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Having clean drinking water is essential to safe and comfortable RV travel. When you are moving around a lot like many do with their motorhomes and trailers, it’s tough to know what the quality of the water is coming from the taps at the RV park. That’s where an RV water filter comes in.
Buying a water filter for your RV is important to remove impurities found in the local drinking water. Finding a filter that removes sediment, and excess chlorine from your entire RV water system is important to your health and the health of your RVs water system.
There are many different types and styles of water filters for RV it’s tough to know which is the best one for you and your family. This buyers guide will walk you through all the different types available as well as some key aspects you should look for when selecting the right RV Water Filter.
RV Water Filter Basics
It’s a small part of your RV, but it has the potential to make a huge difference in your drinking water quality. Let’s take a look at what exactly the water filter does, and why you want to have one for your RV.
What is an RV Water Filter
Water filters use two forms of filtration to remove particulates from water: physical and chemical. Physical filtration catches particles by creating a barrier that they can’t pass through. Chemical filters catch other particles by using chemical reactions with something like activated carbon as the water flows by.
You can expect your water filter to remove microscopic bits of metals, sand, rubber, plastics, oils, and other large particles in addition to pesticide residues, radium, chlorine, other elements, and some microorganisms.
RV water filters will either filter all of the water that comes into your RV or just your drinking water. This depends on where in the system your filter is located, and if only your drinking water is filtered then you may notice a different smell to the water when you shower.
Benefits of Using an RV Water Filter
RV water hookups will either use city water or well water for their supply, but unless you’re hooked up to your house’s water that you’ve had tested previously you really have no idea what you’re pumping into your RV. You could be drinking minor contaminants like sand, major contaminants like lead or radium, and just about anything in between.
Some things that get in the water are more unpleasant than anything – sand for example might give you a gritty texture but a little isn’t likely to be a big problem. Other contaminants can have serious health effects.
Lead poisoning can be especially harmful to children, and radium ingestion in large quantities can lead to osteoporosis and other skeletal issues. Chlorine compounds are carcinogenic and also make your water taste bad, and parasites can cause a whole host of other problems.
It’s just not worth risking your health to go without using a water filter. Nothing will put a bigger damper on your camping trip than a hospital visit, and there’s really no downside to getting one. All in all, you’ll enjoy water that tastes better, smells better, and is much better for you.
Styles of RV Water Filters
RV water filters come in three main styles: inline, canister, and reverse osmosis. Inline filters are long and connect at their ends to the hose, and the water passes directly through the filtration system.
They tend to be smaller and need to be replaced more often, but they’re ideal for campers who use their RVs intermittently and are hooked up to relatively clean water. Inline filters can either be used to filter just your drinking and cooking water, or all of it.
Canister filters last longer and tend to work better on dirtier water. They consist of one or more canisters that the water enters at the top, travels to the bottom, then moves back up to the top on the other side through the filtration system. This is an extremely popular style, and is most often used to filter all of the water coming into the RV.
Reverse osmosis filters, whether part of a canister or inline system, will get your water the cleanest. They remove more particulates and contaminants than any other style of filter, and are also popular among RV owners.
Different water filters remove contaminants using different methods. Some rely heavily on chemical filtration, while others make the most of using physical barriers. The most common types of RV water filters are as follows:
Carbon filters use activated carbon (also occasionally called charcoal) as a chemical filter to remove particulates. The activated carbon is very porous, and as water passes through the pores the contaminants stick to the carbon while the water passes freely.
These filters are great at catching pesticide residues, chlorine, and organic compounds that cause bad tastes and odors, and some are also rated for bacteria and heavy metals like lead, iron, and mercury when the carbon’s pore sizes are smaller than one micron (mechanical filtration).
The downside is that these filters won’t catch solids that have dissolved in the water or hard sediments/minerals like calcium and magnesium. The other downside is that these filters need to be replaced sooner due to their nature.
Having said that, carbon filters are often used in conjunction with sediment filters or other systems because they are the best at getting rid of those bad tastes and smells in water.
Sediment filters are self-explanatory: they remove sediments like dirt and debris from the water. This is done using a mechanical filter and the size of the openings the water is able to pass through determines what the sediment filter catches.
