Water Softener Vs. Water Filter

Water softeners help reduce the hardness of your water, but do they make it safer to drink? Read more to find out if water softeners are as effective as water filters.

By: Alex Vanscoy

If you’re looking to improve the health and taste of your water, you may hear people recommend water filters and water softeners — but they aren’t the same thing. Understanding the differences between a water softener and a water filter will help determine which one is right for you. If you already have a water softener and are wondering if you also need a water filter, learning about each can help you decide whether you need to make an additional purchase.

Here’s everything you need to know about water filters vs. water softeners, including what each does and whether you need one or both for your home.

What is a water filter?

A water filter or water filtration system helps remove contaminants and dissolved solids from the water you drink, shower, and cook with. In addition to improving the taste and smell of your water, a water filter also has the important job of reducing or removing harmful contaminants from your water that can make it unsafe to drink, such as:

  • Metals (Lead, arsenic, copper, etc.)
  • Chlorine and chloramine
  • Bacteria, viruses, and cysts
  • Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides
  • Sediment and particulates
  • Microplastics, PFOA/PFOS, and VOCs

There are several types of water filters, such as whole house, under sink, countertop, and shower filters. Additionally, water filters can use a variety of different methods to reduce contaminants.

What is a water softener?

Water softeners help to remove minerals such as calcium and magnesium that contribute to hard water. They work somewhat like a chemical magnet using small beads called “ion exchange resin.” The softener has a tank in it with a bed filled with these beads. When the hard water flows through this tank, the hard minerals in the water stick to the beads instead of staying in the water. Once the minerals are stuck to the beads, the water becomes softer since it no longer has the minerals in it. Some softeners include filters that help clean the beads and prepare them to filter more minerals out of the water.

Water softeners are beneficial because they help reduce those horrible rings in your bathtub, soap scum buildup, irritated skin, and clogged pipes. They can also make it easier to wash dishes and clothes, as they help soap to suds up better.

Do I need a water filter and a water softener?

If you have very hard water, you’ll need a salt-based water softener or alternative solution. If your water isn’t super hard, a Salt-Free Water Conditioner is a great option that requires less maintenance and won’t strip away healthy minerals from your water.

Many people have the misconception that their water is safe and clean simply because they are using a water softener to filter their water. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding. Although a water softener may help to make your water less hard, it does not make it cleaner or safer to drink. Water softeners do not filter water, they only remove calcium and magnesium minerals to address hard water. In order to remove contaminants so water is safer for drinking, cooking, and showering — you’ll need to use a water filter even if you already have a water softener installed. A water filter will remove contaminants that a softener cannot, including chemicals, bacteria, viruses, and cysts that can pose a risk to your health.

Which is better, a water softener or a water filter?

If your goal is only to reduce the presence of harmful contaminants, a water filter is a better solution than a water softener. When your home’s water is run through a quality whole house water filter, you are reducing harmful contaminants like chlorine, chloramines, harmful VOCs, and more.

A whole house water filter will enable you to provide filtered water throughout your entire house, but you can also get clean water through under sink or countertop filters that let you decide where you want to receive filtered water from. Even non-whole house systems have the same contaminant-removing benefits over water softeners. And if you’re wondering if a water filter can make hard water soft, some options like a reverse osmosis water filtration system reduce contaminants and total dissolved solids that contribute to hard water. That being said, a filter can wear out more quickly when filtering hard water. Because of that and because ROs wastewater during the filtration process, using a water softener to solve a hard water issue is a more efficient solution.

Salt-free water conditioners: The alternative to water softeners

If you’re not concerned about contaminants in your tap water but still need a way to remove scale buildup from your home that’s environmentally friendly and safe, consider a Salt-Free Water Conditioner.

Unlike salt-based softeners, the Aquasana Whole House Salt-Free Water Conditioner won’t demineralize your water by chemically removing minerals, nor will it put excess salt waste or chemicals into our environment. It uses Scale Control Media technology to safely and naturally reduce harsh scale build-up on internal pipes without the use of salt or chemicals. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that water conditioners typically can’t tackle extremely hard water, in which case you will need a salt-based softener.

To recap, if you have hard water then you need a way to address it. You could use a salt-based water softener, but if your water is only moderately hard, we’d recommend a salt-free water conditioner because it requires less maintenance, is environmentally friendly, and won’t remove healthy minerals from your water.

"Unlike salt-based softeners, the Aquasana Whole House Salt-Free Water Conditioner won’t demineralize your water by chemically removing minerals, nor will it put excess salt waste or chemicals into our environment."

Water filter vs. water softener takeaway

Just because you use a water softener or conditioner doesn’t mean your water is safe. Most water softeners do not filter contaminants from your water, but they can help with scale buildup. If you struggle with hard water, a water softener or alternative solution is the answer. But if your goal is to provide clean water then you’ll need to purchase a water filter. The good thing is that you can use both a water softener and a water filter at the same time, or opt for a system that can do both . If you’re not sure where to start, check out our guide on How to Choose a Water Filter.


Salt-Free Water Conditioner

Protect your home's pipes, plumbing, and appliances from scale buildup without the use of harsh chemicals or salt. New and improved system lasts for 10 years.