Water Softener vs Water Filter – Exploring the Differences

Water Softener vs Water Filter – Exploring the Differences
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Water softeners and water filters are both very common names. You must be wondering what makes them different. It is fairly easy to understand the difference once you understand the difference between “Hard Water” and “Contaminated Water”.

Hard Water

Hard water is one of the most common issues faced in every household. The water that is usually called “Hard” contains a large percentage of dissolved minerals, especially magnesium and calcium.

Water dissolves small amounts of minerals as it moves through soil and rock. It holds them in solution. Magnesium and calcium are the two common minerals that make water hard. As the content of these two minerals increases, the degree of hardness of water also increases. hardwater001

Hard water does not pose any risks to your health. Actually, it can be said to be good for your body as it is rich in minerals. High amounts of metals ions of magnesium and calcium are contained in hard water in the form of carbonates. It may also include other metals and sulphates and carbonates as well. If water is not treated properly, it becomes hard on your skin, making it dry from the magnesium and calcium sticking on to your skin.

Hard water generally causes 2 main problems:

  1. The dissolved calcium and magnesium ions precipitate out of the hard water. This is known as “scale”, and it builds up on the insides of water heaters, pipes, coffee makers, and industrial appliances and machines. Scale obstructs the flow of water through the pipes, and also is a poor conductor of heat. It eventually clogs the pipes completely.
  2. Soaps have the capacity to lather when used. Hard water reduces this ability, no matter if you use it in your shower, dishwasher, sink, washing machine, or industries. The water forms a sticky scum by reacting with water and sticks on to your skin.

Contaminated Water

Water that contains a large amount of chemicals in it is termed as contaminated water. The calcium and magnesium are still contained in it, but it picks up other things from the environment as well and is influenced by them. frack-21

City water is highly contaminated by chemicals like chlorines and chloramines. This factor has got both pros and cons. Chemicals kill bacteria, which makes this chemically rich water to be good for you. If they are not added to the water, diseases and sicknesses would be prevalent all across. But, on the other hand, since chemicals are designed to kill living organisms, it is harmful for humans as well. City water is rich in chlorines and chloramines, and you must always treat them before using. If you are using well water, you need not worry about this.

There are also a large number of other chemicals that go in to water. Pesticides, paint thinners, and gasoline additives are just a few of them that go in to ground water and contaminate it. Contaminated water is unsafe to drink or have a bath in.

So, now you understand the difference between hard water and contaminated water. The next question is whether you need a water softener or a water filter. This depends on where you get your water from.

Water Softener

The main purpose of using water softeners is to make “hard water” soft. Inner city areas and places with hot weather, lesser rainfall, and a soil highly rich in minerals usually contain hard water. SRHF_DWZ

It is easy to find out if your water is hard or soft. Horrid white deposits inside your utensils and appliances that use the tap water are an indication of hard water. Just take your kettle and have a look at it. If you find an element that looks like dirty wet chalk covering it, then you may be having hard water.

The two main elements in hard water are calcium and magnesium. They cause the “lime scale” to build up on all the surfaces and even inside your pipes. These are the two elements that are treated using water softeners.

Water softeners can be said to work in two ways:

  • They completely remove calcium and magnesium from water before the water runs through the system. These are usually the salt based water softeners.
  • Electromagnetic waves are used to neutralize the two elements before the water comes out of your faucet. They do not get rid of the hardness completely from the water. As such, they are usually known as water conditioners. They do work well for most of the common applications.

A water softener usually has a resin tank that contains a huge number of tiny resin beads that have electrically charged ions. The beads are full of sodium ions from the water softener salt when they are freshly generated. The resin beads attract the magnesium and calcium ions when hard water passes through the softener system. The sodium ions here replace the hard water ions in the water. This exchange of sodium for the hardening ions makes your water soft. As such, the water that comes out is now soft and ready for use.

The water softener must be checked once every month for best performance. Moreover, the salt level must be kept at least at half the maximum level at all times.

Also Read: Best Water Softener Reviews

Types of Water Softeners

  1. Salt Based Ion Exchange Softener

This type of water softener cycles the household water through two different types of tanks. The first one is filled with special resin beads, and the second on is usually filled with a salt water solution. The principal of Ion exchange is applied by the salt based softener. It uses salt to substitute the harder minerals like magnesium and calcium. The salt is exchanged for the minerals, making the water free from calcium and magnesium ions. Salt-Based-Water-Softeners-VS-Salt-Free-Water-Softeners-2

This is known to be the best and most effective method for water softening. Water spotting and scaling are eliminated, and your clothes become softer. A setback is that the water from this softener cannot be used for drinking or watering plants as it is rich in sodium ions. People with sodium restricted diets must not have this water. Moreover, the machinery requires a constant supply of salt.

