3 Easy Tips to Help Maintain Your Reverse Osmosis Filter System

Installing a reverse osmosis (RO) system is an excellent way to ensure a constant supply of clean, great-tasting drinking water in your home. An RO filter system provides superior protection against toxic water contaminants and impurities that could otherwise cause health-related issues and foul your drinking water’s taste and smell. But as the unit continues to provide clean, healthy drinking water for you and your family, it will require some upkeep to prevent problems and maintain its incredible filtration performance.

Think of your RO system as a motor vehicle that needs oil and tire changes, alignment, brake pad replacements, etc., to prevent breakdowns and continue running smoothly. Unless the vehicle is maintained regularly, it can develop expensive mechanical problems, often leading to catastrophic failure. Similarly, your RO system’s performance will decline over time, rendering it useless if it’s not maintained adequately. Should this happen, your drinking water would likely become a playground for potentially harmful pollutants, such as bacteria, chlorine, PFAS chemicals, pesticides, lead, copper, etc.

Whether you already have a reverse osmosis system installed at home or you’re thinking about investing in one, we’ve compiled a few helpful RO maintenance tips to extend the lifespan of your RO system and keep it running at top performance for longer.

How Does a Reverse Osmosis Filter Work?

An RO filter system uses a robust multi-stage filtration process to eliminate several different pollutants and impurities from drinking water.

Here’s a brief breakdown of how it works:

  1. Prefiltration (Sediment Filtration): When the feed water first enters the RO system, it goes through prefiltration designed to protect the unit’s RO membrane from materials that can clog or damage it. The first stage of the prefiltration process is sediment filtration, which involves removing suspended particulate matter from the water, including dust, dirt, debris, sand, silt, clay, etc.
  2. Prefiltration (Carbon Filtration): The second phase of the prefiltration process involves carbon filtration. Carbon filtration removes chlorine and chloramines known for “burning” holes in the RO membrane and causing severe damage.
  3. RO Filtration: Next, the water enters the RO membrane under pressure (enough to overcome osmotic pressure). The water molecules pass through the semipermeable barrier, leaving almost all of the dissolved contaminant molecules behind. The water that makes it through the RO membrane is called the product water or permeate and usually has around 95% to 99% of solid contaminants removed from it. However, the system flushes the reject stream containing the blocked pollutants down the drain or feeds it back into the system to be filtered again.
  4. Storage: After filtration, the water flows to the storage tank, where it is held until needed. The RO system continues to filter water until the storage tank is full, then shuts off.
  5. Post-filtration: Once you turn on your drinking water faucet, water comes out of the storage tank through another postfilter to “polish” the water before it comes out of your tap or flows to your appliances.

A reverse osmosis system provides a host of benefits in your home, from keeping harmful pathogens out of your water to removing cancer-causing PFAS chemicals. However, to maintain the system’s effectiveness and keep it producing clean, healthy, great-tasting water, there’s a bit of upkeep with your RO system you should know.

Why is it essential to maintain your reverse osmosis system?

An RO filter system is quite an investment, so staying on top of its maintenance schedule is very important. It spends a lot of time under your dark, lonely kitchen sink filtering your drinking water without asking for much in return: only a bit of upkeep at recommended intervals (indicated in the system manual) to continue its remarkable job and make you and your family happier and healthier. But perhaps you’re wondering why it’s essential to maintain your RO system.

Here are a few benefits you can expect from taking good care of your RO system:

