Do Water Softeners Remove PFAS? (What to Know in 2023)

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We don’t blame you if you want to remove PFAS chemicals from your water. But can you achieve PFAS reduction with a water softener?

In this guide, we’ve answered the question: “Do water softener systems remove tap water PFAS?”

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • No, water softeners don’t remove PFAS from drinking water.
  • Water softeners use a process called ion exchange, which removes hardness minerals and some other substances from water, but not PFAS.
  • The best alternative methods of removing PFOA and PFOS are reverse osmosis systems and activated carbon filters.

🤔 Does A Water Softener Remove PFAS?

No, a water softener isn’t capable of removing PFAS from drinking water.

The outcome of water softening is soft water. That means that water doesn’t contain calcium and magnesium minerals, and its iron concentration may also be reduced – but its PFAS levels will be the same.

In short, using a water softener won’t affect the concentration of PFAS in your drinking water in any way.

Soft water produced through a water softener system

⛔️ Why Don’t Water Softeners Remove PFAS?

To understand why a water softener doesn’t remove PFAS, we need to look at the system in detail.

Water softeners aren’t water filters. Some folks wrongly say that water softeners filter water, but this isn’t true.

Instead, the purpose of a water softener is to soften water – or change hard water into soft water – by using a process called ion exchange.

Ion exchange treatment takes place in a special softening resin bed. The resin has an opposite charge to water hardness minerals. So, when water flows into the resin tank, the hardness minerals are attracted to the resin. At the same time, sodium ions are released into the water so that its charge is balanced.

PFAS chemicals aren’t targeted by the particular ion exchange resin that’s used in a softening system and will remain in the softened water supply.

The only way to remove PFOA and PFOS is by using a water filter that traps these contaminants in its pores.

🔎 What Do Water Softeners Remove?

So, a water softener doesn’t have an effect on your water’s PFAS concentration – but what does this water treatment system remove?

The main contaminants removed by water softeners are calcium and magnesium minerals.

These minerals aren’t harmful to health – in fact, we need them in our diets – but they’re considered nuisance contaminants because they form limescale in pipes and plumbing fixtures.

By softening water, a water softener eliminates these minerals and prevents hard water effects around your home.

A water softener can also remove low levels of:

  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Copper
  • Several other dissolved metals

The majority of water softeners come with a sediment pre-filter that removes sediment particles, like dust, rust, and iron, from tap water.

Illustration of the ion exchange process taking place in a water softener system
How Ion Exchange in a Water Softener System Works

🧐 What Are PFAS & What Are Their Effects In Water?

Before you start looking at water treatment systems that can remove PFAS, make sure you’re certain that this is the contaminant you’re dealing with.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, refers to a group of 4,000+ chemicals that have strong carbon-fluorine bonds. The most common types of PFAS are PFOS and PFOA.

Factories, airports, military bases, and other establishments used PFAS in fire fighting foams and industrial processes, until the health risks of these toxic chemicals became widely known.

PFAS are found in non-stick cookware, water-resistant clothing, eye makeup, cleaning products, candy wrappers, and many more everyday items. Although PFAS are no longer commonly used, they’re classed as “forever chemicals” because they linger in the environment for decades after being released.

PFAS contamination of water has been linked to numerous health conditions, including:

  • Immune system effects
  • Obesity
  • Cancer
  • Low birth weight
  • Thyroid hormone disruption

According to a recent analysis of PFAS in drinking water, an estimated 6 million people drink PFAS in their water supplies in the US. The Environmental Protection Agency currently doesn’t have an MCL for PFAS, but it has developed a non-enforceable Lifetime Health Advisory (LHA) level of 0.07 mg/L for PFOS and PFOA.

Products that contain PFAs

💯 Best Methods Of Removing PFAS

We’ve shared some of the best methods of removing PFAS below.

Activated Carbon Filters

Granular activated carbon water filters are an effective PFAS reduction treatment, removing around 70-80% of PFAS.

Activated carbon treatment works by grabbing onto contaminants and pulling them into the filter media – a process known as adsorption.

You can buy activated carbon drinking water filters for under-sink and countertop installation, as well as whole-home water systems to remove PFAS from your entire home’s water supply.

Reverse Osmosis Filters

Reverse osmosis water filtration systems are another effective water treatment method to remove drinking water PFAS – as well as up to 99.99% of all other dissolved contaminants.

A reverse osmosis system can remove up to 90% of PFAS chemicals from tap water.

The system uses a semi-permeable membrane to separate the water from its impurities. The contaminants are flushed away down a drain.

A reverse osmosis filter is most commonly installed as an under-sink or countertop unit.

RKIN U1 countertop RO dispensing cool water

Io Exchange Systems

Water softeners themselves don’t remove contaminants like PFAS, but others systems using ion exchange do.

You can use an ion exchange water filter to remove 70%+ of PFAS contaminants.

There are a few factors that affect an ion exchange system’s PFAS removal performance, including the type and quality of the resin bed, and the water temperature and flow rate.

You can find ion exchange resins in point-of-use (POU) and point of entry (POE) water filter systems.

Related: Do refrigerator water filters remove pfas?

📑 Final Word

In an ideal world, a water softener would solve all your water quality issues in one.

But the reality is that even the best water softener can only remove hardness minerals and low levels of iron and other heavy metals.

If your main goal is to soften your water, install a water softener. If you just want to reduce PFAS chemicals, install a water filtration system that is capable of PFAS removal.

Or, if you want soft, PFAS-free water, consider installing a water softener alongside a water treatment filter to enjoy the benefits of both systems.

Keep reading to learn how to choose the best water filter for PFAS contamination.

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