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Which is better Salt Water Softeners or Salt-Free Water Conditioners?

Posted by Tai on 3/28/2012

For anyone who has ever used water softeners, you can easily tell if a water softener is working just by the way the water feels when you wash your hands or body with soap.  It always feels like soap never washes off.  Some people like that feeling and others don’t.  There are benefits to having soft water in the home like a reduced heating bill, less soap usage, and even less cleaning time.  What most people don’t realize is that the slick slippery feeling you get from using a water softener is not just because of the water softener – it’s because of the salt it leaves behind.  Water softeners replace calcium and magnesium (hard water minerals) for sodium which makes the water slippery.  Soft water doesn’t have to be slippery to be considered soft.  Reverse osmosis also creates soft water without the slick slippery feeling simply because it removes all ions and flushes them down the drain. There are many companies now who are starting to advertise salt-free water conditioners which give the same benefits of water softeners without the slippery feeling.

But what works better – salt water softeners or salt-free water conditioners? Keep in mind water conditioners are not the same thing.  They NEVER give you soft water.  By definition, soft water is absent of calcium and magnesium.  Water conditioners leave these minerals in the water but treat them so that they do not stick to the pipes or glass in order to give you a more natural feeling.  There is the added benefit that you never have to buy salt, maintenance the valve, or have complex plumbing in order to install these units. The downside is that every few years, you need to replace the media inside which can be quite expensive and time consuming if you do it yourself.  Also you are required to have a carbon pre-filter if you live where there is chlorinated water. There has been a lot of controversy if salt-free water conditioners even work because no test can be done in order to actually see results.  You just have to trust that it is. 

Water softeners, on the other hand, have tests that indicate whether or not it is working and can be felt also. You may have to continually buy bags of salt every few months but the benefits are well worth it if you consider that these have been proven to work. Installation of these units is slightly more complex simply because you have to install these with a drain connection, near an electrical outlet, and connect the brine tank.  However, some cities have banned water softeners and have starting enforcing the residents to remove any existing softeners or they will be fined.  Certain cities believe that the salty soft water going down the drain is eating and corroding the drain pipes for the city which costs them hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair.  However, the savings incurred on the home user who use these systems outweigh the repair costs in the end.

In the end, it’s really a choice of preference and belief on which system is better - a water softener which has a proven background of softening water or a water conditioner which has many benefits but comes with a concern of its ability to work.  Either way, your home will be treated to give you the benefits of soft water.

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