Descaler vs Water Softener – Which One Do You Actually Need?

An estimated 85 percent of American households have hard water problems, so it is not surprising that water softeners and water descalers are incredibly popular. However, few people know the real differences between these two water treatment systems.

If you are unsure which you need, we are here to help by explaining why you should consider addressing your home’s hard water issue. We also compare and contrast water descalers and water softeners and look at the advantages and disadvantages of both systems to help you determine which you need.

Why Should You Treat Hard Water in Your House?

Before we discuss the differences between water descalers and water softeners, let’s explain why you should consider treating the water in your home. 

Essentially, hard water is water with a high concentration of dissolved minerals. In most cases, the water is rich in magnesium and calcium, although you will also find trace amounts of other types of minerals in hard water.

Damage to Plumbing and Appliances:

Hard water particles may sound harmless, but the minerals in the water can cause significant damage to your pipes and faucets. The hard water minerals build and crystalize. Over time, this mineral buildup or scaling accumulates in the water pipe and reduces flow. It can even damage and destroy appliances with water flowing through them, like your dishwasher, washing machine, water heater, and more.

Annoying Residue and Mineral Remnants:

Not only can hard water damage your plumbing system and certain appliances, but it can also be very annoying. Hard water leaves traces of minerals behind on anything it comes into contact with. If you have hard water flowing through your pipes, it is probably incredibly difficult to clean water spots off of your glassware and dishware. 

You will also notice a white and crusty buildup on your showerheads, bathtubs, glass shower walls, and anything else that frequently gets wet. Not only does this look messy, but it is also incredibly difficult to clean. No matter how much effort you put into keeping your home clean, hard water problems in your water supply leave you feeling like you cannot keep up.

Damage to Skin, Hair, and Clothing:

Hard water also dries out the skin and hair. If you shower with hard water, you may notice that your skin feels dry and itchy, no matter how much lotion you use or how much you humidify the air. The minerals in the water dry on the surface of your skin and absorb the natural moisture and oils. It does the same to your hair. As if that was not enough, hard water makes it difficult to create a lather while you bathe and to wash the shampoo from your hair, worsening the drying effect of the minerals in the hard water.

Hard water also damages your clothes. You may notice that your clothing fades and looks dull after only a few washes, or it may lose some of its softness. If you invest a significant amount of money into your wardrobe, washing your clothing with hard water can be very costly.

What is the Difference Between a Descaler and a Water Softener?

Now that you know why it is so important to treat hard water, let’s look at two of the best options to treat it: water descalers and water softeners.

What is a Water Descaler?

A water descaler or water conditioner is a system that reduces the impact of hard water by altering how scale deposits build and stick to surfaces.

Water descalers use a magnetic field to charge the mineral particles within the water. The science is fairly complex, but the main takeaway is that the minerals stay in the water and flow down your drain rather than being transferred to the surfaces the water contacts.

With magnetic water conditioners, you don’t have to deal with unsightly and annoying scale building on your shower walls, sinks, and dishware. After you treat the water, there is also a good chance that it will not leave mineral deposits and scale inside your pipes and appliances.

What is a Water Softener?

Where a descaler alters the behavior of hard water by ensuring that the hard minerals stay attached to the water, a water softener changes the chemical composition of the water. Water softeners pull the minerals from the water in an ion-exchange process known as reverse osmosis.

Essentially, sodium chloride ions inside the water softening system charge polystyrene or resin beads inside the water softener’s reservoir tanks. When the hard water flows over these charged beads, sodium chloride ions replace the mineral ions in the water. In simple terms, this system removes the mineral deposits from the water.

While the ion exchange process involves switching minerals with sodium chloride ions, the treated water will not strongly taste or smell like salt.

The water flowing from the water softener no longer contains minerals, so you will not have to deal with scaling inside your pipes and appliances, and your skin and hair will not feel itchy and dry. 

The Main Difference Between a Water Descaler and Water Softener

In simple terms, a water descaler charges the mineral particles in the hard water so they do not form scale deposits. On the other hand, a water softener pulls the minerals from the water, so you will not have to deal with scale buildup.

Essentially, the two water treatment systems have similar results, but they achieve them in different ways. Unfortunately, water that flows through a descaler still contains mineral deposits, which could be an issue if you do not like the feeling of hard water when you shower.

With that said, water softeners are not without their faults. They can be very expensive, especially if you have to pay for professional installation, and they require more frequent maintenance than descalers.

Descaler vs. Water Softener – When Do You Need Either Option

While you can install either option into your home, there are situations where one is favorable over the other.

When Do You Need a Water Softener?

  • If the water flowing through your home has a hardness rating between 25 and 30 GPG, consider installing a water softener right away. This water hardness can be dangerous to drink as the water contains a mineral concentration that is too high for sustained human consumption. You can obtain an accurate hardness rating of your water by purchasing a simple water hardness test kit.
  • If your pipes, faucets, and appliances are clogging and breaking as a result of mineral buildup, you should invest in a water softener. In these cases, the water in your region is so hard that it could end up costing you a fortune in repairs if you do not treat it.

When Do You Need a Water Descaler?

  • If the water in your home is hard but does not have a hardness rating that is dangerous or overly unpleasant, a descaler is an affordable water treatment system. While they are somewhat less effective than water softeners, water descalers are far more budget-friendly because they are easier to install and usually have a much more affordable upfront cost than a water softener.
  • Seniors and those with mobility issues tend to favor water descalers as they do not require as much maintenance. When running a water softener, you have to replace the salt in the brine basin regularly, which can be somewhat strenuous work.

Which is the Better Option Overall?

When choosing the right water treatment system for your home, there is no clear answer to which is the better option. The choice largely depends on your budget and unique needs.

Water softening is more effective, but they are also far more expensive and labor-intensive than an electronic water descaler. They are also less eco-friendly than water descalers, which is a concern for some. With that said, if the water in your region is so hard that it is causing health concerns and damaging the pipes and appliances in your home, installing a water softener is likely going to be a worthwhile investment.

If the water hardness in your area is not high enough to cause major problems, you can probably save some money by purchasing a water descaler. Doing so should help address some of the annoying consequences of hard water without costing you a significant amount of money.

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