Water Softener Vs Water Filter: Difference and Which One is Better?

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Water Softener Vs Water Filter

Did you know that hard water gradually damages pipes and sewer systems? It also increases your energy bill as appliances like electric coffee machines and dishwashers use more power when the water is hard. Apart from that, hard water is associated with water spots on vehicles and a whole lot of other issues.

Besides water hardness, there’s dirt and a whole lot of other contaminants, like pesticides, chlorine, and sediments, and these too present trouble.

If you don’t want to put up with these problems, the best step you can take is to purify the water you use at home, and when it comes to water purification, you can either use a water filter or a water softener. Or is using both systems much better perhaps? Read on to find that out.

In this article, we will help you understand water softening and water filtration and advise you on the water purification system to install in your home.

What is Hard Water and What is Soft Water?

Hard water is water that contains a high count of ions and minerals especially calcium and magnesium, and it is normally found underground. The limescale that is normally seen in pipes is usually a result of the deposit of minerals from hard water.

Soft water, on the other hand, is typically surface water and contains low amounts of minerals and ions particularly those of calcium and magnesium.

Basically, what water softening does is to remove the minerals contained in hard water.

Now, let’s jump into our topic.

Water Softeners VS Water Filtering

To help you understand both of these systems, we will briefly discuss how each of these works.

1. How Water Filtration Works

Water filtration is focused on the removal of dirt and contaminants from water. There are several ways through which this can be achieved, for instance, reverse osmosis, where the water is run through a membrane to remove dissolved solids and salts. There’s also microfiltration where water is run through a series of differently-sized granules, and there is activated carbon and distillation.

But by far, the most common method of filtration that homeowners use is activated charcoal. Granulated charcoal is put in a filter cartridge, and when water is run through the cartridge, any particles in it are trapped. But, the tiniest particles like minerals will flow through.

Some water filtration systems also incorporate complex chemical processes to attract impurities and keep them from passing through.

Where filters are installed

Filtration systems typically have an entry point and an exit point for the water. When the water gets in, the filtration matrix traps the contaminants so that upon exit, the water will no longer contain the contaminants or it will contain them only in low levels.

You can have a home water filter installed at the water’s point of entry, and in this case, you’d need a professional plumber. Or, you can purchase one meant for installation at the point of use, and the installation is simple, you can do it yourself.

The water filters that are designed for homes are quite simple, unlike the industrial-grade ones. These filters are normally built-in refrigerator filters for water dispensers, faucet filters, and under the sink devices.

Note that those who want to enjoy softened water throughout the home install a big filter at the point of entry and this filter normally uses microfiltration to get rid of the unwanted substances.

The only issue with most filtration systems, including activated carbon, is that they’re unable to remove microbes like bacteria. But, this can be resolved with the utilization of UV lamps to attack the microbes’ DNA.

What Water Filters Remove

Water filters improve the taste of water by removing bad substances like grains, chlorine, and limescale. Ordinarily, the filter will trap grains that are at least 0.5 microns large, while allowing minerals to remain.

They remove the following contaminants:

  • Pesticides
  • Heavy metals like lead
  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Limescale
  • Sand

2. How Water Softening Works

Water filtration is focused on the removal of dirt and contaminants from water. There are several ways through which this can be achieved, for instance, reverse osmosis, where the water is run through a membrane to remove dissolved solids and salts. There’s also microfiltration where water is run through a series of differently-sized granules, and there is activated carbon and distillation.

But by far, the most common method of filtration that homeowners use is activated charcoal. Granulated charcoal is put in a filter cartridge, and when water is run through the cartridge, any particles in it are trapped. But, the tiniest particles like minerals will flow through.

Some water filtration systems also incorporate complex chemical processes to attract impurities and keep them from passing through.

What Water Softeners Remove

Water softeners only remove minerals and ions, mainly:

  • Calcium
  • checkMagnesium

The Differences

We bet that by now, you have noticed a few key differences between the two methods of water purification. Let’s look at them quickly.

1. The manner in which they treat the water

Water filters and water softeners are both used to treat hard water, but they do it differently. While filters remove sediments and harmful chemicals like chlorine from the water, softeners only remove the minerals causing the water to be hard; that is, calcium and magnesium.

2. The technology at play

With water filters, there is a full range of technologies that can be used to remove contaminants. That includes the activated charcoal, microfiltration agents, reverse osmosis membranes, and more to remove all sorts of contaminants. In contrast, softening relies only on ion exchange to remove minerals only. Softeners contain resins, which are coated with sodium. When the water comes into contact with these resins, it hands them its calcium and magnesium, and in return, it gets the sodium.

