Difference Between Water Softening And Water Conditioning

Water softening and water conditioning are two processes that are often confused due to their similar names. Both of these processes can help reduce or eliminate contaminants in your water, but they work differently.

Water softening is a process that removes hard minerals like calcium and magnesium, which can cause limescale buildup in pipes and fixtures. Water softens through ion exchange, replacing hard minerals with sodium ions.

Water conditioning is a more general term for improving your water quality. It can involve different types of processes like filtration or reverse osmosis, and the main goal is to remove impurities from your water and make it safer to drink. This process can also help with taste and odor issues caused by contaminants like chlorine or bacteria.

How Does A Water Softener Work?

A water softener reduces the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium minerals in hard water. This is done using a process known as ion exchange, which exchanges the hardness ions (calcium and magnesium) for sodium or potassium ions from a salt brine solution. The hardness ions are trapped by the resin beads within the tank, while sodium or potassium ions are released into the water. The resin beads must be recharged periodically with salt brine to keep them functional, and this is usually done every few weeks or months.

How Does A Water Conditioner Work?

Water conditioners work in a different way than water softeners. They use physical filters and media to reduce hardness, lead, iron, and other impurities from the water supply. The most common type of filter is a carbon filter that uses activated charcoal to absorb contaminants from the water. Other media used for conditioning include ion exchange resin beads, potassium chloride, and zeolite.

These media reduce the water’s hardness by exchanging one mineral ion for another. For instance, sodium ions are exchanged for calcium or magnesium ions. This process does not remove these minerals from the water entirely but reduces them to acceptable levels.

Difference Between Water Softening And Water Conditioning

  • Theory: Water softening removes minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, from water using an ion exchange system. Water conditioning is a broader term that encompasses a variety of processes, such as chlorine removal, pH adjustment, and sediment filtration, to improve the quality of your water.
  • Methods: In water softening, different methods are used, like ion exchange, salt based and salt-free systems, reverse osmosis, etc. On the other hand, water conditioning uses an activated sludge method, slow sand filtration, sedimentation, flocculation, and chlorination.
  • Reduction of scaling: Water softening is designed to reduce scale buildup on surfaces and in pipes. In contrast, water conditioning can be used to eliminate other materials from the water that are not necessarily related to the hardness.
  • Improving the taste and odor of water: Water conditioning is the preferred method for treating water, primarily because it does not introduce sodium or other chemicals into drinking water. This makes sense since water that has had its hardness removed through softening usually needs to have back some of the minerals taken away to make it palatable. Water conditioning takes a different approach: rather than removing the hardness-causing minerals, it alters their form, making them easier to remove during filtration.
  • Reduction of operating costs: When hard water passes through a water softening system, it helps to reduce the operating costs of appliances and plumbing systems. Soft water requires less cleaning agents and detergents, reducing the amount of soap scum that builds up over time. In addition, it can protect pipes and fixtures from limescale buildup, which is known to cause clogged pipes and reduce the lifespan of certain appliances. On the other hand, water conditioning systems do not remove minerals from the water; they help to balance the pH levels. Doing this helps prevent corrosion in plumbing systems and maintains a good mineral content for drinking.


Can you use an electric conditioner on softened water?

Yes, you can. Water softening and conditioning are two different processes, so that an electric conditioner can be used on softened water. Softening removes hard minerals like calcium and magnesium that cause scaling, while conditioning helps improve your water’s taste and odor.

How long does a water conditioner last?

A water conditioner typically lasts around ten years, depending on the size and type of system. The performance and lifespan of a water conditioner can vary due to the hardness of your local water supply and how frequently it is used.

Is a water softener the same as a water filter?

No, water softeners and water filters are two different systems. Water softening is the process of removing calcium and magnesium from the water to reduce hardness. On the other hand, water conditioning is a process many households use to improve the taste, odor, or clarity of drinking water.

Do water softeners remove fluoride?

No, Water softeners are designed to remove calcium and magnesium ions, commonly called “scale” or “hardness minerals,” from water. Fluoride is not a hardness mineral, so it will not be removed through water-softening. Water conditioning systems incorporating reverse osmosis, activated carbon filtration, or other advanced technologies must be used to remove fluoride and other contaminants.

Do water conditioners remove ammonia?

Water conditioners, like water softeners, do not remove ammonia from the water. Ammonia is a gas that cannot be removed by traditional filtering methods such as water conditioning systems. You will need an additional filtration system using reverse osmosis or other advanced methods to remove ammonia.


water softening methods infographic
water softening methods infographic

Water softening and water conditioning are essential treatments to improve drinking water quality. Water softening is an effective method for removing minerals that can cause scale buildup in pipes and appliances. Water conditioning removes contaminants such as chlorine, lead, and other hazardous materials from drinking water. While both processes provide benefits, they should not be seen as interchangeable. Each serves its purpose of providing clean and safe drinking water. It is important to choose the right method based on your specific needs, budget, and local regulations. With proper maintenance, both treatments can provide years of reliable service and improve the quality of your drinking water.

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