Salt-Free Industrial Water Softeners: Do They Work?

Are salt-free industrial water softeners as effective as industrial water softeners that use salt? Does this non-sodium industrial water softening approach provide suitable water for industrial processes?

The short answer is no, a salt-free water softener is not recommended for industrial water uses such as power generation, pharmaceutical production, food & beverage manufacturing, and boiler feeds. The reasons are simple: a salt-free industrial water softener is not as reliable at preventing scaling, and a salt-free water industrial water softener does not remove the minerals.

As technical purists will tell you, there is no such thing as a salt-free water softener because, by definition, “water softening” means that the minerals have been removed. Salt-free systems offer “water conditioning,” not softening.

How does a salt-free water conditioner work? There are, broadly speaking, two approaches. Residential systems typically change the chemical makeup by crystallizing the minerals through filtration or magnetic devices so they do not cling to the surface and create scale. Commercial systems condition the water through sequestration, a chemical combination of a chelating agent and metal ions that create soluble complexes, or crystallization. None of these approaches remove the minerals from the water, and some have been shown to be unreliable or ineffective, and they can be more expensive than salt-based systems.

In contrast, industrial water softeners that use salt actually remove the minerals from the water by attracting the minerals to the media and replacing hardness minerals with sodium through an ion exchange process.

For industrial water softening needs, a salt-based water softener is the gold standard because it is much more effective at reducing scaling and it actually removes the minerals. This is critically important to protect expensive, sensitive equipment, and to protect the quality of production. It’s not difficult to imagine that varying amounts of minerals would have a detrimental impact on the quality of food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, make-up, and other products.

All of that being said, why are salt-free (sodium-free) water conditioning systems considered for industrial use? There are two reasons, both related to sodium: the sodium in water that is consumed (e.g. for those concerned about sodium intake), and the sodium in the water that is discharged to sewers (e.g. environmental concerns).

With an industrial water softener, the sodium in the water consumed is typically small. Even if you start with very hard water (10 grains per gallon or more), the treated water likely has less sodium than low-fat milk.

So, is a salt-free water softener (water conditioner) suitable for your industrial application? The answer is almost certainly, “No.”

Learn more about the best industrial water softener for your application or process. Contact the experienced engineering support team at Industrial Water Solutions today.

Do you need industrial water softener repair or preventative maintenance or training (PMT)? Industrial Water Solutions offers technical consultation, and repair for industrial water systems. We service and sell industrial water softeners throughout the U.S. including Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois.