Naturally, you want your water to be clean and pure whether you are at home or on an adventure in your RV.
However, not all water sources are created equally, and it’s entirely possible that you will encounter sub-optimal water supplies in your travels.
To ensure that your water is clean, safe, and tastes good, you’ll need to install some type of water filtration system in your RV.
In this article, we’ll cover the various types, review some of the best RV water filters, and dive into a buyer’s guide to help you choose the filter that’s right for you.
Table of Contents
- RV Water Filters: Our Top Picks
- Why Do You Need a Water Filter in Your RV?
- RV Water Filter Diagram
- Whole RV vs. Partial Water Filtration Systems
- Types of Water Filters & How They Work
- RV Water Filter Buying Guide
- How to Install an RV Water Filter & Replace the Filter
- How to Clean an RV Water Filter
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RV Water Filters: Our Top Picks
- Best Inline Water Filter: USA Adventure Gear 3-in-1 Inline Water Filter
- Best Sediment Filter: Water Pump Strainer Filter
- Best Activated Carbon Filter: Clearsource Premium RV Water Filter System
- Best Ceramic Filter: Doulton Hip Undersink Water Filtration System
- Best Reverse Osmosis Filter: Waterdrop G2 RO Tankless Osmosis Water Filter
- Best UV Purification: iSpring 7-Stage Drinking Water Filtration System
- Best Countertop Water System Unit: Big Berkey BK4X2 Countertop Water Filter System
Why Do You Need a Water Filter in Your RV?
RV water filters remove sediment and contaminants from your water supply in order to protect both your water pump and yourself.
Without a filter, sediment can build up in your water pump and other appliances and eventually damage them.
Contaminants like harmful bacteria, chemicals, viruses, parasites, and even human or animal waste can work themselves into water sources and, if consumed, can cause all manner of problems like diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, pneumonia, and other illnesses.
And, somewhat predictably, unfiltered water might have an unpleasant taste.
Regardless of whether the water source you use is marked as potable, you should still filter any water you will consume and ideally all the water that enters your RV’s fresh water tank.
This will keep your RV plumbing operating smoothly and ensure that you have great-tasting, safe, clean water. In addition, having a water filtration system means you won’t have to buy water bottles, which can be expensive and are not great for the environment.
RV Water Filter Diagram
It’s actually best practice to have more than one filtration method in your system.
For instance, in the diagram below, you can see that there’s:
- an inline water filter that filters the city water before it even enters your freshwater tank,
- a water pump filter that catches any remaining sediment before it can get into your pump and foul it up, and
- a third filtration system to completely purify the water before you drink any of it.
As you can see, not all the water is triple filtered – the water used in the shower and utility faucet and sink does not pass through the third filter since that water won’t be ingested.
However, this is just a sample diagram, and your specific needs will dictate what the best RV water filter is for you.
Whole RV vs. Partial Water Filtration Systems
There are two main categories of water filtration systems: whole RV systems and partial systems.
Whole RV water filtration systems will filter every drop of water that enters your RV fresh water tank, such as an inline filter that attaches to the water source or a water pump filter through which all water will flow.
Partial filtration systems will only filter some of the water, such as only that used for drinking or cooking.
These systems can be placed underneath the counter before the water flows out of the faucet, or they can be a countertop unit that must be filled periodically.
Depending on your RVing style, one or both of these systems might be your best option.
Types of Water Filters & How They Work
There are several types of water filters available. Each has its own pros and cons depending on how frequently you’ll be RVing, the purity of the water sources you’ll be using, and your preferences regarding the quality of the water you’ll be drinking.
Let’s look at how some of the various types work and review some examples of each type.
Inline Water Filters or Strainers
Inline water filters generally attach to the water source outside of the RV, although some are designed to be built into the internal system.
They filter all water that enters the fresh water tank and ensures that your water will taste good and be safe to use.
This Camco inline filter is one of the most popular for RVers.
