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Water Descaler vs Softener: What Are The Differences

Paul Billings
Last Updated on
by Paul Billings

Hard water can be a nuisance, from staining sinks to depositing minerals on appliances. Fortunately, there are several ways of dealing with hard water. Water descalers and softeners are perhaps the most common options. Water descaler vs. softener, which method works best when tackling hard water?

What Is a Water Descaler?

Water Descaler
Water Descaler

A descaler or water conditioner is an appliance that changes the mineral particles in hard water such that they cannot deposit themselves in pipes, on countertops, in appliances, or in heating elements. There are two types of descalers, template-assisted crystallization and magnetic descalers.

Template-assisted crystallization descalers filter off sediments and contaminants from water. The mineral particles in hard water undergo a chemical change that causes them to crystalize and enlarge, making it impossible for them to stick on surfaces.

Magnetic descalers use a magnetic coil that uses a magnetic field to alter the mineral ions in hard water. The altered minerals cannot build up on surfaces or in your plumbing.

Pros of Water Descalers

  • Leaves beneficial minerals in the water
  • Low maintenance
  • Affordable
  • Easy installation
  • Environment-friendly

Cons of Water Descalers

  • It doesn’t soften water

What Is a Water Softener?

Water Softener
Water Softener

Water softeners are appliances that remove minerals such as calcium and magnesium from hard water. Water softeners come in different types, salt-free, ion exchange, and reverse osmosis.

Salt-free water softeners use a filter and work well for low hard water levels. Ion exchange water softeners use sodium or potassium to replace the ions in hard water.

Reverse osmosis water softeners use pressure to remove impurities, including salt, fluoride, chlorine, sediment, arsenic, herbicides, and contaminants from water. A reverse osmosis water softener ensures you have soft and safe-to-drink water in your home.

Pros of Water Softeners

  • Softens water making it easy to use
  • Good for skin and hair
  • Reduced energy bills

Cons of Water Softeners

  • Salt-based softeners add sodium to the water, which may be problematic for people on a low-sodium diet
  • Ion exchange water softeners leave behind salt deposits
  • Not environment friendly
  • They are expensive to install and maintain
  • Salt-based water softeners increase the costs of water treatment facilities

Major Differences Between a Descaler and Softener

Water descalers and softeners aim to minimize the adverse effects of hard water. They have key differences in their work, installation, and maintenance.


Water descalers were designed to reduce the impact of limescale buildup. They do not remove the hardening minerals from the water. When using a descaler, you may notice staining, but it comes off faster than with hard water.

Water softening aims to remove all the effects of hard water. It achieves this by removing the calcium and magnesium deposits in the water, thus making it softer.

How They Work

The working principle is crucial when comparing a water descaler vs. softener. Water descalers and softeners prevent scale buildup, but they work differently. Water descalers charge the mineral particles in water using a magnetic field or electric current. Charging keeps the mineral deposits from depositing on surfaces, plumbing, and appliances but does not remove them from the water.

On the other hand, water softening changes the chemical composition of water by removing the calcium and magnesium particles. The resulting water has a soft and slippery feel, lathers better, and does not leave mineral deposits on surfaces, appliances, or plumbing.

Water Hardness Level

Water descalers work best for water with a low hardness level of 12 to 20 GPG, although some high-end descalers work up to 25 GPG. Water softeners, in contrast, work well with very hard water with GPG levels higher than 25. Therefore, water softeners are the best choice if you live in an area with extremely hard water.


The installation process for a water descaler is more straightforward. Water descalers take up little space in your home. They do not require much space as they are smaller.

A water softener requires two tanks, one for the resin bed and the second for the brine. You must have adequate space on your property to accommodate both tanks.

Installing a water softener might require the help of an expert. Water softener installers charge between $150 and $1,000, depending on the unit type, complexity, and where you live.


Water descalers and softeners have different maintenance requirements. Water descalers are easy to maintain after installation. However, they do require a constant power supply to work. For homes with template-assisted descalers, the maintenance involves changing the sediment filter every six months and replacing the media every six years.

Water softeners, in contrast, have high maintenance requirements. For instance, you need to adjust the regeneration cycle regularly and replace the sediment filter twice yearly.

In addition, you need to clean the brine and resin tanks. Water softening units also require fresh salt regularly to keep them effective. Maintaining water softeners is labor-, time-, and money-intensive.

Overall, water softeners’ maintenance costs are higher than water descalers.


Water descalers are cheaper upfront and during maintenance. A new unit costs an average of $200.

Water softeners, in contrast, cost between $500 and $6,000 to purchase and install the unit. They also require routine maintenance and purchases of softening agents.


Results take time to see when you’re using a water descaler or a softener. The results include the buildup in your plumbing systems and what it feels when using the water.

With descalers, you’ll notice results within the first three months. Water softeners take about two weeks to remove existing scale buildup.

With water softeners, you’ll notice that the water lathers better. Even after installing a water softener, you may still notice some hardness as the incoming water passes through pipes with existing limescale. However, it should decrease progressively until the water is entirely soft.

When using descalers, the water won’t feel softer. However, you’ll notice fewer deposits in your plumbing and sinks. Descaled water could still cause the adverse effects of hard water but at a smaller scale.

Water Descaler vs. Softener: Which One Should You Choose?

The best hard water solution depends on factors such as the water hardness levels and what you want to achieve.

Descalers are an excellent option if you want to prevent problems with limescale buildup. However, when you want to eliminate hard water’s primary and secondary effects, water softeners are the way to go. Water softeners are also better for water with higher levels of hardness.

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About Paul Billings
Paul Billings
Paul has operated multiple water filtration businesses throughout the past few decades and brings a lot of practical experience and knowledge about water systems to Water Filter Spot.Jennifer and Paul collaborate on information on this website, research products together, and discuss the state of the industry and what is available to households and businesses for their clean water needs.
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