Some filters are rated for 100 microns which will only get the larger particles, while others go down to one micron and will get the majority of contaminants. The other thing to check is whether the micron rating is nominal – meaning the average pore is that size but others may be slightly bigger or smaller, or absolute – meaning over 95% of the pores are that micron size.
Sediment filters are great for well water and other water sources that have lots of dirt or debris, but they don’t always get the smaller contaminants and they don’t do anything for odor or taste.
UV purifiers are different from filters in that they don’t actually remove anything from the water. Instead, they kill 99.99% of living organisms – a number that water filters don’t come close to.
UV rays are beamed at the water at a high enough energy that they kill the microorganisms that pass by, and because no debris is collected there is no need to clean or change out anything other than the bulb.
These purifiers are best used in conjunction with actual filters to make sure that the debris and other particles are filtered out, but no other system will do better at killing microorganisms – including some viruses.
Ceramic Water Filters
Ceramic filters are mechanical filters that work similar to the pores in activated carbon, with two notable exceptions: they don’t do much for smell or taste, but their pores are often as small as 0.5 microns.
This makes them great for removing the majority of particulates and organisms, and they are often combined with activated carbon in the same filter to provide an all-in-one filtration system.
Reverse Osmosis Systems
The last filter type, reverse osmosis filters, are by far the best at removing particles in the water. Water by nature wants to move toward a high concentration of particulates, and this is called osmosis. In reverse osmosis, water is forced away from the particles and across a membrane by pressure that’s applied to the system. The particles can’t follow, and the result is extremely clean water.
The one main downside to reverse osmosis systems is that only 20-30% of the water that goes into the system comes out as purified water. The rest stays in as brine water that must be disposed of periodically.
What to look for in an RV Water Filter
Now that you know the different types of filters, you’re probably wondering how to choose the best water filter for RV use. By looking at the criteria below you’ll be able to compare filters and find the best one for your RV’s setup.
I talked about it a lot before, but the micron size of your filter ultimately determines which particles it catches and which ones it lets get into your drinking water. This is because the size of most water contaminants are measured in microns, or 0.0001 centimeters.
For example, a 5 micron filter will stop all particles that are 5 microns and larger, but will let the smaller ones through. The first thing you should look for in a water filter is what the micron size rating is, and like I mentioned above, whether it’s nominal or absolute.
It may seem trivial, but you would hate to spend a bunch of time picking out the perfect water filter only to get it back to your RV and realize that it doesn’t fit under your sink.
The size isn’t only important for space logistics, it will also affect how much water you’re able to filter. A filter that is too small will impact your flow rate (how fast the water can flow out of the filter) and will also need to be replaced more often, and smaller filters are best used for just your drinking and cooking water instead of the whole system.
Frequency of Use
The life of a water filter is the amount of time you can use that filter under normal circumstances before it has to be replaced. The more you use your RV, the more water you’re going to move through the system and the shorter the life of your filter will be.
RV water filters can last anywhere from 3-12 months depending on their frequency of use, and it’s generally recommended that you replace them every 3-6 months to be safe.
Ease of Installation and Use
Another consideration is how easy it’s going to be to install and change out your filter. You may get a world-class system that ends up being a disaster because you need a licensed service tech to go in and replace it every time.
You want to make sure that your water filter is accessible so that you can do proper maintenance and winterization without any extra hassle. The easier it is to do, the more likely you are to do it when it’s recommended.
Price Point and Filter Replacement Costs.
Inline filters tend to be cheaper than canister filters, and a new filtration system is almost always going to be more expensive than doing a routine replacement. You can find inline RV water filters for as cheap as $15, while reverse osmosis systems can get to be over $1,000 to start.
You can expect to pay about $30 on average for an inline filter, with the range being $15-$60. For a canister system, the average is more like $250. Canister replacements on the other hand are much more reasonable at about $60 on average.
Just about anyone can install an inline water filter, and anyone who is a bit handy can install a canister system. There would be a charge to have it installed professionally, but for some people, it may be worth the peace of mind to know that it was done right.
There are many different types and qualities of water filters to consider, but the best one is going to be the one that gives you as much safe drinking water as you need for a price that you can afford. Just make sure you look at the micron rating, the type of filter, and the other specifications before you buy.