When your home is supplied with hard water, this mineralized tap water can lead to problems not only for your laundry but also for your pipes and other appliances. Several treatment methods have been developed over the years to reduce or eliminate water hardness, but the two most popular solutions are water softeners and water conditioners.
While these appliances deliver similar results, they go about the process of treating hard water in very different ways—each of which offers its own benefits and risks. If you’re looking for ways to reduce or eliminate the hardness of your water, you may be looking at both water conditioners and water softeners, and trying to determine which solution is best for your water needs.
To help you make this decision, here’s an overview of how these water treatment systems work, and what to consider when choosing which solution to install.
Water Softener vs. Water Conditioner: What’s the Difference?
Both appliances provide the crucial function of reducing or eliminating the damage of hard water on your laundry and other aspects of your home. How these solutions deliver this service, though, varies in important ways.
The big differences between these two treatment systems include the following:
- Water conditioners neutralize—but don’t remove—minerals in your water. While water softeners use salt to strip mineral content out of the water, conditioners use ionic bonds to neutralize minerals and prevent them from causing reactions that lead to discoloration and other issues with your laundry.
- Water softeners can remove the scale that builds up in your pipes. While a water conditioner will prevent mineral scale from developing on pipes and on other surfaces, it won’t actively eliminate this scale over time. A water softener can help you combat existing scales and gradually clean out your pipes.
- Water conditioners can remove other water contaminants besides minerals. If your water contains biological contaminants such as bacteria and algae, a water conditioner can help address these contaminants. A water softener is not an effective treatment for biological contaminants.
- Water softeners remove minerals that are healthy to consume. Calcium, magnesium, and silica are common minerals found in hard water that also offer health benefits when consumed in the same amounts. Water softeners deprive tap water of these added health benefits.
Do Water Conditioners Work?
If you’re unfamiliar with water conditioners, you may be skeptical about the benefits conditioning can offer over water softening. The good news is that, for many people looking to improve the quality of their tap water, conditioning can be a great solution that neutralizes the consequences of hard water while preserving some of its benefits.
That said, the effectiveness of water conditioning is all dependent on your goals. If you want to remove scale from your in-home plumbing, for example, you likely won’t be satisfied by using (water conditioning as your water treatment system).
Regardless of whether you ultimately choose a water softener or a water conditioner, your satisfaction with this treatment system will ultimately depend on your ability to choose the option that offers the best fit for your treatment needs.
Is An Electronic Water Softener a Worthwhile Option?
As you shop around comparing water softener options, you may notice products advertised as electronic water softeners. Instead of cutting into the water line and adding salt, electronic water softeners claim to soften water by using an electromagnetic field to neutralize minerals as they pass through a pipe.
These water softeners treat the water through coils wrapped about the water piping leading into your home. By neutralizing instead of removing minerals, these softeners actually function more like water conditioners, although they differ from conditioners by claiming to descale pipes over time. As a relatively new product on the market, the actual performance of these electronic solutions may vary from advertisements.
If you’re interested in this water softening solution, consult a professional water treatment company to get their recommendation.
One Rule of Thumb When Choosing Between Softening and Conditioning
If you’re struggling to choose the best treatment option for the water entering your home, one measurement to consider is the hardness of your tap water. The harder your tap water is, the more difficult it may be for a water conditioner to keep up with your conditioning needs.
Higher concentrations of minerals in your water will require larger water softening tank to effectively remove these minerals, but you can easily fit your water softener to whatever mineral levels you’re facing. Water conditioners may struggle with a similar workload: for hardness levels between 25 and 50 grains per gallon, for example, you may need to invest in an expensive commercial conditioner to keep up with demand.
If you’re struggling to choose between a water softener and a water conditioner, or you’re interested in discussing the pros and cons of each option, visit with a water treatment specialist today. Once the specialist is able to assess your water hardness situation, they can help connect you to a treatment system that will meet your water quality demands.