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Pellets vs Crystals for Water Softeners: Which Is Best?

Updated on September 19, 2023

You know what salt pellets are. You know what salt crystals are. 

So I am not going to noodle about telling you what you already know. 

You’re here to find out if you could use either of the two or maybe there is something you don’t know you might need to consider. 

Now the big question is: Which should you use? Is one better than the other? 

Here is a quick verdict:

There are little things that make the two water softener salts different, for one, the shape and form are different. Pellets are a little more expensive. Crystals dissolve a little slowly and can be susceptible to bridging.

The truth is, however, salt is salt. All that your water softener needs to clean the resin is sodium ions and both have plenty of them. Nine out of ten times your system will work with either one, maybe just go for the cheapest.

Overall, I would recommend salt pellets unless you’ve had issues with mushing in the past, which in that case, crystals will work better. 

But if wanna discuss the nitty-gritty such as:

  • Does the type of softener matter? For example, is a particular type of salt recommended for twin tank softeners?
  • What about the water hardness level? Does higher hardness warrant a particular type of salt?
  • Storage and handling, are really worth considering when choosing the right salt to use.
  • How long would a bag of salt last? Is it different depending on the type of salt I use?
  • Can I use both crystals and pellets together, that is mix them?
  • Does refilling change with the type of salt? What about regeneration cycles, Are they the same with both salts?
  • What about availability and costs, which one is more affordable and widely available?
  • Any particular brands you recommend?

You’re more than welcome to stick around. Let’s dive in.

Type of water softening salt

Salt crystal and salt pellets are the most common types of water softener salt in use today.

There are other types of salt (sodium chloride) such as block or rock salt. None of these are ideal for use in water softeners due to their high impurity levels. 

A regular salt alternative that can also be used is potassium chloride which is also a good water softener salt, although not as effective as sodium chloride. 

Salt crystals

Salt crystals are formed through a natural solar (or sun) evaporation process, typically using salt water sourced from lakes, seas, or rivers. As the sun’s heat causes the water to evaporate, it leaves behind layers of salt crystals, with about 99.6% purity.

Because of the crystals’ size and irregular shape, they can be more prone to bridging than pellets.   

Salt pellets

Salt pellets, on the other hand, start out as small salt granules (similar to crystals) but get compacted further and turn into pillow-shaped salt pellets. Because of this further processing, salt pellets can achieve up to 99.9% in purity. 

Sometimes small salt granules can also be turned into square-shaped cubes instead of pellets. 

A high level of purity means less sediment mess at the bottom of the brine tank. Pellets are better at avoiding bridging.

Potassium chloride

Potassium chloride is often used as an alternative to sodium chloride (regular salt) in water softeners. 

It’s better for the environment and it can also be a preferable option for individuals on low-sodium diets or those with specific health concerns related to sodium intake.

On the downside, it costs up to 4X more than regular salt, it’s not as widely available and it’s not as efficient as sodium chloride.

Understanding salt pellets and crystals: 10 things to consider

Mushing & bridging 

Mushing occurs when the salt breaks down into small granules that don’t fully dissolve. This is more common in pellets than in crystals, particularly when the water softener isn’t active that much. 

Bridging refers to when a layer of hard crust is formed in the brine tank above the water level. This “bridge” prevents the salt from properly mixing and dissolving in water. Its more common in crystals than in pellets. 

Water hardness

The harder the water the more harder the softener will need to work to remove the hardness, which means more salt will be required. 

Either one of the two salts will work perfectly fine with hard water. 

If you’d like to use non-salt alternatives like potassium chloride, be mindful that it’s 4X more expensive and less efficient which means more bags in a shorter period of time, especially for hard water. 

Mixing & using both types

In general, all types of water softening salt work well together and there is no particular harm caused by mixing different types. However, there may be instances where some types of salt will be preferable to others depending on the specific softener design.

A good place to begin you’ll be the user manual for your water softener. The manufacturers sometimes do tell the type of salt they recommend.

How long do they last

Pellets are designed to last longer but you’ll find that it doesn’t edge the crystals by that much. A 40 lb of salt, either pellets or crystals, will take just about the same time period. 

Most water softeners regenerate every 7-10 days with 14 days being the max. It can go longer but it’s not good for the resin in the long term.

For most folks, you might need to refill the salt every 1 – 3 months depending on how active your water softener is. 

Availability and costs

Both pellets and crystals are widely available, that is, salt pellets and crystals. The alternative, potassium chloride is not as available and it’s way more expensive than its sodium chloride counterpart. 

With regard to the costs, pellets cost a little more than crystals but not by that much. Both you should be able to get for less than $10 a 40 lb bag. 

Refilling the tank

The best practice when refilling the tank with salt is not to top off whenever you feel like it, but to wait until most, if not all, of the previous salt is used. When you can start seeing water on top of salt, then it might be time to refill.

When you do refill, fill the salt to about two to three inches below the top of the safety float tube in the tank.

Recommended brands

Whether it’s Morton or Dymond Crystal or Sure Soft salt, chances are you won’t go wrong with either one. 

There are some variations of crystals and pellets. For example, if you have iron issues in your well water, you might wanna consider pellets with iron reduction (Morton has it) or Crystal Dimon’s iron fighter pellets which do the same thing as well.

Alternatively, if for health reasons you can instake sodium, then Morton’s white potassium chloride salt can do. 

Where to go from here

If this is your first time getting a water softener salt and you’re still scratching your head on which one to get, start here:

Consult your water softener owner’s manual and see if the manufacturer recommends one over the other. For example, SpringWell recommends salt pellets for their softeners. 

If you can’t find anything in the owner’s manual, just use pellets, they’ll work. If you can’t use regular sodium chloride salt, then your best alternative would be potassium chloride though you’ll pay a pretty penny for it, or maybe even invest in a salt-free water softener.


  • Phuti Ledwaba

    Phuti is passionate water engineer and researcher with a degree in civil engineering degree, specializing in water research and filtration. Part of his everyday work involved working on an EU funded water project with a consortium of partners from Germany, Italy, and Spain. where they were involved in the development of decentralized water treatment systems from blueprint to conception. I have lived in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, now preparing to move to Utah for my master's degree in water treatment.

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