We’ve set up, tested and reviewed the Big Berkey filter in our own home to produce this guide. In this Berkey water filter review, you’ll find information on the Big Berkey’s must-known performance features, how the Big Berkey compares to similar competitors, and the best uses and circumstances for this filter.
The Big Berkey is one of the most popular countertop gravity fed water filters available today.
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”
- 🤔 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 designed for use by up to four people. The system uses gravity to push water through filter media, removing more than 200 contaminants.
Unlike many of the countertop water filters we’ve used, you don’t need to attach the Berkey water filtration system to your faucet. Using the Berkey is simple: you fill it with water and leave the filter to do the work.
You can store the Big Berkey wherever suits you most. Most people find a location for it on their kitchen counter. This Berkey system 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. Gravity filters like this Berkey filter are notoriously slower than filters powered by water pressure, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just depends on your preferences.
❗️ Do you live in California? Learn about restrictions & how to get a Berkey in California here
The Berkey countertop filter comes in a variety of different sizes, from tiny travel units to larger counter systems. We bought and reviewed the Big Berkey water filter, with this being the most popular choice available today.
Let’s begin with a quick overview of the Big Berkey’s key features:
Stainless steel filter unit
The Big Berkey is around 4 times the size of your average water pitcher, and holds up to 2.25 gallons in the lower reservoir. It’s made from stainless steel, so it’s durable and BPA-free (although some customers complained about rusting – more on that later).
2 Black Berkey elements
You get 2 Black Berkey purification elements with the Big Berkey, which, Berkey says, have been tested in an EPA-approved laboratory and found to meet the NSF/ANSI Standard 42 (for chlorine, tastes, and odors) and 53 (for contaminants with health effects). The filter flow rate is about 7 GPH (gallons per hour) – that’s about bang-on average for a countertop drinking water system.
You’ll be happy to hear that the Big Berkey requires no major installation. The user manual contains instructions on how to set it up, plus a bit of basic information about looking after the unit, testing that the filters work, and changing the elements.
We measure the performance of countertop filtration systems by evaluating three parameters: flow rate, contaminants removed, and filter lifespan. This gives us a clear idea of the overall performance value you ca expect from a filter.
If you know anything about counter water filter systems, you’ll know that the Berkey is one of the most popular of its kind. The unit uses “elements” that 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.
📌 Note that the Berkey filter elements aren’t the best at reducing fluoride and arsenic. Berkey offers a separate PF2 fluoride filter that Berkey claims removes arsenic and fluoride up to 97%. In our testing, it only removed 50%.
The Big Berkey relies on gravity to filter drinking water, so 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.
You should expect to wait up to a three-hour period for the unit with two Black Berkey filters to reduce the contaminants in a full batch of water. The 7 GPH flow rate is about the same as most similar countertop systems, so it isn’t exceptional or below-average.
The tank has a good capacity, at 2.25 gallons. We only had to fill the chamber once in the morning, and it’d last us all day.
As for lifespan, a pair of Berkey elements can last up to 6,000 gallons (3,000 gallons each), or 3 years, which is significantly higher than other systems. Keep in mind that this really depends on the quality of water being filtered.
Our verdict on performance? All around impressive. Berkey checks our boxes for flow rate, contaminant removal, and longevity – although we don’t recommend using the PF2 filters for fluoride or arsenic removal.
🔠 Berkey Model Variations
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
Berkey’s most popular filter elements today are the Black Berkey Elements. As we mentioned earlier, Berkey also offers a separate filter for fluoride and arsenic reduction.
📌 Note: Berkey used to offer a third set of filters, called the Berkey Earth elements, but these have now been discontinued.
Black Berkey Filters
The Black Berkey filters have an impressive lifespan of up to 3,000 gallons and have been tested by a third party lab to reduce more than 200 contaminants, including 99.999% viruses, 99.9999% bacteria, 99.9% lead, 99.9% pharmaceuticals, 99.9% of chlorine and chloramine, and up to 99.9% arsenic.
These filters are labeled “the leader in gravity-fed water purification” by Berkey – a claim we’d agree with, considering their contaminant removal and lifespan. The Berkey water filter system is our current number one in gravity countertop filtration. You can check out the competition in our best gravity water filters guide.
The Black Berkey elements have millions of tiny micropores that allow only the smallest water particles to travel through.
Berkey says that the filters use coconut shell carbon and five other types of media (only one of these is disclosed: ion exchange resin). We know that activated carbon is a proven effective filtration method for removing chlorine, pesticides, and other contaminants with health effects, according to various studies. Ion exchange is also a popular media choice for gravity filters.
You can buy the Black Berkey elements in a set of two for around $170 – a fair price to pay given their performance benefits and lifespan.
PF2 Fluoride Filters
While the Black Berkey water filters are a mandatory inclusion – i.e. you have to install them to have a working system – the Berkey fluoride filters are an added bonus if you’re looking for that little bit extra from your system.
Berkey recommends buying the additional fluoride elements if your water has a fluoride level of over 0.5mg/l.
The fluoride PF-2 filters are marketed to filter a whopping 99.99999% fluoride from water – so basically all of it. They also offer arsenic removal, although this is less of a big deal, since the black Berkey elements already remove up to 99.9% of arsenic from drinking water.
❗️ Important Note: Our own testing revealed that these filters only reduced 50% of fluoride. Additionally, data shows they the leach unacceptable amounts of aluminum. We no longer recommend using the PF2 fluoride filters.
