Ever since I posted the video tour of our RV on Youtube, I’ve gotten questions about our Water Filtration setup. In fairness, I showed the water filtration quickly and said I’d make a video about it at some point.
The good news is, I’ve finally made the video. I talk about RV Water Pressure Regulators, RV Water Filtration, Reverse Osmosis and more. I suggest watching the video first, and then under the video I’ll discuss (write) in detail about water filtration including details about our system. Without further ado:
RV Water Pressure Regulators
First things first – why do you need a water pressure regulator?
The simple answer is that most RV water lines are designed to handle around 100psi. Many RV parks have low enough water pressure that you don’t need a regulator, however plenty have very high water pressure that can burst RV water lines. It would be disastrous to have your RV springs a leak where you can’t see, and that could cause water damage to your floor, cabinets, walls, storage bins, and anything stored in any of those locations – not good!
The ‘better safe than sorry’ solution to this is to always use an RV Water pressure regulator.
When we first purchased our RV we received a box of starter RV accessories. One of the items included was a basic pressure regulator from Valterra (pic at left).
There are 3 notable problems with the basic inline water pressure regulators:
- They’re typically set to 40psi. This is moderately ok for washing dishes or filling your coffee pot, but makes for a very weak shower even if you’re using an Oxygenics Shower Head.
- In-line water pressure regulators lower water pressure by restricting water flow. Note that flow and pressure are two different things, although one does obviously effect the other. Flow is the total amount of water delivered, and pressure is a measure of the force the water is putting on your system when you aren’t using water. This is also called static pressure.It’s possible to have 50psi of pressure and enough flow to provide good performance to several sinks, or to a sink and shower. Unfortunately most inline water pressure regulators lower water flow enough that if someone runs the sink while you’re in the shower you’re going to be standing under a dribbling shower head.
- In-line regulators aren’t designed to be cleaned or maintained, and over time they clog up due to dirt, calcium, and lime deposits which means you’ll need to buy a new regulator – or you’ll struggle with very low water pressure and water flow.
I’m speaking from experience as we went through two of these models (a Valterra and then a Camco) before I purchased our current water pressure regulator.
At that point we started getting serious about water filtration and water pressure regulators. I did some searching and came across RV Water Filter Store and emailed Richard there and asked him what he recommended.
Richard had two suggestions. First he recommended switching to a high-flow Valterra model. This water pressure regulator is rated at around 50psi (some say 45 – 50psi, some say 50 – 55psi) and this will ‘fix’ the low flow shower issue.
- Valterra Brass High-Flow Water Pressure Regulator – http://amzn.to/2lvAFhS
- Valterra Stainless Steel High Flow Water Pressure Regulator – http://amzn.to/2lLPFKW
- Valterra Adjustable Water Pressure Regulator with Gauge – http://amzn.to/2l8EjNB
Water Pressure Regulators for Full Time RVers
Unfortunately even the higher pressure models still restrict water flow and clog over time. I think this model is perfect for part-time RVers as they probably won’t use it enough for it to clog. Ours lasted about a year of full-time use, so if you RV even 60 days a year it should still last you 6 years. Note that if you use a water softener before the pressure regulator it will dramatically extend the life of the pressure regulator.
If you’d like to control water pressure without a big impact on water flow, then Richard’s second suggestion makes the most sense. The Watts 263a-LF is an adjustable RV water pressure regulator – ours is pictured.
The Watts 263a-LF is perfect for control freaks (like me) as we can dial in the exact water pressure we like. The Watts also won’t impact your water flow, so if you have a larger family – lots of people using water – then this is a good solution for you as well. I usually set ours to 55psi, and in general it’s a set it and forget it type regulator.
I’ve noticed that in some parks – particularly parks with low water pressure – I was able to improve water flow by adjusting the water regulator. Richard – from the water filter store – assures me this may be in my head, and that once the regulator is set for 55psi, it will provide 55psi. I haven’t tested this – but if I do, I’ll let you know.
- Controls water pressure without impacting water flow
- The Watts can be opened and cleaned. I use white vinegar and a toothbrush to remove lime and calcium buildup once very 6 months or so
- Adjusting water pressure only requires a twist
- The gauge makes it easy to monitor your water pressure
- Stainless Steel hardware kit is available
- Complete Stainless Steel Models are also available
- Costs about 6x more than a non-adjustable model
- I don’t connect it at the water spigot as it would be easy to steal there, so it doesn’t protect my water hose
- The pressure gauge broke after a year and a half. I replaced it with a new gauge for $10
- The brass model does get green corrosion on it (see pic of mine)
Again, I think adjustable water pressure regulators are the way to go if you full time. It’s the closest you can get to house water flow while still protecting your RV, without using your water pump at the same time.
