Sediment Filter vs Water Softener: Do I Need Both?

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Water softeners and sediment water filters both play key roles in water treatment – but what’s the difference, and which is best for you?

In this water softener vs sediment filter guide, we’ve compared the performance of these water treatment systems and outlined the key facts you need to know when deciding between the two.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Water softeners turn hard water into soft water by removing calcium and magnesium minerals, usually with ion exchange.
  • Sediment water filters remove dirt, debris, dust, rust, sand, silt, and other suspended particles.
  • Most water softener systems come with an included sediment pre-filter to protect the resin bed from damage.

📥 What Is A Sediment Water Filter?

A sediment filter is a type of water filter that’s designed to remove sediments – which are most common in well water and are known to clog appliances and pipes, leading to expensive damage.

A sediment filter improves your drinking water and protects your whole home’s plumbing fixtures and pipes by trapping inorganic and organic particulate matter.

The majority of water treatment systems, including water softening systems, use a sediment pre-filter to protect the later treatment stages from damage. A whole house sediment filter can also be installed as a standalone filter.

👉 Compare the best sediment filters available right here.

Sediment pre-filter for water conditioner

🔎 What Does A Sediment Filter Do?

A sediment filter acts as a sieve, using mechanical filtration to purify water. The filter blocks large particles, while allowing water particles to pass through the media.

The type and surface area of a sediment filter affect the quality of its performance. The larger the surface area, the more particulate matter can be trapped.

Some sediment water filters have a depth gradient, meaning that particles of different sizes are trapped in each subsequent filter layer, which gets increasingly smaller towards the middle of the filter. Other sediment water filters – spin-down sediment filters – force sediment into a screen with centrifugal force.

Regardless of the type of sediment filter you use, there’s one thing that never changes: the best position for this filter is before any other appliance or water treatment unit in your plumbing system, upstream of your water heater. That means all the water in your home, including both hot and cold water, is free from sediment.

Mechanical Filtration Separation Process
Mechanical Filtration Process

Does A Sediment Filter Soften Water?

No, a sediment filter doesn’t soften water.

The water softening process involves removing minerals that cause hard water scale buildup. These minerals are dissolved in water and are too small to be trapped in a sediment filter, so they simply slip through the filter’s pores with water particles.

If you tested your water hardness before and after using a sediment water filter, you wouldn’t notice a difference.

🚰 What Is A Water Softener?

A water softener is a whole home water treatment system that’s designed to turn hard water into soft water by removing hardness minerals (namely calcium and magnesium).

Calcium and magnesium aren’t bad for human health – in fact, they’re needed for various health purposes – but they’re incredibly damaging in a plumbing system. They form something called limescale, which clogs up appliances, sticks to pipes and reduces flow rate, and leaves ugly stains around faucets and on shower screens.

Water softeners are installed at your home’s point of entry, so they remove hardness minerals before they have a chance to flow through your plumbing.

Springwell WSS well wate filter and salt based softener combo system control heads

🔎 What Does A Water Softener Do?

To understand what a water softener does, we need to know how it’s designed.

A water softener contains a resin tank, a brine tank, and a control valve.

The resin tank contains the softening resin, which is loaded with sodium ions. These sodium ions are sourced from the brine tank, which contains salt. (Or, you can use potassium chloride if you don’t want to add salt to your water). The control valve controls the system’s processes, ensuring that brine (salt dissolved in water) is transported to the resin tank to flush the resin beads and load them with salt ahead of ion exchange.

What is the ion exchange process? It’s the name given to the most popular method of water softening, where calcium and magnesium ions are exchanged with sodium ions on the resin bed.

The resin beads have an opposite charge to hardness minerals, which causes the minerals to stick to the resin. At the same time, equal amounts of sodium are released into the water to balance its charge. Water that leaves the resin tank is soft – free from hardness ions.

