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Water Filter vs. Water Softener: What are the Differences?

by Jennifer Bellini

Marketing expert, Business guru

> 2 min read


Depending on where you live, you may be considering an additional processing system for your water supply. There are various concerns that prompt people to invest in a water filtration system or a water softener. 

Some of these issues include foul-smelling or bad-tasting water, build-up of residue on home appliances, dry, itchy skin or hair, and damage to water pipes or faucets. But does a water softener or a water filtration system offer the most benefits? To decide, you need to know more about the key differences between these two methods. 



What is Hard Water?

It’s essential to understand what hard water is and know if you have it in your home. Hard water contains a high concentration of the minerals magnesium and calcium.

Your home tap water already undergoes processing to make it safe for human use and consumption. Your utility company or municipality does this first level of processing. However, this type of standard filtration is a minimal process and does not remove magnesium or calcium from the water that comes out of your faucets. It also doesn’t remove some potentially dangerous chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. 

Many people choose to invest in a water processing system to address these issues and ensure the water from their faucets is safe for their home and appliances and safe for their families.

How Do I Know if My Home Has Hard Water?

You might be wondering how you can establish whether you have hard water which may be causing various issues in your house. Here are a few telltale signs to look for that are caused by the build-up of hard water in your home:

Soap scum and watermarks

Do you notice that it’s hard to avoid water spots on your dishes, especially your glassware? Do you also notice that watermarks and soap scum buildup on shower doors and bathtubs? All these are signs that you have hard water in your home. You may also notice a residue with a slight film after washing your hands.

Needing to use a lot of detergent and soap

In homes with hard water, detergents and soaps react chemically with the magnesium and calcium in the water supply. If you notice you need to use a lot of soap or detergent to get things clean, hard water may be the culprit. 

Not only can it cause watermarks, but it also means you don’t achieve the same levels of lather for washing as you would with softer water. This issue can become expensive over time.

Clogged pipes and heating systems

Mineral deposits are formed when the calcium and magnesium in hard water are heated up. For your home, this means pipes can clog from the buildup of these deposits. It can also damage your heating systems, reduce their lifespan, and decrease your water heater’s efficiency. Again, this means higher utility costs for you over time. 

To make the choice between water filters vs. water softeners, compare the differences between the two:

Water Softeners

Water softeners work by removing the minerals magnesium and calcium, which cause hard water, from your water supply. They use salt to change the properties of your water. A high concentration of sodium ions displaces the calcium and magnesium ions on the resin, and the salt water flushes these ions down the drain, resuming normal function. 

The water softening process improves the efficiency of your household appliances by reducing the level of scale and buildup on your pipes, heating elements, and faucets so water can flow freely. 

Soft water enables you to spend less on detergent and reduce pesky watermarks off your glassware and shower door. Another benefit is that softer water is known to be less irritating to skin and hair. 

Water Filtration Systems

By contrast, water filtration systems work by removing contaminants for cleaner, better-tasting water. There are also several options when it comes to water filtration. You can have a whole-home filtration system installed or use a drinking water filtration system, depending on your needs.

Where water softeners target the minerals within your water directly to reduce issues such as build-up, water filters remove a range of other contaminants. Some of the contaminants that filtration systems remove include pesticides, hormones, chlorine, and metals such as copper, iron, chromium, arsenic, and lead. They also remove PFOA and PFOS (Perfluorooctanoic Acid and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate).

A whole-home water filtration system is designed to reduce the levels of these contaminants and sediments throughout your entire home. It also addresses any water flow or quality issues you may have. Whole-home systems also neutralize the acidity of your water, which prevents corrosion in your appliances as well as your pipes. 

A drinking water filtration system works on the drinking water in your home by removing contaminants. Several filters of this type use a multi-stage filtration system, removing contaminants and sediments in two separate steps.

There are a few options with these types of filter systems. You can get a countertop system or one that is fitted underneath your sink, depending on the space you have available as well as your filtration needs.

There is also a method known as RO, or reverse-osmosis water filtration, an in-depth and comprehensive filtration process with several stages. This type of filtration works by using a semi-permeable membrane to remove dissolved solids and other unwanted substances from water.

Which System is Right for Me?

So when it comes to water filter vs. water softener, which one suits your needs the most? When you realize how hard water is affecting your home, you can decide if a water softener or water filtration system is the better option for you.  

If you notice water marks, soap scum build-up, you have clogged pipes, or are experiencing dry skin; a water softener may be the most suitable choice. However, if you have concerns regarding chemical contaminants in your water, become aware of a foul smell, or a bad taste in your supply, then it’s time to consider a water filtration system to improve the quality of your tap water.

Jennifer Bellini

About the Author

Jennifer Bellini is a business guru who’s spent most of her life working in her home state of Wisconsin where she still lives with her family. Her experience lends itself best to sussing out the unique problems a business may face with their water quality. She is also our lead market analyst and is the driving force behind site growth.