How a Reverse Osmosis System Cleans Your Home’s Water

reverse osmosis system in home for under sink installation or for whole home use

Does your water purity concern you? Look no further than a reverse osmosis system to ensure safety and pleasant taste. We break down how these systems remove impurities, the savings they offer, and their ease of maintenance. This article aims to clarify the investment and ecological advantages of having a reverse osmosis system in your home.

Key Takeaways

  • Reverse osmosis (RO) systems provide high-quality drinking water by removing up to 99% of dissolved minerals and contaminants through a semipermeable membrane, which acts as a barrier against molecules larger than water.
  • RO systems’ efficiency and performance can be optimized through regular maintenance of filters and membranes, and enhanced with the addition of booster pumps or water softeners to maintain pressure and prevent scaling.
  • Investing in an RO system can result in long-term cost savings and environmental benefits compared to buying bottled water, despite the initial setup cost and ongoing maintenance expenses.

Unlocking the Secrets of Reverse Osmosis Systems

Reverse osmosis, often referred to as RO, is a water purification process that provides safe and delicious drinking water right from your tap. But the benefits don’t stop at taste; residential reverse osmosis systems remove many types of dissolved and suspended chemical species, as well as biological ones.

What’s more, the heart of these systems – the reverse osmosis membrane – allows the passage of water molecules but not the larger molecules of contaminants. This leaves you with water that is 99% free of dissolved minerals and contaminants.

What Is Reverse Osmosis?

While osmosis is a natural phenomenon where a weaker saline solution naturally migrates to a stronger one, reverse osmosis applies energy to reverse this process, thereby purifying water. By pushing water under pressure through a semipermeable membrane, the reverse osmosis process demineralizes or deionizes it, effectively removing various contaminants.

The semipermeable membrane is critical to the process, filtering out larger or harmful substances while allowing only certain molecules or atoms to pass.

How Does a Reverse Osmosis System Work?

A reverse osmosis system works in stages to ensure optimal water quality. Here is how it works:

  1. Water passes through sediment pre-filters to remove particles.
  2. Carbon pre-filters eliminate chlorine and chemicals.
  3. The water then moves to the core purification stage where the RO membrane acts as a barrier, rejecting up to 95% of total dissolved solids (TDS), harmful bacteria, and parasites.
  4. The final stage involves a post-carbon filtration to enhance taste and quality just before consumption.

The Heart of the System: The Reverse Osmosis Membrane

The central element of the RO system is the reverse osmosis membrane. It has the following features:

  • Blocks over 96% of total dissolved solids (TDS), microorganisms, and organic substances
  • Allows water molecules to pass through
  • Rejects contaminants based on molecular size and charge
  • Generally blocks any substances with a molecular weight greater than 200

Moreover, the RO membrane effectively purifies water from diverse sources, removing harmful chemicals and pathogens like bacteria and viruses.

The Anatomy of a Home Reverse Osmosis System

A home reverse osmosis system is a powerful tool in ensuring your family’s access to safe, clean water. Connected to the house’s cold water supply via a water supply connector, the system can include up to five stages of filtration.

An optional pressure regulator can be installed to protect the system, including the drain line, from high-pressure damage, ensuring its longevity.

Pre-Filtration Stage: Sediment and Carbon Filters

The journey to pure water begins with the pre-filtration stage. Here, a sediment pre-filter captures particulates like dirt, dust, and rust, while carbon filters absorb chemicals like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and chlorine, helping to filter harmful contaminants. This dual action is crucial for protecting the RO membrane from clogging or damage, ultimately enhancing the system’s efficiency and longevity.

The Core Purification Stage: The RO Membrane

At the heart of the system is the RO membrane, which removes contaminants that are so small they cannot be seen even with an electron microscope, including lead, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), PFAS, arsenic, bacteria, viruses, and iron. It works by creating two streams of water: the treated water (permeate) and the rejected water with contaminants (concentrate). The treated water is then stored in an RO storage tank for later use.

Post-Filtration and Storage: Ensuring Consistent Quality

After purification, the water undergoes a final post-filtration process to improve taste and smell. A granular activated carbon polishing filter is used for this purpose.

The purified water is then stored in a pressurized storage tank, ensuring a steady supply of clean water whenever you need it. An automatic shut-off valve is installed to halt the inflow once the storage tank is full, thereby minimizing waste.

The Environmental Impact of RO Systems

While reverse osmosis systems provide several benefits, it’s important to consider their environmental impact. Most notably, these systems produce more rejected water (concentrate or brine) than purified water (permeate). However, advancements in technology have led to more water-efficient systems, offering potential savings of approximately 3,200 gallons of water per household each year.