It is inexpensive, comes with a flexible hose protector, and has a 20-micron rating. It uses granular activated carbon to filter out chlorine, sediment, and unpleasant tastes and odors.
In addition, it uses kinetic degradation fluxion (KDF) technology to prevent bacterial growth while it’s not being used.
However, this product does not filter bacteria or other dangerous pathogens out of the water, so it’s best used with water that you are sure is reasonably safe. The filter should be replaced every three months or each camping season.
This is a beefier inline RV water filter that can be used for up to one year or for filtering 25,000 gallons of water.
It’s more expensive than the Camco option, but it lasts 3-4 times as long, so it actually works out to about the same cost per month.
It has a flow rate of up to 5 gallons per minute and uses a combination of granular activated charcoal and Quantum BioFiltration.
KDF prevents bacteria from growing in the filter while it’s not in use.
Culligan’s inline filter is similar to the Camco one in terms of technology and filter lifespan, although it is a bit cheaper.
It also comes with a flexible hose piece to protect your connection points from stress.
Sediment is basically dirt, grit, and other debris that can turn the water an unappealing color and cause it to taste dirty, mineral-y, and unpleasant.
It can also reduce water pressure and clog your water pump, pipes, and other appliances like your faucets, shower, and toilet.
Plus, sediment will cause any other filtration systems to work less efficiently – carbon filters will need to be changed much more frequently, and UV filters will not be able to purify your water completely.
So, a sediment filter is a crucial part of any RV water filtration system.
This $11 piece of equipment can be the difference between a beautifully functional RV plumbing system and a major, expensive disaster.
It prevents any sediment from getting into your water pump, and you can easily see when it’s time to clean it out since the catch area is clear.
It can be used with popular WFCO and Shurflo pumps.
Activated Carbon Filters
Carbon filters are very popular since they remove chlorine, chloramines, pesticides, herbicides, and other volatile organic compounds from water and give it a fresh, clean taste.
Chlorine is often added to municipal water sources as a disinfectant, which is good for eliminating bacteria and other pathogens but leaves water with a chemical taste and smell.
Plus, ingesting chlorine isn’t great for you either.
In a carbon filter, the contaminants adhere to the carbon block like Velcro, and only pure water is allowed to flow through.
They come in three different types: solid block carbon filters, modified carbon filters, and granular activated carbon filters.
Carbon filters will not necessarily eliminate bacteria (although some do). In addition, they will quickly become clogged if you use them on water with high sediment levels, so they are best suited for use with municipal water hookups or other relatively clean water sources.
This dual-canister carbon system has two-stage filtration: one filter with a 5-micron rating to remove sediment, chlorine, and other volatile organic compounds, and another filter with a 0.2-micron rating to remove bacteria, viruses, and cysts.
This type of filter is significantly more expensive than any of the inline options, but it is a much more comprehensive system.
Ceramic filters are one of the oldest methods for filtering water – tried and true, you might say.
They are powerful, affordable, and generally last a pretty long time. Similar to a carbon filter, there is a ceramic cartridge inside the filter.
Water flows through the ceramic cartridge, but tiny pores in the casing catch impurities and contaminants.
These are generally used for point-of-use drinking water, such as in an under-sink filter or a countertop unit.
They can filter out sediment and turbidity (discoloration of the water) and about 99% of bacteria.
Since ceramic filters aren’t great for removing chemicals from water, they commonly include a carbon aspect as well for more comprehensive filtering.
This ceramic filter sits just behind the attached kitchen faucet and has a diverter that either allows water to flow straight through the faucet or through the filter and then through the faucet.
It filters out suspended solids, cloudiness, unpleasant taste, lead, chlorine, parasites, and bacteria.
This is similar to the countertop housing unit above in terms of technology, except that this inline model is designed to be mounted underneath the counter.
No faucet is included with this unit, nor is the faucet connector.
Reverse Osmosis Filters
Reverse osmosis filters are among the most comprehensive and effective water filters.
Water is forced through a semipermeable membrane with extremely tiny pores that strip out almost 100% of imperfections in the water.