I keep mine permanently mounted to the inlet side of my water filtration system and connect the hose directly to the pressure regulator when hooking up.
As I mentioned above, in an ideal world I’d mount the pressure regulator before the hose, as this would protect the hose from high water pressure. Hoses do break down over time, although from what I’ve heard sunlight does far more damage to hoses than high water pressure.
Personally I feel more comfortable keeping my pressure regulator in a locked garage compartment. It would be very easy to steal it if it were mounted outside – not that there’s a lot of theft at RV Parks, but there is some (we had a bike stolen last year).
I purchased my Watts 263a-LF on RV Water Filter Store’s water pressure regulator page.
Ok, I think that’s enough about Water Pressure Regulators – on to water filtration!
RV Water Filtration
I’m a firm believer that every RVer should filter the water that comes into their RV. This isn’t because I’m a health nut, or because I think city water will kill you (although a lot of city water is questionable), but has to do with your RV itself.
See that picture of our water filtration system on the left? See the clear canister with the brown water filter inside? That filter was bright white only 4 months ago. We’ve been hooked up to city water the entire time, and yet a 5-micron filter has filtered that from ‘drinking’ water!
Without a filter, those particles would mostly have run through the RV and down the drain, but some of them would have collected and built up in the RV water pipes and our water-using fixtures. Consider that this is after only 4 months, and imagine the amount of sediment that would collect in the RV water pipes and fixtures after several years.
When you weigh the cost of replacing water-using fixtures like your toilet, faucets, water pump, and water heater – and worse, trying to find blockages in your water lines, not to mention the fact that you’re cooking, drinking, and showering in that water, the costs and benefits of a basic water filtration system are a no-brainer.
RV Water Filtration Recommendation for Part-Time RVers
The big considerations for water filtration when you’re a part time RVer are cost, effectiveness, and filter reusability as it’s unlikely that you’ll get maximum use out of a filter during a two week vacation – and certainly won’t on a weekend trip.
Reusability is an important consideration as most water filters are designed to be used continuously. If they’re left in stagnant (non-moving) water, or if they’re removed and stored wet, they’ll grow bacteria, algae, and other stuff that you don’t want to drink.
That’s why (assuming you plan to reuse your filter) it’s very important that whatever filter you use is bacteriostatic – which means that it prevents bacteria from reproducing. This is different than anti-bacterial substances which are designed to kill bacteria. Your body requires bacteria to function properly, so you don’t want to consume anti-bacterial substances.
My recommendation is to use the Camco TastePure inline water filter. These are sold everywhere – even Walmart – and it’s probably the most common water filter I see in RV parks. I think it’s a good option for part timer RVers, however it has several drawbacks which I’ll explain below.
The benefits of the Camco Filter are that it’s easy to install (if you install it right at the post it’s helpful to use a 90 degree Camco Elbow), it’s relatively inexpensive, and most importantly the Camco Filters are bacteriostatic so they won’t grow bacteria and can be reused across several RV trips.
Camco accomplishes this by using KDF. Taken from Wikipedia: “KDF is known to kill algae and fungi, control bacteria growth, remove chlorine, pesticides, organic matter, rust, unpleasant taste and odor, hydrogen sulfide, iron, lead, nickel, chromium, cadmium, calcium, aluminum, mercury, arsenic, and other organic compounds . . . KDF is optimized when used in conjunction with another filter media, especially any form of activated carbon.”
Now the three drawbacks:
#1 – The Camco Filter will only remove particles that are 100 microns or larger. That means it won’t filter microbial cysts like cryptosporidium (between 3 and 6 microns) and giardia, although you probably don’t need to worry about those in United States drinking water. It also means any particle smaller than 100 microns will pass through the filter, and unfortunately the majority of particles in tap water are small and will pass through.
#2 – As the Camco filter uses KDF, and KDF uses granulated carbon (vs. solid block), about half the chlorine will get through the filter too. 50% is an improvement that you can taste, but it’s still worth noting.
#3 – Finally, as the filter is trying to do everything (vs a multi-canister system), I’ve heard that it clogs up relatively quickly. I’ve read anywhere from 30 – 45 days of use (maybe 60?), although this will depend on how much water you use and where in the country you’re located.
In spite of these issues, the Camco water filter is still the easiest way to filter water and it’s probably the best option for part-time RVers.
- Camco TastePURE Water Filter – http://amzn.to/2lGbQBZ
- Camco EVO Premium Water Filter – http://amzn.to/2l8MnxR
RV Water Filtration Recommendation for Full-Time RVers
As a full-time RVer myself I quickly came to the realization that an inline water filter wasn’t going to cut it. The filters don’t do a good enough job, and considering they clog up after 30 – 45 days of use, they can get expensive in a hurry.
