Reverse Osmosis Maintenance: Extend the Life of Your Water Treatment System

Extend the Life of Your Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment System with Proper Maintenance

How do you know when to clean and maintain your RO system?

A reverse osmosis water treatment system is a great way to remove contaminants from your drinking water. Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems use semi-permeable membranes that allow only pure water molecules to pass through, and reject unwanted substances such as salt, minerals, organic compounds as well as bacteria and viruses.

These membranes are extremely effective at removing harmful impurities in the water supply. However, they need to be cleaned and serviced regularly in order for them to function properly.

The problem is that most people don’t realize their RO membrane needs cleaning until it has already stopped working effectively or, worse, something breaks. If you’re like most people, you don’t think about your reverse osmosis system unless something goes wrong.

A reverse osmosis water treatment system can last 10 years, or even longer, if properly cared for. Read on for tips on how to extend its life and save money in the long run!

This is the RO filter I have in my kitchen. I like it because it is easy to maintain and doesn’t waste a lot of water. You may want one for your home.

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Reverse Osmosis Maintenance

The most important maintenance for an RO system is to make sure filters are changed on time. A clogged or damaged filter element can result in many undesirable consequences:

  • increased costs due to premature component failure
  • poor water quality
  • reduced water production

With a reverse osmosis system, it is recommended to have it serviced at least once a year by a professional service technician to ensure everything is in good condition and functioning properly.

You can do this service yourself if you are handy and understand how your RO system works. This article provides useful information to help you do this.

Read my comprehensive article on how to know when to change your RO membrane.

The following table summarizes the recommended replacement and the average cost for each component of your reverse osmosis system.

RO System ComponentRecommended Replacement PeriodAverage Cost
Particle filter6 – 12 months$8 – $48
Activated carbon filter6 – 12 months$9 – $63
RO membrane24 months$25 – $280
Post carbon filter12 months$12 – $64
Remineralizer3 – 6 months$19 – $53
UV lamp bulb12 months$22 – $98
Cleaning and sanitizing12 months$15
Maintenance schedule and cost for Reverse Osmosis filters

Reverse osmosis pre-filter maintenance

The pre-filter removes suspended particles and sediment before they can clog the RO membranes. A clogged RO membrane will reduce the performance of your system and may result in pre-mature failure.

The pre-filter should be replaced with a new filter every 6 to 12 months. Change the filter sooner if your water has a lot of turbidity.

Carbon filter maintenance

The carbon filter on your RO system removes organic compounds and chlorine – both of these compounds degrade the RO membrane and lead to early failure. Without a properly functioning carbon filter, your RO membrane will be oxidized by chlorine and break down much sooner than it should.

Replace the carbon filter every 6 to 12 months.

Reverse osmosis membrane maintenance

The RO membrane is the filter that separates water from the contaminants. It must be properly maintained and in good condition to ensure it is functioning properly.

Change the RO membrane every 24 months. The membrane should also be cleaned and sanitized routinely (read my article here).

I recommend testing the performance of your RO system once a month. If the treatment efficiency decreases, change the RO membrane sooner. This maintenance should not be left off your list.

When should reverse osmosis maintenance be done?

Performing routine maintenance on your RO system is critical to ensuring it treats your water thoroughly. This will also help it last a very long time.

When should you perform maintenance on your RO treatment system? Most people use one of the following strategies.

  1. Based on the manufacturer’s guidelines. Most people just replace filters and perform other maintenance on a schedule set by the manufacturer.
  2. Based on how clean your water is. If you notice a change in the taste of your water or the TDS levels go up, it’s probably time to do some maintenance.
  3. Based on how much water you use. Your water usage probably varies seasonally because of watering your lawn, having guests at holidays, etc. You can perform maintenance sooner when you use more water, and delay it if you’re using less.
  4. When the flow drops off. The flow and pressure of your water will drop of when the filters become fouled.
  5. Turn it over to a professional to manage. Many homeowners don’t want to keep track of their RO system’s service needs and hire a professional company to do everything for them.
Check out this How-To video about Reverse Osmosis maintenance

How Long Should a RO Membrane Last

The average lifespan of an RO membrane is 3 to 5 years, but they can last up to 10 if properly cared for. It is absolutely critical that you perform a filter change on your RO system every six months. Failure to do so can result in a clogged and damaged system, leading not only be costly repairs but also degradation in water quality.

Many RO filter manufacturers claim that their systems can last 20 years. This may be accurate for a whole house system (POE system) because they are more rugged and durable than the under-sink units.

RO water systems – when should membranes be replaced?

First, it is important to remember that filters accumulate debris which can result in clogging. This reduces the filter’s efficiency over time if not replaced routinely. Another consideration to keep in mind – certain types of filters, such as carbon adsorption filters, lose their adsorptive capacity over time and must be replaced routinely.

A good rule-of thumb for replacing RO membranes is once every 2 years. More frequently if you use a lot of water or your water quality is low.

