If you’re considering installing a water softener, you may be wondering if you also need to add a sediment filter. The short answer is – it depends.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about sediment filters vs. water softeners, including:
- What is a sediment filter and what does it do?
- What is a water softener and what does it do?
- When do you need a sediment filter with a softener?
- Benefits of adding a sediment filter
- Downsides of sediment filters
- How to choose the right sediment filter
- Installation and maintenance tips
- FAQs on sediment filters and softeners
By the end, you’ll understand whether a sediment filter is recommended for your home and water softener system.
What is a Sediment Filter and What Does it Do?
A sediment filter is a type of mechanical water filter designed to remove sediment, rust, dirt, sand, and other particles from your water supply.
Sediment filters work by forcing water through a physical barrier – usually a screen or filter made of fabric, mesh or other porous material. As water passes through, the sediment and particles are caught on the screen, filtering them out.
Adding a sediment filter protects your household plumbing and water-based appliances by preventing sediment buildup. Here are some of the main benefits:
- Improves water flow: Sediment can clog pipes, faucets and water-using appliances. A sediment filter removes particles to maintain good water pressure and flow.
- Protects appliances: Sediment abrades and damages water heaters, boilers, washing machines and more. A sediment filter dramatically extends the lifespan of appliances.
- Better water quality: Sediment makes water appear cloudy or discolored. A filter produces clearer, better tasting water.
Now that you understand what sediment filters do, let’s look at water softeners and how they work.
What is a Water Softener and What Does it Do?
A water softener is a whole-house filtration system that removes hardness minerals from your water supply. The most common hardness minerals are calcium and magnesium.
Here’s a quick overview of how water softeners work:
- Hardness minerals enter the softener and are captured by ion exchange resin beads.
- The resin beads are coated with sodium ions. As hard water passes through, the sodium ions are swapped for the calcium and magnesium ions – this is known as ion exchange.
- The calcium and magnesium (hardness) are removed and replaced with sodium, softening the water.
By removing the hardness minerals, water softeners provide these benefits:
- Eliminates limescale buildup: Hard water causes scale and mineral deposits to form in pipes, fixtures and appliances. Soft water prevents scale.
- Saves on cleaning products: Soap and detergents lather and clean better with soft water. You can use up to 75% less soap.
- Prolongs appliance lifespan: Scale deposits wear out water heaters, washing machines and other equipment much faster.
- Improves skin and hair: Hard water can leave behind mineral residue on skin and hair. Soft water leaves hair and skin feeling smoother.
Now that you understand what both systems do separately, let’s look at whether you need both sediment filtration and water softening.
When Do You Need a Sediment Filter With a Water Softener?
Whether you need both a sediment filter and water softener depends on your specific water quality. Here are some guidelines:
Add a Sediment Filter If:
- Your water supply has high sediment/particle levels – This rapidly clogs water softener resin beads, reducing effectiveness. Pre-filtering sediment prolongs the resin life.
- To protect the water softener resin – Sediment is highly abrasive and can grind away at resin beads over time, shortening the lifespan.
- You have rusty water/old steel pipes – Older iron and steel pipes can leach significant amounts of rust into water, which a sediment filter helps reduce.
- You want to filter out chlorine – Sediment filters with activated carbon help filter out chlorine, for better water taste and odor.
You May Not Need a Sediment Filter If:
- Your water supply is free of sediment/particles – The water softener can handle both hardness and smaller amounts of sediment.
- You already have sediment filtration – If you have a whole house or point-of-use filter that removes sediment, an additional one may not be needed.
- Your main goal is softening hard water – If you have hard water but little to no particles, then a softener alone can be sufficient.
As you can see, if sediment is an issue for your water supply, adding a filter is recommended. Next let’s look at the key benefits of adding sediment filtration to your softener.
Benefits of Adding a Sediment Filter
Adding a sediment filter alongside your water softener provides these advantages:
- Extends the lifespan of the softener resin media – By filtering abrasive sediment first, the resin beads last 5-10 years longer. This saves a significant amount on maintenance and replacements.
- Requires less frequent softener regenerations – The softener doesn’t have to work as hard to clean sediment-laden water. Less frequent regenerations conserve salt and water.
- Provides cleaner and healthier water – With both devices combined, over 98% of particles and minerals are removed.
- Installation flexibility – Sediment filters don’t require backwashing or drain lines. They can often be installed in tight spaces where softeners won’t fit.
- Lower costs compared to filterless softeners – The added costs of a sediment filter are minor compared to expenses of frequent resin replacements from particle damage.
There are some potential downsides to keep in mind as well.
Downsides of Sediment Filters
While sediment filters provide important benefits, here are a few potential drawbacks to consider:
- Added upfront costs – Installing both units costs more initially compared to a softener alone. However, sediment filters are an inexpensive add-on starting around $30.
