Sediment Filter vs Water Softener | Complete Guide

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A dirty glass of water? Or a clogged showerhead? Or maybe both?

Depending on the water quality problem you’re dealing with, you may need a sediment filter or a water softener. But which one should it be?

You first need to learn how both treatment methods can help your water supply.

And what better way to do so than by comparing them head-to-head?

Key Takeaways

  • Hard minerals such as calcium and magnesium can be removed from hard water using a water softener. This prevents buildup of limescale in pipes and other components of your water system.
  • Sediment filters remove dirt, sand, rust, and other visible matter.
  • Water softeners do not remove sediments, just like sediment filters do not get rid of hardness minerals.
  • If you are not sure which of the two you need, you can have your water tested.

What Is a Water Softener and What Does It Do?

A water softener, as the term suggests, is a device that removes hard water minerals from your water supply – that is calcium and magnesium.

You may be thinking, “but these minerals are good for our health”. And you’re right! But the problem occurs when they stick to other minerals, layer up inside your plumbs, clog your coffee machine, or most commonly, leave crusty stains in your shower.

A water softener is in charge of catching these minerals before they hit your faucet, for a cleaner and more efficient water flow.

salt-based water softener

How Water Softeners Work

Water softeners reduce mineral buildup and, in turn, leave your plumbs and appliances clean.

A softener consists of three components, each playing a vital part to reduce as much hardness from your water as possible:

  1. The resin tank – A few cubic feet of microbeads are layered inside the resin tank. They form the softening resin and are in charge of binding all hardness minerals passing through, so this is where the action happens.
  2. The brine tank – Filled with sodium, the brine tank is used to backwash the resin tank, remove accumulated minerals, and thus regenerate the system. Potassium can be also used instead of regular salt. This is, in fact, recommended for those on a low-sodium diet, since a trace amount of salt can get suspended in the water supply.
  3. The head valve – The head valve is that control thingy at the top of any water softener that allows the whole process to happen.

The softening process happens as a result of ion exchange. The resin beads in the softening tank have a negative charge. Since calcium and magnesium are positively charged, they stick to them.

When the head valve is turned on and hard water enters the softener, the beads attract the hard minerals like magnets, trap them, and prevent them from passing through with the water. And voila – softer water gets pushed through your plumbing system.

The softening system also makes use of a regeneration cycle. This is in charge of three things:

  1. It backwashes the resin tank by reversing the water flow and getting rid of debris.
  2. It regenerates the system by pumping the brine solution into the tank and force-kicking the stuck minerals off the resin beads.
  3. And finally, it rinses the resin tank and prepares it for the next cycle of softening.

About Hard Water

Your naked eye may not be aware that the water that comes out of your faucet is considered “hard”. But if it has high mineral content, then calcium and magnesium buildup can clog your plumbs and shorten the lifespan of your appliances. Plus, crusty faucets and shower walls can be a real pain to clean.

So, who invited these hard minerals in the first place?

Many underground water supplies are prone to attracting hard minerals. When rainwater passes through rock and percolates the ground, it does two things. First – it collects minerals. And second – it dissolves chemical compounds.

The mineral-rich water travels through rivers and lakes and ends up in water reservoirs. Then, it gets pumped through water systems eventually passing through your home.

What Is a Sediment Filter and What Does It Do?

Anything that can be found in water in a non-dissolved form is considered sediment.

Just like hard water, sediments can also clog your pipes and appliances.

And here’s when sediment filters save the day! They are your plumbing system’s best friend, as they not only purify your drinking water but also prevent damage to your entire water system.

A sediment filter’s purpose is to trap particulate matter, both organic and inorganic: Rust, sand, silt, and other dirt.

Sediment filters are an important part of almost any water treatment system and usually used as pre-filters.

How Sediment Filters Work

Sediment filters are like sieves. They purify your water through mechanical filtration. The unwanted debris gets blocked by the filter, while the clean water flows through.

Of course, the effectiveness of the filter depends largely on the type you’re using. Some filters have larger areas for trapping particulate matter. Others can filter out with the help of a depth gradient. There are even some that use a centrifugal force to push unwanted particles into a mesh trap.

But, whether you’re using spin-down, string-wound, spun, melt-blown, multi-gradient, or, the most common, pleated cartridge filters, one thing is certain: A sediment filter does its job best if placed right after the water hits your plumbing system, and before any other equipment like a water softener or heater.

replacing dirty whole house sediment filter

Sediment Filter vs Water Softener – Which One Do I Need?

To find the ideal treatment option for your water supply, you need to know what you want to address first.

Does your water have visible debris in it? Can you easily spot flecks? Is it cloudy? If so, then you need a sediment filter!

Do you want to prevent your water from building up around the shower head? Get a water softener!

Testing Provides Answers

But what if you are not sure whether your water has minerals or floating chunks of dirt in it? Perhaps you’ve just moved into a new house and don’t want to leave anything to chance. In such cases, testing the water will provide you with the right answers.

For hardness, there are many readily available tests that you can purchase even online.

If you cannot tell whether your water has sediment or not, then your best bet is to sample a small amount and find a suitable lab that can analyze it.

Do I Need Both?

The answer is pretty simple if you’re dealing with both hard and dirty water. Yes!

But here’s the thing. Even if you only have hard water, it is wise to get a sediment filter, too. That is because this filter can block potential debris from getting in touch with your water softener and prevent it from eventually becoming clogged.

If you’re lucky to have your water supply derived from a soft stream, then no. You probably don’t need a water softener, even if your water comes with floating debris.

Does a Water Softener Also Filter Water?

A water softener is not designed to remove impurities – only positively-charged minerals.

Of course, a water softener can get rid of some trace amounts of iron or visible speckles, but in theory, no. It neither purifies nor improves the quality of your water in that regard. The only thing it does is get rid of hard minerals.

Does a Sediment Filter Also Soften Water?

No! If you’re dealing with hard water, a sediment filter will not reduce the mineral buildup.

The function of a sediment filter is to clean water from visible impurities, not minerals. If there is a high content of calcium and magnesium present, know that it will simply pass through a sediment filter.

If you have any questions about sediment filters vs water softeners please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

About the Author Gene Fitzgerald

Gene Fitzgerald is one of the founders of BOS and currently head of content creation. She has 8+ years of experience as a water treatment specialist under her belt making her our senior scientist. Outside of BOS, Gene loves reading books on philosophy & social issues, making music, and hiking.
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