Berkey water filters command quite a reputation, but is this merited? We take a close look at the Berkey water filter collection to see just what they can offer.
Berkey water filters are extremely popular, and the company seems to have hit on a really successful method of water filtration. The brand has grown enormously over the last few years, so we thought it was time we devoted some time to analyzing the pros and cons of Berkey and their catalogue of water filters.
We’ll start by listing the Berkey range in a comparison table so you can see exactly what they offer. We’ll then continue by dissecting the product and giving our opinion in our Berkey water filter reviews. Use the quick links below to jump to the part that interests you most.
1. Compare the Models/Reviews
2. Introduction to Berkey Systems
3. How the Filters Work
4. Pros & Cons
6. Before You Buy
Berkey Comparison Table
The Water Flow Rate is measured in gallons per hour (gph).
Rather than give individual reviews of each Berkey water filter model, we decided to just make one. The models are only different in their size and capacity, and use exactly the same method to filter the water. The only exception to this is the Berkey Light, which is made out of BPA free plastic instead of the traditional Berkey stainless steel.
We won’t go into too much detail here on how the filters work as we’ll cover this later in the article.
The Berkey water filter systems occupy a special place in the market. They aren’t tied to a plumbing system like most water filters, which means they are completely portable and are able to be used with multiple water supplies.
The unit is designed to sit on a countertop and be filled with water from the top. Gravity then does its job and the water travels down through the filters and collects in the bottom portion of the device ready to be dispensed through the spigot.
As standard, the Berkey range use the ‘Black’ filter. This removes a whole range of harmful contaminants like chlorine, as well as heavy metals like lead and mercury, and pharmaceuticals. These filters last for a whopping 3000 gallons of use, which is a really long time (the average person consumes about 1 gallon per day). However, the filters are a little on the expensive side.
Each model can operate with a minimum of 2 of these filters. By using more of them you can increase the water flow rate of the system and increase the filter lifecycle.
The black filters can also be paired with arsenic/fluoride removal filters. These filters have a shorter lifespan of 1000 gallons. Fluoride and arsenic are very difficult to remove from drinking water so this is one of the main selling points of the Berkey range, which seem to remove these contaminants better than other brands.
The Big Berkey is the standard size model which is suitable for homes of up to 4 people. It can take up to 4 black filters (plus 4 fluoride) but will work fine with just 2. It measures just over 29 inches in height and has a water flow rate of up to 7 gallons per hour. The Big Berkey water filter reviews really well on sites like Amazon.
To read more about what we think about Berkey, then make sure you read the rest of our guide. Don’t miss the ‘Pros & Cons’ or ‘Before You Buy’ sections further down the page.
The Berkey shower filter is designed to remove harmful chlorine from your bathing water. Berkey state that it will remove up to 95% of the disinfectant chemical.
It does so using KDF 55 filter media that is also effective at reducing levels of hydrogen sulfide, and heavy metals like lead, iron and mercury. The filters last around 20,000 gallons of use, which is an excellent lifespan. This equates to around one year of use for the average size household. There aren’t many shower filters that match this kind of lifecycle. However, like the Berkey drinking units, the Berkey shower filters aren’t that cheap.
If you’d like to read about more great shower water filters then don’t miss our guide.
An Introduction to Berkey Water Filter Systems
Berkey’s main range of water filters all work in the same way and contain just subtle differences in how they are used. In this section we’ll give a general overview of how they work and what kind of contaminants they remove. Following that we’ll discuss the models individually.
Berkey systems take a different approach to water filtration than the majority of the competition. Rather than being connected to the household plumbing, the Berkey units are free-standing, independent units. They are usually placed on a kitchen countertop and need to be filled from the top with water. Gravity then forces the water through the filtration media, ready to be delivered through the spigot at the base of the device.
Operating in this way brings pros and cons which must be considered.
The Pros and Cons of Freestanding Water Filters
- No installation is necessary
- No need to put holes in expensive countertops
- Easier to clean
- Needs to be manually filled with water
- Takes up valuable countertop space
The water filter units use Black Berkey filters as standard. Each model uses a minimum of two of these, but depending on the model it may be able to use up to 8 of these. Using more filters increases the water flow rate of the unit. The Crown Berkey for example can produce up to 26 gallons of water every hour when using the maximum 8 filters. It can operate with just 2 filters, but the water flow rate is significantly less.
