Ask Our Experts: Home Water Treatment Options – What’s Right for You?

April 13, 2016 | 12:31 pm
Is your water free from dissolved solid particles, mineral content, and bacteria? Learn more about water treatment options for your home.
Is your water free from dissolved solid particles, mineral content, and bacteria? Learn more about water treatment options for your home.

Question for Our Experts:

I was under the impression that if I have a water softener installed at my home, I’m helping to protect my appliances and keep my drinking water safe.  But my friend just told me about whole-home water filters and ultraviolet light treatment.  Are these extra layers of protection that I need?  Please help clarify.

Our Experts’ Answer:

Short Answer

You may need none of these systems, or you may need all three.  Water testing can help you determine what your true needs are.  Water softeners remove mineral content from water, water filters remove dissolved solid particles from water, and ultraviolet light systems address bacteria in water.  Each has a unique purpose and addresses a unique need.

Detailed Answer

Whole-home water filters, water softeners, and ultraviolet lights are all water treatment systems that you may or may not need at your home.  It’s important to repeat that for emphasis – some homeowners may need none of these systems, while others may legitimately need all three.  The decisions on which systems to install should be driven by objective water tests performed by a laboratory.  Some basic water tests can be conducted with home kits that are subsequently sent off to a lab, while others can be performed with the help of your local municipality, agricultural extension office, or water and sewage plant.  Sometimes these tests are provided for free; other times, a small fee is required (often starting at $20 for basic “safe to drink” tests and going higher for more detailed tests).  The bottom line, though, is that an objective water test should be the driving force behind your decision as to which systems you need to install.

With that groundwork laid, let’s take a quick look at each of these systems and their purpose:

  • Whole-Home Water Filters, aka “tank filters,” are designed to remove sediment (unwanted, solid particles) and sometimes eliminate odors (to a certain degree) from your home’s water supply.  They’re called “whole-home water filters” because they treat the water that’s used throughout your home (as opposed to single-unit water filters, which treat water at a single sink or a single shower).  Water filters work by forcing untreated water through a series of filters (such as charcoal and sand) to remove undesirable content from the water.  There are many different types of whole-home water filters, ranging from basic units designed only to remove solid particles to more complicated united designed to remove solid particles and combat odors such as those caused by water with high sulfur content.  Maintenance requirements vary with the complexity of the system, the condition of your water, and the volume of water consumption – some units will require monthly filter changes, some will require yearly check-ups, and others may be able to go several years between maintenance visits.
  • Water softeners are designed to remove minerals from your water (as opposed to solid particles and odors, which are addressed by water filters).  Some modern water softeners also offer limited sanitizing and iron removal capabilities.  Water softeners work by filtering hard water (that is, water with calcium and magnesium) through a bed of materials containing sodium.  This process naturally softens the water for use throughout the home.  Many homeowners report that soft water helps to extend the lives of their plumbing fixtures and appliances, allows them to use less detergent in the wash, and reduces build-up in sinks, showers, and toilets.  Water softeners require periodic refills of rock salt (generally, every few months – but this depends on your water usage and other factors) and, ideally, a professional service check once a year.
  • Ultraviolet light systems are designed to kill some of the bacteria in your water.  These systems go beyond filtering dissolved solids or removing minerals – they address bacteria directly.  Homeowners using well systems as their water supply may be most likely to need an ultraviolet light system, as groundwater can sometimes become contaminated with runoff saturated by bacteria that may be harmful.  Ultraviolet light systems also require periodic maintenance – a checkup would be prudent at the same time that your other equipment is being serviced.

The Bottom Line

Again, if you have any question about your water quality, testing is the only way to know what is in the water!  If your water is not high in mineral content, but you find that your sink aerators (screens) are becoming clogged with solid particles, then a water filter is in order (but not a softener).  If tests determine that you have hard water, but no problem with dissolved solids, then go with a softener.  And if bacteria is present, you’ll most likely need an ultraviolet light system.  As you can see, you may need none of these systems – or you may need all three!

For professional assistance with this and other home maintenance work, Tuckey is the local expert to call. Keep our number handy – you never know when you might need us! Call (717) 249-3733 or visit for more information.

[Photo By Flickr user “highfithome” [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]

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