While they are highly effective, reverse osmosis filters require more space since the system is quite involved.
As such, they aren’t the most practical option for smaller recreational vehicles, although it certainly can be done if clean water is a high priority.
This system filters out all contaminants larger than 0.01 micron in size, although it does not remove beneficial minerals such as potassium, calcium, sodium, or magnesium.
It has a flow rate of 0.5 gallons per minute and is designed to fit easily into an RV water system since it’s entirely self-contained.
It has a smart indication system that allows you to check water quality and whether you need to replace any of the filters with a single glance.
This system uses five different filters: a polypropylene sediment filter, a granular activated carbon filter, a carbon block filter, a reverse osmosis membrane with a 0.0001-micron rating, and a post-carbon filter.
It comes with a faucet and a 3-piece set of pre-filter replacement units.
This unit is smaller in size than many other RO options, although it still offers a flow rate of 4.75 gallons per minute at a pressure of 60 PSI.
It removes 99.999% of impurities, is easy to install, and includes four extra filters in the kit.
Ultraviolet purification is really only necessary for raw water that you know isn’t safe to drink, such as water that might contain dangerous bacteria, viruses, or cysts. UV purification works by using radiation to damage the genetic code of bacteria, making them unable to reproduce in the water.
While UV purification will make your water safe to drink, it will not improve the taste. So, it’s generally best used in conjunction with another system that will target the taste and appearance of the water.
This comprehensive system uses reverse osmosis, an ultraviolet filter, and an alkaline remineralization process to generate clean water that is not stripped of all its healthy minerals.
It’s an under-sink unit that includes seven different stages of filtration, allowing you to safely use water from nearly any water source, including lakes and streams.
It has a sensor to turn the UV light on and off as needed so that no power is wasted.
However, keep in mind that since it does require electricity, you will need to account for that when planning your RV’s electricity system.
Countertop Water System Unit
Countertop water systems are a good option for when you don’t want to aggressively filter all the water that comes into your RV, but you want to ensure that your drinking and cooking water is safe and pure.
You can simply refill a countertop unit as it gets empty and have a supply of a few gallons of water that is filtered and ready for consumption.
The Big Berkey can hold 2.25 gallons of purified water at a time. It uses two filters: a fluoride element with a lifespan of 3,000 gallons and a black element with a lifespan of 1,000 gallons.
This package comes with two of each type of filter. It can be used for both treated and raw water and can purify up to 7 gallons per hour.
RV Water Filter Buying Guide
Now that we’ve covered the different types of RV water filters available and a few examples of each type, let’s look at some specific metrics to help you determine the best option.
Some filtration systems can be quite large in terms of their physical size. Therefore, depending on your rig’s overall size and the space you have available for your filtration system, there may be some options that are naturally a better fit than others (literally) for your situation.
Some filters are designed to fit underneath your countertop. In contrast, others sit on the countertop, are installed near your water pump, or are not permanently installed at all (i.e., external inline filters).
Naturally, if you are replacing an existing filter, the easiest option would be to select a new filter of a similar size.
But, if you are building a camper from scratch (a van conversion, for instance), be sure to account for the size of the filtration system when you are drawing up plans for your build.
The size of the filter will also be somewhat dictated by the water pressure of your plumbing system, which is set by your water pump (although this is often an adjustable setting).
Not all types and sizes of water filters can handle high pressure, so ensure that you match the pump, system size, water pressure, and filter type accordingly.
In a similar vein, the amount of water you plan to filter should be taken into account when selecting a filter.
If you filter all the water coming into your RV, an inline or multi-canister system will be your best bet.
If you just want to filter some of the water in your RV, such as that which comes out of your kitchen faucet and is used for drinking and cooking, then you can opt for an under-sink filtration system that has a smaller capacity.
Or even smaller yet, you can select a countertop unit that filters a few gallons at a time for your drinking and cooking needs.
You might opt to filter all the water that comes into your RV with a sediment filter and/or an inline filter and then further purify only the water that you’ll be consuming. Often a combination of different filter types is the best fit.
