An iron filter and water softener have one thing in common: iron removal from water. However, the iron filter removes iron from water. In contrast, a water softener can only remove a specific amount of iron from water with the added function of neutralizing other forms of minerals that harden the water.

So while one completely removes iron from water, the other partly removes it. These are two potential solutions for iron (a prominent contaminant) in well or underground water, which is a common source of water supply for the whole house.

As you read more on iron filter vs. water softener, you’ll get to know how they work to achieve iron removal, their similarities, and differences as well as their pros and cons to help you understand which water filtration system to opt for.

Let’s first start with the factors that will determine the ideal water filtration option for you.

Factors Determining the Best Filtration Option for You

Factors to consider in iron filter vs. water softener:

The level or quantity of iron present in your water: If the water is not heavily laden with iron, a water softener is a good choice. However, water with an excessive volume of iron is best handled by an iron filter.

The type of iron in your water: There are two types of iron. Is the iron ferric or ferrous? Water that’s rich in the former is best treated by iron filtration. In the case of the latter, a water softener is a suitable choice.

The degree of hardness or softness of the water: As the name implies, hard water should be taken care of by water softeners. The iron filter can handle soft water.

Iron Filter

This is a water filter specifically designed to eradicate the excessive presence of iron from water. Have you drank water, and it tasted metallic? That’s iron you’re tasting. It’s not a pleasant sensation to your palate.

Iron is beneficial to our body, precisely the red blood cells and blood circulation in our body. However, the excessive amount of iron in your water is a problem. Water heavily laden with iron can leave brownish-colored rust on water pipes and muddy sediments, which can present plumbing problems in the home. In addition, they lessen the flow of the water through the pipes to the various faucets in the whole house.

This water filter is usually installed or placed when the water pipe connects directly to the whole house.

How Do Iron Filters Operate?

This water treatment system comprises a tank that has bedding responsible for oxidization (oxygenating the water). This filter system receives water that comes from the pipe and is channeled through the bedding.

When it reaches the bed of the iron filter, the oxygen emitted by that bed draws the dissolvable ferrous fragments. Once these ferrous iron fragments initiate contact with the filter bed, they become oxygenated and can not dissolve back into the water.

Having been rendered incompatible with the water in their oxygenated condition, they can now be taken out by the iron filter. At the end of this filtration process, what comes out is water with a very insignificant and harmless amount of ferrous iron fragments.

How to Maintain Iron Filters?

The iron filtration system can be maintained by periodically using pressurized water or hot air to clean it. This sanitation process eradicates the accumulated ferrous fragments from the iron filter bed.

This regenerates the filter bed and keeps it in tip-top shape for oxygenating and filtering iron. This maintenance process will be carried out at regular intervals, and it’s best carried out at midnight when there will be very little or no need for water in the home.

Advantages of the Iron Filters

The following benefits distinguish the iron filter as an excellent solution for the removal of iron from water:

Other Agents of Contamination Are Not Untouchable

Iron filters are not limited to the removal of iron because that’s its specific purpose. They are also effective in the removal of other water contaminants such as sulfur and manganese. In addition to iron, you can get rid of two more water contaminants.

Just like iron, manganese and sulfur are also prominent contaminants abundant in well or underground water. In fact, the very presence of ferric iron fragments in a water supply is most likely an indicator that sulfur and manganese are also present.

Most iron filters can rid your water of all three contaminants. This will result in you having a household supply of water that’s great in quality, better smelling, and tasting.

Easy to Maintain

An iron filtration system is straightforward to maintain. However, in contrast to a conventional water filtration system, they don’t have cartridges in their filter system. So there is no need to replace it every six months or annually. They have either an oxidizer such as chlorine or their unique filter bed, which is very durable. The filter bed can last for a minimum of six years before needing replacement.

We can even configure specific iron filtration systems automatically to clean themselves if there is a high presence of ferric iron or the use of water has gotten to a certain level. It’s a do-it-yourself maintenance routine that you do not have to worry about. How amazing is that?

Doesn’t Rely on Chemicals or Salt to Operate

This water filtration system doesn’t rely on agents such as potassium, sodium, and other chemical elements. This provides extra benefits for the whole house using this water filter. It’s chemical-free.

Firstly, it eliminates the necessity of adding certain chemicals to the water, and it also takes away the need to introduce any other foreign element into the water. For effective water treatment and iron removal in the most natural manner, one should opt for an iron filter. It’s an excellent water filter.