3. Maintenance

Most softeners are salt-based, as in they use sodium, and this aspect means that you have to add salt on a regular basis for the system to work. There are also magnetic-based softeners; these don’t require as much maintenance.

Filters, on the contrary, don’t require lots of maintenance. Once the system is in place, you can enjoy less hard water without worrying about the equipment.

4. Cost

Do you know why many homeowners go for softeners rather than filters even though the latter option is more diverse and obviously more efficient with better results? It’s because of their notion about the costs involved.

Homeowners believe that water filters are more expensive than water softeners, but the reverse is actually true. Why? Because water filters come in many options, from little under the faucet gadgets to whole-house installations, the costs are also quite diverse.

You might, for instance, find an under the faucet activated charcoal filter going for as low as $20, and these typically don’t need any skilled labor to install. Larger whole-house filters can go for up to $3000.

On the other hand, water softeners are not very diverse; your options are limited. The minimum costs for a manual regeneration water softening system are around $300, and when you add a $100 installation charge, that totals to around $400, at least.

Even timed and metered softeners go for $3000 on average, with bigger systems going for up to $10000.

Therefore, as you can see, water filters are better when it comes to cost efficiency.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Are water softeners the same as water filters?

No. While water filters use a range of technologies, both physical and chemical, to remove all sorts of contaminants from water, water softeners utilize magnetic-like forces to remove calcium and magnesium from water. You can learn more in-depth about how water softeners work here.

2. Is it OK to drink water that is purified with a water softener?

Some folks are worried that a water softener will add sodium to their water but here’s some interesting info. For starters, the sodium added into the water is not sodium chloride but rather sodium bicarbonate, which of course, doesn’t cause the water to be salty.

Again, if you consume an 8-oz glass of milk, you will be taking around 120 mg of sodium. Comparing that to the 30 mg of sodium that a water softener adds to the hardest water, you can see that the amount of sodium coming from a water softener is miniature.

Moreover, according to doctors and nutritionists, the maximum safe amount of sodium you can take daily is around 2400 mg, and so 25mg would be a very tiny figure.

Taking sodium is beneficial for the body in many ways, especially regarding the healthy functioning of the heart and the circulatory system in general. If, however, you have conditions like hypertension, which are worsened by high sodium levels, then you should consult your doctor before using a sodium-based water softener.

3. Does a water filter purify water?

Yes. Water filters are by far the systems that are most effective when it comes to water purification. They not only remove dirt and debris but also get rid of chemical pollutants like chlorine, pesticides, and heavy metals.

4. How can you remove bacteria and viruses from water?

Ordinary water filters don’t remove microbes from water. However, a more advanced water filter that incorporates UV sterilization is a good choice for someone who wants to get rid of bacteria and viruses.

5. What sort of water filter can I use to remove calcium from water?

Calcium is one of the main minerals that cause water to be hard. Though water filters are mainly designed for removing contaminants rather than minerals, a reverse-osmosis water filter can remove up to 98 percent of the calcium in hard water.

6. Can I water my plants with softened water?

It would be better not to. The sodium that softeners add to water interferes with the water balance and plants are unable to suck up water. Hence, try using water that has been purified with a water filter instead of a water softener.

7. Why is hard water bad?

Hard water contains minerals, particularly magnesium and calcium. Though that is not a health risk, it causes various undesirable situations, like your electricity bill going up from the increased energy consumption by water-based equipment, the need to use more soap, and water spots formation on equipment and cars.

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The Verdict: Which One is Better?

Your choice of a water purification system should rely on your specific needs. Remember, water softeners are meant for removing the minerals in hard water that cause it to be hard, that is, calcium and magnesium.

Let’s say the water that is coming into your home looks clean; it doesn’t appear to have particles, and you don’t have chemical-poisoning concerns. Then, assuming you have water spot issues, the electricity bill is high, and there is limescale in the pipes, then measuring your water hardness and possibly using a whole-house water softener might be the right option for you.

But, if the water is particularly dirty and you want to make it safe for consumption, then a water filter might work for you. Water filters are not as effective as water softeners when it comes to removing minerals like calcium and magnesium, but you can count on them to remove most of the other contaminants that might be in the water, including lead, chlorine, sediments, dirt and debris, and so on.

Nonetheless, the water exiting your water filter will not be as hard as the water entering it.

Our recommendation: go for a water filter that suits your needs. If you’re on a budget, choose use point filters like the shower-head and faucet mounted ones or get an entry-point whole-house filter if you can afford one. But, if you’re looking for the best option, consider installing both systems.

If you can install a whole-house water softener at the entry point and install inexpensive use point water filters, then you will enjoy much healthier water free of contaminants and hard water elements.

Why not have a quick look at the most common questions on this topic? You could discover some really interesting info.

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