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Confused About Salt-Free Water Conditioners?

by Mark Timmons February 09, 2011 69 Comments

Mark, I've read a couple of your posts and it seems to me there are a lot of people out there that are looking for salt-free water softener/conditioner. I've looked at Easy Water and had a response from a representative. I feel that Easy Water doesn't work as it is more or less a gimmick. On the other hand, Pelican™* NaturSoft (was looking at combo series) seems plausible but according to what you've mentioned in your posts it doesn't do what the web site stated. The representative I spoke with indicated that the hardness number will not change after the system is installed (which would be a fact) and the minerals would still be present but crystallized so I don't get the hard water side effects.

Does that mean I'd use less soap, etc? And how long would the minerals remain crystallized? Also, the web site indicated that the build up (scale) in the copper pipes will eventually be removed after the system is installed and apparently with water softener the existing scale doesn't go away and it simply slows down the scale build-up. Granted, it's very difficult decision to make and I certainly don't want to make an expensive mistake.

A family friend has water softener for years and she mentioned she has Kinetico. It doesn't require electricity and, apparently, it is replenished with salt once a year. I know Kinetico makes quality systems however I heard they are very expensive, perhaps overpriced. I'm not entirely sold on the idea of the soapy feeling. I'm guessing I need some more answers before I make a decision.

I know I do have hard water and I don't recall the numbers when I had a local company come by to test the water and tried to sell me water softener. When I told the salesman that I will think about it and almost on a daily basis I get a call from him asking whether I have made a decision. He was pretty pushy and I decided to put it off (been a year now) and I know I need a system to treat hard water and prolong appliances that are only a few years old as well as filtered water at every tap. Not to mention, easier to clean in the bathrooms especially the shower stalls.

Thanks for your time. -Ethan

The Water Doctor replied: Ethan, I have been getting this question quite a lot, and so I have decided to re-visit this issue in this blog. The two companies you mentioned (Easy Water and Pelican™) are the two main companies that we get questions about, although there are a multitude of other companies selling similar products. First of all, I think that it needs to be established that the two companies you mentioned are what I call "One-Trick-Ponies" and I don't necessarily mean that as a bad thing, I just mean that they basically sell ONE PRODUCT - Salt-Free Water Treatment Systems. Oh, they may say that they have a few other products, but they essentially have one product which they "push." That is the biggest difference between US Water and these companies - we have the largest selection of water treatment products on the planet BECAUSE THERE IS NO ONE TECHNOLOGY WHICH SOLVES EVERY WATER PROBLEM.

Many people say that the Easy Water system, and systems like them do not work. That is not my position - I think there is some validity to the technology, however it does not work like they insinuate, and now we have proof!

First of all, the technology behind Easy Water is Electromagnetic or Radio Frequency (RF). Electromagnetic Technology (ET) consists of a wire wrapped around the water pipe that transmits electronic frequencies (a magnetic field) and claims to precipitate hardness into aragonite crystal, forming a soft scale as opposed to calcite. While the exact mechanism is not clear, it is theorized that dissolved oxygen, silica and the carbonate ion may play a role.

The Pelican™ system uses a process which may be characterized as similar to Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). US Water has a product called the Green Wave which utilizes a process substantially the same as TAC, called MEP (Matrix Enabled Particularization). Pelican™ uses a similar method. Filtersorb SP3 and nextScaleStop are also two similar methods or media. These methods employ a special surface-treated resin bead to act as a catalytic nucleation site for the conversion and growth of hardness crystals, which are subsequently released and remain in solution without forming scale.

In a recent study, funded by the Water Research Foundation (which is still on-going and not yet complete), it was found that the TAC Technology reduced scale by 96.4 percent, while the electromagnetic technology only reduced sale by 41.7%. By my math, the electromagnetic technology was less than half as effective. Do you want a product that reduces scale by 96% or 41%? I think that's an easy answer. Force fields work in Star Trek, but maybe not so well in water treatment!

Assuming that Pelican™ has viable technology (and I am not saying that they do - just assuming so), I have problems with the way they market their products. On the site where they have their products for sale, they say the following: "The Pelican™ NaturSoft Salt Free Water Softener is the most environmentally conscious hard water softening/conditioning system available."

