Understanding the Differences Between Water Softeners and Water Filtration Systems
Both water softeners and water filtration systems can help to treat your water and overcome various issues. Both can help to improve the taste of your water, but other than that, they serve quite different purposes. To clear up any confusion, here is a full overview of water softeners and water filtration systems including what they do and how they work.
Water Softeners vs. Water Filtration Systems
Water softeners are designed to overcome issues with hard water, which is when the water has a high concentration of dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium. Hard water can be a serious problem as it results in large amounts of mineral deposits and limescale collecting inside and damaging or clogging your pipes and plumbing fixtures.
Water filtration systems can also remove some mineral deposits, but this isn’t their primary purpose. Instead, they work to filter out impurities and contaminants like metals and bacteria that can both make the water taste bad and potentially harm your health. Water filtration systems will make sure that your water is clean and safe to drink, whereas all water softeners do is remove minerals to prevent hard water issues.
Since both units serve different purposes, it isn’t uncommon for homes to have both a water softener and some type of filtration system. In fact, this is recommended if you live in an area with hard water as all of the mineral deposits from the hard water can interfere with the filtration system and cause it to have a much shorter lifespan.
How Does a Water Softener Work?
Water softeners work using a special ion exchange process. If you remember basic chemistry, you know that positively charged and negatively charged ions always attract one another. Hard water has lots of dissolved calcium and magnesium ions, which always carry a positive charge. Inside the water softener tank are thousands of tiny resin beads that are negatively charged.
Water flows into the top of the softener tank and then slowly filters through the resin beads. As the water moves down through the tank, the positively charged minerals get attracted and stick to the negatively charged beads. This results in the vast majority of the minerals being filtered out of the water before it flows out of the tank.
The only issue with this process is that there are only so many negative ions in the tank for the positive mineral particles to cling to. This means that the system can only work for so long before all of the negative ions are full. Once this occurs, the tank needs to be flushed or “recharged.” This is where the brine tank next to the softener tank comes in.
This brine tank is filled with salt pellets, which mix with water at the bottom of the tank to form a brine. The brine is made up of sodium ions, which are positively charged. Whenever the tank needs to be recharged, brine is drawn into the softener tank and then filters down through the resin beads.
Since positive ions repel other positive ions, the brine causes the resin beads to let go of the positively charged mineral particles. The minerals then settle to the bottom of the softener tank, which is flushed with fresh water so that all of the minerals go down the drain. This process does result in your water having a slightly higher sodium content, but the amount is still minimal and won’t affect how the water tastes or your health.
There are also salt-free water softeners that use potassium pellets instead of sodium. This type of unit works differently as it doesn’t actually remove the minerals from the hard water. Instead, the potassium causes the minerals to crystallize. This mostly prevents them from hardening and forming into limescale inside your pipes and plumbing fixtures. That being said, this type of unit can still result in mineral deposits forming if water is allowed to sit inside any appliance for a long time.
Salt-free water softeners are generally not as effective and are also typically more expensive than traditional water softeners. In addition, these units don’t technically soften the water since all of the minerals still remain albeit in a different form. Because the minerals remain, these types of water softeners won’t eliminate any bad tastes caused by hard water. As a result, they are mostly only used in areas where there are regulations that prevent the use of a salt softener. They may also be used if you’re concerned about the slightly higher sodium content caused by a traditional salt softener.
Types of Water Filtration Systems
The most common type of water filtration system is a reverse osmosis filter. These units are most commonly point-of-use, which means that they will filter impurities out of the water just before it flows out of your kitchen sink. These units can also be hooked up to your refrigerator so that its water and ice are also clean and free of impurities.
There are whole-house reverse osmosis systems, but these are fairly rare as they take up a huge amount of space, require lots of maintenance and waste quite a bit of water. They are also largely unneeded since there is really no reason to filter the water you use to shower and wash your clothes. The only real time a whole-house filtration system is necessary is if your home uses well water as this can often contain bacteria and other impurities or have a high concentration of iron and other metals. Well water with high concentrations of iron and metals can harm your dishwasher, washing machine and other plumbing appliances.
If your well water has lots of iron and other metals, there are filtration systems designed specifically to filter these metals out to both improve the taste of your water and prevent damage to your appliances. There are also other well water filtration systems that will not only filter out metals, but also the vast majority of chemicals, bacteria and other impurities.
How Reverse Osmosis Filtration Works
Reverse osmosis filters use a special semi-permeable membrane to trap around 95% of all impurities. This membrane has tons of tiny holes where the water can flow through it, but the holes are small enough so that the vast majority of other particles and impurities remain trapped on the other side of the membrane.
The membrane will also filter out most dissolved minerals to help soften your water, but as we stated before, they really aren’t designed for use in areas with hard water unless you also have a water softener. In this case, the water softener will filter out most minerals from the water as it flows into your house and before it goes out into the rest of your plumbing system. A point-of-use reverse osmosis filter is then used to filter out most other impurities so that the water that you drink and cook with is clean and free of anything that could make it taste bad.
Reverse osmosis filters are extremely effective, and the system is a passive process which means it uses no energy. These systems can filter out harmful metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, copper, and iron. They are also effective at removing bacteria, viruses, pesticides, chlorine, and fluorine.
If you need any type of water treatment in the Indianapolis area, Cooper’s Water is here to help. We install and service water softeners as well as reverse osmosis, well-water, and iron filtration systems. Our plumbers also work on water heaters, garbage disposals sump pumps, and hose bibs, and we can also help with backflow prevention and drain cleaning. Contact Cooper’s Water today for more information or if you have any questions.