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What's the difference between a water softener and a whole house water filtration system?

Dec 2nd 2019

Types of Water Filtration Systems

A water softener is a whole house filtration system that removes the minerals causing hard water and scaling. A whole house water filtration system can filter and remove numerous contaminants throughout an entire home. While water softeners are considered whole home filtration devices, water filtration systems include more than just water softeners. Softening systems are the best and most efficient solution for hard water.

The purpose of a water softener is to prevent the build-up of limescale in piping, and protect water-using appliances from premature replacement. This is achieved by removing the calcium and magnesium hardness ions through the process of ion exchange, with a salt-based water softening system. Water softeners are point of entry systems, meaning they connect to the main line and soften all the water in your home.

Water softening systems do filter water. However, what is removed are hardness minerals, and some forms of iron. Softeners are not designed to filter heavy metals, chlorine, fluoride, lead, and other chemicals or bacteria. If you are concerned about impurities like mercury, pesticides and other contaminants, a whole house water filtration system is the right choice.

Depending on the filtration system you choose, a wide variety of purification technologies may be used to treat contaminants in your water. Identifying the contaminants that you wish to remove is the first step in selecting the right filtration system. Excessive chlorine is often noticeable due to its smell, and hardness minerals are spotted by their characteristic staining on sinks and glasses. But many dangerous contaminants that may be present in your water are not nearly as easy to identify, as they can’t always be seen, smelled, or tasted.

What’s Coming From the Tap?

For a water softener or other whole house filtration system to work efficiently, it’s vital to know the mineral composition and concentrations of any contaminants lurking in your water. If your water is derived from a private water source, such as a well, you’ll need to have your water tested by a professional. If your tap water comes from a city supply, your water has already been tested for you. Every utility in the U.S. is required to provide an annual quality report listing all contaminants found in your city’s water during the previous year.

These reports, called CCRs, or Consumer Confidence Reports, provide information on your local drinking water quality. The reports may be mailed to you, or found online. Unlike public water systems, private wells are not regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) so there is no requirement for an annual water quality report. This makes it imperative for homeowners with private wells to do their own testing each year. Water quality can, and does change; don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because your water quality may have been excellent in years past.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets safe drinking water standards for municipal water supplies. These standards limit the amounts of specific contaminants allowed in your water, to ensure that tap water is safe to drink for most people. The question is whether you trust that the water from your kitchen tap is clean enough for your family, based on the guidelines set by the EPA. Drinking city water doesn’t guarantee that it’s healthful water—just that it’s good enough, and won’t make you sick.

Unfortunately, just because your water has been cleaned and sanitized, doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of junk in it you may not want your family to consume. Much of the tap water in the U.S. contains bacteria, lead, chlorine, prescription drugs, and hormones. Overall, your E.P.A. regulated tap water will be free of infectious microorganisms and safe enough to drink. If you’re uncomfortable with what you see on your CCR you may want to consider a whole house filtration system to eliminate other contaminants that can adversely affect your health.

Water Softener or Water Filter?

The improvements a water filtration system can make to your water quality are not limited to simply removing contaminants. It’s widely known that drinking plenty of water helps with the body’s ability to perform, but it also helps with skin hydration. With fewer harsh chemicals in the water you drink, your body processes water more efficiently and keeps it better hydrated. Aside from the health benefits of drinking filtered water, filtering shower water softens it and leaves your skin with more moisture than by using regular tap water.

Educating yourself about what’s in your water will help you find the appropriate method of removing what doesn’t belong. Water softeners and water filtration systems focus on different contaminant issues, so deciding on which one to use should depend on what’s in your water. If your household struggles with hard water as well as other impurities, the solution is a combination of both a water softening system, and a whole home water filtration system.

Your water conditions are specific to your home and the area you live in; the best water filtration system is one customized to filter and clean all the water running through your home. Removing toxins from your water makes it perform, taste, and smell better. Combining various water filtration solutions can lead to better water quality overall in your home. If you’ve decided to implement a whole house water filtration system, there’s really no downside. Improving your home’s water will benefit your appliances, your home, and the health of your family.