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Should You Get a Water Softener or a Descaler?

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If you've started to notice a mineral taste to your home's water, or have observed a white film on the outside of your dishes after a dishwasher cycle, you may be considering the purchase of a water softening system. However, what you really need may be a descaler. How can you know the best way to reduce the amount of minerals present in your household's water? Here is the difference between these appliances.

How is a descaler different from a water softener?

Most water softeners are one of two types -- ion exchange softeners or reverse osmosis softeners. Ion exchange softeners operate by replacing mineral ions (like calcium and magnesium) with sodium ions (in the form of salt nuggets). This "softens" the water and allows the minerals to be removed. Reverse osmosis softeners operate by forcing the water through a permeable membrane and keeping the larger mineral ions behind. You'll need to change this membrane on a regular basis to avoid a buildup of these mineral particles and less effective filtration.

A descaler does not remove the mineral ions from the water like a water softener does. Instead, it "charges" the ions with a type of electricity that prevent them from attaching to surfaces -- the inside of your appliances, your shower walls, or the inside of your coffee machine. The water you drink still contains all these minerals; they simply don't form a residue on the surfaces they contact.

Which water softening appliance is right for you?

A descaler may be your best option if you're working with a limited budget, as they're generally much less expensive than full water softening systems. Mineral water has been shown to provide some health benefits, so if you'd rather keep the minerals (including fluoride) in your drinking water, a descaler is likely the right choice.

Water softeners are the best option if you're on well water or have very hard water that may potentially shorten the lifespan of your appliances. Your dishwasher and clothes washer are particularly vulnerable to the negative side effects of mineral buildup, and you may find yourself replacing these appliances more frequently if you don't have truly "soft" water. If you often cook from scratch, you might find that hard or descaled water doesn't quite work as well in baking recipes as softened water, and decide to select a softener on that basis. Remember to thoroughly research all home water filtration equipment options.