Softening water in your home isn’t a complex process, and it’s something easily accomplished when you have the right equipment. Salt-based water softeners aren’t for everyone, however, and there are even restrictions on them in some areas of the United States.
If you want to be environmentally conscious or live one of those regions, you may want to consider a salt-free water softening system. While there are some major differences between the two, a salt-less system is a unique option if you are experiencing problems from hard water in your home.
What is a Salt-Free Water Softener?
Most salt-free water softeners use a process that chemically alters calcium and magnesium in your water as it passes through the system. The term “salt-free” is only used because these systems don’t use salt, but it’s important to know they also don’t remove hard water minerals. They are conditioners, not really water softeners.
As water comes into your home and comes in contact with the media in the filter or tank, it alters and effectively neutralizes calcium and magnesium so that it will no longer cling to surfaces. This prevents scale in your pipes and will save your appliances as well. Some systems will regenerate or spawn new media, but others will require you to refill media or replace canisters and tanks occasionally.
Salt-Free Softeners vs. Salt-based Softeners
The biggest difference between salt-free and salt-based water softeners is the fact the latter can actually change the hardness levels in your home. Water softeners use salt and will have to regenerate, which causes wastewater.
You will have to dispose of a briny backwash mix frequently, which is why they are banned in some regions and frowned upon in others. Salt-based systems are extremely effective, however, and the initial price tag is similar to salt-free systems. That said, a real water softener will cost far more to maintain over the life of the system.
By comparison, any salt-less water conditioner doesn’t require much upkeep. You will need to replace media beads with some models, but that could only be once a decade although 1 to 6 years is closer to the standard. Salt-free conditioners won’t make your water feel as “slippery” which is a nuisance for some with their skin and hair. They can also take care of spotting around drains or on dishes while reducing scale.
How to Find the Best Salt-Free Water Softener
If you’ve decided that a salt-free water softener is the best choice for your household, it’s time to start narrowing the field. While they are uncomplicated systems from a technical standpoint, our guide will cover all key areas you need to look for in order to make the perfect pick.
Types of Salt-Free Water Conditioners
Depending on your knowledge of water filtration and softening systems, it may have come as a surprise to learn that a salt-free “softener” is actually a conditioner or descaler and doesn’t remove hardness. Well, we’ve got another surprise as there are two types of conditioning systems available on the market today.
Features & Tech Specs
There aren’t many “features” with a salt-free softening system considering 99% of them don’t require electricity. That cuts down on the bells & whistles, but there are a few things you need to consider and some tech specs you’ll need to know as well.
As with most water filtration systems, anything with NSF/ANSI certification is a plus. That means it meets certain requirements for drinking water and has been deemed safe by the proper authorities. The agency covers everything from filters to fittings, but you may have to search their site to see if a product is certified more often than note.
There are a handful of technical specifications you will encounter as well. The service flow rate or flow rate refers to how much water you can expect the system to move or “condition” and is measured in GPM. That stands for gallons per minute, but when you see GPG, that means gallons per grain. It’s a stat mainly used for salt-based systems although frequently found on some salt-less units as well.
The more important thing to consider is the maximum hardness level the system can work with. Again, not every manufacturer freely provides this information, but if a system is rated for fewer than 15 grains, and your hardness level is 22, its descaling properties won’t do you much good.
We’re not going to spend much time here as there is no rhyme or reason to warranties with whole-house descaling systems. High-end systems typically come with a limited lifetime guarantee, or you’ll get around 10 to 15 years. Alternatively, anything that’s cheap or in the budget class is usually only covered for a year.
That’s where build quality comes into play as units with thin plastic housings or cheap canisters may not hold up as well over time. The same goes for valves or any accessories included with your softener as part of an installation kit. The extras aren’t always the best quality, so pay attention to what’s included in the box when checking over your new water descaler.
The Best Salt-Free Water Softeners
Once you’ve decided to make the jump and purchase a salt-free system or conditioner for your home, the hard part is basically over. Fortunately, there aren’t as many salt-free models to choose from compared to their salty counterparts, so the best models quickly separate themselves from the rest of the pack. With that in mind, here are the best water conditioners and descalers available on the market today.
- Flow Rate: 15 GPM
- Capacity: 75 GPG
- Warranty: Limited Lifetime
- Flow Rate: 7 GPM
- Capacity: 25 GPG
- Warranty: 6 Years
- Flow Rate: 15 GPM
- Capacity: 25 GPG
- Warranty: 10 Years
- Flow Rate: NA
- Capacity: 25 GPG
- Warranty: 1 Year
Triple Action Water Softener
- Flow Rate: 30 GPM
- Capacity: 25 GPG
- Warranty: Lifetime/2-years
1. Pelican Water Whole House NaturSoft Salt-Free Water Softener
The Best Salt-less Whole House Water Softener
Pelican has a lineup of both salt-based and salt-free water softeners including the Pelican NS6. It’s the company’s flagship saltless water softener and the best choice for consumers that need a large system that can last a lifetime.
Two of the perks you’ll find from Pelican’s water filtration and softening systems are longevity and ease of use. The NS6 certainly fits that bill as it’s made from premium materials and is extremely easy to install. It also carries NSF/ANSI certification for structural and material safety. This salt-free water softener system isn’t exactly small at 59”H x 21”W x 19”D but still svelte considering the capacity.
This system offers a two-part solution to your softening and descaling needs. It comes with a 5-micron pre-filter that handles sediment before it enters the conditioning tank. That large tank is filled with NaturSoft softening media and never needs to be replaced. As for that pre-filter, you will need to pick up a new one every 6 to 9 months. They are relatively inexpensive, but it’s a cost to keep in mind nonetheless.