Eventually, the resin is depleted of sodium and contains an excess of hardness minerals. The system regenerates, backwashing the resin tank to remove the hardness minerals, then replenishing the sodium, ready for the next softening cycle.

Ion Exchange Process
Ion Exchange Process

Does A Water Softener Filter Water?

No, a water softener doesn’t filter water in a traditional sense.

A drinking water filtration system traps certain contaminants in a media. It doesn’t release anything else into the water when it does so.

A water softener is only designed to remove minerals and address hardness issues. Some softeners can reduce low levels of iron and other heavy metals, but they can’t match up to the performance of water filtration systems for general contaminant removal.

Some folks online wrongly refer to water softening units as “soft water filtration systems”, when actually, there’s nothing about a water softener system that filters water.

Even salt-free water conditioner systems don’t filter water – they just alter the formation of hard minerals with scale control media technology, preventing scale formation.

📑 Final Thoughts: Should I Use A Water Softener Or A Sediment Filter?

So, what’s right for you: a water softener or a sediment filter? Test your water to find out.

  • If your water is hard but contains low sediment, choose a water softener.
  • If your water is sediment-heavy but only mildly or moderately hard, prioritize buying a sediment filter.

Or, for the best of both worlds, install a water softening system that comes with a built-in sediment filter.

Test Your Water

The best way to choose between a water softener vs a sediment filter (or any type of whole house water filter, for that matter) is to test your water.

A water test will tell you things you might not know about your water from sight or taste alone. For instance, you might know that your water is hard because you’ve noticed limescale in your bathroom, but only a water test can tell you your water’s exact hardness in grains per gallon.

Plus, testing your water might make you aware of invisible contaminants that are particularly dangerous, like arsenic and lead. You might need to install an additional water filter system, like a reverse osmosis system or a whole house filter for metals removal, as well as a water softening system or sediment water filter.

Getting tap water tested with tapscore

Do You Need Both?

Most people choose to use both a water softener and a sediment filter.

Why? Because the majority of the best water softeners come with included sediment water filters, which protect the water softening resin from sediment damage (which could damage the resin and shorten its lifespan).

Plus, many folks find that their water contains hardness minerals and sediment, which need to be addressed with separate water treatment systems.

This is especially likely in well water, which is often sediment-rich and high in hardness due to its groundwater source.

So, if you want to tackle two water quality issues OR you’ve installed already a water softener in your home, we strongly recommend using both a water softener and a sediment filter.

Related: What is the white stuff floating in my water?

❔ Water Softener Vs Sediment Filter: FAQ

Is a water filtration system better than a water softener?

A water filtration system is better than a water softener for you if your water contains trace amounts of harmful contaminants like chlorine and heavy metals. On the other end, a water softener is better than a water filter for you if you have hard water (water containing hardness minerals that cause problems like scale buildup). A water softener protects your pipes from mineral damage, while a water filter protects your family’s health by removing harmful contaminants.

👉 Compare water softening and filtration options with our comprehensive guide.

Do water softeners filter sediment?

No, water softeners don’t filter sediment. However, most water softeners come with a sediment pre-filter that does filter sediment. Just make sure you understand that the water softener performance itself has no effect on sediment; it’s just that most water softeners have built-in sediment water filters to protect the resin beads.

Is a water filter the same as a softener?

No, a water filter isn’t the same as a water softener. Water filters filter water by trapping harmful contaminants in their media. Water softeners soften water by exchanging calcium and magnesium hardness ions with sodium ions, which are unable to form scale.

  • Brian Campbell
    President & CEO, CWS, CWR

    Brian Campbell, a WQA Certified Water Specialist (CWS) and Certified Water Treatment Representative (CWR) with 5+ years of experience, helps homeowners navigate the world of water treatment. After honing his skills at Hach Company, he founded his business to empower homeowners with the knowledge and tools to achieve safe, healthy water. Brian's tested countless devices, from simple pitchers to complex systems, helping his readers find the perfect fit for their unique needs.

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