Table of Contents
- 🧾 Overview of the Big Berkey Water Filter
- 💡 Features
- 🚦 Performance
- 🔠 Berkey Model Variations
- 📝 Filter Elements Info
- 🧫 Contaminants Removed
- 🔧 Assembly & Maintenance
- 🆚 Compare Berkey vs. Other Top Gravity Filter Brands
- 🔔 Pros & Cons
- 😱 The “Berkey Water Filter Scam”
- 🙌 How I Use My Big Berkey
- 🤔 Is a Berkey Filter Right for You?
- ❔ Frequently Asked Questions
- Found this review helpful?
🧾 Overview of the Big Berkey Water Filter
The Big Berkey Gravity-Fed Water Filter is a stainless-steel portable water purification system that uses gravity to push water through a filter cartridge, removing more than 200 contaminants.
A big bonus of the Berkey water filter is that, unlike many of the countertop water filters I’ve used, you don’t need to attach it to your faucet. Using the Berkey is simple: you fill it with water and leave the filter to do the work, as you would with a pitcher.
You can store the Big Berkey wherever suits you most. Most people, myself included, choose to find a location for it on their kitchen counter. This may require a bit of moving things around if you’re lacking side space, as the Big Berkey water filter is 19.25” tall and 8.5” – so it’s not particularly compact.
Because you don’t need to connect the Big Berkey to your sink, it has the advantage of being a more portable option. It relies only on gravity to filter water, not your home’s water pressure, which I’d recommend keeping in mind as you read through this guide. Gravity filters are notoriously slower than filters powered by water pressure, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just depends on your personal preferences.
❗️ Do you live in California? Learn about restrictions & how to get a Berkey in California here
The Berkey filter comes in a variety of different sizes, from tiny travel units to larger counter systems. I’ve focused on the 19.25” tall x 8.5” wide Big Berkey water filter in this review, with this being the most popular choice and the filter I purchased for myself. The general concept of Berkey counter filters is consistent from one model to the next, however, so if you’re considering a larger or smaller unit, you’ll still find this review helpful.
Stainless steel filter unit
The Berkey is around 4 times the size of your average water pitcher, and is designed to sit on your kitchen counter. It’s made from stainless steel, which does look a little practical, but it shouldn’t stand out too much in the majority of kitchens. I put it on a spare bit of counter space next to my sink, which worked well for me, as it’s where I instinctively head for water anyway.
2 Black Berkey elements
As a larger filter unit, the Big Berkey comes with 2 Black Berkey purification elements, which, Berkey says, have been tested in an EPA-approved laboratory and found to meet the NSF/ANSI Standard 53. This means this water filter system is effective at what it’s advertised to do – removing viruses and pathogenic bacteria, as well as reducing trihalomethanes, protozoa, certain inorganic minerals, and heavy metals.
You’ll be happy to hear that the Big Berkey requires no major installation. The user manual does contain instructions on how to set it up, however, which was pretty helpful when I unboxed my Berkey for the first time. The user manual also contains a bit of basic information about looking after the unit, testing that the filters work, and changing the elements.
If you know anything about counter water filter systems, you’ll know that the Berkey is one of the best of its kind. The unit uses “elements”, which are designed to filter and purify water at the same time. If you’re looking for a water filter that removes a wide range of contaminants, but you don’t want to pay for a reverse osmosis system, the Big Berkey is a great choice to consider.
👉 Read about Berkey vs reverse osmosis systems here
Going back to what I mentioned earlier, however, the Big Berkey doesn’t have the advantage of water pressure on its side. When comparing the system to a faucet water filter, I noticed that, unsurprisingly, the faucet filter provided a much faster result (i.e. I had access to instant clean water immediately).
That’s because the force of the water flowing through your pipes pushes the water through the filters, filtering it more quickly. As the Big Berkey relies on gravity to filter drinking water, you’ll have to put up with a much more delayed filtration process – although that won’t affect the quality of filtration; in fact, gravity filters can often afford to be more thorough because of how slowly they work.
