Salt Free Water Softener: Guide to No Salt Softeners

Salt-Free Water Softeners: Everything You Need to Know

Are you interested in learning more about salt free water softeners?

Salt free water softeners are becoming more popular as people become aware of the health benefits that come with using one. They’re also better for the environment and avoid the expense and hassle of buying and adding salt to a brine tank every month.

But how do they work? Is a salt free system right for you?

It’s important to understand that a salt free system doesn’t actually soften your water like a conventional softener does. Instead, it “conditions” your water. The calcium and magnesium ions (hardness) are still in your water. These minerals are converted to a form that eliminates scaling problems without the negative issues associated with using salt.

In this blog post, we will discuss what salt free water softeners are, how they work, and how they differ from salt-based softeners. We will also talk about the costs of salt free softeners, their installation process, and the maintenance required to keep them running smoothly.

How Does a Salt Free Water Softener Work

Salt free system
Salt free systems consist of a catalytic media inside a flow through housing.

Three different water treatment processes

There are three main types of salt free water softener systems available today – TAC, chelation, and electromagnetic – each with its own unique process. Let’s review how each of these processes work and their relative advantages.

1. TAC water softeners. Salt free water softeners do not use ion exchange to remove the hardness minerals like salt-based systems. Instead, they use a catalytic process called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). The water is passed through a media bed where the calcium and magnesium ions form crystals on the surface of the beads. Once the crystals become large enough, they slough off into the water.

A TAC system does not soften the water – the calcium and magnesium minerals are still there. However, they are converted into tiny particles that are suspended in the water which prevents them from sticking to pipes and plumbing fixtures. This process is known as conditioning.

2. Chelation water softeners. Chelation systems use chemicals such as polyphosphates (also called sequestering agents) or citric acid to prevent the scaling and build-up of hardness minerals on surfaces.

Chelation softeners work by binding to the calcium and magnesium ions, preventing them from attaching to surfaces and forming scale. The sequestering agent then holds these ions in solution, so they remain in solution and pass through your plumbing system.

Just as the TAC process, the water is not softened by chelation. It is conditioned.

Electromagnetic water softener

3. Electromagnetic water softeners. Electromagnetic salt free water softeners use an electromagnetic field to alter the structure of hardness minerals so they cannot bond to surfaces. The magnetic fields are generated by wires wrapped around pipes or a coil that goes inside the pipe.

Electromagnetic salt free softeners require no maintenance and often have a lifetime warranty, but some people question their effectiveness.

Do salt free water conditioners really work

It’s important to understand that salt free water softeners do not remove magnesium and calcium from the water like salt-based systems. Instead, they change their molecular structure so they are unable to stick to surfaces or form scale. This prevents buildup of hardness minerals in plumbing pipes and fixtures which helps extend their life, improves performance, and saves money on plumbing repairs.

The salt free systems have been shown to reduce scaling by 70% – 95%. This is not as effective as salt-based softeners which remove hardness minerals completely, but some people prefer salt free water softening because they don’t use salt or regenerate with brine.

Electromagnetic water softeners offer the least amount of protection among the salt free water conditioners. They typically only offer protection for small houses and with metal pipes. Many people report ongoing scaling and appliance problems after installing these systems.

OptimH2O® Salt-Free Water Conditioner

This salt-free water conditioner protects your whole home from the adverse effects of scale buildup. Extend the life of your plumbing, washing machine, dishwasher, water heater, and other appliances without adding excess salt waste or chemicals into the environment.  Check pricing.

Differences Between Salt-Based and Salt Free Water Softeners

Salt based water softeners are the most common type of water softener. They use ion exchange resins to remove hardness minerals (calcium and magnesium) from hard water by temporarily exchanging them for sodium ions. The result is soft water – water that is free of calcium and magnesium. Salt-based water softeners are generally more effective at solving the problems associated with hard water because they remove hardness minerals from the water.

Read my Ultimate Guide to Water Softeners: Everything You Need to Know for more information about salt-based water softeners.

