Updated: April 19, 2021 by Zac Harding
As a home-owner I was looking for a solution to the problem of hard water. Hard water creates limescale on the dishes, pipes and appliances, causes extra dryness of the skin or extra fragile hairs. Doing my research I found that most common facilities for water treatment are water filters and water softeners.
Making the choice between a water softener vs. a water filter can be challenging without knowing how these two methods of water treatment are working. After I figured it out, I had no problem in making the right decision. So if you read further I will take you through the basics and principals of these two methods. I will show you how this applies to your water treatment needs.
Although in some ways water softeners and water filters are compatible, they do work in different ways and are used to solve distinctive problems with water. Water filtration systems are used to remove contaminants from water that might be harmful for ingestion. On the other hand, water softening systems remove (or change) naturally occurring minerals so that there is less buildup of “scale” and the water is “softer”.
Less developed parts of the world are places where filters can be critical to life, but most water in North America is potable from the tap through community efforts. Because of this, both softeners and filters that are purchased in the western world are typically chosen based upon personal preference for the taste or “feel” of water, convenience, and household maintenance issues.
This means that you have the freedom to choose what is important to your family as you make consumer decisions about purchasing these appliances.
While a water softener may protect a home from the harmful buildup of minerals and keep appliances clean, but a water filter will eliminate other water problems such as bacterial contaminants, heavy iron problems, or chlorine. Whatever your water issues, the first point of making decisions about water softeners and water filters is having a general understanding of how they each work.
How Do Water Softeners Work?
Created specifically to eliminate or change the minerals that make water “hard”, softeners typically use an ion exchange process to trade magnesium, calcium, and manganese for another mineral—often salt.
Resins are covered in a solution of sodium (or sometimes potassium chloride) so that when the hard water comes into contact with it, the magnesium and calcium ions remain in the resin and are replaced by sodium ions. Here is what Environmental Protection Agency of United States has to say about sodium in drinking water.
For folks who prefer not to add salt or other chemicals to their water (although there is no proof of this being detrimental to the health), there are salt-free alternative systems. These often use a “magnetic” attraction to neutralize the minerals.
This type of process may be attractive to some people because it leaves the minerals in the water for health purposes, but eliminates their ability for the minerals to produce the scale and buildup that would typically be found in hard water.
In order to continue trapping the minerals, the resin must be periodically cleaned. This regeneration happens in a cycle that is determined by either a timer or on demand. A timed regeneration process typically happens every three days at night when the water is unlikely to be used because soft water is not available during the cycle.
The demand-initiated style of water softener will regenerate only when the capacity of the unit has been depleted. Some on-demand systems have two tanks which allows for the use of one while the other regenerates.
Learn More About Water Softeners:
- Are Water Softeners Bad for Copper Pipes?
- Is There an Alternative to a Water Softener?
- What States Have Banned Water Softeners?
- Can You Drink Softened Water?
- How Long Do Water Softeners Last?
How Do Water Filters Work?
While naturally clean water may be found in certain places with fresh springs, most of the time water is taken from sources which need to be purified before it is consumable. Filtering water can take place in a variety of ways and has been happening for centuries as humans have found the need for cleaner water–and learned many ways to accommodate that need.
The desire for clean water may be based on health concerns, taste of the water, or various other needs or personal preferences. Water filters may range from a personal, travel sized version to one that is able to address the needs of an entire household.
A variety of water purification techniques have been developed for decontamination. This includes a several different technologies from a treated media bed that removed pollutants, as well as catalytic conversion, ion exchange, oxidation, and micron filtration. Units will typically remove contaminants (from chemicals to heavy metals) by trapping them and removing them through a series of cleaning cycles via backwashing.
Want to learn more? Read this article: Best Water Filter Reviews & Buyers Guide
Water Softener vs Water Filter: Which Should You Get?
As mentioned above, there are certain problems that may require a softener and others a filter. Discerning which you need is a matter of knowing what your water issues are, and often you’ll find that you have a various water issues which may reveal the need for a combination water filtration and softener system.