Reverse osmosis vs water softener

Last updated on: June 1, 2024.

Water treatment systems are becoming popular amongst households to counter the increasing levels of contaminants found in water supplies. Water is an essential basic need that we cannot live without. Contaminated water can cause long-term consequences that adversely affect us. Hard water remains a problem for homeowners despite the best interests of your water supplier and the different levels of treatment water undergo before reaching your pipes and appliances.

Hard water contains a large number of dissolved minerals, most prominently magnesium and calcium. These minerals do not pose health threats but, if left unchecked, can cause long-term damage to your plumbing infrastructure and appliances. It is most notable in mineral deposits that form scales in your pipes. These scales are made from minerals that accumulate over time and clog your pipes.

Ultimately scale build-up can increase the number of repairs you need to conduct and cost you a lot of money to fix. Instead of replacing your entire water infrastructure, it is much more beneficial to invest in a solution that can prevent this problem from occurring.

In addition to damaging pipes and appliances, hard water is harsh on your skin and hair. It does not react well with cleaning agents and makes showering and washing dishes a lot harder. Even if you think that your infrastructure can handle mineral build-up that you can manually clean, mineral deposits can build up on your body. It can dry out your skin and hair and make you lose the shine, volume, and luster they naturally have.

Investing in a water treatment system that produces soft water is beneficial to the longevity of your physical infrastructure. It works better on your body as well.

Manufacturers provide many different types of water treatment systems that offer the same result but with different technologies used. When looking for a water treatment system for your household, it is essential to consider how these systems function and benefit your home. Installation, maintenance, and operation can change depending on the type of water treatment system you choose.

Suppose you have considered getting a water treatment system for your household and have done some research. In that case, you may have seen a few different options and systems in the market. The most popular options include reverse osmosis and water softeners.

While both these water treatment systems can deliver softened water, they work very differently. Here, we will examine the differences between reverse osmosis and water softeners and explore their pros and cons in greater detail.

Is water softener same as reverse osmosis?

Water Softener Vs RO System

Both water softener units and reverse osmosis systems are used to treat hard water, but there are fundamental differences between them. Reverse osmosis systems use multiple filtration stages to filter out mineral ions and a broader range of contaminants. The RO system has an RO membrane at the center. Water supplied to the RO system goes through multiple filtration stages before arriving at the RO membrane. Water is then pumped at an extreme pressure through the membrane, which contains miniscule pores that can trap even the smallest particles contaminating the water.

The RO system works by forcing water through the reverse osmosis membrane and parallelly draining out the contaminants on the opposite side of the membrane. Reverse osmosis systems can ensure that your water is free of all pollutants and offer the safest water for consumption. One of the drawbacks is that it also generates a lot of wastewater. For this RO system to work, if ten gallons of untreated water go into the system, eight gallons of water will drain out the contaminants, leaving two gallons of treated water.

Water softeners mainly focus on eliminating mineral ions found in hard water. They are mostly salt-based and use ion-exchange technology to create soft water. Water that is being supplied to your water softener goes into the resin tank, which contains a resin bed. The resin bed contains sodium which is provided to it by salt. When the water reaches the resin tank, the resin bed draws positively charged magnesium and calcium ions from the water, which sticks to its surface. Sodium ions are released into the water before it flows out of the resin tank and into your household.

It is a time-tested process to soften hard water that works efficiently. This process has minimal wastage, and water softeners can handle large volumes of hard water and last for several years with occasional maintenance.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of reverse osmosis?

Advantages of reverse osmosis systems

  • Reverse osmosis systems cover a broader range of contaminants found in water. If your water tastes unpleasant, reverse osmosis can provide better and cleaner water. They can eliminate bacteria and pathogens and harmful chemicals like lead or chlorine. This system allows you to improve the quality of water you use for consumption, most notably in drinking and cooking.
  • Reverse osmosis systems can filter out contaminants on nano-levels. Seemingly clean water can contain microscopic contaminants like microbes, microorganisms, and viruses filtered out with this system. It offers an assurance that you will never fall sick with polluted or contaminated water. There are very few systems that can filter out contaminants on this scale.
  • Reverse osmosis systems are comprehensive and cover the entire spectrum of contaminants that are found in your water. They can remove almost every known impurity to deliver unmatched water quality.

Disadvantages of reverse osmosis systems

  • A reverse osmosis system produces a lot of wastewater in the process of providing softened water. This wastewater is not environmentally-friendly and is challenging to recycle. These systems need a very high amount of hard water to provide adequate softened water for an entire household.
  • Reverse osmosis systems can be expensive, alienating many households that cannot afford this type of system.
  • Reverse osmosis systems work based on their membrane. A faulty membrane can compromise the entire system, and there is no easy way to check if the membrane is operational or not.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of water softeners?

Advantages of water softeners

  • Water softeners require minimal maintenance to operate at peak efficiency. They last for several years and only need their salt tanks occasionally refilled to deliver soft water consistently.
  • Water softeners are designed for one job, and they do that job well. Their job is to remove mineral ions in your water. Using a water softener will ensure that there is no scale build-up in your infrastructure. It will help preserve the lifespan of your pipes and appliances.
  • Water softeners enhance the quality of your water. Soft water has several benefits and can be used for multiple purposes, including cooking, drinking, laundry, cleaning, and others. Using soft water as a replacement for hard water makes your water easier to use and safer to consume.
  • Water softeners have minimal wastage that occurs, with a majority of hard water converted into soft water.

