fci watermakers blog difference between reverse osmosis and water softening

What Are The Differences Between Water Softening and Reverse Osmosis?

Reverse Osmosis or RO is often confused with water softening technology. While both technologies can accomplish some of the same water quality objectives, there are significant differences. The starting point for any potential water quality technology user is to define the problem you are trying to solve. 

Some use cases for water treatment include:

  • Removal of minerals in water to prevent surface deposits and spotting 
  • Reducing scale in plumbing and appliances
  • Desalination of seawater or brackish water in coastal or island communities
  • Improving the quality of well water 
  • Desalination of salt water on marine vessels (yachts and ships)
  • General water purification applications for homes, communities, commercial and industrial applications

Different applications require different solutions. We’ll discuss those differences in this post and provide you with a go-to source for more information. 

So What Is Water Softening Technology?

We consulted the experts at Scientific American for a high-level definition of a water softening system:

A typical water-softening system removes calcium and magnesium ions from hard water and replaces them with sodium ions. Calcium and magnesium ions interfere with the action of household soaps and detergents, but sodium does not. The water-softening process thus helps detergents to more effectively remove dirt and oils from clothing and dishes. It also helps soaps to give a “slippery” feel to your skin when you wash.

That’s an excellent summation. The two most common types of water softeners are salt-based and salt-free. In salt-based systems, sodium ions are exchanged for calcium and magnesium through a medium bed containing sodium. The “hard” chemicals are then flushed out of the system. 

In salt-free systems, the “hard” magnesium and calcium ions are crystallized in a process that prevents them from sticking to surfaces or forming scale. This process is called template-assisted crystallization, or TAC.

Water softening systems have a relatively narrow purpose surrounding the removal of calcium and magnesium from a water supply. Use cases are commonly limited to controlling scale, removing water spots, and improving residential drinking water quality.

What Is Reverse Osmosis?

Let’s start with the definition of RO from our website FAQ:

The osmotic process involves the natural movement of a solution through a semi-permeable membrane without applying external pressure. The membrane allows the passage of solvent but not of solute. In reverse osmosis, high pressure is used to push the solution through a membrane, which traps the solute on one side making pure solvent obtainable from the other side.

Our reverse osmosis systems are highly customizable and configurable for almost any application and size imaginable. RO systems utilize prefiltration and a semi-permeable membrane as the purification mechanisms.

The advanced purification capability enables RO solutions to remove up to 99.9% of impurities from a water source. This includes dissolved salts (ions), calcium and magnesium, lead, chlorine, particulates, colloids, organics, bacteria, and pyrogens from the water source.

Is Reverse Osmosis a Better Solution?

The primary mechanism in RO is a semi-permeable membrane. This specially designed membrane allows water molecules to pass through under pressure while trapping the impurities, such as salts, organics, and other molecular impurities. 

Customized prefiltration, staging, and membrane configurations give RO solutions a considerable advantage over single-purpose water softening solutions. The granularity, type, and spectrum of particles that can be removed from your water source are vastly superior to water softening solutions designed to treat calcium and magnesium only.

How Reverse Osmosis Improves Water Quality and Water-Based Products Through Advanced Purification. 

RO solutions are tremendously versatile. FCI Watermakers of all sizes and configurations are designed to produce purified water for drinking in addition to a broad spectrum of residential, commercial, and industrial applications. 

Applications for RO include reducing single-use bottled water usage, marine vessel and yacht salt water desalination, coastal water desal, water purification for food and beverage processing, and a host of other commercial and industrial applications.   

Do you have a residential, commercial, or industrial water purification or desalination application you’d like to discuss?

We love to answer questions about RO technology and solutions that provide improved water quality.

Our team has over 30 years of experience designing and building RO water purification systems. In a constantly changing world, you need a partner with the experience and knowledge to keep pace. That partner is FCI Watermakers.

Innovation, engineering excellence, and unsurpassed product quality are at the core of everything we do. Want to talk about the right solution for your water purification requirement? Or maybe you just have some questions? 

Call us at 800.850.0123 or get in touch with our team online today.