Reverse Osmosis vs. Ultrafiltration: Which Filter is Right for You?

A machine with the word ultrafiltration on it.

Deciding which type of water filtration system is right for your home can be tricky. One simple way is to use an advance water pitcher, read how to use Brita pitcher here. There are several different filtering systems available that are able to filter your home’s water efficiently and safely. Two of the most powerful water filtration systems are reverse osmosis and ultrafiltration. While they both offer effective filtering capabilities, they do differ in some key ways, including how easy they are to install, mineral retention, and the cost of maintenance.  

What is a Reverse Osmosis System?

Reverse osmosis systems remove impurities and contaminants from residential water by forcing the water through a semi-permeable membrane to separate nearly all viruses, bacteria, and most minerals from the water. Reverse osmosis, commonly known as RO, is able to separate up to 98% of the inorganic dissolved material from water molecules. The water that has passed through the RO system is essentially pure water. 

In addition to viruses and bacteria, RO systems are able to remove impurities including chlorine, fluoride, magnesium, iron, mercury, arsenic, copper, calcium, lead, nitrates, salts, and total dissolved solids (TDS).

There are several options for using reverse osmosis technology in the home. The most comprehensive is the whole house system. With this type of filtration system, all the water that enters your home goes through RO filtration before it reaches faucets or appliances. The system is typically installed where the water supply reaches your house, before the water heater, so that both hot and cold water are filtered. 

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Alternatively, RO systems can be installed under your sink, which is the most popular home installation. The great thing about this type of system is that you don’t see any of the filtration equipment or tanks. A separate faucet is added to your sink which delivers filtered water – perfect for drinking and to use in cooking. Other options for RO filtration include 1) refrigerator filtration systems that allow you to filter water used in water dispensers and to make ice, and 2) countertop filters which attach directly to your faucet. 

Benefits of a Home Reverse Osmosis System

  • Nearly all impurities are removed from water
  • Improved taste and odor removal
  • No need for water delivery or plastic containers
  • Convenient and low maintenance
  • Less expensive to operate
  • Better tasting food
  • Encourages drinking water rather than other types of beverages

What is a Residential Ultrafiltration System?

An ultrafiltration (UF) system also works by forcing water through a semi-permeable membrane, that separates contaminants from drinking water. It’s similar to reverse osmosis, as it uses a barrier through which water is pushed to reduce the solids and impurities in the water. However, UF is a mechanical filter that can filter out contaminants as small as 0.025-microns, which means it can filter out particulates on a microscopic level. A UF filter will not, however, eliminate salts or dissolved solids. That makes it ideal for those who want to retain important minerals like magnesium and calcium in their water.  

Ultrafiltration is able to remove bacteria, protozoa, parasites, viruses and other pathogens from water supplies, as well as things like chlorine, pesticides, benzene, and rust, which will contaminate the water making it dangerous for you to drink. 

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Benefits of a Home Reverse Osmosis System

There are many benefits of using a UF system in your home. In addition to having clean, safe, great tasting water, you’ll enjoy these benefits: 

  • Viruses, bacteria and other dangerous pathogens are removed
  • Operates at low water pressure 
  • Installation is quick and easy
  • With UF, you don’t waste as much water as some other types of systems, making it an eco-friendly option
  • Costs less than RO systems
  • Retains key minerals that are healthy for you and your family

When to Use Reverse Osmosis vs Ultrafiltration

As you’re making a decision on which type of water filtration system is the right choice for you, there are some things to consider. The biggest difference in RO and UF systems is the pore size and the types of contaminants that are removed from the water. 

Ultrafiltration may be the best option for those who want to have minerals left in the water while microscopic impurities are removed. It’s also beneficial to choose a UF system over an RO system when it’s important to have an eco-friendly system that wastes less water. Some states have regulations that govern water use, and ultrafiltration systems are perfect in those locations. In other locations, the water supply may not have as many dissolved minerals in it to begin with, making a reverse osmosis system unnecessary and a UF system perfect. 

There are also situations in which a reverse osmosis filtration system is the best choice. For example, many people prefer to have RO water for drinking and cooking – especially if they have a well water supply. RO is also preferred for use in saltwater aquariums, as the exact amount of salt can be added back to the water for the best health of the fish. Essentially, reverse osmosis is ideal for situations in which all particles (including dissolved substances) must be eliminated from the water

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Making a Final Decision on Residential Filtration

It’s important to carefully consider which type of filtration system will work best for your home and family. Having clean, safe water for consumption in your home is essential to your good health and well-being. If you are concerned with retaining key minerals in your drinking water, then an ultrafiltration system may be the best option. However, if it’s important to you to have all particles, including dissolved substance removed from your water, a reverse osmosis system is the way to go. 

Author Bio:

Mark Ligon is the Marketing Manager at HouseWaterFilters, a provider of whole house water filtration systems and supplies. His favorite part of the job is sharing information and advice on healthy drinking water habits. When he’s not thinking about water filters, he’s spending time with his family and friends and completing DIY projects around the home.


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