The truth about salt-free water softeners

By Mark Timmons
More from this author

The truth about salt-free water softeners

I’ve had enough!  I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!  I am sick and tired of hearing companies call their salt-free water treatment systems “Salt-Free Water Softeners.”  I have complained about it publicly for years and now I’m going to do something about it.  This blog is just to put companies who are being deceptive on notice as to what is coming.

If you Google “salt-free water softener” you will see that there are various companies such as NuvoH2O,  Pelican Water, Aquasana and many others who say that their system is a salt-free water softener, when it absolutely is not!  And that is what makes me mad.  When people see “salt-free water softener” they assume that it works just like a salt-regenerated water softener, but doesn’t use salt.  That my friends, is a hideous lie!

However, it seems that we live in a time when it is more important to be politically correct than it is to tell the truth.  I have had people advise me that I should just ignore these companies because it looks bad to call them liars!  Is a lie less dishonest if we call it by a different name in the interest of being politically correct? 

Either they are selling salt-free water softeners or they aren’t, so let’s consider the meaning of soft water or water softener.  I’m going to look at various resources for their definitions: – “any of a group of substances that when added to water containing calcium and magnesium ions cause the ions to precipitate or change their usual properties: used in the purification of water for the laboratory, and for giving water more efficient sudsing ability with soap.” – “a device or substance that softens hard water by removing certain minerals.” – “a substance (such as sodium chloride) that lessens the hardness of water by replacing calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions and so gives the water more efficient sudsing power” – “a substance or device that removes chemicals such as calcium from water.” – “a device which reduces the calcium and magnesium concentration of hard water by passing it through an ion exchange resin.” – “a substance or piece of equipment used for removing unwanted (=not wanted) minerals from water.”

  1. any substance that lessens the hardness of water, usually by precipitating or absorbing calcium and magnesium ions
  1. a tank, apparatus, or chemical plant that is used to filter or treat water to remove chemicals that cause hardness

Here’s also an excellent overview of how a water softener works from  

“We call water "hard" if it contains a lot of calcium, magnesium or other minerals. Groundwater acquires these metals by dissolving them from surrounding soil and rock. Industry measures water hardness in terms of grains per gallon (GPG) or milligrams per liter (mg/L). A grain is defined as 64.8 milligrams of calcium carbonate [source: Business Dictionary]. If your water tests at 1 GPG (17.1 mg/L) or less, then you have soft water. Water around 1-3.5 GPG (17.1-60 mg/L) occupies a gray zone between soft and slightly hard water and 3.5-7 GPG (60-120 mg/L) is moderately hard. Hard water is around 7-10.5 GPG (120 - 180 mg/L), and very hard water is above that [source: Water Quality Association].

How do all those number affect you? Hard water causes two problems:

 Dissolved calcium and magnesium precipitate out of hard water as scale, which builds up on the insides of pipes, water heaters, tea kettles, coffee makers and industrial machinery. Scale reduces flow through pipes and is a poor conductor of heat. Eventually, pipes can become completely clogged.

 Hard water reduces soap's ability to lather, whether in the shower, sink, dishwasher or washing machine, and reacts with soap to form a sticky scum.

You can combat hard water in various ways, including filtering it by distillation or reverse osmosis, adding a packaged chemical softener such as powdered borax or washing soda (sodium carbonate), or running it through a water softener.

Filtration in sink taps and refrigerator water dispensers improves water's taste, but its steep price tag makes it impractical as a household solution. Packaged chemicals soften water in small batches, such as washing machine loads, but render the water undrinkable, take a toll on clothes, and, in some cases, contain phosphates that harm the environment.

Descaling offers an alternative to water softening. Whereas a water softener removes the problem (minerals in the water), a descaler addresses the damage caused by the problem (scale buildup). You will sometimes see ads for "salt-free water softeners," which are actually descalers, or for magnetic water softeners, which remain unproven and don't change the chemical composition of water, so buyer beware.

With all this in mind, it's clear why water softeners are so popular: They remain the least costly and most effective way to rid your water of troublesome minerals.”

OK, so unless you cannot read or have no comprehension of the English language, what a water softener is and what it does is pretty clear.  When companies like Pelican, Aquasana and NuvoH2O call their products “water softeners” and those products do not remove the minerals, do not remove the calcium and magnesium and do not  increase the sudsing of soaps, how can they be called water softeners? 

Answer:  They can’t!  It’s a lie… and that’s what makes me mad.  These are salt-free water “conditioners” which are primarily de-scalers in that they can help prevent scale.  But, there is no way they can be called water softeners….that is, unless you are a charlatan trying to sell a product to consumers who read English and comprehend what a softener does and believe the lies you propound.