That’s why I recommend adding at least a 2-canister water filtration system to your RV, assuming you have space to install one.
RV Water Filter Store sells 1, 2, and 3 canister systems with your choice of clear or opaque (white) housing. They also sell mounting brackets if you prefer to purchase canisters elsewhere.
Clear vs White Housing
If your canister system will be mounted in complete dark – in a sealed compartment – then I prefer to place the sediment filter in a clear canister. This makes it easy to monitor how dirty the filter so I can gauge when it’s time to replace it. If your system is visible and will get regular light, then use opaque (white) canisters. Algae needs light to grow, and a clear canister will turn green very quickly if left in the light
Once you have a canister system, the next question is what filters should you use? My recommendation is to buy 1 micron sediment filters like these from Amazon for the first canister.
The 4-pack price is much better than buying individually, and each filter should last around 6 months. In my experience 1 micron filters don’t inhibit water flow, plus they remove almost everything from the water that isn’t in solution (dissolved), including microbial cysts.
These filters will do a much better job at removing sediment than the Camco unit, and a 4-pack should last about 2 years. That makes these a good value – although note that these aren’t bacteriostatic, so if you’re spending time out of your RV you should use a new filter when you get back into your RV.
For the second filter there are two good options. First, a combination KDF/Granulated Activated Carbon filter like this one from Amazon is a good option. It’s expensive, but should last up to 2 years and has KDF so it’s perfect for intermittent use. This is also a good filter for a part-time RVer as it uses KDF so is bacteriostatic.
An even better option (in my opinion) is the Extruded Block Carbon Filter from KX (also at right). This filter won’t last as long, but block carbon filters do a much better job of removing chlorine and bad taste than granulated activated carbon. Again, it’s a more expensive filter which is why the inexpensive 1-micron pre-filters are so important. By pre-filtering most of the sediment, the carbon filters last much longer.
If you do chose to install a 3-canister water filtration system like ours, then you have even more filter options. You can use a 10 or 5 micron pre-filter, then a 1 micron filter, and finally a carbon filter for taste and odor.
Alternatively you can stick with the 1 micron sediment filter and a carbon filter and add a speciality filter. Specialty filters are designed to perform specific functions including:
De-ionization Cartridges – designed to remove trace minerals from water using resin beads. These tend to be low-flow units, so you’ll need to fill your fresh water tank and then use the water from there.
Birm Cartridges – remove iron and manganese. Both metals impact the color and taste of your water.
Phosphate Cartridges – As an alternative to a water softener, phosphate cartridges reduce lime and scale buildup in your water heater and RV. They do this by releasing small amounts of phosphate that coat your water lines and system and prevent lime and scale from forming. Yes, they add a little phosphate to your water. This may be preferable to a water softener, as water softeners add sodium to your water instead.
Activated Alumina Cartridges – remove flouride and arsenic-5 from your water (not arsenic-3 – you’ll need a different filter for that.).
Nitrate Cartridges – remove nitrates from water.
PS-3C Cartridges – raise the PH levels of your water to neutral or slightly alkaline. This may be necessary if you have a reverse osmosis system, or if you have acidic water and want to protect metal appliances.
There are many more specialty filters, but this will at least give you an idea of what’s possible. The more you learn about water filtration the more there is to learn – and the more you realize how much stuff can potentially be in your water! Don’t worry, most ‘city’ water in the United States is tested and clean enough. Most specialty filters are designed to address regional water quality issues – especially for well water. In general I don’t think you’ll need them which is why I recommend a 2-canister system.
Reverse Osmosis for RVs
Reverse osmosis (RO) is the process of forcing water through a semi-permeable membrane as a means of producing ‘pure’ water. In the case of RV reverse osmosis the water won’t be 100% pure, however RO will clean the water better than any filter and removes most lime and calcium without the use of a water softener.
Reverse Osmosis systems are fairly expensive. If you’re starting from scratch plan on spending $300 for a ‘standard’ setup, and as much as $500 for an automatic setup.
RO systems require 3 components:
#1 – RO canister and membrane cartridge. This usually costs around $100. You’ll need to periodically replace the RO membrane cartridge (around $70) for best results, as their performance degrades over time.
#2 – A filtration System. For best results you need to start with the cleanest water possible. It’s recommended that you use both a particle/sediment filter and a solid-block carbon filter before the RO cartridge. Pre-filtering will make the (expensive) membrane cartridge last a lot longer.
#3 – A boost pump. RO requires high water pressure, so if you live in a high pressure area you can skip this part – but if you move around (full timers), then a boost pump is a must to ensure proper function of the RO system.
