Water Conditioner vs Water Softener – What Is The Difference Between Them?

Last Updated on December 14, 2022 by Mattias

We need water daily to carry out diverse activities, including cooking, bathing, etc. However, using hard water for these activities would do us more harm than good. 

Hard water contains minerals like silica, magnesium, calcium, etc., which can cause blockage and damage to your plumbing and household appliances like fixtures, and pipes and loss of color in clothes when used for washing. 

Other effects of hard water include dryness of your skin and hair when used for bathing and wastage of soap as it hardly forms lather when used.

So to avoid this, you must treat or filter your water to soft water. And two of the most common types of water treatment systems used to treat hard water and improve water quality are the use of water softeners and water conditioners. 

So in this post, we will be looking at their differences in a bid to figure out which one of them is best for the treatment of hard water. But first, let’s look at what water softeners and conditioners are. 

What is a Water Softener?

A water softener is a system that filters and extracts calcium carbonate, silica, and magnesium ions from hard water and replaces them with softer ions like potassium and sodium ions, hence softening the water. This process is called ion exchange. 

Read also: 12 Best Kitchen Faucets For Hard Water + Buyers Guide

How Do Water Softeners Work?

Water softeners are built with a mineral and brine tank that is filled with resin beads that are sodium ion-charged. The brine tank needs to be cleaned from time to time to work properly.

These resin beads are negative-charged (anions), and the hard water minerals are positive-charged (cations). So, because they are ions of opposite charges, they attract when hard water flows through the tank, hence extracting them from the water.

Then, it releases the sodium ion into the water, removing its hardness and forming soft salt water.

With soft water, you don’t have to worry about the creation of limescale or the buildup of residue in your plumbing system, which could cause blockage and reduce its lifespan and performance. 

Also, with soft water, you are assured that the effectiveness of your soap and detergent won’t be tampered with, and your hair and skin won’t get dry when you use it to take your bath.

Types of Water Softener

Soft-Based Water Softeners

Soft Water Softeners, also called Ion-exchange water softeners, are the most common and widely considered the best water softener. 

They soften water by the ion-exchange system, which involves the removal of heavy minerals like calcium and magnesium from the water by resin beads and the release of a salt such as sodium ions into the water to soften it. 

Dual-Tank Water Softeners

These softeners are also salt-based but are built with two resin tanks, one used for the regeneration process and the other used to supply the softened water to the house. 

These softeners filter heavy minerals and are best used for well water. 

Read also: 9 Reasons Why Your Softened Water Tastes Salty

Salt-Free Water Softener

Unlike soft-based water softeners, these softeners don’t require the presence of salts to soften water. 

They carry out water softening by using polymeric beads to form microscopic nucleation sites that, when stuck with hard materials like magnesium or calcium, undergo a neutralization process that forms crystals that detach from the minerals once it is established. 

This detachment makes it impossible for the minerals to build up in the hard water hence softening the water. 

Magnetic Water Softeners

These softeners do not use the ion exchange process but instead use a magnetic field to neutralize heavy minerals of whatever charge they have, whether negative or positive, preventing them from bonding to each other, hence making them soluble in water. 

Portable Water Softeners

These are water softeners that require no electricity or tools to soften water. They also make it easier to carry softened water around. 

Salt-based Water Softener

A salt-based softener can solve your hard water problems by eliminating the hardness minerals that make the water hard.

Read also: Can You Use Water Softener Salt To Melt Ice?

Advantages of Water Softeners

• It increases the lifespan of your plumbing system. 

• It preserves the softness and color of your clothes. 

• It helps your skin and hair to remain healthy and hydrated. 

• It prevents limescale buildup on your water fixtures and corrosion inside your pipes. 

• It helps you use less soap and detergent.

• It makes your healing elements like water heater more efficient to warm water faster.

• It helps you save the money that would have been used to repair your home appliances and frequent purchases of soap and detergent. 

