Salt-Free Water Softeners: Do They Work?

Do Salt-Free Water Softeners Work?

Water Softening involves an ion exchange process, which removes both magnesium (Mg2+) and calcium (Ca2+) from water. During the ion exchange process, a polymer resin bed attracts hard water minerals and replaces them with sodium ions; it is this removal of magnesium and calcium that defines “water softening”.

It is a common misconception that salt-free water softening systems remove hard water minerals the same way that their salt-based counterparts do. Some believe that the only difference is that one uses salt, while the other does not. In reality, salt-free water softeners DO NOT actually soften water at all – they “condition” it.

Salt Based Water Softeners vs. Saltless Water Softeners

As discussed above, salt-based water softeners utilize a negatively charged resin bed to attract and remove magnesium and calcium from the water supply. These water softeners also utilize salt to clean the water softener and regenerate the resin bed. During regeneration, positively charged sodium ions replace the hard water minerals trapped in the resin bed, and the hard water concentrate is flushed down the drain.

Salt-free water softeners, on the other hand, do not remove hard water minerals from the water. Rather, they transform the magnesium and calcium chemically, so that they do not cling to surfaces and precipitate into scale. Because the hard water minerals are not actually captured by salt-free water softener systems, there is no need for salt or a regeneration cycle to purge the minerals down the drain.

Since the very definition of water softening requires that hard water minerals be REMOVED, and the salt-free process only ALTERS the minerals, allowing them to remain in the water, salt-free water softeners are not actually softening water – rather, they are for “water conditioning”.

The Truth about Magnetic Water Softeners

Third party studies show that magnetic water treatment devices aren’t adept at providing all the advantages of soft water1. Research also suggests that this particular type of device isn’t compatible with many water conditioners, and often does not show consistency in its results.

  • Manufacturers’ claims that magnetic devices prevent scale formation in hot water heaters is unsupported2.
  • There is no scientific evidence that magnetic water softeners properly aid in water treatment3,4.

While Culligan does not offer salt-free water softeners, we do have a collection of diverse water conditioners that will produce top quality, salt-free water. We also offer a complete line of water softeners to satisfy your water softening needs. Your satisfaction is guaranteed!


1Purdue University. 1985. PDF Report: Quantitative Assessment of the Effectiveness of Permanent Magnetic Water Conditioner Devices

2Army Corp of Engineers. 2000. PDF Report: Demonstration and Evaluation of Magnetic Descalers

3Penn State University. 2001. PDF Report: Magnetic Water Treatment Devices 1st Edition.

4South Dakota Magnet School of Mines & Technology. 1981. PDF Report: Performance of Permanent Magnet Type Water Treatment Device