  • Keeps your RO system performing at its best: If you want to keep your RO system running at peak performance and producing high-quality quality water for years to come, you must maintain it as needed.
  • Prolongs the system’s lifespan: A well-maintained RO system can last for 10 to 20 years or more, so if you’re looking to get that length of service from your unit, you know what you’ve got to do. But keep in mind that several factors can affect the system’s lifespan, even with proper maintenance. These factors may include the system load, design, temperature, inlet pressure, etc.
  • Prevents bacteria growth: Bacteria growth is a common problem for improperly maintained RO systems. Failing to inspect and clean the system regularly typically leads to bacterial infestation.
  • Maintains water output: The RO membrane is a critical component of an RO system. It’s relatively expensive to replace and hard to clean. Inspecting your RO system is necessary for discovering membrane problems, such as fouling, which reduces water output. As the membrane loses its cleaning properties, the system becomes useless.
  • Prevents mechanical damage: Water contaminants, like iron, chlorine, hardness minerals, can cause scaling and fouling of the RO membrane and other system components. Luckily, proper inspection and maintenance can help prevent these unwanted outcomes, most of which can damage the system and impact its performance.
  • Saves you time and money: When you maintain your RO system regularly, you prevent more extensive, more costly issues from arising. We assume you’d rather pay a little now to keep your RO system healthy than a lot more down the road because you decided to slack on taking care of the system. Furthermore, you risk having to go days or weeks without clean running water if you fail to maintain the system and it starts malfunctioning. Not only does this make it super inconvenient to boil water or make numerous trips to the supermarket to purchase bottled water, but it puts you and your family’s health at risk of ingesting dangerous pollutants if you unknowingly consume the water.

Maintaining Your Reverse Osmosis System

By now, you must be fully aware of the importance of staying on top of your RO system’s maintenance. A premium-quality system, like the SWRO Under-Counter Reverse Osmosis System, can filter your home’s water for years if maintained properly.

Here are a few tips to help you keep your RO system running smoothly and producing clean, refreshing drinking water for your household:

1.     Change your filters on time.

Most RO systems have multiple filters: a sediment prefilter, a carbon prefilter, an RO membrane, and a post-filter. Each filter serves a different purpose but works together to produce high-quality water. Replacing these filters on time is crucial as they help filter the water you drink, cook with, make ice, and more. If you forget to change them, the system will begin producing less water over time, ultimately not producing water at all. A decrease in water production is usually a strong indication that your filters and membrane have reached the end of their useful lives. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to set a reminder and change the filters and membrane on schedule.

Prefilter Replacement

The first stage of the RO process usually contains a sediment filter, while the second stage uses a carbon block filter. The sediment filter is responsible for blocking particulate matter from entering and clogging the membrane. The carbon prefilter also protects the RO membrane by reducing chlorine in the source water to prevent contact with it. As we mentioned earlier, if the RO membrane gets exposed to chlorine, you’ll probably have to buy a new membrane quickly. We recommended replacing the prefilters every six months, although you may need to change them more often with higher water usage, chlorine levels, or sediment levels.

If you take the time to change the prefilters as necessary, you won’t need to replace the RO membrane as often. Plus, replacing them is super easy. All you need to do is twist them off, install new ones, and the system is fit and ready to continue its exceptional service.

  1. Pull the bottom of the cartridge out to a 45-degree angle.
  2. With one hand, rotate the old filter cartridge counterclockwise to remove the filter.
  3. Discard or recycle the used cartridge. Line up the bayonets (tabs) of the new cartridge in the slots, insert and twist 1/4 turn clockwise until tight to lock the filter cartridge. Place the cartridge in a vertical position.
  4. Repeat previous steps on the next filter.
  5. Turn on the water supply and check for leaks.
  6. After replacing all cartridge filter cartridge stages, flush the system with one tankful of water before use.
  7. Replace the filter cartridge regularly to ensure the quality of drinking water and extend the system’s life.

Our SWROSR Reverse Osmosis Sediment Replacement Filter and SWROCR Reverse Osmosis Carbon Block Replacement Filter are two excellent prefilter replacement options to help keep your RO system performing at its best.

RO Membrane Cleaning and Replacement

The semipermeable membrane is perhaps the most crucial component of the RO system. The membrane contains tiny holes that trap contaminants while allowing water molecules to pass. However, the membrane will inevitably require periodic cleaning, anywhere from one to four times a year, depending on the water feed quality.

As a general rule, if you notice roughly a 15% drop in water pressure, then it’s time to clean the RO membrane. You can either clean the membrane in place or have it removed from the system and cleaned offsite by a professional specializing in this service. It’s proven that offsite membrane cleaning provides better cleaning results than onsite cleaning skids. The RO membrane cleaning process involves low and high pH cleaners to remove contaminants from the membrane. Scaling is addressed with low pH cleaners and organics. Colloidal and biofouling are treated with high pH cleaners.