As you’ve probably guessed, you won’t be able to drink clean water immediately after filling the Berkey water filter system. You should expect to wait up to a three-hour period for the unit with two Black Berkey filters to reduce the contaminants in water. With that said, the tank does have a good capacity, at 2.25 gallons.
To put that into perspective, one person is recommended to drink 0.5 of a gallon of water per day. My family could fill the top chamber and drink filtered water for just over one day before the chamber needed filling again, so there was always water available when we wanted it.
🔠 Berkey Model Variations
As I mentioned at the beginning of this guide, while I’ve focused largely on the Big Berkey water filter system, there are several Berkey models to choose from.
Most are variations on the Big Berkey – for instance, the Imperial Berkey is just a larger version of this stainless steel unit. Some, however, such as the Travel Berkey and the Berkey Light, have slightly different designs, features, and purposes.
|Model||Daily Use For||Capacity||# of Filters||Avg. Filtration Time||Flow Rate (GPH)|
|Travel Berkey||1-3 People||1.5 Gallons||2||1 hr 30 min||1 GPH|
|Big||1-4 People||2.25 Gallons||2 - 4||1 hr 8 min - 2 hr 15 min||1 - 2 GPH|
|Berkey Light||2-5 people||2.75 Gallons||2 - 4||1 hr 23 min - 2 hr 45 min||1 - 2 GPH|
|Royal||2-6 People||3.25 Gallons||2 - 4||1 hr 38 min - 3 hr 15 min||1 - 2 GPH|
|Imperial||6-10 people||4.5 Gallons||2 - 6||1 hr 8 min - 4 hr 30 min||1 - 3 GPH|
|Crown||6+ people||6 Gallons||2 - 8||45 min - 6 hr||1 - 4 GPH|
📝 Filter Elements Info
Though you may have only heard about the Black Berkey filters, there’s another type of filter offered by the Berkey for its systems: the Berkey Earth filters. I tested both types of filters and have compared their features below.
Black Berkey Filters
The Black Berkey filter elements, the most popular Berkey offerings, have an impressive lifespan of 3,000 gallons and have been proven in third-party testing to exceed purification expectations. These filters are some of the best of their kind, and are even labeled “the leader in gravity-fed water purification” by Berkey – a claim I’d agree with, considering just how many contaminants these filters are capable of removing, and how many gallons they can filter before they need replacing.
You can buy the Black Berkey elements in a set of two for around $120. The reason why these elements are so effective – and so expensive – comes down to their design – they have millions of tiny micropores that allow only the smallest water particles to travel through. They’re your best weapon for fighting common drinking water contaminants, from heavy metals to bacteria.
Berkey Earth Filters
Most people opt for the Black Berkey filters for the fact that they’re the most effective, efficient, and longest-lasting filters offered by Berkey. But if you’re on a budget, or just want to try out one of the Berkey systems with a cheaper option before investing in the brand’s most popular filters, you might want to consider the Berkey Earth filters.
Like the Black Berkey filter elements, each Berkey Earth filter can last for up to 3,000 gallons, or 3 years. They cost 50% of the price of the Black Berkey filters at around $60 for a set of 2, and this is mostly down to quality. The Berkey Earth filters aren’t quite as powerful as the Black Berkeys and have a slower flow rate – while the Black Berkey filters can handle 168 gallons of water in 24 hours, the Berkey Earth elements can produce a flow rate of up to 18 gallons of water in 24 hours. That’s the most significant difference between the two.
PF2 Fluoride Filters
The Berkey fluoride filters work slightly differently from the system’s main purification elements. While the Black Berkey or Berkey Earth water filters are a mandatory inclusion – i.e. you have to install one or the other to have a working system – the fluoride filter elements are an added bonus if you’re looking for that little bit extra from your system.