Disadvantages of water softeners

  • Water softeners release sodium into your water through the ion exchange process. It can make your water a little saltier than usual. However, it is not a problem if the sodium content is below the recommended daily dose for humans. If the sodium content crosses this threshold, it can pose health risks.
  • Softened water cannot be used for irrigation. Hard water may cause damage to your pipes and appliances, but the magnesium and calcium found in it are beneficial for plants. Soft water that is rich in sodium can affect the pH balance of soil, making it ineffective for irrigation purposes.

Do you need a reverse osmosis system with a water softener?

Both water treatment systems can deliver better quality water to your household. It is not compulsory to use them together, but in this case, using them in conjunction has benefits.

Reverse osmosis systems are not as effective at removing magnesium and calcium as water softeners are. After treatment, reverse osmosis systems can remove the sodium that water softeners leave in your water. It leads to an increased quality of water that is better than what the systems can individually provide.

Water softeners are used to treat water at large scales and provide soft water to your entire household. Adding an under-the-sink reverse osmosis system for consumption purposes can enhance the quality of water you consume. It saves you energy costs, increases the lifespan of your appliances, lowers soap usage, and eliminates the need for bottled water. This combination can give you the highest quality of drinking water possible.

While both water treatment systems have their advantages, they can be combined to provide a higher quality of water than they can provide individually. Use a water softener to provide water for household needs and a reverse osmosis system for consumption needs. You can ensure that your water is pristine and of the best quality possible. Water softeners and reverse osmosis systems work well together. If you have the budget and means to install both these systems, it is recommended to use them in conjunction.

Which is the best RO system available in the market?

apec reverse osmosis systems

According to our research, the APEC Water Systems ROES-50 Essence Series is the best reverse osmosis system currently available in the market. It has a five-stage filtration process that can remove up to 99% of contaminants, including chlorine, lead, fluoride, odor, VOCs, and other harmful contaminants. It has leak-free fittings that make connecting it easy and hassle-free. It provides an easy do-it-yourself experience with all parts included and tutorial videos for installation. It also has a two-year warranty, and the brand offers excellent customer relations. These factors make the reverse osmosis system our top pick for the best RO system currently available in the market.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is not removed by reverse osmosis?

Reverse osmosis systems can remove a majority of harmful contaminants found in water. Those contaminants that the system cannot remove include pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other agricultural treatment products. They cannot remove certain dissolved gasses like hydrogen sulfide. This is mainly because these types of contaminants are molecularly smaller than water. While reverse osmosis systems effectively remove a wide array of contaminants, these are the types that can slip through your system.  

Is reverse osmosis good for well water?

Reverse osmosis can remove microbes, bacteria, and viruses from well water. However, it cannot remove dissolved gasses and pesticides that can potentially contaminate your well water. Reverse osmosis systems can soften your well water and improve the taste and quality of the water. Nevertheless, you should be vigilant about the types of contaminants found in your well.

Reverse osmosis will not get rid of agricultural treatment products that may seep into your well water. Water obtained through reverse osmosis will get rid of chemical contaminants. Still, you should also consider this water as neutral as it removes bad and good minerals found in water. Essentially, water obtained through a reverse osmosis system is neither helpful nor harmful.

Do you need to add minerals to reverse osmosis water?

Reverse osmosis removes all contaminants in water, including beneficial and harmful minerals. There are several benefits to having uncontaminated water. The water that comes from a reverse osmosis system is considered safe, but adding minerals to reverse osmosis water has additional benefits. It is common to remineralize reverse osmosis water with beneficial minerals that have a positive impact on health. Remineralizing reverse osmosis water can get a few of the essential minerals into your body. While it is not necessary to remineralize reverse osmosis water, you can enjoy additional benefits if you choose to do so. 

Will a water softener reverse scale build up?

Water softeners cannot quickly eliminate existing scale build-up in your pipes and appliances. They can prevent further build-up and stop your pipes from clogging any further due to hard water. The mineral deposits will gradually begin clearing out as soft water consistently runs through your pipes. It is the softened water and not the water softener itself that is responsible for preventing scale build-up. Water softeners can reverse existing scale build-up with enough time by allowing soft water to flow through your pipes constantly.

What is the cost of a whole house reverse osmosis system?

Whole house reverse osmosis systems require a huge amount of water to be generated daily. This, plus the pre-filtration equipment needed, escalates costs drastically. They can cost between 12000 to 18000 dollars as an installed price.

Whole house reverse osmosis systems require a huge amount of water to be generated daily. This, plus the pre-filtration equipment needed, escalates costs drastically. They can cost between 12000 to 18000 dollars as an installed price.

Can you cook with softened water?

Yes, softened water is perfectly safe to cook with. Soft and pure water helps ingredients retain their authentic flavor. Cooking and cleaning with soft water are a lot safer and more effective. Your food will taste better, and your kitchen will be cleaner. We have seen the difference in taste and the condition of cooking utensils enough to know that it is better to cook with soft water than hard water.


Water treatment systems offer several long-term benefits for you and your family. They perform the required processes to eliminate impurities and hard minerals. They also consistently deliver clean and pure water. There are many different types of water treatment systems currently in the market. They come with varying technologies and capabilities, leading to some confusion about the right one for your household.

This article aims to clarify the difference between the most popular systems available, i.e., reverse osmosis vs water softener systems. The information above should be sufficient for you to make an informed decision when you are ready to invest in a water softener. 

About The Author

Our Web Producer

Judith— a passionate water treatment specialist — is a waste water management enthusiast, clean drinking water advocate, and someone with deep personal experience and knowledge about various water equipments. Her work was mentioned in countless notable water associations. Previously she was an editor at Water Alliance.