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Two water filters next to a glass of water

How to Select and Use the Right Water Filtration System

Updated on February 4th, 2024

When you are at home, you can be reliably certain about how clean your water is going to be on a daily basis. Whether or not you choose to filter your water is up to you, but the quality of the water will rarely change.

However, when you are enjoying the open road with your RV, the quality of your water can change each time you decide to cook, clean or bathe.

This fluctuation in water quality is due entirely to the fact that you will be getting water from a variety of sources as you travel. Since the water quality will never be consistent, having a reliable RV water filtration system is very important.

This guide will help you identify the perks of RV water filters, how to choose the right filter and other tips to help ensure that you have the highest quality water possible for your RV. 

It’s a necessity to have one of these when it comes to downsizing.

Information / Reasons to Filter Water in Your RV

One of the greatest thrills in owning an RV is being able to familiarize yourself with the unpredictable nature of RV travel. But that same unpredictability can expose you to some truly undesirable companions when you are obtaining water.

water filters behind a glass of water

When you obtain your water, you will be connecting your RV and the water source via a hose bib or similar device. There are two reasons to be concerned about the water you are getting for your RV:

  • You have no idea if the water source itself is clean and sanitary.
  • You have no idea if the people who filled up before you were clean and sanitary. 

Although the water may look fine to you, there are several possible contaminants that could possibly make you and your family sick. These include:

  • Sediment
  • Viruses and bacteria
  • Cysts
  • Chemicals 
  • Pesticides

Deciding to include a water filter for your RV can help protect your family from the potential danger presented by these contaminants. 

Information on The Two Most Common RV Water Filters

Once you have decided to purchase a water filter for your RV, the next choice is to decide what type of filter you need. Although there are a variety of choices available, you will generally look at two types of filters:

  • Sediment filters: Filters that affect the appearance of water
  • Carbon filters: Filters that alter the taste and smell of water. 

Uses of a Sediment Filter

Have you ever poured a big glass of water, only to discover that the water itself was a murky or hazy color? The reason for the murkiness of the water is the presence of small particles known as sediment.

Sometimes the particles are very small, and you won’t notice them at all. Other times, the particles are so big that you can see them clearly moving in the water or altering the color of the water.

What type of sediment is typically found in water sources as you are traveling? All of the following may be getting into your water and causing it to look unpleasant: 

  • Dirt
  • Sand
  • Rust
  • Clay
  • Scale
  • Miscellaneous organic matter

A sediment filter will improve the quality of your water by straining out the sediment and preventing it from entering the water supply.

This will make a huge difference whether you are using the water to eat, cook, clean or bathe with; having sediment-filled water can make it difficult for you to feel clean. 

Typically, a sediment filter should be the first type of filter that you try.

If you try to use other types of filters but do not have a sediment filter to take care of the physical particles in the water, the sediment particles can clog up and destroy the other types of filters. 

A sediment filter will not last for the entire time that you have your RV. Each time that you use the filter, sediment builds up on the filter.

Eventually, the water flow will be reduced to the point that the filter will no longer work. Some filters will need to be replaced, while others can be cleaned for multiple uses. 

Uses of a Carbon Filter

a water filter cartridge laying on its side

You may obtain water for your RV and find that it looks perfectly acceptable. But then when you go to use that water source, you’ll realize either the taste or the odor will be completely off-putting.

In this instance, you will want to use a filter that forces the water to pass through activated carbon.

When water passes through the bed of carbon, the contaminants that cause it to smell and taste bad will latch onto the carbon, and your water will end up tasting clean and odor free. 

As is the case with a sediment filter, a carbon filter will not last forever. The longer that you use a carbon filter, the more contaminants it will pull out of the water, and eventually, you will need to replace the filter.

A carbon filter cannot be cleaned the way that a sediment filter can be, so you will need to make a new purchase.

The good news is that a carbon filter will generally last much longer than a sediment filter. But when you do have to replace a carbon filter, it will be much more expensive. 

Information on Deciding How Much RV Water Filters Actually Filter

When you are deciding how much of your water to filter, you can choose between two choices:

  • All of your RV’s water supply
  • Part of your RV’s water supply

Do you need to filter the water that you use for cooking, bathing, or brushing your teeth? This decision ultimately will depend upon your personal preferences and the quality of water that is available to you during your RV trips. 

