If you have hard water, you have two major options to treat your water: Traditional Water Softening, or Salt-Free Water Conditioning.Both water softeners and water conditioners treat hard water, but they base their filtration technology on differing types of filtration media. Traditional Water Softeners use a process called Ion Exchange. Tier1 Salt-free Water Conditioners utilize a process called Template Assisted Crystallization, or TAC.
Knowing the pros and cons of each type of system helps you choose the best system to meet your needs.
Salt-Based Water Softening Systems and Ion Exchange Resin
Water softening systems reduce hardness by a process called ion exchange. During ion exchange, polymer resin beads release sodium particles in exchange for hardness minerals. As sodium particles are released into the water, hardness minerals are collected on the resin beads.
When the resin beads have reached a saturation point, the cleaning cycle, or regeneration, removes the trapped minerals, flushes them through the system, and discards them down a drain line. Fresh salt water pulled into the system from the brine tank refreshes the sodium particles so that the system continues to soften.
Specialized resins are used in water softening systems used to treat hard water with high levels of iron (up to 4 ppm). High efficiency softening resins use shallow shell technology, which reduces the depth of penetration required to cleanse the resin, allowing for more complete regeneration and providing a higher, more efficient utilization of the regenerant.
Salt-Free Water Conditioning, Catalytic Media and TAC
Salt-free water softeners, or water conditioning systems, move water through a catalytic media using a physical process called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). This process converts hardness minerals from their ionic form to a harmless crystalline form. Essentially, TAC causes the hardness minerals to bind tightly together.
In this stable crystalized form, calcium and magnesium do not attach to pipes, appliances, and fixture surfaces. The crystals are so small, that they are easily rinsed away by the flow of water. Because salt-free systems don’t collect any materials, there is no need for a regeneration cycle to remove trapped contaminants.
Technically, because of the continued presence of minerals, these systems do not soften the water. This process leaves water “conditioned” rather than softened.
Comparing Water Softeners and Water Conditioners
Salt-based water softeners significantly diminish hardness minerals, so for very high hardness, they outperform salt-free systems. They often show faster results, because filtration starts at the source the minute it’s used. They also prevent lime-scale build-up on fixtures or appliances, and last longer with fewer repairs and plumbing issues.
Salt-free systems require considerably less maintenance than salt-based softeners, and don’t introduce additional sodium into your water. They are also simpler to install, have minimal maintenance costs, and don’t create waste water.
However, the elements that cause lime-scale build-up still exist in the water. Salt-free conditioners can take longer for results to show, and are more expensive.