With this in mind, if your RO system has been in service for a year, it’s time to do some maintenance.

How Do I Know if My RO Membrane Needs Replacing?

There are many ways to test the RO membrane to see if it is still functioning properly. Here are three simple methods I use.

  1. Measure the TDS concentration. Your RO system is designed to remove impurities from drinking water, and this includes dissolved solids. You can assess how well the RO system is performing by routinely measuring the TDS concentration of the treated water.
  2. Check the service date on your filters. I write the date on every filter when I install it. This lets me know how long it has been in service. Compare this information with the manufacturer’s recommended service life.
  3. Check the flow rate. A simple way to evaluate your membrane is to measure the water’s flow rate. If the flow rate has decreased, then it is probably time to replace the membrane.
  4. Monitor the brine quality and volume. Over time, your membrane becomes less effective at removing contaminants. As a result, the brine concentration will decrease and the volume of wasted water will increase.

Common RO System Maintenance Questions

If you own a reverse osmosis water treatment system, you should be familiar with the components of your RO system. Here are some common questions I get asked about maintenance on an RO unit.

1. How often do you have to change filters?

You can expect that most filters will last between six months and one year, depending on how much water is being filtered through them daily. For example, if you’re filtering

2. Can an RO membrane be cleaned?

No, an RO membrane cannot be cleaned. Once it becomes clogged or damaged, the only option is to replace it.

There are a few things you can do to help extend the life of your RO membrane:

  • Use high quality water filters that will remove sediment and chlorine from your water source before it enters the RO unit.
  • Make sure to routinely clean the pre-filters as they become clogged with sediment.
  • Perform a filter change every six months, regardless of how much water you’re using.
  • Replace the RO membrane every two years, or more frequently if needed.

The more users of water in your house, the more frequently you need to service the membrane. This should be a high profile consideration when planning your filter service.

3. Can a RO membrane get clogged?

Yes, a RO membrane can become clogged from particles entering the system. The most common causes of this are:

  1. Failure to replace filters as needed. A clogged filter reduces the efficiency of your entire system and will eventually damage or ruin an RO membrane. If you have been filtering water for over six months without replacing the filters on your RO unit, it’s time for a change.
  2. Poor water quality. If your water source is high in sediment or other contaminants, they will eventually clog the RO membrane.
  3. Improper installation of filters. If filters are not installed correctly, particulates can bypass the filter and enter the RO membrane directly.

To avoid these problems and extend the life of your RO membrane, it is important to keep up with the required maintenance.

4. Does the storage tank need maintenance?

Many reverse osmosis filters include a water storage tank. Do these require maintenance?

You should clean and sanitize your RO storage tank every year. This can be done by cleaning the interior and all connecting hoses and tubes with mild detergent. Follow this by rinsing with a bleach and water solution.

Refer to your user’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations about your tank.

Benefits of Routine RO System Maintenance

Performing routine RO maintenance of your system provides many benefits. They include:

  • Ensuring you have water that is always clean, pure, and completely safe
  • Increasing the longevity of your RO water purifier.
  • Reducing the cost of maintenance
  • Avoid being taken advantage of by unprofessional service personnel.
  • Maintaining your warranty.

Having a properly functioning RO system means you and your family have access to clean, safe water all the time – no matter what. It’s important to keep up with regular maintenance so that your system is always running at its best. You don’t want to end up having to replace the entire system because of neglect.

Factors that Effect Frequency of RO System Cleaning

There are a few factors that will affect how often you need to clean your RO system.

  1. Your water usage. if you use your RO system more, it will need to be cleaned more frequently.
  2. The quality of the water that comes into your home. If there is a lot of chemical and organic contamination in your water supply, then cleaning should be done every few months or so to keep things running properly.
  3. The amount of hardness in your water. Hard water creates scale on RO filters which decreases their treatment efficiency. Very hard water will require more frequent cleaning of filters and replacement of RO membranes.
  4. The amount of sediment and suspended particles in the water. If your water has a lot of sediment, this will also affect how often you need to clean your RO system.
  5. The amount of chlorine in the water. Chlorine oxidizes the RO membranes which degrades its performance. Most RO systems have a carbon filter to remove chlorine, so it’s important to change the carbon filter regularly. Failure to maintain the carbon, will result in failed membranes.

My Take

A reverse osmosis system filters water to remove contaminants. RO water systems are designed to last for 3 to 5 years. However, if you keep your system clean and don’t neglect it, some filters can last 10 years or more. Keep up with the required reverse osmosis maintenance and your system will serve you well.

But how do you know when it is time to replace the membrane? The answer depends on a few factors including water quality, use of chlorine in your area, frequency of usage etc. One way to tell is by checking the flow rate of your unit. If it’s decreased substantially, then that may be an indication that you need new membranes.

Share your experience in the comments below.

Boch Richard

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.

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