In some instances, you might want to filter all of the water in order to avoid heavy cases of sediment or dirt that you won’t want to use for cooking and cleaning. 

In other cases, you might be using city water that holds high levels of chlorine that you cannot stand the taste or smell of when you are using the water.

A good carbon filter will remove the strong taste and smell of chlorine that you might not want to have in water when you are brushing your teeth. 

Information on Cleaning Your RV Fresh Water Filters

You will need to perform a thorough cleaning and sanitizing of your freshwater tanks on a regular basis. This helps to prevent stagnation of the water, which can lead to your entire RV smelling.

While you will need to perform a thorough cleaning of the clean water tanks regardless of whether or not you filter your water, filtering can help cut down on the frequency with which you need to do a thorough cleaning of your tanks.

When you choose not to filter your water, the water that goes into the freshwater tanks can end up full of sediment and other contaminants that can increase the speed of stagnation. 

In order to cut down on the number of thorough cleanings that you will have to do on your freshwater tanks, it is highly recommended that you filter your water. 

Information on How to Filter Your RV’s Water

If you choose only to filter part of the water for your RV, you might choose a simple set-up, such as a water filter for your kitchen tap.

Many RV users choose to invest in a reverse osmosis unit for their kitchen tap because they believe it provides them with the highest quality and cooking water. 

carbon filters behind a glass of water

If you are filtering the entirety of the RV’s water supply, you will want a filter that is attached to the hose itself. For these types of filters, you have two choices:

  • Inline units: You can purchase an inline unit that combines carbon and sediment filtering capabilities. While they work well for most RV purposes, you might find that they do not remove all of the sediment that you want them to remove. They also have a very limited lifespan. These types of filters are recommended for you if you do not use your RV very often.
  • Canister system: These units can accommodate a variety of filter systems and are fully customizable. They provide better water flow and have a much longer life span than inline units.

If you travel heavily in your RV, or if your RV travels in places that have water that is very low in quality, you may choose to invest in the canister filtration system. In that case, you will have three primary types of canister filtration systems to choose from:

  • One-canister: These include the PR-5 and the RV-SED5 types of filters. These filters typically combine carbon and sediment filtration. Most of the odor and taste problems will be taken care of with a one-canister filtration system, though some of your sediment might remain. 
  • Two-canister: Two-canister filtration systems remove taste and odor problems and do a more thorough job of removing sediment problems. This means that you should have fewer problems with cysts, heavy metals, and pesticides in your water. The filter types available for the two-canister system include RV-SED1, CBC-10, and CBC-KDF. 
  • Three-canister: Examples of the filters for the three-canister system include the RV-SED5 and the RV-SED1. You may choose to use two of these filters for sediment removal, and that may be a great choice if you are traveling in areas with extremely poor water quality. You might also choose to incorporate an RV-PH cartridge if you are concerned about mineral build-up in your water sources. 

The Necessity of Ultra-Violet Light Filtration

For some travelers, the carbon and sediment filtration systems are not enough reassurance that their water will be pure. These individuals may be worried about the potential for diseases born in the water that cannot be caught by the carbon and sediment filters.

In this case, some RV travelers choose to use ultra-violet (UV) light filtration systems.

UV light filtration kills almost all microorganisms that are found in the water. If the organism is not killed through the use of UV light filtration, the organism is typically made sterile, which means it will be unable to reproduce while in your body. 

The system works by having a UV bulb in the core of a long tube that holds your water. The UV bulb’s effectiveness depends entirely upon how long the water is exposed to the light. 

Is UV light filtration right for you? It is a typically affordable system, and most users find it easy to use.

But it should not be used by itself. Instead, it should be used along with a canister filtration system in order to provide you with the cleanest possible water for your RV.

In order to use the UV light filtration system, you must have access to electricity. Typically, the UV light filtration will last for a year. Tubes will also need to be replaced over time. 

Using Reverse Osmosis Units

When trying to remove all of the minerals from their RV water, some travelers may choose to use reverse osmosis units. These units are very effective in removing most contaminants from the water.

In a reverse osmosis unit, water moves back and forth from one side to the other, while the natural process of osmosis occurs.

