The 10 Best Salt-Free Water Softeners: Which Saltless Water Softener is Right for You?
A salt-free water softener is a great solution for preventing limescale buildup and other issues caused by hard water. Additionally, using salt-free water softeners allows you to avoid the high cost and environmental impact that unfortunately comes with using salt-based water softeners. This article will help you determine which salt-free water softener is right for you by looking at the 10 best salt-free water softeners on the market, and how each individual option can appeal to your needs.
Not all systems are created equal. There are several different technologies used to “soften” water without having to rely on salt for the water softening. To make things more confusing, there are numerous terms that mean the same thing, like water conditioning, descaling, and salt-free water softening.
We’ll go through all of that later, but first, you need to determine if you have hard water in the first place, and if so, how hard the water is so you know which water conditioners to look at.
What is Hard Water?
Hard water is water that has a high volume of minerals like magnesium and calcium. Hard water is most common in areas where there are large limestone deposits. The greatest concentrations of hard water are in the Midwest and the west. The softest water tends to be in the southeast United States.
An estimated 85 percent of all homes in the United States have hard water, but the only way to know for sure is by testing your water at home. The JNW Direct Water Total Hardness Test Strips, which comes with 150 strips in every pack, is a great option. If your water hardness is greater than seven grains per gallon, you may want to invest in a water softener to prevent limescale buildup, damaged appliances, clogged pipes, and ruined clothing.
Why is Hard Water An Issue?
The typical family pays $800 or more in expenses every year due to hard water. Hard water expenses can pop up anywhere in your home where water is used, including:
Bathroom and Kitchen
One of the biggest problems with hard water is that the metal ions present in magnesium and calcium reduce the effectiveness of soap. The chemical reaction between soap molecules and metal ions prevents soap from lathering, making it hard to rinse the soap away. That leaves soap residue and buildup on dishes, on counter tops and floors, and on ceramics, metals, and glass in bathtubs and showers.
The ions in hard water minerals that make soap less effective can do the same thing to laundry detergent, leading to clothes that lose their brightness, become stiff and brittle, and become permanently soiled. The problem gets worse over time because the more mineral deposits a piece of clothing collects, the harder it becomes to wash.
A study at Purdue University found that clothing washed in hard water wore out 15 percent faster than clothing washed in soft water. Many people that wash with hard water end up using more detergent than should be necessary and hotter water, which causes additional expenses.
First things first: salt-free water softeners, descalers, and water conditioners are not as good at protecting appliances from hard water damage as salt-based water softeners because they do not remove hardness necessarily. Salt-based systems actually remove hard water minerals from the water through ion exchange, while salt-free systems simply condition the hard water minerals so they don’t build up as quickly. Salt-free water softeners act more as water conditioners, but we’ll get into that later.
What you need to know is that hard water damages appliances. Hard water can reduce the efficiency of a water heater by half over 15 years. Other appliances that rely on the uninterrupted transfer of water also lose their efficiency and experience reduced lifespans as a result of hard water.
If you have several expensive appliances and very hard water, it may be a good idea to invest in a salt-based water softener so you can soften water with salt. If you have only moderately hard water, you may find a salt-free softener does the job without the added expense and environmental impact.
Saltless water conditioners are the way to go if your water hardness level is at the lower end. You can use the mentioned JNW Direct Water Total Hardness Test Strips or a similar product to determine what kind of softener is best for your appliances.
The deposits left behind by hard water minerals are called limescale. It builds up over time, causing bad odors, leaks, clogs, pipe damage, and frequently required maintenance that can become quite expensive in the process. Limescale buildup also slows water flow over time. It's a big pain in the "you know what," and can also become a big pain in your finances if you don't take care of it early. One of the first areas people tend to notice reduced water pressure from limescale buildup is in the shower when shower heads become blocked. Hard water can reduce the flow rate of a shower head by 75 percent over a year and a half from the build up.
Skin and Hair
Hard water minerals also deactivate the shampoos, soaps, and body washes you use in the shower, and that can have negative consequences for skin and hair. The ions in hard water don’t properly dissolve the soap and other cleaning agents, which means they stay on your skin and on your hair, they remove the body’s natural oils, and they leave skin and hair dry and irritated.
