Salt-free water softeners, also known as water conditioners, are water softening devices that crystallizes hard water minerals. These devices are the preferred choice for people looking to soften hard water with low concentration of calcium and magnesium minerals.
The best salt free water softener for 2023 is the Springwell FS1 Water Softener, which uses Template-assisted crystallization to prevent the calcium and magnesium minerals from sticking together. It comes with 35,000 grains capacity, 12 – 20 GPM flow rate and lifetime warranty on the tanks and valves.
List of Saltless Water Softener Systems
- Springwell Salt-free Water Softener
- Aquasana Salt-Free Water Conditioner
- Springwell Water Filter & Saltless Water Softener Combo
- Yarna Capacitive
- SoftPRO Elite
- AO Smith Water Descaler
Springwell Salt-free Water Softener
- Process: Template-assisted crystallization
- Grain Capacity: 35,000
- Flow Rate: Between 12 and 20 GPM
- Warranty: Lifetime warranty on tanks and valves
- GPG rating of 81
- Incredibly high flow rates across the board
- The sediment pre-filter only needs to be changed every 6 months
- Prevents 99.6% of scale formation
- The upgrades double the price of the device
- This device isn’t NSF/ANSI certified
The reason why we consider the Springwell salt-free water softener to be the best model overall is that it has so many good qualities that would make it an ideal addition to any home.
The model itself comes in three different sizes. The smallest size is great for 1-3 bathrooms and costs $1,542. For the flow rate, it can deliver up to 12 GPM, which is more than enough for a single household. The medium-sized version of this model is ideal for larger households with 4-6 bathrooms, as it can output around 15 GPM, and will set you back $1,893.
Finally, the large-sized version of this salt-free water softener model will cost you $2,567, but for that amount of money, you’ll get a massive flow rate of 20 GPM. This sort of GPM output can provide softened water for 7 bathrooms or more, so it’s a bit of an overkill for a single household, but it would be a great fit for a small apartment building complex.
The Springwell models also come with a few optional features if you want to upgrade the water softener device and turn it into a full-on water purification system that can get rid of a lot more contaminants. You can get a UV purification add-on for $1,100, a whole-house water filter add-on for $1,016, and a reverse osmosis add-on for $442.
All of these upgrades add additional purification methods to your water system, so you don’t really need to buy them all, especially since they’re not exactly cheap. However, we would recommend testing your water and picking the purification method that can neutralize the specific type of contaminants found in your water.
Additionally, the easy installation kit is only $157, which makes assembling the water softener much simpler. All in all, buying the installation kit is much cheaper than paying a plumber or the company itself to install the device.
This water softener model also comes with a lifetime warranty on tanks and valves, as well as a 6-month money-back guarantee agreement. This means that any defective or damaged components can be replaced, and so can the whole device if it’s not working properly or you’re just not satisfied with its performance.
However, please keep in mind that Springwell reserves the right to charge you a 25% restocking fee for all returned items, which is a policy put in place to stop people from taking advantage of the company and returning perfectly functioning models.
Aquasana Salt-Free Conditioner
- Process: Template-assisted crystallization
- Grain Capacity: 42,000
- Flow Rate: 14 GPM
- Warranty: 6 years
- The most affordable salt-free water softener on the market
- A GPG rating of 25
- The warranty covers the estimated lifespan of the device
- The cost jumps to $1,598 if you don’t use affirm
- The company recommends replacing the device every 6 years
The Aquasana is without a doubt the most budget-friendly salt-free water softener on the market with a full-size tank as it’ll only cost you $799 through the affirm payment method if you’re paying for it in one go.
Alternatively, you have the option to go for the 3-month payment plan, that’ll cost you $819, the 6-month plan, which will set you back $834, or the 12-month plan, which comes to a total of $866.
Keep in mind that the price doubles if you’re not using the affirm payment method and becomes $1,598. However, there’s really no reason not to use the suggested payment option since it saves you quite a bit of money.