Disadvantages of Water Softeners

• The softened water might be too soft for people with high blood pressure and could also cause health problems. 

• Its installation and maintenance are expensive. 

You might get dry skin

• Consistently taking soft water could lead to the accumulation of excess sodium in your body system. 

• Water softened with these systems isn’t good for irrigation and could make plants less productive. 

What is a Water Conditioner?

A water conditioner is a salt-free conditioning device that alters how hard minerals relate to your water systems without removing the minerals like the traditional water softeners.

The hard minerals are still present in the water but can’t build up limescale or cause the negative effects that the hardness of the water usually does. 

A water conditioner doesn’t just treat hard water, it also treats different impurities like chlorine, lead, organic gases, etc from tap water, city water, and other water sources, which could cause scaling and give your water an unpleasant smell or taste. 

Types of Water Conditioners

There are different methods used for water conditioning, so there is no pinpoint of how a water conditioner works. 

How a water conditioner works depends on the type, so let’s look at the types of water conditioners.

Template Assisted Crystallization Systems (TAC)

This system involves using polymer beads to form sites where hard minerals form crystals, then grow to a particular size before it is released into the water again. 

When released back into the water, it loses the ability to cling to surfaces and hence can’t create limescale.

Catalytic Water Conditioners

This salt-free water conditioner uses alloys or metals to create a site where hard minerals can react. 

When these minerals are bound with these metals, their structure is tampered with, affecting their behavior and causing them to remain in the solution. 

Electromagnetic Water Conditioners

These water conditioners use magnetic coils to decrease the concentration of the hard minerals when they come in contact with it. 

Electronic Water Conditioners

An electronic water conditioner works by producing an electric field that passes through it and changes the chemical structure of the hard mineral and its behavior.

Carbon Water Conditioners

Used an active carbon that absorbs numerous chemicals in the water. A water filter removes organic compounds like sulfur and chlorine from the city or well water. It can take away the unpleasant taste of water. Carbon conditioners are commonly used to improve the quality of the water.

Advantages of Water Conditioners 

• It boots the efficiency of your plumbing system and helps it last longer. 

• It betters the smell and taste of your water supply.  

• It reduces scaling in water fixtures and plumbing appliances by removing chlorine and other contaminants. 

• It makes your hair and skin healthier and softer. 

• It is easy to maintain. 

• It helps you save energy and money. 

Disadvantages of Water Conditioners

• It can’t make water slippery.

Are Water Conditioners And Water Softeners The Same? 

No, they are not. Their end goal, which is to treat hard water, is the same, and they both boost the quality of water, but the way they function and the results they produce are different.

Water Softener Vs Conditioner: What Are Their Differences?

Water Softeners

  • Requires the use of salt 
  • Treats water by removing hard minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and silica. 
  • Use the Ion-exchange system
  • Creates wastewater
  • Average cost: $500 – $1,500
  • Softens water 
  • It costs more to maintain
  • Makes water slippery 

Water Conditioners: 

  • Doesn’t require the addition of salt.
  • Treats water without removing hard minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and silica. 
  • Use the template-assisted crystallization (TAC) system. 
  • Creates wastewater
  • Average cost: $1,000 – $2,600
  • Conditions water 
  • It costs less to maintain
  • It doesn’t make water slippery 

Read also: How To Chlorinate a Well – Step By Step Guide

Water Softener Vs Conditioner: Which One Should I Use?

Water softeners and water conditioners can be used to treat hard water issues, so you can’t say which is the best option. You can use either of them and get a great result.

However, water softeners can soften water, but water conditions can’t, so if your goal is to soften water, then you should go for water softeners.

On the other hand, if you want to treat water and maintain its magnesium and calcium content without sodium particles, the best solution is water conditioners.

Another factor you should consider is the cost involved in purchasing, installing, and maintaining both systems. 

Water softeners have a higher installation and maintenance cost and require maintenance more frequently than water conditioners, but you should check the overall cost involved before making a decision.