Curious to know what reverse osmosis actually entails? Is this water safe to drink?
You’ve come to the right place. Reverse osmosis, or “RO,” is just one type of filtration that can be used in water purification systems, both at home and in a commercial setting.
Without much background information, the term doesn’t mean much, and the way that advertising is these days, you could be forgiven for being hesitant. In short, reverse osmosis includes a series of filters to remove harmful compounds, to make your water pure and fresh.
We’re here to discuss the ins and outs of reverse osmosis water and consider whether it’s safe to drink. This could help you determine if this type of purified water is right for you and your family.
Osmosis describes the movement of a solvent through a semipermeable membrane, from a higher to a lower concentration (1). This leads to an equalizing of, or equilibrium between, either side of the membrane.
When it comes to purified drinking water, this process separates the drinking water from nasty contaminants. In other words, the nasty contaminants are unable to pass through the “semipermeable membrane” — the filter — but the water molecules can.
What Is Reverse Osmosis Water?
The contamination levels in the drinking water of an average American household might surprise you. Chlorine and arsenic are just two of those contaminants, and reverse osmosis is used to treat such water (2), (3).
The process of reverse osmosis was invented in the 18th century by a French physicist named Jean Antoine Nollet (4). It was later used by the US Navy aboard submarines to turn seawater into drinkable water.
Nowadays, it’s usually one of the many steps included in an advanced water filtration system. It’s there that pressure is used to force the water through a semipermeable membrane.
When this occurs, any dissolved compounds, such as salt, don’t filter through to the other side (source). Furthermore, other larger particles are pushed to the wayside.
As a result, you receive water that’s free from fluoride, pesticides, aluminum, and sulfates. Heavy metals and nuclear waste are also filtered by using reverse osmosis (5). These impurities are then flushed out through the drain.
Suffice to say, using a reverse osmosis filter greatly reduces the level of toxins in your water, making it a more suitable option for your family (6).
Because reverse osmosis systems work with a series of filters, these filters will become clogged over time and need replacing. The manufacturer will provide you with a lifespan of said units, so you’re able to install new ones promptly. Generally, you need to change them around every six months.
How Is RO Water Different to Distilled Water?
Not only are distilled water systems more costly to maintain, but they also don’t filter out compounds such as chlorine (7). If your water is highly contaminated, reverse osmosis will be a better choice.
Is Reverse Osmosis Water Safe to Drink?
Like many products on the market, there are some questions regarding how healthy it is to drink reverse osmosis water. There are two primary issues at play here:
- Minerals lost in the filtration process.
- The pH level of reverse osmosis water.
The main concern that’s often discussed is the fact that it’s 100 percent pure. Essential minerals are filtered out in the process, which means the water won’t be as nutritious as it could be.
Side effects could include (source):
- An adverse impact on the body’s metabolism and homeostasis.
- Low levels of magnesium and calcium.
- Possible increase of metals (depending on the filter).
- Low intake of other essential elements.
These missing minerals can often be made up for in one’s regular diet. Furthermore, the amount of minerals within regular tap water is low to begin with.
This indicates that the concern over the water having a low mineral content shouldn’t be a worry for most people. It also means that if reverse osmosis water is your go-to source, you need to ensure you’re getting these minerals elsewhere.
A few of the big ones are (8):
- Magnesium: For cardiovascular and bone health.
- Copper: Helps in iron absorption and antioxidant functions.
- Calcium: Also essential for bone health.
- Selenium: Essential in the functioning of the immune system.
- Fluoride: For dental care.
- Sodium: Essential for maintaining muscle and nerve function.
Keep in mind
Another common belief about reverse osmosis water is that its pH level is not ideal. Regular water has a neutral pH of seven (10). When it’s run through this filtration process, the removal of impurities can cause the water to drop to a lower pH, making it acidic. Acidity can lead to stomach problems such as acid reflux syndrome (11).
However, one argument is that the drop is not nearly enough to make a difference. Some also believe that when one consumes the water, the pH will return to normal when it meets food in your stomach. Furthermore, our bodies already work to balance the pH levels regularly, so this worry may be overblown (12), (13).
If this is a concern for you, we recommend using a pH testing kit on your filtered water to monitor this. If you discover the pH is lower than the recommended range of 6.5 to 8.5, make sure you’re not showing any signs of mineral deficiencies (14).
What’s the Verdict?
Based on the concerns we’ve shared with you, there’s nothing particularly unsafe about drinking reverse osmosis water.
It’s a question of making the right compromise — i.e. losing some minerals, but ultimately removing far more harmful materials in the process.
It appears that reverse osmosis does more good than the harm it may cause. If you maintain a well-rounded diet full of essential vitamins and minerals and possibly monitor the pH of your reverse osmosis water, this should cover you.
With that said, do keep in mind that research is not conclusive on this, and some studies against demineralized water are old and outdated (15).
The Benefits of Reverse Osmosis Water
Aside from removing dangerous compounds, there are other potential benefits to using a RO system:
- Easy to maintain: The filter setups aren’t overly large or bulky and can fit in a variety of places, usually under kitchen sinks. Aside from filter maintenance, there’s very little you need to do. Depending on the manufacturer, you’ll probably need to change filters around every six months.
- Makes tasty water: A fresh sip of reverse osmosis water is not all that different than some bottled varieties. There’s no plastic or metal taste, and it does feel crisp on the tongue.
- Replaces bottled water: The plastic you waste is a huge factor here. With a reverse osmosis system, you can say “goodbye” to bottled water, saving money and space.
- Saves energy: Reverse osmosis systems work efficiently, making them better for saving energy in the long run. Water is filtered nearly instantly, and it doesn’t get better than that.
Reverse Osmosis Summary
Reverse osmosis water is not necessarily harmful, although the studies aren’t conclusive on this. In the meantime, consider it safe to use for drinking, cooking, showering, and more.
We do know that we lose some minerals in the filtration process, and if these aren’t made up for in a daily diet, this could play a negative role in your overall health. Lowered pH levels are another concern, but slightly less so given the body’s ability to manage itself quite well.
Overall, the added day-to-day benefits of using a reverse osmosis system make the option a tempting one — fresh, tasty water on demand with little maintenance, for starters.
While we can’t decide for you, if you’re looking for an alternative to bottled water, a reverse osmosis system might be a viable option for your family. Keep up-to-date on any scientific research around the topic so you can make an informed decision when the time comes.