Are All Refrigerator Filters the Same?

Are All Refrigerator Filters the Same?

Are you in the market for a new fridge filter, or have you heard reports about the safety of your local drinking water? If so, you may be wondering how to choose a better fridge filter, and what makes fridge filters different from one another. Are all fridge filters the same?

Refrigerator filters vary widely as to their size, compatibility within certain fridge brands, and their NSF filtration rating, which certifies the types of contaminants the filter is able to remove. It is important to choose the right filter for your refrigerator model, as well as the correct filtration level for your local water quality.

Keep reading to learn more about what differentiates fridge filters, and how to choose the correct filter for your family’s safety and quality needs.

Read my ultimate guide on refrigerator filters.

Are Fridge Filters Interchangeable?

Some fridge filters are generic and will fit into a variety of fridge models. Make sure to check the labeling on any generic fridge filter you buy, to ensure that it is compatible with your appliance.

Other fridge filters are brand specific. This means that a filter for a specific Frigidaire may not fit a Whirlpool fridge. Companies do this to help ensure the uniqueness and the quality of their brands, and to protect revenue.

Generally, it is a good idea to select a fridge filter that is branded and has been manufactured specifically by and for a specific company. This step will go a long way to ensuring maximum compatibility, quality, and ease of installation.

Additionally, fridge filters differ in the types and severity of the particles or contaminants that they are capable of eliminating from water. Check your local community’s Consumer Confidence Report to help determine what health risks, if any, may be linked to your municipality’s drinking water.

Filters Must Be Certified

No matter which brand of fridge filter you select, it’s important to make sure that your filter is NSF certified. The NSF or National Sanitation Foundation is a trusted and global independent organization which oversees and grades the performance of a number of sanitary and public health-related products and projects.

One such category of products is refrigerator filters. It’s important to make sure that your fridge filter or any replacement filter that you purchase is NSF certified. Search for a small, blue circle with white lettering reading “NSF” within it on the filter.

The NSF rates a variety of products such as:

  • Pitcher filtration systems
  • Under-the-sink filtration systems
  • Fridge filters
  • Devices meant to soften hard water
  • Water distillation systems

The NSF Mark also certifies that the product is safe, and that the manufacturer has developed and produced a high-quality and reliable filter. There are different grades of certification, however, and the grade that you choose will depend on what you need your fridge filter to accomplish for you.

Read my article about NSF certification for filters.

Many Filters Simply Improve Taste

If the goal of your refrigerator filter purchase is to simply improve the taste of your water, you’ll likely want a basic fridge filter which can eliminate impurities like chlorine, and give your drinking water fresh, clean taste.

A fridge filter with a National Sanitation Foundation rating of “NSF 42” will filter out chlorine and other additives and can significantly improve the taste and smell of your drinking water.

If your local water is otherwise perfectly safe to drink, but you are unhappy with the taste or smell, an NSF 42-rated fridge filter should work well for you. You should notice an improvement in the quality and pleasantness of your drinking water.

If water safety is a concern for you, and your town or city’s water is known for having water with unsafe levels of metals, chemicals, or impurities, you’ll want a water filter with a higher NSF rating.

Some Fridge Filters Can Eliminate Heavy Metals

A fridge filter with a rating of “NSF 53” is capable of filtering out contaminants such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and asbestos from your drinking water. These filters may include carbon-based filtration systems.


Mercury content is a serious concern in some municipalities and making sure that your fridge filter is NSF 53 rated will go a long way in keeping your family safe.

Other worries, however, include the presence of pesticides, medications, or harmful toxins from factory runoff in local tap drinking water. These are extremely serious concerns and call for a higher NSF rating.

Chemicals Can Be Filtered, Too

A fridge filter with a rating of “NSF 401” is going to afford you the highest level of filtration available for a basic fridge and is capable of filtering out trace quantities of medication, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and factory residue from your family’s water.

These substances are described in the industry as “emerging contaminants”, meaning that their presence in drinking water is a growing concern, and that the effects of these contaminants on human health may not yet be fully understood.

If these chemicals and substances are of specific concern for you, select a fridge filter with a NSF 401 rating, to ensure the maximum cleanliness and safety of your fridge’s drinking water.

Check Your Old Filter’s Model Number

To determine the best replacement filter for your fridge, you will need to check the model number. Fridge filters come in a variety of sizes and styles, and it’s important to make sure that the new filter to choose will fit your fridge and attach correctly to the fridge’s internal components.

Another source of info can be the owner manual that came with your refrigerator. The owner’s manual should contain the specifications on the original filter, as well as the model number and rating, and help you purchase the correct replacement.


Fridge filters differ greatly in their inter-appliance compatibility, and in the types of impurities that they can remove from water. Fridge filters must be rated by the NSF to ensure maximum safety, efficiency, and quality.

An NSF rating of 42 will simply improve the taste and smell of your water. A fridge filter rated as NSF 53 is capable of filtering substances such as mercury, lead, and arsenic from drinking water. A filter with a rating of NSF 401 can even filter out trace amounts of medications, pesticides, factory runoff, and herbicides from drinking water.

Which fridge filter you choose depends upon your brand as well as your specific concerns about local drinking water. Make sure to check generic filters for appliance compatibility, and to ensure the best fit, buy a replacement filter from your fridge’s manufacturer.

Your old filter’s model number as well as the fridge’s user manual are the best places to check to ensure that your new filter is compatible and safe to install into your fridge.

Chief Guru

Richard Boch is a chemical engineer responsible for designing water filtration systems for industrial and residential customers. He has more than 20 years of experience with ion exchange, activated carbon, and reverse osmosis. Richard's expertise has made him a go-to source for municipalities and businesses looking to improve their water quality. When he's not working, Richard enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children. You can also follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

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