Water treatment comparison – free of salt vs salt based

Salt free water softeners are different in that they do not remove hardness minerals from the water. Instead, they use a variety of processes to change their molecular structure so they cannot attach to surfaces or form scale.

Salt Free versus Salt-Base Water Softeners
Which is Better


Salt Free System

Salt-Based Softener

Improved soap lather

Spot-free dishes


Prevents appliance damage

Eliminates calcium buildup on fixtures


Eliminates dry and itchy skin


Brittle hair made softer


Dull clothes now bright


Requires Salt


No scale in plumbing

NSF certification


Ion exchange

The salt-based system removes virtually 100% of hardness minerals. This results in cleaner pipes, appliances, and clothes. It also reduces the amount of soap and detergents needed to cleanse surfaces, saving on both cost and environmental impact.

Salt based water softeners require salt for regeneration – a process that uses freshwater and brine (salt water) to flush the system of hardness minerals and replace the sodium ions. The salt-based water softener uses salt to remove the minerals from the resin and then flushes them down the drain, along with some salt.

Scale inhibition (free water softener)

Problems with hard water
Salt free water softeners solve the issue of scale buildup on pipes and water heating appliances.

Salt free water softeners prevent the problem of scale formation on pipes, fixtures, and water heating appliances. This is a very important benefit. If this is your primary goal in softening your water, then a salt free water softener may be the way to go. If you want to address dry skin and hair, spots on your dishes, and poor suds with soap and detergent, then you will want a salt-based water softener.

Water softener versus water conditioner

Salt free systems merely condition the water by rendering the problematic minerals unable to stick to your pipes, plumbing fixtures, and appliances. This solves the scaling problems and prevents the shortened life of appliances, which is a big advantage. However, this process doesn’t solve the issue of dry and itchy skin, dull hair, and glassware and dishes with spots on them.

Salt-based water softeners remove the hardness minerals from the water, which in turn eliminates these problems.

Benefits of Salt Free Water Softener

Salt free water softeners offer a number of benefits over salt-based softeners. Some people prefer salt free systems because they do not use salt or regenerate with brine. Others choose salt free systems because they are environmentally friendly, as there is no brine waste to dispose of

The main benefits of salt free water softeners are:

  1. Eliminates scale. Prevents scale buildup on pipes and appliances, significantly increasing the life of your equipment. This is a very big benefit and one of the main reasons people install salt free systems in their homes or businesses.
  2. Lower operating costs – no salt. Salt free softeners do not use salt to regenerate the media which results in a significant cost savings.
  3. Low maintenance. These systems require less maintenance than salt-based softeners because they do not need salt added or settings adjusted for regeneration cycles. However, salt free systems do require filter changes every few months.
  4. Health benefits. Salt free water softeners do not add sodium to the water, which makes them a great alternative for people who have salt restrictions. In addition, calcium and magnesium are still in the water, providing you with good tasting water and the benefits these minerals provide.
  5. No wasted water. With salt-based softeners, saltwater is flushed down the drain during regeneration; this simply does not happen with salt free systems. The hard water flows into the unit and conditioned water comes out for you to use.
  6. Environmentally friendly. As there are no chemicals used in salt free water softeners, they are a more environmentally friendly option than salt-based systems. The backwash water from salt-based systems is a big problem, and some communities have banned their use.
  7. No electricity needed. Salt free water softeners do not require electrical power because they don’t use timers or automatic backwash valves. This makes installation simpler because you don’t need access to a receptable.

Learn more about water softener salt in my detailed article.

Disadvantages of Salt Free Water Softener

Salt free water softeners are not the same as conventional water softeners. They use an entirely different process – water conditioning as opposed to water softening – which presents some drawbacks.

The main disadvantages of salt free water softeners are:

  1. Water is not softened. Salt free systems do not remove calcium and magnesium from your water. As a result, you may experience some of the same issues as if you were consuming hard water, such as dry skin and hair, spots on your dishes, high soap and detergent use, dingy clothes, and water spots.
  2. Filter changes are necessary every few months. To keep your salt free system functioning at its best, filter changes are necessary every few months. This is a task that needs to be done regularly, but it’s not as time consuming or difficult as salt replenishment for salt-based systems.
  3. Less effective. Salt free water softeners don’t work as well as the conventional, salt-based systems. This is because they merely condition the water rather than removing the hardness.

