how effective are refrigerator water filters

    Published: June 22, 2016

    How Effective are Refrigerator Water Filters?

    Refrigerators with built-in water filters seem like a great deal—you need a refrigerator anyway, so why not purchase one that filters your water? While certainly better than nothing, refrigerator filters have significant limitations when compared to dedicated whole house or countertop filtration systems.

    Size Matters

    Most built-in refrigerator filters use activated carbon as filtration medium. Such filters work through a process called adsorption, which causes contaminants to stick to the filtration media. Activated carbon is honeycombed with nooks and crannies, so it provides a large surface area for adsorption.

    Two considerations determine how effectively activated charcoal filters reduce contaminants: size, and how long the water remains in contact with the filter medium. In small filtration systems, such as built-in refrigerator filters, the amount of filtration media is by necessity limited. The size of the filter also means water spends a minimal amount of time in contact with the carbon, as opposed to the much larger filter systems found in point-of-entry and countertop filtration systems.

    What Gets Filtered? What do Refrigerator Water Filters Remove?

    Activated charcoal removes chlorine, volatile organic chemicals, radon, benzene, and many other man-made chemicals, as well as bad tastes and odors. Within the limits of their small size, built-in refrigerator filters do a fair job of removing these threats, although less effectively than larger systems. Activated charcoal alone, however, isn’t enough to remove all waterborne contaminants.

    Carbon filters offer little to no protection against a wide range of inorganic contaminants and heavy metals, including threats such as:

    • Arsenic
    • Barium
    • Beryllium
    • Cadmium
    • Chromium
    • Copper
    • Fluoride
    • Mercury
    • Nickel
    • Selenium
    • Sulfates
    • Thallium

    Highly specialized activated charcoal filters can remove lead, but such filters are rarely found in refrigerator units. Minerals, lead, and other heavy metals can be removed by reverse osmosis filters.

    Convenience Issues

    At first glance, a built-in refrigerator system may seem convenient, but remember, it only provides filtered water in one location—your kitchen. A whole house filter offers cleaner, safer water from any tap in the house, whether you’re cooking, cleaning dishes, bathing, or washing clothes.

    Limited Filter Lifespans = More Expense

    Built-in refrigerator filter systems have one last issue to consider: filter replacement costs. Because activated charcoal filters work by adsorption, they eventually clog up with contaminants and need replacing. This is as true for a whole house filter as a small fridge filter, with one significant difference. The size of a whole house filter means you replace the filter much less often, resulting in less hassle, more convenience, and less pressure on your bank account and a more effective water filtration solution.