Refrigerator Filters – The Ultimate Guide

Refrigerator Filters - The Ultimate Guide

A built-in water dispenser in the refrigerator can provide you with the ultimate comfort of getting cold and fresh water straight from the refrigerator into your glass. It saves the hassle of taking the bottle out of the freezer and pouring water into your glass. However, the device that is continuously at work behind the clean water is refrigerator water filters.

Refrigerator water filters filter the water and eliminate various contaminants and pollutants that might be harmful to the consumer. There is a lot to know about refrigerator filters. What you must know is when to change the filter, why you should change it, and the effects of not changing it for too long.

In this article, I will discuss everything you should know about refrigerator filters. Besides common topics like when to change the filter and why you should change it, I will also shed some light on topics like OEM filters and NSF ratings. You also should be aware of the limitations of refrigerator filters. I will touch on that topic too. So without any further ado, let’s get started!

What Is a Refrigerator Filter?

Refrigerator Water Filter
Refrigerator water filters provide clean water for drinking and ice making.

A refrigerator water filter is a filter that cleans the drinking water that comes from your refrigerator. It is also known as a fridge filter. Refrigerator filters come in various sizes and shapes to fit different refrigerator models. They also offer differing degrees of filtration.

A refrigerator filter is a basic carbon filter that purifies water from a refrigerator. Refrigerator filters are typically NSF 42 certified. NSF 42 means these filters can only remove chlorine from water.

They can also reduce the smell and improve the taste. There’s more to NSF certification, which we will discuss later. Because drinking water is chlorinated, removing chlorine is an important function. However, there are other more dangerous and harmful contaminants than chlorine.

What Does a Refrigerator Water Filter Do?

Your refrigerator water filter will improve the quality of your drinking water by removing impurities and giving you pure, better-tasting water. Contaminants in water affect the look and taste of your water, and they can also be very harmful to your health.

Water may contain substances like chlorine, lead, etc. Chlorine affects the taste and smell of water, and lead can have disastrous effects on health. That’s not all. Your home’s water can contain asbestos, volatile organic compounds, mercury, etc.

Waterborne parasites, pesticides, and industrial and pharmaceutical pollutants are also not uncommon. The filter in your refrigerator protects you and your family from all these harmful pollutants.

Refrigerator Filter Maintenance

You should replace your refrigerator water filter every 6 months.

Refrigerator filters require routine maintenance to ensure they are in top working condition. This is important to keep up with because a carbon filter has a limited capacity to remove contaminants from your water. Once the filter is spent, it can’t remove any more toxins.

Each filter manufacturer provides a recommendation for how long their filter can remain in service – the typical life is 6 months.

Why should you change the refrigerator water filter

All refrigerators’ water dispensers feature a filter that eliminates pollutants to provide clean, delicious water. Community water contains a lot of pollutants and chemicals. Although some chemicals are added to the water for purification purposes, they make the water taste bad.

So besides eliminating harmful substances, making the water odorless and taste good is also important. Refrigerator filters that are used beyond their lifespan can accumulate impurities. They also run out of their ability to get rid of the bad taste and smell.

This lowers the quality of the water and results in an unpleasant taste. An unchanged filter can also be the perfect sanctuary for various bacteria. Such filters will do more harm than good, contaminating your water rather than cleansing it.

You should not use your refrigerator’s water filter beyond its lifespan. Change refrigerator filters regularly for clean and safe drinking water. Long, unchanged filters also have an impact on water color and flow. Filling a jug or bottle will take more time than usual, which is very annoying.

To get seamless water flow and drink pure and tasty water, you should change your refrigerator water filter regularly.

When should you change the refrigerator water filter?

Most manufacturers recommend replacing the water filter every six months. However, that also depends on the quality of the water and the extent of usage. If your system has a lot of pollutants, you will have to change it sooner than the recommended time.

Similarly, if you filter a lot more water than usual, it will run out of its filtering capacity soon. This is usually the case for big families. There are five trustworthy indicators to know when to change your water filter:

  1. Check User Manual

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. The user’s manual usually contains complete details about how to use the product properly and everything relevant. Nowadays, many companies do not provide printed user manuals, instead, they publish the manual on their website.

If you can’t find the manual in the package, check their website. There should be detailed instructions on when you should change your refrigerator filter.

  1. See If Your Refrigerator Has an Indicator

Many refrigerators come with indicator lights. This light gives the user an indication of when to change the filter. The built-in water systems contain an indicator light that illuminates to indicate that it’s time to change the filter.

Many users are not aware of this light and often end up using the filter longer than they should, despite having such amazing technology installed in the refrigerator. That’s why, before using any newly bought products, you should always read the manual properly.

  1. The Water Will Taste Bad

Your taste bud will alert you when it is time to replace the filter. The flavor will become unpleasant when the filter is depleted and no longer purifies your water.

The main reason behind it is that you drink all the impurities with the water because they can’t fit anymore. Just pay close attention to the taste of the water, and you will realize

  1. Check Water Flow

As time goes by, contaminants get stuck in the filter. As the filtration capability deteriorates, so does the water flow through the filter. The speed of the water flow is a great indication of when it’s time to change the filter.