Furthermore, the RO membrane also has a finite lifespan and will need to be replaced at some point. Usually, the schedule for changing your RO membrane is about every two years, depending on the hardness and pH of your water. Higher pH can shorten the membrane’s lifespan, causing pinhole leaks and other damages. So, if you’re on city water with a pH of 7.0 to 7.5, you would need to replace the membrane every 12 months.

Our SWROMR Reverse Osmosis Membrane Replacement Filter makes it easy to replace your RO membrane filter in only a few steps:

  1. To replace the RO membrane, twist the membrane counterclockwise 1/4 turn to unseat the membrane. A little water may drip from the top of the membrane/cartridge seal.
  2. Compress the tubing collet at the bottom of the membrane to release the drain tubing and remove the drain tubing from the housing.
  3. Install the drain tubing and seat it properly into the new membrane cartridge.
  4. Install the new membrane into the RO bracket by twisting clockwise. Check the top of the membrane for leaks and reseat if necessary.
  5. Check the drain tubing to make sure it is securely and correctly installed and not leaking.

Post-filter Replacement

After the water passes through the RO membrane, it is usually filtered again by a final “polishing” post-filter as it leaves the storage tank to your faucet. “Polishing” means the filter removes any remaining sediment, chemicals, or other unwanted materials that somehow made their way through the RO membrane. A general rule is to change the post-filter every six months. That’s because it doesn’t receive the raw, unfiltered water and instead receives good RO water from the storage tank.

2.   Drain the storage tank

The storage tank is a pressure tank designed to fit beneath the sink and in line with your RO system. It collects the water being gradually purified by the RO membrane so you can have immediate access to plenty of clean water when you go to pour yourself a glass of water. However, sometimes when the water remains in the tank for too long, it might not be as fresh as you’d like. For this reason, we recommend that you completely drain the RO storage tank about every two weeks. Doing so ensures the water remains fresh and helps the RO membrane maintain the pressure it needs to flush impurities from the system. Since the excess water is contaminant-free, you can use it to water your plants or garden. The tank will need time to refill, so we suggest draining it before you head off to bed or leave home for work in the morning.

3.   Sanitize the storage tank

Water tanks are a proven source of slime, so it’s important to sanitize your RO tank to remove any lingering pathogenic bacteria. We recommend sanitizing the storage tank about every 12 months with good-quality, unscented bleach or an NSF-approved sanitizer.

The sanitization process typically includes the following steps:

  1. Turn off the water supply to your RO system.
  2. Remove the RO membrane and filters.
  3. Open the water faucet and depressurize the system.
  4. Close the faucet once the water stops running.
  5. Pour two to three tablespoons of bleach or the manufacturer-recommended amount of NFS-approved sanitizer into the main unit, then turn on the water.
  6. Allow the system to fill up with water, then flush it two times.
  7. Replace or re-install the membrane and all the filters.

Make Your RO System Maintenance Easier

One of the best ways to make your RO system maintenance easier is to pair your RO system with a water softener. The troublesome minerals in hard water can put a strain on the RO filters and reduce their lifespan. However, like the Springwell FS1 Salt-Free Water Softener, a quality water softener, removes these minerals before they reach the RO filters. Still, even if you choose a salt-using system, such as our Springwell SS1 Salt-Based Water Softener, the RO system will remove any sodium the softener adds to the water.

Another way to make your maintenance easier is to choose one of our Springwell under-counter reverse osmosis systems if you’re considering purchasing a reverse osmosis system. Our RO systems remove a slew of contaminants, including lead, chlorine, arsenic, among others. Furthermore, they are robust and long-lasting, plus their unique design allows you to change the filters with a simple quarter twist without shutting the water off. You also get a lifetime warranty on the tanks and valves and a six-month money-back guarantee.

For more information on our RO replacements, reverse osmosis systems, or water softeners, talk to one of our experts at 800-589-5592 or send us a message.

Final Thoughts

Installing a home reverse osmosis system may seem like a huge responsibility, but it yields impressive results when you are devoted to clean, healthy water for your family. Following these simple steps help maintain your RO system, keeping it in good shape to last you for many years.