Water Softener or Water Conditioner?

This is a question we get many times a day.  Water softeners are one of the following:

  1. systems that use the ion exchange process with salt;
  2. reverse osmosis systems;
  3. deionization systems; or
  4. distillation systems

to produce water that is below 1 grain of hardness per gallon (GPG).

In the interests of full disclosure, I am not talking about companies that falsely call their products “salt-free water softeners” when in fact, they are not .  For this discussion, I am talking about products that will actually produce “soft” water.  As I mentioned, soft water is water that is free of minerals to below 1 GPG.   So when a company says that theirs is a salt-free water softener which leaves the beneficial minerals, they are preying upon your lack of understanding as to what “soft” means.   In simpler terms, they are giving you false information.

A salt-free water conditioner, does not make the water soft – it simply causes the hardness minerals to lose their ability to form scale.  Some salt-free or saltless water softeners work better than others, but for the sake of comparing what they are capable of, I have made this comparison chart:


What is right for you?  There is no simple answer to that question – much of it depends upon where you live and your lifestyle. For example, some counties (especially in California) have banned water softeners, so you are limited to a salt-free conditioner, even if you don’t want one. However, in most parts of the country you are free to choose what you want. The answer to that question depends upon you. We would caution you that when deciding which one is right for you, you should deal with a water treatment company that sells more than just one type of product.

At US Water Systems, we sell both, but we are very careful to explain the difference.  We sell Green Wave Salt-Free Water Conditioners as well as Water Softeners that are regenerated with salt and Whole House Reverse Osmosis Systems.

This article has 8 Comments

  1. i have very hard water from my own well deep in rock, no municipal water avaible.what do i use with a septic tank.was told salt bad for septic.dish washer wont clean,tankless coil in boiler went bad.real problem. thanks,mike

  2. There are many studies that show salt is not as bad for a septic tank all the chemicals, phosphates and detergents you have to use with hard water. In fact, they show that it can actually stimulate bacterial reactions. Get a water softener.

  3. I lived up north in wisconsin, and had a water softener using salt. I had the feeling that I could not wash the soap of my body after hand washing or showering. They adjusted the softener several times, but it did not change anything. I threw the water softener out, and immediately had the feeling that my hands, body were cleaner after washing, because I did not have the soapy feeling left.
    I now moved to Florida, and bought a rather new house that has a water softener using salt, and I have the soapy feeling again! What is going on? You say that the softened water removes soap better, my experience seems to show the opposite! Should I look into an electronic water conditioning system?

  4. Go back and carefully re-read what I wrote. What you believe may be YOUR truth, but it is not THE truth!

    Electronic Water Conditioning System? It works just as well as the “transporters” in Star Trek!

  5. I have a house in northern MN and the water has a lot f rust, etc. in it. I have a conditioner and a filter installed. It still stains the bathroom fixtures – can’t use for drinking/cooking or d laundry. What can I do to get better water? I am on a well. Thank you……

  6. I had a new water softener put in last year because our water was brown. The plumber who put it in said we have iron in the water but the system is doing what it should be doing. The test after the softener are PH 5.3. Hardness is 2 grains iron is 1 ppm. Hydrogen sulfide 2 ppm. But our water is yellow. How do I fix this and is it safe to shower with. We won’t drink it and are at are wits end with this. Any ideas

  7. We will need a detailed water test. You only have 4 parameters – I need about 35-40. We can fix it, I just need to know if you have any tannin and other competing contaminants. I will forward this to one of our water specialists and they can help you.

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