If you have iron in your water supply, you may be wondering whether you need an iron filter or a water softener. Both can improve water quality, but they work differently and have distinct purposes. This guide examines the key differences between iron filters and water softeners to help you understand which water treatment system best fits your needs.
Hard water and iron are two common issues with well water and public water supplies. Excess iron causes rust stains, metallic tastes, and discolored water. Water softeners remove minerals like calcium and magnesium that make water hard. But softeners don’t filter out iron. An iron filter is required to remove iron from your water.
What is an Iron Filter and How Does it Work?
An iron filter, also called an iron removal system, is specifically designed to remove iron from water. Iron filters use filtration media like manganese greensand, Birm, or catalyst-coated filters to oxidize and filter insoluble iron.
There are two forms of iron that can be present in water supplies – ferrous iron and ferric iron. Ferrous iron is dissolved iron that is clear and colorless when water comes out of the tap. Ferric iron has been oxidized and appears as red/brown particulate in the water.
Iron filters work in two stages:
- Oxidation – Iron filters oxidize ferrous iron into ferric iron. This turns dissolved iron into solid particles.
- Filtration – Next, the insoluble iron is filtered out through the media bed, leaving clean water.
Regular backwashing cleans the filter media and flushes out trapped iron particles. An iron filter provides a water treatment solution specifically for iron removal.
What is a Water Softener and How Does it Work?
Water softeners are designed to remove calcium and magnesium minerals that cause hard water. Hardness minerals accumulate in pipes and appliances, causing scale buildup and decreased efficiency.
Softeners contain resin beads which hold onto calcium and magnesium ions. When hard water passes through the softener, the resin beads swap out hardness minerals for sodium ions. This transforms the dissolved minerals into particles that can be flushed away.
Water softeners reduce mineral buildup, improve lathering of soaps and detergents, and leave water feeling smooth. However, they only remove hardness minerals, not iron and turn it into soft water.
Key Differences Between Iron Filters and Water Softeners
There are several key factors to understand when it comes to iron filters vs water softeners:
1. What They Filter
- Iron filters remove iron. Softening systems do not remove any iron present in water.
- Water softeners remove hardness minerals like calcium and magnesium, but will not filter out iron.
2. Filtration Method
- Iron filters use oxidation and physical filtration to remove iron particles.
- Softening systems use ion exchange resin beads to replace hardness minerals with sodium.
3. Impact on Water Supply
- Iron filters leave pH, taste, and mineral content unchanged, only removing iron.
- Water softeners increase water’s sodium content in exchange for reducing hardness minerals. This can impact taste and change the water’s pH.
- Iron filters require periodic backwashing to clean the filter media bed and prevent channeling.
- Softener systems run an occasional regeneration cycle to flush built up hardness minerals and recharge resin beads with sodium.
5. Cost Factors
- Iron filter costs depend on water’s iron content and required filtration capacity.
- Softener costs relate to water hardness levels and household water use.
6. Installation Setup
- Iron filters need an oxidizing pre-filter and often a post filter to catch residual particles.
- Water softeners can be installed on their own with input and output lines.
Do You Need an Iron Filter or Water Softener?
If your water supply has high iron but normal hardness levels, an iron filter is the best option to remove iron and improve water aesthetics. Look for an iron filter specifically rated for your water’s iron concentration.
If you have hard water but little to no iron, a water softener is the right treatment choice. Softened water provides all the benefits of reduced mineral buildup without removing beneficial minerals.
Some households need both – an iron filter to remove iron followed by a water softener for hardness reduction. If iron fouls the resin beads, an iron filter should go first to extend the softener’s lifespan. For low to moderate iron levels, a softener can be installed before the iron filter.
Choosing the Right Iron Filter or Water Softener
Selecting the proper system starts with testing your raw water to determine the iron content and hardness levels. Iron is measured in ppm or mg/L – up to 0.3 ppm iron can be managed with a water softener, over 0.3 ppm requires an iron filter. Hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg) or parts per million as calcium carbonate (ppm CaCO3).
Next, match the treatment system to your household’s water quality and usage. Optimal iron filter or water softener models are sized 20-30% larger than the calculated peak water use rate. Also factor in filtration media, water pressure, and automation controls. A water treatment professional can help select the right system and installation setup for your home’s water.
Key Takeaways on Iron Filters vs. Water Softeners
- Iron filters remove iron using oxidation and filtration. Water softeners exchange hardness minerals for sodium ions.
- Iron filters leave pH and minerals unchanged. Water softeners can impact taste, pH, and increase sodium.
- Iron levels over 0.3 ppm need an iron filter. Hardness over 10 gpg may need a water softener.
- For high iron and hardness, install an iron filter first followed by a softener for optimal results for regular type of water.
- Choose the right type and size filter system based on water quality tests and household requirements.
Knowing the differences between iron filtration and water softening systems allows you to select the best treatment to improve your water. Addressing iron issues with proper filtration and reducing hardness with a softener provides clean, clear water throughout your home.
What is the difference between an iron filter and a water softener?
An iron filter is specifically designed to remove iron from the water, while a water softener is designed to remove hard water minerals.
How does an iron filter remove iron from the water?
An iron filter uses various filtration media to trap and remove iron particles from the water, resulting in cleaner and iron-free water.
Can a water softener remove iron from the water?
Yes, to some extent. Water softeners can remove a small amount of iron, but they are not as effective as dedicated iron filters in dealing with high levels of iron.
What type of iron can be found in water?
There are two types of iron commonly found in water: ferric iron (oxidized iron) and ferrous iron (non-oxidized iron).
Why is it important to remove iron from the water?
Iron in water can cause staining, unpleasant metallic taste, and can also lead to scaling in pipes and water fixtures. Removing iron improves the quality and taste of the water.
Can an iron filter remove other impurities besides iron?
Yes, most iron water filters are designed to remove other impurities such as manganese, hydrogen sulfide, and sediment, in addition to iron.
Can a water softener be used to remove iron bacteria?
No, water softeners are not effective in removing iron bacteria. For iron bacteria removal, a specialized water treatment equipment is required.
Can a water softener be used to treat water with high levels of iron?
No, water softeners are not designed to handle high iron content. In such cases of iron problem , an iron filter should be used.
How often do I need to change the filter media in an iron filter?
The frequency of changing the filter media in an iron filter depends on the level of iron in the water and the capacity of the filter. Generally, it is recommended to change the media every 1 to 3 years to maintain a good iron filtration system and get a safe drinking water.
Should I use a water softener or an iron filter for my household water supply?
If your water contains high levels of iron, it is recommended to use an iron filter. If your main concern is hard water minerals, then a water softener should be used. In some cases, a combination of both systems may be suitable.