Water conditioner vs softener

Last updated on: May 1, 2024.

Water is the most fundamental need we have as human beings to survive. No matter where we are, water is a basic necessity to live our lives. A decrease in water quality is a problem that affects many households. Despite going through many stages of treatment before reaching your pipes and appliances, hard water is a major problem for homeowners. Hard water is essentially water that contains dissolved minerals, predominantly magnesium and calcium.

While these minerals are not particularly harmful to health, they can damage your plumbing and appliances. Mineral buildup can cause scaling in your pipes that obstruct water flow. This scale buildup decreases the lifespan of your appliances and plumbing infrastructure. If left unchecked, this can cause long-term damage and cost you a fortune in repairs.

Additionally, mineral deposits on your skin and hair can dry them out, robbing you of their natural sheen and luster. Hard water circulating through your house is not completely unsafe but can cause damage over time.

Rather than wait for these consequences, households choose to take action to prevent future damage. It is why several households across the country are opting for water treatment solutions to soften this hard water.

There are many water treatment systems manufacturers offer, with different terminologies and end results. When considering a water treatment system for your household, it is essential to consider how systems function in different ways and get rid of different contaminants. Installation and maintenance vary depending on the type of system you opt for.

Suppose you have considered getting a water treatment system for your household. In that case, you may have come across water conditioners and water softeners. While they both sound similar, they are different systems that work very differently.

In this article, we will examine the difference between a water conditioner and a water softener and take a closer look at their advantages and disadvantages.

Is a conditioner the same as a softener?

water conditioner vs softener

Both water conditioners and water softeners are used to treat hard water, but there is a fundamental difference between them. Water conditioners neutralize minerals in the water, so they do not stick to pipes and cause scaling, but they do not entirely remove the minerals from the water.

Water softeners replace minerals in the water with either sodium or potassium with ion exchange technology. Water softeners eliminate unwanted minerals in your water. Water conditioners reduce the ill effects of hard water, but water softeners get rid of hard water completely. 

Water conditioners use different technologies to neutralize hard water. Electric water conditioners use electrical energy to suspend or distort hard minerals. Template-assisted crystallization(TAC) is the most popular type of water conditioner available currently.

TAC water conditioners use a template of resin beads to change the chemical form of magnesium and calcium. They become insoluble crystallized forms that are incapable of leaving deposits in pipes and are harmless to your household.

Magnetic water conditioners use electromagnetic waves to change the form of hardness particles in water. It is a relatively new technology that is still being proven. 

Water softeners are mostly salt-based and use ion-exchange technology to create soft water. Water first goes into the resin tank, which contains resin beads. The resin bed contains sodium which comes from adding salt pellets.

When the water reaches the resin tank, the resin bed draws magnesium and calcium from the water, which sticks to its surface. Sodium is then released into the water before it flows out of the resin tank and into your household.

How does water feel with water conditioner vs water softener?

Water conditioners neutralize minerals in your water. The minerals in your water, such as magnesium and calcium, are still present in your water. Still, they exist in a form where they do not have any adverse effects on your plumbing or appliances. Since these minerals are not harmful to health, neutralized hard water is perfectly safe for use.

Water conditioners are also useful to remove unwanted components in your water. In addition to reducing the effects of hard water, they can remove chlorine, volatile organic compounds(VOCs), and other contaminants in your water source. It significantly alters the taste and smell of your water to provide you with fresh and better-tasting water. 

Water softeners replace minerals in your water with either sodium or potassium to eliminate hardness in the water. Your water will have a small amount of sodium or potassium in it as a result.

Nevertheless, it will provide softened water that has many benefits. Soft water is considered safe for consumption. Water softeners can give consistent and large amounts of soft water.

Soft water feels better on your skin and in your hair and works to lengthen the lifespans of appliances that need water. It is particularly useful in heating appliances like kettles, where scaling from mineral deposits is eliminated.

Cleaning agents like detergents and soaps work better with soft water and will lather up more, i.e., you will use less soap and save money in the long term. Water softeners can provide a better bathing experience and eliminate white spots on the kitchen and glassware. The lack of scaling will increase the lifespan of your pipes and appliances. 

Can you use a water conditioner and water softener at the same time?