A Powerful Equipment for Iron Removal from Water

This water filter is very efficient in removing very high levels of ferric (non-divisible) and ferrous (divisible) iron. Moreover, most of these water filters can eradicate sulfur, manganese, and iron. So this water filter is the perfect solution to face iron challenges in the whole house.

Disadvantages of Iron Filters

Iron Filtration Doesn’t Soften Water

These water filters are omnipotent when it comes to iron removal. However, they are limited when it comes to softening water. This is where the water softener gains the upper hand in the iron filter vs water softener.

An iron filter cannot soften hard water as the water is often hardened by chemical elements such as calcium and magnesium. So if your water has a hardness problem and iron problem, this water filter may not be sufficient to tackle the issues head-on.

Works Best in Precise Water Conditions

The iron filter functions best in water conditions suitable for its filtration process. A good example is a birm filter (a type of iron filter) which operates efficiently when the water is alkaline. Unlike a water softener, iron filters don’t function well in water, rich in calcium and magnesium.

Having good knowledge of the kind of water filter to buy helps you know the best water treatment option for the type of water in your whole house.

Water Softener

Like an iron filter, a water softener is installed when the water pipes connect to the whole house. Water softeners are efficient water filters that provide wholesome water for the entire house.

Unlike iron filtration, it’s a water treatment option that wasn’t designed to eradicate ferric and ferrous iron fragments present in the water. Instead, its primary function is to remove the mineral elements (calcium and magnesium) responsible for hardening water.

How Do Water Softeners Function?

Water softener comes in two categories: salt-free conditioners and traditional sodium-based softeners. Between these two kinds of water softeners, the latter can remove iron from your water. So that will be the focal point of this discussion.

The traditional sodium-based softeners employ ion exchange. This water softener is made up of a couple of tanks, namely brine and resin tank. The latter has a bed made up of unique resin beads responsible for attracting the mineral ions (calcium and magnesium) accountable for water hardness.

Once contact is initiated between the resin beads and mineral ions, the resin introduces a certain quantity of sodium into the water to detach those mineral ions. So that’s ion exchange in action.

The ion exchange between the water and the resin gives two benefits to the water to be supplied to the whole house. First, the exchange of calcium and magnesium for sodium softens the water and serves as an iron removal function. This double function makes it a very effective water treatment option. However, they can only remove a specific concentration of iron in the water. Anything higher than that, and they won’t be as effective in iron removal.

Pros of Water Softeners

Does More than Water Softening

Water softeners are the ideal choice for treated water that won’t trigger the development of scales in your pipes or tanks. A water softener removes iron, calcium, and magnesium from your water supply. When left unchecked, these contaminants will alter the color of your water and wreak significant damage to pipes around the whole house.

Manganese is another contaminant that can also be removed in small quantities by a specific iron water softener if present in the water.

Easily Available

When it comes to availability in the market, the water softener gains the upper hand over the iron filter. Aside from the fact that they are easier to purchase, you have more options for water softeners.

Considering certain factors such as potency, the cost, and the specifications, a buyer can decide on the particular water softener they want to consider.

Certain Water Softeners Remove Significant Quantities of Iron

Generally, iron removal is not a strong point for a water softener. It performs far better in the removal of mineral iron that hardens the water. However, certain water softeners can remove a considerably high quantity of iron and still rid the water of an extreme degree of hardness.

Cons of Water Softeners

Deficient in Removing Iron in Large Quantities

One of the flaws of a water softener is its inability to rid the water of very high iron levels. If your water is excessively laden with iron, then you shouldn’t opt for a water softener.

Unable to Eradicate Non-divisible Iron

The water softener is unable to get rid of ferric iron in the water. Iron filtration tackles it much better, while a water softener is just limited to ferrous iron removal (and even when it comes to that, it can only remove iron in relatively large quantities).

Inability to Remove Iron Bacteria

Water softeners are also deficient in neutralizing iron bacteria. The hybrid iron and oxygen form it. In essence, it’s oxygenated or oxidized iron. The sediments they create can block and impair the resin of the water softener.

Requires a Lot of Maintenance

A water softener can be more expensive to maintain than iron filtration. If your water softener is constantly used, you should replenish its sodium levels once in three months or thereabouts.

Your water filtration can get faulty if you neglect the top-up routine and the quantity of sodium lessen till the system can’t operate optimally.

The yearly sanitation of your brine water tank is another maintenance that you can’t neglect.

About the Author

Paul Morton

Paul is a retired plumber who now spends hours on home improvement projects. From fixing toilets to leaking pipes in crawls spaces, there is nothing Paul can't do or wouldn't try. Paul was running his own plumbing company and is our expert in regard to all types of water filtration systems.

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