In my April 2019 column, I wrote about the use of cartridge filters in a water system. This column builds on those thoughts. Please remember what you are about to read is from my own experience over many years, and your experience may be different.

The subject of using a cartridge filter got my attention due to an infomercial on TV. We have DirecTV that comes through a satellite dish and while we have many channels, a lot of them are not worth one’s time — at least in my opinion. We have jewelry sales, shoe sales, sales of all kinds of things at a big discount. Perhaps the most nutty channel of all is the one with the program, “Naked and Afraid.” (However, the people aren’t really naked.) We do have a few good movie channels and six or eight sports channels. These are what I usually watch. But on a recent evening, I was flipping through the channels and came upon a program that promoted water softening by use of a cartridge filter. 

This was a typical infomercial with a man and woman team. The main pitchman was a fellow in his 50s who seemed to have 10,000 facts about water softening at his fingertips. His partner was an attractive woman in her mid-30s who was just amazed at the wealth of information he was feeding her. The product they promoted was a cartridge-type filter about twice the length of a regular filter and perhaps somewhat larger in diameter. They touted this filter as a miracle product that would soften water all by itself. When it was depleted, the homeowner could quickly open the filter housing and install a new cartridge, and they were back in soft water. One of the huge advantages claimed by the pitchman for this product was that it used no water to regenerate, offering what he said was a huge savings in water consumption. He went on and on about the advantages of this product over a conventional water softener. His partner, smiling, agreed with his every point. They were good actors.

I am not the least bit sorry, but I do not believe you can soften water with a cartridge filter. I believe the only effective way to do this in home or commercial use is with an ion exchange machine. I have heard in the past about filters that used citrus and did improve water quality somewhat. Sorry, but I do not think these things are worth the money. A few years ago, folks were besieged by commercials for a magnetic water softener that claimed to change the structure of water through magnetism. I even saw a display on this type of gadget at an Ag Day held at Michigan State University. I haven’t seen one of these advertised in some time, though maybe I lead a sheltered life. However, I will repeat so there is no misunderstanding: I really do not believe you can soften water with a cartridge filter.

This is not to say that cartridge filters don’t work or don’t have a place in water conditioning. If you have an old-style hydropneumatic tank and it is putting out rusty water, a cartridge filter will strain this rust and help improve water quality. If the water coming out of the tank is clear, a cartridge filter will not do much to improve water quality.

If a well is producing water that contains sand or particles from the corrosion of pipe the cartridge filter is, again, a valuable addition to the system. I have seen a number of cartridge filters installed before the water softener, as softener valves do not work well when water going through them has solid particles. The fact that filters have limited capacity and require the homeowner or system operator to change them quite frequently is a down side. The average single-cartridge filter, even when brand new, has a limited flow capacity. 

Some years ago, one manufacturer produced a filter that used multiple cartridges inside a tank. The filters attached to a hollow plastic spindle and were secured with a big, square nut. The cartridge spindle combination then connected to a manifold with a tapered joint. This was done by reaching inside the main unit, a galvanized tank with an O ring sealed cap. The manifold itself was round to fit the inside of the tank. We sold a couple of these that used, as I remember, four filter cartridges. The manufacturer made models that ranged in the number of cartridges in them, and these models had a much higher flow then one would expect from a single cartridge. The spindles were a bit tricky to install in the tank, and if the service person’s hands were not clean, I would wonder how pure the water was. We only sold a few of these where we expected high flow rates. 

Recently, I sold a replacement softener to a good customer and we installed it at his childhood home. (I also previously installed the well, pump and conditioning equipment in his present home.) This installation had a cartridge filter — it was not an activated carbon type, I don’t believe — after the water softener. He said his father, now deceased, felt that the water tasted a lot better with that filter installed behind the softener. His father was a good man who fought in Italy in World War II. I knew this gentleman, and it would have been fun to discuss this with him.

Next time, I will get off my soapbox about water conditioning and talk about a favorite subject: pipe pulling tools. I received a question about these some months back and have been slow to respond. Be patient, Fred, I will answer your question next month. The weather in southern Michigan has been hot and humid. Despite this, we are getting almost no rain, and my infamous lawn and the corn crop look a bit dry. My lawn does still have a tinge of green. Needless to say, I’m not spending much time mowing. Last week, about 50 miles north of here, folks had 4 inches of rain in a single shower, with flooded roads and all that fun. I must say the weather patterns are baffling. Until next time, if you’re out working, drink plenty of water that, hopefully, has a low iron content and is crystal clear. 

For more John Schmitt columns, visit