According to the Water Quality Association (WQA) "softened water" "is water that contains less than one grain per gallon (gpg) of hardness ions." Therefore, any device that is effective in reducing the water hardness to less than one gpg is a softener. Conversely, and water treatment device that does not reduce the hardness of the water to less than 1 gpg cannot be called a softener and it does not produce soft water. Pelican™ says that they have "naturally softened water, without salt" and calls their product a water softener. It may condition the water, but it absolutely doesn't soften the water by causing it to contain less than 1 gpg hardness ions. In fact, they go on to say: "The Pelican™ Natursoft keeps the healthy minerals in the water so you can enjoy naturally softened water." Naturally softened water contains no minerals and they say that they keep the minerals in the water, so the two statements are contradictory and misleading.

Pelican™ may be a water "conditioner" but to call it a water "softener" is extremely misleading to the consumer. I have tested both Easy Water and Pelican™ and can find no basis for claims that you will use less soaps and detergents or that you will have whiter and brighter clothes. I know that they have some glowing testimonials, but I wonder if some of the endorsements are by people who have seen these "little green men" as well. Also, when looking at a Pelican™ NaturSoft Combo System, look at the size of the tanks. On the carbon tank, they say that theirs is 11" x 57.5" for the 15 GPM Model. A tank that size holds 1.5 cu/ft of carbon. Each cubic foot of carbon will successfully treat up to 5 GPM. Oh, you can get more water than that through it, but it won't be properly de-chlorinated. They don't have any specifications on their pre-filter but it looks to be a 4.5" x 10" while the Green Wave has a 4.5" x 20" - Twice the Size! Let's compare the Pelican™ Combo with the US Water Green Wave Plus:

Pelican™ Green Wave
Model PSE-2000 GWP-1500
Maximum Flow Rate 15 GPM 15 GPM
Pre-Filter Size 4.5” x 10” 4.5” x 20”
Pre-Filter Type String Pleated
Carbon Tank 10” x 54” 13” x 65”
Amount of Carbon 1.5 cu/ft 3.0 cu/ft
Scale Tank 10” x 54” 10” x 54”
Cost $2,349 $2,295

You can't expect to properly de-chlorinate and treat 15 GPM with 1.5 cu/ft of carbon. PERIOD! The Green Wave Plus has a prefilter TWICE THE SIZE, an upflow carbon filter TWICE THE SIZE and costs less. What do you think makes the most sense? You can't cheat "contact time" in carbon filtration. You have to have a properly sized tank and the right quantity of carbon. If not, the water will be wet, but it won't be properly filtered and some contaminants will pass through. Insofar as soft water verses conditioned water, here's a chart as to what each product will do:

So, you have a choice: You can eliminate scale with the proper type of salt-free water conditioner or with a salt-based water softener. Some salt-free conditioners as well as some salt-based water softeners will also remove chorine and chemicals, but if you want to use up to 50% or 60% less soaps, cleansers, shampoos, detergents and things like that, your only choice is a salt-based water softener. It simply isn't happening with a salt-free system, no matter what the people who have seen the little green men say (I call them the "lunatic fringe"). Some people say "I want to be green and don't want to put salt back into the environment." That's a noble thought, and it's not the salt that's the problem, it's the chloride, but let me ask another question:

If you are "green" and don't use salt when you have hard water, you will end up using 50% more soaps, detergents, chemicals and water conditioning chemical compounds and THOSE ARE DISCHARGED BACK INTO THE ENVIRONMENT - Which is worse? Think about it. Maybe now you will understand why we sell a full line of water treatment products, including salt-free water conditioners, as well as salt-based water softeners. We aren't "one-trick-pony" and we tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Michaud, Chubb, Softening Alternatives, Water Conditioning & Purification Journal, January 2011.

* - Pelican™ is a registered trademark of Pelican Water Technologies.
US Water Systems has no affiliation with the company.

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May 29, 2011 Mark Timmons

They are indeed safe and we use them a lot. We just advise putting a hot water filter ahead of the heater:

With this cartridge:

That keeps the solids from accumulating in the coils of the heater.

May 31, 2011 Mark Timmons

Mike, I would have to know more about your water, but it sounds like you are talking about hardness, which can only be removed by a water softener or reverse osmosis system.

June 08, 2011 Mark Timmons


I hope the furnace guy isn’t your brother or something, because that is a totally false statement. In fact, it is reckless to say such a thing. Under no circumstances would you want a saltless system with a boiler, as I have seen them plug in a matter of days. Most boiler manufacturers DEMAND at least soft water, and high-pressure steam boilers require reverse osmosis water. Many commercial boilers use deakalizers as well. Cleaver Brooks. who is one of the oldest and most respected boiler manufacturers has an entire water treatment division with salt-based water softening at its core.

