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Water Filter vs Water Softener – Which Do I Need?

water filter vs water softener
Written by Warner Levit

There are many ways to ensure the water you use and consume is clean and free of those yucky contaminants no one wants. Water filtration, water softening, and water conditioning are examples of this. It should be said right here at the start that there is a very definitive difference between filtering water and softening it. And that pure or filtered water is not the same as soft water. We have to address these facts when deciding what kind of system we want to install in our homes. This is what gives rise to the debate, – water filter vs water softener.

Before We Set out Trying to Settle This Debate There Are a Few Things to Keep in Mind

The first thing one needs to remember is that water is referred to as “contaminated” is a broad reference that in itself simply means that the water is not completely pure. It is important to find out specifically what contaminants are in the water you wish to purify before doing anything else. Good quality water softeners can reduce contaminants. Contaminants vary in danger, consequence, desirability, and cause for concern.

There are many contaminants that pose threats to our health that can be found in water. Various bacteria, pathogens, and unhealthy chemicals are but a few of these. There are also many other kinds of contaminants that pose no real threat to one’s health but have a negative effect on their immediate environment. Examples of these contaminants would be lime, magnesium, and many more. While consuming water containing these is safe, they can cause erosion in our plumbing, rust, lime scale build-up, and can cause a shorter lifespan for our pipes and appliances.

We should also be clear on the terminology. Soft water refers to water that is low in contaminants such as heavy metal particles, lime and magnesium. Pure or filtered water refers to water that is low in contaminants such as bacteria chlorine, and other elements harmful to one’s health. Soft water may very well still be impure, and filtered water may very well not be soft at all. So which system should one be installing?

Now, Let’s Compare!

Water Filter vs Water Softener – What’s the Difference?

Water Filter

Water Filter

What are we really talking about when we use this term? Well, it’s quite simple. Filtration is the process of running water through one or more kinds of filters to remove a very broad spectrum of contaminants. Filters vary in their effectiveness, specific purpose, size, and cost, but they all aim to achieve purer water quality.

Types of Filters and How They Work

 1. The Reverse Osmosis Filter

This kind of filter uses the process of osmosis in reverse to purify water. Water with a high concentration of contaminants is forced through a filter membrane using pressure and thus removing unwanted elements that the membrane is designed not to allow through.

2. The Activated Carbon Filter

This kind of filter uses carbon’s wonderful ability to attract and hold unwanted particles. Water is run through activated carbon which then traps the unwanted elements by way of chemical absorption. Most of the faucet water filters use this type of filter.

3. The UV Filter

UV filtration uses ultra-violet radiation to break down certain unwanted elements in water such as bacteria.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Water Filter?

The benefits of using a water filter are various and can depend on which specific filter you use, but the main advantage found in any filtration system is safer water for your health. Pushing your water through a filter makes it safer to drink and often makes it look, smell, and taste better too. If the municipal water that runs through your faucet raises concerns of bacteria, pathogens and other unhealthy elements, a water filter removes those concerns, along with all the health-threatening nonsense in the water.

Do Water Filters Soften Water?

To be short, no. While some filters may remove some of the elements that make water hard, this is not their purpose or aim. Water can be filtered and healthy to drink but still contain elements such as lime. These elements are not a health threat and so filters are not designed for them specifically.

Water Softener

Water softener

What do we mean by “soft water”, and “water softeners”? Water that is high in metals, organic particles like lime, and other inorganic particles, is considered to be hard water. So soft water then is the opposite, and water softeners are systems we use to achieve soft water.

Types of Water Softeners and How They Work

1. The Ion Exchange Softener

This kind of water softener is predominantly a salt or potassium based system that exchanges the ion particles of unwanted heavy contaminants with that of the salt or potassium particles instead.

2. The Magnetic Water Softener

Magnetic softeners, as the name implies, uses magnets to attract the particles in water that make it hard and hold onto them, allowing the water to pass through and become softer.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Water Softener?

Hard water has a profoundly negative effect on our daily appliances and our plumbing. Lime scale build-up in our pipes, kettles, dishwashers and washing machines is but one example of this. It also causes erosion in our pipes. A water softener reduces these problems greatly and thus adds a longer life expectancy to your appliances and plumbing.

Do Water Softeners Filter Water?

Absolutely not! The aim of a water softener is purely to remove elements that cause build-up and erosion. Water softeners do not pay any attention to contaminants like Bacteria, pathogens, or pesticides. Thus one can definitely say that soft water is not necessarily safe to drink.

So Who Takes the Cake on Water Filter vs Water Softener?

Well, both systems, and neither system! Let me explain. It’s fairly clear from the information, that each of these systems serves different purposes and aims to achieve different results.

Water softeners focus primarily on making water better for your household appliances and plumbing, while water filters focus more on making the water you consume safer and healthier. So if you are at a crossroads and need to decide which system to install in your home you should consider those two facts.

To best decide which system you need, first look at the water you have access to. What contaminants does it contain? Ask yourself what end result you are looking for. If your water contains elements like calcium and lime that threaten your pipes but do not contain bacteria or pesticides that threaten your health, a water softener is your best choice. If your water contains unhealthy contaminants such as bacteria that poses a threat to your health or makes it undrinkable, you should perhaps make a water filter your priority. Remember to maintain and clean the water softener and filter regularly.

A simple lab test showing the contents of your household water will be the biggest determining factor when trying to decide what system is best suited to your needs. It could be a pitcher water filter or a wall-mount filter, or only a water softener is enough. Once you acquire this and have all the facts, making the decision will be a no-brainer!

About the author

Warner Levit

Water Filtration Expert

As a trained chemist and an independent researcher I started working on a portable water filter project as part of my business plan. While carrying out my research, I got involved with FaucetsReviewed. My fields of expertise include environmental science, biochemistry and water purification chemistry. Apart from contributing to this website, I’m currently working on my book “Water Filtration Science”. It will be published soon. I grew up in California, and completed my postgraduate degree from the University of California-Berkeley. I also work as a private counselor on the household water management system.

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