Berkey vs Reverse Osmosis Systems: Which One is Best?

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In this Berkey vs reverse osmosis comparison, we dig into which water filter is best. Is the Berkey water filter the best for price and convenience? Or is reverse osmosis the best solution based on contaminant removal? We’ll be taking a look at the two in more detail in this review.

πŸ“– TD;DR

While Berkey filters remove over 200 contaminants from water, reverse osmosis systems can remove 99.9% of total dissolved solids.

However Berkey systems require no installation, no connection to electricity or water, and cost significantly less. Unless you need the most thorough contaminant removal, Berkey systems are better for most people.

Berkey vs Reverse Osmosis: Which is Best?

Berkey countertop water filters are some of the best-known cost-effective water filtration solutions. Berkey units don’t need to be connected up to a water or electricity supply, making them ideal for use in all situations. They are relatively affordable and require very little installation or maintenance. For people looking to drink clean water without having to buy single-use water bottles, the Berkey water filters are an ideal choice.

But for people looking for the most thorough contaminant removal, Berkey purification filters, though advertised to remove more than 200 contaminants, might not cut it. Reverse osmosis filters between 95 and 99% of all total dissolved solids, or TDS, in drinking water. It’s thought that there are traces of hundreds of contaminants in an average home’s drinking water, and a reverse osmosis system can remove the majority of them.

Let’s dive into the details of each!

πŸ’‘ Filter Comparison

Berkey Filters

Berkey purification systems are countertop filtration systems that filter water gradually over a period of time. Berkey’s units are cylindrical, designed like large tin cans, in silver stainless steel. They consist of two chambers, one above the other, with a pair of Black Berkey filtration elements separating the two.

When water is added to the Berkey’s top chamber, it passes through the Black Berkey purification elements, which trap contaminants, allowing only clean water to pass into the lower chamber. Because they’re not connected to a water supply, the Berkey systems don’t use the power of water pressure to force water through the elements. Instead, they rely on gravity to filter tap water at a slower rate.

Big Berkey Gravity-Fed Water Filter review
Big Berkey system

πŸ‘‰ Read the full Big Berkey review here

Reverse Osmosis Systems

Reverse Osmosis filters for water have a design that’s virtually the complete opposite of Berkey: they are connected up to a water supply, usually underneath a kitchen sink; sometimes at a home’s water point of entry. The systems are usually made up of several filters, including a pre-stage sediment filter, an activated carbon or carbon block filter, and a post sediment filter.

The feature that makes RO systems so unique is their reverse osmosis membrane. Water is forced through this membrane, which contains pores so tiny that only small water particles can pass through. Contaminants like chemicals, heavy metals, and VOCs are too large to pass through the membrane, and they’re flushed away with the wastewater.

Reverse osmosis filter
Reverse osmosis membrane

πŸ‘‰ See the top Reverse Osmosis Systems of 2024 here

🧫 Contaminants Removed

While reverse osmosis systems provide a more thorough filtration, Berkey still offers a high contaminant removal, especially for a countertop water filter. Both filtration methods remove common contaminants like heavy metals, chlorine, VOCs, and pesticides and herbicides, but the Berkey filter hasn’t been proven to remove microorganisms like bacteria and viruses (despite initial claims by the manufacturer). You can find full contaminant removal lists for each here:

🚦 Performance Comparison

Berkey Filters

Being gravity water filters, the Berkey purification elements are naturally slower at filtering water than reverse osmosis filters, which offer a more immediate drinking water solution. Judging performance on speed, you’ll have to be prepared to wait longer for the Berkey systems to fully filter water – the 2.75-gallon Berkey, for instance, takes approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes to filter a full chamber of water.

But if you have the time to wait for a Berkey filter to do its job, you’ll be very happy with its performance in terms of water quality.

Related: Do Berkey Filters Remove Lead from Water?

Berkey purification systems have been independently tested by scientists, offering reassurance that the Berkey elements are capable of removing all the contaminants claimed by the manufacturer, including heavy metals, fluoride, chlorine, fluorine, and other harmful pollutants. They do this without removing the beneficial minerals, like calcium and magnesium, from water.

We’ve also conducted a third-party laboratory analysis and here’s what we found:

ContaminantMeasurementTest 1
Test 1
% ChangeTest 2
Test 2
% Change
Total ColiformsCFU/100mL150-100%NDNDND
Total THMsPPB27.040-100%0.03520-100%

Though the effectiveness of Berkey’s filters truly does live up to the company’s claims, it would be beneficial to Berkey if it were to obtain an NSF certification for contaminant removal. Recent news that Berkey falsified its claims of having tested its products to NSF Standards certainly doesn’t help its case.