You absolutely do want a water softener for a boiler, and with your small amount of iron, I would suggest this to prevent any hard water from entering your boiler system:

Now, one final word of advice: Even with softened water, the total dissolved solids will gradually concentrate in the boiler, so it is important that you “blow it down” periodically… like once every week or two. If you have further questions, please let me know.

June 10, 2011 Mark Timmons

I do not recommend any salt free solutions for RO pre-treatment, including SP3. It doesn’t work well.

June 12, 2011 Mark Timmons

In my opinion, no! While it keeps pipes from scaling, you still have 50 GPG hard water and it leaves behind massive amounts of white residue. Showers, sinks, fixtures, washer, dishwasher and all appliances are impacted. There is a lot of hype on salt-free systems and it is just that – HYPE, especially with water as hard as yours. In the 10-15 GPG range, it works better. Of course, there are numberous companies out there who are more than glad to relieve you of your money based upon empty promises. They give a 90-day money back guarantee and then are professionals at getting you to keep it 91 days, in which case “Sorry, you are out of your warranty period!”
A softener is the only logical answer.

June 14, 2011 Mark Timmons


Our blog is a living, breathing thing that have evolved for 15 years. We are currently on our Green Wave 3.0 which is by far the best. That said, the two statements are hardly at odds. Especially now, the Green Wave pays for itself in a year and "you will use less cleaning products and save energy because equipment like water heaters, boilers, dishwashers, washing machines etc. work more effectively.”

However, "if you want to use up to 50% or 60% less soaps, cleansers, shampoos, detergents and things like that, your only choice is a salt-based water softener”

There is no confusion – read the words written and understand the meaning. I am not trying to be mean, but you what did we write that was false?

By the way, how can you compare us to Pelican who calls their system a “salt free softener?” when it does not even soften water.

You are right about an objective standard, but you are trying to pick a fight when there is nothing to fight about!

June 16, 2011 Mark Timmons

They use citric acid to drop the pH. We have tested and it seems to work at lower flow rates, but I don’t like the idea of creating acidic water.

Try this:

For a home up to 3,000 square feet, it is $279 and the cartridge is $39.95 every 6 months. It doesn’t drop the pH and it works better.

June 18, 2011 Mark Timmons

The Pulsar Limeblaster does and incredible job at prevention and eliminating scale:

June 21, 2011 Mark Timmons

The Puronics Micromax 6000 is an undersink RO system. This is vastly superior RO system because it provides higher pressure which is needed for a fridge and it also Kills Bacteria:

What did they recommend for the whole house?

June 23, 2011 Mark Timmons

We have tested many systems like this. I use one word: BOGUS!

June 24, 2011 Mark Timmons

Distilled water would be a bad choice.

RO is usually excellent.

I would need to know more about your water.

June 27, 2011 Mark Timmons

The difference in the delivery. Watts is telling the truth. Pelican? No so much. Pelican even says it softens the water, which is also not true. IT DOES NOT SOFTEN THE WATER. Pelican is hoping that you are gullible enough to believe them.

June 29, 2011 Mark Timmons

It’s the same as Pelican – check their addresses – just dressed up differently. We sold that type of technology for a while and the results were very unsatisfactory. It is my opinion that this type of system is based upon “junk science.” This is where a scientific misconception is madly over-applied for sales purposes. The fact that they call it a “softener” when in fact, it dos not soften the water should tell you volumes.

It is really a “conditioner” and not a very effective one in our testing. This system beats it hands down: Choose the “Limeblaster” option which does and amazing job of preventing scale. It does not “soften” the water and neither does theirs.

June 30, 2011 Mark Timmons

Running a discharge pipe like that is no problem.

The Fleck 5810 XTR2 is an entry level ecomony 3/4" valve. It has a 5 year warranty on the valve and electronics but not the piston, seals and moving parts. The Fusion NLT is a 1" valve with a 10 year warranty on the valve and electronics and the warranty covers the piston, seals and moving parts. The Fusion NLT is also dramatically more efficient and it is easy to install.

July 03, 2011 Mark Timmons

Don you have a detailed water analysis? That is where I need to start…

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