The Salt-Free Softener Scam

The Salt-Free Softener Scam
Posted in: Iron Removal
By Mark Timmons
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The Salt-Free Softener Scam

There are several companies on the internet selling what they say are "Salt-Free Water Softeners." I get calls and e-mails everyday from people who have been duped into buying these systems. When I say "duped" I mean that these people bought what they thought to be and were told was a "salt-free water softener" and it, in fact, did not soften the water.

One customer who bought a salt-free softener from Aquasana felt that something was not right right after he installed it, so he sent samples of his treated and untreated water back to Aquasana. They sent him back the results and the treated and untreated water were virtually the same with regard to hardness. When he asked why that was, the Aquasana customer service representative told him "Well, it doesn't actually SOFTEN the water!" What? So, Aquasana sells a "It actually doesn't soften the water" softener?

I was sitting in the office of another owner of a large water treatment manufacturing company and we were discussing the deceptive practices used by companies in other industries. His son mentioned that the Dairy Farmers are upset that other providers are selling "milk" that isn't from cows. What's to be upset about? They sell "Almond Milk" or "Soy Milk" or "Coconut Milk" but they don't call it "Cow's Milk. They call it what it is. That deception is nothing compared to what is happening in the water conditioning industry. The owner's son directed me to an article in USA Today written by Jessica Almy who wrote, in part:

"If plaintiffs in a class action in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals get their way, milk must be from cows.”

Painter v. Blue Diamond alleges that Blue Diamond is fooling consumers into buying more and more plant-based milk — because almond milk uses the word “milk” on its label after the word “almond” rather than “imitation.

Of course, even the government knows this is ludicrous. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is on a mission to relax old rules about how many cherries must be in frozen cherry pie and the exact composition of French dressing. His reason: to remove what he calls “
old-fashioned barriers to innovation.”

But that doesn’t stop the proponents of cow’s milk from advancing an anachronistic legal theory in federal court, deeming everything that is not a cow’s lacteal secretion is an “imitation.”

Are we so out of touch with food that censorship is required to remind us that almonds don’t lactate? Are product labels really tricking consumers into buying almond milk instead of cow’s milk? "

When I have went to the store and bought milk I have never mistaken soy or almond milk for cows milk. I know that evidently some people like it. I don't - I tried it and will never drink it again, but no one tricked me into buying it. I knew exactly what I was buying. However, that is not the case when you buy a salt-free water softener. Make no mistake, they do no not say "Psuedo Water Softener" or "Not a Water Softener." They call it a "water softener" PERIOD!

But, they do not soften the water. To me, simply adding "Almond" to "Milk" tells you with a specific certainty that it is not "milk" from a cow in the truest sense. Now, I admit that I am not an attorney, but I studied to be one and with a little refresher, I may be able to pass the bar. However, I know enough to never predict what will happen in a court of law. I do happen to think the dairy industry has no argument. The almond, soy and coconut milk producers clearly label their products and while they call it "milk" they admit in the title, it is not cow's milk. That is not the case in the water treatment industry.

  • Aquasana's salt-free water softeners do not soften the water.
  • Pelican's salt-free water softeners do not soften the water.
  • NuvoH2O's salt-free water softeners do not soften the water.
  • Lifesource's salt-free water softeners do not soften the water.

Maybe some of you are thinking: "Wait a minute, there must be some mistake. Are you saying all these companies are deceiving the American Public by calling their product a salt-free softener?" That's exactly what I am saying because that is exactly what they are doing! They do it because they have been emboldened by getting away with it! No one has taken them to task. Just tell the truth - that's all I am asking!

They do not sell salt-free water softeners. Water softeners soften the water. Their products do not. Watts sells a product similar to Pelican and Aquasana. It's called Watts One-Flow and while I may not have a high opinion of the product, at least they do not mislead the public and call it a water softener. They call them Anti-Scale Systems or Water Conditioners. There is nothing deceptive about that.

Watts Water is a $1.5 Billion Dollar Company. They do not act unethically. Aquasana is owned by A.O. Smith, a $3.2 Billion Dollar Company who seems to have no compunction in calling their product a salt-free water softener. A.O. Smith also owns Hague Water and Water-Right who sell real water softeners, that actually soften the water. I wonder how Hague, Water-Right, Evolve and Water Care Dealers feel having a parent company that promotes deception in selling Aquasana products against softeners that actually do soften the water?

Pelican Water is owned by Pentair. Pentair is a $5 Billion Dollar Company and also makes valves for real water softeners and owns a dealer network (AQUION) that sells real water softeners. Again, I wonder about these ethics and I am sure their dealers do as well. How can companies like Pentair and A.O. Smith, who have long-standing records of ethical operation condone deliberately deceiving consumers? It is deliberate - they know their sales would suffer if they called it something other than a softener.

It is well established what a water softener is and does, but just so that we all understand, lets look at a few definitions:

  • Google - "a device or substance that softens hard water by removing certain minerals."
  • Wikipedia - "Water softening is the removal of calcium, magnesium, and certain other metal cations in hard water. The resulting soft water requires less soap for the same cleaning effort, as soap is not wasted mopping up calcium ions. Soft water also extends the lifetime of plumbing by reducing or eliminating scale build-up in pipes and fittings. Water softening is usually achieved using lime softening or ion-exchange resins but is increasingly being accomplished using nanofiltration or reverse osmosis membranes.
  • The Free Dictionary - "The removal of calcium and magnesium ions from water, or their replacement with sodium,either by chemical reaction or by ion exchange."
  • The Water Quality Association - Defines soft water as water that is less than 1 grain per gallon of hardness.

