Water Conditioner vs. Water Softener – Which One Do You Need?

Water is an essential part of our daily lives. It goes through many stages of treatment before reaching your tanks/taps. Even then, hard water is a major issue for homeowners. It can damage your pipes and fixtures and is not the best option for your health as well.

Another major issue is contaminated water. It has an awful taste and smells equally bad. With time, it can cause sensitivity. Worst case scenario, it can be a cause for cancer.

There are various systems developed to purify or soften water. Choosing a perfect fix can be confusing with a myriad of solutions available in the market. We have focused on two types of water treatment systems, Water Conditioner vs. Water Softener, to help you understand which one best fits your needs.

Water Conditioner

A salt-free water conditioner turns the minerals on the water loose. This takes away their ability to stick to your pipes. Some saltless conditioners work better than others. However, they are not made to soften water.

Water Softener

A water softener works by eliminating minerals such as magnesium and calcium present in the water. This elimination can be performed by a process called ion exchange. Any salt-based water softener consists of a resin bed responsible for filtering the water and exchanging the minerals for hardness against sodium particles. This soft water does not create limescale or cause any corrosion problems in your home appliances.

Water Conditioner vs. Water Softener – Similarity

Before moving on to the differences, let’s see how these two treatment systems are similar to each other. Both of these methods are used to address some common problems of hard water. Water hardness occurs when the water is rich in minerals such as silica, calcium, and magnesium. Often we care less about silica. The fact that silica is harmful to health and the way to remove them is yet unseen.

These minerals cause serious problems in heat-exchange surfaces, water fixtures, and pipes throughout your home or businesses. Due to this, pipes are clogged by scale buildup over time. Limescale build-up on any heating element insulates it and keeps it from working efficiently. Both water conditioners and water softener are used to combat everyday hard water problems.

Water Conditioner vs. Water Softener – Differences

If both of these treatment systems solve hard water problems. How do they differ from each other?

A water softener actually removes magnesium, calcium, and silica ions, leaving the water with only small quantities of temporary hardness. The use of a softener allows the ion exchange process to take place. This process replaces these ions with salt.

However, a water conditioner can only manipulate how the hardness minerals of a liquid solution behave. All the ions are still present in the water but they do not build-up on surfaces. As long as these healthy minerals are not damaging your plumbing system, keeping them in the water serves as an advantage.

A water conditioner tackles other water issues aside from hard water problems as well. But, the term water conditioner is used broadly to refer to any type of water treatment or purification system.

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How do Water Conditioners Work?


There are mainly three types of water conditioners available in the market today. Each type has its own working mechanism as we have mentioned below.

Types of Water Conditioners

1. Carbon Filtration

It contains activated carbon that works by absorbing a series of chemicals dissolved in the water. These types of water filters are useful in removing organic compounds like chlorine and sulfur from well or city water.

It also makes tap water pleasant for drinking and cooking by removing foul odors and taste. Carbon filtration is widely used to improve the quality of water.

2. Electromagnetic or Magnetic Water Conditioners

It creates molecular agitation in the water by using wires wrapped or magnets placed around the pipes. The molecular agitation makes the carbonate salt blend as small particles within the water. Thus, reduces the concentration of magnesium and calcium ions that forms soap scum by reacting with soaps.

3. Catalytic Media

It does not use the ion exchange method. This type of treatment is done by processing the water through some catalytic media using a physical process known as Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). The minerals are turned to a hardness crystal that does not stick on to the surface.

How Do Water Softeners Work?


Water softeners extract minerals such as Calcium and Magnesium from the water. This process, known as Ion Exchange, makes the water soft.

The resin beads in the mineral tank act as anions (having a negative charge). The Magnesium and Calcium are cations (having a positive charge). The resin beads attract them and get attached. The resin beads remove mineral ions from the water which makes it soft.

Nowadays, water softener systems are advanced. They contain additional features like activated carbon, vitamin C balls, mesh lines, and many others. They make your water soft and free from sediments and microbes.

Water Conditioner vs. Water Softener – Which One Do You Need?

When to Go for a Water Conditioner

A water conditioner does not use salt. If you are an individual with a salt-restricted diet, this treatment process can save you from sodium issues.

  • Less expensive to maintain
  • Longer lifespan
  • Reduces scaling in pipes
  • Reduces white/ yellow-ish spots around drains and faucets
  • Does not require much maintenance (no salt refilling required)
  • Does not wastewater
  • Less slippery water

When to Go for a Water Softener

A water softener eliminates most of the minerals from the water and provides you with soft water.

  • Reduces white/ yellow-ish spots around drains and faucets
  • Reduces scaling in pipes
  • Allows you to use less detergent, soap, and dish soap
  • Allows soap to lather with ease
  • Reduces soap scum
  • Eliminates water spots from dishes

Comparison Table Between Water Conditioner and Water Softener

Water Conditioner Water Softener
Requires salt? NO YES
Scale prevention efficiency? 41% to 98.9% effective (depending on the method) 99+% efficient
Slick slippery feel of water? NO YES
Impact on skin Calcium and magnesium remain in the water Eliminates calcium and magnesium (bad for dry skin)
Environmental impact Doesn’t create wastewater Creates wastewater

Water Refiner

You can use water refiner to get the benefits of both water conditioners and water softener at once.  This system uses a four-step process in order to remove unwanted odors and taste as well as hardness from your water supply.

Step 1: Ion Exchange Media

Removes iron and hardness causing minerals.

Step 2: High Microporosity Granular Activated Carbon Filter

Reduces unpleasant taste, chlorine, and color.

Step 3: Bacteriostat 55

Reduces heavy metals and inhibits bacteria growth.

Step 4: Garnet Filtration Media

It provides sediment filtration and proper distribution of water flow.

If the hardness level of water in your area is very high, you can consider switching to a home water refiner.

Final Words,

The method of treatment that is best suitable for you depends on the hardness level of the water supplied to your home. If the water hardness is above 25 GPG ( grains-per-gallon), a salt-based softener might work best. But if the water hardness is below 25 GPG, a salt-free water conditioner may get rid of your water problems.