Different Types of Water Softener Salt & How to Choose (2024)

So, you have a water softener and it’s time to fill the brine tank with salt. But what exactly is this salt and why does your unit need it? More importantly, how do you tell which type of softener salt is best for your system?

We’ve created this guide to answer all of these questions and more. By the end, you’ll be well-informed about softener salt and how to choose the right one for your device.

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What Is Water Softener Salt?

Traditional water softener salt is commonly made of sodium chloride (NaCl), and it is used to regenerate and clean the water softener resin that softens hard water. However, there are also less common salt variations, like potassium chloride and, even rarer and less effective, magnesium chloride.

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Why is Water Softener Salt Important?

Water softener salt plays an important role in the regeneration process of a water softener.

To give you the full scope of its importance, let’s take a look at how a water softener works.

Hard water contains high levels of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium, which can cause various problems. These minerals can build up in your house’s piping system, clog and reduce the efficiency of appliances like washing machines, and leave limescale residue on surfaces.

A water softening unit removes these minerals from the water through a process called ion exchange, making it softer and easier to use.

In this process, as the water passes through the water-softening resin, positively charged molecules of minerals like calcium and magnesium are attracted, trapped, and replaced with negatively charged sodium or potassium molecules.

After a while, the resin becomes saturated with minerals, and its sodium charge starts decreasing drastically, eventually losing its effectiveness. This is where water softener salt comes in.

Before the minerals start saturating the resin, a salty water solution prepared in the unit’s brine tank automatically travels through the system. This flushes out the mineral buildup in the resin and recharges it with new sodium or potassium molecules. The process is known as a regeneration cycle.

To keep your system functioning properly, you should add softener salt to your water softener every four to six weeks. However, you may need to replenish the salt in your unit more or less often, depending on the model and the hardness of your water.

Water Softener Salt Ingredients

As we established above, the main ingredients of water softener salt are usually sodium chloride or potassium chloride.

There are also rare cases when manufacturers use magnesium chloride, but there’s very little research on its effectiveness. Additionally, as magnesium is one of the minerals that contribute to water hardness, we don’t recommend its use in household water-softening systems.

Sodium Chloride (NaCl)

Sodium chloride is the most common water softener salt ingredient, and it’s quite similar to regular table salt.

The only difference between the two is that sodium chloride water softener salt is processed to remove impurities like dirt and clay, so it’s a purer form of salt. It’s because the mineral debris present in normal salt, while safe for human consumption, is more likely to clog the lines and hoses of the brine tank once the salt dissolves in water.

However, while sodium chloride is the most popular type of salt used for water softening, its usage in water softener devices is not without controversy.

Since the brine solution prepared with this type of salt is flushed out frequently during regen cycles (the process of flushing out and recharging the resin bed), it can negatively impact the environment. Sodium-rich water isn’t good for plants, and the salinization of soil may cause serious problems in the long run, like soil degradation and erosion.

Lastly, although the presence of sodium in softened water is rarely at alarming levels, people with cardiovascular issues should avoid consuming water from systems regenerated with sodium. This especially goes for people with a pre-existing heart condition, as sodium increases the risk of strokes.

Potassium Chloride (KCl)

Due to sodium’s effects on the environment and human health, Potassium chloride has seen increased usage as a water softener salt. While it’s a healthier option, it’s not as effective as sodium chloride. You’ll find yourself using more of it, more frequently, so it becomes costlier in the long run.

It’s worth noting that people with hyperkalemia (high potassium levels in their blood) should avoid this option, given their need to limit their potassium intake.

Types of Water Softener Salt

There are different types of water softener salt available on the market, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Salt pellets are the most common type, but some manufacturers recommend using a different form of salt, as salt pellets aren’t ideal for every water softener model.

  • Salt pellets: Salt pellets are like cubes of salt that are processed to get rid of the debris and then compressed together. They’re the most common water softener salt type for a few reasons – the pellet surface is the most suitable for preparing a brine solution, they don’t have any debris that can clog the system, and they’re least likely to form salt bridges inside the brine tank.
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  • Salt blocks: Similar to salt pellets, salt blocks are also processed and compressed. However, whereas pellets are small cubes, these are huge blocks that can reach up to 50 lbs in weight. The size makes salt blocks harder to dissolve during brine preparation, which is why salt blocks may not clean and recharge the softening resin as effectively as salt pellets. Additionally, water-softening devices with a computerized system that measures the amount of salt in the brine tank sometimes struggle to work properly with salt blocks.
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  • Solar salt crystals: Solar salt crystals are made by evaporating salty seawater using sunlight and wind. Depending on the manufacturer, salt crystals may or may not be cleaned of debris and processed. As they’re created using natural resources, they’re a more eco-friendly alternative to mined salt products.
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What Type of Salt Do I Need?

