- James McMurphy
Salt-based vs Salt-free Water Softeners: The Pros & Cons
Updated: May 19, 2020
Is there a difference between the two? Which is better for my home? What is the cost
comparison of the two different systems? These are just a few of the questions we get on a day
to day basis on the differences between a softener that is salt based and a system that is salt-
If you have kept up with our posts, you would know that in our first blog I discussed how a
water softener works. If you would like to brush up on your knowledge of how they operate, go
check it out!
Below, I will touch on the pros and cons of both systems, and answer the questions that we
receive to help make your decision easier. Take a look!
Salt Based Water Softeners
Water softening means you are removing the hardness (minerals like calcium and magnesium)
from the water through a process called ion exchange. Salt-based water softeners contain a
resin bed which filters the water through, exchanging those hardness minerals for sodium
particles. When the resin bed is full of hardness and can’t hold onto anymore of it, the cleaning
cycle (or regeneration) begins. This is when a series of backwashes purge the trapped minerals
and flushes them out of the system. The salt is then replenished as well and the system
continues to soften. (I touch more in-depth on this topic in our previous blog post :).
• A salt-based water softener will completely remove minerals, such as calcium and
magnesium, from your water.
• A saltwater system will reduce the excess amount of lime-scale build up that appears in your
sinks, on your faucets, and in your bathtubs.
• Another long term benefit includes more efficient and longer-lasting appliances as well as
fewer repairs and plumbing maintenance.
• It will all around make your water feel “soft” and “silky” and won’t be as harsh on your skin.
You will also notice that more suds and bubbles are formed when the water is soft from salt.
This is due to the minerals being taken from the water and no longer being present to dry your
• Unfortunately, a salt based system can be a little bit more expensive.
• The salt based water softeners require maintenance to clean out the resin bed and
replenish the salt. During the regeneration, unfortunately, there is water “wasted” and the
resin bed will need to be replaced every five to ten years.
Salt-Free Water Softeners
Salt-free systems do not use the ion exchange process to remove the hardness minerals as the
salt-based systems do. Instead, the water is processed through a catalytic media using a
physical process called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). The minerals’ form is changed to
a hardness crystal that does not adhere to or stick to surfaces. That is why it is called a water
conditioner instead of a water softener since it does not technically “soften” your water. Since
these types of systems do not capture minerals, there is no need for a cleaning cycle to remove
• They are commonly less expensive than salt based systems.
• Salt-free water softeners do not use any softening chemicals to soften the water in your
home and also do not have wastewater.
• This type of softener will counteract contaminants like calcium and magnesium so that they
do not stick to the surface, instead of removing them from your water.
• A major con that many get confused by is that a salt-free system is actually called a water
conditioner, not a water softener.
• With a salt-free system, your water will never feel “soft”. It will not give the silky and
smooth feeling to your skin that a system that uses salt would.
• In the salt-free process, it creates hardness crystals but leaves minerals present in the water
so although there will be a reduction in build up on fixtures there will still be build up present.
• Systems that use salt are typically quicker at showing results versus a salt-free system. This
is because filtration in the salt base system starts immediately whereas, with a salt-free system,
it takes a bit longer since it uses electricity.
The Next Step…
Here at Advanced Water Solutions, our customers and their satisfaction are our #1 priority! Our
servicemen and sales team are trained, skilled and knowledgeable about all things water
softeners, we offer a FREE in-home water analysis to guarantee that you are getting the perfect
equipment for your home!