Water softeners and water filters are fairly common in our area. Both of these systems treat the water that enters your home, but they do so differently. Homeowners choose these systems because they care about the quality of their water since water is essential for life. A water softener can take some of the minerals out of the water, which can reduce the problems associated with hard water. In comparison, a water filter is designed to remove various impurities and contaminants from water which can enhance its quality.

If you’re wondering whether you need both a water softener and a water filter, you’re not alone. Many people are unsure about what type of systems they need for their homes. Since we all get our water from different sources, it’s difficult to come up with a generic answer. It all depends on what your untreated water is like and what your preferences are. To help you make an informed choice concerning the type of system you need, it is fitting to compare how they operate.

The Problem of Hard Water

Some households contend with hard water. Hard water is water that has a high level of minerals. Minerals that are commonly found in hard water usually include calcium, magnesium and lime among others. Hard water can be perfectly safe for bathing and drinking, but it does cause several issues in the home.

First of all, the minerals can get left behind when the water evaporates. This means that your sinks, toilets, showers, and faucets can all be left with deposits in the form of a residue or a whitish film. This residue or film can make the fixtures in your kitchen and bathroom look less than ideal. These deposits can be hard to remove especially since more minerals are deposited on these fixtures every time you use water. You’ll may also notice that your dishes and glassware develop cloudy spots since you’re washing them with hard water.

Further, the deposits can build up on your pipes causing them to narrow. When your pipes narrow, your water pressure can be affected, and your drains can have trouble removing wastewater. In regards to your other appliances, such as a dishwasher, washing machine or coffee maker, their internal components can start to break down prematurely as a result of being in contact with hard water for an extended period of time.

In addition, some people find that hard water makes for an unpleasant experience. The minerals can make it harder for soap to dissolve, so you may have to scrub harder when bathing. Some people state that they can even feel the mineral deposits on their skin and in their hair.

How Water Softeners Work

A typical water softener uses salt, or sodium, to soften the water. It takes the water that enters the home and treats it so that the calcium and magnesium ions can be removed. The process starts with water running through a porous, resin-covered section that contains sodium. This area has molecules that can bind to the positive ions associated with the minerals that are naturally in the water. Those calcium and magnesium ions end up getting attracted to the resin causing them to stay put. To preserve the balance of electrical charge, sodium ions are released into the water.

To prepare to treat the next batch of water, a water softening system needs to periodically rinse itself out with saltwater. This lets the new sodium ions displace the calcium and magnesium ions in the resin, which are then flushed away. This entire process may take about an hour or two to complete, so most people reset their systems in the middle of the night when water usage is low. The next morning, these systems are ready to remove more minerals from the water.

If you don’t have particularly hard water, consider using a salt-free system. Salt-free systems use potassium instead of sodium. In reality, this type of system conditions the water rather than softening it. It works by crystallizing the minerals, and in doing so, it can prevent them from clinging to your pipes and other surfaces.

Water Filtration Systems

Water filters don’t address calcium, magnesium, or other minerals. Instead, they work to remove different kinds of contaminants from water making it healthier to use for bathing and drinking. These can include lead, copper, iron, chlorine, and sediments. There are two main kinds of filtration systems. One is mounted under the sink or on the countertop, and it filters the water that you’d use specifically for drinking. The other kind is a whole-home filtration system that reduces chlorine, sediments and other materials in the water at the point of entry.

There are a variety of mechanisms that enable a water filter to do its job. Many filters use activated carbon. They work on the basis of binding, which occurs when one material sticks to another material while passing through the system. Activated carbon can bind to many kinds of impurities to freshen the water.

There are also water filtration systems that use reverse osmosis. These types of filters can potentially remove bacteria, in addition to copper, nitrites, fluoride and other materials. This type of system will use a semi-permeable membrane. This membrane allows water to flow through the system and traps what you don’t want on the other side of the membrane.

Some other filtration systems use ultraviolet filters to kill bacteria and viruses, and others use mechanical filters to physically block particulates. Mechanical filters are usually used in conjunction with another method.

Do You Need Both a Water Softener and a Water Filter?

Now that you know how a water softener and a water filtration system operate, you can start to think about what you need at your place. If you have hard water, a softener will probably be very effective at addressing the minerals in the water. If you’re concerned about the quality of your drinking water, a water filter might make the most sense. Of course, you can have both systems installed if you’d like. They can complement each other to ensure you have high-quality water. If you do not want to purchase and contend with two separate systems, there are combination systems that you can choose.

Serving as a Local Resource

At Express Plumbing Heating & Air, we’d be happy to help you with a water softener and/or a water filter installation if you live in the Boise region. We’ve been serving this community since 2006, and we pride ourselves in providing top-notch customer service. We give our customers our personal attention and make sure they’re treated with respect. In addition to installing and repairing water softeners and filters, we offer a variety of plumbing services, including installations, repairs, and repiping. We have experience with water heaters, drains, water lines, septic systems, and garbage disposals, too. We also repair, maintain and install HVAC systems. Call us to schedule an appointment.

Brad Jordan

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