Utah Has Hard Water. Pros and Cons of a Salt-Based Water Softener Vs a Salt-Free Water Conditioner

There is no secret that the water in Utah is hard. In fact, the USGS (United State Geological Society), has Utah ranked in the higher levels for calcium carbonate (see the map below). If you’ve lived in Utah for a while you likely already know the signs of hard water. Perhaps the most visible signs are the buildup of calcium and magnesium minerals on your faucets, dishes, shower, and that soap doesn’t work very well.

Utah has hard water

Hard Water is caused by excess amounts of minerals in water, especially calcium and magnesium. “These minerals lead to the formation of scale and decrease the effectiveness of soaps and detergents. It is estimated that 85% of American homes have some issues with hard water.” (Frequently Asked Questions)

The most common ways to deal with the problems caused by high levels of calcium and magnesium in water is to use either a salt-based ion exchange water softener, or a salt-free water conditioner like the NuvoH2O system.  Both methods have pros and cons. The main difference between the two methods is that the salt-based system removes calcium and magnesium from the water and replaces it with salt; whereas a salt-free system like the NuvoH2O water conditioner, uses a process called CHELATION (specific to the NuvoH20, other salt-less conditioners use slightly different methods). The process makes hard water causing minerals ‘soluble’ so they wash away instead of remaining behind on dishes, plumbing, appliances and fixtures.

An additional benefit with the NuvoH2O’s process is that it removes scale buildup that was already present in your plumbing system. This is an especially useful benefit for a home that hasn’t had a water softener and now you want to remove the buildup that already exists.

So which method is best?

Salt based water softener vs salt free water softener, which is best?

Well, there are many factors to consider.

Salt-Based: Salt-based softeners remove the calcium and magnesium from the water by filtering the minerals out through tiny resin beads that have sodium on them. The sodium on the resin exchanges for the calcium and magnesium minerals in the water. These resin beads hold on to the hard water minerals and let mineral free soft water flow into your home. After a while the resin beads have to be rinsed free of the minerals and “recharged.” The recharging process happens when salt water rinses the resin beads and exchanges the hard water minerals for sodium. The rinsed solution is emptied into a nearby drain.

The sodium that flows into your home with the soft water can leave you with a soft silky slippery feeling when you wash with soap. Some people like this, but some do not. Because the hard minerals are removed from the water, soaps and detergents create bubble suds much easier. As a result, clothes feel softer and their colors stay bright. Likewise, skin feels softer and hair is shinier.

Salt-Free: Salt-free systems, or rather water conditioners, leave the healthy minerals calcium and magnesium in the water, but use a method that make these hard water particles ‘soluble’, so they are easily washed away. The method that the NuvoH20 uses is called Chelation. The minerals in the water basically bond with the “chelant” that the NuvoH2O adds. Once these minerals are bonded to the “chelant,” they can no longer bond to anything else, like your skin, shower door, appliances, etc.

The “chelant” used by salt free conditioners also can remove already present mineral deposits on your plumbing over time. Since the minerals are still present in the water and not removed, if the water is allowed to evaporate on something (like a glass), spots could appear but would be easy to wipe away.

The main reason someone would choose a salt-free system over a salt-based system is to avoid the very routine upkeep of purchasing and hauling large bags of salt to feed the water softener. The average household uses 1.5 to 2 bags of salt per month. Lugging heavy bags of salt from the store to the car, and to the water softener tank can be quite the chore. Another reason is the amount of wasted water a salt-based system uses during its regeneration cycle. With a salt-free system, there is no wasted water.

Here is a quick glance at some of the pros and cons for both methods of dealing with high levels of calcium and magnesium—a.k.a. hard water.

Ion Exchange Water Softener (salt-based)

  • Appliances and plumbing can function properly without mineral deposits causing problems
  • No harmful SCALE in plumbing and appliances
  • Soap is more effective, makes suds more easily and readily
  • Effective removal of calcium and magnesium in water
  • Skin is softer and shinier hair
  • Salt – Salt has to be purchased and hauled routinely.
  • Excessive salt may not be good for your health.
  • Salt water can be dangerous to your plants.
  • Cannot remove existing SCALE that has built up.
  • Larger than a salt-free system.
  • Environmental Concerns: Some communities are banning salt-based water softeners because of the amount of salt that gets flushed into the water system.
  • Excessive water waste: Salt-based water softeners have to flush several gallons of water through the system routinely, wasting water.

Salt Free Water Conditioning System (NuvoH2O)

  • Appliances and plumbing can function properly without mineral deposits causing problems
  • No harmful SCALE in plumbing and appliances
  • Elimination of existing harmful SCALE in plumbing and appliances
  • No electricity needed
  • No Salt – Doesn’t require the continued purchase and hauling of heavy salt bags every  month
  • Not having salt in your water is also better for  your health and your plants (salt water is harmful to plants)
  • The NuvoH2O system is small in size.
  • Does not need to flush water through its system like a salt-based water softener requires
  • No salty tasting water
  • Calcium and Magnesium minerals remain in the water, which are minerals that are good for our health
  • If water is left to evaporate, you could possibly see water spots.
  • You have to buy recharging cartridges every six months.
One thing worth mentioning is that when trying to verify that your water softener or conditioning system is working, the same test does not work for both salt-based and salt-free methods. Hard Water is defined as the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium in the water. So if using a traditional water test that is measuring for these particles, you would see a great change for the salt-based softening system. However, this same test would show either no change or possibly an increase in hardness in the water from a salt-free conditioning system. Since calcium and magnesium molecules remain in the water and the salt-free system is also removing prior buildup, the test would show that the water is still hard.

Initial costs and on-going costs

As of the time of this writing, a 48,000-grain salt-based water softener can be installed for around $1,910. (We currently have a $200 off special, call for details.) And the NuvoH2O salt-free Manor system can be installed for $2,075 (We are also offering a $200 special on the salt-free NuvoH20 Manor system, call for details).

Here is a quick look at the costs of ownership.

Salt-Based Ion Exchange Water Softener 48,000 – Grain


  • $1910 (Call about our $200 off special)


  • ($4 a bag) 1.5 to 2 Bags of Salt
  • Electricity
  • Water

Salt-Free Water Softener (NuvoH2O Manor)


  • $2,075 (Call about our $200 off special)

Every 6 month:

  • A $81 Filter change
  • No Electricity used
  • No water wasted

Both methods are effective in dealing with the hard water found in Utah. From what we have seen, salt-based (well maintained) water softening systems are more effective at removing water spots, softening the water, making soap most effective, and less drying on the skin. If you are thinking of switching from a salt-based system to a salt-free system, you should be aware that you may not see the same level of results but you’ll be happy not to have to haul all those heavy bags of salt.

However, if you don’t currently have a water softener in your home, you will see dramatic benefits of installing a salt-free system like the NuvoH2O.

If you want to manage the hard water in your home and prevent early appliance failures, give the experts at Black Diamond Experts a call. We have knowledgeable technicians that can help you decide which system would be right for your home.

“Frequently Asked Questions.” NuvoWater.com – Frequently Asked Questions. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2017. <https://nuvowater.com/faq.php>.
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