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Clean water is considered to be even more essential for the functioning of the human body than food, but how well do refrigerator water filters work?
Not a day goes by when we do not consume water.
The benefits of drinking an optimum amount of water are well-documented in various studies and it is known that there is no complete substitute for clean drinking water.
Do the math: if you drink 8 glasses of water a day throughout your life, you drink thousands of liters of water.
We can see that water is consumed in large quantities and thus even a small amount of contaminants will build up in our system as we go through life.
Since most households use drinking water that is obtained from a refrigerator, but how well do refrigerator water filters work?
This is the reason why most refrigerators will either have a built-in water filter or have the necessary arrangements so that you can install a water filter of your choice.
How Dirty Is Your Refrigerated Water?
Water that we get in most developed and developing countries has already been treated to get rid of harmful bacteria and contaminants.
This treatment happens in specially designated water treatment plants before the water is supplied to your house through a pipeline network.
Since water has been treated at the water plant, people get a false impression that the tap water that enters the refrigerator is completely safe.
However, water from treatment plants may still not be considered healthy enough for consumption.
It is known that tap water can have a wide range of sediments, chemicals, and germs that can escape the filtration process at water treatment plants.
This initial treatment is necessary but we can always take further steps to ensure that the water we drink is of the highest quality.
Since we consume large quantities of water it becomes our responsibility to ensure that every drop of water that we drink is safe and of good quality.
This is where the need for a refrigerator water filter arises, to make sure that the tap water that you drink is of superior quality.
So let us see the different types of contaminants that a basic refrigerator filter is effective against.
The Flint Water Crisis brought the issue of the chemical lead in drinking water back into the limelight.
Even though the main contaminant was lead, people all over the country realized that their drinking water could be contaminated with several chemicals or germs.
Through various similar events in the past, we come to know that drinking water can easily be contaminated by even a single harmful source.
This harmful contamination can hurt the health of a large number of residents before people even realize the cause of the problem.
The basic issue during the Flint water crisis was that over 1,00,000 residents were exposed to a water supply that was contaminated with lead.
Lead is toxic and has been linked to several physical ailments in both the short and longer-term.
Some of the direct impacts of lead poisoning can include impaired brain development in children and infants.
In adults lead is known to cause heart and kidney problems as well as high blood pressure.
Good quality refrigerator filters use activated carbon or charcoal to remove lead before the water from the refrigerator is consumed.
Chlorine is primarily used in water treatment plants as an effective way to get rid of other unwanted contaminants.
Chlorination of water is the most common and widely used method of disinfecting water to make it suitable for drinking.
Besides the water treatment plants, we are all very familiar with the use of chlorine to keep our swimming pools in usable condition.
While chlorine in water does not have any big adverse health effects, it tends to alter the taste and smell of water.
Thus we can see that while chlorine has its important function in disinfecting water, we still would not want traces of chlorine in the water that we finally drink.
Refrigerator water filters are most effective in removing traces of chlorine that may remain in drinking water.
Sediments and Debris
The water of course can have a whole list of other contaminants usually in trace amounts.
Physical debris and sediments like stones and rust are rare in developed countries but there are still instances of this happening.
Physical sediments can enter your pipes even after the water has left the treatment plant and before it enters your home.
Simple issues like a cracked pipe can lead to sediments entering the water before it reaches our home.
An old or not well maintained municipal piping system can aggravate the problem of water with small particles and rust.
Chlorine and lead are considered to be the main chemical contaminants of tap water.
However, industrial waste and chemical runoffs can have a devastating effect on drinking water even in small quantities.
They tend to leave trace amounts of chemicals and organic compounds that can have long term effects on our health.
Some of the other chemicals that can enter drinking water are nitrates, organic compounds, and heavy metals.
Over a long period, even a small quantity of contamination with these chemicals can affect our health simply because of the large amounts of water we consume.
Bacteria and Germs
Bacteria and germs are other contaminants that can be minimized through the use of a refrigerator water filter.
There is always a chance that drinking water can be contaminated with pathogens.
Pathogens are germs, bacteria, and viruses.
While a lot of bacteria can be harmless, there are still certain strains of bacteria that can harm your health.
UV water filters are highly effective in eliminating these pathogens.
The Workings of a Refrigerator Filter
The basic material that is the most widely used in any filtration is activated carbon or charcoal.