  1. Salt Free Softener

This type of softener usually regenerates using a potassium salt instead of a salt based solution. Such softeners mainly work as a descaler. It does not remove the minerals contained in the hard water. Instead, it prevents them from depositing themselves in the water. The softener transforms the minerals to prevent them from attaching to the water. best-salt-free-water-softeners

Such softeners are perfect for people who are concerned about their intake of sodium. It is also environment friendly and yields drinkable water. These softeners are not as effective as the salt based softeners, and the quality of water is also not very high.

Related Article: Salt Based vs. Salt Free Water Softeners

  1. Dual Tank Softener

Such softeners are perfect for large families. When the softener is in the regenerating or recharging process, it cannot be used for softening. As such, regeneration is normally done at night. But, in larger families, this may not be possible. Dual tank softeners contain two tanks for this purpose. While one is regenerating, the other one can be used for softening.

The main advantage of such softeners is that one gets a constant supply of softened water at all times without any break in the service. As for the cons, it requires a large amount of space. Moreover, it also requires a drain for backwashing.

  1. Electromagnetic and Magnetic water Softeners

This one is a salt free option. This type of softeners are usually plugged in and clipped on to the pipe. A magnetic field is set up which changes the electromagnetic properties of the minerals that are present in the water. As such, calcium disperses in to small particles that prevent it from scaling.

Such softeners work well for preventing the scum from soap and water marks. They are easy to install, require a low amount of maintenance, and are relatively inexpensive as compared to the other systems. A problem is that the water coming out of this softener remains soft only for a maximum period of 48 hours. After 48 hours, the water hardens again. The reduction in the hardness is not very significant either.

Choose your Water Softener

The grain capacity is an important factor that needs to be considered when getting a water softener. The higher the grain capacity, the larger amount of water the softener will be able to process before regeneration. If you have a large home, you will need a softener with a higher grain capacity. The size of the home, the household, and the amount of water that will be required to be processed in a day are the main factors to consider when you are looking out for your perfect water softener.

Comparing and contrasting the features of water softeners is very important, the requirement varies for different purposes. As such, you need to take your time before investing in a water softener for your requirements.

Select the Right Salt

Salt-Based-Water-Softeners-VS-Salt-Free-Water-Softeners-4Salt based water softeners are the most commonly used ones. Easy to install and use, they nearly meet all the requirements of water softening. Selecting the right salt is the secret of having a water softener that works perfectly and is also easier to handle and maintain. Here are 3 factors one needs to consider to select the salt to be used:

  1. Form

Usually pellets are recommended for use in water softeners. The salt is also available in block and crystal form, and you can use them as per availability and convenience. The owner’s manual will guide you as to what is recommended for your product.

  1. Purity

If the salt is higher in purity, they leave lesser storage tank residue. This makes them easy maintainable. Bridging is a situation where the salts stick together to themselves and create a bridge. This bridge prevents the salt from coming in contact with the water, making the softening system less effective. Using salts of high quality helps prevent this condition.

  1. Specialty Salts

The water sources and mineral content vary for the different geographical areas. As such, they may have different specific problems like rust stains, concentration, and sodium content. Speciality salts are available to address these specific issues.

Filtering hard water by distillation or reverse osmosis improves the taste of the water. But, they are usually quite expensive. Descaling is another option that is used as an alternative to water softening. Water softeners remove the problem, which is the mineral content in the water. On the other hand, a descaler only addresses the damage that the problem causes, which is the scale build-up. They do not change the chemical composition of the water, and must never be mistake for water softeners.

Water Filters

Water filtration systems are totally different from water softeners. A large number of technologies are available in the market today to address the issue of water contamination. Contaminated water is found everywhere. There are a whole lot of them in just a simple glass of water you take. water-filter-2

The type of contaminant you find in water depends on the place you live in. If your water is taken from a well, you may need an even more robust filter than people using the city water. A large number of components seep in to the water in the ground every day. Pesticides from the farm and your garden are also commonly found in the well water. Gasoline additives, paint thinners, and a large number of other common chemicals seep in through the soil to contaminate the underground water. If untreated, they make way in to your system and cause health hazards.

Water filters work by eliminating the impurities in the water through a chemical process, biological process, or a physical barrier. Different purposes like drinking, irrigation, aquariums, ponds, and swimming pools use this cleansed water.


Filtration uses a large number of processes. Some of the common ones are:

  • Adsorption
  • Sieving
  • Ion exchanges
  • Biological metabolite transfer

Types of Filters

Water filters commonly come in the following types:

  • Activated Carbon Filters

They are generally called “carbon filters” or “pre-filters”. The larger particles like silt and sediments are eliminated from the water via this process. These particles are attracted and absorbed by the system. As such, the water coming out from the filter is made free from these contaminants.

