A Guide to Salt-Based VS Salt-Free Systems

Up until a couple of years ago the best way to combat hard water and its effects was through a salt based solution. But over the years new technologies have been developed that take out the salt component and instead focus on either electricity or magnets in order to soften the water.

There is a lot of confusion when using this method, because at a glance it would seem that the cheaper option that is less than ¼ the price in salt-free solutions would be the best choice. But since everyone has different wants and needs for their house, it gets a lot more complicated than that. In some instances the salt-free systems could be called deceiving to the customers, when in fact they’re not.

There are a list of pros and cons for each, and for the better part of the list there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a salt-free option, even if by definition it is the inferior choice for softening water. A better explanation is listed below of the two technologies and how they differ.

Salt-Based Pros and Cons

A Guide to Salt-Based VS Salt-Free SystemsThe tried and true salt based method has been in operation for over 100 years, and continues to be the best way to get soft water and combat hard water effects. These units are the biggest of the big, and are higher priced than all other options.

The come in two variations, with a digital on demand valve, or the more traditional manual version. For ease of use, the on demand digital version are the best of the bunch, but they are also the most expensive. But by using an on demand version, the consumer automatically saves money since it adjusts to use less water, less salt, and to not interrupt the household as it regenerates.

For those that decide to go the manual route, they will have to manually regenerate, backflush and all do all of the automated work of the more expensive versions. Regardless of if you purchase the higher end or lower end, you’ll still have to change out the salt and possibly a filter on occasion. For buyers with large households this can be a problem, especially if it is in an area that is not easily accessible.

But using a traditional salt water softener will definitely lower your hard water to soft water status, and get rid of all of the effects of hard water on your pipes, in the bathroom, the kitchen, and even around your hot water heater. It is the definitive choice for those that want the best water softening technology and are willing to do some minor work. It should also be noted that light plumbing skills are necessary, as consumers will be directly interfacing with the pipes.

Salt-Free Pros and Cons

A Guide to Salt-Based VS Salt-Free SystemsStarting with that they’re cheap, low cost solutions, salt-free water softeners usually retail for under $200 and are always in stock. They are small little boxes that don’t require any type of plumbing or pipe work, and involve you simply by wrapping coil over your pipe and plugging the device in. There is no regeneration process so it has 100% uptime, and there is no filter to change out ever.

But that is where the benefits end, unfortunately. Water softeners that don’t use salt don’t actually soften water, but emulate the process. Since there is no salt in the system to help with the ion exchange process, the water will be hard but it will still have some of the benefits of a water softener that uses salt like getting rid of scale, lime and even spotting.

It does this by breaking up the particles in a pipe into smaller particles so they don’t clog up, but as a result of not having salt these particles are not destroyed, leaving you with soap scum issues, hard drinking water and dishwasher and laundry issues related to hard water.

They are still a good alternative for buyers who live in apartments, or for those who enjoy the minerals in hard water and just want to get rid of the buildup in their pipes. The small misconception that salt-free options do the same thing that the traditional water softeners do has led to some minor disappointment, but as a result most of the electric water softeners come with a trial period anyway.


Either option is fine, so it just comes down to what you want in your home and if you’re willing to spend the money for an all in one solution. The best answer is going to depend solely on the consumer’s particular situation, so take the time to go over the options and choose carefully.

But the main thing to keep in mind is that the only way to truly get soft water and all of its benefits is by purchasing a salt based water softening solution.