Do Water Softeners Have Filters? (Hint: They Should!)

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The main role of a water softener is to soften water. So, do water softeners have filters? Not exactly.

Here, we’ve shared what you need to know about the possible filters in a water softener.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Water softeners usually have a sediment pre-filter, which protects the softening resin from sediment damage.
  • The softening process itself takes place in a tank loaded with ion exchange resin, not in a filter cartridge.
  • Water softeners can only remove minerals that cause hard water scale buildup. To remove contaminants like chlorine and metals, you need a whole house filter system installed alongside the softener.

🚰 Does A Water Softener Use A Filter?

No – for the actual water softening process, a traditional salt-based water softener doesn’t use a filter.

The whole purpose of a water softener is to produce soft water. Most water softeners don’t use filter media to do this – they use a salt-based softening process called ion exchange.

Ion exchange takes place in a large tank, not a water filter cartridge. The tank contains a softening resin that’s saturated with sodium ions. As hard water flows through the tank, hard minerals are trapped in the resin, and sodium ions are released to take their place in water.

Eventually, the softening resin becomes depleted of sodium and saturated with calcium and magnesium, and the resin is flushed (the regeneration process) to remove these minerals.

Using a resin bed in a water softener instead of a water filter has a few benefits:

  • It has a large surface area, allowing for a large number of calcium and magnesium minerals to be trapped at a time.
  • It can be flushed and reused for 10+ years, so it lasts much longer, is cheaper to run, and requires far less maintenance than a typical water filtration system.

However, water softeners also waste water during regeneration, which cartridge-based filters don’t do.

So, ion exchange water softeners don’t use a filter to soften water.

But that doesn’t mean that a water softener is entirely filter-free.

Springwell Water Filter and Salt Based Water Softener System combo water treatment system

🤔 What Is A Water Softener Sediment Filter?

A sediment filter is the only traditional cartridge-style filter you’ll find on a water softener. This small filter is installed upstream of the water softener unit and the housing is usually blue or black in color.

All good water softener systems should come with a sediment pre-filter. The purpose of this filter is to protect the softening resin from sediment damage, which might reduce the resin’s efficiency and shorten its lifespan.

Sediment water filters are usually designed to remove particles down to 5 microns in size. They won’t remove other contaminants that might be in your tap water, like chlorine, heavy metals, and nitrates.

Water softener sediment filters have a lifespan of about 3-6 months. Make sure to change the filters on time to keep the resin beads protected against sediment damage.

Related Articles:

🔎 Do Any Hard Water Treatment Systems Use Water Filters?

Traditional salt-based water softeners don’t use filters because they use a water softener resin instead.

However, some salt-free softening alternatives, such as water conditioners, do sometimes use one or two water filter cartridges.

Salt-free water conditioners use a conditioning media that “conditions” water (crystallizes hardness minerals to prevent them from forming mineral deposits). This media is most commonly loaded into a tank, but it can sometimes be used in filter cartridges, too.

📌 The Evo E-2000 is an example of a salt-free water conditioner that uses filter cartridges. It’s currently our top choice cartridge-based conditioner and contains two filters: a sediment filter and a template-assisted crystallization conditioning filter.

If you’re specifically looking for a cartridge-based water softener, you’ll have to look at salt-free conditioners like the Evo model.

Evo E-2000 Installation Location

📑 Final Thoughts: Can You Soften and Filter Your Water?

So, we know that water softening units don’t have a filter for anything other than sediment. But can you soften and filter your water at the same time?

👨‍🔧 Yes. In fact, many homeowners decide to install both water softener systems (to treat hard water) and whole house water filters (to remove contaminants and improve their water quality).

Installing a water softener alongside a water filtration system gives you the best of both worlds. You can enjoy all the benefits of a filtered, softened water supply, including better-performing water using appliances, better-tasting water with reduced health risks, healthier skin and hair, and more.

A few manufacturers sell filter and softener combo systems that target numerous contaminants and impurities at once. They’re often cheaper than buying the two systems separately, so if you’re keen to prevent hard water scale and remove impurities that could hinder your family’s health, they’re well worth considering.

❔ Do Water Softener Systems Have Filters? FAQ

Do water softeners filter water?

No, water softener systems don’t filter water. Only water filtration systems can remove the likes of heavy metals and chlorine (both common in city water) or hydrogen sulfide and iron (common in well water) with built-in water filters. Water softening units only have a sediment pre-filter, which protects the water softening resin from rust, sand, and other debris in your drinking water. Learn more about the differences between filters and softeners.

Do I need a water filter for a water softener?

If your tap water quality is generally fine and your water softener comes with a sediment filter, you shouldn’t need to remove contaminants with an additional water filter. However, if your water contains a lot of total dissolved solids, you should look at installing a whole home filtration system to prevent high levels of sediment, iron, chlorine, and other debris from damaging the resin and reducing its lifespan.

Do water softeners have iron filters?

No, water softeners don’t have iron filters, and most on their own can only remove about 1 PPM of iron from water. However, some water softeners have a special resin that can remove around 3-5 PPM of iron. If you have high levels of iron in your water, you may need to install a whole house water filter upstream of your softener to prevent iron damage to the softening resin.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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