If you happen to live in an area with a particularly dry climate, hard water can even cause dermatitis and worsen skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. Lastly, the drying effect of hard water can cause acne by clogging your pores with dead skin cells. A hard water treatment system is a great way to take care of these physical ailments. And remember, saltless water conditioners are the best option if your water isn't too hard.
Salt-Free and Salt-Based Water Softeners: What’s the Difference?
Now, let’s clear up some common misconceptions about salt-free water softeners and salt water softeners. Salt-free water softeners do not soften water—not technically, anyway. Here’s what you need to know.
The term “soften” means literally removing the minerals from water that make it hard, namely magnesium and calcium. Salt water softeners do this with a process called ion exchange. During ion exchange, the hard water flows through a bed of salt resin that exchanges hard water particles with sodium particles. The calcium and magnesium are flushed down the drain and “softened” water comes out of your faucet, and the hardness minerals are converted during the ion exchange process.
One drawback of using salt-based water softeners to obtain soft water is the salt. A small amount of salt, roughly 86 parts per million, is left in your water at the end of the process. The harder your water is, the more salt your water will contain. That’s why some municipalities and towns restrict or even outlaw the use of salt-based water softeners. Saltless water conditioners, on the other hand, achieve similar results without the need to maintain expensive salt additives for the ion exchange.
How Salt-Free Water Softeners Work
Salt-free water softeners do not use salt and, therefore, do not remove hard water minerals from water. They are not technically softeners. Instead, they alter the chemical structure of hard water minerals so they don’t stick together, build up in pipes and on surfaces, and damage clothes, skin, and hair. Overall, salt-free options still provide soft water and remove hardness minerals that cause build up and appliance issues.
Sometimes salt-free systems are called “descalers” or “conditioners" because they descale and condition rather than remove hard water minerals. They work as a water conditioner for water softening, but not to the same scale as salt systems. On our list of the 10 best salt-free water softeners, you’ll see that these salt-free systems use different technologies, from a potassium-chloride salt substitute to electricity and magnetism in the process of achieving soft water.
One problem some people have with salt-free water softeners is that they don’t produce the “slippery” feeling of truly soft water. These salt-free systems provide similar results, but they don't use the exact process that salted water softeners use to create soft water. Another issue is that they are not as good at preventing limescale in places where water sits, like in water heaters, as salt-based systems. If you're constantly needing to replace your water heater because of issues from build up, you may want to consider a salt water option for the sake of your hot water production and water heater.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Salt-Free Water Softener
As you go through the list of the 10 best salt-free water softeners below, which are organized by price from high to low, you’ll notice significant price differences between the different water softening units. Largely the price variation has to do with whether the system filters and conditions water or just conditions, it’s capacity, and whether it treats water across the entire home or in one area during the process. All of these systems come highly recommended, but you can check and see which of these systems will work best for your home or office water softening needs.
Whole-House Softening/Conditioning and Filtering
If you want water that is filtered and softened (AKA descaled or conditioned) across your entire home, rather than just at one or more output points, then investing in a whole-house water softening/conditioning unit makes sense. It’s by far the most expensive option, but it’s more cost-effective than purchasing a whole-house water softener as well as under-sink filtration units for every sink to produce soft water. With a salt-free whole-house softener-filter, you don’t have to worry about purchasing and replacing salt in your unit. It’s a comprehensive, set-it-and-forget-it approach that leaves you with soft water, every time.
Whole-House Water Softening/Conditioning
If you don’t need filtered water across your entire home but do want to soften/condition the water where it enters your home, a whole-house salt-free water softener is your best bet. These salt-free softeners and water conditioners will provide you with soft water without having you commit to expensive salt refills.
If you want whole-house softening/conditioning, but don’t want to filter all the water that enters your home, you can still filter the water you drink by placing an under-sink or faucet-mounted reverse osmosis or charcoal water filtration unit in your kitchen. This mixed approach is the best way to reduce the impact of hard water minerals across your home while filtering contaminants from the water you drink and cook with.