If the water flow is okay, your filter is working fine. If the water flow through the refrigerator filter becomes slow, it is safe to assume that the filter has become clogged and that it is time to replace it. Observe the water flow, and you will realize when to change the filter.

  1. Color of the Water Is Also an Indication

When you don’t change your refrigerator filter for too long, the water may become cloudy. This is because the filter can’t filter contaminants, and they get immersed in the water. The result is discoloration of the water. Although the discoloration may be unnoticeable initially.

But the cloudiness should appear immediately as the filter starts to run off its lifespan. If you pay close attention, you should not miss it. Look for the altered color of the water or cloudiness in the water, you will realize when it’s time to change the refrigerator filter.

Why should you maintain a refrigerator water filter?

Unless you employ a whole-house water filter, unfiltered water enters your refrigerator. That unfiltered water comes directly from your community’s water supply pipe. This supply might come from a municipal water line hookup or a private well.

Every year, health-related infractions occur in 3% to 10% of community water systems. Some of them, for example, may have pollutant levels that exceed the acceptable limit. Other water treatment procedures may be inadequate.

If it weren’t for your fridge filter, you may have consumed water that contains dangerous substances. After all, the purpose of this water filtering system is to keep the water safe by eliminating chemicals, metals, germs, etc.

Thus, the refrigerator filter maintains the good taste and smell of the water. These infractions may lead to water-borne diseases in consumers. There have even been many reports of municipal water supplies being contaminated. The refrigerator filter collects all the unwanted stuff from the water.

Over time, it will be clogged. This can then restrict water flow from your refrigerator’s water dispenser. The ice produced by your refrigerator will most likely be hazy and have a terrible flavor after melting. At one point, the refrigerator filter will no longer be able to filter pollutants.

The water you will drink shall taste bad and on top of that, you will ingest lots of harmful substances that might cause diseases. That is why it is critical to keep your refrigerator water filter in good working order.

Check out this video on water filters:

How to Find the Best Refrigerator Water Filter

Buying the right replacement for your refrigerator filter isn’t as easy as it sounds. Official products will reduce the hassle, but you’ll have to do more.

Regardless of what you buy, there are some things every refrigerator filter owner should know before purchasing. Here is how you can find the best filter for your refrigerator water filter:

1. Look for NSF/ANSI approval

Make sure that your filtration system is NSF or ANSI-approved. If you are buying an official product, filtered by the same manufacturer as your refrigerator, you have nothing to worry about regarding NSF or ANSI certification.

However, for aftermarket filters, you have to be a bit more cautious. There is no quality control for aftermarket products, some are even not licensed.

So you have to check for NSF or ANSI certification. NSF certification means that the filter can filter contaminants to various degrees. Thus you will get pure and delicious drinking water.

2. Compatibility with your refrigerator

Another critical factor that every consumer should consider when purchasing a system is compatibility. Not all models of filters will fit your refrigerator. Compatibility isn’t much of an issue for OEM filters.

However, aftermarket filters can have dire compatibility issues. So make sure the filter is compatible with your refrigerator. You can do that by checking the website or asking the seller beforehand.

3. Use an online tool to compare

Many brands are offering the same type of filter. It can be confusing to figure out which filter offers the best filtering solution. In that case, you can use a filter cross reference to choose the best water filter for your refrigerator.

There are many such tools available online. This tool will allow you to effortlessly search for your system based on its model.

4. Try to get the best price

Always compare prices before purchasing. Official products are the same price everywhere, although some scalpers may try to rip you off if there is a shortage.

But aftermarket products have no price limit. It can be anything. The price of the same type of filter with the same certification from different manufacturers can vary drastically, check 2-3 online stores to make sure you are getting the right one at the best price.

5. Get expert help

Some refrigerator filters have a pretty complicated make. It can be difficult for you to install filters without any experience. Determine what type your filter system is before buying.

Some companies offer free installation services. You can also get a hassle-free system from these companies.

6. Find the one that’s most effective

On average, filters can eliminate severe impurities ranging from 6 to 60 types of hazardous materials. It’s understandable that the more impurities a filter can get rid of, the better.

NSF certification also helps you understand the filtration capability of the filters. So always get a unit that can filter most contaminants.

7. Buy from a Reputable company

Warranty and after-sales service matter a lot. There is no surety that your filter won’t malfunction although you purchased it brand new. Every company seems to be customer friendly until the product fails. The difference between great companies and lousy ones is customer service.

To keep your purchase safe and secure, buy from a renowned company to get the best after-sales service and warranty policy.

What If You Suddenly Need to Change Your Filter?

If your present filter has reached the end of its useful life, it is preferable to get an OEM or tier 1 aftermarket filter. However, OEM filters are significantly more expensive than aftermarket filters. So if you are on a budget, you get a good quality aftermarket filter.

These filters perform identically to the original filters but cost significantly less. If you do decide to use an aftermarket filter, be sure it fits the refrigerator. You can use an online tool to ensure compatibility. You may need to enter your refrigerator model, the filter number, or any other information.

If your refrigerator features a push-in filter, installing this type of filter is fairly easy. First, place the cap on the new cartridge, aligning the arrows; then, push the filter along with the cap into the case until you hear the eject button make a sound.