Activated carbon filters also ensure that the water coming out has lesser odour and tastes much better. The amount of chlorine and other contaminants that make water smelly and unpleasant for drinking purposes are also reduced.

  • Reverse Osmosis

Best-Reverse-Osmosis-SystemThis is a very common process used. Reverse osmosis has the capability to get rid of all kinds of contaminants in water that are dangerous for your health. The end result is also made clear and free of odour.

  • Alkaline/Water Ionisers

A process known as electrolysis is used by this type of filters. It contains plates that are electrically charged. The water is passed through this water, and is separated in to two different streams. One of these streams is acidic, and the other is alkaline. The water becomes softer, is low in acidity, and is better for you skin.

  • UV Filters

This one is the latest technology in the market. Ultraviolet radiation is used to treat the water. It destroys all the bacteria that are hazardous to health. Moreover, since it does not use any chemicals or additional heat, it is a more environment friendly way of purifying water.

  • Infrared Filters

This technology also helps soften your water using alkaline filters. Heat and light are used to negatively charge the water and make it feel softer.

How do Water Filters Work

Water filtration follow two main processes:

  1. Mechanical Filtration

Figure-3This process removes the physical barriers. Water contains a large number of particles of various shapes and sizes. They are found in different forms like rust, sediment, asbestos fibres, and cysts. These particles are first trapped by creating a barrier. Different materials are used for this purpose. The size of the particles they trap and stop from coming out of the filter system is the base used to rate these barriers.

The “micron” rating is used to commonly differentiate a single particle. The lower the micron size, the smaller will be the size of the particle, and the better will be the filtration.

  1. Chemical Filtration

treatment2Chemicals like chlorine are used in the municipal water supplies as disinfectant agents. The water may even smell weird due to huge lengths of ageing underground pipes they come through. The quality of the water is also determined by the level of the dams. The higher the dam, the higher will be the water quality. Carbon is introduced in order to remove such issues.

Food grade carbon is usually made in the form of:

  • Coconut, Hard words, and Coal
  • Carbon Mesh Size – Granular, Powdered
  • Fired and Steam Cleaned

Carbon can be used in powdered, granular, or block form. Nasty tastes and odours are absorbed by the pores in carbon, and they also remove the chlorine from the water.

Water Softener vs. Water Filter

Water softeners and filters are different in their own ways. Here are the basic differences:

  • The way they treat water are different

Water softeners remove the hardness from the water and water filters remove the contaminants from the water. Water softeners can also be called as a specific case of water filters as it filters the water from hardness. Water filters cover a wider range.

  • Different technologies are used

Filters use different technologies to control contamination. Advanced media beds are used to remove pollutants. The water coming out from filters are generally safe for drinking purposes. Micro-filtration, catalytic conversion, oxidation, ion exchange, adsorption, and other processes are used.

Water softeners use salt and ion-exchange resins to make the water soft by removing calcium and magnesium ions. The sodium solution coated on the resins forces the magnesium and calcium to come out of the water and replace them with sodium ions on the active sites on the resin.

  • Both have separate maintenance needs

Water softeners need regular and effective maintenance. Restocking the salt is one of the most important things here, and it is consumable. Non-salt systems need lesser maintenance, but they usually get damaged by the light amounts of oil. Magnetic systems require the least amount of maintenance. They can even be installed for cheap. The problem is that they are not very effective against metallic dissolved materials.

Water filtration systems do not require too much of maintenance. But, they are quite expensive to install and use. Using water softeners is more effective if all you need is to soften water. If you have other concerns like contaminated water, waterborne pathogens, iron staining, bad taste, bacterial contamination, and chlorination, then softening systems will not be enough. You will have to use filters in such cases.



Whether you use water softeners or water filters for treating water depends on the type of contaminates you have in your water. It may be suspended particles or dissolved minerals. The water used in homes usually contains a combination of both. Understanding the underlying cause is the basic requirement to decide the treatment process. Once you understand this, you could choose the best way to treat the water.

Water softeners are usually excellent purification systems. They protect you from hard water and the build-up of scale. But, if you have problems like water chlorination, iron staining, or bacterial contamination, you will need to go for a combination of both, water softener and water filter.

So, the basic idea lies in your requirements. One can never say water softeners are better or filters are better. It depends on what your issue is and how you need it to be solved. It is all a matter of purpose. Both the systems serve their own purposes well enough. To have the best of both worlds, you could use a combination of both. As such, you are safe from hard water and contaminated water at the same time.

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