Aside from the awesome price, these models are very easy to install. The fact that there aren’t any drain lines or backflushing channels that need to be connected makes them much more practical than standard water softeners. The filter is also easy to detach and replace, and while it still requires you to be handy with a wrench, you should get the hang of the process after doing it a few times.
The installation process itself is pretty much the same as other similar models, and the instructions the unit comes with can tell you everything you need to know about what to attach where. Just don’t forget to turn off the main water valve before you get started, or you might make a mess that you’ll need to clean up later.
The tank is made out of an HDTE (High Density, Tri-Extruded) material, which makes it durable while giving it a lightweight lining that makes moving the device a bit easier. Additionally, while it can still be damaged, the durable material means that the tank won’t crack so easily if it’s accidentally dropped or hit.
Coming in at a height of 46 inches and a length of 27 inches, the Aquasana isn’t as large as some of the other salt-free water softeners. This means that you can easily find a place for it even if your home is pretty cramped.
In terms of maintenance, all you really need to do is get some pre-filter replacements and change them out every 2 months or so. The frequency will depend on the amount of water that you use, but a triple pack is only $20, so it doesn’t really cost much to maintain the water softener.
Springwell Filter & Saltless Water Softener Combo
- Process: Template-assisted crystallization and air injection oxidization
- Grain Capacity: 32,000 – 80,000
- Flow Rate: 9 – 20 GPM
- Warranty: Lifetime warranty on tanks and valves
- App for real-time monitoring
- Good flow rate
- Consistent pressure between 25-80 PSI
- Very complicated installation
Let’s get this out of the way first – yes, this is without a doubt the most expensive salt-free water softener that we have on our list, and it’ll cost you twice as much as any of the other models that we recommend. Nevertheless, the price is totally worth it when we take into account the unit’s power and capabilities.
The main reason behind its high price tag is the more complex process of softening well water. Not only does this device need to draw in and oxidize the water from your well, but it also needs to channel that water through the water softener tank to crystalize the hard mineral molecules.
This water softener removes sulfur, manganese, and iron, all of which are very common minerals found in well water. This unit can handle up to 8 PPM of hydrogen sulfide, 7 PPM of iron, and 1 PPM of manganese.
The system itself consists of two tanks, one of which is meant to take in the well water and prepare it before it’s funneled into the water-softening resin tank. This preparation is a 4-stage process:
- Stage 1: oxidizing the iron, sulfur, and manganese mineral molecules;
- Stage 2: trapping the oxidized material in a bed of the green sand fusion;
- Stage 3: backwashing the contaminates down a drain;
- Stage 4: funneling the water into the second tank.
So even though the unit seems costly at first glance, most standard water softeners with a well water tank cost roughly the same. Plus, these devices will always be more expensive than regular water softeners.
The best part of this system is the app that comes along with it, allowing you to monitor everything that’s happening with the system from anywhere using your phone. The app also makes it possible to adjust settings while you’re away from home.
You can adjust the air draw, the backwash cycles, and the timing of your system. Moreover, you can monitor how many gallons are being softened per day, change your valve settings, and so much more with just the press of a button.
This particular Springwell model comes in two sizes. The 1-3 bathroom-sized model has an output of 9 GPM, while the 4-6 bathroom-sized model has an output of 12 GPM. Both come with optional upgrades.
These additional units are the UV water purification system, that’ll set you back another $1,100, and the reverse osmosis drinking system, which you can pick up for $442.
- Process: Electric impulses
- Grain Capacity: Unlimited
- Flow Rate: Unlimited
- Warranty: 1 year
- Incredibly simple to install
- Requires no maintenance whatsoever
- Very affordable
- The descaling process ends almost immediately after the water leaves the pipes
While it’s referred to as a descaler, the Yarna Capacitive is still considered a water softener due to the fact that it prevents the buildup of limescale.
This device is attached directly to the main water pipe in the house, and it releases electrical impulses that essentially break down the hard mineral molecules in the pipe. This is how it prevents hard molecules from sticking to the inside wall of the pipe or the faucet.
