In this article, we take an in-depth look at the two major types of water descalers (salt-free water softening systems) available in the market, which are electronic water descalers and water conditioners.
We’ll explain how these systems work and their benefits, and explore some of the best models you can find out there.
Hard water has been a very common problem for a long time and we can all agree that its effects are annoying and irritating especially when it comes to plumping systems and appliances.
Fortunately today, there are several types of water softeners in the market and one very convenient and affordable option is none other than salt-free water softeners, known as water descalers.
These growing water treatment systems are great alternatives to the traditional salt-based (ion-exchange) water softeners.
They are effective and can combat the harmful effects of water hardness without requiring frequent monitoring and replenishment every week like salt-based systems.
Understanding how they function is a great advantage when making a purchase decision and our comprehensive reviews below will throw more light and help you easily narrow down to the right unit for you.
So if you struggling with extreme water hardness and you are searching for the best salt-free water softener, you are not out of luck.
Read on for a list of top models and more information to make your purchase process easier.
So, what is actually a salt-free water softener?
A salt-free water softener (water descaler) is a hard water treatment device that uses salt-free technology to prevent scale build-up. It can be an electronic water descaler or water conditioner both of which are alternative solutions to traditional salt-based water softeners in preventing limescale from hard water.
Electronic Water Descaler
The electronic water descaler is one of the newest salt-free water softener technologies that has become a very popular form of hard water treatment.
It’s much more affordable than the other water softeners like magnetic descalers and ion exchange softeners.
What is an electronic water descaler?
An electronic water descaler is a salt-free electronic device consisting of coils of insulated electrical cables wrapped around the pipes at your main water inlet. They produce electromagnetic waves that alter the chemical structure of the water minerals thereby preventing limescale from attaching and building up in the pipes.
How does it work?
The electronic water descaler is made up of an electronic box that is connected to two electrical cables, also known as antennas which are coiled around the pipes at your main water inlet.
The electronic box passes an alternating current (once positive, once negative) through the cables wound around the pipes. In turn, the alternating current generates electromagnetic waves that interact with the incoming water molecules passing through the pipes.
A common electrical cable has two parts, the outer insulating part (polymer) and the inner conduction part which is the copper wire.
When the positive current goes through the copper wire (inner conduction part), the outer insulating part becomes negatively polarized.
Therefore, the water molecules which pass through the pipes are attracted and repelled successively, and as such, the cations and anions present lose their affinity for water.
They break away from their existing association and disperse.
This way, the electromagnetic waves prevent the calcium and magnesium ions in the water from forming calcium and magnesium carbonate which are the main cause of limescale deposits in plumbing systems and appliances.
Instead, the dissolved bicarbonates and dissolved solids like calcium crystallize to form non-scaling microcrystals which do not adhere to the pipes, taps, and kettles, thereby effectively preventing scaling.
What are the benefits?
Installing and using an electronic water descaler at your home offers several benefits which include:
Helps Extend the Life of Appliances and Pipe Work at Home
Hard water causes the buildup of limescale on the pipework at home which includes the water-using fixture, sinks storage tanks, water heaters, radiators, tubs, shower pipes, washing machines, and dishwashers.
This accumulation of hard water scale can significantly shorten the life of these appliances leading to more frequent replacements which can prove costly over time.
Salt-free water softeners can effectively reduce and prevent the buildup of limescale on your home’s pipes and appliances which not only helps extend their life but also means less costly repairs which can save you plenty of money and headaches over the long term.
Does not Influence Water Quality
An electronic water descaler adds no chemicals or salt into the water. Aside from the electromagnetic waves, it doesn’t interact with the water in any way and as such, they don’t affect the quality of the water as it passes through the pipes.
For those who have cardiovascular issues or need to monitor their sodium intake, using an electronic water descaler can also be beneficial since they don’t add or produce sodium during the descaling process.
Salt-based softeners, on the other hand, leave some sodium in your water after treatment while with an electronic water descaler, you are only left with the natural sodium present in the water.
Leaves Essential Minerals
Electronic water descalers don’t remove the important minerals which are beneficial to your health. All the essential minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium simply crystalize to eliminate the problems of water hardness, so they remain intact in your water.
Therefore, if you need to prevent limescale buildup and still leave the healthy minerals in your water for consumption, then you can rely on an electronic water descaler.
Affordable Pricing and Low Operating Costs
Compared to other water softeners, particularly salt-based systems, electric water descalers are low investment devices.
They are very much affordable than ion-exchange water softeners with some models even costing almost half the price of standard salt-based systems.
Another bonus is that they only require limited electricity to run and use much less water without producing any discharge.
Thereby, they are less costly to operate and can save you money. Salt-based systems use much more water and require frequent replacement of salt and other chemicals, all of which will cost you money.
The replacement salt bags are also not that cheap which makes them relatively expensive to operate than electric water descalers.
Easy to Install and Very Low Maintenance
Salt-based systems are large bulky units that require drainage and a lot of space to install and operate. However, salt-free systems like electric water descalers are much more compact and easy to install.
They don’t need remodeling your plumbing to accommodate them as they can fit almost anywhere and have fewer moving parts.