Despite popular belief, reverse osmosis does not completely purify the water.

The exact amount of contaminants that are filtered will depend upon the condition and performance capabilities of your filtering unit, but up to 20% of the contaminants may slip through your reverse osmosis filtration unit. 

However, most of the minerals and all of the sediment will be filtered out through the reverse osmosis process. 

When trying to decide if you want to purchase a reverse osmosis filter, keep in mind its strengths: it softens your water, removes bad odors/tastes and eliminates sediment. 

But if it is chemical contaminants that you are worried about, you might choose to use a carbon filter instead or in conjunction with the reverse osmosis unit.

Choosing to filter the water with a carbon or sediment filter will increase the life span of your reverse osmosis unit and will increase the cleanliness of your water. 

Reverse osmosis also requires large quantities of water in order to work well, because nearly 70% of the water that you use will be filtered out as waste in a reverse osmosis process. 

The water flow in your RV will be affected as well. For this reason, most travelers who use a reverse osmosis unit only use it for drinking and cooking. 

Understanding Microns

When you are purchasing your filter, you will see a rating of their pore size.

These ratings are measured in microns, and different filters will have different-sized pores. You should pick the filter based on the micron size of the material you are most concerned about filtering out of your RV’s water.

Common micron sizes include:

  • Sediment may have a micron size as small as 50 and as large as 150 microns.
  • Bacteria may be as small as 2 and as large as 10 microns. 
  • Some cysts may be as small as .5 microns.

Ideally, you will want a filter with a micron size no bigger than 5. The very best filters will be rated at .5 microns.

However, the smaller the size of the pore, the more likely it is that it will get clogged unless it is paired with a sediment filter in a canister set-up. 

NSF Ratings

When you are looking for a carbon water filter, you will want to examine the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) ratings. The NSF tests carbon filters and rates the filters based on their ability to remove chlorine.

There are three classes:

  • Class I: removes at least 75% of the chlorine
  • Class II: removes between 50 to 75% of the chlorine
  • Class III: removes between 0 to 50% of the chlorine

Related Questions

  1. What are the potential health risks of not using a water filter in an RV?

Not using a water filter in an RV can expose you to potential health risks such as consuming contaminated water that may contain harmful bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, or other pollutants, potentially leading to gastrointestinal illnesses and other health issues.

Additionally, unfiltered water may also contain chlorine and other chemicals used in water treatment, which can cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation, especially in those with sensitivities or allergies.

  1. What are the differences between sediment filters and carbon filters for RV water filtration?

Sediment filters for RV water filtration primarily work to remove larger particles like sand, dirt, and rust from the water, thus protecting your plumbing and appliances from damage.

On the other hand, carbon filters are designed to remove or reduce many volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chlorine, sediment, and other contaminants that affect the taste and odor of the water, but they don’t typically handle larger particles as effectively as sediment filters.

  1. How often should RV water filters be replaced or cleaned, and does this vary between sediment and carbon filters?

RV water filters should generally be replaced every 3-6 months, but this can vary based on usage and water quality.

While sediment filters can often be cleaned and reused multiple times before needing replacement, carbon filters, which absorb impurities, should be replaced as they cannot be effectively cleaned once saturated.

  1. What are the pros and cons of using a reverse osmosis unit for RV water filtration?

The pros of using a reverse osmosis unit for RV water filtration include its ability to effectively remove a wide range of contaminants, providing high-quality drinking water, and its compact size suitable for RVs.

However, the cons include the fact that it wastes a significant amount of water in the filtration process, it can be slow in producing filtered water, and it may strip out beneficial minerals along with the contaminants.

  1. How does a UV light filtration system work and what are its benefits and drawbacks for RV water filtration?

A UV light filtration system works by exposing water to ultraviolet light, which inactivates harmful microorganisms by disrupting their DNA, thus making them unable to reproduce and cause illness.

The benefits for RV water filtration include effective disinfection without the use of chemicals, taste and odor preservation, and low maintenance; however, drawbacks include the inability to remove dissolved solids or chemicals, the need for pre-filtration to remove particulates that can shield microorganisms from UV light, and dependence on electricity, which can be a challenge in off-grid situations.

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."
-- John Muir
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