The Yarna Capacitive unit is portable and can easily be installed in your home, even if you don’t know which side of a screwdriver to hold. You can find all of the instructions on the brand’s website, and the devices come with detailed user manuals that make the entire process quite straightforward.
While the device only has a 1-year warranty, the $300 price tag means that you can pretty much afford to replace it twice in that same year and still not even pay as much as you would for the second cheapest water conditioner on our list (the Aquasana).
In fairness, the Aquasana is a full-sized water softener; while this is just a descaler, but the Yarna still more than gets the job done for the price range that it sits in.
The Yarna Capacitive is made out of ABS plastic, which is incredibly resistant to chemical corrosion, on top of being pretty durable.
It’s also compatible with any and all types of pipe. The company’s site states that the unit is effective up to 1.2 miles from the installation point along your pipe system. This means that this single small device can be put on your main water pipe and can work its magic throughout your entire house.
However, the main reason why descalers aren’t nearly as useful as other salt-free water softeners is that their effect on hard water minerals wears off a lot faster than with the other methods.
The hard minerals start to bond together almost immediately after the water leaves your tap. This means that while these devices are incredibly cheap and very simple to install, their efficiency doesn’t come anywhere near the other softeners’ methods.
- Process: Template-assisted crystallization
- Grain Capacity: 24,000 – 80,000
- Flow Rate: 6 – 11 GPM
- Warranty: Lifetime warranty
- Can handle water hardness up to 17 GPG
- Lifetime warranty
- Annual operation costs estimated at $32
- No settings to choose from and no readouts that you can consult
The SoftPRO Elite is another great water softener that is advertised as able to remove 99% of the potential scale buildup on the pipes in your home. It doesn’t require any salt or electricity, and it doesn’t waste any of the water that passes through the tank.
The system doesn’t require any programming or setup, so it just runs by itself after you install it. Unfortunately, this does mean that you can’t adjust the flow rates in any way, see how much water is being used on a regular basis, or run any sort of system diagnostics whatsoever.
Similarly to the Aquasana model, the recommended lifetime of this device is around 6 years, but unfortunately, this device costs nearly twice as much, so it’ll sting quite a bit more if you need to replace it after 6 years.
The good news is that the system itself is so simple that just basic maintenance on the pre-filter and replacing the resin in the tank can extend its lifetime to at least 10 years or so before you need to consider getting a new model.
Additionally, the 5-micron sediment and chlorine pre-filter does everything that you’d expect from a TAC system and more. The pre-filter also has the added benefit of removing any chlorine in the water. On top of that, you have the option to upgrade the carbon cartridge filter to a sediment cartridge filter, which can be incredibly useful depending on what sort of contaminants the water in your area has.
AO Smith Water Descaler
- Process: Template-assisted crystallization
- Grain Capacity: 45,000
- Flow Rate: 7 GPM
- Warranty: 6 years
- Very compact and easy to transport
- Can fit just about anywhere
- Incredibly affordable
- The small size makes it a bad choice for large households
- Limited flow rate
Unlike the Yarna Capacitive descaler, the AO Smith Water Descaler is a proper water conditioner that uses template-assisted crystallization that prevents the minerals present in hard water from causing too much damage to your pipes.
This is a smaller model in comparison to the other standard water conditioners, but that just means that it’s much easier to find a place for it in your home. In fact, this is really the only viable option if you want to get a TAC water softener system for an apartment. It doesn’t take up much space, it’s pretty easy to install, and requires no maintenance.
The small size also means that moving this device isn’t difficult at all, and installing it super easy too. The installation equipment that comes with this device includes a shut-off valve, a hose adapter, a nipple, and the tank itself.
AO Smith is a great choice for households of up to 4 people or so because it can’t really handle anything more than 2 bathrooms. It also has an estimated maximum gallon limit of around 600,000 before it needs to be replaced. This means that you can use up to 100,000 gallons per year to be able to enjoy the unit for 6 years – its estimated lifetime.