The main property of activated carbon that helps it to filter is its ability to absorb materials.
As water passes through the carbon layer, it removes different sediments and chemical compounds.
Activated carbon and charcoal even can remove any odor or tastes in water.
The effectiveness of carbon and charcoal are the main reasons why it forms the base of any good filtration system.
One of the reasons for the need for regular maintenance is that this carbon layer acts like a sponge.
Over time and with frequent use this layer gets more and more saturated with sediments and impurities thus reducing its effectiveness.
If the carbon layer gets completely saturated then the water will not get filtered and in some cases, particles that were trapped in the carbon filter earlier may recontaminate the water before it is dispensed.
Activated carbon thus forms the base filter material that needs to be changed to ensure that it remains an effective filtration medium.
Higher-end refrigerator filters may boast of a UV light system to clean your water.
UV light has emerged as a very effective way of getting rid of bacteria and germs that can enter a source of water.
That means you can use a refrigerator filter with UV light to get rid of bacteria, germs, and even some viruses without the use of any chemicals to treat the water.
Most UV light filters claim to have 99.9% effectiveness in removing germs and bacteria.
It is important to note that a UV filter will not remove sediments and chemicals that have contaminated the water.
Thus UV light filters work best to get rid of pathogens that are microscopic and you cannot see.
For physical filtration of particles and sediments, you will still require an activated carbon or charcoal layer.
Like other filters, the UV filter will also need maintenance because the UV light bulb may need to be changed periodically.
Reverse Osmosis Filters
Reverse Osmosis or RO filters are often used in conjunction with activated carbon to remove additional contaminants that could have entered your water.
Usually, this is used only in areas that are known to have water with higher quantities of chemicals like arsenic, nitrates, copper, and lead.
These filters use an additional membrane layer to filter out these chemicals from water.
Since the RO process can remove sodium from water, it can also be used in those local communities which get hard water.
A RO system is thus a great way to improve the effectiveness of your existing refrigerator water filter.
What the Filter Does
The basic function of a refrigerator water filter is to clean and filter out water.
You take water that has pollutants on one end and after the entire filtration process, you get clean water that is dispensed from the refrigerator.
Depending on the type of filter system the speed of dispensing of water greatly varies.
This is not a big factor but daily, you would prefer a refrigerator water filter that gives you water quickly but effectively removes any contaminants.
Let us go through a few of the primary functions of a refrigerator water filter.
Sediments and debris are some of the most basic things that you need to get out of your water.
If you see a glass of water with small visible particles in it your first instinct is to throw it out.
The visual of muddy water that enters a filtration system and comes out clean best describes any water filtration system.
Similarly in a refrigerator filter system, you have water that may contain sediments and debris that goes through the filter and comes out clean.
The sediments and particles get trapped in the layers of the filter giving you the end product of clean water.
We have seen that water can have several chemicals in it that may need to be removed.
Some of these chemicals like chlorine are deliberately introduced to disinfect the water at the water treatment plants.
Other chemicals like lead, nitrates, and organic compounds may enter the water due to a range of reasons including broken pipes, industrial waste, and other sources of contamination.
The effectiveness of chemical removal varies greatly from one filter to the next.
However, the common consensus is that most filters have the mechanisms to deal with chlorine and lead pollutants.
These two chemicals are the ones that are most likely to be found in water that has been contaminated.
A reverse osmosis filter is better equipped to deal with the removal of chemicals than a simple activated carbon filter.
Alters Taste and Smell
One of the main reasons that people need to change the taste and smell of water is due to the chlorine that leaves a distinct taste and smell.
Even though chlorine is not very harmful from the health point of view, you would not want the taste and smell to linger in the water that you drink daily.
Activated carbon usually does a good job of removing these altering effects of chlorine when it comes to drinking water.
This is the reason why even the most basic filters will usually succeed at chlorine filtration.
A reverse osmosis filter can remove excess sodium from the water you drink.
This is good because it changes the taste of hard water which many people dislike especially if you are not used to it.
Removes Bacteria and Germs
The last microscopic pollutants of water are bacteria and germs.
These small living organisms can be harmless but sometimes they do cause sickness including a few water-borne diseases.
Chlorine is used as a disinfectant at the water treatment plants.
However, there are several instances where water gets contaminated before it reaches your refrigerator.
