Filter or softener, which do you choose for clean, safe drinking water?

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
Filter or softener, which do you choose for clean, safe drinking water?

If you have a water softener, it’s all too easy to think that your drinking water is free of contaminants, but that’s not the case. If you’re fearful of what you may be drinking, only a water purifier will remove health hazards.

Keep in mind each device has a specific job.

“There is confusion in the marketplace,” said Peter Censky, executive director of the Water Quality Association. “A true water softener simply removes calcium and magnesium from water.”

Hard water has high levels of calcium and magnesium
, and the levels vary across the country.

On the other hand, a water purifier, also commonly called a water filter, removes contaminants from the water. These systems can range from a gallon pitcher with a charcoal filter to a whole-house, reverse-osmosis system.

“Filters can remove contaminants that have health effects, and they can improve taste and remove odors also,” Cinsky said.

Although a water softener may make water taste better, the water is not any healthier. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there are no adverse health effects from hard water. The main problem with hard water is that it can cause a build up of scale deposits in water heaters and cause spotting on dishes, cars and clothing.

“Depending on where you live, if you have moderately to relatively hard water, those are not just aesthetic issues; it can be quite costly to live with hard water,” Censky said.

Softeners and filters also differ on how they’re used in a house. A softener is usually a point-of-entry device. That means it’s connected to the incoming water supply of the home.

By contrast, a filter is a point-of-use device, which means it’s connected to where the water is used for consumption, such as at a faucet or refrigerator. Usually only water used for drinking or cooking is run through the purifying or filtration system.

In some cases, a home may require both a softener and a purifier system to provide clean, soft water suitable for all uses.

“When a house needs it all, they typically go with something that’s at the point of entry like a softener and then at point of use at the faucet is a filter,” said Pauli Undesser, director of Regulatory and Technical Affairs for the association.

Even if a home does not need a filter now, Undesser said the EPA is reviewing regulations on chemicals that are becoming more common in drinking water, such as chemicals from medications called endocrine disruptors, that are not removed by standard municipal water treatments.

Because only about 1 percent of the water treated by municipalities is used for human consumption, it’s not affordable to treat all the water for these substances, Undesser said.

“The other 99 percent goes into firefighting, doing laundry, flushing toilets and so on,” she said. “The good news is, the water purifier technology available today for home use will remove many of these contaminants.”

To find out what potential health hazards might be in your drinking water, ask you water utility for a Consumer Confidence Report, or if you have a well, have your water tested.

The Water Quality Association offers an online Diagnose Your Water tool to help people identify problems with their water, and a list of devices certified to remove the problem.


Topics: Water Filtration & Water Quality



Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

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