Is a Salt Free Water Softener Right for You

Salt free water softeners are different than salt-based softeners, and they have both advantages and disadvantages. Before you decide if a salt free system is right for you, it’s important to understand the differences between these systems and where one might provide you with a better solution than the other.

Concerns over sodium

Salt free water softeners are a great choice for homes or businesses that want to improve their water quality and prevent scale buildup without using salt or electricity. Salt-based water softeners use salt, and this process adds a small amount of sodium to your water. If you are worried about the amount of salt you are consuming, a salt free water softener is a good alternative.

Tankless water heater

If you have a tankless water heater in your home, salt free water softeners are the perfect solution. The conditioned water they produce prevents the buildup of scale in the pipes and water heater, helping to extend the life of your tankless system.

Salt free water softeners do not require electrical power, so you can install it anywhere that is convenient.

Scale removal from piping

The TAC process creates tiny crystals of calcium and magnesium. These particles do not stick to your pipes and appliances. In addition, they also attract the scale that may be present in your plumbing system. Over time, this can clean and restore your fouled pipes.

Locations where salt-based water softeners are banned

Many communities have banned salt-based water softeners because of the salt and chemical by-products that they create. If you live in one of these areas, or are looking for an environmentally friendly option, a salt free water softener is a good choice.

Key Pont – Your Home Water Is Not Soft

You may be wondering where the difference in performance is. Well, there’s no guarantee that all your hard water problems will get resolved with a salt free water softener.

If you have dry and itchy skin or dull, brittle hair because of your hard water, you’ll still have these issues. Salt free water softeners don’t soften your water, they merely condition it. The calcium and magnesium are still there – and they are the cause of these conditions.

Water hardness does not change

Your soap and shampoo usage will most likely remain the same – you won’t see the reduction like you do with a salt-based water softener.

You won’t see a difference in clothes. If they are dingy with hard water, they’ll still be dingy with the salt free conditioner.

I’m telling you this, so you’ll have reasonable expectations about salt free water softeners. They are great at protecting your pipes and fixtures from scale. They protect your appliances and prevent premature failure from hard water. They just don’t solve every problem that hard water causes. As long as you understand this, you can make an informed decision about whether this is the right solution for you.

Cost of Salt Free Water Treatment

The initial cost of an average sized salt free water conditioner ranges between $290 to as much as $4,800. This includes the cost of the softener and installation.

Factors that affect the cost include:

  1. size of the unit
  2. flow rate
  3. amount of media
  4. type of softener (TAC, sequestering, electromagnetic)
  5. professional installation

You can buy a cheap electromagnetic water softener for as little as $250. However, this type of softener doesn’t perform as well as others and may end up costing you more because of fouled pipes and damaged appliances.

Another cost of salt free water softeners is the media replacement. Some units allow you to remove the spent media and add fresh material. Others require you to remove the entire filter housing with the spent media and then swap it out with a fresh unit. This can cost as much as $200 to $1,000 per year. The amount of hardness in your water and the amount of water you use can affect these costs significantly.

If you swap out the filter housing yourself, you can save as much as 75% of the cost.

For a detailed discussion on the cost of installing a water softener, read my comprehensive article.

Installing a Salt Free Water Softener

Installation of salt free water softener
Installing a salt free water softener consists of connecting the inlet and outlet fittings to the water supply.

Salt free water softeners are very simple to install. They consist of a pressure vessel filled with media. You connect the inlet and outlet fittings to your plumbing system, and you’re done.

Your home’s plumbing configuration will affect the difficulty and cost of installing a water softener. If you have to run piping a long distance, then your costs and the degree of difficulty will go up.