As we mentioned above, the unit and the technology you decide on should ultimately depend on how hard your water is. If you have extremely hard water, you probably need to invest in a higher-end salt-free water softener or a salt-based water softener. Salt-free softeners are the better option if your water is not that hard. You just need to figure out how hard your water is. Get a home testing kit by following the link in the "What is Hard Water?" section above.
The next factor you need to consider is how much water you use. You can figure this out by counting the number of bathrooms you have or by looking at several of your water bills and finding an average. Most of the 10 best salt-free water softeners on our list are rated for how much water they can treat before requiring a filter change for each water conditioner. You can opt for a less expensive model and change your filter more often, or pay more upfront and deal with fewer filter changes. Filter changes aren't affected by using cold water or hot water.
The other obvious factor that will go into your decision is your budget. The 10 best saltless water conditioner options on this list are arranged by price from high to low at the time of writing, though prices may change over time. If your water isn’t that hard and you’re not concerned about damage to your appliances, saltless water conditioners will be a great choice.
You can enjoy whole-house filtration and softening/conditioning for a fraction of the price of whole-house salt-based softening and filtration, plus you don’t have to deal with the $10 a month you’ll pay for softening salt. If you have extremely hard water, it may be worth it to invest in a salt-based water softening filtration system as the salt-free water conditioner is best for water that isn't very hard.
The Best Salt-Free Water Softeners
1. Pelican Whole House Alternative Water Filter-Softener
This comprehensive filtering and conditioning saltless water softener removes 97% of chlorine and is certified to reduce 99.6% of scale. It’s an ideal water-softening solution for large homes with anywhere from four to six bathrooms or smaller homes with very hard water.
The water-softening system comes with the PC1000 Water Filter, which filters chlorine, chloramine and other contaminants, and the NS6 Water Softener, which provides naturally softened water without salt. The softener leaves in beneficial minerals like calcium and magnesium while preventing and removing hard water scale from plumbing and appliances. Plus, the filter will give you spring-like water from every tap in the home.
For a whole-house system, the Pelican Whole House Alternative Water Filter-Softener is easy to install and compares well to other water softeners by far. It can be installed inside or outside so long as it is protected from freezing temperatures. As is the case with other salt-free water softeners, this until conditions the water so there is no slippery feel.
- Filters and conditions water
- Easy installation
- Quality materials
2. APEC Water Systems WH-SOLUTION-15 Water Filter-Softener
The WH-SOLUTION-15 from APEC Water Systems is a professional grade whole-house filter/softener solution. Like the Pelican model above, the WH-SOLUTION-15 has the capacity to filter and soften water across an entire home. It’s rated for homes with between three to six bathrooms.
WH-SOLUTION-15 requires no electricity or wastewater disposal and very little maintenance. The filter removes chloramine and chlorine and other abrasive chemicals used in municipal water treatment plants. The salt-free conditioner prevents limescale buildup, prolonging the lifespan of appliances and preventing damage to skin, hair, pipes, and surfaces.
Like other salt-free water softeners, WH-SOLUTION-15 is safe for people with high blood pressure and salt-restricted diets. The water it produces tastes like spring water. That’s because the filter removes chlorine and chemicals and the smells and odors that come with them, and the water conditioner leaves in beneficial minerals like calcium and magnesium that give water an almost sweet taste.
As an added bonus, the WH-SOLUTION-15 comes with a free 10” whole-house sediment filter, a $150 value. Sediment filters both remove large particulates like rust, dust, and sand and protect the carbon filters that remove chlorine.
- Filters and conditions water
- Strong flow rate
- Comes with sediment filter
- High resin costs
3. APEC Water Systems FUTURA-10 Water Conditioner-Softener
The FUTURA-10 from APEC Water Systems is a softener/conditioner only. It does not include a filter to remove purifying chemicals like chlorine or chloramine. It conditions hard water minerals to prevent buildup on surfaces and in pipes, prolong the life of appliances, and prevent hair and skin dryness and irritation.
The FUTURA-10 is built to condition water across the entire home. It is best used in homes with 1-3 bathrooms. It can treat water at 10 gallons a minute flow rate. The manufacturer has rated this softener suitable for water hardness levels under 25 grains per gallon. If your hardness test kit says your water is harder than that, you may opt for a salt-based softener.
