Can I Use My Refrigerator Without the Water Filter Installed?

Refrigerator water filters give you convenient access to cool, clean drinking water. But what if, for whatever reason, you don’t want to use the filter in your fridge? Or what if you threw out the old filter and haven’t gotten around to buying a new one yet?

In this guide, we’ve answered the common question, “Can I use a refrigerator without the water filter?”

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Most modern refrigerators work without a water filter.
  • Some refrigerators may require a filter bypass plug or cartridge to prevent water from flowing into the empty water filter housing.
  • If you can’t afford to change your refrigerator filters, it’s better to remove the filter than to keep the old filter for months beyond its expected lifespan.

🤔 Will A Refrigerator Work Without A Water Filter?

Most refrigerators are capable of working without a water filter. That means the water and ice dispensers will still operate as normal, whether the filter is installed or not.

Generally, modern refrigerators will simply send water around the filter housing when it’s empty. But some might need a filter bypass plug to:

  • Prevent water from entering the empty housing and direct water flow straight to the dispenser
  • OR send water through the housing as if the actual filter cartridge is still in there

💡 You won’t get filtered water after installing a bypass, but, importantly, your refrigerator should still work.

Removing old refrigerator filter cartridge

📤 What Is A Filter Bypass Plug?

A refrigerator filter bypass plug is a device used to block water’s entry into the filter housing or send water through the housing without the filter.

A filter bypass plug might be:

  • A cap
  • A plug
  • A filter cartridge-shaped device
  • A sediment filter (in the case of Bosch refrigerators)

Filter bypass plugs are installed in the same location as your refrigerator’s water filter (usually either in the top corner inside the fridge or at the bottom back of the fridge beneath the grille).

📋 Who Needs A Refrigerator Bypass Plug?

You need a refrigerator bypass plug if your fridge doesn’t have an inbuilt automatic bypass mode.

That means the fridge won’t automatically divert water around the filter housing if no filter is installed.

How to Find Out Whether You Need a Bypass Plug

The easiest way to find out whether or not you need a bypass plug for your fridge’s water system is to check your user manual.

But if you don’t have your user manual to hand, follow these steps:

  1. Remove the existing water filter from your fridge, then try to dispense water or ice.
  2. If your fridge’s ice makers and water dispensers work, that means that your fridge water system has an automatic bypass mode, and you DON’T need to buy a separate bypass plug.
  3. If you’re unable to dispense water or ice, that means your fridge doesn’t have an automatic bypass mode, and you DO need to buy a separate bypass plug.
Checking whether a fridge has automatic bypass

📖 How To Install Filter Bypass In Different Refrigerator Models

Below, we’ve shared some specific information for installing a filter bypass in various popular refrigerator models.

Whirlpool Refrigerators

Most modern Whirlpool refrigerators don’t require a water filter bypass.

These fridges will enter into “bypass mode” when the filter is removed, bypassing water around the filter so you can still use your water dispenser and ice maker.

Bosch Refrigerators

Bosch’s water filter bypass is a bit different from other filter bypasses. It uses a mechanical particle filter to remove large particles from drinking water, so it still has a purpose in your fridge.

You don’t have to replace this bypass filter, though, so it’s a suitable option for anyone who doesn’t want the hassle of replacing a filter once every 6 months (as with most fridge filters).

General Electric (GE) Refrigerators

Most modern GE fridges only work if a genuine filter with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip is installed.

This chip communicates with the refrigerator, enabling it to work if the correct filter is installed. The chip also causes the filter’s water system to shut off after 6 months, when the filter should be replaced, and shuts off the water if a leak is detected.

There are a few useful features of the RFID chip, but it also means you can’t buy cheaper, non-branded refrigerator water filters or filter bypasses.

GE sells its own water filter bypasses, which you will need to buy if you don’t want to use a water filter but you want to still use the ice maker or water dispenser.

🔎 How to Bypass A Fridge Water Filter

Bypassing refrigerator water filters is easy: just remove the old water filter and put the bypass in its place.

Depending on the fridge model, your water filter might be:

  • In the upper left or right inside corner
  • In the lower left or right inside corner
  • At the bottom of the refrigerator beneath the grille
  • Inside the fridge door
  • Along the water line leading to the fridge (inline water filters)

If the filter is located at the back of the fridge, you’ll need to shut off the water leading into the fridge. For a filter inside the fridge, you don’t have to shut off the water supply to install the bypass.

How to Attach the Filter Bypass

Different bypass plugs require a slightly different installation.

Here are a few potential installation methods for your bypass type and refrigerator water filter type:

  • Plug-type bypasses: gently push the plug into the housing
  • Push-tab release water filters: push in the bypass until it clicks
  • Screw-in water filters: screw the bypass in a clockwise direction

Once you’ve installed the bypass, you can test the water dispenser or ice maker to check that the refrigerator now works.

If you notice any leaking, remove the bypass and wipe it down, then install it again.

Refrigerator bypass plug

How to Install A Filter Bypass For An Inline Water Filter

Bypassing an inline fridge filter is a bit more difficult as there’s technically no official way to bypass this type of filter.

However, you can still do it. You’ll just need a 1/4 inch to 1/4 inch tube straight push connector, and possibly some extra 1/4 inch tubing, if there isn’t a lot of slack at the install location.

To install the connector, find the existing tubing attaching the old filter to your water line and cut each side. Place the old filter to the side and attach the connector, pushing both tubes into each end.

📝 Final Word

A final note from us is this: it’s better to use no filter in your refrigerator than continue to use an old filter for months – or even years (gross) – beyond the original filter’s lifespan.

We’re shocked at just how many people continue to use their old fridge filters way beyond the manufacturer’s recommendations, assuming that there’s no danger in doing so.

Old filters might degrade and leak contaminants into your water, and they’re at a very high risk of bacteria buildup.

Considering it’s possible to use a refrigerator without the water, if you don’t want to bother buying replacement filters, we advise you not to use the filter at all.

❔ Can I Use My Refrigerator Without The Water Filter? FAQ

What happens if you don’t put a water filter in your fridge?

If you don’t put a water filter in your fridge, nothing bad will happen! Water will simply skip the filtration step and flow straight to your dispenser or ice maker. You’ll drink normal tap water without improved taste or quality.

Can I run my Whirlpool refrigerator without a water filter?

Yes, you can still use the water and ice from your Whirlpool refrigerator without a water filter. When you remove the filter, water will simply bypass the filter, so you can still use it in your water dispenser and ice maker.

Can I run my ice maker without a filter?

Yes, in most refrigerators, you can still make ice cubes without a water filter. Some refrigerators simply send water around the filter housing if it’s empty, while others require a refrigerator bypass plug to prevent water from entering the empty housing and forcing it to head straight to the dispenser without the diversion.

What happens if you don’t replace refrigerator water filter?

If you don’t replace your refrigerator water filter, the filter will stop properly removing contaminants, and bacteria may accumulate in the filter media. That’s why it’s important to either replace the filter on time or stop using it altogether.

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