You need to understand that when I say “water softener,” I am referring to a water treatment system that utilizes ion-exchange resin which is regenerated with salt to take the water to below 1 grain of hardness per gallon. That is the generally accepted definition of water softening. Of course, there are always people who push the envelop (or actually lie) about their products and call them water softeners, when in fact, they do not soften the water at all. You know, I could call my car a “space ship” if I wanted – I mean it travels from one space to another, but that is not the generally accepted meaning of “space ship.” What would you call me if I called my car a space ship? You should call the people who say they have a “salt-free water softener” the same thing.
On the other hand, there are “salt free water conditioners” which do no soften water, but do use some type of physical water treatment to alter the water’s ability to form scale. You can’t call them water “softeners” any more than I can call my car a “space ship,” but they often do a very good job of preventing scale in hard water areas.
Some people extoll them as being “green” products and say that they are better for the environment than a salt using water softener. On the surface, it would seem that they have a good argument. After all, isn’t it bad to put sodium chloride back into the environment? Isn’t a saltless solution better? No so fast! Let’s consider the facts.
- There are tradeoffs in life for anything that you do. For example – when you drive your car down the road (unless you have an electric car) you are taking a gasoline, which is extracted from below the earth’s crust and turning it into energy. The trade off is that you are putting hydrocarbons and other dangerous pollutants back into the earth’s atmosphere. If you are environmentally conscious or just plain economical, you may have a vehicle that gets exceptional mileage, minimizing the carbon “footprint.” Imagine how you life would be without a car. Your quality of life would greatly suffer, wouldn’t it?
- Sodium is the sixth most abundant element on earth and comprises about 2.6% of the earth’s crust. It is essential for animal life in small quantities, but is harmful to animals and plants in excess. Salt is one of the oldest, most ubiquitous food seasonings and salting is an important method of food preservation. The taste of salt (saltiness) is one of the basic human tastes.
- For many years, people with hard water (meaning water that is high in calcium and magnesium), have known that the hardness minerals cause a variety of problems in plumbing systems. For example, hard water can dramatically increase the cost to heat water because of the scale that it builds up. More energy used to heat water means more fossil fuel is used as a result. It also shortens the life of water heaters, washing machines, dishwashers, ice makers, faucets, fixtures, pipes and drains. When you have to replace these items sooner that you would have to if you had treated water, more fossil fuel is used in the manufacturing process and more water is wasted (manufacturing processes use vast amounts of water). Therefore, the person who says “well I won’t have a water softener, because it puts salt back in the environment” may actually having a greater negative impact upon the environment because of increased fossil fuel usage and more wasted water.
- Here’s where salt free water conditioners started: people were looking for a viable alternative to putting salt into the environment and (this may be the real reason) hauling and carrying salt. It is backbreaking work. Now, for the sake of argument, I am going to assume that you are looking at a salt-free water conditioner that ACTUALLY works. I say this because there are lots of systems that don’t work, don’t work well or for long and some that are “out-and-out scams.”
- A credible salt free water conditioner CAN do an excellent job of preventing scale, but there is a lot that a salt-free water conditioner CAN’T do that a salt-regenerated water conditioner CAN do. However, a salt free water conditioner cannot compete with a salt-based water softener when it comes to the following: A salt water softener will use about 50% less soap, detergents, water conditioners, bleach, shampoo and conditioners, and you don’t have to use any of the caustic or acidic Lime Removers. Soaps, detergents and chemicals are bad for the environment too. Are they worse or better than salt? I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do know that if sodium or chloride poses a danger to the environment, so do soaps, detergents, chemicals and the like. That is something the people who tout salt-free leave out of the equation.
- Additionally, with a water softener that is regenerated with salt, your clothes will be brighter and whiter, not stiff, grey and dingy and will be much softer to the touch. Additionally, it is much easier on sensitive skin.
Now, before you say that I am just slamming salt-free systems and promoting salt-regenerated water softeners, you need to realize that we sell both types of systems in probably pretty equal numbers. I happen to like soft water better than conditioned water – I like the slick feeling after a shower (but many people don’t – I get that!). I like the less soap, the whiter and brighter clothes and the spot-free dishes, but that’s just me. That is not as important to everyone.
So, in conclusion, salt free water conditioners are here to stay – I just wish people would call them by their right name (not “softeners”) so as to not mislead the public. However, whether salt free water conditioners are better for the environment is up for debate. I could argue both ways, but I tend to think that the winning argument is with a salt-regenerated water softener. The newest meter-controlled (demand) water softeners are extremely salt efficient and waste just a small amount of water each regeneration. However, what is right for YOU is your decision. We just try and give you the Straight Talk about both products.