Water softeners and water filters have well-defined and well-delimited roles in residential water treatment, roles that – with very few exceptions – don’t intersect.
Even so, many people believe that they’re interchangeable systems, that is, one or the other is enough to purify their water supply.
But water purification and water softening are two different issues that are often confused, which leads to homeowners not being happy with their choice of one system over the other.
To avoid this misconception and related problems, we will discuss the difference between water softening and water filtering, advise you on which system to pick if you’re looking to improve your drinking water, and what are the capabilities of each system.
We’ll also help you determine which system is best for drinking water and which isn’t designed for improving or cleaning your drinking water, but for the protection of your home appliances.
Water Softener Systems – How do They Treat Water?
Water softening systems aren’t designed for purifying or cleaning your drinking water. They’re designed to remove the minerals from your water that form limescale deposits inside your home appliances and on surfaces touched by water.
In short, water softeners treat hard water and hard water alone. They don’t remove chlorine, viruses, heavy metals, or other contaminants, neither do they improve the taste or odour of your tap water.
Let’s see what exactly is hard water and how do water softeners treat it?
How do you know if you have hard water?
It’s hard to miss or ignore the signs of hard water. Here are just some of the signs you’re dealing with hard water in your household:
- Off-white deposits on taps, sinks, bath and other sanitary ware;
- Bad soap leathering, dry, brittle hair, dry skin;
- Detergent inefficiency;
- Stiff laundry;
- Appliance malfunction or energy inefficiency due to possible build-up of lime-scale within appliances.
These are just some of the problems you may encounter if your water supply is hard. Hardness is measured in parts per million (ppm), and water above 60 ppm is already considered moderately hard. Above 180 ppm, we’re dealing with very hard water.
If you have hard or very hard water, you may want to install a water softener to protect your home appliances like your washing machine or water heater.
How do water softeners treat hard water?
Water softening systems remove calcium and magnesium ions by exchanging them for sodium ions.
This process is referred to as the ion exchange process, which means that calcium and magnesium ions are replaced with sodium ions.
To achieve this, water softening systems use salt and resin beads. The water that results from the softening process is non-scaling and soft.
Water Filters – What Do They Do?
Water filters deal with harmful water contamination issues such as bacteria and viruses, chlorine, volatile organic compounds, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals and so on.
Each filter systems contains one or multiple types of filter media that either absorb or reject contaminants, allowing only purified water to pass through.
It’s a simple process, yet it offers a complex water purification, improving the clarity, taste and quality of your tap water.
Compared to water softening system, water filtration systems don’t add anything to your water and although some filter systems do remove calcium and magnesium, most don’t.
Which System is Better for Drinking Water?
Since they target different types of issues and only one of the systems is designed to improve water quality, it’s clear that one system cannot be exchanged for the other.
If you want contaminant-free drinking water, water filters are for you. If you want softer, non-scaling water, water softeners are what you’re looking for.
But what if you’re dealing with both issues? Contamination and water hardness? Can you install both types of systems?
There is no reason why you couldn’t install both types of systems, in fact, you may very well have to in order to address the water quality issues you’re dealing with.
Alternatively, you can look into an all-on-one system that will address both types of water quality problems – hardness and contamination.
Water Filters and Scale Inhibitors
If you’re looking for a middle ground solution, a water filter with scale inhibiting filter cartridges like the Osmio PRO-II-XL Advanced Whole House Water Filter System can be a great alternative to installing both types of systems.
Bear in mind, however, that unlike softeners, scale inhibitors do not soften water, they merely prevent hardness causing minerals from precipitating and building up on surfaces.
Finding a whole house filter system that can remove contaminants, prevent scale deposits, and offer you great tasting water is not a difficult task, especially if you know what kind of water contamination issues you’re dealing with.
Alternatively, you can install point-of-use solutions. For example, you can install an undersink or countertop filter in your kitchen to have clean drinking water and install a separate scale inhibitor to the inlet to your water heater to protect it from scale deposits.
Whichever option you choose, it’s wise to take certain matters into consideration:
- Both water filters and water softeners/scale inhibitors require maintenance (filter replacement, salt changes, etc.);
- Costs can vary greatly across the board both for filters and softeners, therefore, make sure to check the chemistry of your water, so you can size your filter/softener system to your needs;
- Check maintenance costs too, not just the initial investment costs.
Now that you know which system does what and what are their roles in residential water treatment, you can go ahead and check out our selection of point-of-use water filters, whole house residential treatment solutions, and water softening/scale inhibiting systems.
Confusing the roles of filter systems with softener systems can have unfavourable consequences, therefore, it’s important to know which system is best for which types of issues.
If you live in an area with very hard water and you have some water contamination issues you want to deal with, it’s likely that you’ll need both types of systems, or a hybrid solution that can address both issues at once.