Not all tap water is created equal. Depending on where you live, your home’s water might require additional processing to avoid damage to your pipes; residue build-up on your hair, skin and appliances; and foul-smelling or tasting water.
Two of the most popular ways to process your home’s water is water softening and water filtration. Though both provide enormous benefits to your home’s water, they do so in different ways — and for different purposes. Deciding between a water filter and a water softener starts with understanding the difference between the two.
What’s in My Tap Water?
To understand the difference between water filtration and water softening, we first have to understand what’s in your tap water and why it needs to be processed in the first place.
Generally, tap water is already processed by your utility company to be safe for human consumption and use. However, this filtration process is minimal and doesn’t remove minerals like calcium and magnesium, nor does it remove potentially harmful chemicals like herbicides and pesticides.
Additional processing at home can help improve the quality of your water by removing these minerals and chemicals. This is where water softening and water filtration come into play.
What’s Water Softening?
In Arizona, tap water has very high levels of calcium and magnesium. These minerals leave chalky deposits on your pipes and fixtures, dulls your laundry, leaves residue on your hair and skin, and prevent soaps and detergents from lathering properly.
Most Arizona homes use systems called water softeners. These systems remove calcium and magnesium and replace it with sodium or potassium chloride through a process called ion exchange. A water softener can also remove low levels of iron, dirt, and sediment.
A water softener may be the right choice if:
- Your clothes look dull or feel crunchy after washing
- Soaps and detergents won’t lather sufficiently for washing
- You see chalky white residue on dishware and fixtures
- Your skin and hair feel dirty or grimy after a shower
By installing a water softener, you can save time and money by using less soap and avoid damage to your pipes and fixtures. You’ll also feel cleaner after a shower, and you’ll use less detergent for your laundry.
The Difference Between a Water Softener and Water Descaler
If you are searching for a water softener online, you may see some companies promoting “salt-free” water conditioners (also called descalers). These systems are not true water softeners because calcium and magnesium can only be removed from water through ion exchange.
Instead, these systems change the molecular structure of your water to prevent residue build-up on pipes and fixtures (but do not remove these minerals entirely). Since minerals are still present in water processed through a descaler, it may continue to leave sticky or scummy residue on hair, skin and dishes.
|Hard Water Treatment||Softener||Descaler|
|Uses salt or potassium chloride||Yes||No|
|Makes water softer?||Yes||No|
|Stops scale on pipes and fixtures?||Yes||Yes|
|Improves soap performance?||Yes||No|
|Leaves residue on skin & hair?||No||Yes|
|Leaves residue on dishes?||No||Yes|
What’s Water Filtration?
A water filter doesn’t treat water hardness like a softener. Instead, it removes chemicals and contaminants like pesticides, herbicides, chlorine and biological organisms. Some of these chemicals and organisms may be naturally occurring; others may come from pollution sources in your region.
Types of Water Filters
You’ll find several types of water filters on the market. Many of them perform well, but the best choice depends on your water quality and your home’s water system.
- Reverse osmosis: In this system, water is forced through a very fine membrane to filter out even the smallest of particles. It provides the cleanest, best-tasting water for drinking and cooking.
- UV filtration: Ultraviolet light removes microbial cells like bacteria and viruses from the water. It does not remove chemicals and contaminants such as chlorine or pesticides.
- Carbon filtration: Water passes through an activated carbon filter to remove harmful chemicals such as chlorine, chloramine, volatile organic compounds, agricultural chemicals and some minerals. It will also remove some microbial organisms.
How Does Softened Water Compare to Filtered Water?
Water softeners and water filters perform two different types of treatment. Soft water may still need to be filtered, whereas filtered water could still be hard water. Depending on your needs, you may only need a water filter or water softener — or in some cases, a combined water filter and softener.
|Water Softener||Calcium and magnesium||Soft water, no scale on plumbing fixtures, dishes etc. Does not remove any contaminants.|
|UV Filtered Water||Bacteria and viruses||Safe drinking water but may not improve taste|
|Carbon Filtered Water||Chemicals, sediment, minerals, bacterial organisms||Safe drinking water, may not improve taste|
|Reverse Osmosis Water||Dissolved solids, chemicals, minerals, some microbial organisms||Safe drinking water, improves taste|
Combined Water Softening and Water Filtration
For the most effective treatment of your water supply, consider a combined water softening and water filtration system. A combined water softening and filtration system will address typical water quality problems in Phoenix including hard water, high chlorine levels and poor taste.
With a combined water softener and water filter, you can provide filtered soft water for your entire home. With a whole-house system, all the water you consume will be treated and softened at the same time, all at once, no matter which faucet you use.
Get Healthier, Tastier Water at Home
Great tasting water right from your home’s faucets is possible with a combined water softener and water filter. With over two decades of experience serving the Phoenix area, our team at Clear Water Concepts can help you select the right water filter, water softener or combined system for your home. Contact us to get started!