Best Water Softener: To Salt or Not to Salt?

best water softener

Oh, those stains and watermarks on my glassware! The caking up of my appliances!
We are all so familiar with the problems of hard water. and on top of the cosmetics, it costs us money when our appliances are not as efficient.
Hard water contains high levels of minerals like calcium and magnesium and can wreak havoc in any household. Luckily, there’s a great way to tackle this issue: installing a high-quality water softener in your home.

A water softener helps increase the lifespan of your plumbing and water-using appliances, and can even lower your water bill when a salt-free softener is involved. Heck, it can even soften your skin and hair.

Bear in mind that there are two kinds of water softeners: a salt or salt-free softener. Many people believe that the only difference is that one doesn’t use salt, but that is far from the truth.

Each system has several distinctions that one must consider before purchasing. But what is the difference and which one is better? Let us clarify for you:

Salt-Free Water Softeners

Main Points to Consider:

  • Cheaper.
  • Easy installation.
  • Salt-Free Softener = no wastage. 
  • Appliances are more efficient and last longer too.
  • No chemicals washed into the environment.
  • Healthier hair and skin without polluting the environment.
  • No lugging bags of salt around.
  • Less maintenance.
  • Offers exceptional water filtration.

On average, a salt-free softener is usually less expensive than a salt-based one and is very easy to install – once you have the right equipment. Also, this type of system requires less maintenance since no electricity is needed to run the cleaning cycle and no water is wasted when purging the minerals from the resin bed. As easy as that, you can save on your water and electricity bills. If you’re health-conscious (as you should be), you’ll appreciate the fact that no added salts are used in the softening process.

What Maintenance is Involved in Salt-Free Softeners?

Once you’ve installed your salt-free water softener, there will be no maintenance within the first year, thereafter, the only maintenance involved is changing the 3 cartridges 3 yearly, annually, 3 monthly (We will pop you an email reminder when you need to replace the cartridges so that you don’t need to remember. You can even sign up for an easy payment plan and the cartridges are sent out automatically)

Salt-Based Water Softeners

salt water softener

Main Points to Consider:

  • More expensive.
  • Difficult installation.
  • A lot of water wastage – potentially 4160 gallons of water wasted per year. (Calculated at approximately 80l per week)
  • Healthier hair and skin, but at what cost? Salt-Based Softeners put a lot of sodium in water which in turn pollutes the environment.
  • Pollutes water which affects the growth of plants – countries such as Israel have even banned these types of softeners because of their impact on the planet.
  • Have to carry heavy bags of salt around and there is more impact on the environment because of vehicles used to transport the bags of salt and packaging.
  • Does not filter the water – in fact, it is not recommended to drink it.

Salt-based softeners are designed to remove hardness-causing minerals from your water. As a result, you’ll probably notice a little to no limescale buildup on fixtures and appliances in your home. You’ll also see your clothes appearing brighter and cleaner and your hair and skin no longer feeling dry and itchy. Other long-term benefits include more efficient and longer-lasting appliances. However, despite all these great benefits, salt-based softeners are harmful to the environment and waste a lot of water, they are also more expensive than their salt-free counterparts and often require regular maintenance.

What Maintenance Is Involved In Salt Based Water Softeners?

The maintenance involved with a salt softener entails the following:

  • Setting up the initial timing parameters for regeneration (Unfortunately, Timers are often unreliable)
  • The monthly effort and cost of refilling the salt.

Other than that, you’ll want to keep an eye on making sure the brine tank doesn’t create a salt bridge. A salt bridge occurs when a hard crust in the brine tank forms and creates a space between the water and the salt. Salt mush is another more serious issue where dissolved salt recrystallizes and creates a sludge on the bottom of the brine tank. Humidity is one of the leading causes of systems not working, so keep an eye on your salt to ensure the system does not have any issues.

Best Water Softener Verdict

Overall, salt-free systems waste much less water and don’t add additional salt back into your environment. Both types of systems are designed to combat the negative impacts of hard water. A salt-free system is also easier on your pocket and provides the dual benefits of scale control and water filtration. However, if you find you can’t live without that slippery feel to the water than maybe a salt-based system is the answer. Either system will eliminate the negative impacts of hard water. At the end of the day, it just depends on which factors are the most important to you, such as price, environmental impact, healthy filtered water etc.

At Aquatiere we have industry-leading saltless water softeners available.
Click on the button below to get yours.

Some Extra Advice:

Why Not Both?

We have come across many cases where clients use both a Salt-Free and a Salt-Based Water Softener. The Salt-Free Softener would then be connected to the water supply whereas the Salt-Based Softener would be connected where the hot water splits. This gives you the optimum solution. Softer water and quality filtered cold water for drinking and cooking.

What Size Water Softener Do I Need?

Size is one of the most important factors to consider when deciding on your ideal water softening system. A salt based unit that is too small will likely lead to a limited supply of softened water in your household and low water pressure. In the same way, one that is too large or bulky can cause some serious sanitary issues.