Pelican’s salt-free system can deal with water that has a maximum hardness rating of 75 GPG with a pH of between 7 to 11. It’s rated at 15 gallons per minute, and while it can’t lower hardness or remove common contaminants found in tap water, it is DVGW certified to prevent 99.6% of scale build-up in your home.
This well-built system is designed for consumers with large homes and ideal when you need a worry-free descaler. The only knock on this conditioner is the price; otherwise it performs as advertised. As you’d expect, comes with a limited lifetime guarantee along with a bypass valve, installation guide, and fittings.
2. Aquasana SimplySoft Descaler System EQ-AST-WH
An Affordable Whole House Conditioning System
Salt-free conditioners come in all shapes and sizes. Not everyone needs a 5-foot tank that can service a half-dozen people, which is where descalers like the EQ-AST from Aquasana come into play. This salt-free water softer will still cover your entire home but is around half the price of similar systems in this class.
Compared to the Pelican and other salt-free whole house systems, the EQ-AST leaves a small footprint behind. It’s 46”H x 27”W x 9” deep and is one of the easier systems to install due to the design and the fact it only weighs 34 pounds. The softening or conditioning canister is rated to last 6 years or 600,000 gallons and the flow rate clocks in at 7 gallons per minute.
The Aquasana EQ-AST-WH will prevent scale in your plumbing thanks to the company’s SCM technology. Their Scale Media Control system doesn’t demineralize your H2O or harm your plumbing and can deal with hardness below 25 GPG. The ideal range is 15 grains per gallons, or below, however, so you’ll definitely want to check your levels before picking this one up.
While one of the simpler salt-free water softener systems on our list, the EQ-AST-WH is very effective with a 99.6% scale reduction rating. There is a lack of reviews for this particular model, but in our research, we found it was well-received by consumers across the board. This system comes with a 5-micron pre-filter and a full installation kit along with a 6-year warranty.
3. APEC Water Systems FUTURA-15 Whole House Salt-Free Softener
An Excellent Salt-Free System from APEC
APEC is a brand that we seem to cross paths with whenever we’re looking for the best product from a specific area. We’re fans of their reverse osmosis systems, and if you’re interesting in reducing scale in your home, the APEC FUTURA 15 is a system you won’t want to overlook.
This single tank system works in the same fashion as other salt-free water softeners on our list by neutralizing hard water without releasing sodium. Their big tank is filled with Advanced Ceramic Media and built to last for years without needing any maintenance. In fact, the company’s catalytic granules never need to be recharged or replaced as they aren’t consumed during regeneration.
Never having to backwash your system or change filters is a plus, and so is the flow rate. It’s listed at 15 gallons per minute, which means it should be able to cover 4 to 6 rooms without any problem. The FUTURA 15 works best in homes with hardness levels below 25 GPG, and while you won’t get a pre-filter, it does come with a bypass valve, elbows, O-rings and a sweat adapter kit.
While this system is in-line with Pelican’s flagship model, it’s a bit more affordable and has the same flow rate of 15 GPM. It will also take up less space in your garage or basement considering it measures 54”H x 10”W x 10”D. Just remember to keep a sediment filter in mind whether you get your H2O from a municipal source or drink well water.
4. iSpring ED2000 Whole House Electronic Descaler Water Softener
The Best Electronic Whole House Water Descaler
iSpring is another company that specializes in water filtration devices, and they make some excellent systems for whole house filtration and well water. The iSpring ED2000 is the company’s first electronic descaler system, and an interesting alternative depending on your needs.
A quick glance lets you know the ED2000 is different. There are no tanks, so you don’t have to refill media, and you won’t even need to cut your water line. When it comes to conditioners that are simple to set up, it doesn’t get much easier than this. All you need to do is wrap the cables around your main water pipe, and an oscillating electrical field will take care of the rest.
This alternative water softener is built for 1” water lines and homeowners with hardness levels under 25 GPG. It will work with PVC or PEX as well, but you will need a power outlet within 16 feet of the unit. As these systems can only treat a limited area, you may need an additional ED2000 for water traveling over 50 feet. You’ll also want to keep your iron levels in mind as anything over 0.3 ppm will reduce the effectiveness of this system.
The beauty of the iSpring ED2000 is the fact it doesn’t directly interfere with your water, and it’s something you can set and forget. On the downside, its effectiveness is limited by design, so consider your needs, plumbing system, and how hard your water is. This water descaling system comes with a 1-year warranty.
5. Triple Action Poly Salt-Free Water Softener
The Best Water Conditioner for Well Water
When you’re dealing with salt-based water softeners, size matters. While the same holds true for conditioners and whole house salt-free systems, sometimes good things come in small packages. If you need a descaler that won’t break the bank and weighs less than 5 pounds, the Triple Acton Softener may be the best option for your home.
As the name implies, the Triple Action Softener system is a 3-in-1 device. Inside the durable housing, you will find a chamber for the media, but there are also additional two filters. There is a 25-micron stainless steel filter and a tiny 2-micron cartridge filter that can deal with a degree of bacteria and iron. The media used to reduce scale consists of polyphosphate beads and is easy to replace.
While not fancy, this system is NSF certified and made from BPA-free materials. It will require a little more maintenance than other softeners given its capacity. You’ll need to replenish those beads every 6 to 12 months, but the maintenance on this system is painless – there’s even a rinsing valve on the bottom.
This little conditioner comes with everything you need to get started aside from a pre-filter if you plan on using it with well water. The catalytic core has a lifetime guarantee, while the housing and parts are warrantied for 2 years. The system can handle 30 GPM and is best suited for households with hardness levels under 25 GPG.