Water Conditioner Vs Water Softener: What’s the Difference? [In 2022]

A lot of people like to get a water conditioner or softener to make sure they are protecting themselves from the excessive presence of minerals in their water supply.

So, water conditioner vs water softener is a valid debate. In this article, we’ll tell you exactly what these appliances do, how to compare them and which one to get. Let’s go.

How Water Softeners Work

If you didn’t know it already, a water softener is a device that removes particles like magnesium and calcium from the water that are usually responsible for hard water. The softener makes use of the ion exchange process to do this.

Basically, it has a tank with a bed of resin that contains small beads that capture sodium ions. When you add hard water to this tank, the hard particles get attached to the beads and they get replaced with particles of sodium which don’t form scales or clusters in the pipes or any appliance that holds the water.

When the water softener’s tank is filled with hard water, they get regenerated. The softener also has a brine tank that contains saltwater. During regeneration, this saltwater washes the resin and removes the hard water particles while replacing them with sodium.

In any kind of softener, this process takes place once every two to 10 days depending on its size and the number of hard particles it encounters.

How Water Conditioners Work

Water conditioners, on the other hand, don’t actually remove the hard particles but just change the particle chemistry in the water for a specified period of time to make sure that there is no build-up from hard water. It conditions the water and hence the name.

Water conditioner is also sort of an umbrella term for different products that follow the same scientific principle, sometimes in different ways. Broadly speaking, there are five types of water conditioners.

  • Magnetic: Some conditioners use the principle of magnetism to alter the behavior of the hard ions in the water.


    Typically, these ions tend to form clusters and get attached to the surface of the appliance. But the magnetic field changes the cluster’s shape making it difficult for them to stick.

    There isn’t conclusive evidence that proves how effective this technique is, but the commercial appliances exist nevertheless.

  • Electromagnetic: The next type uses an electromagnetic field and functions, like the magnetic conditioners, but it has a few disadvantages. They are better than the first model because the electromagnetic signal can be turned off when required.
  • Electrolysis: In the third type, metal electrodes are put in the water and they release zinc ions with a positive charge. They also produce electrons that move towards the cathode via a wire until the anode made of zinc is dissolved. That’s when the process ends and the water stays unaffected because there is nothing to fix.
  • Crystallization: This is called template-assisted crystallization or TAC and these conditioners use resin beads, like the first type. The hard ions change into microscopic crystals so that the particles don’t get attached to the surface of the appliance. But it does so without using the ion exchange process, which means it skips the regeneration process.
  • Electrical Induction: And finally, these water conditioners use current to precipitate the hardness in the water which forms on the electrode. You will need to clean it from time to time to make sure there is no sludge on the electrode. It’s not difficult because you can do it with water that flows fast.

Water Softener vs Water Conditioner: Short Summary

There are quite a few ways to determine which one is best for you. But that decision needs to be made based on your requirements. Now that you know how they both work, let’s look at how they differ so that you can decide how to improve the water quality in your home or office.

Water Conditioner vs Water Softener: Quality of Water

The first point is about the water quality. If you pick a water softener, you should know that they don’t do a great job filtering tap water because their job is only to soften the water.

If you get a water conditioner, you can filter the water and also remove the impurities in it. But you won’t be able to remove hard water particles from it.

It’s a great choice to deal with contaminants like fluorine, chlorine, herbicides, pesticides and any other harmful chemicals that might sneak into your cooking or drinking water.

Even if these are not concerns, you must be wary of chlorine which is often added by municipalities because it’s a disinfectant.

If you want a system that purifies and softens water, you should go for a water refiner. It’s a bit more costly than both these systems, but it does bring you the best of both worlds.

Water Conditioner vs Water Softener: Pricing

Your second concern might be the price of each of these systems. There are a lot of manufacturers who sell these appliances for an unreasonably high price. So, you should be thorough in your research.

Not to worry. We’ll help you.

Typically, you will find that conditioners are cheaper than softeners. They usually cost less than $100 while softeners are a bit more than that. This difference in the pricing depends on the technology each manufacturer uses.

But you can make adjustments to what you want to get one of them within your budget. So, don’t be fooled by their use of fancy terms to get you to pay more.

Water Conditioner vs Water Softener: Maintenance

The third point of contention is maintaining these systems. There’s no point if you get something to make life easy but keeping it clean and working is a big task.