If you don’t use too much water regularly, then you might be able to squeeze a year or two more out of this device, but it’s pretty cheap, so replacing it with an identical model is probably the better option in the long run.
The Different Salt-free Water Conditioner Technologies (Variations)
Standard water softeners use a process called ion exchange to replace the calcium and magnesium molecules with sodium molecules. This is done by funneling the water through a tank full of sodium-charged resin and then funneling the softened water without the hard minerals back into the pipes.
Salt-free water softeners work by using a system called Template-Assisted Crystallization, which we’ll just abbreviate to TAC from now on. TAC works by passing hard water through a special resin that changes the minerals from their base ionic forms into crystalline forms. In essence, this crystalline form allows the calcium and magnesium molecules to pass through pipes and other surfaces without bonding to them and creating limescale.
Descalers like the Yarna are also considered water conditioners, but they work by emitting an electrical impulse through the water that prevents the minerals in the water from bonding to the inside of the pipes and forming limescale.
In essence, salt-free water softeners prevent the formation of limescale and other negative effects of hard water on your pipes and faucets without making the water taste salty or removing the beneficial minerals found in it.
Both systems have their pros and cons. For example, salt-free water softeners take up significantly less space because they don’t need a salt tank. Moreover, they don’t waste any water during the regeneration process.
On the other hand, standard water softeners actually get rid of the hard minerals in the water, and while the salt-free models stop material buildup in the pipes and faucets, the same can’t be said for the sinks and home appliances.
Salt-Free Water Softener Disadvantages
The biggest disadvantage of these devices is that strictly speaking, they’re not actually water softeners but rather water conditioners. The TAC method doesn’t actually neutralize any of the hard water minerals, but rather just changes them in a way that prevents them from bonding to surfaces for a certain amount of time.
The crystallization eventually fades, which means that any body of water that’s left in a glass or a sink for too long will form limescale.
If we’re talking about dishes or glasses, then the water will need to stay on them overnight for limescale to form. You should be fine if you rinse them, then dry them right after that. Drying the sink or the bathtub with a towel is a bit more of a pain, but it’s still a pretty easy method to prevent the buildup of limescale on these surfaces.
Unfortunately, appliances like washing machines, dishwashers, and water heaters will still be affected by the hard water minerals since the water will sit for extended amounts of time in them.
How We Reviewed Water Softeners Without Salt
All of the water softeners that we recommend in our article are reviewed based on the following criteria:
- Grain capacity
- Water pressure/flow rate
- NSF certifications
- Ease of installation
- Maintenance requirements
We’ll analyze all of the above-mentioned factors in-depth and share our verdict on the models’ most important specs.
The grain capacity of a water softener determines what sort of hardness a particular model can handle. Simply put, the higher the grain capacity, the more grams of hard molecules per gallon of water the device can soften.
|Water Softeners||Grain Capacity|
|Springwell Salt-free Water Softener||32,000 – 80,000|
|Aquasana Salt-Free Conditioner||42,000|
|Springwell Filter & Softener Combo||32,000 – 80,000|
|SoftPRO Elite||24,000 – 80,000|
|UsWatersystems Greenwave||15,000 – 30,000|
|AO Smith Water Descaler||45,000|
Flow rates determine what household size a particular water softener is ideal for. Single-digit flow rates usually mean that the device can only manage up to three bathrooms, flow rates of up to 15 GPM are suitable for households with 5 or 6 bathrooms, and anything above that is meant for either very large households or apartment complexes.
|Water Softeners||Flow Rate (GPM)|
|Springwell Salt-free Water Softener||12 – 20|
|Aquasana Salt-Free Conditioner||14|
|Springwell Filter & Softener Combo||9 – 12|
|SoftPRO Elite||6 – 11|
|UsWatersystems Greenwave||10 – 25|
|AO Smith Water Descaler||7|
The way a water conditioner gets an NSF certification is by being able to reduce the hardness of the water down to 1 GPG. This is a pretty stringent requirement, so a lot of models don’t actually qualify.
