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Water Softener Alternatives

By: Craig Smith
Last Updated:
Water Softener Alternatives

Have you been experiencing annoying hard water-related problems but you really don’t want to install a traditional water softener?

Then rest assured all is not lost.

Alternate water softening solutions are available.

Although none of these work quite as effectively as a traditional salt-based water softener when it comes to eliminating hard water-causing calcium and magnesium minerals, they can still significantly reduce the hard water-associated limescale problems that you are experiencing.

Trust me when I say hard water is nothing that you want to mess around with.

In my 26 years in the pool and spa industry, I have seen firsthand how it severely impacts water circulating & heating equipment and how it can lead to clogged plumbing lines.

As you read on, you will come to find that there is no good reason to put up with the problems that having hard water causes even if you prefer not to use a salt-based water softener. The number of water softener alternatives that are available will probably even surprise you.

1. Salt-Free Water Softeners

Template Assisted Crystallization

Template Assisted Crystallization

How TAC works and softens water:

These are also known as nucleation-assisted crystallization water treatment systems. When water flows into them it contacts a special media that alters the makeup of the calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate minerals that are found in your tap water.

This ‘crystallization’ that takes place when hard water-causing minerals contact the media does not remove them but rather changes them into a form that will not cause problematic limescale.

This keeps limescale from building up in pipes and from sticking to appliance heating elements and accumulating on bathroom and kitchen fixtures.

Pros:

  • They will condition 100% of your household water that passes through them. That makes them useful for whole-house applications.
  • These systems do not use electricity to run. That means they are very cost-effective to use once they have been put in place.
  • Template-assisted crystallization water softeners are virtually maintenance-free. That makes them the perfect water softening choice for those that have busy lives.
  • This water softening method produces almost instantaneous results. This is another reason that they are popular for use as part of a whole-house water filtration system.
  • Since they do not completely remove calcium, magnesium, and some other healthy minerals, supplementation of these may not be necessary for you.

Cons:

  • This method does not eliminate the hard water-causing contaminates that are found in your tap water. It crystallizes them so it limits their ability to stick to fixtures and pipes and cause scale.
  • They are not good to use as stand-alone water purification devices. That’s why they are most often used as an integral part of a multi-stage whole house water filtration system.
  • Template-assisted crystallization does not eliminate all hard water-associated problems. It does not resolve hard water-related problems such as soap not lathering up, dry skin, and spots left on dishes.
  • It’s not the best water softening solution for you if you have very hard water. That’s water that tests out to have a hardness of 120 ppm or mg/L or more.

Electromagnetic Water Softeners or Descalers

How they work and soften water:

Just as with template-assisted crystallization, these too work by crystallizing hard water-causing minerals so limescale does not stick to the inside of pipes or accumulate on appliance heating elements or bathroom and kitchen fixtures.

They just substitute magnetism as the means to cause mineral crystallization instead of the special media that’s found in template-assisted crystallization systems.

Pros:

  • They work very well when it comes to softening large amounts of tap water. That’s why they too are often used as a stage of or a complimentary piece in a whole house water filtration system.
  • These are very compact systems. That makes them very useful for softening water in a home where there is not a lot of room to set up water filtration equipment.
  • There are no chemicals used in the water softening process and they will enhance the smell and taste of your tap water.
  • The water that passes through them retains its healthy minerals. This may reduce the need for you to use mineral supplements.
  • These provide the least expensive method for eliminating the limescale problems that are associated with having hard water in your home.

Cons:

  • Just as with template-assisted crystallization water softeners, they do not remove hard water-related minerals from the system, they only limit their ability to cause limescale.
  • These do not resolve all hard water-related issues. You will still notice that your whites will not be as bright after laundering them and your shampoo will not lather up as well.
  • They may not provide the solution you are looking for if you have water that tests out to be 120 ppm or mg/L or greater in hardness.
  • Their effectiveness is sometimes questioned because they have not been as rigorously tested as some of the other water softening methods.

2. Reverse Osmosis Systems

How RO Works and Softens Water:

This is a relatively simple but very impactful means of removing contaminants that are found in your tap water such as hard water-related minerals.

When water under pressure flows into a reverse osmosis filter, it will come into contact with an advanced semipermeable membrane.

This will only allow solvents (such as water) to pass through and most solutes are then trapped on the feed side of the membrane and subsequently discharged out of the system.

Pros:

  • Removes more contaminants in tap water than just those that cause hard water. This includes harmful pathogens such as bacteria and viruses.
  • It effectively removes salt. That’s why it’s quite common to see them working in tandem with water softeners.
  • Many units are compact so they can be used in places where space is limited. This makes them an ideal water purification system for condominiums, apartments, and townhomes.
  • They require very little maintenance. The advanced membranes found in them usually only have to be changed out every two years and some can last even longer than that.
  • These require no energy source to function. That makes them very cost-effective to operate once they have been installed in your home.

Cons:

  • These systems waste a lot of water. Some waste as much as a 4:1 ratio of wastewater to purified water. This can be a big turn-off for those that like to live an eco-friendly lifestyle.
  • They are not always cost-effective when it comes to treating large amounts of tap water. Most are countertop or under-sink models that mainly are used to treat tap water for drinking and cooking purposes.
  • Reverse osmosis systems cannot be used on hot water lines or for hot water applications. That’s because they will start to break down quickly when exposed to temperatures greater than 95°F (35°C).
  • Drinking water purification is not instantaneous. That’s why many reverse osmosis water purification systems come with a drinking water storage tank.
  • They are known to remove healthy minerals during the water softening process. This means you may have to use mineral supplements to meet your nutrition requirements.

When It’s Best to Use A Water Softener Alternative

Here are some of the main reasons why people choose to use other water softening means than a salt-based water softener:

  • If you are on a salt-restricted diet and want to avoid the added salt that traditional water softeners place into tap water.
  • When the space that’s available to set up your water softening equipment is very minimal.
  • For situations where you don’t have time to perform maintenance on a traditional water softener and you don’t want to periodically run to the store to buy the salt that the system requires to operate.
  • When your only household water treatment goal is to prevent damage to appliances that heat water and to avoid dealing with problems that are caused by limescale buildup.
  • As an insurance policy for water that tests out to be soft or only slightly hard (60 ppm or mg/L or less).
  • For use as a complementary piece in a whole house water purification system.

Conclusion and Future Outlook

Now that you know there are many water softener alternatives, you should also know that treating hard water is a topic that will stay mainstream well into the future.

As this trend continues, you can expect creative and ambitious companies that see an opportunity to make money to come up with even more effective ways to treat hard water that do not use salt in the process.

In the meantime, take advantage of the salt free water softener alternatives that are currently available so they will save you from some of the many headaches that are associated with having hard water in your home.

Consider using one of these alternative water softening methods if you are experiencing any type of limescale buildup on your bathroom and kitchen fixtures.

This also applies if you are experiencing repeated clogs in your plumbing or you are replacing water heating elements frequently.

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AUTHOR
Craig Smith
Craig got his start in water working in the swimming pool and spa industry. He didn’t realize at the time that water treatment would grow into his main career but he ended up working in the pool industry for over 26 years where much of his time was spent balancing the water in customers swimming pools and installing water filtration equipment. Craig offers an abundance of water treatment knowledge after helping homeowners get pure water for 26 years and he’s excited to share his wisdom to help other homeowners select the right water filtration devices.