Reverse osmosis is one of the most popular filtration methods today, used in both commercial and residential settings. With RO systems so widespread, you might be curious about what the process entails.
These filters have several stages that remove harmful compounds, leaving you with water containing far fewer contaminants. This can make a significant difference if you are concerned about harmful material in your water supply.
In this article, we will take a closer look at reverse osmosis water and whether or not it is safe to drink. We will also explore whether or not you need a reverse osmosis system or can get by with your existing plumbing system.
What Is Reverse Osmosis Water?
You might be unpleasantly surprised by how many contaminants are in the water supply of the average American home. Chlorine and arsenic are two common contaminants, and reverse osmosis is one of the most effective ways to treat this water (1).
The process of reverse osmosis was invented in the 18th century by Jean Antoine Nollet, a French physicist (2). It was adopted by the US Navy on submarines to make seawater drinkable.
Today, it is one of the most important steps in advanced water filtration systems. Pressure forces the water through a semipermeable membrane.
When this occurs, any dissolved material, such as salt, is stopped by the filter and left behind. This also removes any larger particles.
The resulting water should be free from fluoride, pesticides, aluminum, and sulfates. Heavy metals and radioactive material are also filtered by reverse osmosis (3). These impurities are then flushed out via a drain.
A high-quality reverse osmosis filter greatly reduces the number of toxins in your water, making it safer to drink (4).
As reverse osmosis systems use a series of filters, these filters will gradually become clogged and need replacing. The manufacturer will provide an estimated lifespan for the filters, letting you install new ones when required. In most cases, this will be about every six months.
How Does RO Water Differ From Distilled Water?
Distillation and reverse osmosis can both be used for water purification, but their processes are very different. Reverse osmosis removes contaminants by sending the water through a filter. In contrast, distillation evaporates the water, leaving the contaminants behind.
Distilled water systems are more expensive to maintain and can’t filter out compounds such as chlorine. If your water supply is highly contaminated, reverse osmosis will clean it more effectively.
Is Reverse Osmosis Water Safe to Drink?
Like anything you are expected to eat or drink, it is natural to have doubts about how healthy it is to drink reverse osmosis water. As RO systems effectively remove contaminants, there are two other issues to consider:
- The loss of minerals during the filtration process
- The pH level of reverse osmosis water
Ironically, the main positive of reverse osmosis is also its major drawback. The filtration process is so effective that it often removes beneficial minerals alongside contaminants. This means your water is less harmful but it also provides less of a health boost.
Side effects could include (5):
- A negative impact on the body’s metabolism and general function
- Low levels of magnesium and calcium
- Possible increase of metal content (depending on the filter)
- Reduced intake of essential minerals
With a healthy diet, you should receive these missing minerals from elsewhere. Tap water generally has a relatively low mineral content even before being filtered.
All in all, you probably shouldn’t worry about reverse osmosis water having a low mineral content. Still, if you drink RO water exclusively, make sure you are getting important minerals from other sources.
The most important minerals for your health include (6):
- Magnesium: For cardiovascular and bone health
- Copper: Aids iron absorption and antioxidant functions
- Calcium: Essential for bone health
- Selenium: Essential for immune system function
- Fluoride: For dental health
- Sodium: Maintains muscle and nerve function
Keep In Mind
Another common belief about reverse osmosis water is that its pH level is too low. A standard water supply has a neutral pH of seven. When impurities are removed, the pH can be lowered, making the water slightly acidic. Acidity can cause stomach problems such as acid reflux syndrome.
However, this drop is widely believed to be too small to make a difference. It is also possible that the pH will return to normal when it reaches your stomach. Our bodies already work to balance their pH levels, so this concern might be overblown (8).
If you are worried about the pH level, you can use a pH testing kit to monitor it. If the pH is lower than the recommended range of 6.5 to 8.5, make sure you don’t have a mineral deficiency (9).
Based on our research, there is no reason to believe that reverse osmosis water is unsafe to drink. You might have to compromise by losing some minerals but you will also remove potentially very harmful materials.
The benefits of reverse osmosis far outweigh the relatively insignificant drawbacks. As long as you maintain a balanced diet containing essential vitamins and minerals, and keep an eye on the pH of your reverse osmosis water, you are very unlikely to encounter any problems.
The Benefits of Reverse Osmosis Water
In addition to removing contaminants, there are other potential benefits to using a reverse osmosis system:
- Low maintenance: RO filter systems are often compact and can be installed in various places, including under kitchen sinks. Aside from occasionally replacing the filter, there is very little you need to do. Depending on the manufacturer, you will usually need to replace filters about every six months.
- Improves water taste: By removing contaminants, reverse osmosis water is very pure and will taste excellent. This is especially true if you have been living with low-quality water for a while.
