If you have read about water softeners or if you own one, then you probably also know by now that most water softeners need salt to work. These water softeners are known as the Salt-based water softeners and are indeed the most popular and most widely used today and they use a technology known as Ion exchange to soften hard water.
However, there are other types of water softeners, which obviously work in completely different ways and have their own advantages and disadvantages; the most obvious difference is that they do not need or use any salt to soften water.
There are other ways of softening water, like with a Reverse Osmosis filtration system, but these systems also remove other unwanted substances and particles the water supply might have, but this article will focus on water softeners, that is, machines that were specifically designed and built for removing salts and specialize just in that.
What types of non-salt water softeners do exist?
So, for water softeners, there are 3 different types that use different technologies and mechanisms, namely, these 3 types are: salt-based water softeners, salt-free water softeners and magnetic water conditioners. As explained above, the first ones, the salt-based water softeners, are the most widely used and they require salt to work. The last two do not require salt, or any other thing for that matter and we will focus on these two in this article.
Salt-free water softeners
Salt-free water softeners work in a very different and unique way, they use a technology known as Template Assisted Crystallization or TAC. The salts that are dissolved in water and cause it to be hard come in the form of ions.
An atom or a molecule has a balanced number of electrons and protons, the first ones have a negative electric charge while the latter have a positive electric charge. Ions, on the other hand, are regular atoms or molecules (which groups of two or more atoms; which how the salts that cause water to be hard come: grouped in molecules), but their number of electrons and protons is not equal; if they have more electrons than atoms then they have a negative electric charge, and if they have a greater number of protons, then they will have a positive electric charge; but regardless of that, a ion will always have an electric charge.
Like salt-based water softeners, salt-free water softeners use a tank full of resin beads and it is there that softening process occurs too.
However, unlike salt-based water softeners, the beads in salt-free water softeners are not made of resin, they are made of ceramic and polymers and they do not physically trap the salts that make water hard; instead, their ceramic-polymer beads change the arrangement of its molecules, altering their conformation of the salts and transforming them from ions to crystals. These crystals are highly stable and are completely harmless: they will not adhere to pipes, buildup and form limescale, stick to your skin, reduce the efficacy of soaps and detergents, or any of the other negative effects of hard water.
Magnetic Water conditioners
Magnetic Water softeners are not actually considered or called true softeners, so they are known as water conditioners. These are very simple and elegant devices (at least when compared to salt-based or salt-free water softeners) and will only consume electricity.
Magnetic Water Conditioners consist of a couple of wires coiled around the water intake pipe of your home, it is with these coils that they send low-frequency electromagnetic pulses that rearrange the ions of the salts that make your water supply hard, rendering them harmless, but this also means that they do not truly remove the salts like salt-based water softeners do, instead they just modify them.
The fact that they are incredibly simple means that you can install them very quickly, so you can buy and have it running 5 minutes after they arrived to your home. Their simplicity means fewer parts and pieces, which means that less things can go wrong and if something goes wrong, it means the fail can be quickly located and fixed.
Magnetic water conditioners are not without drawbacks though; for starters, they rearrange the ions that make up the salts that make water hard and render them harmless, but such effect is only temporarily and it will only last for 48 hours at most. This means that in places and devices where water remains still for a long amount of time, like in water heaters, the effect will be lost and these places would still receive all of the negative effects of hard water.
Additionally, Magnetic water conditioners have a low capacity and output; so, if you have a medium to large household, then this system simply will not work; if more than 4 persons live in your house or if your house has more than 1 bathroom, then you should forget about this system: do not even consider it.
But despite these significant drawbacks, many people still choose to install this system in their homes, especially those who do not own the place where they live such as an apartment or a condominium and have a lower water usage (such as those persons who live alone or with a couple other persons at most), as they obviously will not want to invest in a bigger and more trustworthy salt-based Whole House System; additionally, Magnetic water conditioners are extremely easy to remove and install somewhere else.
Another advantage is that Magnetic water softeners, being so small and having such a compact fit, can be installed just about anywhere and will not take much space.
Which are the best non-salt water softeners in the market?
This is a complex and tricky question; because the answer will depend on many different things and conditions of your particular situation, remember that no two households are identical.
So, to decide which could be the best non-salt water softener for you and your household, you should consider the following things: your budget and the price of the unit you are considering, the type of water softener that best fits your needs and its capacity and output.
Let’s analyze each of these conditions separately:
Its capacity and output
First you have the capacity and output of the device you will need, and to determine those factors you will need to determine first exactly how hard how hard your water supply is.
You can do this by buying a water home test kit, with test strips being usually cheaper than other types.
Once you have done that and determined the level of hardness in your water supply then you will need to calculate the minimal necessary capacity and output a water softener must have to cover all the necessities and demands of your household. To do this you can use the following formula:
(N x U) x 7 x H
N = Number of people that live in your household
H = Level of hardness of your water supply (measured in GPG or Grains per gallon)
U = The average amount of water a person uses per day
The level of hardness in water is measured in Grains per gallon (GPG) and the average GPG in the United States the average level of hardness is of 10 GPG, however, some places are outside this average level. So, in the United States you can find levels of 3 to 20 grains, with 3 being somewhat soft and 20 being extremely hard water.
