Understanding The Differences Between Water Softening & Reverse Osmosis

When it comes to choosing the best water treatment system for your home, it pays to know the differences between each treatment option. Water softeners and reverse osmosis filtration systems are two popular options among homeowners. Yet it's all too easy to assume that both processes work the same way, despite yielding similar results.

Reverse Osmosis Filters Water

Reverse osmosis is a relatively straightforward process used by many water treatment systems. These systems usually consist of a high-pressure water pump that feeds water into a semi-permeable membrane. The membrane acts as a filter that prevents dissolved minerals and other contaminants from passing through. The trapped salts and contaminants are instead routed through a "reject stream" that leads to a nearby drain, in most cases. Meanwhile, ordinary water molecules are able to overcome the osmotic pressure that prevents contaminants from passing through the membrane.

Unlike water softeners, water filtration systems that rely on reverse osmosis don't require any chemicals or special solutions. These systems are also adept at removing a broad range of contaminants aside from dissolved minerals, including nitrates, sulfates, fluoride, chlorine and lead. Last but not least, reverse osmosis systems excel at removing bad taste from your drinking water.

There is a significant downside to using a reverse osmosis system, however. These can be extremely inefficient when it comes to water usage. It's not unusual for a typical unit to discharge up to 20 gallons of water for every gallon of water successfully filtered. In an effort to mitigate this waste, many reverse osmosis systems recycle their reject streams back into the feedwater for reuse.

Water Softening Conditions Water

When compared to reverse osmosis, water softeners take a drastically different approach to water treatment. Water softening deals mostly with neutralizing dissolved minerals and other impurities found in hard water.

Instead of using filters to remove unwanted contaminants from the water, water softeners rely on the ionization process that exchanges magnesium and calcium ions with positively charged sodium ions. The magnesium and calcium ions are effectively trapped inside of small polystyrene beads in the mineral tank. These ions are later flushed out of the mineral tank with an exceptionally strong brine solution contained in a separate tank.

The end result is hard water that becomes "softer" in taste and feel thanks to the removal of harsh minerals. Adding a water softening system to your home can help your appliances last longer, reduce clogs caused by mineral buildup and even help make dishes cleaner and laundry brighter. However, your water may take on a slightly salty taste as a result of the water softening process. In addition, water softening won't help with removing non-mineral contaminants.

Both Systems Can Complement Each Other

Instead of choosing between a water softener and reverse osmosis filtration system, you can combine both to create a highly effective water treatment system for your home. There are plenty of reasons why water softeners and reverse osmosis systems can work together to improve your home's water quality. 

A water softener can actually protect a reverse osmosis system by removing magnesium and calcium minerals before they reach the RO system's membrane. This can help extend the membrane's lifespan to a considerable degree.

Reverse osmosis systems are also valuable for catching contaminants that are left untouched by a water softener, ensuring that your home's water supply is completely free of unwanted impurities.

A reverse osmosis system can also take care of water taste issues that a water softener may not be able to overcome. For instance, you can use your RO system to remove the slightly salty taste often caused by the water softening process.

When pairing a water softener with a reverse osmosis system or vice versa, it's important to choose a water treatment system that won't interfere with or compromise the other in any way. This way, you'll be able to enjoy clean water without having to worry about reliability or longevity issues. To learn more, contact companies like Anderson Water Systems.