Household water softeners are usually rated by the number of hardness grains they can remove and their salt efficiency (the amount of salt they require for regeneration). Many people think that it’s the physical size of the water softener that matters, but it is the softening capacity of the system that truly determines its suitability for your home.

So how do you know what size softener you need?

Let’s look at several key factors to help you find your best match.​

You will require a different size depending on the hardness and capacity required in a “flow-rate” sense. Salt-based softeners are limited to 30 000 grain/30l/m which means that often when the water flow rate increases, the softener isn’t actually working as it needs time to be able to contact the resin to work in the first place, whereas with a salt-free softener, the flow rate doesn’t matter.

1. How Hard is Your Water Supply?

how hard is my water

Water hardness is simply a measure of how much calcium and magnesium is dissolved in your water supply. To determine the level of hardness in your tap water, you can perform a water test and obtain the results in mg/L (milligrams per Liter) or GPG (grains per gallon). If your water comes from a well, river or any other groundwater source, you can either purchase a water quality test kit and check for hardness at home or send a water sample to a lab to be tested. The water hardness is often displayed in mg/L instead of GPG on some test kits, but you can simply divide the mg/L result by 17.1 to get your GPG value.

If you happen to be on a public line, you can check your annual water quality report online to see if any hardness was reported by your local water authorities.

If you plan on purchasing a salt-based water softener, it is crucial to know your water hardness when before purchasing a softener. Guessing at this number can result in an improperly sized water softener – and a string of migraines. When it’s time to program your system, it will ask for the hardness value. You might need to increase your grain hardness rating to compensate for any iron in your water. In this case, add 3-5 GPG of hardness for every 1.0 mg/L of iron to better determine your size water softener from there.

If you’re on a salt-free softener, don’t worry about the hardness level as you’re good to go.

2. What is Your Average Daily Household Water Usage, This is Important To Know For Salt Systems?

How much water does your household use daily? Do you take long showers? How often do you use the dishwasher and washing machine?

An easy way to determine how much water is used in your household every day is to look at your monthly water bills. 

To figure out your average monthly usage:

  1. Add the total consumption from your last three bills
  2. Divide that number by 3
  3. Divide the average monthly usage by 4, then by 7 to get your average daily usage.

Here’s a scenario:

Let’s say your total consumption (in gallons) for each month was 10,000 gallons, 15,000 gallons, and 20,000 gallons, respectively.

Total usage for last 3 months: 10,000 + 15,000 + 2,000 = 45,000 gallons
Average monthly usage: 45,000/3 = 15,000 gallons
Average weekly usage: 15,000/4 = 3,750 gallons
Average daily usage: 3,750/7 = 535 gallons

If math is not your best friend or you don’t have your water bills handy, just assume that each person in your home uses 75 gallons per day. So, if 4 family members are living in your household, you can use 300 gallons per day as a fair guesstimate.

Calculate Your Daily Softening Requirement
Now, it’s time to determine the amount of softened water your home will require each day. To achieve this, multiply your daily water use by your water hardness level (corrected for iron).

Here’s an example:

Hardness: 10 GPG
Daily Water Consumption: 4 people x 75 gallons per day = 300 gallons per day
Daily Softening Requirement: 10 GPG x 300 gallons per day = 3,000 grains per day.
Based on the example above, the water softener will be removing 3000 grains per day.

Regeneration Frequency

At this point, you’ve already used your daily water usage to figure out how much softening is required per day. Great! But there’s one more important factor to consider.

Water softeners are usually sized so that they generate about once per week. One regeneration cycle per week helps to keep your water consumption low and cleans out the resin bed so it can continue to produce quality water. Therefore, you must purchase a good-sized water softener to avoid regenerating too often and increasing water consumption, or not regenerating enough and the system starts to wear down.

If we take the daily softening requirement of 3000 grains per day and multiply it by 7, you would need a system that can soften 21,000 grains of total hardness to regenerate once every week.

When looking at different softeners, you’ll see listing for the size (in cubic feet) of the resin block and/or maximum grain count per regeneration cycle. Some water softeners have 24,000, 32,000, 48,000 and 64,000 grain capacity. But please be aware that while a 24,000-grain system (like the one in the example above) would seem ideal at first, we’re looking for 24,000 grains of total softening capacity.

What many resellers won’t tell you is that the 24,000-grain system will take about 27 pounds of salt to fully regenerate the system to the 24,000-grain level. A more accurate description of the “24,000” system would be “0.75 cubic feet”. “24,000” is the number of resins in the system. While you can get 24,000 grains of capacity from that amount of resins, it will use an excessive amount of salt to achieve this.

Let’s say your home’s weekly softening requirement is 30,000 grains. A system with one cubic foot of resin has a maximum grain setting of 32,000, which would probably burn through the softener salt to keep the system going. Instead, you should opt for a softener with 1.5 cubic feet of resin and a maximum grain setting of 48,000. By using a lower grain setting than the system can produce, it will use less salt in the long run.

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