Water Filter Vs Softener: Which Product Is Right for Your Water?

Minerals end up in your water when rocks and sediments dissolve. While 30% of sediments come from natural erosion, the remaining 70% is the result of agriculture and other human activities. Depending on where you live, levels of minerals in your water can be excessive and require the use of a water softener or filtration system.

Let’s take a closer look at water filters and water softener systems to help you determine which product makes the most sense for your needs.

Water Softener Vs Water Filter

Water softeners and water filters are two common solutions for improving the quality of your well water or drinking water. Both systems can reduce the amount of calcium and magnesium in your water, but you should know water softener vs water filter is an important consideration.

How Do Water Softeners Work?

Water Softener
Typical water softener

Calcium and magnesium ions are problematic because they react with soap and detergent. These charged ions create a hard substance that isn’t soluble in water when they come in contact with soap and detergent. This hard substance forms scaly buildups and affects your plumbing system and appliances.

A water softener uses ion-exchange to prevent mineral deposits from forming in your plumbing system. Once water enters a water softener, it goes through a special resin that absorbs calcium and magnesium ions. As these ions saturate the resin, this material releases sodium or potassium ions.

Sodium and potassium ions don’t react with soap and detergent and won’t form scaly deposits in your plumbing system and appliances. The downside of using a water softener is that ion-exchange technology can increase the levels of sodium and potassium in your drinking water. Mineral levels shouldn’t exceed healthy levels, but using a water softener can be an issue if you have special dietary requirements.

How Do Water Filters Work?

Whole house water filter
Typical whole house water filter

Water filters are a broad category of products. You can find whole house filtration systems that you can install at a point of entry to filter impurities from all the water that goes through your plumbing system, or smaller systems that you can install under your sink to improve the quality of your drinking and cooking water.

You will find a wide range of filtration systems. Advanced water filters use multiple filtration stages to remove as many contaminants as possible from your water. You can also find inexpensive single-stage filtration systems that target sediments, heavy metals, and other large particles.


Here are a few examples of filtration methods:

  • Most water filters use screens, membranes, and other mechanical filtration methods to remove large particles.
  • Advanced filtration systems usually feature a chemical filtration media like carbon to absorb fine particles.
  • Some innovative products use features like UV lights to sterilize water.

While a water softener targets calcium and magnesium ions, a water filter removes a wider range of contaminants from your water.

You can use a water filter to eliminate the following contaminants:

  • Microorganisms like Giardia that cause waterborne illnesses
  • Excess fluoride
  • Lead, copper, and other heavy metal particles
  • Chlorine, chloramines, and other chemicals
  • Pesticides
  • Dirt, sand, and sediments

Not all water filters will remove all these common contaminants. The type of filtering media and the micron rating of the mechanical filtration elements will determine the kind of particles the filtration system can catch.

Hard water caused by calcium and magnesium ions is typically not addressed by water filters. However, removing large sediment particles contributes to reducing mineral levels in your water and can make a huge difference if you’re having issues with hard water.

Water filters require more maintenance compared to water softener systems. Depending on the water filtration system you choose, you will have to replace or clean the different filtration elements regularly.

Water Softener Vs Water Conditioner

Actiflo water conditioner
Activflo water conditioner

There is another type of product worth considering if you’re having issues with hard water. Water conditioners don’t remove calcium and magnesium ions from your water, but these products change the properties of your water and prevent mineral buildups from forming.

Water conditioners are electronic devices that use Template Assisted Crystallization. This technology causes calcium and magnesium ions to form crystals.

Once these ions are in crystal form, they won’t react with soap and detergent and won’t form hard deposits in your plumbing system and appliances. These crystals will go through your plumbing system without causing any issues.

A water conditioner is an alternative that you should consider if you’re concerned about a water softener increasing sodium or potassium levels in your water. It’s a product that can last longer since it uses an electronic process rather than a resin.

Why You Should Use a Water Softener and Filter

We recommend combining the different solutions discussed above to improve the quality of your water. If you rely on well water, there are steps you need to take to reduce your risks of being exposed to microorganisms and other contaminants. We recommend installing a multi-stage filtration system to remove as many potentially harmful particles as possible from your water.

A water filter can eliminate sediment particles, lead, copper, and other heavy metals, nitrate from fertilizers that seep into groundwater reserves, bacteria like Salmonella and Giardia, and even lower your risks of radon contamination.

Calcium and magnesium ions will be left over after water goes through your filtration system. You should install a water softener to replace these ions with sodium or potassium ions and prevent mineral buildups. It’s a simple investment that will prevent damage to your plumbing system and make your appliances last longer.

A water softener will address hard water, but it’s not sufficient for protecting you against the different contaminants that can end up in your water. A water softener or water conditioner will not neutralize microorganisms that cause waterborne illnesses and will not remove harmful particles from fertilizers, pesticides, industrial waste, and water runoffs.

You need to combine these two solutions because water filters typically don’t remove calcium and magnesium ions from your water. Combining both products reduces your risks of being exposed to contaminants while addressing the issues caused by hard water.

Tim Newman has been involved in water purification for over 20 years and loves everything about the topic of water purification. Along with his wife, Stephanie, they've owned and operated their highly successful water treatment business for several decades. They love bringing crystal clear and pure water to their customers, businesses, farms, homes, and ranches throughout Southern California.


Leave a Comment