I could list dozens of other authorities and their definitions which are all similar to the above, but if you are reading this, you most likely understand and speak English and the plain and simple meaning of water softener is not met by Pelican, Aquasana, Lifesource or NuvoH2O. Plainly and simply, they are scale preventers, anti-scale devices or water conditioners. In theory, NUVOH2O may prevent scale the best as they use citric acid to do so. I only wonder if it is effective on a whole house as in "can they get enough of it into the water supply under high flow rates to be effective?"

Now, I am not saying that the devices these companies sell do not have benefits or merit. I AM JUST SAYING DO NOT CALL IT A WATER SOFTENER IF IT DOESN'T SOFTEN THE WATER! I have dozens and dozens of complaints about these companies, upon which to rely. Here's a few examples:

  • "Salt free softeners are a joke and a big scam in MI, they do not work, they put about 15 lbs of some type of resin that turns hardness and lime into a type of crystal form that allows it not to attach to the plumbing, but cause heavy white in dishwashers, water still has hard feel to it. BIG SCAM."
  • "I made the mistake of buying one of these ______ pieces of junk. the only thing softened was my wallet!!!"
  • "I may need a support group for my obsession with trying to get my dishwasher to run properly. Without the cloudy glassware which look like someone just drank milk out of the glass. We replaced our water softener system with the _________ system the best you can buy to the tune of 6;000.00 (fish on right) which is the going price for a new system. I have spent hundreds on dishwashing additives rinse aids to the point where I have a pantry full of products. We won’t even go into the number of skin moisturizers for itchy skin I have purchased. I bitched so much to the company they replaced the new unit with another new unit. Same thing. When we leave for the summer months we fill five gallon buckets with water. 5 months returned to water all evaporated (which we expected) and every bucket had an inch, no kidding, of solids in bottom of buckets. I’m at my wits end of what to do. Do I get a different system or go on Zoloft?"
  • "They sold me a salt-free water softener, but in no way did it soften the water. It ruined my clothes, shower, dishwasher and water heater. I went back to a softener that uses salt and the problems left with it. I am furious."
  • "They got me. I should have known better. I know a little about water but they sucked me in. My wife is furious and I have to get her a real water softener. Can you help?"

Again, it's not that I think salt free systems do not have merit - they do, but call them what they are. We sell a product called the Limeblaster, but we do not call it a salt-free "softener." We call it a "conditioner" and realize we could sell a whole lot more if we wanted to be deceptive and call it a "softener." People need water treatment, and some companies are relying on the ignorance of a motivated audience to sell these products.  It has worked short term, but it’s a small world. The internet has evened the playing field.  Lies propounded by charlatans masked as marketeers no longer work the way they once did. Sure, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but its’s getting harder and harder to do.  Most people are smarter than to believe that there is a “no salt water softener.”

Maybe some of you are still skeptical that these companies are trying to pull off such a deception. OK, I will allow any of these companies to prove I am wrong. I am willing to buy their product and pay for an accredited laboratory, even WQA or NSF, to test the product and certify whether it softens the water or not. I won't have to pay for the tests because they won't sell them to me, because they know their devices do not soften the water. So the questions is: Why do they persist in calling them Water Softeners, when they do not in fact, soften the water? I think the answer is very clear. It's time to stop the deception!

NOTE: I am sending copies of this to every Attorney General in every state. It's time for these companies who prey on people to be stopped. Someone asked me if I was afraid that Aquasana, Pelican, NuvoH2O or Lifesource would sue me. My answer was "I really do hope so." That's the best case scenario. That would really expose their falsehoods in Discovery. This is America and I still believe that the truth is an absolute defense against slander.

March 25, 2019
March 26, 2019 at 5:58 PM
These same companies will come back and say that they sell, salt free water CONDITIONERS.... Any twist to decieve and make a buck
April 15, 2019 at 7:04 PM
Are there other alternatives to Water Softeners or water conditioners?
Mark Timmons
April 18, 2019 at 3:23 PM
If there were, we would sell them.
June 1, 2020 at 8:38 AM
Mark, your comments seem a bit hypocritical, since under the "Whole House/Salt Free water conditioners" category on your website, there is a statement about your "salt-free water softeners".
Mark Timmons
June 1, 2020 at 6:13 PM
How is it hypocritical? We call it a salt-free softener alternative or conditioner. We do not call it a salt-free water softener. In fact, we go to the extreme of telling you why you might not buy it: "We are going to tell you why this product may NOT be right for you." So please, tell me why it is hypocritical? I am interested in facts.
June 28, 2020 at 3:24 PM
Actually, I found this on your site: "Choose from our economically priced salt-free water softeners" However, I am finding all of your information very valuable in considering how to solve our hard water problem in Utah. Thanks.
Mark Timmons
July 3, 2020 at 11:04 AM
Thank you. It was a mistake - we fixed it!