Understanding Water Waste in RO Systems

Indeed, water waste is an inherent aspect of reverse osmosis systems. Some household RO systems recover only between 5%-15% of the treated water, with the traditional systems typically having a wastewater-to-purified-water ratio of 1:3. However, technologies such as auto shut-off valves and flow restrictors are used to control water flow and reduce waste.

Adding a water softener can further enhance the system’s efficiency.

Bottled Water vs. Reverse Osmosis: A Sustainability Perspective

When it comes to sustainability, reverse osmosis systems have a clear advantage over bottled water. Producing bottled water requires up to three times the amount of water that ends up inside the bottle. Moreover, the production and transportation of bottled water contribute significantly to carbon emissions and environmental pollution.

On the other hand, most reverse osmosis systems, including home reverse osmosis systems, generate no plastic waste, making them a more environmentally friendly choice for clean drinking water.

Enhancing Your RO System for Optimal Performance

While reverse osmosis systems are already designed to be efficient, there are ways you can enhance their performance. This includes:

  • Performing regular maintenance to ensure the system is working optimally
  • Considering the addition of a water softener
  • Considering the addition of a whole-home carbon filtration system

Regular Maintenance: Filter Replacements and Membrane Care

Regular maintenance is crucial for the optimal performance of your RO system. This includes replacing sediment filters every 3 to 6 months to prevent clogging and protect the RO membrane.

The reverse osmosis membrane typically needs replacement every two to three years, depending on the volume of water processed and source water quality.

Adding a Water Softener: Do Water Softeners Benefit RO Systems?

Adding a water softener to an RO system can further enhance its performance. The water softener removes hardness minerals that cause scaling, which can extend the life of the RO membrane. This proves particularly beneficial in areas with very hard water, as it protects the RO system from the high levels of calcium and magnesium that can lead to the need for frequent membrane replacements.

Adding a Whole-Home Carbon Filtration System

A carbon filter added to your system will remove a lot of chlorine and contaminants. Furthermore, adding a carbon filter will extend the life of your RO filters because the carbon filter traps the smaller and more difficult-to-remove PFAS and other contaminants before they reach the RO system.

Health Implications of Using an RO System

Reverse osmosis systems provide numerous health benefits, mainly by removing potentially harmful dissolved contaminants and ensuring the provision of safe drinking water. However, it’s worth noting that these systems also remove some beneficial minerals.

Are You Missing Out on Beneficial Minerals?

While reverse osmosis systems do filter out beneficial minerals, this shouldn’t pose a significant health concern. Most minerals are obtained through diet rather than drinking water. If you’re worried about mineral loss, a remineralization filter can be incorporated into the system to add back beneficial minerals into your water.

The Assurance of Safe Drinking Water

Above all, reverse osmosis systems ensure you’re drinking safe, clean water. They’re highly effective in removing a wide array of harmful contaminants, including:

  • chlorine
  • salts
  • fluoride
  • arsenic
  • sediments
  • VOCs
  • PFAS
  • microplastics
  • herbicides
  • pesticides
  • heavy metals

Moreover, reverse osmosis water is safe for those with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients undergoing treatment, because it is free of harmful microbes and parasites.


In summary, a reverse osmosis system provides a multitude of benefits, including pure, clean drinking water, cost savings, and a smaller environmental footprint. While there are costs and maintenance involved, the health benefits and long-term savings make it a worthwhile investment for many households.

If you have any questions or if you’re interested in improving the taste and purity of the water in your home, we’re here to help. Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Kansas City are experts in all things plumbing, including water filtration. We’re dedicated to providing the surrounding Kansas City community with clean, healthy drinking water.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it healthy to drink reverse osmosis water?

Yes, drinking reverse osmosis water is generally considered healthy for most people, as long as they have a balanced diet and no specific health conditions that may be affected by it.

What are the disadvantages of reverse osmosis?

Reverse osmosis water has the disadvantage of removing beneficial minerals like calcium and magnesium, which may require alternative dietary sources for these nutrients. Consider adding mineral supplements to your diet to compensate for the lack of these minerals in RO water. Adding back minerals into your water can also solve the issue of the RO system filtering them out.

What is a reverse osmosis system?

Reverse osmosis systems use pressure to push water through a semipermeable membrane, removing a majority of contaminants from the water. This technology can potentially remove various water contaminants like lead and arsenic.

Is a reverse osmosis system worth it?

Yes, a reverse osmosis system is worth it because it removes up to 99.99% of contaminants, providing safe drinking water.

How does a reverse osmosis system work?

A reverse osmosis system works by using pre-filters, an RO membrane for purification, and a post-filtration step. This multi-stage process ensures thorough water purification.