However, just because they don’t have this certification doesn’t mean that they’re any less useful at preventing scale buildup.
|Water Softeners||NSF/ANSI 44 Certifications|
|Springwell Salt-free Water Softener||No|
|Aquasana Salt-Free Conditioner||No|
|Springwell Filter & Softener Combo||No|
|AO Smith Water Descaler||Yes|
Most salt-free water softeners work by using the template-assisted crystallization process. However, there are also units like the Yerna descaler that use electric impulses that break apart the mineral clumps in the water into finer particles so that they don’t stick to the inside of the pipe so easily.
|Springwell Salt-free Water Softener||Template-assisted crystallization|
|Aquasana Salt-Free Conditioner||Template-assisted crystallization|
|Springwell Filter & Softener Combo||Template-assisted crystallization and Air Injection Oxidization|
|Yarna Capacitive||Electric impulses|
|SoftPRO Elite||Template-assisted crystallization|
|UsWatersystems Greenwave||Template-assisted crystallization|
|AO Smith Water Descaler||Template-assisted crystallization|
Ease of Installation
The truth is that most water softeners are pretty tricky to install. First, there are a lot of components that need to be put together. Then the device itself needs to be fitted on the main water pipe of the house. If you’re not careful, you can either damage the softener and void the warranty or do some water damage to the house.
However, there are also a few models that are pretty simple to attach and won’t take more than an hour or so to install.
We’ll review which salt-free water softeners can be installed by just about anyone and which require hiring a professional.
|Water Softeners||Ease of Installation|
|Springwell Salt-free Water Softener||Moderate|
|Aquasana Salt-Free Conditioner||Moderate|
|Springwell Filter & Softener Combo||Professional help is required|
|AO Smith Water Descaler||Easy|
The main point of water conditioners is to get rid of the need to keep filling the brine tank back up with salt and reduce the maintenance requirements in general. So it should be no surprise that the highest level of required maintenance involves replacing the pre-filters every 2 months or so.
The Springwell Filter & Softener Combo is the only device that’s the exception to the rule, but in fairness, that’s primarily due to the second tank that’s meant to deal with well water.
|Water Softeners||Maintenance Requirements|
|Springwell Salt-free Water Softener||Moderate|
|Aquasana Salt-Free Conditioner||Minimal|
|Springwell Filter & Softener Combo||High|
|AO Smith Water Descaler||None|
Water softeners are appliances, so they have the same general warranty length as most other large appliances. The smaller and the less expensive models either won’t have a warranty or they’ll have one that lasts for a single year. The middle-of-the-road models usually have one that lasts for around 5-10 years, and the most expensive models typically have a lifetime warranty on the most important components.
|Springwell Salt-free Water Softener||Lifetime warranty on tanks and valves|
|Aquasana Salt-Free Conditioner||6 years|
|Springwell Filter & Softener Combo||Lifetime warranty on tanks and valves|
|Yarna Capacitive||1 year|
|SoftPRO Elite||Lifetime warranty|
|AO Smith Water Descaler||6 years|
The general price of a standard salt-free water softener will orbit between $1,200 and $1,500, with the smaller models coming in at under $500. The Springwell Filter & Softener Combo goes significantly over the numbers we just mentioned because it’s a two-tank system, which is needed if you want to soften well water.
As for the Aquasana water softener, it doesn’t fall into either category, but that’s because it’s a standard-sized water conditioner that’s half the usual price. This makes it the best bargain on our list.
|Springwell Salt-free Water Softener||$1,542|
|Aquasana Salt-Free Conditioner||$799|
|Springwell Filter & Softener Combo||$3,639|
|AO Smith Water Descaler||$400|
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Salt-free water softeners remove iron?
No. As we’ve already mentioned several times, salt-free water softeners prevent the calcium and magnesium molecules from bonding to surfaces for a certain period of time, but they do not get rid of the minerals themselves.
Salt-free water softeners have tanks that are full of special resin beads that form what’s known as “catalytic nucleation sites.” When the hard water passes through the areas with resin beads, its mineral molecules essentially receive a crystalline coating that allows them to remain in the water without sticking to surfaces.
