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Reverse Osmosis vs. Water Softener: Which is Better?

Access to clean and safe drinking water is fundamental for a healthy life. However, no matter where you live, contaminants can infiltrate your home’s water supply in numerous ways. From naturally occurring minerals to man-made pollutants, these contaminants can have serious effects on our health and well-being. This is where a household water treatment system can be beneficial. 

Water treatment systems can make water safer by removing contaminants while also creating a better taste by removing certain minerals and chemicals. Two of the most popular household water treatment systems, Reverse Osmosis and Water Softeners, can both improve your household’s standard of living; but which is better? Is there a water treatment system that is best for you and your family’s situation? Read on for some helpful information on this comparison between reverse osmosis and water softeners. 

Why Process Water? 

Not all areas have safe drinking water, and the EPA does not regulate any of the estimated 13 million private wells around the U.S. The most common contaminants found in well water and untreated water include: 

  • Microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause gastrointestinal illness.
  • Nitrate and nitrite from chemical fertilizers and animal or human waste which can reduce the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and cause death in infants. 
  • Heavy metals, such as arsenic, cadmium, copper, and lead from household pipes and industrial operations which can lead to acute and chronic toxicity and liver, kidney, and intestinal damage, anemia, and cancer.
  • Organic chemicals from dyes, pesticides, solvents, and pharmaceuticals which cause kidney, liver, circulatory system, nervous system, and reproductive system failure.
  • Radionuclides from radioactive elements, such as uranium, come from nuclear power production. These may also be present in groundwater and can cause toxic kidney effects and increase the risk of cancer.
  • Fluoride, which can occur naturally in aquifers or as a supplement in municipal water supplies, can help prevent tooth decay. However, too much fluoride can cause skeletal fluorosis, causing pain and tenderness of bones and joints.

Household water treatment systems can remove those contaminants listed above before anyone in your home consumes them. The benefits of household water treatment systems include: 

  • Safe water without any contaminants; ready for drinking, bathing, cooking, and cleaning. 
  • Better quality drinking water that shows in its clearer appearance and superior taste. 
  • Cleaner dishes, pipes, and cleaning equipment due to minerals and scum being removed from the water prior to use. This also improves their overall functionality and decreases the risk of issues arising. 
  • Lower energy bills through the reduction of minerals that cause piping and water heating systems to be reduced in efficiency. 
  • Healthier skin that benefits from reduced minerals that absorb moisture; skin is less dry and itchy, feels smoother, and looks brighter. 
  • They are extremely easy to use and rarely require extra effort on behalf of individuals living in the household. 

What is Reverse Osmosis? 

Reverse Osmosis is one of the most common water treatment solutions on the market for its effectiveness and affordability. Osmosis is a naturally occurring process and is scientifically defined as the process in which molecules of a solvent pass through a semipermeable membrane from a low-concentrated solution into a higher-concentrated one to achieve equilibrium. Reverse osmosis is the exact opposite of this and thus requires some type of external force or pressure to drive water in and through the membrane. 

Reverse osmosis succeeds in providing the following benefits: 

  • Higher water quality
  • Reduces the total dissolved solids (TDS)
  • Eliminates 95-99% of the impurities 
  • Removes odor associated with chemicals and minerals 

What is a Water Softener? 

Water softeners are another popular household water treatment solution. Also known as ion exchange units, this device removes specific minerals such as calcium and magnesium from your water supply that would otherwise create what’s called ‘hard water’. 

Hard water is extremely common as it is found in over 85% of households in the United States. Hard water resists lathering soap and the minerals can sometimes leave a chalky residue on clothes, dishes, and other surfaces once it dries. While it isn’t necessarily dangerous, hard water can be very unpleasant for some individuals and it can make your appliances less efficient. 

Water softeners work with sodium ion resin beads that trap unwanted minerals as they pass through the filter. These types of water treatment systems succeed in: 

  • Removing major minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium 
  • Improving effectiveness and longevity of washing machines, dishwashers, etc. by greatly reducing mineral scale buildup 
  • Requiring less space than reverse osmosis systems

Which is Better? 

How do these household water treatment systems compare head to head? Realistically, reverse osmosis and water softener systems have different applications and can be used for different things. In other words, they are both useful in their own way so it’s hard to say which is better in general - each will be better for their respective task. 

Reverse osmosis systems certainly have the edge in terms of drinking water quality. Reverse osmosis removes practically all contaminants, including sediment and chlorine, so that it is guaranteed safe for drinking; the same cannot be said about water softeners. Water softeners remove major minerals but not all of them. Furthermore, some sodium ions tend to get passed on to the treated water during the softening process so that a slight taste remains. 

On the other hand, reverse osmosis systems can sometimes be an over-the-top solution. They may be expensive and require a lot of maintenance when implemented for the entire home or building, and they require more space to be installed. Water softeners tend to require less space, and while they too require maintenance, certain water softener models create an interruption-free experience. 

If your goal is the cleanest drinking water possible, then reverse osmosis is the way to go. If your goal is, instead, to reduce the amount of hard water in your home so that your appliances, skin, and hair can benefit, then a water softener will be much more practical. 

The Bottom Line

Household water treatment systems are becoming a very common addition to modern homes, ensuring safe water quality and maximizing the benefits it has on your health and home appliance functionality. If you have additional questions or want to schedule a water treatment system installation in your own home or business, contact WM Buffington today! 

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