How to Prime Berkey Filters

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The Black Berkey purification elements are incredible things: they have a lifespan of three years, and they can remove more than 200 contaminants from water.

But to make the most of the Black Berkey filters, you need to make sure to follow Berkey’s instructions for maintenance and care.

There’s not a lot to remember, but one essential habit to get into is to prime your filters before you use them.

In this guide, I’ll be discussing why priming Black Berkey filters is so essential and offering a simple step by step on how to prime your filters. At the bottom, I’ve also answered a few frequently asked questions, so check there if you’re interested to learn more.

🚰 Importance of Priming Your Black Berkey Filters

Priming the Black Berkey filters is essential before their first use and at the time of setting up your system. Because the Black Berkey elements have a dense filtering medium, it can cause a high level of surface tension. This means that, in the first use of a Black Berkey filter element, water will struggle to penetrate the medium.

Priming the Black Berkey elements is essentially the act of forcing water through the filter, which relieves any surface tension and enables water to filter through. Remember that the Berkey is a gravity water filter, so the purification elements rely on a much less forceful pressure to send water through the filter media (as opposed to water pressure in an under-sink filter, for example, which is much stronger). This means that if the Black Berkey filter elements aren’t correctly primed, it’s likely that water won’t be able to pass through them at all.

If you’re interested in the Berkey water filter system, or you’ve gone further ahead and bought the system yourself, you’ll likely know how incredibly effective the purification elements are – so capable, in fact, that they can even filter red food coloring entirely out of water.

Because the filters have such tiny pores, they can remove bacteria and other microorganisms, setting them apart from most gravity filters. But these tiny pores, when the filters are dry, can become trapped with air, which is what creates the high surface tension. It’s only when the trapped air is released that the purification elements can work as they were designed to.

Berkey water filter and purification elements

πŸ“ Step by Step: Priming Your Black Berkey Filter

There are three different methods that you can use to prime the Berkey water filter elements:

Using the Priming Button

The most common method of priming the Berkey purification elements is to utilize the priming button. Here are the instructions for this method:

  1. Take out filter from packaging – Take out your new Black Berkey filter from its packaging and take the wing nut and the washer off the end of the filter. Then put the washer and the wing nut back onto the filter backwards.
  2. Assemble filter for priming – Next, push the tan priming button onto the threads of the filter. Use the nut as a way to force the button against the faucet at your kitchen sink, forming a tight seal.
  3. Turn on your water – Slowly turn on your water until you see water beads forming on the exterior of your filter. Keep the faucet on for about 20 seconds, then repeat with the second Black Berkey filter element.
  4. Install the filters – The priming button method is complete and the filters are now ready to install in your Black Berkey water filter system. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the install or check out this video below, produced by Berkey, for the full priming and installation process.

The BOROUX filters require the exact same, annoying process to be primed.

Priming Without Water Pressure

If you’re in an area with no water pressure from a faucet, you can prime the Berkey purification elements with around half the effectiveness of the priming button method. Basically, that means that your purification elements will have a 50% slower flow than if you’d primed them using the priming button method – but if it’s your only option, it’s definitely better than nothing.

Here’s how to prime your Black Berkey water filters without water pressure:

  1. Assemble the Berkey system – Start by assembling your filter unit, but don’t add the purification filters just yet. If you’ve already assembled the filters, take them out of the upper chamber, then fill the lower chamber with water from your faucet.
  2. Place the purification elements in the lower chamber – Next, place each purification element in the water in your lower chamber. Make sure they’re upside down with the stems pointing up. Place a ceramic coffee mug, or anything else that’s weighty enough for the job, upside down over the stem of each purification element. This will push the elements to the bottom of the lower chamber.
  3. Leave filters to soak – Let the Berkey filters soak for a minimum of two hours, checking that the stems of the elements aren’t under the water. The water will release some of the air from the filter pores.
  4. Reassemble the filters – You can now assemble the Berkey water filters in the unit’s upper chamber. Don’t worry about emptying the water out of the filters – in fact, it’s better to try and keep as much water on the inside of each purification element as possible during your upper chamber assembly.
  5. Assemble the unit for use – Once you’re finished, empty the water from the lower chamber and fill the upper chamber with water. Try do this as quickly as possible, with no break between emptying the lower chamber and filling the upper chamber.

