What is a Water Softener?

Water softeners are systems designed to treat and reduce “hard water.” These systems implement a method of exchanging or negating ions of common minerals to eradicate hard water scale buildup and/or reduce the overall mineral count in your water.

If you’ve ever noticed hard water scale buildup in your sinks, faucets, or showers, you’ve witnessed the negative side effects of hard water firsthand. To fully understand the mechanics of water softening you must also have a knowledge of hard water and its composition.

Hard Water

Water is the world's universal solvent. Its ability to dissolve rock and sediment has created some of the world's most stunning sights, like the Grand Canyon. The result of dissolving rock and limestone is the introduction of high concentrations of calcium and magnesium into the water, which creates “hard water.” Hard water is simply water containing a high mineral count.

The amount of calcium and magnesium in the water varies based on the amount needed to balance that water. As the hard water evaporates the concentration of minerals grows and results in water that forms scale buildup. This is called “saturation”.

How much mineral content in your water is “too much”? While contaminants like lead or arsenic are immediate causes for concern, low amounts of magnesium and calcium are supplementary to a healthy diet. Once your water is leaving these limescale deposits, however, your water may be too “hard”. Without proper prevention methods or treatment your pipes can become encrusted and blocked due to calcification. When calcium deposits accumulate in your pipes you will experience any of the following: a clogged showerhead, tepid water, slow drainage, and low water pressure.

In addition, hard water can be potentially disastrous for your hot water heater. Deposits can build on the bottom of your water heater over time, thereby driving up your costs, limiting the water heater’s efficiency, and lowering its capacity.

Hard Water Scale Buildup

Hard water scale buildup on your plumbing fixtures is the direct result of too much calcium and magnesium being present in your water.

This kind of limescale can have an adverse effect on many appliances in the home including the dishwasher, water heater, fridge, sink faucets and shower heads. The cale buildup will clog these items or cause damage to o-rings and valves that result in costly repairs.

The high temperature in your water heater causes limescale from hard water to form quicker and can result in your heating element burning out much faster than normal. Water hardness can also interfere with your detergents and form soap scum.

How Do Water Softeners Work?

Depending on the type of water softener the chemistry can function in two distinct ways. Most water softeners can be separated into two types: salt-based water softeners and a water softener alternative. A water softener alternative is preferred due to its multiple benefits and it’s nearly non-existent environmental impact compared to a salt water softener.

Before we examine the benefits, though, let’s see how these systems work:

Salt-Based Water Softeners

Salt-based water softeners remove calcium and magnesium ions from the affected hard water by essentially replacing these ions with sodium ions, hence why we consider them “salt-based.” Within the resin tank of salt-based water softeners an ion exchange occurs, reduced the mineral count (and therefore the hardness) while increasing the overall salt content of the water.

Over time the ion-exchange process will cause hardness minerals to accumulate in the conditioning tank of the unit. These minerals must be flushed down the wastewater drain in the form of salt brine, reintroducing these minerals into the water supply in concentrated doses. Salt-based water softeners require upkeep when they are used - the salt within the system must be regenerated at regular intervals.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Salt-Based Water Softeners

Benefits of using a salt-based water softener:


Salt-based water softeners effectively remove “hardness” ions like magnesium and calcium from your drinking water.


These softeners eliminate most hard water scale buildup in your home, reducing spotting and scaling. This saves you money on appliance repair, plumbing repair, and detergent that is rendered less effective by hard water.


Salt-based water softeners give your water a “slick” feel, which may be desirable based on your preferences.

However, there are many drawbacks to salt-based softeners:


These types of softeners greatly increase the sodium content of your water, which is not ideal for long-term health.


Salt-based softeners are much more expensive to maintain and operate.


The discharge of concentrated salt brine from these systems has a negative impact on wastewater treatment.


Soft water that has been softened with these systems is more likely to leach heavy metals in your pipes.

Water Softener Alternative

A water softener alternative forgoes the ion exchange process used by other systems, meaning it generates zero water waste and requires less maintenance than salt-based counterparts.

Pelican NaturSoft® Water Softener Alternative treats hard water by taking varying amount of minerals from the solution through precipitation as well as reducing the water's surface tension, preventing scale buildup.

To get technical, The NaturSoft® media present in our water softener alternative has calcium carbonate crystal structures on its surface that will attract excess dissolved hardness and remove it from solution by integrating it into the crystal structures on the media filter. They crystals on the media surface grow larger, and the movement and friction in the water will cause fragments of these newly grown crystal structures to be fragmented off the media and released into the passing water.