The best part is that they require very low maintenance than salt-based systems. They can run unsupervised for long periods and there are no salts or other chemicals that need regular replacements.
Salt-based systems require in-depth maintenance and constant monitoring since you will have to attend to the unit at least once every week to replace the salt which is quite a hassle.
Whole House Water Conditioner
What is a water conditioner?
A water conditioner is an alternative water softening device that’s equipped with some type of cartridge or tank containing a special scale control media that help transform hardness mineral ions in the water into a stable and harmless form that won’t adhere to surfaces.
How does it work?
Water conditioners are usually made up of a single cartridge or tank system filled with resin beads or another descaling media. Most work through a physical process known as Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC) to alter the way hardness minerals in water behave.
In this template-assisted crystallization process, water is passed through a tank/cartridge of TAC media which consists of tiny polymer/ceramic beads that are covered in craters called nucleation sites that act as templates to create micro-crystals.
When the hard water from the mains supply comes into contact with the TAC media in the tank/cartridge, the calcium and magnesium ions get caught by the nucleation sites.
Therefore, as the water flows into the cartridge, more magnesium and calcium ions continue to build up within the sites upon which they are changed into small micro-crystals.
Eventually, when these micro-crystals reach a certain size, they break off of the media where they are then released into the water.
These crystals are stable and flow through the water and the plumbing system with their crystalline structure intact.
They don’t break off and are unable to attach themselves to water pipes or appliances as scale as the regular hard minerals do.
The result is complete prevention against scale build-up, but the minerals remain present in the water which is a great advantage since they are healthy to humans and in this crystalline form, they can’t damage the plumbing system.
However, it’s important to note that, the scale control media used by whole house water conditioners may vary greatly from one brand to another.
Furthermore, several models come equipped with extra filters to help tackle other issues aside from water hardness like removal of contaminants
They can come with a sediment pre-filter and/or a carbon filter to take care of particulates and chemical contaminants like chlorine.
Others even include more advanced filters like a UV sterilization filter or an iron filtration tank that can help soften and treat well water.
What are the benefits?
There are several advantages and benefits to using salt-free water conditioners that make them stand out from traditional water softeners. Some of these benefits include:
A Variety of Applications
Water conditioners come in different cartridge sizes and flow rates.
If you don’t wish to install a whole-house water conditioner you have a variety of other options to choose from like a single-cartridge system that you can set up in line with other water filtration systems or in front of a tankless water heater.
Aside from that, there are other whole house water conditioners that offer more extensive filtration abilities. They come with additional filter media along with the salt-free conditioner cartridge.
Therefore, aside from inhibiting scale build-up and removing existing scale in pipes, these water conditioner systems will tackle other water issues.
A good example is a whole-house water conditioner and chlorine reduction system which not only prevents scale accumulation but also improves the odor and taste of your water supply.
Low Maintenance and Media Consumption
Another key benefit you get from using a water conditioner is the maintenance-free aspect. They are very low maintenance systems as the tank/cartridge of resin beads doesn’t need ongoing regeneration.
It takes very little TAC media to sustain a whole-house water conditioner system as many units only require about 5 to 10 liters of media which can last several years. Generally, you will be replacing the media once every 3 to 5 years.
Installing a water conditioner system is also remarkably simple since most come as a single tank or cartridge. No wastewater is generated, so they don’t require drain connections.
They also don’t need electricity to operate and have no dramatic effect on the water flow rate.
Healthy Mineral Remain in Water
Water conditioners prevent the formation of limescale but at the same time leave healthy minerals in the water which are beneficial for your health.
Furthermore, they won’t raise the sodium content in the water like salt-based water softeners.
Soft Water Alternative
Soft water tends to have a “slippery” feel which not most people like. Other people also complain that showering in soft water often leaves one feeling like the soap is still sticking to the skin or the shampoo never completely washes out of their hair.
Although all these are purely preferential, if you don’t like how soft water feels but still want to ensure scales are removed from your plumbing, then a water conditioner can give you exactly that.
It doesn’t eliminate the hardness minerals, instead, it only makes them ineffective such that they can’t adhere to surfaces.
Water conditioners don’t produce any wastewater as they don’t go through regeneration cycles. Therefore, no salt or other chemicals will get dumped into the waste stream.
In addition to that, they save water because all the water that gets processed through the system flows right into your home water supply or tankless heater.
One of the major impacts of limescale build-up is the reduction of the efficiency of your plumbing system and water heating appliances. By installing a quality and reliable water descaler system, you can eliminate and help prevent these problems.
Salt-free water softeners, both electronic water descalers, and water conditioners provide a great alternative option to traditional salt-based systems. They are effective, relatively affordable, and reduce the need for expensive salts as well as frequent monitoring and brine washing.
If you have read our reviews above and compared the different options we’ve listed, then we believe you will have little difficulty evaluating and choosing the best salt-free water softener that will meet your needs.
One thing you want to makes sure though is that you take into consideration the water condition in your home before settling on a particular model.
Top-Rated Water Descalers (Salt-Free Water Softeners)