If you’re dealing with hard water, you may have heard of water softeners and water conditioners. But what’s the difference between these two water treatment systems? While they can both be used to treat hard water, they’re ultimately very different systems. Understanding water conditioning vs. water softening is important to selecting the right system for your home or business. Because both techniques operate differently and have varying features, one may be more suitable for your water needs. 

Learn more about the difference between a water softener and a water conditioner, how to choose between the two and how Culligan Water can meet your water needs.

Is a Water Conditioner the Same as a Water Softener?

Water conditioners and water softeners are two different water treatment systems. Water softeners remove hardness minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron from your water, while water conditioners remove chemicals like chlorine. Some water conditioner systems have limited water-softening capabilities, though these systems are most often separate. 

Differences Between Water Softeners and Conditioners

Water softeners and conditioners are often referred to when dealing with hard water. Hard water contains significant amounts of dissolved minerals like magnesium and calcium. Over time, hard water leaves mineral deposit buildup called scale, which you may recognize as the white buildup on your fixtures and surfaces. Scale builds up within your plumbing, affecting the efficiency of appliances that use your home’s water. Hard water also leaves deposits on your hair and skin.

The biggest difference between water softeners and conditioners is what they remove from your water. Water softeners remove the hardness from your water, while conditioners temporarily alter the water’s chemistry to eliminate contaminants. Here’s a closer look at how these two systems work and differ.

Water Softeners

Water softeners use a system that exchanges ions with water on a molecular level to get rid of hard minerals. To remove the hard minerals from the water molecules, water softeners use resin beads coated in sodium ions to displace the minerals. As the hard water runs over the resin beads, the mineral ions attach to the beads instead of the water molecules and release the sodium ions, which then attach to the water molecules. This ion exchange gives the water a balanced charge and softer molecular composition.

Over time, the hard minerals will build up on the resin beads, preventing them from collecting anymore. As such, water softeners accommodate a process to regenerate the beads, which includes filling the tank with a saltwater brine that replaces the mineral ions on the beads with sodium ions.

Water Conditioners

Water conditioners remove contaminants like lead, chlorine and organic gases and compounds that alter your water’s taste and smell. Some water conditioners work like filters, removing unwanted contaminants as the water passes through the system. Others chemically alter the water, which offers some similar softener benefits. For example, altering the water’s chemistry also alters the hard minerals’ chemistry, if any are present in your water. This process can sometimes have limited ability to reduce scaling on your plumbing and fixtures but does not actually soften the water. 

Ultimately, conditioners don’t actually remove hard particles like softeners do. They temporarily alter them to reduce their effects.

Can You Have Both Systems?

Typically, you only use a softener or conditioner for hard water treatment, not both. Which one you choose will depend on the quality and results you want to achieve. 

Choosing Between a Water Softener or Water Conditioner

How do you know which system is best for you? The decision ultimately comes down to your water situation and where you want it to be. For example, your water may not have contaminants — not all water does. In this case, having a water conditioner for that need may not make sense. Consider the benefits and features of each system when comparing your options. You should also weigh factors like your budget.

Despite requiring a bit more maintenance to drain the system and regenerate the resin beads, water softeners are often a more reliable solution for treating hard water. If you strictly want to remove hard minerals from your water, a water softener would be best for you. If hard water is less of a concern for you and you want to focus more on eliminating chemicals and restoring the smell and taste of your water, a conditioner may be right for you.

If you’re still undecided, the best way to determine which system is right for you is by having your water professionally tested and analyzed so it can be treated based on what’s in it.

Shop Water Softeners From Culligan Water

Improve your water quality the right way with a water softener from Culligan Water. With over 60 years of experience in Mechanicsburg, we understand your water needs and will work with you to provide the best water softener solution for your home or business. We’ll do a free in-home water analysis to determine how to treat your water best. With our innovative, efficient and smart water softeners, you’ll benefit from softer water in your kitchen, bathroom, laundry room and beyond. 

We’ll guide you through the process of selecting