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  • August 30, 2023 9 min read

    What is Reverse Osmosis and Which System is Right for You?

    Water covers 71% of our planet, but only a meager 3% of it is freshwater, and even then, we only get to quench our thirst after a long, relaxing hike in the woods with 1.2%. That leaves a small amount of refreshing water to enjoy (a much-needed part of our health) compared to our planet's vast resources.

    Woman walking in ocean water

    The question becomes, how do we make the most of our water resources, ensuring it's clean and safe for human consumption? Yes, we can utilize handheld filtration systems whenever hiking or install some complex system into our homes, but there is a more straightforward answer. There could very well be a technology you've heard of but might not fully understand—Reverse Osmosis (RO).


    From residential setups under your kitchen sink to mammoth industrial systems, RO is changing how we purify water so everyone can receive the best life-giving liquid needed daily. Stick around as we dive deep into the ins and outs of RO systems to help you find your perfect match!

    What is Reverse Osmosis?


    Think of reverse osmosis as a VIP club for water molecules. Through a unique process that utilizes a semi-permeable membrane, only specific molecules (water) are allowed to pass through, leaving the undesirables (contaminants) out of the mix.


    Try to think of this unique membrane as a massive bouncer with an angry expression standing in the doorway of the best club in town. Instead of everyone getting inside, this membrane carefully stops the people (molecules) that do not meet the requirement of a “cool” (clean) patron.


    To put it simply – RO is a water purification process. Raw water passes through that membrane and filters out anything you wouldn’t want to drink or use for other activities like bathing, industrial applications, medical needs, etc. It takes out the larger particles found in freshwater elements like chlorine, salt, dirt, and sediment. There are also saltwater applications that benefit the global water supply.


    According to scientific sources, RO membranes are champions in the water treatment game, removing 90–99% of total dissolved solids (TDS) and other pollutants.


    Critical Components of an RO System


    An RO system isn't just about the membrane. Yes, the membrane makes reverse osmosis so unique, but you need a symphony of other instruments to create the magical music that is pure filtered water from this process. Let's break down its key components:


    • Pre-filters: Your first line of defense against sediment and larger particles (sediment, salt, chlorine, etc.) designed to protect the hard work the membrane has to complete.
    • RO Membrane: The hero that removes various contaminants and is the heart of RO. A semi-permeable membrane processes 90-99% of unwanted molecules.
    • Post-filters: Gives your water that final sparkle by acting as the last line of defense before the water reaches your tap for drinking (removes odors, impurities, and lingering tastes).
    • Pressure Pump: Packing a punch to push water through the membrane is essential to keeping water pressure up for effective filtration and purification.
    • Storage Tank: This is where your purified water chills before use, so you have immediate access in case your RO process is slower than usual.
    • Faucet: The grand exit for your crystal-clear water that usually has features like a filter replacement indicator or modern touchless operation for added convenience.
    • Drain Line: The pathway for wastewater to leave the system so the safe removal of “rejected water” (i.e., the leftovers) is effectively flushed away to prevent system backflow.


    This may seem complex, but in reality, most RO systems are highly efficient and compact compared to others on the market. That varies according to the size of your home or if you are seeking a commercial application, but it certainly goes a long way to boosting drinking water efficiency inside your living area. That way, your kiddo can snag a safe cup of fresh-tasting water while you relax on the couch.


    Countertop reverse osmosis system in different rooms

    Benefits and Limitations of Reverse Osmosis

    RO is all the rage for a reason. We didn’t arrive at this scientific breakthrough by accident. For over 30 years, we have needed RO to improve water quality. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s-1960s that the incredible membranes we use today became commonplace.


    Reverse osmosis drastically improves water quality, safety, and taste. While highly effective, RO systems also come with some limitations, like water wastage, energy consumption, and removal of some beneficial minerals. Yet, Forbes mentions that RO water filtration is one of today's most effective methods. That kind of support cannot go unnoticed.


    There is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to what is reverse osmosis in your home. You will likely see a wide range of products available online and offline. Here are some of the more familiar you may come across.


    Types of RO Systems


    • Residential RO Systems: Perfect for the home, usually fitted under the kitchen sink. These systems are designed to provide drinkable water for everyone – straight from your tap (meaning smaller volumes).
    • Commercial RO Systems: Ideal for businesses and restaurants because they can handle much larger volumes. You’ll typically see higher-capacity pumps and extended storage tanks to ensure a constant water supply.
    • Industrial RO Systems: Used in water treatment plants and other large-scale applications and made with heavy-duty parts that often include monitoring systems based on contamination, water pressure, and similar items.
    • Portable RO Systems: Your go-to for outdoor activities and perfect for camping because they are so lightweight and compact. Most are battery-operated, so you get clean water from a nearby lake or river.
    • Whole-House RO Systems: When you want RO goodness in every tap beyond the kitchen sink. These are installed at your water source so everyone from your visiting Aunt to your next-door neighbor in crisis can cook, clean, shower, and drink quality water.
    • Seawater Desalination RO Systems: A specialized seawater treatment system that is often leveraged in coastal towns or on those long cruise liners where you can never get good Wi-Fi reception.
    • Brackish Water RO Systems: Remember that 3% freshwater statistic? Many areas have brackish water that cannot be used, and these RO systems transform seawater into drinkable H2O.
    • Hybrid RO Systems: Combines RO with other water treatment technologies for that extra edge (typically activated carbon or UV sterilization), equaling a multi-stage purification process.
    • Wastewater RO Systems: Treats and reclaims wastewater for reuse and helps with eco-friendly water reclamation practices for future sustainability goals.
    • Medical RO Systems: When you need water quality that meets healthcare standards that require the highest purity (i.e., liver dialysis).


