If you are trying to make a shopping decision between buying a water softener or a water descaler, then you are already well aware of the problems that having hard water in your home causes.
This is something that nobody wants to deal with for long.
What you might not be aware of are the many factors that go into a water descaler vs water softener purchasing decision. There is a lot more to consider than you might think.
That’s why in this article, I will briefly describe what each of these hard water treatment devices is, how they work, and the advantages and disadvantages that each one provides for you as far as treating your hard water concerns.
I had to deal with hard water issues repeatedly in my 26 years in the pool and spa industry and they are not that difficult to control when you have the right equipment at your disposal.
Once you read this article, it should become very apparent as to whether you are better off purchasing a water softener or you should go with a water descaler.
Table of Contents
What is a Water Descaler?
Here is some of the important information about water descalers that you need to know when shopping for a hard water treatment solution. Keep in mind that these are also referred to by other names such as water conditioners, salt-free water softeners, and non-salt water softeners.
Types of Water Descalers & How They Work
Two main types of water descalers are used and I will talk about how each goes about treating hard water conditions. Their main objective is to control the limescale buildup that is often associated with having hard water.
The most important point to remember about water descalers is that they do not remove calcium, magnesium, and other hard water-producing particles.
These devices simply change the characteristics of the particles that cause hard water problems so that they no longer can attach to surfaces.
1. Template-Assisted Crystallization (TAC)
This is the most popular type of water descaler. The main feature of template-assisted crystallization water descalers is the special type of media that’s placed inside of them.
How it works: Once these are placed into your incoming water line, all of the water that flows into them will come into contact with the special media inside of them. This renders all of the hard water causing particles such as calcium and magnesium unable to stick to plumbing pipes and fixtures and cause limescale.
2. Magnetic Descalers
These are the second most popular type of water descalers. Some of this probably has to do with the fact that these require an electrical hookup.
How it works: These too change the properties of limescale causing calcium and magnesium to render them ineffective when it comes to them sticking to plumbing surfaces. The biggest difference between the two is that these devices do not contain special media inside of them to facilitate the change process.
Instead, they use a magnetic field as a catalyst for the change that takes place with hard water-causing particles that keeps them from being able to form limescale.
Advantages of Water Descalers
Less expensive than water softeners
You can find water descalers that are impactful for as low as $300. That is not the case with the cost of water softeners, to say the least. Even the least expensive water softener setups will usually run over $1000.
Does not use salt in the process
If you are a person who has been advised by your doctor to avoid excess salt intake, then a water descaler should be your hard water treatment device of choice. They do not require the use of salt to treat hard water such as water softeners do.
Easy and space-saving installation
Water softeners are systems that use two fairly large size tanks, require an electrical setup for their controls, and need to have a drain line attached to them. All this requires space. That is not the case with much smaller-sized water descaler equipment.
They leave healthy minerals in tap water untouched
Water descalers only change minerals and do not remove them from water. That means you and the others in your household will still get some healthy mineral intake from your home’s tap water. Water that retains its minerals will also taste better in most cases.
No maintenance required
Most people dream of installing devices that once they are in place not much more is ever required for them to keep doing their job. That is exactly the type of device that you get when you use a water descaler to help control limescale buildup around your home.
Since they do not require a wastewater cycle or use any type of chemicals in their working process, water descalers are much more environmentally friendly than their wastewater-producing water softener counterparts.
Long term use may remove older scale buildup from pipes
Newly converted hard water-causing minerals remain positively charged as they travel through your plumbing. Some of this energy is transferred to existing scale deposits that are found inside your plumbing. This may cause some of them to fall off your plumbing pipes and fixtures.
Disadvantages of Water Descalers
Not a complete hard water solution
The biggest drawback to choosing a water descaler over a water softener is they simply change hard water particles to prevent them from causing limescale, they do not actually remove them. So many other hard water-related problems are not addressed by water descalers.
No measurable results
It was mentioned above that water descalers do not remove hard water-causing particles. That means if you go to test your tap water it will still test out as being hard water. That will make it extremely difficult for you to gauge your water descaler’s effectiveness.
What is a Water Softener?
Unlike with descalers, there is only one type of water softener. Even though there are different types of water softener setups, they all still work the same. Each water softener uses a two-tank system. One tank has resin beads inside of it and the other contains a brine (salt) mixture.
