You want cleaner, high-quality, great-tasting water for your family’s health and your own peace of mind. But you may have more questions than answers about water quality issues and whether or how they could be affecting your home. You’re likely wondering:
Let’s tackle these in order as your first step toward ensuring that water quality isn’t something you’re worrying or wondering about day to day.
Hard water is water that has a high concentration of calcium and magnesium. Have you noticed water spots on your glasses or utensils, soap scum in your tub and on shower doors, or a filmy residue after you wash your hands? Hard water is likely the culprit.
Soap reacts with the high level of calcium and magnesium in hard water to produce the water spots and residue you can see and feel. When your home has hard water, you need more soap or detergent to get things clean. And while hard water isn’t dangerous, it can create frustrating inefficiency with whatever you’re trying to get clean—and that can prove costly.
Mineral deposits also can form when hard water is heated, as with your home water heater. This can “reduce the life of equipment, raise the costs of heating the water, lower the efficiency of electric water heaters, and clog pipes,” the U.S. Geological Survey notes.
Water softeners remove the calcium and magnesium minerals that are the causes of hard water. Because of that focus, they don’t target the contaminants than water filters do, since water softening uses a different treatment process than filtration systems do.
By eliminating excess calcium and magnesium from water, softeners can boost the efficiency of your water-using appliances and help you save on cleaning supplies. Not only are you likely to see cleaner dishes and coffee pots, but your whole family could see less-irritated, more-hydrated skin and hair as well.
How do they work? Water softeners use salt to modify the properties of water. (If you live in a brine-restricted area, you can explore salt-free alternatives.) In contrast, water filtration systems—whether whole-house systems or smaller products that filter products at the point of use—can use any of several methods to make water cleaner and safer depending on the contaminants being filtered.
While water softeners target issues like spots on dishes and buildup on appliances, water filters aim to supply better-tasting, cleaner water by removing a wider array of contaminants. These can include:
Let’s consider a couple of leading water filtration options.
A drinking-water filtration system like a reverse-osmosis system reduces issues like dissolved solids and contaminants in your drinking water.* Under-sink options as well as countertop systems are available, depending on filtration preferences and space needs. Many drinking-water filters use multi-stage filtration to first remove sediment and then filter out other contaminants, including chlorine, that affect water taste and quality.
A whole-home filtration system addresses water quality and flow throughout your entire home. These systems are designed to reduce sediment, chlorine and other contaminants, leaving you with cleaner, safer, fresher-tasting water. Whole-home filter systems also can neutralize acidity in water, which can reduce costly corrosion of plumbing fixtures and appliances.
You may have heard about reverse-osmosis water filtration, an advanced, multistage process that can remove up to 95% of total dissolved solids in water. Reverse osmosis (RO) filtration relies upon a semi-permeable membrane that removes dissolved salts and other unwanted materials such as lead and fluoride from water.
Deciding whether water softening or water filtration is best for you depends largely on what’s in your water and the problems you want to address. If spotty dishes or dry, irritated skin are chief complaints in your household, you’re likely dealing with hard water, and a softener can alleviate your frustrations. If your water (or coffee, or tea) tastes or smells strange, or if you have concerns about the chemical contamination in your drinking water supply, a filter will likely be the more effective choice.
*Contaminants may not necessarily be in your water.