    How to Choose the Right RO System for You?


    Again, there is no 100% guarantee that the system you purchase is the best one for your unique needs. That is why it is essential to consider certain environmental factors around your home, business, or luxury RV traveling all over the US. Take your time to do a little research before you buy, and you can end up with a fantastic system that streamlines your water operations.


    Still, trying to figure out where to begin? Try asking yourself about:


    #1 - What is Your Water Source?

    Identifying your water source must be the first step. Do you use a municipal water supply network, or do you have a large well on the property? Where your water comes from is going to play a significant factor in the type of filtration/purification you need from an RO system.


    #2 - What Are Your Water Treatment Goals?

    Is your focus mainly on improving the taste of water coming from your tap, or are you more concerned about removing specific contaminants when actually taking a drink? Knowing your treatment goals will help you choose a system explicitly targeting your needs.


    #3 - How Much Water Do You Need?

    Are you looking for a point-of-use system that only filters drinking water, or do you need a whole-house system? This has most to do with the volume of water you’ll be using and storing. If you have five people in a small home taking a shower each day, it may be time to upgrade.


    #4 - Do You Have DIY Skills?

    Some RO systems are easier to install than others. A basic under-sink model might be sufficient if you're comfortable with DIY projects. However, if plumbing isn't your forte, opting for professional installation might be the safer route.


    #5 - What Is Your Budget?

    Budget plays a massive role in the type of reverse osmosis system you will pick up. Each one will have various features and benefits, so take your time and stick to a financial ceiling (that includes looking at the cost of replacement filters).


    #6 - Do You Have Space Constraints?

    Are you rocking a tiny house on a beautiful parcel of land, or do you live in a McMansion in Beverly Heights? Be sure to look at the available space before committing to a more extensive system (utility room, garage, under the sink, etc.).


    #7 - What Additional Features Do You Need?

    Extra features like remineralization filters to add lost minerals back into the water or UV sterilization for additional microbial safety can be valuable add-ons but will impact the price. If you can, get the touchless faucet feature – it's fantastic!


    RO System Recommendations: Best Picks for Different Needs


    It's time to play the matching game. If you are still a little lost by the complexity of reverse osmosis and what it can mean for your home, let’s look at what size and need of filtration works best for you.



    Installation: DIY vs. Pro


    Under sink reverse osmosis systems

    The DIY Route

    Taking on a DIY project can be rewarding, especially if you're looking to save some money and have a sense of accomplishment. Basic under-sink RO systems often cater to DIY enthusiasts, coming with comprehensive installation guides and requiring only essential tools like wrenches and screwdrivers.


    However, it's crucial to honestly assess your comfort level with plumbing tasks and previous DIY experiences before diving in. Even if you're feeling adventurous, not having the proper skill set could result in leaks or improper filtration, which may require calling a professional to fix it later on.


    Professional Installation

    While self-installation might offer a sense of accomplishment, not all RO systems are built for DIY installation. Complex systems, like whole-house RO systems, often require adjustments to your home's plumbing, something best left to the professionals.


    Plus, specific settings such as healthcare facilities might require certified installation to adhere to strict quality standards. Opting for professional installation might be pricier upfront, but it can save you time and grant you peace of mind, knowing that your system is optimized for best performance.


    Your time is valuable, and sometimes, the convenience of professional installation just can't be beaten. Setting aside several hours for a DIY installation might not be practical if you’re juggling work, family, and countless other responsibilities. 


    It's also worth noting that professional installation can usually be scheduled to fit your busy life, making the process seamless and efficient. After all, the end goal is always the same: clean, purified water flowing through your taps.


    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


    Is it safe to drink reverse osmosis water?

    Absolutely, RO water is one of the safest options available for drinking water. It removes up to 99% of harmful contaminants.


    What is the difference between reverse osmosis and regular filtration?

    While regular filtration mainly removes sediment and chlorine, RO goes above and beyond, filtering out various contaminants, including heavy metals and chemicals.


    Why would you want reverse osmosis water?

    RO water offers improved taste, odor, and appearance. It is also highly efficient in removing harmful contaminants, making it a preferred choice for many.


    Is reverse osmosis better than drinking water?

    Reverse osmosis significantly purifies water, making it an excellent option for those concerned about water quality. While RO water may be "better" in terms of purity, some might argue that it falls short in mineral content.


    Is reverse osmosis water better for your kidneys?

    Reverse osmosis water is stripped of contaminants, making it a clean option, but it's not necessarily better for your kidneys per se. Keeping your kidneys clean requires drinking as much H2O as you can. Always consult with healthcare professionals for personalized medical advice.


    Which is better: alkaline or reverse osmosis?

    Alkaline water neutralizes acid in your bloodstream and boosts your metabolism. RO water is high in purity but lacks the minerals found in alkaline water. Some RO systems even have a remineralization feature, providing a "best of both worlds" option.


    Remineralization Filter

    Concluding Thoughts


    The global RO membrane market is booming, expected to grow from $5.69 billion in 2022 to $6.26 billion in 2023. That's a whopping 9.9% growth! RO technology has come a long way since its commercial inception in the early 1960s, becoming a cornerstone in water treatment.


    Choosing the right RO systemand ensuring quality installation are crucial steps towards cleaner, safer water. Consulting professionals for tailored advice is always a good call when in doubt. After all, isn't the quality of the water you consume worth that extra bit of care? Cheers to a healthier, hydrated you!

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