Using the Black Berkey Primer

The final method that can be used to prime your Berkey water filters if you don’t have water pressure is the Black Berkey primer method.

The Black Berkey priming tool can be purchased directly from Berkey and is a priming and purging bulb that’s powered by hand.

Below are the step by step instructions on how to utilize the priming tool as an alternative to the priming button method:

  1. Assemble the priming tool – To start, attach the plastic tubes to the valves on either side of the bulb, working the tubes into the ends of the bulb.
  2. Connect to your filter – Your next task is to connect the threaded stem of the Black Berkey element to the tube.
  3. Place filter in water – One by one, place each of your Black Filters into a bucket of cold water with the stem, attached to the Berkey priming tube and bulb, facing upwards.
  4. Squeeze the bulb – Squeeze the priming bulb and let the water flow through the tube and out of the other end. Once water is freely flowing, the filter is ready for use, and you can do the same with the second of your Black filters.

❔ Frequently Asked Questions

How often do you prime Berkey filters?

You should prime the new or replacement filters in your Berkey system before using them for the first time. You should also prime your filter elements once every 6 months after you’ve cleaned them out.

Additionally, you should prime the Berkey filters if you’re planning to put any of your systems in storage for an extended period of time. It’s fine to reuse filters that have been stored away for some time – just make sure you store them correctly. Priming them before use, thus ensuring any lingering air is forced out, is essential for enabling the filters to work properly.

Do you have to Prime Berkey filters?

No – but if you didn’t prime the black filter cartridges, they wouldn’t work properly. You’d be lucky to get much water in the lower chamber of your Berkey unit at all if your filter pores weren’t primed, as the air would prevent water from properly flowing through the media. Water might either flow slowly through the filter or be unable to pass through at all.

Do the Berkey Fluoride filters also need priming?

Yes. It’s just as important to prime the Berkey Fluoride filters, if you’re using them. The process for priming these filters is as follows:

  1. Make sure the blue caps on the filters are in place, then use running water and a mild dish soap to wash the outside of the filters.
  2. Wash your hands, then take off the blue caps from each end of each fluoride filter.
  3. As you would with the Black filter elements, replace the blue caps with the tan-colored priming washer and press the button against the faucet at your kitchen sink to create a seal.
  4. Gently turn on the faucet, allowing water to flow into the cavity of the filter and out of the other end. Let water flow through the filtering cartridge, releasing trapped air, until it runs clear.
  5. Repeat the process with the opposite end of the filter. The filter is now fully primed. You can repeat steps 3 and 4 for any additional or replacement fluoride filters that you have.

How long does it take to prime a Berkey filter?

The actual priming stage with tap water usually takes up to a minute. If you added on the few minutes it’d take to assemble the filter, it should take up to 10 minutes, or less than this when you’re familiar with what you’re doing.

Do you have to Prime Berkey filters after cleaning?

Yes. You should try to keep up with Berkey’s advised cleaning routine for your Black Berkey filters, washing them out with bleach and water once every 6 months or when water cannot property pass through the filter anymore. Once the elements have been cleaned, they then need to be primed to force out the air and make them ready for use once more.

Do I need a Berkey primer?

No, you don’t need to purchase this priming tool, but if you live in an area with no water pressure (i.e. you don’t have a faucet to prime your filters), or if you only ever utilize your Berkey systems in areas with no water pressure (i.e. on a campsite), the tool may be very useful and help you to better prime your elements.

Note that when your filtration elements aren’t properly primed, it’ll take longer for your lower chamber to fill with clean water. Buying a priming tool could help you save time on water filtration, so it’s definitely worth considering if you need it.

  • 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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