Understanding the Difference Between a Water Softener and Water Conditioner

Searching for the best water treatment system for your home can be confusing. There are so many treatment systems available, and it can be hard to determine which type of system is best for your needs. A couple of the most common types of treatment systems are water softeners and water conditioners. So how do you know which to choose?

To make the right choice, knowing how each system functions and what contaminants are removed by each is essential. This article will discuss how each system works to help you better understand which system is best for your home.

What is Hard Water?

Hard water contains high levels of dissolved minerals, mainly calcium and magnesium. These minerals enter your water supply as it flows through the ground. They not only cause limescale to form on faucets and fixtures, but they can also build up inside your plumbing and appliances, which can lead to damaged and corroded plumbing and a reduced lifespan of your appliances.

Softening your water can help avoid these problems. While both water softeners and water conditioners provide fresh, clean water for your home, there are some differences. Let’s look at each type of system.

Water Softeners

A water softener is the most common way to deal with hard water. Water softeners use an ion exchange process to soften your water. In a nutshell, a water softener removes the dissolved minerals from water and replaces them with sodium ions.

Here’s the details. There are two tanks in a water softening system. The primary tank contains sodium ion coated resin beads, and the second tank contains a salty solution that regenerates the resin in the primary tank.

As water seeps through the ground, it picks up mineral ions that bind themselves to the water molecules. When the water enters the primary tank, the resin beads attract the mineral ions, pulling them from the water molecules and replacing them with sodium ions.

The system will occasionally regenerate to remove the build-up of minerals on the resin beads. When the system regenerates, the salty water from the second tank fills the resin tank. The water will remove the mineral ions from the beads and replace them with sodium ions. After the system regenerates, it will remove the remaining water from the system through a drain line.

Water Conditioners

Water conditioners remove contaminants such as lead, chloramines, chlorine, organic gasses, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from your water, but they do not use salt in their process. So how does a water conditioner work?

Some water conditioners remove substances from your water to give your water a better smell. Others alter the minerals in the water using a material known as TAC (template-assisted crystallization) media to soften your water.

The process of softening the water is called nucleation. When hard water flows over the TAC media, the minerals in the water react with the TAC media and form crystals. These crystals are about a nanometer in size, and after they form crystals, they return to the water flow. While not all of the minerals have turned into crystals, enough of them have to eliminate scale build-up.

The processing time for a water conditioner happens very quickly. Having a water conditioner won’t affect your flow rate or cause you to have to wait for conditioned water.

Which System is Best?

Both water softeners and water conditioners can help reduce hard water, but each system works differently and removes different types of minerals and contaminants from your water. We’ve summarized some of the main differences between each system.

Water Softener

  • Removes minerals from your hard water
  • There is a minor amount of sodium in softened water
  • The system needs electricity and a drain line
  • The system requires salt

Water Conditioner

  • Removes contaminants such as lead, chloramines, chlorine, organic gasses, and VOCs and can also improve the taste and smell of your water
  • The system is energy-efficient and doesn’t require a drainage line
  • No salt needed
  • Some systems alter minerals in hard water, eliminating scaling

An important thing to note is that some cities have laws regarding water softeners. The concern is the excess brine that is flushed through the drain line. Many wastewater facilities don’t treat the water for salt, so an excessive salt level in wastewater limits how it can be used.

Let Independent Water Services, Inc. Take the Guesswork Out of Your Water Treatment System Choice

Water softeners and water conditioners are both very effective in treating your water. If you need to remove scale from hard water, you’ll want to choose a water softener. However, if you have any more hazardous contaminants in your water, you may want to select a water conditioner. If you still aren’t sure what decision to make, there’s no need to stress. Let us help!

At Independent Water Services Inc., we’ve been providing drinking water solutions to customers throughout Yakima, Central Washington for almost four decades, and we’d love to help you. Our water experts eliminate the guesswork by performing a FREE water analysis to determine what’s in your water. Next, they will recommend the system that will work best for your home.

Don’t wait. Contact us today!