Water Softener or Water Conditioner?

This is a question we get many times a day.  Water softeners are one of the following:

  1. systems that use the ion exchange process with salt;
  2. reverse osmosis systems;
  3. deionization systems; or
  4. distillation systems

to produce water that is below 1 grain of hardness per gallon (GPG).

In the interests of full disclosure, I am not talking about companies that falsely call their products “salt-free water softeners” when in fact, they are not .  For this discussion, I am talking about products that will actually produce “soft” water.  As I mentioned, soft water is water that is free of minerals to below 1 GPG.   So when a company says that theirs is a salt-free water softener which leaves the beneficial minerals, they are preying upon your lack of understanding as to what “soft” means.   In simpler terms, they are giving you false information.

A salt-free water conditioner, does not make the water soft – it simply causes the hardness minerals to lose their ability to form scale.  Some salt-free or saltless water softeners work better than others, but for the sake of comparing what they are capable of, I have made this comparison chart:


What is right for you?  There is no simple answer to that question – much of it depends upon where you live and your lifestyle. For example, some counties (especially in California) have banned water softeners, so you are limited to a salt-free conditioner, even if you don’t want one. However, in most parts of the country you are free to choose what you want. The answer to that question depends upon you. We would caution you that when deciding which one is right for you, you should deal with a water treatment company that sells more than just one type of product.

At US Water Systems, we sell both, but we are very careful to explain the difference.  We sell Green Wave Salt-Free Water Conditioners as well as Water Softeners that are regenerated with salt and Whole House Reverse Osmosis Systems.

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This article has 15 Comments

  1. i have very hard water from my own well deep in rock, no municipal water avaible.what do i use with a septic tank.was told salt bad for septic.dish washer wont clean,tankless coil in boiler went bad.real problem. thanks,mike

  2. There are many studies that show salt is not as bad for a septic tank all the chemicals, phosphates and detergents you have to use with hard water. In fact, they show that it can actually stimulate bacterial reactions. Get a water softener.

  3. I lived up north in wisconsin, and had a water softener using salt. I had the feeling that I could not wash the soap of my body after hand washing or showering. They adjusted the softener several times, but it did not change anything. I threw the water softener out, and immediately had the feeling that my hands, body were cleaner after washing, because I did not have the soapy feeling left.
    I now moved to Florida, and bought a rather new house that has a water softener using salt, and I have the soapy feeling again! What is going on? You say that the softened water removes soap better, my experience seems to show the opposite! Should I look into an electronic water conditioning system?

  4. Go back and carefully re-read what I wrote. What you believe may be YOUR truth, but it is not THE truth!

    Electronic Water Conditioning System? It works just as well as the “transporters” in Star Trek!

  5. I have a house in northern MN and the water has a lot f rust, etc. in it. I have a conditioner and a filter installed. It still stains the bathroom fixtures – can’t use for drinking/cooking or d laundry. What can I do to get better water? I am on a well. Thank you……

  6. I had a new water softener put in last year because our water was brown. The plumber who put it in said we have iron in the water but the system is doing what it should be doing. The test after the softener are PH 5.3. Hardness is 2 grains iron is 1 ppm. Hydrogen sulfide 2 ppm. But our water is yellow. How do I fix this and is it safe to shower with. We won’t drink it and are at are wits end with this. Any ideas

  7. We will need a detailed water test. You only have 4 parameters – I need about 35-40. We can fix it, I just need to know if you have any tannin and other competing contaminants. I will forward this to one of our water specialists and they can help you.

  8. Although our water tastes great and is clear, we have very hard water, and it has already totally destroyed our dishwasher, water heater, and faucets in 8 years. We do not want to install a water softener system, but I’m having trouble finding a salt free solution that actual users can attest stops the mineral build up on their devices . All those companies purport to work well, but further reading has proven to me that they’re not truthful. Please – is there a salt free solution that will truly for our hard water problems? I’m looking for the truth – not more bull…….

  9. I’m almost a month in with the Limeblaster, purchased based on this article. I’ve observed no change in the amount of scale appearing on dishes, glasses, and surfaces in bathrooms and kitchens. What should be the expectation for observing changes once the Limeblaster has been installed?

  10. Benjamin,

    We are very straightforward about what the Limeblaster does and does not do. What you are seeing on glasses, dishes and shower surfaces is the calcium and magnesium that is in the water. The Limeblaster does not remove these minerals. When the water evaporates, it is left behind. In the dishwasher, we recommend Lemishine – that will eliminate the spots there. In the shower, they can be wiped off. Only a salt-based water softener or whole house reverse osmosis can remove the calcium and magnesium. With the Limeblaster, it is still there, but can be wiped off. It will not form Limescale.

  11. One of the main reasons why I would go with a water softener as opposed to a conditioner is that they are greatly more efficient. As you stated in the chart, a softener is more than 99% efficient which is astounding. To me, that is the only selling point I would need if I were to buy one.

  12. I’m looking into purchasing a house in the Sun City area northwest of Phoenix. The house details show that it has a (GREEN) Water Conditioner. Would this system improve the softness of the water, as well as the taste of water, which is need good in this area? Would a reverse osmosis system also be recommended, along with the water conditioner? Thanks.

  13. Mike,

    I am not sure what a “Green Water Conditioner” is, but odds are, it does not soften the water. There are lots of companies selling products called softeners that do not soften the water and others selling conditions that provide NONE of the benefits of soft water. Sun City has extremely hard water. Some conditioner provide scale prevention, like our Limeblaster:


    However, the do not prevent spots and scale on dishes and utensils in the dishwasher. Clothes are dull, dingy and harsh and scum and scale builds up in the shower and fixtures. The only way to get all of the benefits of soft water, including saving 50% or more on soaps and cleaners is with a water softener that uses salt to regenerate.

    I always would recommend a RO System for drinking.

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