Do Refrigerator Water Filters Work? (A Water Doctor Explains)

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Whether your refrigerator came with an included water filter or you’re considering installing an inline water filter for your fridge, you probably have some questions about whether refrigerator water filters work.

In this guide, we’ll be answering all your questions about the effectiveness of refrigerator water filters as drinking water treatment systems.

❔ What is A Refrigerator Water Filter?

If you’ve made it to this guide, you probably already know what a fridge filter is. But just in case you’re not 100% sure, here’s a quick recap.

A refrigerator filter is a filter that cleans the water supplied to your fridge. Most fridge filters are installed in a dedicated cavity inside the fridge itself, but some are installed at the water line leading to the fridge.

Fridge filtration systems usually use activated carbon filters, which remove chlorine tastes and odors with a process known as adsorption.

Installing a refrigerator filter

🤔 Do Fridge Water Filter Systems Actually Work?

Yes, fridge water filter systems work. As long as you keep on top of filter replacements, these filters will provide you with clean, filtered water throughout the lifespan of your refrigerator.

📥 How do Refrigerator Water Filters Work?

A refrigerator water filter sends water through a filtration media that traps contaminants. This media, usually made from some form of activated carbon (such as activated charcoal or coconut shell carbon), grabs onto contaminants and pulls them out of water, in a process called adsorption.

Adsorption process

📝 What do Refrigerator Water Filters Remove?

Most refrigerator water filters can remove the following contaminants:

  • Chlorine taste and odor
  • Some heavy metals
  • Volatile organic compounds

Some fridge filters are more capable than this, and can remove pharmaceuticals, disinfection byproducts, and other contaminants found in an unclean water supply.

Removing dangerous impurities from water

📖 How to Know if a Refrigerator Water Filter Works?

To determine whether your refrigerator water filter is working, check for the following:

NSF Certification

The best way to know whether a refrigerator filter works is to look for an official NSF certification.

If the water filtration system is certified by the NSF for contaminant removal, you know for sure that it can remove these contaminants. Most fridge filters have an NSF 42 certification, for chlorine removal.

nsf logo

Improved Water Taste

Most fridge filters offer carbon filtration, which greatly improves the taste of water by removing chemical contaminants in the water.

If you’re not sure whether you need to buy replacement filters for your fridge system, taste-test your unfiltered water from your faucet, then your filtered water from your fridge. You should notice a difference.

Reduced Contaminants

Finally, if you’ve taste-tested your water and you still don’t know whether your fridge filter is working, try testing your water for the contaminants that the carbon filter is designed to remove.

You can buy a chlorine test online for less than $10, and it takes minutes to conduct – just dip a test strip in a water sample and compare it to a color chart to determine the level of contamination. If your filter is working properly, your chlorine content should be greatly reduced compared to the chlorine in your tap water.

hach free chlorine test strips water test results

📰 Factors Affecting the Effectiveness of a Refrigerator Water Filter

There are several factors that affect how effectively your refrigerator filter can treat your water, including:

  • The quality of the filter design. The better the filter quality, the better it’ll properly remove harmful substances. Choose a branded filter for the best quality filtration.
  • The quality of your water. If your water has a high concentration of contaminants, your fridge filter will become clogged at a faster rate, affecting its performance.
  • Your water usage. If you use a lot of water and ice from your fridge, more water passes through the filter, and your filter is likely to become worn out faster than normal. An overused filter can’t offer the same performance as a new filter.
  • The filter size. The bigger the filter, the greater the surface area of the media. Filters with a large surface area have more room to trap contaminants, so they last longer than filters with a smaller surface area.

🔃 Alternatives to Refrigerator Water Filters

While refrigerator filters work well to remove a small selection of common drinking water contaminants, they’re not as effective as other types of water filters. Because of their small size, fridge filters can only remove so many contaminants.

If you’re keen to remove all the contaminants from your drinking water – or at least as many contaminants as possible – consider the following water filter alternatives:

  • A reverse osmosis system – Reverse osmosis uses a semi-permeable membrane to eliminate virtually all impurities from your water, including bacteria, fluoride, chemicals, trapped pollutants, arsenic, radon, and heavy metals.
  • A water pitcher filter – Water pitcher filters are small, portable filters that can remove hundreds of contaminants from water. The best water pitchers remove impurities like metals, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and even some microorganisms.
  • A faucet water filter – Faucet filter systems attach to the end of your kitchen faucet and provide filtered cold water on demand. These filters tend to remove similar contaminants to refrigerator cartridges, like chlorine and lead.
  • An under-sink filtration system – Under-sink systems combine multiple filter stages to remove a range of common contaminants.
  • A whole house filter – Whole house filtration removes contaminants from your entire home’s water supply, providing clean drinking water and clean water for showering, washing, and cooking. These filters are the most expensive option, but they’re a good choice if you want the highest level of protection from contaminants.
Springwell CF whole house filtration system

🧠 Refrigerator Water Filters FAQs

Do refrigerator water filters make a difference?

Yes, refrigerator water filters make a difference. Most of these filters can remove contaminants like chlorine from your water and ice cubes, eliminating chemical taste and odor. Without a refrigerator, your fridge water would essentially just be your normal tap water, but cool. If you want to use clean water in your water dispenser and ice machine, you need a water filter for your fridge.

What happens if you don’t change your refrigerator water filter?

If you don’t change your refrigerator water filter, several things can happen. First, the filter can become so clogged with harmful substances that water will struggle to pass through. Or, holes could form in the media, allowing trapped contaminants to escape. Over time, the filter could harbor bacteria, making your water potentially unsafe to drink.

What do refrigerator filters remove from the water?

Typically, refrigerator water filters remove a single contaminant from water: chlorine. Some refrigerator filters also remove heavy metals.

Our tip is to look for inline filters for your fridge, not built-in filters. Inline filters tend to remove more contaminants than built-in filters.

Do fridge water filters remove bacteria?

No, fridge water filters don’t remove bacteria. If you want to remove pathogens from your water, you’ll need a chlorine injection system or an ultraviolet light system. As a short-term precaution, you should boil your water for at least one minute.

Why do refrigerator filters only remove chlorine?

Chlorine is added to most drinking water supplies by local water treatment plants. For this reason, it’s one of the most common water contaminants of all time. Fridge filters are compact, so they can only offer focused filtration – and it makes sense to remove chlorine.

Is filtered water from the refrigerator as good as bottled water?

This depends on the quality of the bottled water. Most refrigerator water filters can only remove a single contaminant from water. While this improves the taste of water, it won’t make your water taste like purified bottled mineral water or spring water. You’ll need a more complex system to achieve those results.

How long do refrigerator water filters really last?

The average lifespan of a refrigerator water filter is six months, but most filters only last for four or five months. There are several factors that affect the lifespan of a fridge filter, including your water quality and your water usage.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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