Free flowing calcium carbonate crystals then continue to travel through a plumbing system as suspended particles where they buffer the effects of any changes in the hard water scale potential of the water downstream. The crystals absorb excess minerals into their structure and spawn the creation of additional micro crystals.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Water Softener Alternative System

A water softener alternative has a more complicated scientific process at work, neutralizing the effects and reducing the amount of mineral ions while ensuring sodium and other particles aren’t added to the water. But what are the major benefits of water softeners? Why should you invest in a water softener alternative system for your household?


A water softener alternative reduces hard water scale without generating the “slippery” water feel present after water is treated with salt-based systems. This benefit really depends on your personal preferences. Some families do not acclimate to the slippery texture of water treated with ion exchange.


A water softener alternative generates no waste water whatsoever, making them a better choice for the environment. Salt-based water softeners create mineral-heavy wastewater that is discharged into the water supply.


A water softener alternative helps you save money on your energy bill. Our systems use no electricity, so soft water can be enjoyed without increasing the electrical bill. Soft water also allows appliances to run more efficiently, as we’ve mentioned above, which can further decrease costs.


A water softener alternative is the only system on the market that has been certified 99.6% effective. Pelican Water NaturSoft® Systems are the only third-party tested DW-9191 certified swater softener alternative with 99.6% prevention of hard water scale buildup.


Beneficial minerals are left intact in your drinking water, while the negative effects of hard water like scale buildup are avoided. This way you avoid increasing your sodium intake while still treating the core problems of having hard water.

However, some people view this last item as a drawback. Here’s why leaving those minerals in your water can be viewed negatively:


A water softener alternative does not remove the magnesium and calcium ions from your hard water, but rather impede their ability to cause scale buildup and other problems. Thus, water that is left to dry on a surface will leave evaporative deposits behind. However these softener render the hardness incapable of causing damage.

Choosing the Right Water Softener System

When you decide to treat the hard water in your home you must still make many decisions to equip your home with the best water softener system. The first decision is whether to go with a traditional salt-based softener system or to choose an alternative.

There are many types of water softener systems that do not use salt or an ion exchange process. Water Softener Facts lists many alternatives to salt-based systems, including:

Electrically induced precipitation
Electromagnetic water treatment
Capacitive Deionization (CD)
Template Assisted Crystalization (TAC) or Nucleation Assisted Crystalization (NAC)

The Pelican NaturSoft® Water Softener Alternative uses Template Induced Crystallization media, or T.I.C. media. This is another name for the Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC) softener referenced on Water Softener Facts. According to that site, “the advantage to NAC/TAC units comes largely in reduced care and maintenance as the media only needs to be replaced about every four years. There are also environmental benefits from using less water, salt and energy, and health benefits for those without hard water taps for drinking.”

It’s clear that a water softener alternative carries many benefits. But how do you choose the right system from Pelican Water?

Best Types of Water Alternative Softener

Pelican Water sells multiple types and sizes of water softener alternative.

The Pelican NaturSoft® Water Softener Alternative is our flagship product that reduces your home's hard water scale while providing all of the amazing benefits listed above. This type of water softener is available in multiple sizes depending on the amount of bathrooms you have in your home. This softener is only intended to treat water hardness, and does not filter out other contaminants. Certified at 99.6% for hard water scale prevention, the NaturSoft® softener is the premium maintenance-free water softener available.

Pelican Water Softener and Filter Combination Systems equip your home with total complete water softener alternative, hard water treatment capabilities while also protecting your home from bacteria and common contaminants with carbon and sediment filters. Free shipping comes standard on our most comprehensive family of products that provide fresher, cleaner drinking water. Compare our Basic, UV, and Pro UV systems to learn more.

TheEZ-Connect Compact Water Filter and Softener Combination System provides the outstanding benefits of our Pelican NaturSoft® Water Softener Alternative while also filtering out chloramine, chlorine, and other unwanted contaminants. The EZ-Connect series of products is specifically designed to fit easily in small dwellings, including apartments, cottages, RVs, and even boats. Simply install under your kitchen sink.

Consider your options, and call a Pelican Water professional if you can’t decide which model would best serve your home.

What Size Water Softener Do I Need?

If you decide to purchase a water softener you’re not finished - all of our models are available in different sizes that can handle different capacities of minerals per day. Many homeowners ask: what size water softener do they need? Choosing the right size water softener is important - you don’t want to purchase a water softener that is insufficient for your specific water hardness, but you don’t want to pay for a softener with unnecessary capacity.

To understand how to go about sizing a water softener, it’s important to realize the size of the unit is not as important as the unit’s ability to remove the minerals causing water hardness. When people talk about water softener size, this is what they’re actually concerned with, rather than the cubic footage of the system.

