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How Do Faucet Mounted Water Filters Compare To Reverse Osmosis Units?

A comparison of faucet water filters to reverse osmosis systems.

By Karl Schultz

These days more and more people are becoming concerned about what is in their home drinking water. Even in cities with some of the purest water in the nation you can often find levels toxic substances in some amount in household tap water. Installing a faucet mounted water filter can remove many common pollutants in drinking water. A Reverse osmosis system is another option, if your water problem is more severe. Many people are not comfortable with having fluoride or sodium in their drinking water due to health concerns.  Reverse osmosis systems can remove sodium and fluoride from water, along with other ions. This article will discuss the differences in faucet mounted water filters vs. reverse osmosis or RO systems.

For Simple Water Problems, A Faucet Type Water Filter Will Do

  Example of a faucet mounted water filter system.

The kind of small water filtration systems that fit on your kitchen faucet have the advantage of being compact, cheap, easy to install and easy to maintain by the average homeowner. On average, these units will treat about three hundred gallons of water, or about three months worth. After three months or so, you must change the water filter cartridge.  Some units, such as those made by GE, offer a warning light system that lets you know when to replace the cartridge filter. New cartridges cost about $10 each. This means you will be paying about .03 cents per gallon  for  the drinking water you use.  Installation takes about five minutes, and if a person can open a jar lid, they can change the filter on one of these.

How much of toxic substances and sediment do they remove? Most of the kitchen faucet mounted water filters will remove things down to one micron in size. They will remove about 99% of lead, 99.00 of cryptosporidium and giardia, and 98% of turbidity. Faucet water filters do not remove sodium or fluoride from your water, nor other substances at the ion level. If your water contains high amounts of sodium chloride, as mine does, you may not see much difference in taste using a faucet mounted water filter. To get rid of sodium compounds in your water you will need to go a step above carbon filtration to a reverse osmosis unit - filter combination.

A Reverse Osmosis System Removes Sodium

  Example of an under the sink reverse osmosis system. A reverse osmosis system will remove fluoride and sodium from water.

In many parts of the country, municipal water supplies can contain so much sodium that the water seems almost "brackish". Water containing sodium does not make good beverages such as coffee and tea, and causes problems with some recipes. Those on low sodium diets should not drink tap water containing high amounts of sodium. Water softeners contribute to the amount of sodium in household tap water.  No amount of carbon filtration in the world will remove sodium from your drinking water.  Will a reverse osmosis system remove sodium and fluoride from water?  Reverse osmosis units utilize several square feet of a special membrane, which allows water molecules to pass, but not larger molecules such as sodium.  An RO system will greatly reduce, though not remove all sodium chloride in drinking water. Reverse osmosis units remove particles as small as individual ions of sodium or fluoride. The pores in an RO membrane are about 0.0005 micron in size. As an example, bacteria are 0.2 to 1 micron in size and common viruses measure between 0.02 to 0.4 microns.

Depending on how much sodium your water contains, you may need a large, specialized reverse osmosis system (such as those used to desalinate seawater). In the case of slightly salty city water,  a small  RO system under your kitchen sink will take out a large percentage of the sodium. Reverse osmosis systems  can remove about the same amounts of chlorine, bacteria, viruses, and particulate matter from your water as the faucet mounted water filter above, in addition to removing much of the sodium it contains. A typical under - the - sink RO system will make about 20 to 50 gallons of drinking water per day. Those with a small pressurized tank offer a gallon or more of water on demand so you can fill a cup or glass fairly quickly. You can also hook an under the sink RO system up to your fridge's ice maker for better tasting ice.

 Under the counter RO or reverse osmosis systems typically sell for around $200 and up. Most can be installed by the average homeowner in about four hours or less.  How much pollutants do RO systems filter out? Typically these systems come with a multi-stage activated carbon pre-filter system, that takes things such as bacteria, viruses, chlorine, etc, out of the water before it even gets to the RO membrane. The membrane used in an RO filter system is easily clogged by dirty water, therefore in order to keep your system working well, you must regularly change these pre - filters.  How often you need to change them depends partly on how dirty your water is, but about six months is normal between filter changes. For those on well water, the interval may be only a month or two. Below is an illustration of how a reverse osmosis system works.

Installation Of Reverse Osmosis Water Filters Vs. Faucet Mounted

While a faucet mounted water filter can be installed in a couple of minutes, an RO filter takes a bit more effort. As someone with basic handyman skills, I have installed several of these under the counter RO units and on average it took me about two hours. This includes taking it out of the box, hooking up all of the filter units in unison, connecting the water supply and discharge lines and mounting the filters and tank. Most reverse osmosis units come with a complete set of instructions and a 1-800 number that you can call for support. Models such as the GE-GXRM-10RBL are made with a type of tubing connection that is super easy to hook up. You simply slide the plastic hose into the fitting, give it a tug and you're done. The hardest connections to make are the water supply, for which you can use a saddle valve to tap an existing copper line, or a T connection to split where the cold water comes out of the wall for your kitchen sink. A drain tube must be connected to your sink drain. This is a little trickier and you may need extra connections from a hardware store. Just don't connect an RO water drain line downstream from a disposer. Make sure that all the tubing connections are tight and check for leaks over a period of about an hour after you are done. On the other hand, if you don't want to bother with doing it yourself, you can pay a local handyman about $100 to come and install it for you.  What are some good brands of RO units? I like GE RO systems, since you can find filters for them in any hardware store and chances are the company will be around for a while.

 Another option, one that will cost you significantly more money over the long run, but will mean less to worry about, is renting an RO system from a company such as Culligan and letting them maintain it. You can also purchase a system from such a company, and let them install it, and then you will simply do the regular maintenance such as changing filters. If it breaks, they will charge you a service fee to come and fix it.

As someone who has gone both routes, I've found that renting or buying from a local water softening company can be a bit more expensive than finding these systems elsewhere. For about a fourth the cost, and featuring less expensive carbon filters, those found online or at home improvement stores are a much better choice. What you should look for in an RO filter is a major manufacturer, and one which uses cartridges that can be easily purchased from a number of sources. In the end, when comparing RO units to faucet mounted water filters, you may pay more, but if you want to get the sodium out of the water, they are your only option other than buying bottled water.




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