Water Softener Alternatives

Today on your regularly scheduled programming of Water Filter Geek, let’s talk about water softener alternatives.

Large chunks of the UK have hard water, and if you live in one of these areas, you’ll know about the problems associated with hard water.

You’ll know about the skin irritation it causes, that it leaves your hair drier and duller. You’ll have seen the limescale build-up on your taps, sinks, baths, showers and so on. You may even be aware that it also builds up on your pipes and your heating system, causing a rise in your energy costs.

Water softeners are generally considered the best solution to hard water, but are there any viable alternatives?

Water Softener Alternatives

Introducing Water Softener Alternatives

If your household suffers from any of the problems we mentioned earlier, then you’ll want the lowest cost, most efficient way of softening the water, thus solving those problems.

We checked out the best solutions for fixing hard water, other than a water softener, and rated them according to their pros and cons.

Let’s see if any of the water softener alternatives are able to do this effectively.

Important note: Some lists on the internet for water softener alternatives list a Reverse Osmosis filter as a water softener alternative, but they’re not! They only filter water, they don’t soften it.

Welcome, then, to Water Filter Geek, the experts 😉

1) Water Descalers (Electromagnetic Water Softener)

Water descalers are what they sound like, they de-scale. That is, they remove scale.

They recondition the water so that limescale will no longer build up on the surfaces that they touch in your household.

How do they work?

Water descalers work using electrical impulses, which alter the shape of the crystals of the minerals in the water. (It’s these minerals, such as magnesium and calcium, that make your water hard and cause you the associated problems.)

Why does changing the shape of the crystals help to inhibit and prevent scale from forming? That’s because the change in shape makes the crystals less sticky.

So it’s the creation of an electromagnetic field in the pipe by this unit that acts on the water to reduce scale. That’s why it’s sometimes called an electromagnetic water softener or electronic water softener.


  • They’re more eco-friendly than water softeners, since there is no waste water produced.
  • No sodium is added to the water. High sodium can be dangerous to people with high blood pressure (however, the amount of sodium added by water softeners is so small compared, it’s extremely safe for everyone other than people with certain medical conditions).
  • The fact that magnesium and calcium remain in the water (whereas water softeners remove them) means that the water is more healthy (is it safe to drink from a water softener?). Magnesium and calcium are essential minerals that have several health benefits.
  • Water may also taste better since it retains more minerals (though this is a matter of subjective choice, since some people prefer the taste of softened water).
  • It’s quite easy to install, even if you don’t have DIY experience.

Here are the Pros that it shares with water softeners.

  • With less limescale building up in your pipes, your heating system works more efficiently, and that can save you money.
  • It also makes your plumbing system much easier to clean, and it won’t need to be cleaned so often as before.


  • A water descaler doesn’t fix any of the problems caused by hard water other than scale, such as
    • Causing your skin and hair to be dry and coarse.
    • Poor lathering of soaps, shampoos and detergents – which increases your costs of buying these things by as much as double.
  • Since it’s powered by electricity, if your electricity fails, so does your scale inhibitor.
  • It can take a while before you notice the improvement in the scale build up, depending on how hard your water us.


If the only problems you’re experiencing because of hard water are related to scale on taps, baths, sinks, showers, kettles and other appliances, then a water descaler could be a good solution for you.

However, your water is still technically hard water, since the minerals are still present in the same high quantities in the water, just in a different shape that helps prevent scale.

So problems other than those caused by limescale would not be cured using a water descaler.

2) Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC)

This has become quite a popular type of water softener in the short time it’s been around. It can also be called a salt-free water softener or a non-salt water softener.

A typical water softener (a salt-based one) needs a drain but the TAC softener doesn’t.

How does it work?

It’s basically a normal mineral tank, but with a granular medium inside it. As water passes through the medium it gets treated and altered by the medium.

As a result, the water no longer causes scale to build up on your pipes, kitchen and bathroom surfaces and appliances.