There are many other components that can be added to an RO system, including automatic system on/off switches with water tank sensors and water meters to check for water purity.
Why don’t I recommend Reverse Osmosis for RVs?
Originally I was very interested in adding RO to our RV, right up until I learned about brine. Brine is another name for the water that doesn’t make it through the RO membrane, and it contains the particles and contaminants that were removed from your water. Sounds great, right?
The problem with brine and RO is that under ideal conditions only 20% to 30% of the water thrown at your system becomes clean water. That means that 70% to 80% of the water goes right down the drain!
This felt like much too big a waste of water to me. We use about 20 gallons of water a day between showers, washing dishes, and drinking water. I wouldn’t want to waste between 60 and 80 gallons of water to get those 20 gallons of water.
There’s a second problem with Reverse Osmosis – even though water is being forced into the membrane at high pressure, because only 20% – 30% of the water makes it through the membrane it comes through at very low pressure.
That means that instead of running water directly into your RV, you need to store the water in your fresh water tank and then use your RV’s water pump to use the water. This will add to the expense of your system as most standard water pumps are more suitable for occasional dry camping than full-time use. An upgraded water pump – like those from Aquajet – will cost another $160.
If you want Reverse Osmosis Anyway
A good option is to use a standard filtration system for your entire RV, and then use a small RO system at your sink for drinking and cooking water. This will dramatically cut down on water waste while still giving you clean drinking water.
RV Water Filter Store has countertop systems here: http://www.rvwaterfilterstore.com/DWCountertopFilters.htm
We are not affiliate with RV Water Filter Store and get no benefit from linking to them
Another excellent option is to use a countertop distiller like the Megahome countertop water distiller. These units produce up to 4 gallons of distilled water every day, so you’ll have plenty of drinking water, water for your coffee, and even water for cooking.
The drawback to countertop distillers is that they only produce one gallon every 6 hours and they’re still fairly expensive, but at least they waste very little water and they produce even cleaner water than Reverse Osmosis. Decisions decisions!
RV Portable Water Softeners
Hard water is water that’s high in mineral content – specifically calcium, lime, and magnesium. You can tell if you have hard water by simply washing your hair. Shampoo doesn’t get sudsy in hard water. Alternatively if you boil a pot of water you’ll see white and greenish particle drop out of solution and form a crust on the side of the pot/pan if you’re in a hard water area.
Normal water filters can’t remove these particles from water because the calcium and lime is fully dissolved in the water. That means there are no particles to filter – much like if you run salt water through a filter it will still be salty. If you remember back to Chemistry, this is what’s known as being ‘in solution’. The calcium is literally part of the water.
The big problem with hard water is that it leaves mineral buildup – known as scale – on everything. It lines your pipes, coats the inside of your water heater, sits in your fresh water tank, and will clog your pipes as chunks of it come loose.
If I had known at the time, I would have used a portable Water softener to prevent this from happening.
Water softeners remove hard-water-causing minerals from water by using thousands of small negatively charged polystyrene beads. The beads need to be regularly ‘charged’ with salt water to work.
When your water softener is charged, you then connect it to your inlet water and the hard water moves through the softener. As the hard water moves past the beads, the sodium is swapped with calcium and magnesium because calcium and magnesium have a stronger positive charge than sodium. This means you’ll have small amounts of salt in your water – a potential concern if you have high blood pressure – but it removes the minerals that cause scale.
You’ll notice the difference right away as your hair and skin will feel softer after a shower and soap will do a better jobs of washing your dishes – plus you won’t have scale forming on all of your appliances including your coffee pot.
The drawback to water softeners is that they need to be regularly recharged. You do this by ‘regenerating’ the softener with a salt water solution. You use enough salt water that it overcomes the bond of the minerals and the resin beads and washes the minerals out of the softener. In the process salt bonds with the resin beads, and then you’re ready to use your water softener again. You can use standard table salt to regenerate the softener, so on the plus side the process is inexpensive.
The remaining water is flushed out of the water softener as brine, and you can either dump it down the sewer pipe or on the ground as it’s not that salty or full of minerals.
Portable water softener cost in the $200 – $300 dollar range and weigh about 30 pounds. If you spend a lot of time in hard water areas, it’s a very good idea to have and use one – trust me!
I hope you found this post useful. I did my best to condense a LOT of information into a relatively small space, however water filtration is a huge subject.
Regarding our filtration system, I plan to do a better job addressing hard water going forward. Many of the parks we’ve visited have hard water, so I’d like to add a water softener to our system – or perhaps will use a filter to address this issue (like a phosphate filter).
If and when I do upgrade, I’ll make a video and discuss water softeners in more detail, but until then – and until next time, happy trekking!