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Just moved to a new area, and the water here is much harder than at the previous location. I chatted to a plumber about installing a salt-free water conditioner like https://www.acehardware.com/departments/plumbing/water-treatment/water-softeners/4003445 or https://www.evowatersystems.com/product/whole-house-salt-free-water-softener/ (sorry about the links to commercial sites, I promise I am not product-posting)

Plumber tells me that I don't want to install one of those citric acid water conditioners because citric acid is a descaling agent, and I will basically be descaling all of my plumbing (decades of accumulated deposits) into my drinking water. His proposed solution is to replumb the house with PEX, which obviously is multiple thousands of dollars.

Is my plumber approximately correct? It makes sense, but I would expect that if descaling the accumulated deposits into your drinking water was such a huge issue when using those products, we would see it all over the forums, and I can't find any evidence so far.

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    You can't find any evidence? Try cutting open one of your pipes ans seeing if the deposits exist.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 9:01
  • Why sodium free? One alternative is Reverse Osmosis. Most users seem to go with the standard sodium softener, then possibly RO for drinking water. Lots of webpages on softening technology. Replace all with Pex? Not if it ain't broke
    – bsd
    Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 10:01
  • @SolarMike I think he means evidence of descaling by a citric acid softener causing problems being heavily discussed on various forums such as this one and not evidence of scale in his pipes.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 12:03
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    Even if it does work as a descaler in the pipes, you get cleaner pipes. Running the water for a few minutes will remove any loosen deposits. You are drinking them anyway now, except in smaller amounts, the deposits are in the water before they can be on the pipes. Same as buying mineral water, but free.
    – crip659
    Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 12:21
  • I have one similar to this and it works fine for me: littleplumber.com/product/… No salt, no additives.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 13:33

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The salt free treatments (not a softener, actually, since they do not remove the hardness - you correctly say conditioner, the links misuse softener) rather slowly affect build-up further down the lines, and in water heaters, coffee makers, etc.

But if I wasn't a plumber trying to upsell a replumbing job, and you had concerns about drinking what (slowly) dissolves out of your pipes (which is the same stuff that's in your water now) I'd descale the pipes. So I think you are correct to question their motives.

Note that these are the same "minerals" that not removing in the first place is supposed to be beneficial, or that you can literally get RO systems that then have remineralization filters for drinking water to add back in.

Not sure the second one involves citric acid at all. There are a variety of non-salt, long-lasting antiscale technologies coming to market - the one I'm considering is a catalytic nano-crystallization approach. Same general idea, as your second one (different brands) no mention of citric acid. The first one can't just be dumping citric acid in, for that matter, though it's unclear exactly how it claims to work. But pumping a strong citric acid solution into your pipes and then flushing it out would be a lot cheaper than replumbing your house, IF you were going to worry about it.

Which I would not, unless you have tested your water quality and found it unsuitable for drinking and cooking anyway - and in that case a small RO system for drinking/cooking water is a few hundred bucks.

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