Installation is quick and easy, and the system requires no maintenance. One of the best aspects of the FUTURA-10 is its excellent warranty. It comes with a 10-year limited warranty plus life-time expert support. APEC is a first-rate manufacturer that has a decades-long history of producing quality components.
Like other saltless water softeners, this unit is great for people with cardiovascular health risks and those on reduced-sodium diets
- Large capacity
- Strong flow rate
- Quality materials
- High resin costs
4. Aquasana Whole House Filter-Softener
This whole-house salt-free filter/softener from Aquasana prevents limescale, removes 97 percent of chlorine, and reduces harmful contaminants like lead, mercury, pesticides, and VOCs. It’s a cost-effective solution, cleaning and conditioning water for just $0.01 a gallon. It’s also long-lasting, rated for 10 years or 1 million gallons of use.
For a dual-tank descaler, this Aquasana system is remarkably easy to install. You simply hook up the descaler with the whole-house water filter system. No backflushing, draining, or salt replacement is required, but the system does require some maintenance. To maintain peak filtration and water flow rate, it’s advisable to replace pre and post-filters every three months.
The system’s Scale Control Media (SCM) softening technology conditions hard water without removing beneficial hard minerals. The chemical structure of calcium and magnesium is altered to discourage buildup. With no salt inserted into the water, there’s no risk to people with a sensitivity to sodium in saltless water softeners.
- Easy installation
- Lasts 10 years
- Some maintenance required
5. Magna-Soft Salt-Free Magnetic Water Conditioner-Filter
This salt-free water softener and filter from Magna-Soft removes chlorine, chloramine, pesticides and other harmful contaminants while also preventing scale buildup, corrosion in plumbing fixtures, and clogged pipes.
This sturdy saltless water softener uses powerful magnets with 500 pounds of pulling power to keep hard water minerals like calcium and magnesium suspended and away from surfaces. All parts of this system that contact water are manufactured with NSF listed components.
That means you get very similar performance to a salt-based water softener, including better lathering soap, whiter white clothes, brighter colored clothes, and a greater lifespan on your appliances. Plus, it’s carbon filtration unit freshens, filters, and removes chemicals for excellent tasting water.
Installation is simple for most homeowners, especially if your plumbing uses standard components. If you prefer to have a professional install the system, they should be able to do it in between an hour and two hours.
- Filters and conditions
- NSF components
- Difficult installation
The pH of your water using the scientific process of chelation. In chelation, the mineral ions that cause hard water, primarily calcium and magnesium, are bound together and kept soluble by a chelating agent.
The result is conditioned water that runs through pipes and appliances without leaving limescale and buildup. Washing hair, skin, and clothes with soap won’t lead to dryness, irritation, and damage.
The NuvoH2O Home Softener System’s chelating agent uses a proprietary formulation and is FDA-approved. The system is ideal for homes with one to two residents, depending on water use.
Like other salt-free water softeners, the NuvoH2O Home Softener System will extend the life of your appliances and plumbing fixtures and does not rely on salt or electricity. There’s no wastewater to dispose of so it can be used in any household and any community.
Cartridges need to be replaced every 20,000 gallons. One nice feature of the NuvoH2O Home Softener System is that it packs a lot of punch in a small package. It has a compact design and can fit almost anywhere.
- NSF and FDA approved
- Compact design
- Does not filter water
7. OneFlow + Salt-Free Scale Prevention and Water Filtration System
Another saltless water softener using innovative technology is the OneFlow + Salt-Free Scale Prevention and Water Filtration System. This device deserves special mention in comparison to other water softeners because it can both filter lead and condition water, and it was rated the most effective scale prevention technology by the WateReuse Research Foundation.
Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC) is a unique technology that attracts and converts hard minerals like calcium and magnesium and converts them into “soft” particles that stay suspended in the water rather than sticking to surfaces. The media cartridge lasts 25,000 gallons before requiring replacement, which should take about three years.
TAC involves no salt or chemicals. With no ion exchange, there’s no sodium left in treated water and the beneficial minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium keep your water tasting great. TAC does everything salt-based water softeners do: allowing water to flow without obstruction through pipes and appliances, helping clothes stay bright and soft, preventing hair and skin from drying out.
