How a Reverse Osmosis (RO) Drinking Water System Works
Reverse osmosis (RO) units remove substantial amounts of most inorganic chemicals (such as salts, metals, minerals) most microorganisms including cryptosporidium and giardia, and most (but not all) inorganic contaminants.
Reverse osmosis successfully treats water with dissolved minerals and metals such as aluminum, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chloride, chromium, copper, fluoride, magnesium, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nitrate, selenium, silver, sulfate, and zinc. RO is also effective with asbestos, many taste, color and odor-producing chemicals, particulates, total dissolved solids, turbidity, and radium.
When using appropriate activated carbon pre-filtering (commonly included with most RO systems), additional treatment can also be provided for such “volatile” contaminants (VOCs) as benzene, MTBE, trichloroethylene, trihalomethanes, and radon. Essentially, reverse osmosis is capable of rejecting bacteria, salts, sugars, proteins, particles, dyes, heavy metals, chlorine and related by-products, and other contaminants that have a molecular weight of greater than 150-250 daltons.
The separation of ions with reverse osmosis is aided by charged particles. This means that dissolved ions that carry a charge, such as salts, are more likely to be rejected by the membrane than those that are not charged, such as organics. The larger the charge and the larger the particle, the more likely it will be rejected.
Reverse Osmosis (RO) Systems Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is Reverse Osmosis?
Reverse osmosis, also known as hyperfiltration, is the finest filtration available today. It is the most common treatment technology used by premium bottled water companies.
2. How does Reverse Osmosis work?
Reverse osmosis uses a membrane that is semi-permeable, allowing pure water to pass through it, while rejecting the contaminants that are too large to pass through the tiny pores in the membrane.
3. Can Reverse Osmosis be used on well water or water from other untreated sources (lake or river)?
Yes, RO is generally an excellent choice for homeowners with well water. However, it is important to note that reverse osmosis does not provide foolproof protection against all microorganisms. You should have your water tested for bacteria, virus, and cyst contamination before relying solely on reverse osmosis. If microbiological contamination is present or suspected, you should combine reverse osmosis with an ultraviolet system for maximum effectiveness and protection against bacteria and viruses. A water softener or whole-house iron filter may also be advisable (depending one the level of relevant contaminants in your well water) to prevent membrane fouling thereby ensuring maximum membrane life and effectiveness.
4. How often does the reverse osmosis membrane need to be replaced?
With proper maintenance of your sediment and activated carbon pre-filters, your reverse osmosis membrane should last 2-5 years.
5. Why are reverse osmosis systems always combined with carbon and sediment pre-filters?
The only major category of contaminants that reverse osmosis is not highly effective in removing (organic compounds) is specifically targeted by activated carbon filters. Pre-filters also prevent the reverse osmosis membrane from being fouled or clogged by sediment, chlorine, and other contaminants, thereby enhancing its effectiveness and lifespan.
6. Are all reverse osmosis systems equally effective?
Absolutely not. Like all water filters, the effectiveness of a reverse osmosis system depends greatly on the quality of its components – especially its pre-filter cartridges and the membrane itself. Lower quality pre-filters will suffer from premature membrane fouling, as well as reduced performance, purified water output, and membrane life. TFC membranes are also much more effective than CTA membranes.
7. I notice that a reverse osmosis system will remove just about everything from my water, including some nutrients that are good for the body. Should I take a supplement to counteract the nutrients that I will no longer get through my water.
No, this is not necessary. You should already be getting all of the nutrients such as essential salts, vitamins, and other trace minerals from the food you eat and the other beverages you drink.
8. What is “crossflow”?
Quality reverse osmosis systems use a process known as cross flow to allow the membrane to continually clean itself. As some of the fluid passes through the membrane the rest continues downstream, sweeping the rejected contaminants away from the membrane and down the drain. This prevents contaminants from backing up against the membrane and clogging it.
9. How much filtered water can a home RO system produce?
Our RO systems produce up to 50 gallons of purified water per day but can be upgraded to 100 gallons per day if desired (at extra cost). If you opt to upgrade your membrane, you may need to also upgrade the storage tank to gain the benefit of the larger membrane. The actual amount of water produced in your home will depend on your household water pressure. Because reverse osmosis water purification occurs slowly (it is a very fine filter!), a storage tank is used to hold 3 gallons of purified water at all times so pure water is always at your fingertips.