We all expect ways to be able to get clean and refreshing drinking water in our homes. The quality of your water, however, depends greatly on the type of filtration you’re using.

A fridge with a filtered water dispenser seems convenient, faucet mounts could be a quick fix, and water filtration pitchers are fairly inexpensive. But, do you know what you’re getting out of them and how the quality compares to water treatment options like reverse osmosis (R.O.)?

Many people assume in-line filtration is the answer to their household’s water problems. Unfortunately, that is not always true. If you’re refilling your filtration pitcher each day or swapping out your fridge and pitcher filters every few months, you should understand the return on your efforts – and, if it’s really giving you the best and safest water.

When it comes to treating your water there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Your geographic location, water source, and the condition of your home’s pipes all play a role in what comes out of your faucet.

We spoke with Operations Manager Nate Fritz at Clean Water Center in Appleton, Wisconsin, to learn more about water filtration options and what homeowners need to know.

Water Filtration Options and Their Differences
The difference between in-line cartridge filtration options and reverse osmosis systems comes down to good-tasting water or water that tastes good that with far fewer potentially harmful contaminants, many of which you cannot taste.

In-line filtration options typically use carbon to improve the taste of water. The issue with this is that carbon does not filter out the same contaminants as an R.O. system. For instance, with a standard carbon filtration pitcher, water flows through a mesh screen; then, activated carbon granules act to reduce chlorine taste and odor.

Nate Fritz explains that many other things, including hard minerals as well as pharmaceuticals, lead, arsenic, and other concerning contaminants are not filtered out with carbon alone.

“Water that has a ton of minerals in it may have a bitter, poor taste,” says Fritz. “Reducing the mineral count in the water tends to make the water more palatable, and in-line or cartridge filtration options are not designed to reduce those issues. The filter may be pulling out a little bit of chlorine from city water or maybe a little sulfur from well water, but inline filtration systems are primarily used to address taste and odor. They don’t remove the other contaminants that are sometimes found.”

Fritz adds that inline filtration basically polishes the water, which is actually the last step of an R.O. system.

Reserve osmosis systems provide both better testing, cleaner, safer water for households. To do this, R.O.s combine a unique a semi-permeable membrane with multiple carbon filters, providing a more sophisticated level of water treatment.

First, water flows through a sediment filter to lower chlorine and remove larger sediment. Next, water is pushed through the semi-permeable membrane under pressure. This is the major difference from standard carbon filters. The membrane allows water molecules to pass through and stops sodium, chlorine, calcium, and larger molecules such as glucose, urea, bacteria, and viruses.

Finally, water flows through to two carbon filters remove any remaining tastes and odors before sending it to a two-gallon storage tank where it’s ready for drinking and cooking. This final step is essentially the only filtration used in today’s standard filtration pitchers, fridge systems, and faucet mounts.

The table below shows a comparison of removed contaminants between the two types of drinking water systems.

In-Line Filtration Cartridge*

  • Reduce chlorine taste and odor
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Cadmium
  • Mercury

Reverse Osmosis System**

  • Arsenic
  • Barium
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Cyst (cryptosporidium)
  • Fluoride
  • Lead
  • Nitrates and nitrites
  • Radium
  • Selenium
  • Total dissolved solids (TDS)

*Source: Brita
**Source: UltroWater Performance Data Sheet, tested and certified by NSF International against NSF/ANSI Standard 58

4 Considerations for Homeowners

It is important to do your research and understand your household’s needs before selecting a filtration system. Fritz shares additional factors to consider.

1.  Water quality and filters

Your geographic location plays a large role in determining what type of water treatment you will need. Fritz recommends having a water treatment expert test your water to fully understand the current quality and contaminants that need to be removed.

“A lot of people head to the hardware store and pick up a filter expecting it will solve all their issues,” says Fritz. “But the problem is, it’s not a standard industry.”

“If you have a small trace odor from well water, a cartridge filter from the store might handle it,” he says. “But, if you have 2-3 parts per million (ppm) of sulfate in the well, it’s going to destroy that filter in a day or two, and you’re going to have odor breakthrough.”

The team at Water-Right rarely recommends in-line cartridges because homeowners typically need to change them often, which is costly and time consuming.

2.  Filter capacity and pressure

Homeowners who rely on in-line carbon filtration may experience problems with their water output.

“If sediment starts to fill up inside the filter cartridge of a faucet mount, water will become restricted as it tries to flow through the filter,” explains Fritz. “Ultimately, this causes issues with water pressure or reduced flow rate and, in turn, can cause problems with other appliances or fixtures in the house that are expecting a certain amount of water.”

Fritz explains that all systems have a specific service flow rate, which measures how much water can flow through a piece of equipment.

“When you’re talking about a small cartridge that may be two inches in diameter by 10 inches tall, you can’t flow water through quickly and expect it to treat the water. It just doesn’t have the contact time and the ability to absorb the contaminants,” he says.

A small pitcher will need to be refilled often, and a sink mount could take longer for water to flow out of the faucet.

That’s where the benefits of an R.O. comes in. Systems such as Water-Right’s Impression Series® R.O. or Eclipse™ R.O. systems have a decreased likelihood of sediment build up, keeping flow rates high. After filtration, water is readily available in two-gallon storage tanks for the household.

3.  Frequency of filter changes

In-line carbon filtration options must be changed frequently. A basic pitcher filter should be changed approximately every 40 gallons, a faucet mount is every 100 gallons, and a fridge filter approximately every 6 to 12 months. A fridge filter is about equivalent to how often homeowner’s need to change their pre- and post-carbon filters in an R.O. system; except with reverse osmosis, you get better quality water through advanced filtration.

When homeowners forget to swap out carbon filters, the filter can become saturated with contaminants, no longer allowing the water to be cleaned. Eventually, households may end up drinking water that is worse than how it started because it’s picking up contaminants held within the saturated filter.

4.   Aesthetics and space

Water filtration systems also come down to space and appearance. For instance, a filtration pitcher will take up precious real estate in the refrigerator, even though it’s hidden away behind closed doors. Some homeowners also dislike faucet mount filtration systems because they can take away from the beauty of a designer faucet.

“When you have a faucet filtration mounted at the end of your faucet, it completely changes to the look of everything,” explains Fritz. “This can be very important to homeowners conscious about design.”

With an R.O. system, homeowners can have a separate, sleek faucet installed that monitors the system’s performance. A built-in touch monitor at the system’s faucet base verifies the water is purified.

Get further details on reverse osmosis drinking water systems and how they work in our R.O. FAQ article.

Discover Your Customized Solution

Water treatment is not a plug-and-play solution. It takes water treatment expertise to identify the best option for your household. There is a unique solution for your home that may also need to be paired with another water treatment option such as a water softener to remove hardness or an iron filter. You deserve quality water, and a local water treatment dealer can point you in the right direction.


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