There has been a lot of conversation recently about what the best way to soften hard water is, and what system might be best for your home if you live in an area afflicted by hard water. Some of the most deliberated topics involve so called “salt-free” water softeners. Do they really work, what they actually do, and are they right for your home?
Salt-free water softeners are actually descaling systems. They do not actually soften water at all; rather, they, as the name implies, descale the water. This water scale is actually the mineral components that are suspended in water, and are subsequently left behind on the surfaces that they come into contact with. A water scaler system creates an electrical charge in your water that holds the scale in the water, and makes it more unlikely that the mineral will be left behind on surfaces such as your bathtub, sink or shower wall. While this is also a benefit to a water softener, a scaler is not a water softening system.
While the scaler has many of the benefits of a water softening system, it does not provide truly soft water. They are, however, often much cheaper than water softening systems are to install in your home, and they also have the added benefit of requiring much less maintenance than a water softening system does, as a descaling system does not need the constant salt additions that a water softening system does.
Want to know how a water softener works? Then check out this infographic on The Hard Facts of Water Softeners.
The downside to an electric descaling system is that you don’t actually get softer water. Hard water is very, well, hard on your appliances. The buildup inside the tubes and plumbing of your home is what can very often cause appliance breakdown in dishwashers, washing machines and other appliances in your home. Hard water can also increase the need for maintenance of these appliances. Goode Plumbing is a Chicago plumbing company that recommends regular hot water heater maintenance: “It's often overlooked, but should be done every two years in the Chicago area, and once a year if you are in a ‘hard water’ area or using a water softener.”
The descaling system does nothing to actually remove these hard water deposits. The descaling system also does not provide the benefits to your skin that a water softening system can.
Another consideration is if you need this kind of system at all. Some regions of the country are known of their soft water. Seattle is known for having soft water, as is Atlanta, so a Seattle plumber is likely going to advise you that no system is needed, and if you’re having issues with your water, another solution is needed besides a descaler.
In the end only you can make the decision about which system would better fit you and your home. Each homeowner’s needs are different, and how sensitive you are to the hard water you face will help you make the decision to install a descaler or a water softening system. When the time comes to choose a plumber, find the best in your city with Angie's List consumer reviews and know that you are getting only top-rated plumbers.
Have you installed a water descaler? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally published on Aug. 29, 2012.