Salt Free Water Softener UK (BEWARE: It Doesn’t Exist!)

Sorry for the dramatic headline, but that’s the fact of the matter.

There is no such thing as a salt free water softener.

We’ll tell you why you may have heard of such a thing, there are some devices on the market in the UK and around the world that do have this name.

We’ll then look at those devices and look at what they actually do.

Hint: They do have positive effects and may solve your particular issue, but they don’t actually soften your water.

And we’ll let you know what your best options are for softening your water/removing limescale and how to know which one you need.

salt free water softener uk

Salt Free Water Softeners: The Facts

Let’s check out the facts…


What do you mean, it doesn’t exist?!

We can practically hear you shouting it.

Well, let’s explain.

A “salt free water softener” is a product that can solve SOME of the problems related to having hard water.

But it does NOT actually soften water. Your water is still hard.

Therefore, there is simply no such thing as a salt free water softener.

The only product that can actually turn hard water into soft water is a traditional water softener, which uses salt. (Here are the best water softener systems in the UK.)

So. Now you know.

A far better name for this product (that doesn’t exist but yet you’ve still seen mentioned) is:

A salt-free water CONDITIONER.

And some makers of this product do use that name so as not be misleading.

So what does a Salt Free Water Conditioner do?

A salt free water conditioner, as we said earlier, solves some of the problems you may be experiencing related to having having hard water in your home.

So let’s take a look at which hard water problems it solves and which ones it doesn’t solve…

Salt Free Water Conditioner: What It Solves vs What It Doesn’t Solve

Hard Water Problems SolvedHard Water Problems Not Solved
No more Limescale deposits on your appliances, sinks, taps, shower head etc.Water remains high in minerals (still hard)
Scale removed from pipes and central heating systemYou still have poor lathering of soaps and shampoos
Washing machines, dishwashers, hot water heaters will last longer (due to limescale removal)You’ll still have the negative effects on skin and hair (eg. dry hair & irritable skin)

A salt free water conditioner, then, can also be called a water descaler. It prevents the build up of limescale on all the surfaces on your home that come into contact with water.

It’s not a water softener that turns hard water into soft water; rather, it’s a way to treat hard water so that it prevents limescale.

If the only problem you have due to your hard water is limescale, then a salt free water conditioner (formerly, mistakenly known as a salt free water softener!) is a more than adequate solution.

What are possible problems you can have if your water is hard?

Hard water means there is high quantity of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium in the water.

If your water is hard, you may have the problems associated with limescale. That means chalky, white crystals or powder, often seen as streaks on appliances, sinks, taps, toilets, shower heads and many other surfaces.

You won’t see it but scale also gathers on your boiler and pipes. This can make water flow less smooth, and results in higher energy costs!

The high amount of minerals also means the water can have harmful effects on your skin and hair. It makes your skin dry, itchy and irritable. And it can leave hair coarse and dull.

It can also mean that your soaps and shampoos don’t lather well in water. It takes as much as double the amount of shampoo or soap to lather properly. That can mean a lot of additional expense to buy these types of cleaning product.

In case you’re wondering if water that’s high in minerals is bad for drinking water, it’s not. It’s perfectly safe to drink hard water.

How does a salt free water conditioner work?

There are several different types of salt free water conditioner, and each works in a different way.

What they all have in common is that they treat hard water in a way that means limescale no longer develops in your home.

They each work not by removing the minerals but by making physical changes to the mineral molecules in the water. These changes mean that the minerals no longer join together and gather in clumps on your appliances, taps etc.

What types of non salt water conditioner are there?

1) Electronic water conditioner

This product suffers the same issue as our title topic, it’s most commonly called an electronic water softener… but it’s not a softener! It doesn’t actually soften water.

Like all other water conditioners, it removes limescale.

How does it work?

Coils are wrapped around the pipework, and an electric current is run through the coils by the device. This produces electromagnetic waves going through the pipe.

And these waves change the chemical structure of the mineral molecules in the water. It alters their form so that the crystals of the minerals, like magnesium, manganese and calcium are softer, less harsh. And so they’re less likely to stick to your pipes, boiler and taps. Their form is more powdery and so they’re easily washed away by the water itself.

By the way, a normal water softener (with salt) can be called an electric water softener, since it also uses electricity to work. Don’t get these mixed up!

2) Electrolytic scale inhibitors

Also known as an electrolytic water conditioner, or a catalytic water conditioner.

This type of scale remover works in the following way:

The electrolytic scale inhibitor has an internal anode and cathode.

An electrolytic current is passed between the anode and cathode.

This current causes a few metal particle, such as Iron, to be dissolved in the water as it flows through the pipe, passing the unit.

Iron changes the structure of the minerals, like calcium and magnesium, in the water – they no longer bond to surfaces, and are more likely to stay in solution.

Once again, this device doesn’t soften the water, it changes the mineral structure to prevent limescale.

