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You Still Can't Soften Water Without Salt

by Mark Timmons June 14, 2022 0 Comments

You Still Can't Soften Water Without Salt

NOTE: This is an UPDATE to the Blog The Hard Truth About Salt-Free Water Softeners written on February 8, 2015.

For over a decade, marketing companies have been selling customers on the idea of salt-free water softeners. This is unfortunate because of the fact that salt-free water softeners don't really exist. You heard that right. There is no such thing.

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines soft water as follows

“water that is free from dissolved salts of such metals as calcium, iron, or magnesium, which form insoluble deposits such as appear as scale in boilers or soap curds in bathtubs and laundry equipment.”

Soft water is made possible by the cation resin in traditional water softeners which uses an ion exchange process to displace calcium and magnesium ions from the water, and replace them with sodium or potassium.

Chuck Wright, who is a chemistry professor at the University of Utah, wrote this in the Scientific American, almost 20 years ago, but the science is still the same:

“A typical water-softening system removes calcium and magnesium ions from hard water and replaces them with sodium ions. Calcium and magnesium ions interfere with the action of household soaps and detergents, but sodium does not. The water-softening process thus helps detergents to more effectively remove dirt and oils from clothing and dishes. It also helps soaps to give a "slippery" feel to your skin when you wash. Most manufacturers of water softeners recommend that you reduce the amount of soap and detergents you use after installing a water softener.”

So, a water softener simply softens the water by exchanging sodium or potassium for calcium and/or magnesium in the water. It's a simple process that has been around for 75 years. In some parts of the country, the water is somewhat naturally soft and water softener usage is rare, while in other parts of the county, the water is extremely hard and it's unusual that a home does not have a water softener.

The level of hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg) or milligrams per liter (mg/l). Both terms are a measure of weight.

1 gpg = 17.1 mg/l

Therefore, if your water were 276 mg/l it would be 16.14 gpg (276 divided by 17.1 = 16.14). The Water Quality Association or WQA ( ) rates water hardness as follows:

Water Hardness Chart

Water Hardness Chart

Do Salt-Free Water Softeners Work?

No, they don't. Salt free water softeners do not work, because there is no such thing.

They are like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Unicorns. They are nice stories but they are fiction. They simply do not exist. I think it was back in 2012 or 2013 that I first wrote about this subject in response to a few companies calling their systems salt-free water softeners when in fact, they did not soften the water.

Actually, I took a company called Pelican to task about that very issue. To their credit, they did stop calling their products salt-free water softeners after several years. If you search for them now, you will now find that they do not exist.

Most other honest companies have ceased to call products that do not soften the water water softeners. Instead, they now call them salt-free water conditioners or salt-free water softener alternatives. That is perfectly acceptable and not deceptive. A few years ago, the Water Quality Association ( took a stand against such deceptive and unethical claims, such as claiming to sell a water softener, which, in fact, does not soften the water.

Occasionally, some people ask: What's the big deal? Here's the big deal: If you asked me for a facial tissue and I gave you a Kleenex or a Puffs, you would be getting what you asked for. But what if I handed you a paper towel? While it might work to some degree, a paper towel is not a facial tissue.

If I asked for a quart of milk, would you give me almond milk or soy milk? I think we all understand that milk is from a cow, but some people prefer almond or soy milk or are allergic to cow's milk, which is why almond and soy are part of the name. The words clearly communicate what it is. Words matter!

A water conditioner conditions the water but does not soften the water while a softener actually conditions and softens. The generally accepted meaning of the term water softener is a device that removes the hardness to below 1 grain per gallon (gpg).

The plain and customary usage of the word water softener is well-established in the English Language and even my 12-year-old granddaughter comprehends that to make water soft, you have to remove the calcium and magnesium. One of the major differences between a water softener and a water conditioner is that calcium and magnesium reacts with soap and forms curd not suds. This necessitates the use of 50 to 75% more soaps and detergents.

A salt-free water softener only exists in the minds of unscrupulous marketers who want to deceive you into buying their product... that doesn't actually soften the water. Sadly, there are still a few companies who call their products salt-free water softeners, when they do not actually soften the water. The WQA denies them Membership in the Water Quality Association if they do this. None of the companies who purport to sell salt free water softeners are Members of the WQA and that is one of the easiest ways to determine if they truly soften the water. If someone is offering to sell you a salt-free water softener, ask if they are really Professional Water Treatment Specialists and if they say yes then ask if they are Card-Carrying Members of the WQA? They aren't! END OF STORY!

They are just slimy sales companies who feel that the only way they can sell their inferior product is by Lying to you. Of course, my attorneys say I should not call them liars because they might sue me. I would love for them to try that. My attorneys are not water experts, but I am! The truth is an absolute defense and salt-free water softeners do not exist. This is simply a lie to get uneducated and unwary customers to buy their products. If you like to be tricked, then by all means buy a salt-free water softener. Personally, I do not like to be tricked!

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