- More frequent maintenance – Sediment filters require replacing cartridges every 3-6 months depending on water quality. Softener resin lasts for years without replacement.
- Pressure loss – As with any filter, sediment filters can reduce water pressure to some degree as particulate loads up. Proper sizing helps minimize pressure drops.
- Space requirements – Having two units requires more space for installation, unless compact combo units are used.
Overall, the minor downsides of sediment filters are heavily outweighed by the benefits of protecting your water softener and household plumbing.
Next let’s go over how to select the right sediment filter to pair with your softener.
How to Choose the Right Sediment Filter
Here are the key factors to consider when choosing a sediment filter to use with your water softener:
- Cartridge filters – This is the most common type used with water softeners. Cartridges contain a replaceable filter element inside a housing. They provide 5 micron or smaller filtration.
- Bag filters – Polypropylene felt bags that remove down to 1 micron. Offer very fine filtration but require frequent changes.
- Screen filters – Stainless steel mesh screens that filter larger debris down to 40 microns. Helpful for extremely dirty water sources.
- 1 to 5 micron – Ideal for most softener pre-filtration needs. Removes fine sediments and particles that damage resin beads.
- 20 to 30 micron – For pre-filtering very dirty water with high debris content. Should be paired with a secondary 1-5 micron filter.
- Alternating micron filters – Some systems alternate between 9 micron and 1 micron filters to handle both large and small particles.
- Match to your water flow rate – Make sure the filter is rated for your home’s water demand and pressure to avoid restrictions.
- Minimum 25% larger capacity than softener – Oversizing helps reduce pressure loss.
With those factors in mind, let’s go over proper installation.
Sediment Filter Installation Tips
Proper installation positioning helps maximize the benefits of adding a sediment filter to your water softener. Follow these tips:
- Install the sediment filter before the softener – This ensures that hardness minerals don’t damage the filter, and that the softener resin receives filtered water.
- Mount it vertically – A vertical orientation helps water drain through the filter more efficiently.
- Allow straight pipe sections before and after – Straight pipe sections prevent turbulence that could stir up sediment. Follow filter manufacturer recommendations for required lengths.
- Install bypass valves – This allows isolation of the sediment filter for maintenance, without disrupting water service or the softener.
It’s also important to maintain your sediment filter to keep it working effectively long-term.
Sediment Filter Maintenance Tips
Regular maintenance is crucial to avoid clogs and keep your sediment filter working properly:
- Change cartridges every 3-6 months – This prevents the filter from becoming totally blocked with sediment and debris.
- Inspect for damage annually – Check for leaks, cracks and other defects. Replace any compromised parts.
- Disinfect if needed – If bacteria buildup is an issue, sanitize the housing using bleach or other approved disinfectants.
- Always pre-soak new cartridges – Soaking helps remove loose media and prevents sediment dumps when first installed.
With both devices installed following these best practices, your water softener and plumbing system will be well protected from sediment damage.
FAQs on Sediment Filters and Water Softeners
Here are answers to some of the most common questions about using sediment filters with water softeners:
Should the sediment filter or water softener come first?
The sediment filter should always be installed first, before the water reaches the water softener’s resin bed. This prevents resin fouling.
What micron size sediment filter is best?
Filters with 1-5 micron ratings provide effective pre-filtration for most water softener systems. Go with 5 micron or less for best protection.
How often do sediment filters need to be changed out?
Replace sediment filter cartridges every 3-6 months. More frequently if you have extremely dirty water.
Do all water softeners need a sediment filter?
Not necessarily. If your water supply has little sediment you may be fine with just a softener. But it’s recommended for most households.
Can I clean and reuse sediment filters?
Sediment filters contain fixed media that cannot be cleaned. The cartridges must be replaced to maintain efficiency.
What are the signs my sediment filter is clogged?
Low water pressure, reduced flow, dirty water, foul odors, and softener problems can indicate a clogged sediment filter.
Key Takeaways: Do You Need a Sediment Filter With a Water Softener?
- Sediment filters remove particles, while water softeners remove hardness minerals. Using both provides whole house filtration.
- If your water supply contains significant sediment, adding a filter helps protect softener resin and household plumbing.
- Benefits include cleaner water, extended equipment lifespan, and less frequent softener regenerations.
- Size your sediment filter properly, install it before the softener, and maintain it regularly.
- For most households, the benefits of sediment filtration outweigh the small added costs. Protect your investment by pre-filtering sediment.
Hopefully this guide has helped explain the relationship between sediment filters and water softeners. For most homes, installing a sediment filter with your softener provides significant benefits that can save you money in the long run. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact a water quality expert for advice on the best filtration options for your needs.