Refrigerator filters are devices fitted in fridges to get rid of particles, odor, and contaminants from water flowing through the water and ice dispenser. They are mostly found at the back corner near the lower base grill. They can also be inserted in an opening that looks like a mailbox at the top of the refrigerator.
The Importance of Refrigerator Filters
Refrigerator filters are crucial. They ensure your water tastes fresh and is odor-free. More importantly, however, they remove contaminants that could cause serious health problems. Here's the thing. Water travels through underground pipes for miles before reaching your home or place of business. On the way, it collects lead, built-up dirt, and a couple of other harmful substances from agricultural runoff or industrial wastes. When water passes through a refrigerator filter, all these contaminants are removed making it safe for drinking.
Contaminants In Tap Water That Refrigerator Filters Help To Remove
The major contaminants in tap water, treated tap water mind you, are Volatile organic compounds, lead, chlorine, and chloramines.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile organic compounds, popularly referred to as VOCs, are chemical substances that are harmful when ingested. They include pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. If your tap water at some point came into contact with industrial waste or agricultural runoff, chances are it contains VOCs most of which are carcinogenic. VOCs could also cause damage to your kidney, liver, and reproductive system. Refrigerator filters have pore-like structures and a carbon block that prevents VOCs from sipping into your water dispenser and ice machine.
Most buildings erected before 1986 or prior to the Safe Water Drinking Act, had plumbing that contained lead. When water passes through such pipes, lead leaches into it what with water being a great solvent. According to the EPA, lead in drinking water is so toxic that its contaminant level is 0. If you drink water containing lead, you are at risk of kidney, brain, heart, and hearing damage. Furthermore, lead has been associated with reproductive problems including premature birth. Fridge filters filter out lead as water passes through them.
Chlorine and Chloramines
Chlorine is not poisonous. It is used to disinfect water and it has proven instrumental in eradicating waterborne diseases like dysentery and typhoid. It, however, alters the taste of water. Refrigerator filters use carbon to make chlorinated water taste fresh. Also present in tap water are chloramines. These are compounds containing ammonia and chlorine, that municipalities use to minimize the formation of toxic byproducts that are as a result of disinfecting water. A good example of chloramine is trihalomethane. Refrigerator filters separate ammonia from chlorine and convert the latter into chloride.
How Refrigerator Filters Work
Refrigerator filters work to eliminate bad tastes, odors, and contaminants from water going to your dispenser or ice machine. They do this using a combination of carbon and sediment filtration systems. Filters, most of which are long and slender, are made up of a carbon core that is enwrapped in a material such as polypropylene. This outer material has tiny pores. When water is flowing through the filter, the pores on the outer material trap debris and solid particles. Remaining contaminants stick to a spot on the surface area of the inner carbon block through a process referred to as adsorption. The water that comes out of the filter into your water dispenser and ice machine is free of particulates and other contaminants.
Should One Change Their Refrigerator Filter and If So, How Often?
Changing your refrigerator filter regularly is recommended. The maximum amount of time you should use a filter is for a period of 1 year. You are, however, advised to change filters every 6 months. This is because of two reasons. One, over time, the filter can get clogged due to a buildup of debris. It will, therefore, not be able to trap particles that will, in turn, seep into your drinking water. Two, the carbon block at the core of the filter has a maximum capacity. Once its surface area is fully covered by contaminants, harmful compounds and particles will pass through it. Additionally, certain living organisms feed off the matter that clings to the carbon block. If left in place for an extended period of time, your filter can become a breeding ground for bacteria which cause flu-like symptoms when they enter the digestive system.
Shopping For A Replacement Filter
You can buy a replacement refrigerator filter from the original fridge manufacturer, say Samsung. Alternatively, you can purchase an aftermarket filter from a reputable place like the World of Water Filter. OEM filters, which are filters from original manufacturers are easy to find, and safe since they are certified by NSF. They are, however, expensive as they cost $50 at least. It is for this reason that some people prefer to go for off-brand filters. Aftermarket replacement filters are affordable without compromising on quality. They cost about $22 and most are certified by NSF or credible third-party labs.
Things To Look Out For When Shopping For Aftermarket Replacement Refrigerator Filters
1. Micron Rating
As earlier discussed, the carbon block at the core of any refrigerator filter is wrapped up with a material containing pores that prevent the passing of sediments. The size of these pores is measured using the unit micron. Based on the size of pores, refrigerator filters can be divided into 3; Class I, Class II, and Class III. These have 0.5-1 micron, 1-5 microns, and 5-15 microns respectively. The smaller the micron, the more efficient the filter will be.
2. Nominal Versus Absolute Rating
An absolute rating means the size of the pore is exactly the stipulated number. For example, a refrigerator filter with a 0.5 absolute micron rating means no particle larger than that will be able to pass. A 0.5 nominal micron rating, on the other hand, means the size of the pores is approximately 0.5 micron.
A good filter should be certified by NSF which has two ratings. The first is the NSF 53 rating which infers the filter can efficiently remove contaminants which is its core function. The second is the NSF 42 rating which is given to companies whose filters meet the set standards for structural integrity and material safety. Don't buy filters that are not certified by the NSF or a 3rd party lab that is credible and uses NSF testing protocols.
Please note that refrigerator filters only work on water that is microbiologically safe. The water should be treated to remove pathogens before going through the filter.