These products are highly effective at reducing limescale, here are the top electrolytic scale reducers.

3) Magnetic scale reducer

Also called a magnetic scale inhibitor.

These devices put a magnetic field across the water as it passes through the pipe. This causes a change in ionisation in the water and the mineral molecules become more likely to stay in solution.

As a result, they’re less likely to “leave” the water easily, and be left on your bathroom surfaces, pipes and boiler.

The trouble with this type of salt free water “softener” is that it requires a strong magnet to work properly. And there are a few products on the UK market that simply don’t have a strong enough market to work effectively.

Salt Water Softener vs. Salt Free Water Conditioner

You’ve now seen what salt free water conditioners can do, and how the various different types work.

Let’s check out the differences between that type of water conditioner and a traditional water softener (which does use salt).

Salt Free Water Conditioner Pros & Cons

Does not use salt – which is costly and not good for the environment.

Removes limescale effectively – which can save money on heating costs and on replacing appliances like washing machines, dishwashers, kettles etc.

Can be much cheaper than a water softener

No regular maintenance or upkeep required and no expense for this (whereas water softeners must be regularly topped up with salt).

If your only problem due to hard water is limescale, then this product will fix your issues (and at lower cost, more convenience)

Non salt water conditioners don’t use up waste water (which salt-based water softeners do).

They don’t need a large brine tank so they take up a lot less space (unlike water softeners.

Does not actually soften the water ie. doesn’t change the water from hard water to soft water. The minerals are retained by the water

Your water is still hard and so the water will still lather poorly. Your soaps, shampoos and cleaning detergents will be used up faster and so cost more money. A water softener fixes this problem.

Hard water will still cause problems (if it has been up to now) with hair and skin of the people in your household. Duller hair and dry skin are the result of water with such a high mineral concentration.

The descaling of most salt free water conditioners have a temporary effect, normally 24-72 hours. So if you don’t use the water in that time, the minerals will revert back to their original form and can cause limescale. So you must install the unit as close as possible to the point of use.

Water Softener (Salt) Pros & Cons

Very highly effectively and reliably changes hard water to soft water

Just like a water descaler, it will prevent the formation of limescale on your boiler, pipes, heating system, washing machines, appliances, coffee machine and any other item in your home that’s in contact with water.

Causes a permanent change in the water, not temporary like most water conditioners. So as long as your water passes through it, it will be softened (and therefore cause no limescale). It doesn’t matter when you use the water.

Water is softened and therefore much kinder to hair and skin. Skin will be smoother and softer, while hair will be sleeker and restored to full health and vitality.

Softened water lathers much better than hard water. You will easily get a good lather, meaning you can spend less on cleaning agents, shampoo and soap.

A quality water softener will last for a long time, giving you softened water. 10 years or more would not be uncommon.

A salt-based water softener (the only kind that actually softens water) can be expensive. Though prices have come down a lot in the last 3-5 years. They used to cost thousands!

Needs some ongoing actions to keep it working – specifically replacing the salt. You don’t need to service a water softener, though.

The salt replacement is an ongoing expense. It’s not very expensive but you’ll have to keep buying it throughout the lifetime of the water softener.

Depending on your household size, most water softeners can fit inside a kitchen cupboard, but probably not under the sink. Not huge but certainly taking up more space than a non salt water conditioner would.

How does a water softener work?

There are millions of microscopic beads in a water softener. These resin beads have sodium ions with negative charge, and that causes the mineral ions, such as magnesium and calcium, to be attracted to them. In the process the sodium ions enter the water. This process is called ion-exchange.

It’s the only current technology that actually removes the excess minerals from the water, thus softening it.

Here’s a full and frank explanation of how water softeners work UK.

Wondering if a salt-based water softener is worth it? Check this out.

Salt Free Water Softener UK Summary

Really we should be calling it salt free water “softener”, since it doesn’t soften the water!

So now you can see why we said there’s no such thing.

That said, there are devices that can successfully help you to stop limescale gathering in your home.

For a lot of people, limescale can be a source of discontentment that’s not very difficult to fix. A lot of people who’ve got either a salt free water conditioner or indeed a traditional water softener for their home, have spoken of their relief at no longer seeing horrible white streaks on their dishes and in their sink.

And there’s the crucial benefit that you don’t even see – they remove limescale from your boiler and pipes. This can add to your energy costs every single month, gathering over time. And limescale will also lead to your boiler breaking down faster than it would if it was gone.

Removing limescale, then makes a lot of sense. The product types we mentioned in this article can all do that.

Do you need a water softener (a salt-cased one?). It does actually successfully soften the water and permanently changes the water, removing the minerals. So it doesn’t matter when you use the water. And removing these minerals means that the softened water is much better for your skin and hair, and making it easier for soap/shampoo lathering.

Just decide whether limescale is the only problem you need solved. Then it’s easy to make your decision!