- Replaces bottled water: With a reverse osmosis system, you won’t need to buy bottled water, potentially saving a lot of money and greatly reducing your plastic waste.
- Low energy use: Reverse osmosis systems are very efficient, reducing energy waste in the long run. Water is filtered almost instantly.
Do I Really Need a Reverse Osmosis System?
When deciding whether to invest in a reverse osmosis system, there are several factors that you should consider. On the one hand, RO systems can provide consistent and quality water for your family.
Not only do they remove contaminants like lead, mercury, and fluoride, but they also help to preserve the flavor of your coffee and tea.
Additionally, RO systems can reduce water waste by cutting your water usage by up to 70%. On the other hand, there are some potential drawbacks to installing an RO system in your home.
For example, these systems require regular maintenance and periodic filter replacements, which can be costly over time. Furthermore, not all water sources contain high levels of contaminating chemicals or minerals.
How Long Can You Drink Reverse Osmosis Water?
Generally speaking, drinking RO water for extended periods is not recommended, as it may adversely impact your health. For example, some studies have linked excessive RO water intake with an increased risk of kidney stones and bone loss.
Additionally, removing essential minerals and nutrients from RO water can impact overall health and well-being.
Therefore, while there may be circumstances in which drinking RO water makes sense, it is generally best to consume filtered or spring water instead.
To ensure that you are staying healthy and hydrated, it is important to pay attention to your body’s signals and balance your consumption of different types of fluids accordingly.
How Often Do You Have to Change Reverse Osmosis Filters?
Ideally, you should change reverse osmosis filters once per year. Some factors that can affect how often a filter needs to be replaced include the quality of water used, the flow rate of the water through the system, and how dirty your water typically is.
However, it is important to keep an eye on the condition of your filters and take action when necessary to ensure that you are always drinking safe, clean water.
Why Does RO Water Taste Bitter?
Many different factors can contribute to the taste of RO water. RO water tends to be much purer than regular tap or filtered water.
Without all the unwanted minerals and contaminants that typically affect the flavor of water, RO water can end up tasting somewhat bland or slightly bitter.
Additionally, some people may notice a chemical-like flavor in their RO water because of the small amounts of carbon dioxide or oxygen in the filtration process.
Another possible reason for an unpleasant taste in RO water is pH imbalance. Depending on certain factors like source water quality and mineral content, the pH of filtered water may fluctuate between acidic and basic levels.
This change can cause the alkalinity and carbon dioxide content to shift as well, resulting in a range of potential issues, including foul tastes and negative impacts on health.
Does RO Water Cause Kidney Stones?
There has been a longstanding debate in the medical community about whether the water treatment method known as reverse osmosis (RO) can increase the risk of kidney stones.
Some studies suggest that RO increases the concentration of certain minerals in the body, which could contribute to stone formation.
But other research suggests individuals predisposed to kidney stones may also have high levels of these minerals regardless of which type of water they drink.
Overall, it is unclear whether RO water is directly linked to kidney stones, and further research will be necessary to fully understand this complex relationship.
However, it seems prudent for consumers to follow conventional wisdom and drink plenty of water from any source to stay hydrated and prevent crystallization processes within their kidneys.
What Does Reverse Osmosis Not Remove?
Reverse osmosis is not able to eliminate all contaminants in water. For example, while it can destroy viruses and bacteria, it cannot completely filter out compounds like fluoride or chlorine. Desalination and demineralization may result in the loss of beneficial minerals like potassium or magnesium.
As such, while reverse osmosis is a handy tool for improving drinking water quality, it is important to remember that this technique has its limitations.
Which Is Better: Reverse Osmosis or Carbon Filter?
Both of these systems work by filtering out harmful contaminants, but they each have their own unique advantages and disadvantages.
On the one hand, reverse osmosis is highly effective at removing contaminants like lead and chlorine. However, it can be relatively costly and require large amounts of energy to operate effectively.
In contrast, a carbon filter is less expensive and requires less energy to run. Furthermore, while it may not remove as many contaminants as a reverse osmosis system, a well-maintained carbon filter can still effectively remove things like chlorine and arsenic.
Reverse Osmosis Summary
Reverse osmosis is not necessarily harmful and can remove numerous contaminants from your water. You should consider it safe for drinking, cooking, showering, and more.
You will lose some minerals during the filtration process, which can be a negative if you don’t get them from other sources. Lowered pH levels are another concern, but this is unlikely to be anything your body is unable to handle.
Overall, the day-to-day benefits of using a reverse osmosis system far outweigh the slight drawbacks. You will have safe, fresh-tasting water without having to buy it in bottles, which can otherwise add up in terms of cost and waste.