Calculating Your Usage

The trick is just performing a quick calculation. First, you’ll need to know how much water your household consumes. The EPA estimates the average American uses between 80 to 100 gallons of water a day. As an example let’s assume a family of four uses 90 gallons a day per person. That gives the household a total water consumption of 360 gallons a day.

Then, you’ll need to know the approximate level of dissolved minerals in your water. Pelican Water’s 12-point water test mentioned above will give you a measure of dissolved minerals as grains per gallon, or gpg. As an example, let’s say your test measures 10 gpg. Now you’ve got all the data you need to make determine your water softening sizing.

Simply calculate your total household water use by the gpg in your water. In our example, 360 gallons multiplied by 10 gpg equals 3,600 gpg. That’s the amount of hard minerals your water softener needs to remove every day, and that’s the measure you should use to choose your water softener “size.”

Pelican Water softener systems are sold in multiple sizes, and these sizes are named with approximate calculations based on the amount of water usage in your home. For example, smaller units are listed as “1-3 Bathrooms” while larger units are termed “4-6 Bathrooms.” However, you should contact a Pelican Water professional and calculate the amount of minerals you need treated each day to spend wisely.

Water Softener grains

As we just discussed, water hardness is measured in a quantity known as “grains per gallon.” Water that contains dissolved hardness minerals above 1 gpg is technically considered hard water.

Water hardness is typically measured in grains per gallon, but some laboratories use milligrams per liter, or parts per million. If you’re purchasing a water softener or just trying to educate yourself regarding water hardness, you may be asking yourself: what exactly is a grain, and how much mineral content is really in water with 1 grain per gallon? To understand water softener grain measurements it’s helpful to compare the unit to a more standard measurement, parts per million.

One part per million (ppm) is precisely what it sounds like: one unit out of one million units. Grains, or grains per gallon (gpg) is a weight measurement taken from the Egyptians: one dry grain of wheat, or about 1/7000 of a pound. For a quick comparison, 17.1 ppm equals 1 gpg. If measured in parts per million or milligrams per liter, simply divide the hardness measurement by 17.1 to get hardness in grains per gallon. For example, if your water test reads 250 mg/l hardness, your hardness in grains is 14.62 gpg. Converting to grains per gallon helps homeowners who are shopping for water softeners to better understand their water hardness and to more confidently shop for the appropriate softener. Nearly all water softeners express their efficiency in gpg.

How to Install a Water Softener

Installing a water softener has never been easier than with Pelican Water’s NaturSoft® system or our EZ-Connect Compact Softener/Filter Combos. Each product comes with a highly detailed user’s manual that shows step-by-step instructions for homeowners who are ready to install their water softener systems.

No matter what water softener you purchase, you must turn off the water main and drain the remaining water in your system before beginning installation to avoid leaks and other potential issues. For our more comprehensive systems you may have to cut your pipes where you install the system, most likely in your basement. If you are not comfortable with plumbing and other fixtures you can hire a professional to install your system in just a couple of hours, or you can purchase an installation kit to make the process hassle-free.

When you purchase a Pelican NaturSoft® Water Softener Alternative you will first need to assemble and install the sediment filter. Then, you will install the softener tank, and finally use the bypass valve to soak the media before you begin using the system. For more detailed instructions, read the owner’s manual here.

If you live in an apartment, RV, condo, boat, or other compact living space you may go with the EZ-Connect Softener and Filter instead. As this system is compactly designed it’s also easier to install. Once you mount the bracket you’ll simply insert your plumbing into the inlet and outlet, then insert the cartridges to their corresponding chambers. For complete installation instructions read the owner’s manual here.

How Much Maintenance Does a Water Softener Need?

The amount of maintenance required for a water softener greatly varies depending on your decision to purchase a salt-based softener or a water softener alternative. Salt-based water softeners utilize electricity, generate brine that must be discharged, and require monthly maintenance to replenish the salt ions within the system.

A water softener alternative, on the other hand, are virtually maintenance-free. There are no salt ions or other chemicals used in the alternative water softening process, and there is also no expenditure of electricity. Since ions are not swapped out within your water supply there is no waste water that accumulates or that is discharged back into the water supply. Due to the way a water softener functions you will not need to perform regular maintenance on the unit itself.

Depending on which water softener alternative you purchase from Pelican Water, only certain cartridges and filters will need to be replaced. If you go with a Pelican NaturSoft® Water Softener Alternative, you should replace the sediment pre-filter every six to nine months. If you choose the EZ-Connect compact softener and filter you will need to replace the filter every six months.

Other than occasional filter replacement your unit will need no ongoing maintenance. To save money long-term and reduce environmental impact the only choice is Pelican Water.

For full warranty information click here.