If your refrigerator has a twist-in filter, first remove the cap and clean it. Then install the new cartridge. Finally, twist the replacement filter in the filter compartment. Before starting to use the filter, run three to five liters of water through the new one.

This will eliminate any dirt. The used water won’t be wasted, as you can use it to water your plants or wash utensils. Now your refrigerator water filter is ready to use.

Why Is Your Filter Model Suddenly Discontinued?

Water filters are constantly being updated, just like cars, mobile phones, computer devices, etc. Technology is being constantly updated, and manufacturers are implementing those new technologies in their products.

Researchers are tirelessly working to improve water filters. The goal is to make those filters as competent as possible to be able to eliminate most types of contaminants. Waterborne diseases spread fast, and they can be quite dangerous. Good-quality filters can keep such diseases at bay.

So when a new filter is invented, it replaces the old corresponding filter. A common problem filter users face is that their model suddenly goes out of stock. They are nowhere to be found on the market.

When a company releases a new, state-of-the-art product, there is no reason to keep the old ones in the lineup. The features and functionality of the filters change to varying degrees, but their build quality and fit stay the same.

So it’s very normal for your filter model to discontinue suddenly. Don’t worry when you can’t find a replacement for your refrigerator filter. There is always an update and a better replacement for your filter. Just contact your refrigerator’s manufacturer for the information.

What Is an OEM Refrigerator Filter?

Once the stock filter runs out of its lifespan, getting the right replacement for your refrigerator filter can be more challenging than you might think. There are two ways to get the proper replacement. You may obtain an OEM filter, or get an aftermarket filter.

OEM stands for original equipment manufacturers, which means the same company that makes your refrigerator also makes the filter. OEM filters are pretty expensive. Not only filters, but all OEM products are also expensive. In that case, aftermarket products can be an option. Aftermarket products are made by third-party manufacturers.

So as you can understand, the quality can be variable as the parent company is not monitoring the qualities of these third-party products. If you opt to buy an aftermarket filter, buy from a renowned manufacturer. Check out their reviews and ratings.

Compatible filters from a different manufacturer may be the best option for you in certain cases, since they may be superior quality filters at a lower price. Get the one that fits perfectly, and you are good to go.

What Is the NSF Rating?NSF Logo

If you choose to go for an OEM filter, you have nothing to worry about, but if you are buying an aftermarket filter, you need to know about NSF certification.

The National Sanitation Foundation certifies different grades of refrigerator water filters. Different ratings indicate different filtration capacities and other matrices. Here are some NSF certifications:

1. NSF 53 certification

NSF 53 certification means it is higher than the NSF 42, meaning it can eliminate all the impurities that NSF 42 filters can such as chlorine, manganese, sulfide, zinc, etc.

On top of that, the NSF 53 filter can get rid of lead and other heavy metals, nitrate, nitrite, fluoride, VOCs, etc.

2. NSF 401 certification

Filters that have NSF 401 certification are above NSF 53 and NSF 42. This means that NSF 401 filters can filter everything that NSF 42 and NSF 53 filters can, and some more. Some of the harmful products that NSF 42 and 53 can filter include chlorine, manganese, iron, etc.

In addition to NSF 53 and 42, the 401 filters can filter various pesticides and pharmaceutical products that are in low concentration in the water.

3. NSF 42 certification

NSF 42 refrigerator water filters are approved to decrease iron, hydrogen chloramines, manganese, sulfide, and zinc. These filters also neutralize acidity and alkalinity.

NSF 42 filters are also able to eliminate the bad taste and smell due to the application of chlorine in community water.

Limitations of Refrigerator Filters

Refrigerator water filters can remove many pollutants, but not all. Lead and chromium-6 are two of the most known. As water is supplied using lead pipes in many areas, lead pollution in water is very common.

Chromium-6 is spreading like wildfire because many corporations dump polluted garbage in lakes near the water. Filtering pollutants like this properly takes more power than a fridge filter can provide.

To get completely pure water, you can get a dedicated water filter system with NSF 58 certification and reverse osmosis technology. Refrigerator filters, in addition to not being able to remove some toxins, cannot safeguard your entire home.

Sink and shower water still contain these contaminants. For households in areas where the water is extremely polluted, a whole-house filter is a far better solution. Fridge filters are small and, hence, prone to clogging quickly. A bigger system will run for much longer, making maintenance easy and affordable.

Related Articles about Refrigerator Filters

You may find these other articles about refrigerator filters useful. Check them out!

How Does My Refrigerator Know When to Change Filter?
Is It Safe to Drink Water from Refrigerator Filter?
9 Signs It’s Time to Replace Your Refrigerator Filter


Although refrigerator filters seem insignificant, the role they play is crucial. If your refrigerator has a water dispenser, you must know about refrigerator water filters. They are like regular filters installed in the refrigerator, the working mechanism is the same.

So you have to regularly change the filters. Although your refrigerator vendor will advise you, knowing some basic information about refrigerator water filters can come in handy. Hopefully, this article was able to provide you with everything you needed to know about refrigerator filters.

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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