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What Is A Salt Free Water Softener?

What Is A Salt Free Water Softener

With ever growing concerns about water quality and environmental impact, it’s no surprise that customers are looking for alternatives to traditional salt based water softeners. You’ll be pleased to know that this kind of technology has come a long way, and is now able to offer very similar results to traditional water softening without the use of salt, electricity or moving components.

Why Customers Might Choose A Salt Free Water Softener:

  • Does not use salt to operate
  • No waste water produced
  • Better for the environment
  • Can be installed in smaller spaces
  • Offers a ‘fit and forget’ solution
  • Treated water is suitable for drinking

Before we explore this technology further, it’s important to clarify that a ‘salt free water softener’ does not physically remove the hardness minerals from your water like a traditional water softener would. Instead, they work by ‘conditioning’ the water, to prevent or reduce the chances of limescale formation from hard water. This is why we typically call them ‘scale inhibitors’ or ‘water conditioners’ instead.

How Does A Salt Free Water Softener Work?

There are a number of salt free technologies available, which can differ in the way they work and how effective they are. For the purposes of this example, we will focus on our Scale Block Whole House Scale Inhibitors range, which utilises a ceramic resin called TAC.

TAC is short for a process called ‘template assisted crystallisation’ which independent tests show to be 99.6% as effective as traditional salt based water softening. This crystallisation process converts the hardness minerals like calcium and magnesium into tiny, microscopic crystals which can then float freely through your pipework and appliances without sticking to form limescale. This process differs to a salt based water softener which uses ion exchange to remove hardness minerals and swap them for sodium or salt. Here’s a simplified diagram of how this technology works.

How A Salt Free Water Softener Works

What Are The Benefits Of A Salt Free Water Softener?

Salt free water softeners offer many of the same benefits that salt based water softeners do, the most important being limescale prevention. This means that your kettle, taps and showers stay free from unsightly scale deposits as well as ensuring your boiler and appliances run as efficiently as possible. Over time a TAC based system will also work to clear existing limescale deposits too – much like a traditional water softener would.

Ease Of Installation
The primary advantage of a salt free water softener is the ease and practicality of installation. They typically have a small footprint, which makes them suitable for space sensitive locations. In addition, because they do not require any salt to function they can be tucked away, without worrying about access for regular maintenance. No access to a power supply or a drain is needed either, again opening up the possibilities of where they can be installed.  

Retains Healthy Minerals
One additional benefit unique to salt free water softeners is that the treated water is perfectly safe to drink, with no elevated sodium and the healthy minerals retained. This means that you do not need to keep a hard water line for drinking in any instance. It is worth noting that although the salt levels in the treated water from salt based softeners are very low, it can be enough to cause issues for people with certain health conditions or those on a low sodium diet.

Better For The Environment
With no salt or electricity required to operate, salt free is an excellent option to reduce your carbon footprint. As no waste water is produced during operation, you’ll also use less water than a traditional water softener would.

Drawbacks Of Salt Free Water Softeners

There are some instances where a traditional salt based water softener is superior. One example being for customers that want the luxurious feel of truly softened water. Whilst Salt Free Water Softeners can be just as effective at tackling limescale, because the hardness minerals remain in the water, they do not offer some of the benefits that a salt based softener do. Examples of these include a better lather with soaps and softer skin and hair.

It is worth noting that because water treated in a TAC system technically still contains the hard water minerals (although they have been altered to a non-scaling form)  you can not test whether a salt free water softener is working by using a water hardness test.

When a salt free water softener is being fed via new copper pipework, a TAC system such as our scale block must be bypassed for a minimum of 4 weeks, to allow for the new pipework to passivate. This can easily be achieved by either bypassing the system or not installing the media cartridge during this time.

Cases Where Customers May Choose A Salt Based Water Softener:

  • If you want to be able to verify soft water using a hardness test
  • If you prefer the lifestyle benefits of softened water
  • If you want the ‘luxurious’ feel of soft water
  • If you want to reduce the use of soaps or detergents
  • If you have eczema or psoriasis

What Are The Best Salt Free Water Softeners?

Based on our experience and independent testing, the best salt free water softener alternatives utilise a form of TAC media. However it’s worth noting that in some instances, it should be paired with other forms of filtration to improve overall water quality or to improve service life. Here’s an overview of what we’d recommend for different applications:

For limescale: Our best recommendation for salt free limescale prevention is the use of a TAC system such as our scale block or our larger salt free scale inhibitors. These clever systems are designed to feed either a single tap or whole house, and are specified according to flow rate or by number of occupants.

For drinking water: Our best recommendation is to employ a two stage system, utilising either a sediment or carbon filter – paired with our scale block system. This will give you both the benefit of limescale prevention and clean tasting, filtered water.

In general: For customers living in heavily built-up areas it is recommended to use both a sediment and carbon filter, up front of a salt free system. This will help to remove any sediment or excess chlorine that could otherwise reduce its lifespan. For those with private water supplies, we would always recommend getting in touch with a member of our team for a bespoke recommendation.

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