Difference Between Water Filter & Softener Explained


In Brief: Difference Between Water Filter & Softener

There are many differences between water filters and water softeners. Water softeners use the ion exchange process, while water filters use multiple systems like physical filtration, biological filtration, and chemical filtration. Water filters are used to treat impurities in water, and water softeners are used to remove hardness from water.

Water filters and water softeners are both used to treat water.

Water filters help in removing all kinds of contaminants and impurities from water, depending on the type of filtration mechanism it uses and the type of filter it is.

The water filter, on the other hand, is used to treat hard water specifically.

What is the difference between the two, and can they be used interchangeably?

This article aims to help you understand the difference between these two water treatment systems and their applications.

Difference Between a Water Filter and Water Softener

If you already know what water filter and water softener are, jump right into the differences here, else read through the next sections and come back to this in the end.

Both water softeners and water filters are used to treat water. Both these types of treatment may also positively affect the taste, smell, and quality of water.

However, they are very different types of treatment.

Let us take a look at some of the key differences between these two systems of water treatment –

Parameter Water filterWater softener
Purpose Water filters are used to remove all kinds of contaminants and impurities from water whether chemical, biological, or physical. Water softeners are used to remove minerals from water that causes hardness and scaling. Mostly, it is used to remove calcium and magnesium.
Technology usedWater filters use various types of technologies depending on the type of contaminant they target. Some of these include reverse osmosis, carbon filtration, micro-filtration, etc Water softeners use the process of ion exchange.

Maintenance needsTheir maintenance needs may differ from one type of filter to another. Some filters require more maintenance while others do not require any maintenance. Water softeners require regular maintenance. Their resin beads require periodic regeneration.
Installation Water filter installation depends on the type of filters. Some filters can just be put over the counter and used without needing any plumbing while others may need plumbing. Water softeners almost always require plumbing to be installed.
When to use Water filters should be used when you sense contamination or presence of impurities, or when it gives off a bad smell of taste. Water softeners should be used when you spot mineral scaling on your utensils and appliances. These are signs of hard water.

What is a Water Softener & Working

Water softeners refer to filtration systems that are used to remove hardness from water.

Water hardness is characterized by the presence of calcium and magnesium ions in water, which can lead to various problems like damaging the plumbing lines, development of limescale on your appliances, as well as utensils.

A water softener helps in tackling hard water by treating water with a process known as ion exchange. It does so by replacing all these ions with sodium ions.

The water flows through a bed of resin beads that have been charged with sodium ions and allow for the other ions to be replaced by this since sodium has a weak charge.

A water softener usually has three components to it – the mineral tank where the resin beads sit, the control valve which controls the passage of water through the tank, and the brine tank which helps in the regeneration of the water softening system.

They are primarily used to remove calcium and magnesium ions from water, factors that cause hardness in water.

They can also remove minerals like iron and manganese or any positively charged ion present in water.

There are two types of water softeners- salt-based softeners, and salt-free water softeners. Salt-based softeners use the ion exchange process.

It uses sodium, potassium, and sometimes hydrogen to replace the calcium and magnesium ions from water.

Salt-based softeners come in single tank systems or multi-tank systems.

Single tank systems need to go through the regeneration cycle every once in a while and may need some downtime for that.

In a multi-tank system, however, when one tank is undergoing the regeneration cycle, the other tank can be used to soften water.

Salt-free softeners, on the other hand, do not use chemicals. They instead restructure molecules thereby prevent any scaling or mineral build-up.

One of the major benefits of the salt-free softening system is that it doesn’t introduce chemicals in the water.

Additionally, they are also easy to maintain as they do not require regeneration downtime. It also prevents the wastage of water.

What is a Water Filter & Working

Water filters are systems or appliances that are used to remove any type of contamination or impurity from water.

The increasing intensity of water pollution has made water filters a must-have for everyone.

Water can contain many contaminants introduced into it through different means like agricultural runoff, industrial runoffs, treatment chemicals, or even biological contaminations.

The presence of contamination and impurities in your water can lead to severe health risks including but not limited to typhoid, cholera, etc.

Moreover, the contamination of water with heavy metals can cause severe birth defects in infants, and people consuming it.

The use of a water filter assists in the removal of such impurities and toxins, making it safe for consumption.

There are many different types of water filters available that function in different ways, and also sometimes target specific contaminants depending upon the water you are using.

Some of the most famous ones are filters that use chemical and physical filtration techniques.

Physical filtration usually uses a membrane with different pore sizes to filter out any contaminants and particles present in water.

Chemical filtration, on the other hand, relies on chemical reactions where water is passed through an active material like activated carbon which binds the other impurities in water and prevents it from passing through.

Water filters are effective in removing a range of contaminants from water, but it depends on the type of filter you have.

Some filters are equipped to remove physical contaminants like sediment and dirt particles from water, while others are effective against biological contaminants like bacteria and cysts.

There are yet others that can remove chemical contaminants like chlorine, and other toxic materials from water.

The water filters available in the market can be divided into different types depending upon various parameters like size, filtration technology, target contaminants, etc. some of the most commonly used water filters include reverse osmosis systems, carbon filters, countertop filters, UV filters, and mechanical filters.

Depending upon their types they can be divided into countertop filters, under sink filters, water filter pitchers, and whole house water filters, etc.


Can I water plants with softened water?

Water that has been through a salt-based water softener will contain a high amount of salt. Usually, it is not recommended that you water your plants with salty water. Not only will this damage the plant, but the salt can infiltrate the soil making it difficult for plants to grow.

Can a water softener filter water?

Water softeners are used to remove calcium and magnesium molecules from water. They may also be able to remove iron and manganese, but if your water has other contaminants, the water softener will not be able to remove them. If your water is contaminated with physical, biological, or chemical contaminants, you should get a water filter.

Can water filters soften hard water?

While some filters with advanced technology like reverse osmosis may be able to remove calcium and magnesium from water, water filters cannot be trusted to soften water efficiently. Other water filters that allow physical filtration or biological filtration will not be able to remove calcium and magnesium ions, and therefore, will not soften hard water.

Do I need a water softener even if I have a whole house filtration system in place?

Whole house water filtration systems allow for the water to be safe for consumption, but does not remove water hardness sufficiently. It is therefore recommended that if you struggle with both hard water and impurities, you get a water softener and a water filter.


Though they may seem overly similar, there are many differences between water filters and water softeners.

The primary of it is that they both target different types of contaminants in water, and treat it differently as well.

We hope that this article helps you understanding the difference between these two treatments, and making the right choice for the treatment of water at your home.

About Jennifer Moore

I'm Jennifer and I am a hardcore car racing lover. I have been writing on automotive topics for more than 8 years now, specializing in performance enhancement. My passion is to help people find the best of what they are looking for, be it an engine or a set of tires. If you want to know something about cars and how they work, just ask me!