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What Are The Different Types of Water Softeners

There are a few different types of water softener options available on the market. There’s something for every level of hardness and every price point:


  1. Ion Exchange

  2. Electromagnetic

  3. Template Assisted Crystallization

  4. Dual Tank


What do each of them do? Which one of them is right for your household -- and your drinking water?

First, we defined a water softener as any water filtration system specifically designed to reduce hardness ions or their effects. We wrote about all the different types of water filtration, including reverse osmosis, here.

In this article, we’ll go in-depth on the different types of water softeners so that you can make an informed decision.

Option 1: Ion Exchange

Home Master Water Softener


This is probably the most popular type of water softener. It’s what your grandpa thought about when he thought about water softeners. It uses salt, resin, electricity, and a discharge line.

Ion exchange has been used to soften hard water for decades. Here’s how it works:

Magnesium and calcium ions make up the vast majority of hard water. Magnesium and calcium are positively charged. When they come into contact with something that’s negatively charged, they bind to it. The resin inside of an ion exchange tank is negatively charged. Bada bing, bada boom: You have soft water.

But what happens when all of the resin in the tank is fully saturated with magnesium and calcium? Do you have to go out and buy a new water softener? Of course not, because you’d probably be buying a new water softener every other day if you had to do that.

Instead, a brine solution (salt) is flushed through the resin. Typically, calcium and magnesium binds more strongly to the resin than salt, but since there’s so much salt, the calcium and magnesium is overpowered in this case.

So, after the first regeneration, your water softener will be nice and ready to absorb more calcium and magnesium.

The Benefits of Ion Exchange

The greatest benefit of ion exchange water softeners is that they’rereallyeffective at softening water. If you have severe hard water issues (say, in excess of 35 grains per gallon), most ion exchange water softeners can take care of that pretty easily.

The Drawbacks of Ion Exchange

As we mentioned above, salt-based ion exchange water softeners need an electrical source, salt refills, and a discharge line -- and that last one is the most important.

During the process of regeneration, ion exchange water softeners release quite a bit of wastewater into the environment.

In order to combat water scarcity and other environmental issues caused by wasting so much water, many municipalities are moving to ban salt-based water softeners.

  • Salt water softeners have been banned in more than25 independent districts in California. In fact, there’s technically an outright state ban on ion exchange water softeners, but sometimes separate communities opt out.

Other states that have banned ion-exchange softeners in some form include:

  • Texas

  • Massachusetts

  • Michigan

  • Arizona

  • Connecticut


Asmore and more Americans report being “very worried” about the environment, it’s a reasonable prediction that ion exchange water softeners will be completely outlawed in many states in the next 20-30 years.

Why buy a home appliance that’s soon to be illegal?

Option 2: Electromagnetic Water Softeners

HQUA 5000E Electronic Water Descaler, Water Softener Alternative ...


So, in your search for the best water softener for you, you might stumble upon electromagnetic water softeners.


These don’t require a discharge line or salt replacements, so they’re much better for the environment and the installation is much easier. As a result, the systems are usually much cheaper, as well.

It seems like the whole package, except there’s only one big problem: the science backing up the efficacy of electromagnetic water softeners for domestic water softening is, well, lacking.

We won’t go into it too much in this article sincewe’ve already written about it here, but if you want the summarized version, here’s a quick explanation:

Electromagnetic water softeners aim to change the structure of magnesium and calcium by subjecting them to strong magnetic fields. While there’s some evidence that this occurs, it’s probably not enough to seriously affect limescale build-up (and therefore very likely doesn’t actually affect the hard water in your home).

Our advice: Stay away from electromagnetic water softeners until the Water Quality Association officially declares them to be effective -- they’re still pouring through the data. 

(Even though, from our perspective, it seems pretty definitive that they don’t work. That isn’t to say the technology won’t develop into something much more effective, though, so keep an eye open.)

Template Assisted Crystallization

Template-Assisted Crystallization: Scale Prevention Without Salt ...

Finally, we get to the type of water softening process that we built our FilterSmart systems to do: template assisted crystallization.

In many ways, template assisted crystallization is similar to electromagnetic water softening, except there’s actualindependent third-party research to back up the claims that it works to reduce limescale buildup.

Template assisted crystallization works by changing the nucleation sites of magnesium and calcium. When magnesium and calcium come into contact with the catalytic beads, they’re the structures are changed -- which means they suspended. The result is tinier microscopic crystals that don’t adhere to surfaces or adversely react to soap.

In other words, in order to stop the hardness from forming on surfaces, the hardness forms on the resin. And, when the magnesium and calcium is eventually released into the water supply, the hardness crystals are so small that they won’t stick to things.

If you’re interested in purchasing a TAC system,check out the ones that we have available.

Other Types of Water Softeners: Dual-Tank Softeners

A dual-tank softener is a type of water softener -- whether ion exchange or TAC -- that runs all the time, and is built for bigger households or facilities that need a constant water supply. Normally, during the process of regeneration, you won’t have any access to soft water. That’s when the softener is generating wastewater, and you don’t want the wastewater in your tap.

Similarly, during TAC, you might have an increased flow demand or other minerals you need to be removed from the water. You also may want to filter the chlorine and improve the taste in addition to treating hard water.  These dual systems are also called “combination” systems and are one of the more popular treatment options on the market. That’s why we also selldual tank water softeners.


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