Water Softener vs water filter which do you need

Water Softener vs. Water Filter: Which Do You Need?

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Although your water may look safe, it may contain harmful contaminants such as heavy metals and pollutants. Fortunately, there are many ways to treat water to remove impurities. In this article, we will discuss the difference between water softeners and water filters.

Before jumping into the differences, let’s quickly review why water requires treatment.

What is in Water, and Why does it need to be Treated?

Water sourced from the ground, wells, or the city can contain minerals like calcium (Ca2+) and magnesium (Mg2+). The high concentrations of these heavy metals can turn your water into “hard water.” If left untreated, hard water can cause problems such as limescale buildup in plumbing fixtures, damage to appliances, and skin problems. Hard water makes it difficult also to lather soap and wear out clothes faster.

Identifying whether water is soft or hard depends on the density of minerals present in your water. The hardness of water can be expressed as grains of hardness per gallon of water (gpg) or milligrams of hardness per liter of water (mg/L). Water is considered “hard” when it has minerals greater than 7 mg/L or above 120 gpg.

water filter system

Water Softener vs. Water Filter: What is the Difference?


What is a Water Softener, and How Does it Work?

water softenerA water softener, also called a whole house filtration system, is a device that removes the hardness of water through ion exchange, thus making it soft. Ion exchange is the process of exchanging the positive charge ions, calcium and magnesium, into salt or sodium ions (negative charge) to make the water soft. When the hard water passes through a tank of salt, it weakens the heavy metals until they are removed. 

Water softeners are classified into two types: point-of-entry and point-of-use systems. In the point-of-entry system, the incoming water supply is replaced with softened water. The point-of-use system, on the other hand, treat water before it enters the home through a faucet or showerhead, typically in a single plumbing fixture.

What is a Water Filter, and How Does it Work?

Water filters act as a physical barrier or a sieve that removes impurities and large debris such as leaves, twigs, sand, and sediments. It involves purifying the water to remove dissolved solids, chemicals, parasites, and pathogens like bacteria and viruses. When water is purified, water becomes safe for drinking, cooking, and showering. 

The size of the gaps in the filter barrier or membrane will generally determine the speed of the water flow. A fine filter with the smallest gaps will result in a slower flow of water. A clogged filter will also slow the water flow.

5 Water Treatment Options:

1) Ultraviolet (UV) Light Water Filtration Systems

water filter system

UV Light Water Filtration Systems use ultraviolet light, mimicking the natural waves of the sun, to treat water. UV light is effective in disrupting the DNA of harmful pathogens, effectively killing microorganisms. 

These filtration systems come in many different types and sizes. For example, a UV light whole house water filtration system can improve the water quality for the kitchen, bathroom, and wherever else it is needed in the home. However, in recent years, smaller UV light filters have been used in sterilizing pens as well as in water bottles.

These filtration systems rely on electricity or a charged battery for them to be effective. So, they may not be the best choice in a prolonged emergency. Additionally, the bulbs will have to be replaced yearly, and this expense can add up over time.

They are also less effective in cloudy or brownish water. This is because UV light filters are water treatment systems rather than a “pure” water filters. The water should be prefiltered for sediments with filter devices before treating it with UV light. Despite some of these cons, UV light water filters are some of the most effective filtration systems.

Related Article: Pros and Cons of UV Light Water Filter

2) Gravity Water Filter

A gravity water filter uses the force of gravity to separate contaminants from the water. Gravity filters come in a variety of styles, including ceramic, stainless steel, and gravity bag water filters. In this process, water passes through micro-pore filters, which are effective at removing solid particles and killing microorganisms.

The filtration process can take some time because it takes time for the water to go through the pores of the filter. Also, not all filters remove toxins or dissolved metals, and it requires a specialized filter that can remove these contaminants from the water. We do not recommend this method for water with highly dissolved liquids.

One major benefit of this filtration method is that it does not rely on electricity. However, its filters and tanks should be cleaned quarterly, and the filters should be replaced annually.

Related Article: 6 Best Ceramic Water Filtration Systems

Related Article: Pros and Cons of Ceramic Water Filters

Related Article: DIY Guide: How to Make Ceramic Water Filters

3) Reverse Osmosis Filter

A reverse osmosis system works by using a high-pressure pump to increase pressure forcing water to pass through a membrane. This method is effective in removing pathogens and disease-causing bacteria such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium. It also removes any chlorine in your water and improves the taste and odor of your water. 

These water filters may need a remineralized because water is demineralized after the removal of essential minerals during the process. It is also best if water is already prefiltered from large particles to avoid clog issues due to its small membranes and slow filtration. 

4) Solar Purification 

Solar purification is the process of treating water using the energy directed from sunlight. There are several different ways of using the power of the sun to purify water.

  1. Solar-Powered Water Treatment Device: These are rechargeable battery-powered devices and are ideal for hikers and people making overnight trips. They can charge through direct exposure to the sun.
  2. Solar Energy Redirected to Heat Water: Reflection panels can be used to redirect sunlight to heat the water and remove bacterial contamination.
  3. Solar Energy to Heat Containers: Water can be left in a container and exposed to direct sunlight in order for it to be treated. This method is the longest method but can be used as a last resort when other options have been exhausted.

Related Article: How to Purify water using Solar Energy

5) Quantum Filtration System

Quantum disinfection involves nano-composite materials with activated surfaces that kill pathogens in water, such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. It is a relatively new treatment system for water and is a proven method of removing bacteria from water, offering a chemical-free alternative. 

The system makes use of a series of beads, and each has a small catalytic site on the surface. Electrons are drawn from bacteria to the catalytic sites as water passes over the surface of the beads. This water disinfection method requires no electricity, chemicals, or maintenance. In addition, quantum disinfection is less expensive than UV treatment. 

Related Article: What is a Quantum Disinfection Water Filter and How Does it Work?

People Also Ask

Which is Better, Water Softener or Water Filter?

Choosing between a water softener and a water filter depends on the state of your water. Use a water filter if your water supply has an undesirable taste, appearance, or odor and you want it to be safe for drinking. Meanwhile, use a water softener if you observe limescale deposits in your pipes and fixtures or if your skin feels dry after rinsing with water. 


Water filters remove impurities, large debris, and chemicals in your water. It involves purifying the water to make it safe for potable use. Water softener only focuses on removing the high content of calcium, magnesium, and other metal ions that causes problems caused by hard water.


Simply saying, water filters purify water but do not remove the mineral ions like calcium and magnesium that causes the hardness of the water. Meanwhile, water softener focuses on removing the hardness of water and not purifying the water. Both systems are used for treating water, but they solve different water issues/problems.

Can a Water Filter make Hard Water Soft?

Water filters do not make hard water soft. This is one of the misconceptions between the two systems. Some people would install a water filter with the expectation that it will also treat the hardness of the water. And some would think having water softener will also purify their water supply. 


These two systems serve different purposes, but both can be installed in your home. You can install a water softener to lower the concentration of calcium and magnesium in your water. The softened water can then undergo a water filter to remove the chemicals, impurities, and microorganisms, thus making it safe for drinking. 

water filtration systems


All in all, a water softener and a water filter are two separate systems. A water softener is typically an in-home system that is used to remove sediments. In the case of a water filtration system, these devices are used to remove chemicals, odors, toxins, bacteria, and heavy metals from untreated water. Although you can have one without the other, for the best results and making the safest drinking water, it is ideal to have your water go through both a water softener and a water filter.

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