The type of salt you need depends on your specific device and the manufacturer’s recommendations. Some manufacturers, like Rheem and Kinetico, produce their own water softener salt, which they recommend because it’s tested to ensure optimum efficiency with their units.

That said, our ultimate recommendation is to utilize salt pellets in water softeners because they’re specifically designed to increase the efficiency of the regeneration process in water softeners. Additionally, as long as you properly maintain your softening system, salt pellets rarely cause water softener problems like salt bridges or standing water inside the brine tank.

It’s important to note that you should never put regular table salt or rock salt in a water softener brine tank. These types of salt are rarely processed or cleaned of debris, and they can easily clog the system. Furthermore, since they’re not as pure as water softener salts, they won’t be as efficient and might even render the whole water-softening system ineffective.

Of course, as we mentioned above, people suffering from cardiovascular issues should limit their sodium intake, so it’s recommended that they use only potassium chloride in their softening devices. Similarly, people with high levels of potassium in their blood should avoid using potassium chloride salt and opt for sodium salt instead.

For people who want neither potassium nor sodium in their diet, there are other types of water-softening solutions.

For example, salt-free water conditioners that utilize a technology called Template-Assisted Crystallization or water descalers that work on an electromagnetic basis are effective alternatives to traditional, salt-based water softening techniques.

Lastly, beware that using sodium chloride in water softeners is banned in some states. Check your local laws before purchasing salt for your device.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does water softener salt expire?

No, water softener salt does not expire. However, when it’s exposed to moisture, the pellets or crystals may clump together and reduce the salt’s efficiency.

Also, the salt should be packaged and sealed to prevent it from coming into contact with contaminants. After all, its molecules will end up in your drinking water supply, so it’s best practice to keep it as sterile as possible.

Is water softener salt safe for pets?

Water softener salt is generally not safe for pets, as ingesting salt can cause vomiting and diarrhea. If you think your pet has ingested salt, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Even small amounts of sodium can exacerbate problems associated with heart and kidney disease in dogs. However, potassium chloride water softener salt is safe for dogs as it contains no sodium.

Can I use normal salt for water softener?

You cannot use regular salt in a water softener. Normal salt will dissolve too quickly, making the water softening much less efficient and potentially accelerating mineral build-up in your water softener unit. Additionally, regular salt is rarely as pure as salt that’s designed and processed for use in water-softening units. By putting regular salt in the brine tank, you risk clogging the lines and hoses of the whole system.

Is water softener salt the same as rock salt?

No, they’re not the same. You can use water-softener salt to melt ice on the driveway, but you can’t use rock salt in a water-softening system. As we said above, rock salt is not processed. Varieties that are used to melt ice contain minerals and debris from wherever they were mined, so putting rock salt into your water-softening unit puts the whole system at risk.

Is dishwasher salt the same as water softener salt?

Although dishwasher salt might differ from water softener salt in terms of coarseness and granule size, the ingredients and purpose are the same. Most dishwashers feature a built-in water-softening resin that prevents calcium and magnesium from affecting the quality of dishwashing, and dishwasher salt is used to clean and regenerate this resin.

However, dishwasher salt’s granule size is smaller than that of salt pellets commonly used in water-softening units. So, if you put dishwasher salt in a water-softening device designed for salt pellets, the granules might escape and clog the system’s lines and hoses.

This means that although they’re the same in essence and purpose, we don’t recommend using these two types of salt interchangeably.

Can I use water softener salt in my bath?

Yes, you can use water softener salt in your bath, but we don’t recommend it since it won’t soften the bath water, and bathing in saltwater on a regular basis has its own risks.

Water softener salt by itself doesn’t have any water-softening properties. It just cleans and recharges the water-softener resin.

Moreover, although saltwater can remove dead skin cells and make your skin smoother, it can also cause hyperpigmentation. Additionally, if you already have skin conditions like acne and eczema, it will exacerbate your irritation.

Conclusion

Water softener salt cleans and regenerates the water softener resin that attracts and traps positively charged mineral molecules and replaces them with negatively charged molecules of sodium or potassium. It may come in the form of salt pellets, salt blocks, or solar salt crystals.

The type of salt your softener needs depends on the recommendations from the manufacturer. These recommendations are made based on the device specs and the hardness of your water.

Different Types of Water Softener Salt & How to Choose (2024)

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