The average amount of water a person consumes every day (U) ranges from 75 to 100 gallons of water per day and the value of U for your household will most likely be inside this range. To calculate the average usage per person in your household just get an estimate for each member of your household, then add them and divide the result between the number of members of your household; so if 4 people live in your house and their usage is like this:
Mom – 80 gallons
Dad – 90 gallons
Son – 75 gallons
Daughter – 70 gallons
Then you just add them up:
90 gallons (Mom) + 95 gallons (Dad) + 80 gallons (Son) + 75 gallons (Daughter)
Which gives 315, then you divide this between the number of people who live in your house:
340 ÷ 4
And the result will be of 85 which is the average usage of water per person in your household.
So, if 4 people live in your home then you will have to multiply the number of people who live there (4) by the amount of gallons they use per day on average (79 after being rounded).
(4 x 85)
The result would be 340 which is total global amount of gallons consumed per day in your house.
Now you will have to multiply that number by 7, which the number of days in the week and you will get 2,380. So, every week, this house will consume 2,380 gallons of water.
To complete the formula now you would just have to multiply that last result (2,380) by the level of hardness of your water supply, which in this example is of 5.
(4 x 85) x 7 x 5
Now that the values of this formula have been substituted and the formula solved, the result is of 11,060, the units for this value are Grains per gallon (GPG). So, all the water the house in this example uses in a entire week has 11,060 grains; and a water softener would need to be able to remove at least that amount of grains every week to meet and satisfy the demands and needs of this household.
Most Water Softener come in the following set capacities:
All you have to do is to pick the one that can meet the demands and needs of your home. If you pick a model with a capacity lower than your demands, that is, a softener which has a capacity lower than the demands of your household, then the softener will be overwhelmed and the resin beads it uses to trap the salts that cause hardness will be filled very quickly and the softener will have to wash it very often which will cost you more money. So, it is advisable to pick a softener with a capacity a little higher than your demands; for example, if your house has a value of 45,000 then the closest capacity would be 48,000 which would be the one you should choose and the best option for your household.
First of all, to buy a water softener you will obviously need to consider your budget, but will also need to keep in mind that the price of the unit will depend on (besides the size) whether you will buy it or lease it. The option of leasing will be obviously cheaper but in the short term and it is ideal if you do not own the place where you live, such as an apartment or a condominium. Buying a new unit, on the other hand, makes more sense if you own the property where you live.
The type of water softener
The last important thing to consider is which type of water softening device you will buy. There are three types in the market: Salt-based softeners, salt-free softeners and magnetic water conditioners. Salt-based softeners are by far the most used and recommended and perhaps the most effective too, salt-free softeners are relatively new and have many supporters, while magnetic water conditioners are rarely recommended and used mostly for very small homes with a limited budget.
Let’s now take a brief look at the features and mechanisms of each type:
- Salt-based softeners use a mechanism called Ion-exchange. They basically take all the salts that make water hard (calcium and magnesium) and replace them with harmless sodium. This models need to be charged with common salt to work which has to be replenished periodically.
- Salt-free softeners do not need salt or any substance to work; they transform the salts that cause hardness (calcium and magnesium) into crystals, which are completely harmless.
- Magnetic water conditioners create a magnetic field through which water passes and which causes the salts that cause hardness to rearrange and blend together into bigger particles which are harmless
Now, here is a list comparing the advantages and disadvantages of these three systems:
Magnetic water conditioners
|· They do not require salt or other substances to work
· They do not consume electricity
· They do not create any waste
· They are very easy to maintain (you just need to periodically replace a filter)
· Most models also have an internal filter that ensures the quality and purity of the water it treats
· They do not need to go into a regeneration cycle
· They can save more water than salt-based softeners
|· Small size and compact fit
· Extremely easy to install
· They do not create any waste
· They use less electricity than salt-based softeners
· They are not expensive
· They are the easiest to maintain: you do not even need to do anything
· They do not need to go into a regeneration cycle
· They save much more water than any of the other systems
|· They do not really remove salts
· The filters they use have to be replaced periodically and some can be expensive
· The units themselves tend to be more expensive than salt-free softeners
· While they offer the same benefits of salt-based systems, these benefits are lessened; for example, a salt-based softener makes soap and detergent work much better and you save more of them. a salt-free system on the other hand will make soap and detergents a bit more efficient, but not as much as a salt-based system; scale buildup is also lessened but not stopped as with salt-based systems
|· They do not really remove any salts
· They render salts harmless but only temporarily (the effect lasts for about 48 hours); this also means that limescale can still build up in places where the water remains still for a large period of time, such as in water heaters
· They simply will not work if your water is too hard (10 GPG or more)
· Has to be installed indoors
· Does not works with lead or iron water pipes
· They will not be able to handle the demands of a bigger household, so if you have 2 bathrooms or more, this may not work
· Its efficiency varies wildly: it can completely neutralize the salts in a gallon of water and do nothing for the next
And finally, here is a chart comparing the features and characteristics of the best-rated non-salt water softeners as of 2015, from their prices to their physical size:
|Eddy Electric Water Descaler||PurHome Premier Salt-Free Softener PS-1000||Nuvo H2O DPHB Home Salt Water||Aquios Full House Water Softener and Filter System||Clearwave Electronic Water Softener|
|Size (inches)||6.7” x 1.6” x 3.5”||N/A||5” x 5” x 24”||27 x 10 x 8||13.6” x 11.3” x 3.6|
|Filter life||No filter||5 years||2 years||6 months||No filter|
|Warranty||Lifetime||10 years||Lifetime||20 years||N/A|
|Users rating||4.8 Stars||4.7 Stars||4 Stars||4 Stars||3 Stars|