Water Softener Vs Reverse Osmosis: What is Right Your Application?

Access to pure drinking water is a necessity for every individual whether at home or office. However, that doesn’t come easy because water in its purest form has several impurities, which need to be removed or filtered out before using. There are various purification techniques in use today. Reverse osmosis and water softeners are two popular techniques among them. Many homeowners are confused about these techniques. This post aims at easing their decision making by providing insights on these techniques in detail.

Water Softener and Reverse Osmosis – A Brief Introduction

Many times, these terms may seem confusing if you are hearing them for the first time. The following points will help you understand it better.

  • Water Softener: This term is synonymous with hard water purification. Hard water has high levels of minerals. This water is formed when it passes through deposits of chalk, limestone and gypsum, and features common calcium and magnesium-containing minerals. Hard water may impart a chalk taste and will form hazy deposits on dishes, bathtubs, and shower walls.  It also causes problems when left untreated in industrial applications using cooling towers and boilers. Water is deemed as hard if the combined concentration of magnesium or calcium ions exceed 120 PPM. The term water softening relates to the process removing magnesium, calcium as well as other metal cations.

The most common equipment that is used for water softening is known as a water softener. The softener uses a cation resin which contains sodium ions. As hard water flows into the vessel containing the resin, the sodium ions are kicked off the resin and exchanged for the cations calcium, magnesium, iron, and manganese that can be found in the influent water. These hard ions remain on the resin. During the regeneration process, a brine solution (usually salt or sodium chloride) releases these hard ions captured and send them to waste with chlorides found in the brine solution. The sodium ions reattach onto the resin during this cleaning cycle. This exchange leads to water softening.

  • Reverse Osmosis: Osmosis is a natural process, where a solvent passes through a semipermeable membrane from the region of low solute concentration to the region of high solute concentration. However, reverse osmosis is a process, which is created artificially using pressure. In this, the water is made to pass from the area of high solute concentration to the area of low solute concentration.

The water is pushed through a fine semipermeable membrane at a certain pressure. Larger systems, such as a whole house or commercial RO, utilize a booster pump to increase this pressure. The semipermeable membrane features a dense layer that allows only water to pass, whereas salts and other impurities are seperated. This pressure helps overcome the osmotic pressure induced by chemical solvents. Reverse osmosis is effective at removing impurities at the ionic level such as dissolved sodium, chlorides, and metal ions down to 0.001 microns. Unlike other water treatment technologies, a large portion of the water is rejected and sent to waste (25%-50%).

water softener vs reverse osmosis
Water Softener vs Reverse Osmosis

Reverse Osmosis Vs Water Softeners: Which is Better?

Each of these processes has their benefits. Deciding on the right system will depend on various factors. The following pointers would help you understand it better.

  • Water Quality: A water softener may remove magnesium and calcium levels in water, but there are several other harmful pollutants, which it may not be removed.  It will not affect the TDS levels of water. TDS is a term for total dissolved solids, which may comprise sodium, magnesium, manganese, iron, nitrate, sulfate, chloride, and carbonate. This is why only softened water is not recommended for drinking.  Reverse Osmosis systems are proven to purify 95-99% of the impurities in water. These systems are used to purify bore well water, which contains a high level of organic and inorganic pollutants. They utilize permeable membranes to remove harmful and inorganic substances in water.
  • Taste: The taste of water is affected by the chemicals present in it.  As reverse osmosis can remove 90% of chemicals in water, it eliminates the odors associated with them. On the other hand, water softeners remove a great deal of magnesium, calcium, and iron in water, and make it fit for daily usage but not necessarily the best for drinking. Also, the taste of water is affected slightly due to the remnant sodium ions added to the water.
  • Efficiency: Whole house or commercial RO systems can be expensive whereas the under-the-sink (POU) systems are rather inexpensive. All RO systems may have daily capacity limits and often require pre and post treatment of the water along with storage tanks and at times repressurization systems. A water softener system also has capacity limits but various options are available to ensure there is no disruption in service or hard water breakthroughs. Much more space is required for a proper whole house RO install and energy consumption is much higher than a water softener.
  • Repair and Maintenance: As said before, RO systems may require periodic filter changes and they are easy to handle. Water softeners demand regular pre-filter changes and salt additions every other week or so.

As the advantages and disadvantages of both systems are introduced here, you would be in a better position to make the right decision. Whatever system you use, ensure to source it from a trusted supplier like Intec-America. The company provides point-of-entry and whole house reverse osmosis systems. These systems have been widely used for commercial and residential reverse osmosis applications. Similarly, the company also provides water softeners and no-salt water conditioners for water purification. Intec-America is a pioneer of copper ionization technology in the US. The company has developed copper ionization systems, which are used for purifying pools and spas.


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