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Reverse Osmosis vs. Refrigerator Filters: Which is Best?

Reverse Osmosis vs. Refrigerator Filters: Which One Is the Best?

When it comes to improving the quality of your drinking water, many Atlanta homeowners choose either a refrigerator water filter or reverse osmosis water filter. Reverse osmosis systems are the better option because, although they're more expensive to install, they provide purer, better tasting water and have similar maintenance.

We'll compare reverse osmosis and refrigerator filters in terms of:

  • Filtration process (and contaminants removed)
  • Regular maintenance
  • Cost

Want purer, better tasting drinking water? Call Reliable Heating & Air, Plumbing and Electrical at (770) 594-9969 to schedule a free in-home water test.

Our plumbers will answer any questions you have about refrigerator and reverse osmosis water filtration systems. They'll also go over our reverse osmosis systems, which have a 4-stage filtration process that helps eliminate contaminants to give you cleaner, clearer water to drink and cook with.

Reverse osmosis filter solutions (RO water filters) are a convenient and economical way to improve the taste and purity of your drinking water.

Filtration Process

Refrigerator water filtration process

Many refrigerators today have built-in water dispensers that include a filter to remove contaminants. Refrigerator water filters use single-stage activated carbon filters to remove contaminants. Carbon filters use a process called adsorption, where contaminants adhere to the filter when the water passes through it.

The average refrigerator filter is designed to remove:

Most refrigerator water filters can reduce the presence of, but don't completely remove:

You can upgrade to an advanced refrigerator filter that removes more contaminants than basic filters, but you'll still be limited to a single-stage system that only filters water once.

Reverse osmosis water filters have more filtration steps, which means they're more effective at removing contaminants from your water.

Reverse osmosis filtration process

You can choose between whole-house (installed at your water supply) or point-of-use (installed beneath your kitchen sink) reverse osmosis systems. Both models have a 4-step filtration process to remove contaminants from your drinking water:

  1. Sediment filter: A basic filter that screens out sediments and particulates as small as 5 microns. (For context, the average human hair is around 70 microns in diameter.)
  2. Carbon filter: This pre-filter, which is similar to refrigerator filters, removes a wide range of contaminants that make water taste and smell better and safer to drink.
  3. Reverse osmosis filters: The heart of the system, the reverse osmosis filter is a semi-permeable membrane that allows water to pass through under pressure, but not the majority of other substances. It can remove contaminants and dissolved substances as small as .001 microns.
  4. Polishing carbon filter: This granular activated carbon (GAC) post-filter removes many remaining substances to purify your water.

Like refrigerator water filters, reverse osmosis water filters vary in effectiveness depending on the system you buy. That said, according to the CDC, most reverse osmosis systems will remove common contaminants, including:

  • Lead
  • Chloride
  • Sodium
  • Copper
  • Chromium
  • Chlorine and chlorine byproducts (like trihalomethanes)
  • VOCs
  • Dissolved substances (minerals, salts, and metals like iron)

They're also highly effective at removing:

  • Protozoa (parasites)
  • Bacteria (including Salmonella and E. coli)
  • Viruses (including Hepatitis A)
  • Pesticides and herbicides
  • Arsenic
  • Fluoride
  • Radium
  • Sulfate
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Nitrate
  • Phosphorous

Both refrigerator and reverse osmosis water filters require a similar amount of maintenance.


Refrigerator filter maintenance

Maintenance on refrigerator water filters is relatively low effort. You'll need to replace the carbon filter every 6 months. If you let the filter run longer than that, you risk contaminants getting into your drinking water.

However, keep in mind that water filtration systems are one more feature of a refrigerator that can break down. This means refrigerators with water filters typically require more repairs, and you could pay up to a couple hundred dollars for each repair.

Reverse osmosis maintenance

Reverse osmosis water filters also require regular replacements. You'll need to replace the:

  • Sediment filter every 18-24 months
  • Two carbon filters every 6-12 months
  • Reverse osmosis filter every 2-3 years

How often you need to replace the filters will depend on the water contamination level and how often you use the system.

Between the replacement filters and higher upfront installation cost, reverse osmosis systems will cost more than a refrigerator water filter.


Refrigerator water filter cost

Since refrigerator water filters come built into your refrigerator, you're not technically paying an installation cost. That said, refrigerators with water filters are usually several hundred dollars more than refrigerators without water filtration.

You can also expect to pay between $40 and $100 a year in filter replacements for refrigerator water filters.

Reverse osmosis cost

The cost of a reverse osmosis system can range anywhere from $200 to over $7,500, depending on whether you choose a point-of-use or whole-house reverse osmosis system and depending on its effectiveness.

A point-of-use reverse osmosis system will cost between $200 to $1,500. Your reverse osmosis installation cost will increase if you choose:

  • An under-the-sink model, as opposed to a countertop system. Countertop models can run $100-$400, while the more convenient under-sink systems can cost between $300 and $1,500.

  • A tankless system over a tank one. Tankless reverse osmosis systems are more convenient, since you don't have to wait for a tank to fill up and essentially have an endless supply of fresh, pure drinking water—but that convenience will cost you several hundred dollars more.

  • Advanced filtration. Some reverse osmosis water filters remove more contaminants than others. More advanced filters will cost you more—in both the upfront installation and filter replacement costs.

After installation, you can expect to pay between $50 and $100 a year in maintenance and operation costs for a reverse osmosis system.

If you don't want to foot the upfront cost of a new reverse osmosis system, but still want the purest drinking water for your family, Reliable offers reverse osmosis systems for only $29.99/month. And, if you choose Reliable for your RO system, you'll always get:

  • No cost installation

  • No cost maintenance

  • No cost filters - which are conveniently shipped to your door.

Want Better Water With Reverse Osmosis? Call Reliable Heating & Air.

Call us today at (770) 594-9969 or schedule an appointment for a free in-home water test.

We've been offering the most reliable plumbing service in the greater Atlanta area for more than 40 years. Our plumbing experts will explain the benefits of reverse osmosis systems over refrigerator filters and how to get the healthiest, best-tasting water in your home.