With a staggering amount of the country’s water unsuitable for drinking, investing in a filtration system is a must these days. But which one to choose? This article will explain the difference between two of the most popular home water treatment options, a regular water filter vs reverse osmosis, to see which is best for your specific situation.
What’s The Difference Between A Regular Water Filter And Reverse Osmosis
A regular water filter is only capable of removing larger particles that are as small as one micron depending on the filter type. Whereas a reverse osmosis membrane is capable of removing molecules down to .0001 microns like dissolved PFAS, bacteria, and other contaminants that any regular filter can’t remove.
A regular filter also works by passing water through the media where all the chemicals and sediment accumulate, eventually clogging the filter and making it less efficient. However, a reverse osmosis filter works by letting only water molecules flow through the membrane’s surface and separating the harmful contaminants so that it can wash away all the impurities into the drain. This means that the filter can last longer before it needs replacement.
How Does Carbon Water Filtration Work?
A carbon filter, which is part of the reverse osmosis filtration system, uses granulated activated carbon (GAC) to remove organic chemicals, dissolved chemicals, and other contaminants in water.
An activated carbon filter works by treating water through a process called adsorption. This means that when water passes through the GAC filter, the small porous beads inside that filter will act like a sponge to absorb contaminants in the water.
Since activated carbon has a larger surface area, it can absorb more impurities and contaminants in the water, making it one of the most effective water filters on the market today.
Carbon filters are especially effective at organic compounds that other filters are not capable of doing. This is because these carbon beads attract way more than the forces that keep contaminants dissolved in the water.
What Contaminants Do Carbon Water Filters Remove?
Granular activated carbon filters contain many pores across a high surface area to allow them to effectively absorb bad tastes, odors, and organic compounds. A carbon water filter has been proven to be highly efficient in removing a wide variety of contaminants in drinking water including:
- Chlorine and its byproducts
How Do Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Systems Work?
Reverse osmosis forces water under high pressure through a semipermeable membrane with pores that are only .0001 microns. The pores are so small that only water molecules are allowed to pass through while other harmful contaminants are rejected and washed away down the drain.
A reverse osmosis filtration system is capable of removing dissolved chemicals, sediment, and chlorine from drinking water using a multi-stage process. A pre-filter is the first step where water is forced into a sediment filter where bigger particles like dirt, dust, and rust are removed.
Then, water is also forced through a carbon filter where more contaminants including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that give water a bad odor and taste are removed.
After going through a carbon filter, water then goes through the main reverse osmosis filter, which is a semi-permeable membrane that can remove up to 99.9% of contaminants including Total Dissolved Solids (TDS).
After these three stages of filtration, water goes to a storage tank where it’s kept ready for use in your home. Once you turn the faucet on, water will be moved from your storage tank to your faucet going through one last post-filter to polish it before you can drink it.
What Contaminants Does Reverse Osmosis Remove?
Reverse osmosis is considered the most effective home water treatment system where it can remove contaminants including:
- Protozoa (Giardia, Cryptosporidium, etc.)
- Viruses (Hepatitis A, Rotavirus, etc.)
- Bacteria (Salmonella, E.coli, etc.)
Pros And Cons Of Water Filter Vs Reverse Osmosis
Although regular water filters and reverse osmosis filters have proven their efficiency in treating drinking water, each still has their pros and cons.
Advantages Of Carbon Filters
- Made with natural filter media such as coconut shell or wood, which means that no other substances or chemicals will be added to your water during the filtration process.
- Excellent at removing carbon-based organic chemicals, microorganisms, and disinfectants.
- Cheaper than RO systems and very easy to maintain.
Disadvantages Of Carbon Filters
- Filters need to be replaced more often than other types of filters.
- Doesn’t remove chemicals and substances that are not attracted to carbon including heavy metals, fluoride and nitrates.
- Can’t remove bacteria and viruses.
Advantages Of Reverse Osmosis
- RO filters the greatest number of contaminants on the market.
- It makes the water smell and tastes better to be used for drinking and cooking.
- Filters last longer and don’t need to be replaced often.
Disadvantages Of Reverse Osmosis
- Water pressure drops, especially during busy hours.
- A lot of water is wasted during the reverse osmosis process.
- You need to think about how to dispose of water waste after.
Water Filter Vs Reverse Osmosis: Which Is Right For You?
Choosing whether to invest in a carbon water filter or a reverse osmosis filter will depend on a few factors that will help you ensure that you’re investing in the right product for your home. Here are some things that you need to consider:
- What’s In Your Water: The only way to decide whether you should go for a simple or sophisticated water system is to know exactly what types of contaminants are in your water. You can check local Water Quality Reports or the EWG database to get an idea of what is in your water. Better yet, you can test your home’s water to know the exact composition of your water. If your water has light contamination like chlorine or bad odors, a carbon filter may be suitable. If your water has fluoride, PFAS, bacteria and other nasty contaminants, an RO will be required.
- Installation: Depending on your existing space, there are a lot of options to choose from. You can go for a whole house, refrigerator, or under-sink filtration system that fits your needs. Most reverse osmosis systems are under sink units. Although they don’t take up too much space, a single water filter will take up less space under your sink. If you are not a DIY person, you may need to pay a little to have a professional install the RO system.
- Your Budget: Of course, you need to determine how much you’re willing to spend on your filtration system. A regular undersink carbon filter will have a lower starting price point of approximately $50 up to $300. A traditional reverse osmosis system will cost approximately $250 and go up to $900 on average because they are more comprehensive.
Hopefully, this guide helped with deciding between if a reverse osmosis system or a water filter is best for your needs. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to drop us a line!