  • It doesn’t need any salt (normal water softeners must be occasionally topped up with salt).
  • It doesn’t waste any water so it’s more environmentally friendly. There is no brine (salt water) waste water produced.
  • Saves on water bills, since less water is used up in the process
  • The minerals remain in the water, so the water can be more healthy to drink than if they were removed.
  • No electricity is needed for this water softener alternative.
  • There is no maintenance (but does a water softener need to be serviced?) required to keep a Template Assisted Crystallization unit working.
  • Takes up less space than a waters softener.
  • Easier to install


  • This type of salt-free water softener is still relatively new technology, so it remains to be seen how effective it is as a long-term solution.
  • If your water has a lot of substances like iron, manganese (called iron or manganese fouling) and sediment, it can damage the Template Assisted Crystallization unit.
  • Like the water descaler, it only solves problems with limescale, it won’t actually soften your water, so it can still damage hair (here’s why hard water isn’t good for your hair) and skin, and it will still lather poorly.
  • Chlorinated water is also not friendly to this unit, and could cause damage. You may need a carbon filter or a Reverse Osmosis system to remove it, if you have chlorine in your water in above-normal quanitites.


Again, a good quality salt-free softener or TAC unit, can work well to reduce scum build-up. This type doesn’t need salt and doesn’t use water.

But once again, it won’t soften the water so that it lathers better and is healthier for your skin and hair.

3) Electronic Water Conditioners

This is another water softener alternative that prevents scale. Again, technically speaking it doesn’t actually soften the water, it just descales – which prevents the problems caused by limescale within your home.

How does it work?

Sonar signals are emitted by the electronic water conditioner into the main water pipe.

This causes ions to join, and the mineral crystals accumulate together, reducing the surface charge.

As a result, the minerals, like calcium and magnesium stop sticking to your pipes, sinks, bathtubs, kettles, washing machines and so on.


  • It causes a significant reduction in limescale on kitchen and bathroom surfaces, and in pipes.
  • No waste water produced, so it’s better for the environment than normal water softeners.
  • It’s cheaper than a water softener.
  • No salt is used, and there’s no maintenance required.


  • As with the other alternatives to water softeners, it only fixes the problem of scale. Your soaps and shampoos will still take a lot of effort to lather properly, and the water is still hard – it’ll still cause skin and hair problems.
  • The larger mineral crystals will no longer stick to pipes and surfaces in your home, but they can stick harder to hair and skin.


A very effective method to remove limescale. But since it increases problems caused by hard water on skin and hair, this is only a solution for people who won’t use water on their body.

That means it’s not suitable for a typical household.

Which Is The Best Water Softener Alternative Option?

If your only problem with having hard water is limescale, then one of the devices in this list can work well for you.

If we had to choose one it would be the Water Descaler. It’s relatively low cost compared to other alternatives and certainly much cheaper than a water softener. It also doesn’t produce waste water, and it doesn’t need topping up with salt. It’s a good solution to remove limescale over time.

Why Would I Need An Alternative To A Water Softener?

Typically you’d be looking for a different solution for hard water because of one of the major weaknesses of water softeners.

They are:

  • a softener can be costly (though prices for a water softener have come down a lot in recent years)
  • they use salt, which you’ll need to top up from time to time, to keep it working effectively
  • it requires some DIY effort, or the work of a plumber to install them

Are there any other alternatives to a water softener?

Apart from these limescale solutions, there are shower filters that have some ability to improve the quality of the water you use when you shower. They’re more suited to low water hardness areas. Here are the best shower filters for hard water UK.

There are also some more home remedy type solutions. Here are the best natural ways to soften hard water.

Water Softener Alternatives: A Summary

So there are a few water softener alternatives, then. That’s clear. We’ve broken down exactly what those other options are in this article. We discussed how effective they are, and how they compare to a typical salt-based water softener.

The alternatives, then, are effective at the job of reducing scale, which is one of the major problems caused by hard water.

If scum and limescale accumulation on your home’s pipes and any other place that water reaches is the major problem, then a water descaler, a Template Assisted Crystallization (or salt-free water softener), or electronic water conditioner can be effective to solve that problem specifically.

Just be aware that these other hard water solutions don’t actually technically soften the water – in all these alternatives, they water remains hard. Therefore, the hard water will still cause harm to skin and hair, and will still be hard to lather.

If you want a full, all-encompassing solution to hard water, then you’ll want to get a water softener (is a water softener worth the money?). Otherwise, if you just have a limescale problem, each of these alternatives could be better for you.