Brian holding the black berkey filter element

Reverse Osmosis Systems

Comparing Berkey and reverse osmosis for speed of performance, reverse osmosis is the clear winner. Providing your own home’s water pressure is adequate – a minimum of 40 PSI – you shouldn’t have to wait for more than a second to get access to clean water. As soon as you turn on your faucet, water flowing through your plumbing will pass through the reverse osmosis system, which will produce the filtered water that comes out of your faucet.

In general, reverse osmosis systems are also capable of high-quality performance when it comes to effectiveness. Of course, it depends on the manufacturer you opt for, but the best RO systems can remove up to 99.9% of contaminants, including pesticides, herbicides, viruses, bacteria, heavy metals, sediment, sulfate, arsenic, turbidity, hardness, and TDS. Many reverse osmosis water filtration units are also NSF certified to remove these contaminants from tap water.

One thing to bear in mind with RO systems is that they’re relatively wasteful during their process of producing filtered water. This is the only real performance letdown of the systems – as water is forced through the RO membrane, wastewater containing contaminants is flushed down a drain. If you’re looking to maintain your current levels of tap water use, RO filters may not be for you.

πŸ’² Models & Upfront Cost

Berkey Filters

Berkey’s systems are sold at a mid-range price for drinking water filter solutions. There are multiple sizes of the Berkey, and the bigger the size, the higher the cost.

You can buy a Berkey countertop unit, with two included Berkey purification elements, for between $250 and $360. There’s also the option to buy a filter with another two Berkey purification elements, which costs roughly $100 extra. Here is a list of the systems available:

Berkey’s Big and Royal Berkey systems are designed for small to medium families, while the Crown and Imperial Berkey are suited to large families. The Berkey Light is a cheaper alternative to the Big Berkey and the Royal Berkey, and Berkey’s Travel option has a portable design that is ideal for taking on the road.

berkey sizes
Berkey options

Reverse Osmosis Systems

Reverse osmosis systems are some of the most expensive water filtration solutions available. They generally cost around $300 upwards, and some can even cost more than $1,000 – especially the whole home RO systems. However, you can get a good deal with an RO system, and you may be able to find one on offer for around $250.

There are two main reverse osmosis designs: under-sink RO systems and whole home RO systems.

Under sink RO systems are connected up to the cold water line in the storage space beneath a kitchen faucet. The majority of these systems are fairly bulky, consisting of multiple separate filter cartridges. Their design, which includes a wastewater pipe, makes them quite tricky to install, unless you happen to be a plumbing expert.

Whole home RO systems are very similar, but they usually have a larger capacity, and they’re installed at a home’s water point of entry – usually in a garage or a basement, before water reaches the heater. The added bonus of an RO system is that you can add additional elements to the system, like UV lights, which kill all microorganisms in filtered water, making it safer to drink.

Reverse osmosis (RO) filtration system
Under sink reverse osmosis system

πŸ“† Filter Lifespan & Replacement Costs

Berkey Filters

Berkey’s filtration elements have an impressive lifespan of 6,000 gallons per pair, meaning once you’ve set up the system with the initial elements, you won’t need to worry about buying replacements for a minimum of four years. It’s recommended that we drink half a gallon of water a day, which, if you have a family of four, suggests you’d drink roughly 2 gallons of water a day. Compare this to the Berkey elements’ 6,000 gallon lifespan, and you can see how you won’t need to put any money into the system for a long time after your initial purchase.

It’s unsurprising, considering their impressive lifespan, that the Berkey purification elements are on the more expensive side to replace, costing around $120 per set of two.

Reverse Osmosis Filters

Reverse osmosis membranes typically last for two years before they need replacing, so again, there’s not much maintenance required for the membranes themselves after you’ve installed the system. The carbon and sediment filter cartridges that come with the system will likely need replacing more frequently; every 6 months or every 1 year. There’s more maintenance for a reverse osmosis system than for a Berkey unit, and this is because water filtration is split into multiple stages, each requiring its own filter.

You can purchase a replacement RO membrane for between $30 and $50. Replacement water filter elements come in at between $10 and $40, depending on the brand you’re buying from. Though the costs are smaller than Berkey’s, when you add them together and consider that they’ll need to be paid more frequently, Berkey’s filter elements work out cheaper in the long run. Comparing Berkey and reverse osmosis systems, Berkey is the more affordable of the two.

πŸ’¬ Customer Reviews & Complaints

Berkey Systems

The majority of Berkey’s customers are happy with their countertop water filter units and feel their performance is in line with the brand’s filtered water claims. Berkey’s Big Berkey, the most popular of the manufacturer’s offerings, has a respectable 4.7 out of 5 star rating on Amazon, based on 865 reviews.

Customers appreciate that the Berkey allows them to eliminate their single-use water bottle drinking habit, enabling them to live more environmentally-conscious lifestyles.