This treatment system is ideal for Do-It-Yourselfers. If you’re uncomfortable doing plumbing work, then a plumber can install this for you very easily. A typical installation cost is around $300. More complicated installations can be as much as $800.

Maintenance of Salt Free Water Softener

Salt free water softeners don’t require salt or salt-based media. For this reason, they are much easier to maintain than salt-based systems.

You still have to do periodic maintenance on these units. This includes:

  • replacing the particle filter (if your unit has one)
  • replacing the media when it is exhausted (usually every 3 to 6 months)

Think Twice Before Using a Magnetic Water Softener

One type of salt free water softener that I do not recommend is a magnetic water softener. I’ve seen them sold in catalogs and at home improvement stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot. They are relatively inexpensive – costing between $250 and $700, which makes a lot of people want to try them out.

Magnetic water softeners work by sending a magnetic field through your pipes and plumbing system to alter the scale-forming minerals in hard water, so they don’t stick together and form scaly deposits on pipes, fixtures, etc.

However, these units have mixed reviews. Some people say they work great, and others say they don’t work at all.

In general, they only work on small homes and those with metal pipes. If you use a lot of water or if your water is especially hard, then a magnetic water softener may not be for you.


Do salt free water softeners work?

Yes, salt free water softeners work by conditioning your water. They don’t remove hardness, but, instead, they convert it into a form that doesn’t scale or form deposits on your pipes.

Do water conditions provide saltless water?

Salt-free softeners, also known as water conditioners, use alternative methods such as template-assisted crystallization (TAC) or electronic descaling to treat hard water without adding salt. As a result, they provide softened water without increasing the salt content

Do magnetic water softeners really work?

In general, salt free water softeners that use magnetic or electronic devices to alter the chemical makeup of your water don’t work as well. This is because they only treat a small amount of water at a time and can be overwhelmed by large amounts of hard minerals in your pipes.

Will salt free water softeners damage my plumbing?

No, salt free or saltless doesn’t mean that the system uses no salt at all. Salt based systems use a lot of salt to exchange minerals and effectively clean your pipes and fixtures from scale buildup (mineral build-up over time will cause your water pressure to drop and appliances, such as dishwashers and washing machines, to not function optimally). salt free systems use a tiny fraction of the salt that salt-based systems do.

Overview of Salt Free Conditioners

Salt-free water softeners, also known as saltless water conditioners, have gained popularity in recent years as a more environmentally friendly and health-conscious alternative to traditional water softening methods. These systems address water hardness without adding sodium or replacing existing minerals in the water, thereby maintaining the water’s natural mineral balance. A salt-free water softener is designed to prevent scale buildup in pipes and appliances, ensuring efficient operation and extending their lifespan. Moreover, as they do not rely on salt, there is no need to constantly replenish a brine tank, saving time, effort, and resources.

Homeowners looking to invest in a salt-free water softener for their home water filtration system can find a variety of models available on the market. To help customers make an informed decision, many manufacturers and retailers provide detailed comparison pages on their websites, outlining the features, benefits, and specifications of each model. These pages can be a valuable resource for understanding the differences between various saltless water conditioner systems and choosing the best option for one’s specific needs. Additionally, many companies offer pickup and delivery services to further streamline the process, making it easy to enjoy the benefits of saltless water and improved water quality in your home.

Final Take on Salt Free Water Softeners

Salt free water softeners are a great way to eliminate scale formation and damaged appliances without having to add salt. Not only do these systems save money on salt and improve your plumbing system, but they also have many benefits for your health that traditional softened water doesn’t offer.

However, they do not provide the same level of water softening as salt-based systems and they’re more expensive in some cases. In this article, we reviewed these factors and gave you tips on what kind of system is best for your home, so that you can decide if a salt free system is right for you.

Boch Richard

Richard Boch is a chemical engineer responsible for designing water filtration systems for industrial and residential customers. He has more than 20 years of experience with ion exchange, activated carbon, and reverse osmosis. Richard's expertise has made him a go-to source for municipalities and businesses looking to improve their water quality. When he's not working, Richard enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children. You can also follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

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