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Water Conditioners vs Water Softeners: What’s the Difference?

water conditioner vs water softener header

If your dishes have spots or you feel a film on your hands after washing them, then you probably have hard water. Hard water is water with a high mineral count and the only way to remove these minerals is to treat it. Water softening and water conditioning are the two ways to treat water but do it in very different ways.

You’ll want to understand the differences between the two treatment systems before having one installed. Without the proper knowledge, you may end up with a water treatment system that doesn’t fit your home’s needs. To help you understand the differences between the two, we’ve created this chart!

water softener vs water conditioner graph

Benefits of Soft/Conditioned Water

While hard water isn’t dangerous to consume or use, a majority of people end up making the switch to soft water because of the additional benefits it has.

Some of the benefits of soft water include:

  • Cleaning will be easier because there should be no more hard water spots on dishes, appliances, and clothes.
  • Less soap and detergents are needed when washing.
  • Increases the longevity of water-using appliances due to the lack of mineral buildup.
  • Helps with dry skin, hair, and scalps.

It’s because of these reasons why people make the switch from hard to soft water. However, you may be wondering what to get, a water softener or a water conditioner? Let’s take a deeper look into the differences between the two.

Water Softener

someone pouring salt into a water softener

How Does it Work?

A water softener treats water by removing minerals such as calcium and magnesium through a process called ion exchange. Some of the things a water softener will do are:

  • Reduce any scale buildup in appliances.
  • Remove certain minerals from your water supply.
  • Help reduce dry skin and hair.
  • Reduce your soap usage.

How Much Do They Cost?

Water softeners cost anywhere from $800 to $2,500 for a whole-house system, depending on size, type, brand, and installation. Its monthly cost will cost you anywhere from $20 to $50. How much you decide to spend on your water softener should depend on your home’s water hardness level. Here in Utah, we are no stranger to hard water. To find out how hard your water is, check out or hard water tool.

Types of Water Softeners

While most people stick with traditional water softeners, there are still a few different types you can choose from.

The different types of water softeners include:

  • Salt-Based Water Softeners: These are the traditional types of water softeners. They use resin to exchange hard minerals with sodium ions.
  • Salt-Free Water Softeners: These softeners cost more upfront but have fewer monthly costs. These use filtration to filter out any hard minerals.
  • Reverse Osmosis Water Softeners: Reverse osmosis isn’t typically considered water softening. However, they do strip water of all substances. These can only be used on a single faucet.

Water Conditioners

How Does it Work?

Unlike a water softener, a water conditioner does not remove the hard particles from your water supply. Instead, it conditions the water and changes its chemistry of the water to prevent build-up.

Some of the things a water conditioner does are:

  • Changes hard substance from your water to soft.
  • Altering the taste of your water.
  • Removing any build-up on your appliances.

How Much Do They Cost?

The cost of a water conditioner is similar to the price of a water softener. They can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 depending on size, type, brand, and installation and there are no additional monthly costs because they are salt-free.

Types of Water Conditioners

Water conditioner is a broad term and there are a variety of different types. Here are the most common types of water conditioners:

  • Electrically Induced Water Conditioners: These water conditioners use a direct electrical current to precipitate water hardness and other substances.
  • Electrochemical Water Conditioners: Similar to the one above, this water conditioner uses electrically charged chemicals to remove hard minerals from your water supply.
  • Crystallization Water Conditioners: These water conditioners use surface-treated resin beads to convert dissolved water hardness into microscopic scale-resistant crystals.
  • Magnetic Water Softeners: These water conditioners use magnetic fields to form microscopic precipitates that do not form scale on water heaters, pipes, and other plumbing fixtures.

Which One is Better?

someone repairing a water softener

Overall, there is no one answer to which is better. You should make your decision based on your budget, how hard your water is, and which works best for your home. However, because we are plumbing professionals here at Shamrock Plumbing, we’d are happy to answer any questions you may have about water softeners or water conditioners. If you’re looking to install, contact us and we’ll send someone out as soon as possible.

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