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 $80.
🧫 Contaminants Removed
The Berkey water filtration system is one of the most thorough filter 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:
|1,2-Dichloro-1,1,2-trifluoroethane (CFC 123a)||99.90%|
|Aroclor (1016, 1221, 1232, 1242, 1248, 1254, 1260)||99.90%|
|Dichlorodifluoromethane (CFC 12)||99.90%|
|Dieldrin Diethyl phthalate||99.90%|
|Ethylene Dibromide (EDB)||99.90%|
|Halo acidic Acids (HAA5)||99.90%|
|Methyl tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE)||99.90%|
|Trichlorofluoromethane (CFC 11)||99.90%|
🔧 Assembly & Maintenance
It took us about half an hour to assemble the Berkey system from start to finish, including priming the filters. Definitely not the quickest system to setup when compared to others. We reckon we could do it faster in the future now we know what we’re doing.
The biggest job you’ll need to do is the priming – flushing out the filters to get rid of any lingering particles. We’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.
In comparison, other filters only have a life of roughly 500 to 700 gallons, 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 clean the filters once every 6 months, or when they start to filter water slowly.
The Berkey Filter Package: What’s Included?
When you buy a Berkey purified water filter system, you’ll get:
- Upper and lower stainless steel chambers
- Stainless steel lid
- 2 Black Berkey purification elements
- 2 washers
- 2 wing nuts
- Plastic spigot
- Rubber gasket
- Priming button
How to Assemble a Berkey Filter
Whether you have the Big Berkey water filter or one of the larger or smaller options, assembly follows the same process:
- Wash your hands, then wash the unit and its components (excluding the filters).
- 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.
- 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 to the spigot thread, then use a nut to secure it in place.
- 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? Check out our handy video that guides you through setup of its filter system.
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, they’re filled with trapped air that increases surface tension. Because of this, you’ll struggle to send anything through the filter because the force of gravity isn’t strong enough to release this trapped air.
Our 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, it’s also important to clean them.
We got into a habit of cleaning they filters once every 6 months, as recommended by Berkey. Check out our 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 the Berkey water filter elements last longer, they filter a much more diverse range of contaminants in drinking water, and they’re backed by extensive testing.
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 our opinion, one of the best gravity-fed water filtration solution out there, the Berkey does still have a few setbacks that are worth knowing about. Take a look at our pros and cons below.
- We love that Berkey’s filter elements have a long lifespan of 6,000 gallons/ 3 years for a pair. Compare that to other gravity-fed filter options, which usually last 20 weeks, max, and the Berkey water filter system 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’ll struggle to find another counter filter that can remove pathogens.
- The Berkey models all have a pretty big capacity, so you won’t need to constantly refill them. They’re also plastic-free, making them safer for your health.
- We also like that you don’t need to connect the Berkey system up to a faucet, which is a huge bonus if you plan to use the unit on your travels or you have limited space next to your sink.
- What’s more, 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.
- 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.
- It’s kind of a pain in the butt to set up
- Being a gravity filter, the Berkey doesn’t filter tap water instantly. In our testing, it took just over 120 minutes to send all the water from the upper chamber to the bottom chamber.
- We think the filter cartridges are pretty expensive, and the optional fluoride elements come at an extra cost.
- Our testing revealed the PF2 fluoride filters under-performed and leached aluminum. No longer reccomended.
- We noticed that filtration continued even when the lower chamber was full, so you need to be really careful not to overfill the system (we learned this the hard way, when water flowed out of the space between the two chambers and flooded our countertop).
- Plus, you can’t actually see how much water is left in the bottom chamber. You have to lift the top chamber to look. Berkey sells a sight glass spigot to avoid this issue, but at $50, it’s not a cheap add-on.
- You’ll need to routinely clean your elements to ensure your flow rate continues to be relatively acceptable which gets a bit tiresome.
- We’re not so keen on the fact that the systems don’t have official NSF/ANSI testing or certifications (see below).
In all, the Berkey system has a few design flaws and inconveniences that you should definitely keep in mind – but we think the pros outweigh the cons.
😱 The “Berkey Water Filter Scam”
There’s been some controversy over the years about whether Berkey’s test results for contamination removal are fake, and whether the Berkey elements produce purified water at all.
The idea of the Berkey systems being a “scam” seems to be linked to the fact that Berkey arranged for private, third-party water tests for its systems, rather than using NSF/ANSI. While the Berkey systems have shown in tests that they meet Standard 53 for the removal of impurities with health effects, they don’t have an official NSF/ANSI certification.
Berkey’s competitors say 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 appears to be down to state laws (see our blog post on why Berkey units are banned in California for more info).
According to one Berkey distributor, its lab testing is actually more rigorous than the testing offered by the NSF/ANSI. Additionally, it was apparently Berkey’s choice not to sell its products in California and Iowa because of the high costs of NSF/ANSI certification (a requirement in those states).
🤔 Is a Berkey Filter Right for You?
Though the Berkey systems are undoubtedly some of the best available, that doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your family. It depends on your circumstances and your requirements.
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’ll need to replace your Berkey elements every 6,000 gallons (per pair). 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.
Does the Berkey system affect the pH of the water?
No. Although the Black Berkey filters are capable of purifying tap water, they won’t alter its pH. 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 PF2 filters can remove fluoride, but our testing showed only 50% removal, while Berkey claims up to 99%. These filters are purchased separately at an extra cost.
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