Do Water Softeners Remove Fluoride? (a Water Doctor Explains)

Keen to remove fluoride from your drinking water? Wondering whether water softeners can remove this mineral? You’ll find everything you need to know in this guide.

TL;DR

No, a water softener can’t remove fluoride. Water softeners are only designed to tackle hardness minerals that are responsible for limescale.

Why can’t a water softener remove fluoride? How does a water softener work, and what can it remove? Read on to learn more.

🚿 How Does a Water Softener Work?

A water softener physically removes scale-causing minerals from hard water using a process called ion exchange.

There are two tanks that make up a water softener: a resin tank and a brine tank. The brine stores the salt, and the resin tank stores the resin.

Hard water from your pipes flows through the resin tank. The positive calcium and magnesium ions are attracted to the negatively charged resin bed. The ions stick to the resin, and equal amounts of sodium ions are released into the water, softening it.

When the resin bed is fully saturated with calcium and magnesium, and is depleted of sodium ion minerals, the water softener regenerates. This flushes the resin bed, removing the hardness minerals and sending them down the drain. Brine from the sodium tank then travels into the resin tank and replenishes the resin bed with sodium ions.

How a water softener works

🚱 Why Can’t a Water Softener Remove Fluoride?

The water softening process simply isn’t designed for fluoride removal.

Fluoride ions aren’t attracted to the resin bed, which means they can’t be lifted out of water during the ion exchange process.

The only way to remove fluoride from your water supply is to use a water filtration system that’s designed to target this impurity. Fluoride is especially difficult to remove, and there are only a few filters that are thorough enough for fluoride reduction.

✅ What Can Water Softeners Remove?

Water softeners are designed to remove calcium and magnesium from your hard water supply. These minerals are responsible for lime staining – the whiteish-yellow, hard coating that forms around your faucets and in your coffeepot.

The role of water softeners is to improve your water quality and prevent issues associated with scale, like reduced water flow, increased soap use, and shortened appliance lifespans.

A softened water system doesn’t actually remove dangerous impurities or contaminants with health effects from drinking water. It won’t make your water any healthier or safer to drink.

hard water stains

🚰 How to Remove Fluoride from Water

Luckily, while water softeners can’t remove fluoride, there are plenty of water filters that are very effective at reducing this mineral. We’ve listed the four most capable filters below.

Activated Alumina Water Filters

Activated alumina, made from aluminum oxide, is one of the most popular types of water filters for removing fluoride. This filter media isn’t designed to tackle a wide range of contaminants affecting water quality. Instead, it offers focused arsenic, selenium, and fluoride.

Activated alumina can remove up to 90% of fluoride, as long as water flow is relatively slow, and its pH isn’t too high. For this reason, activated alumina filter media is commonly found in gravity filtration systems, like water filter pitchers.

Reverse Osmosis Filtration

A reverse osmosis system removes up to 99.99% of all total dissolved solids, so it’s no surprise that this type of water filter does a great job of removing fluoride.

The semi-permeable RO membrane is the most important filter stage in a reverse osmosis unit. When water flows through this membrane, only tiny water particles make it to the other side. All the impurities in the water, like heavy metals, essential minerals, salts, and microorganisms, are unable to pass through, and are washed down a drain.

An RO system is typically installed underneath your kitchen sink or on your kitchen countertop. If you want to reduce fluoride levels in the water traveling throughout your home, consider a whole-home reverse osmosis unit – but keep in mind that these systems are much more expensive to buy and operate.

Waterdrop g3 ro system

Water Distillers

A water distiller rivals reverse osmosis, removing virtually the same contaminants as RO. Distilled water is almost 100% pure, and is free from all minerals, salts, chemicals, metals, microorganisms, and other contaminants found in tap water supplies.

The distillation process involves heating water in a boiling chamber until the water evaporates. Most impurities are left behind in the boiling chamber because they can only evaporate at much higher temperatures.

The water leaves the chamber and travels down a cooling corridor, and drips into a clean container. This entire process can take 5 or 6 hours to purify a single batch of water – but you can guarantee that your water will be virtually fluoride-free.

Water distillers are usually installed as point of use applications on your kitchen countertop.

countertop water distiller

Bone Charcoal Carbon Filters

Bone char filters are a special type of granular activated carbon media that can remove up to 90% of fluoride.

A bone char filter has enhanced adsorption abilities, and is typically included as a stage in a large water treatment system, like a whole house filter.

As well as fluoride, a bone charcoal carbon filter can remove lead, mercury, chlorine, chloramine, and tannins. This filter is affordable, but not widely offered by manufacturers today.

🧠 Water Softener Fluoride Removal FAQs

What’s wrong with fluoride?

You’ve probably heard contesting information about fluoride, a mineral that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust. Dental health professionals say that fluoride can prevent tooth decay. In fact, the reason why community water fluoridation is so popular is that experts believe that the costs of fluoridating water can help them save money on treating issues relating to tooth decay.

However, too much fluoride can cause skeletal and dental fluorosis, and even fluoride poisoning. For this reason, many people choose to exclusively drink fluoride-free water – a difficult and potentially costly decision when public drinking water fluoridation is common across the country.

Will my dental health be affected by reducing my fluoride exposure?

No. Fluoride is only one of the contributing factors to good dental health. Reducing your fluoride intake doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll get tooth decay, just as drinking fluoridated water isn’t guaranteed to reduce tooth decay. You can use fluoridated toothpaste – the kind that you spit out – if you still want to benefit your dental health without putting fluoride into your body.

Can I avoid fluoride if I drink bottled water?

Not necessarily. Many bottled water companies use fluoridated water or don’t treat their water to reduce fluoride levels. Plus, if you exclusively drink from plastic water bottles, you’re contributing to the single-use plastic issue, so it’s not a good long-term solution. The best way to avoid fluoride is to treat water supplied to your own home.

Does fluoride dissipate in water?

No, fluoride doesn’t dissipate in water. Fluoride doesn’t evaporate easily like chlorine, so if you’re considering boiling a batch of water to remove fluoride, unfortunately it won’t work. In fact, boiling your water will only cause some of the water to evaporate, leaving you with a smaller concentration of water, and the exact same amount of fluoride.

Boiling water

Does Culligan water softener remove fluoride?

No, none of Culligan’s water softeners can remove fluoride. You’ll need to install a water filter alongside your water softener if you want to benefit from fluoride-free, soft water.

Can an ion exchange filter remove fluoride?

Don’t confuse ion exchange filters with water softener systems. Ion exchange water filters are typically found in small-scale water treatment systems, like pitchers. However, like water softeners, they’re not usually capable of removing fluoride, although some ion exchange filters may remove low levels of this mineral.

How do you remove fluoride from water pipes?

First off, fluoride in your water supply is unlikely to accumulate in your water pipes. You might be thinking of hard water minerals, which stick to pipes and form scale.

But if you want to keep fluoride out of your pipes altogether, you’ll need a whole house water filter system with at least one filter stage that can remove this mineral.

How can I remove fluoride from water cheaply?

The cheapest ways to reduce fluoride from water supplies are bone char carbon and activated alumina filtration. These water filters are affordable for most budgets because they’re not as complex as the most expensive options (such as reverse osmosis).