Everything to Know About Cleaning Berkey Filters

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Berkey is one of the most popular water filtration manufacturers, favored for the high quality of its countertop water filters – as you’ll know if you own one of these filters yourself.

While for the most part, you can leave the Berkey filters to get on with their own thing, it’s important to clean the filters as recommended by Berkey.

In this guide, I’ll provide you with the step-by-step process for cleaning the Black Berkey purification elements at home or in the field.

πŸ€” Why is Cleaning Berkey Filters Important?

A set of two Black Berkey elements will last much longer than the average water filter – usually for around 6,000 gallons or 3 years. But in this time, you may notice that it starts to take the elements longer and longer to filter your water. This is a sign that the filters are becoming too clogged with sediment to work effectively, and you’d benefit from washing away the sediment to improve their efficiency.

If your water is particularly high in contaminants, is especially important that you clean your Black Berkey purification elements to keep them working at their best.

berkey water filter and purification elements

πŸ”Ž How Do I Know When It’s Time For a Berkey Water Filter Cleaning?

The most obvious sign that your Black Berkey filters need cleaning is that the rate of water filtration between the two chambers has slowed right down.

A set of 2 new Berkey filters should filter water at a rate of 1 gallon per hour, while a set of 4 Black Berkey filters can filter 2 gallons per hour. If you notice that the filter flow rate isn’t what it once was, and the filters haven’t reached the end of their lifespan yet, the problem is most likely that turbidity and sediment have clogged the filters’ micropores.

You can give the dye test a try if you want to see how well your filter system is working and whether maintenance is necessary. Berkey systems are capable of removing dye entirely from contaminated water.

Give the dye test a go by adding some red food coloring to the top chamber. If, when used to filter this dye, the unit produces water with a pink or reddish tinge, or it’s particularly slow to produce results, it could be a sign that your filter elements need maintenance, or that you need to shop for replacement elements to improve your experience with flow rate and filtering effectiveness.

🧽 How Often Should I Clean My Black Berkey Purification Elements?

Berkey recommends that you clean the filter elements in its systems on “a consistent basis” – preferably every six months. According to Berkey, you should clean the Black Berkey filters on a regular schedule, at least every 12 months, or once a year, from the first day they were used.

🚰 How to Clean Berkey Filters

There are two easy methods for cleaning the Black Berkey filters: the sink method and the bucket way. I’ve outlined the instructions to help you with both below.

Cleaning Berkey Filters at Home (Sink Method)

To clean your Berkey filters from inside your home, follow these instructions:

1. Empty the Berkey water filter

Start by emptying any leftover water from the lower and upper chamber in your Berkey water filter.

2. Disassemble the system

To access the filters, remove the top chamber from your Berkey system and place it on its side. To prevent contamination, hold your finger over the hole in the stem of the filter elements where clean water usually comes from.

Brian installing the Big Berkey filter element

3. Remove the filters

Unscrew the wing nut that attaches the filtering elements to the Berkey system to remove the elements.

4. Clean the Black Berkey filters in your sink

Hold the elements under cold running water. Do not use soap or detergent on the filter elements! Make sure the stem is pointing upwards and isn’t in contact with the stream of water.

5. Use a Scotch Brite pad to scrub

The recommended cleaning tool for the Berkey system is a small cleaning pad, like a Scotch Brite pad. Non-scratch 3M is best. Use the pad to scrub over the surface of the Berkey elements, making sure to clean every area, before thoroughly rinsing.

6. Re-prime the filter elements

Before you can use your clean Berkey filter elements, you’ll have to re-prime them. To do this, rinse them under running water. Check out this post to learn all about how to do that.

Priming a black berkey filter element

7. Wash your hands & reassemble the filters

Put the filters to the side while you wash your hands with soap and warm water, then let the cleaned elements dry before reversing the disassembly instructions to assemble the parts of the Berkey system. You’re all done, and the Berkey water filter will now be ready for immediate use.

πŸͺ£ Cleaning Berkey Filters in the Field (Bucket Method)

The following instructions are applicable to cleaning the Berkey water filters outside using the bucket method:

1. Empty the Berkey water system

First, empty both chambers in your Berkey water filter.

2. Disassemble the system

Take the top container off the system and place it on a hard surface on its side, as described in the “sink method”. Then unscrew the wing nut to detach the Berkey water filter parts from the housing.

3. Fill a bucket with pure water

Once the elements are removed, prepare a bucket or container of clean, purified water. It’s important that you use purified water to clean the Berkey filter elements to prevent additional contamination, which could enter the core of the elements. To disinfect your water, add 16 drops of bleach to the bucket.

Adding bleach to a bucket of water

4. Carefully scrub the Berkey filter elements

Using a new 3M non-scratch Scotch Brite pad or similar, give the elements a long, proper scrub all over, rinsing every now and again in the bucket of water. Continue to clean for several minutes of time, then set aside the filters on a clean surface.

5. Replace the purified water

Empty the pure water out of the bucket or container and replace it with another batch of clean water (remember to add 16 drops of bleach o the bucket if you don’t have purified water on hand). Submerge the Berkey water filter elements in this fresh water and leave for several minutes.

6. Re-prime the filter elements

As described in the “sink method”, it’s a good idea to reprime the filter elements following cleaning by giving them a rinse under bleach-treated water before you attach them back inside your Berkey filtered water system.

7. Reassemble the system

The final step is to set the cleaned elements on a clean surface to dry while you wash your hands with soap and warm water. You can now reassemble the parts in your Berkey water filter for immediate use.

Big Berkey assembly

❔ Frequently Asked Questions

How else can I maintain my Berkey water filter?

Aside from cleaning the Berkey carbon filters, you can also take a number of steps to look after your family filtration unit – whether you own the classic Big Berkey, the Berkey Light, the 3.25-gallon Royal Berkey, the Travel Berkey or any other model – that will help extend its lifespan.

One practice is to never allow water to stand in the bottom container for more than 3 days at a time, so if you’re heading off on long a family vacation for more than these 3 days, empty the chambers in the system you’re using beforehand. Along with that, when you’re adding new elements to the system, make sure to flush and prime these replacement filters on the day of your purchase so that they’re ready to be used. This is quick to and can help ensure that using the elements is as safe and effective as possible.

Finally, while Berkey water systems are capable of filtering contaminants from even the dirtiest drinking water source, experts recommend that you use the cleanest drinking water you can in your household unit to avoid clogging. If you’re planning to use pond or lake water that contains large sediment like sand or rust, you might want to run it through a cloth to remove this sediment and get the filter elements working faster.

Do the Berkey fluoride filters require the same cleaning?

The Berkey fluoride filters are additional accessories that can be purchased alongside the Black Berkey elements. These fluoride accessories last for 1 year or 1,000 gallons of water, whichever comes first – so they don’t quite have the impressive lifespan of the Black Berkey elements. They’re still a valuable filter for many people, however, as most of us drink fluoridated water on a day-to-day basis.

Other than buying replacement filters, you have little to think about when it comes to cleaning or maintaining these filters. I would just recommend that you make sure to keep check of filter replacements, keeping a regular schedule based on your filtration needs. It’s easy to maintain safe levels of fluoride in your water; simply follow the manufacturer’s guidance if you want to avoid the experience of drinking this contaminant in your household.

  • 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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