These systems work based on a principle that’s known as ‘ion exchange’. When the brine mixture is added to the resin tank in the system, the positively charged sodium ions stick to the negatively charged resin beads inside of it. Next, the incoming water line which contains hard water-causing particles comes into the system.
The particles that are found in hard water also have a positive charge to them and it’s a stronger positive charge that is found in the sodium particles. So, when the incoming hard water contacts the resin beads, the hard water particles dislodge the weaker charged sodium particles and stick to the resin beads.
This completely removes calcium, magnesium, and other hard water particles from your tap water. The softer water (including the dislodged sodium particles) then travels into your home’s plumbing system to supply your household water needs.
Here is a great explanation of how water softeners work from a reputable company that has manufactured them for many decades.
You can see the top water softener models here.
Advantages of Water Softeners
They offer a total hard water solution
Unlike water descalers, water softeners are designed to totally remove hard water compounds from household water. This is by far the biggest advantage that you get when you choose to go with a water softener over a water descaler. They simply outperform water descalers and that’s why millions of homes across America use them.
You will use less water
Before your water softener was installed, even simple tasks such as using soap to clean yourself and shampooing your hair took longer because you had difficulty making lather. It may not seem like much, but saving a gallon or two of water each time you take a shower adds up to a substantial amount of water savings in a year.
Your tap water will have a ‘softer’ feel to it
Although the word ‘softener’ in water softener was more of a reference to how this water treatment device impacts hard water problems, you will actually feel a difference as to the texture and feel of your water if you have one installed on your incoming plumbing line.
Disadvantages of Water Softeners
Here are some traits of water softeners that may make you hesitate to purchase them:
A water softener is not a maintenance-free water treatment device. Salt has to be periodically added to them to keep them working and if they have a sediment filter, that will have to be cleaned out too. These are maintenance tasks that need to be done every one or two months.
A large amount of wastewater is created in the process
These devices have what is known as an automatic regeneration cycle. This regeneration cycle is what helps keep the resin beads working by rinsing off the calcium, magnesium, and other hard water particles that have become attached to them. It’s a process that creates a lot of wastewater.
They take some space to set up
It does not matter whether you purchase a water softener system with two separate tanks or one that has two tanks included in a single shell, they will still take up some space. You also have to allow space for a drain line to be attached to the resin tank and have room to install the control system.
These require an electrical hookup
Not only will water softeners take up some space when installed, but they also have to be placed near an electrical outlet to run their control system. If you have a certain spot in mind to install your water softening unit but there is no outlet, then you will have to have an electrician put an outlet in for you.
You need to make periodic salt purchases and then store the salt
I would not say that once a water softener has been installed there are a lot of expenses to keep it running, but there are some which is not the case with water descalers. This includes purchasing bags of salt to keep them working and the electricity they use to power their controls.
They remove healthy and taste-enhancing minerals from tap water
Calcium, magnesium and some of the other minerals that water softeners remove are considered essential for good health. So, you will no longer be able to obtain a portion of them from your drinking water. These minerals also help improve the taste of water.
Water Softener vs Water Descaler: Which is Best for You?
Now that you know more about these two hard water problem-solving devices, it’s time for you to make a water descaler vs water softener purchasing decision. Here is what I recommend:
When to Choose a Water Softener?
When you look at the long list of disadvantages above that are associated with water softeners, you may immediately think that purchasing a water descaler is the best way to go.
Not so fast. This has everything to do with the very first item on the list of water softener advantages which states that these are a total hard water solution.
That’s not the case with a water descaler because they only help prevent problems caused by limescale buildup. They do not address the many other problems that having hard water coming into your home creates.
This is why I believe that water softeners are the best way to go if you have significant hard water issues in your home.
Having a water softener takes on even more significance if you test your water for hardness and this produces a result of 120 ppm or mg/L or more.
So, even though water softeners cost more on average, take up more space, require some maintenance, and are more difficult to set up than water descalers, they still are the best hard water solution if you have hard to very hard water.
If you have moderate to lower levels of hardness then a descaler is a good option.
When Is a Water Descaler the Right Choice?
Despite my conviction that under very hard water circumstances buying a water softener is always your best hard water treatment option, there are some times when a water descaler becomes the right choice. Here is what they are:
- You have limited free space to set up the system
- You don’t want additional salt intake for health reasons
- You only want to address scale buildup on fixtures, pipes, and appliances with heaters
- You are environmentally conscious
- Your hard water problem is very minor (less than 60 ppm or mg/L)
- You want less maintenance and ongoing costs and have lower levels of hardness