The standard black filters can also be paired with specialist fluoride and arsenic removal filters. If you were using two black filters then you could also use a maximum of two of these specialist filters too.
Next, we’ll highlight how both the black and fluoride filters work. We’ll also give details of what contaminants you can expect to remove.
How Do the Berkey Filters Work?
The Berkey series use two different filters. There’s the standard black filter that MUST be used, and an optional fluoride and arsenic filter. We’ll discuss how they work in more detail just shortly. But, if you’re pressed for time you can compare the features in the comparison table.
|Filter||Lifespan||What it Reduces|
|Standard Black||3000 gallons||Heavy metals, chlorine, chloramine, pharmaceuticals, trihalomethanes, VOCs|
|Fluoride & Arsenic||1000 gallons||Fluoride, arsenic, heavy metals|
To take a closer look at the contaminant reduction figures visit this page.
The Black Filters
The Berkey filtration media is composed of 6 different materials. However, they keep the details on exactly what they are composed of close to their chest. The materials are forged into a tight matrix like formation. This matrix uses millions of microscopic pores to perform a process called microfiltration. As the water is forced through the filters, these pores trap harmful contaminants like pesticides, herbicides, VOCs and bacteria.
The filters further refine the water using a combination of techniques called adsorption and absorption. Much like surface tension, the adsorption is caused by an ionic barrier. This is really effective as it allows the filters to trap contaminants that are smaller than the actual pore sizes.
Dangerous heavy metals like lead and mercury (among others) are removed as they are bonded to the filter media by an ion exchange process. A similar thing occurs in salt-based water softeners.
A very common question is “How long do Berkey filters last?”. Well, the answer is a long time! The filters are meant to last for 3000 gallons of use. This is a pretty good lifespan and it can be prolonged by using multiple filters. For example, using 4 filters would give 4 x 3000 = 12,000 gallons of use before they would need replaced.
The Fluoride/Arsenic Filters
The fluoride and arsenic reduction filters must be used in conjunction with the black filters. The number of these filters must also match the number of black filters. If you’re using 2 black filters then you must use 2 fluoride/arsenic filters too.
Fluoride and arsenic are actually very difficult contaminants to remove. Reverse osmosis is the really the only other option if you are worried about these contaminants. That makes this one of the main selling points of the Berkey series of water filter systems.
Using these filters will lower the water flow rate of your system. I’m afraid it’s the price you have to pay for reducing these specific contaminants. They also have a much shorter recommended lifespan of 1000 gallons.
These Berkey fluoride filters use a substance called activated alumina which is one of the best materials for targeting fluoride and arsenic in water. It uses a process called adsorption to remove the harmful particles from the water. Adsorption is the adhesion of molecules to a surface. A little like the more commonly known ‘absorption’.
Berkey pride themselves on the “contact time” that their filters produce. The filters themselves are very long (around a foot in length) and the water is forced through them from top to bottom. The water isn’t pressurized like many water filter systems and flows through aided only by gravity. This means the filter media is in contact with the water for the longest time possible. Berkey believe that this makes their filters more efficient at capturing contaminants than the rest of the crowd.
The Pros and Cons of Berkey Water Filter Systems
Still on the fence about Berkey? Take a look at the big reasons why they’re good and also why you might want to avoid them.
High level of arsenic and fluoride removal.
These two contaminants are notoriously hard to remove from water. As we mentioned earlier, reverse osmosis is a dependable option for this, but brings with it a new set of pros and cons. For a start, it would need to be installed into the plumbing line.
The Berkey range are one of the few water filters that effectively deal with this problem.
The filters last a really long time.
Though they might seem a bit expensive (especially if you’re using a lot) the filters have a really good lifespan. The average person consumes about 1 gallon of water each day, with the black filters lasting for 3000 gallons of use. That gives a family of 4 over two years of filter life.