The OneFlow + Salt-Free Scale Prevention and Water Filtration System is unlike other saltless water softeners and scale sequestering devices. Along with a cartridge, the system includes a 20 Micron radial flow carbon block that reduces sediment and chlorine taste for 50,000 gallons. That combination results in annual savings of up to $300 for a 4-person household that uses 75 gallons of water per person every day.
The OneFlow+ system is rated lead-free to NSF/ANSI Standard 372. The anti-scale media is rated by the Water Quality Association to NSF/ANSI Standard 61.
There’s no need to purchase salt or other chemicals, and it does not require access to electricity or a drain. The device is compact and can be placed on the floor or mounted to the wall. Installation is somewhat complicated, though it does come with inlet/outlet adapters for standard plumbing. Maintenance is simple, consisting of changing cartridges periodically using a multifunction tool that comes with the system.
- Conditions and filters water
- Filters lead
- Difficult installation
8. AO Smith Whole House Salt-Free Water Descaler
The AO Smith Whole House Salt-Free Water Descaler is a budget option that reduces scale buildup in pipes and plumbing across the entire home with no chemicals, salt, wastewater, or electricity required.
For its price, this system has an excellent capacity. It can condition hard water minerals in households of four or more people. The only drawback? It requires replacement after roughly six years or 600,000 gallons. Luckily, the system comes with a limited 6-year warranty.
The AO Smith Whole House Salt-Free Water Descaler works for both well water or city water thanks to its quality engineering. It comes with a shut-off valve, hose adapter, and nipple for simple installation. It is a very compact unit and can fit almost anywhere. It needs to be installed where the water enters the home before the hot water heater.
- Excellent warranty
- Does not filter water
- Requires replacement after 6 years
9. Capacitive Electronic Water Descaler System
The Yarna CWD24 Capacitive Electronic Water Descaler system is different from everything else mentioned so far on this list. While most salt-free water softeners require zero electricity to function, this softener relies completely on electricity.
Hard water minerals tend to adhere to everything they touch—the inside of your pipes and appliances, your skin, your clothes, etc.—thanks to their sharp edges. The Yarna CWD24 conditions hard water minerals with electric impulses that change the way calcium and magnesium crystals behave. The electric pulse breaks the crystals apart and turns them into ions, long, smooth strings of charge that don’t adhere to anything.
Perhaps the biggest advantage to the Yarna CWD24 saltless water softener is how flexible it is. It relies on electricity, so there’s no need for complicated installation or plumbing work. It has no maximum grain limit. 15.4 gallons can be treated every minute with a 99% efficiency.
It’s effective for any water pressure and has no capacity limit. It can condition water for a large house or an apartment complex.
Installation takes 15 minutes. No maintenance is required, though you may have to wait up to three months before you notice a significant improvement in your home’s water.
- 365-day money-back guarantee
- Easy installation
- Requires electricity
- May take several months to see improvement
10. AHM INNOVATIONS Electronic Water Softener System
AHM INNOVATIONS Electronic Water Softener System is by far the most cost-effective device of the 10 best salt-free water softeners on our list. Like the Yarna CWD24, it uses electricity to change the shape of hard water crystals and prevent scale deposits. It can condition the water across your entire home, not just at one outlet point.
It does not remove hard water chemicals from your water and does not rely on chemicals or salt to function. Unlike non-electric water conditioners, it can be attached to hot or cold water pipes. This system has no filtering capacity, but it can easily be used in conjunction with an under sink or faucet-mounted filtration system.
The device is somewhat bulky, but the installation could not be simpler. The installation kit comes with everything you need to install. There’s no chance of getting wet or causing water damage in your home because this saltless water softener connects to the outside of your pipes.
For its relatively small price, you may be wondering if it can really do everything you’ve come to expect from a salt-free water softener. The manufacturer and numerous reviewers have attested that it does, in fact, prolong the lifespan of appliances, reduce buildup and damage in pipes, and prevent itchy skin and brittle hair. With the 100% customer satisfaction warranty and the super low price, there’s not much risk to seeing if this works for your home.
- Budget option
- Simple installation
- Requires electricity