Refrigerator Water Filters vs Under Sink Water Filters

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Refrigerator water filters are a common accessory in modern refrigerators. These filters make it easy to enjoy clean, filtered water directly from your fridge’s water dispenser or ice maker.

You might have been using a fridge filter for a while because your refrigerator came with one. But refrigerator water filters aren’t the best solution for everyone.

Another popular point-of-use filtered water solution is the under-sink water filter.

In this guide, we’ve compared refrigerator water filters and under-sink water filters. By the end, you should know which – if any – is best for you.

πŸ“Œ Key Takeaways

  • Under-sink water filters are more complex and often remove more contaminants than refrigerator water filters.
  • However, fridge filters are cheaper, easier to install, and don’t take up as much space.
  • When choosing between the two filters, consider your budget, your water quality, your available space, and your water usage.

🚰 What Are Under-Sink Water Filters?

An under-sink water filter is a filtration system, usually consisting of 1-3 filters, that’s installed at the cold drinking water line beneath a kitchen sink.

Under-sink filters are inline filters, meaning that they intercept the water line as water flows to the faucet. When you switch on your faucet, water is first filtered by the under-sink system before traveling to the tap. This gives you on-demand access to filtered water.

There are several types of under-sink water filters, including:

  • Single-stage under-sink systems, which use a single carbon-based filter stage
  • Multi-stage under-sink systems, which use 2, 3, or more different filter stages, usually 2 carbon-based and 1 sediment
  • Reverse osmosis systems, which combine sediment and carbon filters with a semi-permeable membrane and a carbon polishing filter

Under-sink water filters can be used to filter the tap water from your kitchen faucet and the water from your fridge. Just make sure the filter is installed at a point in your under-sink water line before it routes off to your fridge.

Click here to read our reviews of the best under sink water filters.

Clearly filtered under sink direct connect water filter system

πŸ”Ž What Are Refrigerator Water Filters?

Refrigerator filters are water filters that are designed to filter water in your fridge. With a fridge filter, you can dispense water and ice cubes that are cleaner and purer than your normal tap water.

A refrigerator water filter works by treating water with a single filter stage as it flows through the cartridge. Most refrigerator filters use carbon filtration, which adsorbs contaminants and prevents them from passing through the filter pores with water particles.

The majority of modern fridges have a built-in filter. The location of the filter depends on the refrigerator model. Common locations for built-in filters are in the top corner inside the fridge, at the back of the fridge beneath the base grille, or behind the fridge connected to the water line.

Check out the best refrigerator water filters reviewed by WFG.

Changing a refrigerator filter

πŸ†š Under-Sink Water Filters Vs Refrigerator Water Filters: The Differences

Below, we’ve highlighted the key differences between refrigerator water filters and under-sink water filters.


Refrigerator water filters are typically cheaper than under-sink filtration systems.

Filter TypeAverage Cost
Built-in refrigerator filter$35-$60
Inline fridge water filter$50-$80
Under sink water filters$70-$500

Contaminants Removed

Under-sink filter systems can remove more contaminants than a refrigerator water filter.

Most fridge filters remove a handful of the most common drinking water contaminants, including chlorine, tastes and odors, some disinfection byproducts, some VOCs, and sediment.

Under-sink water filters are often bigger and combine more filter stages, enabling them to remove more contaminants – including fluoride, heavy metals, arsenic, nitrates, and nitrites. Different under-sink filters remove different contaminants.

Installation Complexity

Refrigerator water filter cartridges are much easier to install than under-sink filtration systems.

A fridge water filter typically slots into a preexisting filter housing. It takes just a few minutes to install a new filter.

An under-sink water filtration system needs to be installed from scratch at your cold water line. Some types of under-sink water filters, such as reverse osmosis water filter systems, require an especially complex installation that involves installing a drain line and a water storage tank.

We’ve covered how to install an under sink filter system in this post.

Size & Capacity

Refrigerator water filters are smaller and have shorter lifespans than under-sink water filters.

A refrigerator filter needs to be small enough to slot into a space inside, or at the back of, the fridge. This type of filter is only a few inches long, and, since there’s only one cartridge, it doesn’t take up much space. The downside to this is that the filter capacity is smaller and the lifespan is usually a bit shorter – around 4-6 months.

An under-sink filtered drinking water system takes up more space. Under-sink filters are usually large and need plenty of room, especially multi-stage systems. Because of their larger size, the filters have more space to trap contaminants, and the filter stages in under-sink water filters have longer lifespans of 6-12 months.

Measuring under sink space for water filter install

Filter Type & Number of Filters

Refrigerator water filters are usually made from one type of filter media: activated carbon. Carbon filtration uses adsorption, a sponge-like process that pulls impurities out of a water supply.

Under-sink systems, however, often combine multiple carbon filters, along with other more advanced filtration methods, like sediment filter media, KDF media, ion exchange resin, and (for RO systems), a semi-permeable membrane. This allows for a more thorough filtration process.

A refrigerator water filter has one filter stage, while under-sink water filter systems have 1-3 filter stages on average.

πŸ“ Deciding Between Fridge Filters & Under-Sink Filters: What To Consider

Trying to decide whether a refrigerator cartridge filter or an under-sink water filter system is right for you? Consider the following factors:

Your Budget

Your budget is the first thing to consider when you’re deciding between an under-sink water filter and a refrigerator filter.

Fridge filters are cheaper than most under-sink filters. You don’t have to pay the upfront cost of the unit itself, since the filter housing is already built into the fridge. All you need to pay for it filter changes – and you can usually buy bundle packs at a lower cost per filter to help you save money.

If your budget is on the smaller side, a cartridge filter for your fridge is cheapest. If your budget is more flexible, consider under-sink systems, too.

Your Water Quality

The number of potential contaminants removed by a filter in your fridge is lower than the number of contaminants removed by an under-sink system.

If you just want to remove contaminants that are most common in city water, like chlorine and disinfection byproducts, a filter in your fridge should be fine. But if you want to produce super clean, purified water by removing heavy metals, chlorine, pesticides, herbicides, nitrates, fluoride, VOCs, and other contaminants, consider under-sink filtration.

Note that not all under-sink filter systems offer better filtration and contaminant removal than filters in your fridge – but most do. Make sure to do your research and find a system that offers superior contaminant removal if your goal is to purify your water.

Water testing with tap score

Your Available Space

You’ll need enough space underneath your kitchen sink to install an under-sink filtration system. Meanwhile, a fridge cartridge filter slots into an existing space in the refrigerator, so you won’t need to make sure you have enough room.

If you have plenty of under-sink space, you’ll be able to consider under-sink filter systems as well as filters for your refrigerator.

πŸ€” Refrigerator Filters Vs Under-Sink Filters: Which Is Right For You?

A good refrigerator filter or under-sink filter offers benefits to anyone. But there may be specific occasions where one filter type is more suitable than another.

If you want to remove the most contaminants, you appreciate being able to choose between different system types and sizes, and you want access to filtered water from your refrigerator and your faucet, an under-sink cabinet filter is the best choice for you.

If you prefer a filter that’s easier to install, you don’t want to buy multiple replacement filters, and you just want to remove a handful of the most common tap water contaminants, a refrigerator filter should suit you best.

  • 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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