Many users commented that the system is really easy to use, and that where a fridge filter and a water filter pitcher didn’t work, Berkey’s offering proved effective – especially for homes with very hard water. Others praised the Berkey’s systems for their ability to remove fluoride, which not many countertop water filter units are capable of doing.

The only complaint about Berkey is that the rubber components that are used in the system give water a rubbery taste that many people find unpleasant. It’s possible to exchange these rubber components with silicone washers and a stainless steel spigot from Berkey themselves. Hopefully the company will address the rubber-tasting issue with a future design update, considering so many customers share this complaint.

Reverse Osmosis Systems

RO filtered water systems have a mixed bag of customer reviews, depending on the product. Comparing Berkey’s countertop filtration offering vs one of the most popular RO systems, the Waterdrop WD-G3-W, reviews are similarly positive. 633 customers gave the Waterdrop an average 4.7 star rating based on their reviews, with customers particularly pleased with how small the system is compared to other RO water filter models.

Though reverse osmosis systems are more difficult to install than Berkey’s countertop systems, customers were generally pleased with the installation process, and the majority were able to install their systems without the help of a plumber.

Customers were happy with the quality of their RO filtered water, with many commenting that their water rivaled the taste of their favorite bottled water. Customers who had tested their water TDS before and after RO filtration noted that there was a significant reduction of TDS in water, from numbers in the hundreds down to 20-30.

The Waterdrop is a very efficient system when it comes to water waste, and only wastes water at a 1:1 ratio. However, customers did mention that this was a disadvantage of using a reverse osmosis system in general: that water waste is an unavoidable part of the process. It’s unlikely that RO systems will ever be able to function without wasting water due to the nature of their filtration method, but customers hope that the Waterdrop might evolve to become even more efficient in the future.

β˜‘οΈ Pros and Cons of Reverse Osmosis vs Berkey

πŸ‘ Berkey – What We Liked

Don’t need connecting to water or electricity

Berkey’s filtration systems operate without the need for electricity, and they’re not connected to a water supply. This means you can use them in all situations, whether at home, on vacation, or during a power cut or unexpected issue with your water supply.

using berkey water filter with stream water

Filter a broad range of contaminants

For a countertop water filter, Berkey’s filtration elements are some of the best available today. They filter an incredibly broad range of contaminants, including PFAS and fluoride (with the additional fluoride filter), which not all countertop water systems can treat.

πŸ‘Ž Berkey – What We Didn’t Like

Not NSF certified

A big letdown of Berkey’s systems is that they’re not NSF certified to remove contaminants from water. Though all of Berkey’s water filter options are privately tested by an independent manufacturer, they’re not even tested to NSF Standards. Getting an NSF certification would massively help the company to win over a new customer’s trust.

πŸ‘ Reverse Osmosis – What We Liked

Incredibly thorough filtration

Reverse osmosis systems are up there with the most thorough filtration options of them all. There’s not much that a reverse osmosis system can’t remove, which makes them ideal for using in homes with a particularly high level of TDS in water.

Durable and long-lasting

The average RO system can last for approximately 10 to 15 years, providing you change the filter elements and RO membrane as advised. The filter elements themselves are durable, too, lasting between 6 months and 2 years each.

πŸ‘Ž Reverse Osmosis – What We Didn’t Like

More expensive cost

You should generally expect to pay more for an RO system than you would for one of Berkey’s countertop filtration options. You need to factor in for multiple replacements of the water filter elements, which will be more frequent.

Wastes Water

An inevitable part of the process, water is always wasted during reverse osmosis.

Removes Beneficial Minerals

Along with all the bad stuff, beneficial minerals are also removed from water during the RO process.

❔ Should I Buy a Berkey or Reverse Osmosis System?

Comparing both Berkey’s countertop water systems with RO systems, it’s clear that there are advantages and disadvantages to both, making it hard to pick an overall winner.

Is one method of filtration truly better than the other? Of course, RO is more thorough and eliminates a higher level of contaminants from water, including microorganisms, but that may not necessarily make this method of filtration best for you. And Berkey’s elements last longer, and the unit doesn’t require installation, which may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Consider your needs carefully before you purchase a filtration solution for your drinking water. It’s wise to look at customer reviews and see what other people have to say about a product. You might find that a customer in a similar situation to you – perhaps living in the same region or with similar water filtering intentions – has had a particularly positive or negative experience with a product, and this may help you to make your final decision more easily.

  • Laura Shallcross
    Senior Editor

    Laura is a passionate residential water treatment journalist who holds an undergraduate degree in Print Journalism and a master’s degree in Creative Writing. Over a span of 5 years she's written on a range of topics including water softening, well water treatment, and purification processes.

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