This is a the dealmaker for a lot of people who choose these water filtration devices. Most models can be split into two pieces and are easily transported. That means clean water on camping trips, in the RV, and on holiday.
There’s no complicated installation.
Some water filters can be a real pain to install. You might even require the services of a professional to engage the warranty. There are no such problems with the Berkey series. They are free-standing and self contained.
Another positive factor here is that there’s no need to put any holes in expensive countertops. Simply place the system where you need it.
No NSF certification.
As far as I am aware, Berkey systems are not actually NSF certified. Much of what you read on the internet implies that they carry the highest level of certification, but from my research I found this to be untrue. They are in fact tested by a third-party independent accredited lab and do actually boast some impressive test results. No NSF certification for a brand of this size though?
The filters are a bit expensive.
If you were to go with one of the larger models (like the Imperial for example), you would need a total of 6 black filters to reach the maximum water flow rate. It would function perfectly well with just two, but the water flow rate would be less. Now, if you wanted fluoride and arsenic reduction on top of that, then you can see how the price would stack up. Let me qualify this by saying that the Imperial has a maximum water flow rate of 16.5 gallons per hour, which is A LOT of clean water. This is way more drinking water than the average home would need, and this kind of capacity would only be needed if you were hosting some kind of large event.
It has to be filled.
Unlike water filters that are installed in-line as part of the plumbing fixtures, the Berkey’s must be manually filled. You must physically put water in the top yourself.
Conversely, this could be viewed as a benefit too. A Berkey is not reliant on just one water source (ie. the municipal supply). This means if your water supply was shut-off then you could use your Berkey to filter water from another source like a lake or river.
Takes up countertop space.
Berkeys are countertop units so they’re going to take up some valuable space in the kitchen. They can’t be hidden under the sink like many water filters. However, they are quite attractive in appearance so they won’t spoil the view.
Berkey units are very low maintenance. The filter changes are infrequent and very easy to do. The compulsory black filters can last for years, but over time they may clog up and cause the water flow rate to reduce. Thankfully, there’s an easy (if somewhat unorthodox) way of solving this. It involves using a dish scrubber (the type that are great for scrubbing burnt pots) to physically scratch away the outermost layer of the filters. You need to remove less than the width of a piece of paper, but this is the material that is clogged with contaminants. Removing this will improve the water flow again.
Once you start approaching the end of the filter lifespan, it’s also a great idea to start testing their effectiveness. Next, we’ll tell how to do this.
How to Test the Filters
The filters themselves or the water filter unit don’t have any way of warning when the filters are coming to the end of their lifecycle. Now, you could painstakingly count every gallon of clean water made and change when you approach the recommended limit, but that would be far too inconvenient.
Berkey suggest an innovative method of their own which is unique among the water filters I’ve encountered. They actually recommend adding red food coloring to the water to see whether it will make it through the filters. If the food coloring passes through then it’s time to change, as a Berkey unit in top condition will even filter the coloring out of the water. They suggest performing this simple test every few months. Check the simple process out in the video below.
Before you Buy
Make sure to check out these key points before deciding on a Berkey water filter system.
Test your water.
We say this in every guide we write but it’s really the most important step in getting the right water filter. If the Berkey is to be your primary water filter for the household then make sure it’s going to target the right contaminants. You’ll only need the fluoride filters if you are supplied by a city water supply. Fluoride isn’t added to well water supplies.
Estimate your household drinking water demands.
The Berkey models are all very similar with only the sizes distinguishing them. Remember the size dictates how many filters you may need to use too. If you’re unsure on the size, it’s always better to go for the bigger one. Keep in mind that the average American consumes about 3.18 liters (0.85 gallons) of drinking water each day.
The Travel Berkey is the smallest model with a capacity of 1.5 gallons, with the Royal Berkey being a popular choice at 3 gallons.
How much space do you have?
This point links in with the last one, but the size of the model will also dictate how much countertop space it will take up. Make sure you have a big enough kitchen to accommodate a rather large water filter unit on the countertop.
Remember that you will have to physically fill the unit with water yourself. For this reason, you don’t want it to be situated too far from the kitchen faucet either.
The Big Berkey water filter is a popular choice as it is the mid-size option.