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Salt-Based vs Salt-Free Water Softening in Perth WA


Water hardness is an all-too-common issue that torments households all over the world. However, some have it worse than others.

But before you decide to up and leave your neighbourhood altogether, CDL Plumbing tells us that there is a less drastic route to take: water softeners.

One hurdle is deciding between salt-based and salt-free water softeners. Let’s try to determine which option is better for you.

Water Hardness in Perth

Water hardness is a quantitative property of the water you use in your home. It refers to the measure of natural minerals and other dissolved compounds present in the water, such as calcium, magnesium, and metallic elements.

But why is it called hardness?

Implicit in this term is the fact that certain types of water rendered it very difficult to use for washing. In contrast, soft water is water that is much easier to work with.

Different areas will have different levels of water hardness, although the normal and ideal levels fall between 0-60 mg/L. Unfortunately, Perth suffers from unusually high degrees of water hardness, sometimes reaching over 180 mg/L.

You might be wondering what the downfalls of such a high mineral content could be. Well, take a look at your scaly faucets and showerheads, or the stiff, dingy laundry, or even your sky-high electricity bill!

The culprit? The mineral-rich waters of Perth.

But fear not, because water softeners can wash away all your worries.

Water Treatment With Water Softeners

Water softeners refer to a wide range of products that help soften hard water. These softeners work alongside point of entry (POE) devices and treat the water before it enters a house or building — like a filtration system.

When it comes to water softeners, you can choose between salt-based and salt-free products. Both types serve the same purpose of handling the mineral content in the water before you use it to shower or wash your dishes.

However, salt-based and salt-free water softeners go about this treatment process in slightly different ways.

So how do you know which one to choose?

Salt-Based Water Softeners

Salt-based water softeners are the most common type of water treatment products. Essentially, they completely remove calcium and magnesium minerals from the water by replacing them with sodium.

The chemical process occurs within a resin tank. The resin tank of a salt-based water softener consists of several layers of porous plastic resin enveloped in sodium ions. As the untreated water flows through the tank, ion exchange occurs.

In layman’s terms, the sodium ions on the porous resin sheets attract the calcium and magnesium ions flowing freely in the water. The resin is then able to capture the minerals before they can proceed into your plumbing system.

However, a trade-off must occur. Hence, the sodium ions release themselves into the water.

But wait, isn’t sodium also a mineral?

Technically, yes. However, sodium is not detrimental to your water appliances. Furthermore, it does not resist suds such as laundry detergents and soaps in the way that magnesium and calcium do.

Advantages of Salt-Based Water Softeners

  • Salt-based water softeners ensure that no magnesium or calcium enters your plumbing system. In the long run, this lowers the cost of appliance repairs due to scale build-up.
  • Since there are no traces of magnesium and sodium in the water that you are using, there is nothing interfering with the mechanism of various suds. This way, you’ll end up using much less soap, shampoo, and laundry detergents.
  • Salt-based water softeners actually improve the quality of water by adding beneficial sodium ions. Sodium boasts many health-related benefits for your skin and various bodily functions.

Disadvantages of Salt-Based Water Softeners

  • The water may be too soft for your liking.
  • Extremely high quantities of salt are required, which is then added back to local waterways.

Salt-Free Water Softeners

Unlike their salt-based counterparts, salt-free water softeners don’t actually remove magnesium and calcium from the water. Instead, they crystalize these mineral ions so that they do not adhere to surfaces.

Hence, you’re still going to have magnesium and calcium running through your plumbing system — only in a less bothersome form.

For this reason, salt-free water softeners are a less popular water treatment option. However, it is a common and often exaggerated misconception that they are less effective. In fact, there are plenty of saltless water softeners that work just as well as salt-based softeners.

Advantages of Salt-Free Water Softeners

  • They do not require copious amounts of salt and are therefore less expensive. For comparison, a 2007 survey by the Salt Institute of America revealed that Americans spent over $400 million on salt bags for their water softening systems.
  • Maintenance of your water treatment unit is easier with salt-free water softeners. This is because you don’t have to clean the resin bed and flush the minerals as you would with salt-based softeners.
  • Salt-free water softeners maintain an optimum pH balance of your water without adding additional sodium. Keep in mind that excessive sodium doesn’t agree with everyone’s skin and hair, nor is it suitable for irrigation purposes.

Disadvantages of Salt-Free Water Softeners

  • The water is still technically hard as it contains the same amount of magnesium and calcium.
  • The crystallized minerals can lead to hard water spots on your dishware.
  • Scale build-up on fixtures and water appliances can still happen over time.

Salt-Based vs Salt-Free — Which is Better?

At the end of the day, the choice between salt-based and salt-free water softeners boils down to your preference. More specifically, you need to consider your specific water needs, maintenance budgets, and your environment.

From a purely manufacturing and maintenance standpoint, salt-free water softeners are superior.

However, salt-based water softeners offer a much wider range of benefits. Beyond just protecting your metal appliances, they dispense water that is much gentler on your skin, hair, clothes, and dishes.

Additionally, the water supply in Perth can be too hard for salt-free softeners. While you might get away with magnesium and calcium-laced water elsewhere, the sheer amount of these minerals in Perth waters can do a lot of damage in very little time.

Conclusion: Opt for What Suits You Best

Both salt-based and salt-free water softeners have their own merits. One way or another, each type of water softener filters untreated water to render it less detrimental to your household.

However, if you’re living in Perth, salt-based water softeners will probably serve you best.

That being said, you can always opt for saltless water softeners if they cater to your needs better.

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