Though the Black Berkey water filters can “reduce fluoride up to 99.9%”, there’s got to be a reason why Berkey would offer a separate PF-2 fluoride filter that exclusively targets this contaminant. Berkey recommends buying the additional fluoride elements if your water has a fluoride level of over 0.5mg/l, so I’ve deduced from this that the Black Berkey water filters aren’t capable of filtering fluoride at higher levels than that.
The fluoride PF-2 filters are marketed to filter a whopping 99.99999% fluoride from water – so basically all of it. You can use the filters for up to 12 months, or 1,000 gallons, before they need replacing, and they’re sold online for around $65.
🧫 Contaminants Removed
The selling point of the Berkey system’s filtration capabilities is that it doesn’t just filter tap water, it also purifies it.
The Berkey system is one of the most thorough filtration options available and can reduce the majority of viruses and pathogenic bacteria from water. It can also reduce the likes of protozoa, inorganic materials, heavy metals, pesticides, chlorine, and larger sediment, like rust and silt.
You can check out the full details of Berkey’s filtration capabilities here. If you just want an overview of what these water filters can remove, take a look at the list below:
- 99.999% of viruses
- 99.9999% of pathogenic bacteria
- 99.8% of trihalomethanes
- Chlorine, chloramine (99.9%) & chloride (99.6%)
- Heavy metals (aluminum, chromium, copper, lead, etc.)
- 99.9% of microorganisms such as fecal coliform, E.Coli & total coliform
- 99.9% of pharmaceutical drugs
- VOCs & pesticides
🔧 Assembly & Maintenance
It took me less than 15 minutes to assemble the Berkey system from start to finish, including priming the filters. I reckon I could do it faster in the future now I know what I’m doing.
The biggest job you’ll need to do is the priming – flushing out the filters to get rid of any lingering sediment that may give water an unpleasant taste. I’ve got a whole guide on how to prime the Berkey filters if you need it, but it’s pretty easy.
The Berkey filters have a long life of up to 6,000 gallons per pair.
This is pretty impressive, and will minimize the maintenance you’ll need to do. You’ll find that in comparison, other filters only have a life of roughly 500 to 700 gallons before you’ll need to change them, so the Berkey is a great option if you’re looking to avoid maintenance as much as possible.
It’s also recommended that you clean the stainless steel Berkey chamber once every month, and cleaning the filters once every 6 months.
How to Assemble a Berkey Filter
As with any new tool or appliance, it can be a little daunting to have to learn how to put the Berkey system together. I’m here to reassure you, however, that assembling the Berkey water filter system takes a matter of minutes, and can be achieved in 7 easy steps.
Whether you have the Big Berkey water filter or one of the larger or smaller options, assembly follows the same process. Here’s what to do:
- Start by washing your hands thoroughly, before washing the unit and its components (excluding the filters) to make sure no contamination can take place during assembly.
- Take out the Black Berkey purification elements and place them on a clean surface.
- Insert the lid knob screw onto the lid and fit the lid knob in place, tightening with your hand (don’t use tools for this!).
- Prime your Black Berkey filter elements – instructions on how to do so can be found here.
- Insert the sealing washer onto each filter element’s threaded section, then screw each element to the base of the upper chamber using the wing nuts. If you have empty element holes (say, because you only bought 2 filters but your unit is large enough to fit 4), insert blocking plugs into the holes to prevent water from being able to pass through.
- Insert a rubber washer onto the threaded section of the outlet tap or spigot, then attach this threaded section to the unit at the side of the lower chamber. Attach the second washer on the spigot thread, before adding a nut to secure it in place.
- Finally, place the upper chamber on top of the lower chamber and add the lid. The system is now ready for use.
More of a visual learner? Berkey has produced a handy video that guides you through setup of its filter system – find it here.
