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Salt-Free Water Softeners

Expert advice about salt-free water softener systems, including what they are and when you might want to choose one. Includes discussion of electronic or magnetic water softeners.

Salt-free water softener   Photo: NuvoH20

Salt-free water softener utilizes chelation technology. Photo: NuvoH20

Some people are concerned about the health effects of the sodium that softeners put in water. Be aware that most health concerns are over intake of sodium chloride, not the sodium bicarbonate that results from softening water. In addition, opinions expressed in the New England Journal of Medicine minimize concerns about the amount of salt introduced by water softeners.

One option is to bypass one or more cold water faucets in the house that are used for drinking water. Some people connect a standard unit only to the hot water side of the water supply system; unfortunately, with this option, you forfeit some of the benefits of having soft water in the shower, laundry, and wherever else cold water is mixed with hot since only about half of the water is softened.

Another option is to install a reverse-osmosis water filter that will remove salt from drinking water. For more about water filters, see Types of Water Filters.

Salt-Free Technologies

Although the amount of sodium added is minimal compared to a healthy person’s normal diet, people who have been advised by a doctor to reduce sodium intake may want to consider a unit that regenerates with a potassium-chloride salt substitute rather than sodium.

With chelation, the metal ions that cause hard water, primarily magnesium and calcium, are bound to a chelating agent. As a result, these minerals are suspended in the water. Water softeners that utilize this technology are actually descalers—they don’t reduce the hard water minerals but rather keep minerals from being deposited as scale to the surfaces of water-using appliances and pipes through which the water passes. Scale can build up where water sits, however, such as in a water heater.

The general consensus is that this type of water treatment is better than no water softener at all, but not as effective as conventional water softening. To buy this type of water softener online at Amazon.com, please see Salt-Free Water Softeners.

Electronic or Magnetic Water Softeners

A more radical—and controversial—option is an electronic or magnetic water softener. According to manufacturers, this plug-in device, which clips onto the incoming pipe, sets up a magnetic field that changes the electromagnetic properties of the calcium-carbonate minerals so they are repelled by pipes and each other.

A study commissioned by the Water Quality Association, however, found that, when such devices were tested against conventional ion-exchange softeners and against claims made by the manufacturers, no significant physical or chemical changes in the water occurred and the units did not reduce scale formation. Despite the effectiveness claims made by manufacturers of these devices, buyers should beware.

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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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  1. Do magnetic or electronic water softeners work? If you’ve used an electronic or magnetic water softener, now is your chance to give us your feedback.

    • well if magnetic or electromagnetic water softeners did work I’d sure purchase a bunch of them for my washing mashine, dishwasher and my shower cabin

      If possible I could use a big-strong one in the center pipe even if it costed a bit more for the whole house. We have really hard water :(

      P.S. But I need some real proof, not oh it works :P

  2. The U.S. Navy, among others, has successfully used this type of electronic devices. I am currently building and installing one myself. I’ll be glad to report back with my “real-world” results. For some background, I completely re-plumbed this house back in 2002, and replaced every pipe and fixture from the meter on. The bathroom supply lines and faucet are so clogged with mineral deposits, only about 10% of flow is possible. I have pics. I certainly hope to report back with positive results! Good Day!

    • Excellent! Please let us know how it goes.

    • It’s been a year, how did your electronic water softener work?

  3. I am considering buying a Water Boss softener because it is compact. This unit appears to have a single tank that carries the softener pellets, and a resin tank inside of it. Can anyone advise on this type of softener?


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