What is an Ion Exchange Water Filter & Do I Need One?

What is an Ion Exchange Water Filter & Do I Need One?

Ion exchange water filters use a simple chemical reaction to remove ions from water. In this guide, we’ll take a look at how this process works, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of ion exchange water treatment, and conclude with whether or not this might be the right method for your drinking water. 

What do Ion Exchange Filters Remove From Water?  

The ion exchange water filtration method involves trading the existing contaminant ions in your water with better ions that won’t degrade water quality. Depending on what contaminants you are trying to target, ion exchange process can be used in a variety of ways. 

For example. ion exchange can remove heavy metals like lead, copper, nickel, and cadmium, which is crucial for making drinking water healthy. Some water filters use a blend of activated carbon and ion exchange media to remove many more contaminants than traditional filtering. Like traditional ion exchange, this process also occurs with chemical bonding, as carbon absorbs the unhealthy toxins while the water passes through your filter. 

Why is a Water Filter Important?  

A filter is important first and foremost because it can remove harmful chemicals and contaminants from your drinking water. 

These contaminants, like lead, mercury, cadmium, copper, and asbestos, can seep into the water supply due to seepage and run-off. When people consume heavy metals via drinking water in sufficient quantities, they can suffer liver, kidney, and intestinal damage. An ion exchange water filter can filter your water and remove these unhealthy contaminants. 

Another concern that water filters address is hard water. Hard water is not a direct health concern. But when water has high levels of calcium, magnesium, and potassium, it can taste chalky or metallic. According to the U.S. Geological Survey hard water classification, water that contains calcium and magnesium between 121 and 180 mg/L. Anything below that is drinkable. Officials classify water samples that have 181 mg/L or more as very hard and undrinkable. 

Often water hardness is a problem with homes that derive their water from domestic wells, but it can also appear in the public water supply in some municipalities.  

Is My Unfiltered Tap Water Safe to Drink?

In the U.S., tap water is safe to consume unfiltered, because it is closely monitored by municipal authorities. Still, there is a difference between water that is safe to drink and water that is purified of almost all contaminants. Unfiltered tap water won’t make you sick, but it does contain small traces of harmful chemicals and heavy metals.

If your water contains traces of heavy metals or other chemicals over the government-recommended level due to an accident or natural disaster, you should definitely filter your home tap water. A home water filter is a great investment for your family if you’re experiencing any strange taste or odor with water from the tap.

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If you don’t have a strange water taste but still think you might need to filter your water, a good idea is to take a sample of your drinking water and send it to a lab for tests. For a small fee, you can send a sample of your drinking water to a state-certified lab to ensure that the chemical levels are not too high.  

Can People Drink Ion Exchange Water? 

You can drink ion exchange water without any problems. Water that has been properly filtered via the ion exchange method tastes refreshing and looks crystal clear. You can also use the water for cooking, showering, or washing clothes. 

However, it is important to use an ion exchange system that does not remove healthy minerals from your water. Some of the minerals you are removing from your drinking water via ion exchange are actually very healthy for you in small doses. According to one 2013 study, hard water can actually lead to a decrease in cardiovascular disease. As the study, released in the International Journal of Preventive Medecine, states, “... drinking-water may be a source of calcium and magnesium in the diet and could be important for those who are marginal for calcium and magnesium intake.(1)

When Should You Drink Ionized Water?

You can drink ionized water whenever you want. Hydration is important if you’re sick or if you’re healthy. According to the Mayo Clinic recommendations on water consumption, adult men should consume about 15.5 cups of fluids per day, while women should consume about 11.5 cups. You may need to increase this amount if you’re sweating profusely. Part of keeping your body well-regulated means drinking enough clean, fresh water. Ionized water definitely fits these specifications. 

Benefits of Using an Ion Exchange Filter

Two major benefits of home ion exchange filters are that they are reliable and they and can be long lasting. When used properly, a home ion exchange filter is a surefire way to remove contaminants.

You will need to replace ion exchange media to continue to enjoy the benefits of this type of water filtration. How often you need to replace the ion exchange media will depend on the kind of filter being used. It’s important to check any literature that comes with your filter to know what the life of your filter will be.

Are Ion Exchange Filters Right for Your Home?

The cons for some home ion exchange filtration systems, however, are the cost of upkeep and the time it takes for weekly maintenance. If you want to enjoy the benefits of ion exchange but whole house ion exchange filtration system is too expensive, you might consider using a water filter pitcher that leverages the same technology.

A home water filter pitched by Aquagear costs a fraction of installing a home system and provides the same great tasting water, albeit on a smaller scale. The ion exchange filter in an Aquagear water pitcher uses coconut shells and carbon to remove heavy metals like lead using ion exchange. It also removes other harmful contaminants like chlorine, BPA, and pesticides. 

Rather than buying costly bags of resin and providing weekly maintenance to your system, you simply need to change the filter on your Aquagear water pitcher every few months. With our filter subscription plan, you don’t even need to remember to buy a replacement filter – we’ll send you one automatically.

Are Ion Exchange Filters Safe?

Ion exchange filters are safe because all the components are non-toxic. Whether you’re using ion exchange resin or an ion exchange filter, you’ll want to make sure that you’re changing filters as needed. A water filter like Aquagear is also BPA free, ensuring that you only get the purest water possibly. 

What is Ion Exchange Resin?

Ion Exchange resin (or water softener resin) is a sand-like material that is charged with sodium and sits in your ion exchanged filter. As water passes through the filter, ions “jump” from the resin and into the water. Conversely, targeted contaminants like heavy metal  ions “jump” from the water and bond with the resin. The resulting soft water passes out of the filter and through your tap, ready to drink. 

Difference Between Ion Exchange and Reverse Osmosis? 

The two major types of water softening filters are deionization and reverse osmosis. 

Ion exchange uses ionic bonds and organic chemistry to filter particular ions from your water. For example, some ion exchange resins are used to soften water. With this method, you’ll typically load a salty resin into a filter. Hard water passes through the filter and softens via chemical bonds. 

Reverse osmosis uses air pressure to remove these ions from drinking water. The reverse osmosis system pushes hard water through a semi-permeable membrane, filtering out impurities and minerals. The remaining “contaminated” water filters from the system. 

Is Reverse Osmosis Required After Ion Exchange Filtering?

You don’t need to use reverse osmosis after ion exchange filtering for household drinking water. For most common purposes, doing both is a bit like overkill. Doing both procedures would also mean installing two separate water filtration systems, which would be costly and frustrating to maintain. 

For industrial processes where water purity is of the utmost importance, it may be required. But for home drinking water, you don’t need to use both reverse osmosis and ion exchange filtering. 

Conclusion: The Truth About Ion Exchange Technology

Ion Exchange water filtration can be an effective way to remove contaminants from your water. Unfortunately, home ion filtration systems can be costly, and some ion exchange technology will also remove healthy minerals. This robs this precious liquid of much of its healthful benefits. Like it or not, our bodies benefit a lot from small amounts of minerals like calcium and magnesium. As we previously discussed, another downside to home ion exchange systems is that it is costly to replace ion exchange resin and the system requires regular maintenance. 

Home water filter pitchers like Aquagear use ion filter technology to filter your water and are a much more cost effective way to remove contaminants from your water while allowing healthy minerals to remain. Check out our website to find details on what an Aquagear filter can do for you. 


  1. U.S. Geological Survey, Do you have information about water hardness in the United States?


  1. U.S. Geological Survey, Hardness of Water


  1. Pallav Sengupta, Potential Health Impacts of Hard Water