Again the effectiveness of bacteria and germ removal will vary greatly from the filter to filter.
The best filters to deal with pathogens in water are UV light filters.
These filters are very well equipped to deal with these types of pollutants and claim to eliminate almost all pathogens that can contaminate your drinking water.
The Cost and Quality Factor
Having gone through the different contaminants and types of filters, it is clear that even in a developed country your tap water quality has scope for improvement.
Everyone would like to have a refrigerator water filter in their houses.
Let’s be honest, there is no harm in having an additional layer of safety before we drink our water.
The refrigerator water filter only has an upside.
However, we see that some people may still not use refrigerator water filters.
There are several reasons why a person may feel like the refrigerator water filter is a luxury and not a necessity.
So let us look at some of the basic factors that have an impact on the actual use of a refrigerator water filter in a home.
A refrigerator water filter is an additional cost that most people do not consider when they buy a new fridge.
Even if your refrigerator comes with a built-in filtration system, it may still require regular maintenance which will involve an outflow of money.
If your refrigerator lasts for over 10 years, then additional annual spending of $50 on filters can add up to over 70% of the cost.
The cost can be considered to be the main reason why a person decides against installing a refrigerator water filter.
You want to make sure that the refrigerator water filter that you use is constantly giving you its best results.
This is the reason why they need regular maintenance arises.
As discussed earlier, regular maintenance translates into an additional cost that can add up over the life of your filter.
In addition to this, you will also need to learn how to replace the filter materials yourself to ensure its smooth functioning.
When activated carbon or charcoal gets saturated then the filtering ability greatly diminishes.
A completely saturated carbon filter can cause previously removed contaminants to re-enter the water thus defeating its whole purpose.
A UV refrigerator water filter also needs maintenance.
This usually involves the periodic change of the UV light bulb that is used to kill germs and bacteria.
In a reverse osmosis filter, you will need to change the special membrane layer when it gets saturated.
This is similar to the carbon layer that regularly needs to be changed.
Quality and Type
When it comes to refrigerator water filters, certification is of utmost importance.
Simply put you would want the water filter with the best certification and the lowest cost.
Most water filters will have their certification displayed and even distributors like Amazon have made it mandatory that the certification of the water filter should be listed.
The leading standard on ratings is that of the NSF which is the National Sanitation Foundation.
The NSF rating is the most important thing to check before you buy your refrigerator water filter.
Many big brands have their pre-installed filtration systems.
These are generally reliable and will only have regular maintenance costs like replacing the carbon filter.
Using the inbuilt system also saves you from the hassle of trying to find the right filter type to fit your refrigerator.
When you decide to buy a new filter you have to check the compatibility with your fridge right from the brand to the exact model number, this leaves scope for mismatch at the time of purchase.
Confusing model codes and NFS rating numbers can be another two reasons why consumers delay or choose not to purchase a refrigerator water filter.
Availability of Filters
Refrigerator water filters are usually widely available without any hassles.
Customers have the option of going back to the original refrigerator manufacturer and asking for a filter.
This is the most straightforward way of getting a water filter for your fridge.
The refrigerator manufacturers however may charge a premium in price when it comes to their in-house water filters.
The other option is to just purchase a water filter that is manufactured by another company.
You can get these online through e-commerce portals or different dealership stores across the country.
As mentioned before you need to check the rating of the filter to understand its effectiveness.
Lower priced models may seem tempting but they are often less effective thus defeating the entire purpose of having a refrigerator water filter.
You need to balance the cost, rating, and quality when you purchase a refrigerator water filter.
We hope we answered your question on how well do refrigerator water filters work.
A refrigerator water filter is a necessity, especially if your locality does not get water that is completely safe to drink.
Even in developed countries, refrigerator water filters are effective in removing physical sediments and chemicals like chlorine that may still contaminate tap water before it enters your refrigerator.
Different pollutants that can contaminate the water you get from your refrigerator are chemicals like lead and chlorine, sediments like debris and rust, and pathogens like bacteria and germs.
Activated carbon/charcoal are the most commonly used materials to filter water.
UV light and reverse osmosis filters are more advanced systems that can provide additional safety when it comes to providing safe drinking water.
In conclusion, refrigerator water filters may be looked at as an unnecessary additional cost but at the end of the day, they are effective in making sure that the water you drink is safe and of superior quality.