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Water Conditioner Vs Water Softener: A Detailed Comparison

Fact checked by Stephen Conklin

Water Conditioner vs Water Softener

Do you want to compare water conditioner vs water softener? Did you know that the terms “hard water” and “soft water” exist?

There’s no need to be confused. Simply put, hard water refers to water with a lot of salts and minerals. Soft water refers to the opposite, which is water with minimal salts and minerals.

It would seem that it may be challenging to utilize hard water for daily activities. It may be too hard to drink and may even damage your pipes. Luckily though, there is more than one way to soften it.

Table of Contents

Do I Need to Condition/Soften My Water?


No mandate tells you that you should soften or condition your water. However, if you’ve been bothered by the mineral spots in your glassware and your shower clogging up, you may have to reconsider.

Hard water is rich in calcium, magnesium, and silica minerals. Although not harmful to drink, these minerals can clog pipes and shorten the lifespan of your household appliances.

Minerals in the water can cause problems for pipes and water fixtures. Over time, they’ll be clogged by limescale buildup – a chalky deposit that mainly consists of calcium carbonate.

Water falls into any one of these categories: soft, moderately hard, hard, and very hard. The concentration is measured in ppm (Parts Per Million) using a TDS meter (Total Dissolved Solids).

  • Soft water is measured at 0-60 ppm.
  • Slightly hard water is between 61-120 ppm.
  • Hard water is between 121-180 ppm.

Water conditioners and water softeners are used to soften the hardness of the water. Their main difference is that a conditioner will alter hard water minerals and not remove them. In contrast, a water softener will use ion exchange – where salt replaces the minerals in the water.

What Is a Water Conditioner?

Although some would say that a water conditioner doesn’t soften water, it still makes a difference. It is by far the best solution for your home because it improves your drinking water at a low-cost and is easy to maintain.

A water conditioner applies an inventive method where it manipulates how the minerals in the water behave. Calcium, magnesium, and silica are healthy minerals to humans, so the water conditioner keeps them in the water. But it makes sure they don’t build up on surfaces and cause problems to pipes and other containers.

There are different kinds of water conditioners. A carbon filtration water conditioner contains activated carbon that absorbs chemicals like sulfur and chlorine in the water.

An electromagnetic water conditioner uses wires or magnets to create molecular agitation in water, causing particles to blend and break – resulting in reduced calcium and magnesium ions in the water. It doesn’t actually soften the water, but at least it will eliminate scaling.

Electrolysis uses metal electrodes immersed in water. These release positive zinc ions that also release electrons that move through a wire. The process stops when the zinc dissolves, and you may not even notice it has stopped working until it’s too late.

Lastly, a catalytic media water conditioner uses template-assisted crystallization (TAC) to change the mineral crystals’ hardness in the water. Just like the previous conditioners, this doesn’t actually soften the water. Instead, it makes sure they don’t stick and cause scaling onto surfaces.

Conveniently, a water conditioner takes care of other water issues, such as biological contaminants, bacteria, and algae. When these build up on surfaces, they’re referred to as biofilm. A water softener can’t get rid of biofilm, but it can help prevent it from building up.

What Is a Water Softener?


A water softener is able to do its softening through a process called ion exchange. A quick science lesson review will tell you that minerals in water are, in fact, ionic – meaning they are electrically charged. When ions of opposite charges (positive and negative) come close, they attach like magnets.

Remember the calcium and magnesium minerals that are said to be in the water? Well, they have a positive charge. For water softeners to capture these minerals, then bring in sodium, or simply, salt – a positively charged mineral with a weaker charge.

For ion exchange to take place, a negative charge is needed. This negative charge comes in the form of a resin bed consisting of numerous negatively-charged beads.

The sodium is added to the water softener, and instantly, it clings onto these negatively-charged beads. When the calcium and magnesium-rich water flows through, the magnesium and calcium minerals get attracted to the negatively-charged resin.

Because of their weaker charge, the sodium ions are kicked out of the resin bed – exchanging places with the calcium and magnesium ions. The result is now considered “soft water.”

With this process, you won’t need to worry about hard water ruining everything in your home. However, to keep it up, you must continuously add bags of salt to the water softener to recharge the beads. This is so that the ion exchange process can continue to work.

Water softeners, while very useful, needs a lot of water to flush out excess minerals. You’ll also face the daily maintenance of having to regenerate the resin bed, which means the entire process is costly.

On the bright side, utilizing a water softener assures you that you won’t see any chalky stains on your sink, bathtub, or kitchen utensils. You’ll notice your detergent working up a better lather. Showering will be a much more pleasant experience, and you won’t have to worry about your clothes fading out after every wash.

The Price Is Right: Water Conditioner Or Water Softener?

With its high maintenance requirements, you’ll know that water softeners are much more expensive than water conditioners.

The unit alone would cost you around $300 – $4000, and this has yet to include the bags of salt you’ll need to maintain the softening process. Although if you’re willing to invest in the safety and longevity of your home, this is your best bet.

Water conditioners, on the other hand, will cost you about $50 to $2,000. They’re significantly cheaper and keep bacteria from building up – but you still run the risk of damaging household items as the mineral content never actually changes.

To Condition Or to Soften?

Depending on what you need the water for, a water conditioner or softener will be useful in their respects. Figure out what your home needs and gauge your water source.

There’s nothing with minerals in your water. These will make it taste better. However, hard water harbors a long-term inconvenience to your health and your household, so you may want to start considering getting some of that lovely soft water.

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