Priming the Filter Elements
It’s essential that you prime the elements for Berkey water filter systems before you get started. When you purchase the elements, because they’ve had no contact with water until now, they’re filled with trapped air that increases surface tension. This surface tension is so significant that you’ll struggle to actually send anything through the filter because the force of gravity isn’t strong enough to release this trapped air, hence why priming is so important.
I found priming my Berkey elements really easy, though it may be more of a challenge if you don’t have a kitchen tap for the job. My guide on how to prime Berkey filters should be helpful if you’re looking for more info.
Cleaning the Filters
As well as priming the filters, as I briefly mentioned earlier, it’s also important to clean them. I got into a habit of cleaning my filters once every 6 months, as recommended by Berkey. Again, this task is hardly rocket science, and considering it only needs to be done on a half-yearly basis, it’s not too much hassle. Check out my guide on cleaning the Berkey filters if you want to know how to do it.
🆚 Compare Berkey vs. Other Top Gravity Filter Brands
Berkey is one of the most popular water filter systems for a reason: it does more than most other countertop/ filter pitcher brands.
Yes, you have to pay more for Berkey systems, but their purification elements last for longer, they filter a much more diverse range of contaminants in drinking water (including chlorine, harmful pathogens, lead and mercury), and they’re so good at what they do that they’re referred to as “purifiers”, not “filters”. A water purifier is so effective at what it does that it essentially converts water to its purest state, being 100% free from all impurities.
If you want the lowdown on how some of the other well-known water systems match up to the Big Berkey filter, check out my comparison guides below:
🔔 Pros & Cons
Despite being, in my opinion, the best gravity-fed water filtration solution out there, the Berkey does still have a few setbacks that are worth knowing about. It wouldn’t be a fair review without the pros and the cons, and you can take a look at them both below.
- Berkey’s filter elements have a long lifespan of 6,000 gallons for a pair. That’s a minimum of 3 years of use before you need to think about replacing them. Compare that to other gravity-fed filter options, which usually last 20 weeks, max, and the Berkey comes out way on top.
- When it comes to contaminant removal, Berkey can remove over 200 – including herbicides, pesticides, lead, arsenic, and – the most difficult of all – bacteria. You will struggle to find another counter filter that can remove pathogens.
- The Berkey models all have a pretty high capacity, so you won’t need to constantly refill them. They’re also plastic-free, making them safer for your health.
- You don’t need to connect the Berkey up to a faucet, which is a huge bonus if you plan to use the system on your travels, you live in a rental property, or you just don’t have space around your sink to install a filtration system,
- The Berkey is suitable for well water use, which makes it ideal for anyone who lives off the grid and is looking for a simple, affordable solution for filtering their private well supply.
- The optional fluoride filter elements are pretty useful. It’s very rare to find a filter that tackles fluoride exclusively, so Berkey is the obvious choice if you’re dealing with major fluoride issues in your home.
- No matter which Berkey system you opt for, they’re all pretty big. While you can almost halve the size of your system when it’s in storage, you may still find it difficult to store if space is lacking. The unit also has quite a large footprint, so it might not be ideal for kitchens with limited countertop room.
- Being a gravity filter, the Berkey doesn’t filter tap water instantly. When I fill my system, it takes just over 120 minutes to send water from the top chamber to the bottom chamber. The system can usually filter around 1 gallon of water per hour. You can, of course, dispense water from the bottom chamber as soon as there’s some there, so you don’t need to wait for all the water to enter the bottom chamber before you can have a drink.
- The filter cartridges are pretty expensive, and the fluoride elements come at an extra cost. With that said, you only need to buy replacement filters once every 3 years, so this is a cost that’s definitely justifiable. There’s also no obligation to purchase the fluoride elements, of course – they’re just an optional bonus.
- Filtration will continue even when the lower filter is full, so you need to be really careful not to overfill the system (I, like many, many customers, learned this the hard way, when water flowed out of the space between the two chambers and flooded my countertop). Always make sure to empty water from the spigot if you’ve accidentally overfilled.