 Shame on you!  Shame on me if I ignore it!

Your products don’t soften water, your products don’t remove the minerals, your products don’t reduce the hardness, your products don’t remove the calcium and magnesium , your products don’t increase the sudsing of the water.  Your products can help prevent scale.  That’s it. 

You know, we sell salt-free water conditioners, but we call them what they are – conditioners, not softeners!  We could sell 10 times as many if we simply lied about it and called them softeners, but that’s not us.  We refuse to tell anything but the truth about these products. 

So, maybe you have figured out why these companies call these systems “softeners.”  It’s so they can sell them.  It’s so they can take your money under false pretenses. 

I can’t sugar-coat this or be politically correct.  If you buy a salt-free water softener, you are buying a lie!  It’s a simple as that and I’m going to try and do something about.  I will be contacting several Attorneys General and the US Department of Justice, Consumer Protection Branch.  I think that the companies involved in the deceptive advertising think that the State Attorneys General and the Department of Justice have bigger “fish to fry” and don’t want anything to do with issues like this.  I think they are wrong and we are going to find out!

I hate to see people get “ripped off.”  I have heard complaints for years from members of the Water Quality Association, but it’s just talk.   It doesn’t appear to me that people within the Water Quality Association (WQA) have the guts to do this.  Well, I do.   I'm sure I am going to get some letters from attorneys (I always have in the past), but here's the crux of the matter - THE TRUTH IS AN ABSOLUTE DEFENSE!  Truth is something these companies know nothing about!

November 2, 2013
Eileen Martinez Carey
August 16, 2017 at 12:10 PM
Thank You so much. As a single Woman home owner i have been completely "ripped off" by at least 2 building "contrators" ; so i truly appreciate what You are saying. We have a lot of Maganeese & Iron ...We have a whole house filtration system from "Culigan" however EVEN though We got the MOST expensive system including "Ultra Violet" light ...We still get rust EVEN have to run "chlorine" through the well once...which helped for a few months but comes back eventually rust...We are VERY Eco respectful household Organic NO pestisides or other garbage chemicals when i hear about a LESS harmful NO SALT using Water filtration system i was though not so much...WHAT TO DO? We do not know what to think...when,You hear that the "Salt" is harmful to our Environment as WELL as our Bodies ...We always have been concerned about TOO much "sodium" (we only use Sea Salt in our Food) Please do You have any suggestions? Thank You Greatly , Sincerely e.m.c
Mark Timmons
August 19, 2017 at 1:25 PM
Eileen, Is salt more harmful to the environment that all the chemicals and additional soaps and cleanser needed with hard water? I doubt it. My suggestion is to get a detailed water analysis so that we know what EXACTLY is in the water. Only then can we understand how to fix it. Step 1: Once we have that we can recommend a solution and guarantee the results.
September 14, 2017 at 10:12 AM
This whole process is so confusing. So a salt system is actually a better softener? And why is there such a huge disparity in the pricing of these products? Culligan wanted to charge me close to 5,000 for a softner and reverse osmosis system while other seemingly reputable companies are closer to 1,000-1500. thank you, a
Mark Timmons
September 16, 2017 at 1:12 PM
No salt systems are not "SOFTENERS" so yes, a salt system is a better softener because it actually softens the water. The local companies with prices of $1,000 to $1,500 are what we call "Salt hogs." You will have to feed them a lot of salt and waste a lot of water. Our Fusion NLT save up to 75% on Salt and Water and we sell direct. Here's the RO I would recommend: This is a system the local guys would sell for $3,500 and Culligan would sell for $8,000. Look at the warranty and efficiency.
Jim Herrick
March 18, 2018 at 7:25 PM
Is a de scaler any good? Does it have any benefit? I have hard water and a septic system. I hear softeners damage septic systems. I am looking for a solution third water w out damaging the septic.
Mark Timmons
March 19, 2018 at 4:10 PM
Some do, some don't! Ours does a great job at preventing scale: That said, it's a fallacy that softeners harm septic tanks. In some cases, it actually helps because with soft water you are putting less soaps, chemicals and detergents down the drain.
March 27, 2018 at 5:14 PM
What system would you recommend for a 1 bedroom, 1 bath apartment. In the last 23 years, I've had to call the plumber to fix leaky pipes in the shower five times, clear bathtub drain five times and had to replace garbage disposal three times, one was brand spanking new, cause it keeps getting plugged up. I'd really appreciate your expertise in this matter. LindaS.
Mark Timmons
April 1, 2018 at 2:30 PM
A water softener is the best solution: