What Do Refrigerator Water Filters Remove?

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Many modern refrigerators now come with a built-in water filter. This filter removes a number of contaminants that affect water quality, improving the taste of your fridge water and ice.

Here, we’ve discussed the contaminants that are commonly removed by refrigerator water filters.

πŸ“Œ Key Takeaways:

  • Refrigerator water filters remove chlorine, taste, and unpleasant odor, as well as some volatile organic compounds and pesticides.
  • Some fridge water filters can remove other contaminants found in drinking water supplies, including lead, asbestos, and other harmful chemicals.
  • The quality of fridge filtered water depends on the filtration medium used, the filter’s size and surface area, and the filter age.

🧫 Which Contaminants Do Refrigerator Filters Remove?

At the very least, even the most basic refrigerator water filter can remove chlorine, taste, and odor, supplying fresh-tasting water from your fridge. Some more capable fridge filters remove chlorine and other common drinking water contaminants, including pesticides, heavy metals, PFAS, VOCs, asbestos, and chromium-6.

There is no definite list of contaminants that refrigerator filters can remove. Different filters remove different contaminants. Check the product description for a specific refrigerator filter you’re interested in to find out what it can remove from your water supply.

Contaminant removal of refrigerator water filter

πŸ“œ What Certifications For Contaminant Removal Does A Fridge Filter Have?

The most common certification that a refrigerator filter manufacturer can obtain is NSF Standard 42.

NSF International is an independent regulatory body that sets standards for a variety of consumer products, including water filters. A refrigerator filter that’s certified to NSF Standard 42 has been tested and proven to remove chlorine to a specific percentage (as claimed by the manufacturer).

Some of the more advanced refrigerator filters have additional NSF certifications, including:

  • NSF 53, for the reduction of harmful contaminants with health effects, like lead, PFAS, and other heavy metals
  • NSF 401, for the reduction of emerging contaminants, like pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, and chemical compounds.

It’s not essential that a fridge water filter is NSF certified. Some refrigerator filters simply have independent laboratory testing to NSF Standards, which also supports the manufacturer’s contaminant removal claims.

⛔️ Which Contaminants CAN’T A Refrigerator Water Filter Remove?

Again, the contaminants that a refrigerator filter CAN’T remove depend on the filter design and filtration complexity.

While some refrigerator filters remove lead and other metals, basic fridge filters can’t usually remove these contaminants.

A refrigerator filter also can’t remove bacteria, hardness minerals, and very small contaminants like microplastics, which could simply slip through the filter’s pores.

Even the best refrigerator filters can’t purify water. You’ll need a much more comprehensive multi-stage water filtration system, like a reverse osmosis system, to remove all the contaminants from your drinking water supply.

Bacterial growth in old water filters

πŸ“ Factors Affecting A Fridge Filter’s Contaminant Removal

Let’s take a look at a few factors that affect the contaminant removal abilities of a refrigerator water filter.

Filter Media

First, the type(s) of filter media used inside a refrigerator water filter determines the thoroughness and complexity of its contaminant removal.

Most refrigerator water filters are carbon-based, using granular activated carbon or carbon block to reduce chlorine, taste, and odor, along with several other chemicals, like pesticides and disinfection byproducts, as water passes through the media.

Some fridge filters combine carbon filter media with other media, like ion exchange resin, to provide more comprehensive filtration and remove a broader range of contaminants. Some may come with a built-in sediment filter layer to trap sediment and protect the main filter from large particles.

Filter Size & Surface Area

The filter size and surface area also play a role in the contaminants that can be removed.

Filters with a large surface area can remove more contaminants from water flowing through because there’s greater opportunity to trap these contaminants in the filter media.

Filter size also affects lifespan. Larger filters tend to last longer because of their increased surface area, enabling the filter to remove contaminants for a longer period before it becomes saturated and needs to be replaced.

Filter Age

The age of a refrigerator water filter affects its ability to reduce contaminants.

New refrigerator filters work more effectively to remove impurities than older filters. Over time, the filter media becomes degraded and clogged, and small holes may form, allowing unfiltered water to pass through.

Most fridge filters last up to 6 months. Make sure to by a new filter when recommended by the manufacturer to ensure continued quality filtration.

Old and leaking refrigerator filter

Testing & Certifications

Testing and/or certifications won’t affect how many contaminants a fridge filter can remove – but they can determine the number of contaminants that the manufacturer can list in the product description.

For instance, many activated carbon filters, such as those found in refrigerator filters, can remove PFAS. However, lots of fridge filter manufacturers don’t test their filters for the removal of PFAS, so they don’t list this as a contaminant that their filters can remove. Does that mean that the filter can’t remove PFAS? Not necessarily. But the manufacturer obviously can’t list the filter as being able to remove contaminants that it hasn’t been tested to remove.

πŸ’― Best Alternative To Refrigerator Water Filters: In-Line Filters

The reality is that most conventional refrigerator water filters can’t remove many contaminants.

Even though some fridge filters can remove tens of contaminants, a number of refrigerator manufacturers have deliberately designed their water systems so that only their own filters can fit. That might mean you’re stuck with the fridge manufacturer’s filter, which might only remove a handful of contaminants.

However, you’re not as stuck as you might think. The best way to remove more contaminants from your fridge water is to stop using an internal fridge filter and switch to an in-line filter.

An in-line refrigerator filter is installed at the water line that connects your fridge to your kitchen sink. In-line filters are usually larger and have more complex designs than internal fridge filters, which makes them more capable of broader contaminant removal.

Let’s look at our favorite filter for refrigerators: the Clearly Filtered Universal Inline Fridge Filter. It’s been tested to reduce 232+ contaminants. Again, this filter is in the top 10 percent for filters of its kind when it comes to contaminant removal – but it’s proof that in-line filters simply have more potential due to their increased size and more thorough filtration processes.

Clearly Filtered Universal Inline Fridge Filter

πŸ“‘ Final Word

So, are refrigerator water filters effective at removing impurities from drinking water? We say yes – but make sure to read up on a filter’s performance abilities before you spend your money.

The good news is that refrigerator filters are becoming more and more capable in terms of contaminant removal. Even the simpler activated carbon based filters can often remove other contaminants aside from chlorine, such as VOCs, pesticides, PFAS, and some heavy metals. But these filters are still somewhat limited due to their smaller size and specific use case.

If you need more than just a refrigerator filter, remember that there are other options you can consider too. Refrigerator water filters work well in their designated role, improving the quality of water from the fridge dispenser and ice from the ice maker, but they won’t improve the water elsewhere in your home.

You can install a whole house filter system to improve the quality of the tap water supplied to your whole home. Or, if you just want a more capable alternative to a fridge filter, consider an under-sink system (like a reverse osmosis system) or an inline filter.

  • 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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