- The flow speed of filtration will continue to drop over your months of using the Berkey, and you’ll need to clean your elements to ensure your flow rate continues to be relatively acceptable.
- Berkey elements are so good at what they do that they don’t only remove the bad stuff – they also remove beneficial minerals, like calcium and magnesium.
- The systems don’t have official NSF/ANSI testing or certification (see below).
😱 The “Berkey Water Filter Scam”
There’s been a bit of controversy over the years about whether Berkey’s test results for contamination removal are actually fake, and whether the Berkey elements even produce purified water at all.
The idea of the Berkey systems being a “scam” seems to be largely linked to the fact that Berkey arranged for private, third-party water tests for its systems, rather than going to the NSF/ANSI, a certification body that’s used widely by water filter manufacturers in the US to prove that their systems are capable of improving municipal water quality. While the Berkey systems have shown in tests that they meet Standard 53 for the removal of lead, arsenic and related impurities with health effects, they don’t have an official NSF/ANSI certification.
Berkey’s competitors claim that the Berkey systems don’t live up to the company’s claims, and that’s apparently why California prohibits the sale of some of the Berkey systems, and Iowa doesn’t allow the sale of any Berkey products at all. But this is down to state laws, based on the information available online (see my blog post on why Berkey units are banned in California for more info).
According to Berkey, its lab testing is actually more rigorous than the testing offered by the NSF/ANSI. Additionally, it was apparently Berkey’s choice to decide not to sell its products in California and Iowa because of the high costs of NSF/ANSI certification, which is a requirement in those states.
🙌 How I Use My Big Berkey
Sometimes I live off the grid and have been using the Berkey system to filter the water right from there river here in Colorado. After I’ve filled the system, its high capacity means it’ll usually provide enough filtered water for myself and my family for just over an entire day. Absolutely perfect for camping ⛺️
We use Berkey water for everything: drinking straight from the glass, cooking, brushing our teeth, making cups of tea and coffee, watering the plants, and cleaning. In the summer months, we may have to fill the system twice a day instead of once. Occasionally I’ll wash my hair with a bottle of Berkey water, as our municipal water can leave my hair feeling dry and brittle.
🤔 Is a Berkey Filter Right for You?
Though the Berkey systems are undoubtedly some of the best available, with perhaps the highest volume of 5-star reviews out there, that doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your family. It depends on your circumstances and your requirements, after all.
The Berkey is probably the right purchase for you if you answer “yes” to any of the following:
- You live in an area with known lead issues
- You get your water from a private well or you catch rainwater for drinking
- You want to upgrade from a smaller, cheaper countertop filter, to a system that’ll cost less in the long run
- You want to avoid the cost of bottled water, which you exclusively buy at the moment
- You want to have a filtration solution you can consistently rely on, including in emergencies
❔ Frequently Asked Questions
How often are filter changes required?
On average you can expect to replace your elements every six thousand gallons (per pair), so it’s a cost you don’t need to worry about frequently. However, this depends on a few factors, such as the quality & content of the source water, how many filters you are using (2 or 4), and how many times a day you are filling up your filter.
How long can the water sit in the holding chamber after being filtered?
Berkey recommends you don’t let water sit in the system’s holding chamber longer than 3 days. If this case, throw out the old water and re-filter a fresh batch. It’s best to empty the system before you take a trip away from home for hygiene purposes.
Does the Berkey system affect the pH of the water?
No, pH of the filtered water is dependent on the pH of the source water. Although the black filters are capable of purifying tap water, they won’t alter its pH. That’s because, while they remove a number of harmful acidic contaminants, they also remove alkaline impurities, and these balance each other out.
Does this filter remove fluoride?
Yes, the Berkey water filtration elements can remove fluoride, but if your water’s test results indicate you have particularly high fluoride levels, you will need to get your hands on some PF-2 fluoride filters at an extra cost. You can buy these separately and they have a 1-year lifespan.
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