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Saltless Water Softeners: Fact or Fiction?

by Nov 7, 2012

no salt water softener or saltless water softener

Saltless Water Softeners, or Salt Free Softeners would be the ultimate in convenience.

Hard Water is caused by Calcite, Gypsum, and Dolomite rock formations that dissolved into the water supply.  It really is a measure of how much “dissolved rock” is in your water.

Hard Water plugs things up, scratches glassware, and is an expensive nuisance.

Conventional water softeners are effective at stopping hard water problems.  But they also require heavy bags of salt and potassium to work.

There is a new crop of “alternative products” that claim to “soften without salt”.

Sounds good, but do they actually work?

The Definition of a Water Softener

Soft water, by definition, must contain less than 1 grain per gallon (gpg) of hardness (USGS Hardness Scale).

Water tests before-and-after both ion-exchange water softeners and membrane-based softeners can produce measurable results, ie: 21gpg hardness reduced to 1gpg.

You can easily test the “treated” water that a softener produces to verify it’s working.

NSF Standard 44 is a certification for this type of performance.

 Saltless Water Softener Options

The alternative devices often sold as “No Salt Softeners”, mainly fall into two categories:

Magnetic “No Salt Softeners”
These systems are advertised on TV, Radio, and the Internet.  They’re small in size (like a small shoe box) and install in only a few minutes.  You simply clamp or wrap wires around your plumbing.

Magnetic Water Softener

Magnetic Water Softener theory uses a “Complex modulated signal field at variable frequency that induces an electrical field in the pipe.  This alters the hard water ions and increases their solubility.”  That was hard to type, let alone read 🙂

Template Assisted Crystallization “No Salt Softeners”
A handful of private labeled systems use ScaleStop filter media manufactured by Next Filtration.  This filter media uses a technology called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC).  These “physical water treatment” systems are installed much like a conventional water softener.

Physical Water Treatment using Template Assisted Crystallization

Physical Water Treatment involves transforming normal dissolved hardness minerals into undissolved “seed crystals”.   These crystals are supposed to stay suspended in the water and have a greatly reduced ability to react and attach to surfaces like “normal hard water” does.

How Saltless Water Softeners Work

Both technologies work on a theory of changing “Hard Minerals into Soft Minerals”.

The amount of mineral content in the water doesn’t change.  In theory, the type or shape of mineral changes.

Current water analysis methodologies make these technologies hard to support:

As of 2012, there is no approved scientific testing method to asses this “change in mineral”.

There’s no easy “Real World” method like testing water hardness “before and after” tell if the product works.

As a result, there is no industry standard performance rating like NSF 44 either.

Systems may have certifications like NSF 42 for chlorine reduction if it also uses Carbon Filtration.  There may also be structural integrity or electrical certifications.  These may give the “appearance” of being certified as an effective “water softener”.  If misapplied, those labels really just add to the confusion.

No Salt Softener vs. Traditional Softener Benefits

The No Salt Softener concept implies that you will receive the same benefits as a conventional softener.

Soft Water Benefits (less than 1gpg) include:

  • Spot-free glassware
  • Cleaner, softer laundry
  • Less cleaning and chemicals required
  • Fewer plumbing and appliance repairs
  • Improved energy efficiency in water heaters

These are the benefits our commercial and residential customers need.

We get contacted by new customers when their untreated water or existing equipment fails to deliver those benefits.

Independent Performance Testing for Saltless Water Softeners

Independent 3rd party lab testing suggest that these “No Salt Softener” devices do not deliver the traditional benefits of soft water.  While they may work in some circumstances, they do not work in all water conditions in a consistent, predictable way.

Army Corps of Engineers
2001 research findings do not support the claims of the manufacturers regarding the ability of their respective devices prevent mineral scale formation in hot potable water systems.
Click here to download the report

Penn State University
Found virtually no valid scientific data to support any water treatment benefit from magnetic devices. Click here to download the report

Purdue University
240 day long test comparing 6 unidentified magnetic water softener devices to untreated water.  No beneficial effect was seen for the magnetic treatment devices.
Click here to download the report

South Dakota Magnet School of Mines & Technology
Tested two different classes of magnetic water treatment devices. Measurements included boiling point depression, surface tension, water conductivity and “scaling Rate”. No difference seen between raw water and magnets.
Click here to download the report

Water Quality Association (WQA)
Research determined no performance test standard for Physical Treatment Devices exists in the US for “Salt Free” devices.
Click here to download the report

Water Quality Association (WQA)
A combination of 34 reports indicate that physical water treatment does not work in a consistent and predictable way.
Click here to download the report


As a company, we are open to the idea of using these “alternative technologies”.  However, as of 2012, we have not found a good fit for our residential or commercial customers.

Under certain circumstances the No Salt Softeners may help reduce scale in industrial boiler applications.

Saltless Water Softeners simply do not offer enough benefit to satisfy the needs of our customers.

Premier Water can provide our clients with High Efficiency Water Softeners.  These systems use ion exchange technology, but often reduce salt by 70% over standard softeners.

We also specialize in Membrane-based Water Softeners as a legitimate salt-free alternative.  These systems also produce purified, chemical-free water in addition to providing soft water benefits.

Please call us at (952) 479-4553 if you would like to discuss the best options to treat your water.

We can also provide a no obligation Water Test to arm you with the information needed to select a Water Treatment System.

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