Water filters and water softeners each have their own place among water purification, but not always in your kitchen sink. It’s a common misconception that they’re the same thing, and that’s simply not the case. Sure, they both act to block certain things from getting into the water we drink and cook with, but what are they actually doing that makes them different peas in different pods?
Hard Water vs. Contaminated Water
It’s important to first understand what hard water is and what contaminated water is. The difference in the two is what makes water softeners and filters different from one another.
Hard water is chock full of minerals. These minerals are mainly calcium and magnesium in the form of carbonates—which aren’t harmful to humans—but can be quite harsh on plumbing fixtures, pipes, and hot water heaters.
Contaminated water is water that has been invaded by unwanted chemicals. It’ll still have calcium and magnesium in it, making it hard water, but it will also suffer the negative side effects of chemicals picked up along the way from the source to your faucet. City water has a lot of chlorine and chloramines, which have good and bad effects. Good—they kill off other bacteria. Bad—they’re designed to kill living things, and we are living things.
Softeners vs. Filters
Filters actively clean contaminated water. This means that it traps and collects harmful bacteria, leaving purer water that you inevitably will drink. They use a number of different filtering systems to detain the bacteria as the water pushed through the filter and to the tap. Filters can come with different purposes: some are designed to work best with city water and others work best with well water. This is because different sources come with different kinds of bacteria.
Softeners use salt and ion exchange resins to remove the calcium and magnesium carbonates from the water, but often introduce more salt. Thankfully, you can find salt-free water softener alternatives if you’re not very keen on having the extra salt in your water. Water softeners are not designed to get rid of any harmful chemicals or bacteria. If you’re getting water from an already clean source, you may only need to invest in a water softener.
Which is Best?
Water softeners are great water purifiers that protect your home from the nasty effects of water buildup. That being said, they don’t do much in lieu of removing harmful bacteria. It all comes down to your water source: if your water is naturally full of bad bacteria and has other water problems like chlorination or iron staining, you should invest in a whole house water filter. Here’s a great graph that shows common water problems are their correlating health effects and recommended solutions. If you could pick and choose, you may consider getting a whole house water softener to keep the plumbing in tip-top shape and installing water filters wherever drinking water will be coming from. Under the sink water filters are great choices for kitchen and bathroom sinks. You can always find some set-ups that can do both, and that’s probably the best option.