To start with, water conditioners are cheap because they only need a good deal of water pressure to work well. They work just fine with tap water, which is all you need to get rid of the impurities.

The popular models also don’t need electricity and don’t create waste that needs to be taken care of. This is automatically a water and energy bill saver.

All you need to do is change their filters, but even that’s usually on an annual basis unless you’re using them more often than you should. Conditioners are also small in size, which makes it easy to find a spot for them.

Softeners, on the other hand, go through the ion exchange process which needs electricity. They also have a brine tank (which is essentially salt water) to maintain sodium ions. These tanks have cartridges that need to be replaced from time to time. It takes about $200 every year to keep them running and in shape.

They also use a lot of water while softening the water which will add to your water bill. Softeners also create a lot of wastewater which is not great for the overall water quality in your region. This is just one of the reasons why some places in California have banned softeners that use saltwater.

Why You Should Soften Your Water

To understand this, you must know what hard water is and what kind of problems it causes. That’s how you find a solution, right? So, if water has a lot of dissolved minerals, it is called hard water.

More often than not, it’s magnesium and calcium which the water has collected while it’s been moving underground. Apart from moving to another area, there isn’t much you can do about the type of water you get. But what you can do is soften or condition the water so that you don’t have problems at home or anywhere else.

What kind of problems? We’ll tell you.

The first problem with hard water is that it forms deposits called scaling in any place that has been exposed to it for a period of time. Take a close look at the fixtures in your kitchen and bathroom and if you see mineral deposits in some shade of white, you are probably receiving hard water.

Rest assured that this build-up is all over your plumbing and possibly the walls too. This can be a problem for appliances like water heaters and dishwashers because it eats into their lifespan.

Some households also like to install these systems for their tap water because they don’t want to bathe with hard water. That’s because hard water is not the best thing for your skin or hair. Your hair tends to become more brittle and loses its shine and even volume while the skin gets drier and drier.

Which One Should You Get?

The answer is a simple one and yet, not quite. That is because both these systems have a specific purpose and there are advantages and disadvantages to them both. If you don’t have a specific problem you are trying to solve, you should go for a softener because these are typically more effective.

And if you look closely, some water softeners come with features that get rid of hard particles from your appliances too. And since hard water doesn’t create a lot of lather, you will end up using a lot more detergent and soap without a softener.

And if your concern is specifically about contaminants in drinking water, you can always get a filter which will take care of the water coming from the softener. The softener will remove minerals like magnesium and calcium while the filter will remove chlorine, iron and sodium.

But here’s advice that might help. You don’t want to get both systems because the installation is tricky. Conditioning the water before softening it messes with the ion exchange process. And softening the water before conditioning it will make the water soft but the conditioner won’t have much to do.

Water Conditioner vs Water Softener: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What Is Better: A Water Softener or Conditioner?

A: As mentioned above, a softener is a better choice because you will get soft water. And if you want impurities removed, you can always get a regular filter that will take care of the rest.

Q: Can I Install a Water Softener Myself?

A: You can do this if you are good with DIY projects, have a basic understanding of the plumbing that you are about to handle and don’t want to spare cash for a plumber.

You need to male sure that you have all the tools before you start because you won’t really have time to stop in the middle. The process can involve making modifications to your main water supply which means cutting and realigning pipes. Do this yourself only if you are sure.

Q: Is Soft Water Bad for Water Heaters?

A: Water heaters have anodes that can be eroded sooner when they are exposed to soft water which contains sodium. That’s not good for your heater.

Q: What Is Better to Drink Soft or Hard Water?

A: As you now know, hard water contains minerals like magnesium and calcium in levels that are not good for you. But it doesn’t make it dangerous or even unhealthy to drink.

In fact, this is a myth and both hard and soft water is okay to drink. But it might be worth it to check the levels of these minerals to make sure you are not in any medical trouble.

Q: What Is the Life Expectancy of a Water Softener?

A: This mostly depends on how you use it. This includes factors like the quality of the softener, your maintenance track record and usage on a daily basis. But you can expect it to be working just fine for 10 to 15 years on an average.

Conclusion & Summary

Water softeners and conditioners both have an excellent role in keeping you safe in terms of the water you consume. Which one is best for you depends on the problem you are trying to solve. Sometimes, budget is also a concern.

The bottom line is, if you want to turn hard water into soft water, you want to get a water softener. And if you want to remove impurities, you want to get a water conditioner. You should not get both.

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