Rogelio Alvarez

By: Rogelio Alvarez on March 8th, 2023

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Water Conditioner Vs. Water Softener: Key Differences

Water Filtration & Purification

Everyone wants cleaner water for their homes, but do you know which water filtration system to install for your house? With so many types of water filters, it can get confusing when deciding which system to go with. You may encounter water conditioners and softeners during your research, but aren't they the same thing?

At Monkey Wrench Plumbing, Heating& Air, we've been answering this question for over 15 years. We're constantly installing different kinds of water systems in homes all over the Los Angeles area, so we're fully aware of their differences. 

We will share our insider knowledge with you and focus on the differences between water conditioners and softeners. On the surface, both systems filter water at some capacity, but we'll review how they differ in the following categories.

  • Water filtration effectiveness 

  • Efficiency 

  • Technology

  • Warranty  

  • Maintenance 

  • Drinkability 

Regardless of your chosen system, your home will have less hard water. Now let's get started!


Water Conditioner Vs. Water Softener: What's the Difference?

Hard water is the sole reason why water conditioners and softeners exist. The water entering your home contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and limestone. These minerals combine to create scale, a white, chalk-like substance that builds up in your home's pipes, fixtures, and kitchen appliances. 

One of the quickest ways to confirm that you have hard water in your home is by inspecting your kitchen or bathroom fixtures. Take a look at where the water comes out of a faucet for any visible scale. Another method is to perform a water test on your home to determine if it has hard water. 

Now that you understand what hard water is, we can dive into how both water softeners and conditioners address this issue.



The goal of water softening and water conditioning is to prevent hard water scale buildup, but how effective is each one? A water softener uses a process that works to remove magnesium and calcium minerals from hard water. A water conditioner will alter the minerals responsible for hard water.

By removing the minerals responsible for hard water, a water softener will produce soft water with the following benefits.

  • Prevents dry or irritated skin associated with hard water

  • Stops hair from becoming brittle due to the effects of hard water

  • Eliminates scale buildup on fixtures and appliances

Water conditioners, on the other hand, will not remove the minerals responsible for hard water. Instead, it uses a process that crystalizes them and prevents them from sticking to surfaces and creating scale. The result is anti-scale buildup but without soft water. 

You've seen how both these systems tackle hard water, but what's the technology responsible for it?



One of the main differences between a water conditioner and a water softener is the technology they use to combat hard water. A water conditioner requires salt to remove hard water minerals, whereas a water softener does not. 

A water softener relies on the following components to remove calcium and magnesium present in hard water.

  • Resin Tank: This tank contains special resin beads that attract magnesium and calcium particles. The particles stick to the resin and are replaced with sodium (salt). This process is called ion exchange and produces soft water.  
  • Brine Tank: The salt required for ion exchange is held in the brine tank. When the resin beads are low on sodium, they pull the salt from the brine tank and replenish the system. This process is called regeneration.

Instead of salt, a water conditioner uses one of the following processes.

  • Low-level frequencies: Instead of salt, electricity neutralizes the minerals in hard water. This process causes magnesium and calcium to stick to each other instead of home appliances, fixtures, and the inside of plumbing pipes. The result is a reduction of scale buildup.
  • Template-assisted crystallization (TAC): Water conditioners with TAC are single-tank systems that contain special resin beads. These beads cause calcium and magnesium to crystalize and not stick to any surfaces. The scale doesn’t stick to these surfaces, which prevents scale buildup. 

Some companies advertise water conditioners as "salt-free water softeners," but that is incorrect. There's confusion between both types of water filtration systems because both terms are mistakenly used interchangeably. 



Understanding the technology behind water conditioners and water softeners help explains how efficient they are. Grains per gallon is a measurement of water hardness. Efficiency can be broken down into how many grains per gallon (gpg) and wastewater are produced. 

Most water softeners remove 20,000 to 80,000 gpg. Water conditioners only neutralize sodium and magnesium in hard water but don't remove the hardness minerals. This makes it difficult to test how many grains per gallon of hardness water conditioners remove. 

Despite not being viable for hard water tests, water conditioners have been shown to reduce scale buildup inside plumbing pipes and appliances. One key difference in their efficiency is their ability not to waste water like water softeners.

When water softeners undergo the regeneration process, sodium from the brine tank is added to the resin tank. The calcium and magnesium minerals attached to the beads in the resin tank are flushed out with salt water. 

It's important to note that some cities in Los Angeles County prohibit the installation of salt-based water softeners because of the wastewater it produces. 



Water conditioners provide clear-tasting water, with some systems providing further filtration from chlorine and other minerals. Both systems produce water you can use for cooking and drinking safely. Some homeowners have reported a slightly salty taste from a softening system in their water. 


Warranty and Costs

The standard warranties for water conditioners and softeners are roughly the same at around 10 years. The costs differ on both systems, with softeners available at a higher price than water conditioners. Significant factors in determining the price are the size of a home, water usage, and amount of bathrooms and fixtures located in the household. 

Maintaining a water softener is more costly than a water conditioner. Water softeners rely heavily on salt to remove hard water. You must restock on salt each time, which you must pay for every couple of months. 

If you use an electronically charged water conditioner, you do not have to pay for salt. The costs for maintaining both are different, but do you know what each system requires for proper maintenance? 



Both systems differ when it comes to properly maintaining them. Water conditioners require less maintenance than water softeners. Both have filters that should be replaced every couple of months, though. 

Water conditioners with TAC media have specialized resin beads that require replacement. The replacement period can range from six months to a couple of years, depending on the brand.

Water softeners require mandatory salt replacement or can't be as effective in removing hard water. Without proper maintenance, water conditioners can also become ineffective. 


Which Water Filtration Is Right For Me?

Hard water is a common culprit all over Los Angeles and the surrounding areas, but water filtration systems are available to combat the effects of hard water. Water conditioners and water softeners are two great filtration systems that tackle the issue of hard water. 

At Monkey Wrench Plumbing, Heating & Air, we've installed countless water softening and conditioning systems and continue to do so. Although similar in their goal, we discussed the key differences between these two systems so you can make a more informed decision for your home. We know firsthand their differences and the common questions homeowners have in both systems. 

If you have any further questions, don't hesitate to contact us through our water filtration page or by clicking one of the buttons below.

If you want to learn more about other types of filtration systems, read further on what a reverse osmosis system is