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Reverse Osmosis vs Water Softener: Which is Better for Your Home?

Fact checked by Stephen Conklin

Reverse Osmosis vs Water Softener

Are you torn between getting a water softening and a water filtration system for your household? Reverse Osmosis vs Water Softener is a hot debate topic for both homeowners and commercial industries.

Based on my experience, the consensus of opinions is that homeowners prefer reverse osmosis for their drinking water system while water softeners are used for household chores.

These two methods unarguably improve the overall water quality. In this article, we’re going to tackle which water treatment suits your residential water demands the best. Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

Reverse Osmosis and Water Softener: A Brief Overview


Homeowners find it difficult to differentiate Reverse Osmosis from Water Softeners because they seem to sound synonymous to each other. But in reality, they don’t work in the same way that we think.

The main difference between reverse osmosis and water softener is that Reverse Osmosis filters water contaminants while a Water Softener conditions the water that contains deep high-concentrated minerals. Below are some keynotes to understand their distinct functions better.

  • Reverse Osmosis (Filtration) – A reverse osmosis system, or commonly known as an RO system, is a water purification process that removes contaminants and other large molecules and minerals from unfiltered water.

It uses a high-pressure pump to overcome osmotic pressure and forces the water to a semi-permeable membrane. It has dense synthetic layers that only allow water to penetrate.

There, the membrane retains dissolved solids, salts, and other impurities. It disposes of them in a concentrated stream that is also called “RO reject.”

Installing an RO system has become one of the best options for homeowners nowadays. It is a more convenient option than purchasing bottled reverse osmosis water at a specialty store that can be expensive and impractical when bought regularly.

Since the RO system is widely known to remove impurities from water, many food industries use this technique for the concentration method of fruits and vegetables and the dealcoholization of alcoholic drinks.

This system’s end goal is to make water safe and healthy for general household and commercial consumption. If you’re living near water-polluted areas, RO is the effective water purification solution.

  • Water Softener (Conditioning) – Water Softener is an ion exchange unit that makes hard water soft. Water is considered hard if it contains high levels of dissolved minerals such as calcium and magnesium.

The water softening system reduces these relatively large amounts of minerals. Unlike Reverse Osmosis, water softeners don’t remove water contaminants. Instead, they use a process called ionization or ion exchange and replace magnesium and calcium with sodium ions.

Sodium-ion or salt is a less destructive element and is ubiquitous in drinking water. It makes the water soft. Generally, Hard water doesn’t cause any health risks. It is safe to ingest, but why do we need softened water at times?

Because hard water won’t do any good for our hair and skin. Sometimes a bad hair day and dry skin in the morning are often caused by hard water because it reduces body moisture.

The water softening system includes three components: a control valve, a mineral tank, and a brine tank. They work in unison to ensure that the water is softened.

The mineral tank valve is the container where the hard water is softened. It holds the resins that exchange sodium for hardness ions under water supply lines pressure.

The control valve measures the amount of water entering the mineral tank and determines when the regeneration cycle is necessary.

The brine tank helps in the regeneration completion. It secures the salt that releases the brine solution needed to soften the hard water.

According to US Geological Survey, water is considered soft if it has 0-60 milligrams per liter of calcium carbonate. 85% of American households have a hard water supply. Therefore, American homes can use household water softeners to remove the hardness.

A household that uses groundwater as a source of their water system may have a hard water supply. Groundwater is considered hard water because it carries a high mineral content. After all, the water moves from soil and rock before it can reach the tap.

Which is Better for Your Home, Reverse Osmosis Or Water Softener


“What is my water usage requirement? ” is the first question you should ask yourself before deciding what water treatment technology you should use for your home. Below is the comparison guide you can use to contemplate these two options.

Reverse Osmosis

This liquid-membrane technology has various benefits because of its natural water purification process, and it requires minimum cleaning and technical maintenance. But just like other products and services, it might not always cater to your residential water applications.


  • Tasteless Water

If you have poor and smelly drinking water, this might pose a health hazard for you and your family. If your water source comes from a private well, there’s a high chance that the presence of waterborne bacteria is making your water polluted.

As a result, an awful aftertaste of your home water is developed. The best remedy is the Reverse Osmosis System, as it eradicates the source of this problem, improves cleanliness, and provides better-tasting home water for your family.

  • Low Maintenance – You can change the pre-filter cartridge and carbon filter once a year or every 6 to 9 months. The RO membrane should be replaced after 2-3 years. A simple routine of checking the conditions of these filters guarantees optimum efficiency.
  • No chemical additives – Reverse Osmosis is an environment-friendly water filtration system as it only uses membrane technology that only allows water to pass through. There are no chemicals used in the overall process, making it ideal for home and commercial services.
  • Eliminates stinky odor and discoloration Small particles of dissolved solids and other contaminants can cause odorous smell and discoloration of your home water. But the RO system process includes forcing the pressurized water through a permeable membrane and filters out all of these impurities in one go.


  • Pre-treatment is required before using Reverse Osmosis While most households are switching to RO to acquire an improved water quality for their homes, not all homes can install this system right away.

Your water quality at home must meet certain conditions wherein its pH level should be within the healthy range of 5-7 to protect the RO membrane. Therefore, you would need to use other water treatment devices and multiple filter systems to meet this.

  • Not compatible with water containing harmful microorganisms – RO can filter out microorganisms, but they will easily deteriorate the RO membranes. Microorganisms can eat through the membrane and block its surface. In turn, microbial pollution or recontamination happens.

Pro Tip: A whole-home reverse osmosis system is an excellent option if your home water has a funny taste and odor.

Water Softeners

Hard water can cause numerous problems at home, especially plumbing corrosion problems. Thus, it is one of the most chosen DIY water treatment projects of many households.


  • Natural Taste – Water softeners use sodium to help with the whole purification process, and the change in taste is detectable to human taste buds. It helps in changing the composition of water in a natural state.
  • Great for Cooking and Laundry – Since water softeners remove destructive minerals, it makes brighter laundry and leaves a stainless kitchen utensil surface. It also makes cleaner dishes, without water stains.
  • Healthier Skin and Hair – As we discussed earlier, hard water takes away our body moisture, making our hair frizzy and our skin dry and flaky. With softened water, this is never a frustration.


  • Contaminants can’t be filtered – While water softeners are considered beneficial for household activities, they can’t remove water contaminants. They can only remove minerals. If you badly need soft water, you should use an additional filter to completely eradicate water impurities.

Pro Tip: Use water softeners if you have problems with the scale buildup on your plumbing fixtures, pipes and dishes. Soft water won’t leave spots and stains on any home appliances.


If you search Reverse Osmosis vs. Water Softener on your web or mobile browser, you will see a lot of information that differentiates the two unique water treatment systems.

It is a challenging task to make a comparison between the two. While doing so, it is important to evaluate our water supply problems first before deciding on anything. Once we figure out the problem, it will be easier for us to choose if Reverse Osmosis or a Water Softener works the best with our daily water consumption needs.

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