Both water treatment systems serve the same purpose: to improve water quality. But, they use different technologies and processes, and it may not be wise to use both simultaneously.

Water conditioners are usually salt-free systems and condition the water, i.e., they alter the form of hard minerals. This change in form renders water softeners ineffective as they cannot work with hardness particles that are altered by water conditioners.

And, using a water conditioner after a water softener is redundant. Water softeners altogether remove hardness particles from the water, leaving a water conditioner with nothing to do. This is why it may not make sense to use a water conditioner and water softener simultaneously.

Which water conditioner is best?

Our top pick is Yarna’s Capacitive Electronic Water Descaler System, according to our research.

It is designed to treat water for the entire house. It treats the electric water pulses generated from the device and is controlled with a microchip. These pulses change the crystals in the water as it flows to break down hardness particles that cause scaling.

It is easy to install and requires very little maintenance. It works with any type of pipe, and the manufacturers offer ten years of free service. All of these features make Yarna’s water conditioner our pick for the best water conditioner available in the market currently.


Frequently Asked Questions:

Can you use an electric conditioner on softened water?

Electric water conditioners that are effective do not use chemicals or salt to treat water. They use electromagnetic waves to treat water as it enters your household. They are similar to regular water conditioners that change the form of hardness particles in your water, but by using a different technology.

Since they work by changing the form of hardness particles, it is redundant to use an electric water conditioner on softened water. The primary purpose of electric conditioners is to reduce the effects of hard water and prevent scaling. As such, using an electric conditioner on softened water is not required.  

How long does a water conditioner last?

Depending on the type and quality of water conditioner you purchase, they can last from ten to twenty years. They are meant to be long-term solutions for water treatment and can operate for several years with minimal maintenance.

Electric water conditioners have a shorter lifespan and can last between two to ten years. A well-maintained water conditioner can provide you with up to twenty years of treated water.

How quickly does water conditioner work?

Water conditioners work immediately after installation. It can take as little as fifteen minutes for a water conditioner to remove contaminants like chlorine completely. You can condition water on-demand rather than wait for it. Depending on the model, it may take around twenty-four hours to cycle through, but essentially water conditioners work instantaneously. 

Is water softener same as water filter?

Water softeners are not the same as water filters. Water softeners aim to soften hard water to reduce scaling. They remove certain minerals from your water supply, most notably magnesium and calcium, the leading cause behind scale buildup. Hard water does not have any health risks but can negatively affect your hair, skin, plumbing, and appliances.

The main goal of water softeners is to prevent damage to these key areas by softening hard water. They are intended for large-scale use to have a consistent supply of water that doesn’t cause damage to your house.

Water filters have a broader range and aim to supply better tasting and cleaner water by removing a wide array of contaminants other than minerals. They can remove microorganisms and harmful chemicals from your water supply.

Their primary purpose is to provide water safe to drink and free from any type of contaminant that can adversely affect your health. They do not soften water but remove harmful components in the water. Water filters are not meant to circulate water throughout your household. They are intended for personal use for you and your family to have clean and safe drinking water.

Do water softeners remove fluoride?

Fluoride levels are unaffected by water softeners. Since fluoride is a negatively charged mineral, it does not participate in the ion exchange process. Water softeners use ion exchange to remove positively charged minerals like magnesium and calcium.

Salt-based water softeners use positively charged sodium ions to replace similarly charged magnesium and calcium ions in the water. This isn’t possible with negatively charged ions, including fluoride, chloride, sulfates, and nitrates. Therefore, your water softener will not remove fluoride from water.  

Do water conditioners remove ammonia?

Water conditioners do not entirely remove ammonia from water, but they can neutralize it. They detoxify ammonia by changing its chemical structure from NH3 to NH4. This form is safer than free ammonia. So, water conditioners can neutralize ammonia’s ill effects while not removing it entirely.


Having a water treatment system in your household offers several benefits that preserve your plumbing infrastructure, as well as facilitate better health. Investing in a water treatment system can save you repair costs and is a better long-term investment.

There are many different types of water treatment systems in the market currently. It can’t be easy to know which treatment system is right for you with similar-sounding names.

Hopefully, this article has cleared up the difference between a water conditioner and a water softener. You can now use this information to make an informed decision about which water treatment system is best suited for your household.

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.