Many people assume that this makes these devices useless since they’re not really doing anything; however, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The minerals in hard water might be harmful to appliances, but they’re actually beneficial to people’s health. Not only do these devices not remove these beneficial molecules from your drinking water, but they also don’t make it salty either, unlike standard water softeners.
Additionally, while we did mention that limescale will still form on surfaces over time, that’s only true if the water is left in place for extended periods of time. You still don’t need to worry about the pipes, the faucets, or your shower head from getting material buildup due to the hard minerals in the water.
What is the average price of a salt-free water softener system?
Descalers usually stay in the $200 – $500 range, whereas most salt-free water softener systems start at around $1,000, or $1,2000, and can go as high as $4,000. There are two main reasons for the large price fluctuation in the full-sized models.
The first reason is that certain brands simply cost more. Springwell is a well-known name in the purification field, and people are usually willing to spend a few hundred more dollars if it means that they’re getting a reliable brand that’s been around for a while.
The second reason for the price difference is the size and purpose of the softener. For example, the Aquasana is a smaller model that has a 42k grain capacity, whereas the Springwell well softener is a massive unit with two tanks that has a grain capacity of up to 80k.
The larger unit is overkill for an apartment building that has city water, and the smaller unit isn’t strong enough to handle the amount of iron and other minerals that are present in well water.
Most of these devices are actually reasonably priced, but it really depends on what you’re planning on using them for and how many GPG of hard minerals they’re expected to handle.
What does saltless water softener installation require?
As we just mentioned, installing a water softener by yourself can be pretty tricky, but it’s not impossible if you know what tools you’ll need for the job.
Apart from the unit itself, the items needed for installation include:
- Two 1-inch MNPT fittings
- A bypass valve
- A gasket
- A tube
- An O-ring
- A hose bib assembly
- A mounting bracket
- Pre-filter housing
- A spanner wrench
The items above are considered basic and most salt-free water softeners come with them, so you should have gotten all of these items when you bought the appliance. The only exception is the spanner wrench which you’ll need to get yourself.
There’s also the sediment filter and the tank itself. Keep in mind that not all salt-free water softeners are the same. Some might have the sediment filter attached to the tank, so you might get fewer components than the ones we listed.
The instructions are usually pretty clear about what needs to be attached where, so you should be fine if you have all of the items listed and if you follow the instructions to the letter.
What is the average lifespan of a salt-free water softener?
While these devices might not be standard items that can be found in every home, they’re still appliances, and like all other appliances, their lifespan will vary.
In general, you should be able to get at least 10 good years out of your salt-free water softener if you maintain it properly, and 15 if you’re lucky. This doesn’t include any unforeseen damages or extenuating circumstances that might cause damage to the softener.
Additionally, while the water softener itself might last for a decade and a half, the same cannot be said for the resin inside the tank. The salt-free models don’t have salt tanks that need to be refilled constantly, but their resin needs to be replaced occasionally.
While this depends on how much water you use on a regular basis, you shouldn’t need to replace the resin in the tank more frequently than every 2-3 years or so.
Salt-free water softeners come in many different shapes and sizes, but all of them can be useful in different circumstances.
Springwell water softeners might be on the pricey side, but the company is a reliable name in the field, so you know that you’ll be buying a quality product that’ll last you for a very long time.
The Yarna is an easy-to-install descaler for anyone that just wants to prevent limescale from forming in the pipes or around the faucets.
The Aquasana is the most cost-effective full-sized water conditioner that’s ideal for smaller homes where the flow rate isn’t all that important.
The UsWatersystems Greenwave and the SoftPRO Elite models are both great middle-of-the-road choices that give you everything you might need from a water conditioner at a decent price. However, they don’t really stand out in terms of features.
Finally, the AO Smith Water Descaler is a great option for a portable system that might not be able to reach the same flow rates as the larger models, but it makes up for it with how easy it is to place and install.