scale if left sitting such as in a pot or kettle. The saltless water softener systems are therefore not truly water softeners at all, because the water that they produce is still hard water. The electromagnetic charge created by these systems changes the way the minerals crystallize as they pass through it, so that it won’t scale on your pipes as it moves through them.
Many companies market the saltless water softener as being better for your health as well as for the environment. There is plenty of debate out there on this issue, but the bottom line is that if you are concerned, you can certainly switch to a saltless water softener. Just bear in mind that you will not truly have soft water, and may still encounter some of the issues related to hard water. If you choose to use a traditional water softener, you can use a filtration system for your drinking water if excess sodium in the water is of concern to you.
So, if you are wondering if saltless water softeners actually work, the answer is both yes and no. They do reduce the scaling problem common to hard water, but they do not actually soften your water. Thus it truly isn’t fair to ask if they work, at least not in terms of softening your water. This, they can not do. They can however prevent scaling in your pipes and address some of the lathering issues that hard water can cause. Which option is right for you depends on what you really want out of your water. If you really like the feel of soft water, a traditional water softener is the only way to get it.