Water Conditioner vs Water Softener – Your Choice

Computer illustration of a faceless man standing on a scale between a check mark and x, representing two optionsWater softener terminology is often confusing or even misleading. In the absence of clear-cut definitions, companies often use different words to refer to the same type of system, or the same words to refer to different types of systems – all based not on accuracy, but on what’s likely to sell more units. One example is the use of the terms water conditioner vs water softener. Beyond the semantics, there’s a real difference between the two.

Water Conditioner vs Water Softener – Definitions

Water conditioner is a general term for any water treatment system. This includes systems that remove harmful chemicals, improve the taste, or even soften water. Yes, a water softener – whether it’s a conventional ion exchange softener or a saltless system – is a specific type of water conditioner.

The definition of water softener is more controversial. Many water service pros insist a water softener should remove hard water minerals – which would exclude a lot of salt free systems that call themselves softeners. The manufacturers of these saltless systems would probably argue that the dispute over word choice doesn’t matter to customers, who only care about the effects of hard water on their plumbing and fixtures. Saltless water softeners are designed to effectively soften water by eliminating these problems.

This is where the classification of different systems gets tangled up. One saltless system may call itself a water conditioner, whereas another using the same water treatment method may call itself a water softener.

Should You Get a Water Conditioner or Water Softener?

In general, when people talk about getting a water conditioner vs a water softener, they’re talking about saltless systems vs conventional ion exchange systems. Choosing between hard water treatment options involves weighing a lot of different factors.

Saltless water conditioners are usually the more eco-friendly option, as they don’t flush harmful waste water like ion exchange system do. In fact, conventional systems have been banned in many places due to the extra burden they place on water treatment facilities. For people who live in those areas – or those who simply don’t want to deal with water softener salt – saltless systems are often a good choice.

However, most people choose conventional ion exchange water softeners to deal with hard water. The technology behind these systems has been around a long time, and their effectiveness is well documented – in contrast to many saltless technologies, which are relatively new and untested. For people with very hard water – or those who don’t mind handling large bags of salt – a conventional ion exchange system is recommended.

Price can also be a factor. Saltless and conventional systems vary a lot in price, and there’s a lot of overlap between the two. However, magnetic and electronic systems are often much cheaper – sometimes costing $100 or less.

Know Your Water Conditioners

To find the right water conditioner for you, it’s important to look beyond the terminology and figure out what the system actually does. Whether you decide on a product labeled a water conditioner or a water softener, you stand a better chance of being happy with the purchase if the system fits your needs.