How Often You’ll Use It & Water Source
How frequently you will use the filtration system also plays a role in the selection process.
For example, suppose you are a part-time RVer who will only be out camping a couple of weeks per year and going only to organized campgrounds with potable water hookups. In that case, you likely don’t need to invest in a superintense water filtration system.
However, suppose you are a full-time RVer, traveling to areas with questionable water sources, or going completely off the grid and filtering water from lakes and streams. In that case, you will want to choose a more substantial system that can protect you and your appliances from pathogens and sediment and ensure that water from any source will taste good and clean.
The micron rating of a filter indicates the size of the particles that can pass through it – so the smaller the micron rating, the fewer contaminant particles will make it through the filtration process.
Naturally, the smaller the micron rating, generally the more expensive the filter will be. Therefore, it’s a good idea to select a filter with the best micron rating possible that still fits within your budget.
Some highly effective filters might also have a submicron rating, which means that they can filter even the tiniest impurities out of your water.
Filters will also have a flow rating, which is usually measured in gallons per minute. Depending on the filter, the flow rate can vary from around 0.5 GPM to 3 or more GPM.
This metric is important if you plan to filter all the water in your RV. For example, if your water filter has a lower flow rate than your shower head, it can negatively impact the water pressure.
All filters have an expected lifespan, which refers to the point at which they need to be replaced or maintained.
Sometimes this is as simple as replacing the carbon cartridge, but some filters need to be replaced entirely.
Filter lifespan can either be measured in months or in gallons that flow through it, in which case how often you use the filter will need to be taken into account.
Ease of Use & Installation
If you’ll be doing the filter installation yourself, it’s wise to choose a relatively simple filter unless you have experience with plumbing.
Even if your filter develops a small leak, the consequences can be catastrophic – like mold, mildew, rot, and so forth.
The simplest type of filter to use is an inline option because although you need to screw it into place each time, there is a low probability for leaks or other problems since it’s outside the rig entirely.
But, if you are confident with your abilities to install a more complicated filtration system properly, a canister system requires the least effort in the long term.
And remember that you will need to perform maintenance on your filter somewhat regularly, so it’s best to place it somewhere that will be easily accessible.
Price & Ongoing Costs
Obviously, the initial price of a filter will vary based on the type and other factors, but it’s also important to account for the ongoing cost of operating water filters.
Inline filters are generally inexpensive, but they need to be replaced entirely after filtering a certain amount of gallons.
Some carbon filters have replaceable cartridges, and reverse osmosis systems have pre-filters that usually need to be changed every six months.
UV filtration systems need to have new lamps installed each year, and sediment strainer filters need to be emptied regularly.
So, not only do you need to budget for the initial investment cost, but also the cost to maintain, repair, and replace the filter regularly.
Popular Water Filter Brands for Campers
There are many different water filter brands for campers, but some of the most popular are Camco, Doulton, Watts Premier, Culligan, and Clear2O. First, let’s look at some specifics about each brand.
Camco has been creating RV products since 1966. They have a reputation for high-quality products and continue to deliver on their promise of quality and innovation to this day.
UK-based Doulton has been continually manufacturing their ceramic filters since 1827, and no, that’s not a typo – they’ve been in the water filtration business for nearly 200 years!
Watts Premier was founded in 1988 and has lived up to its mission to design, develop, and market high-quality water filtration systems.
Culligan has been a leader in the water treatment industry since 1936. They are professional, community-minded, and customer service-focused.
Clear2O is a newer company, although they have already created a solid reputation in the industry. Their goal is to bring homeowners and RVers better water by design, and so far, they have certainly delivered.
How to Install an RV Water Filter & Replace the Filter
Obviously, the installation process will vary based on the type of RV water filter you select.
Some don’t need permanent installation at all (inline filters, for instance), while others require some know-how to successfully install (like reverse osmosis or canister systems).
For permanently installed systems, be sure to completely shut off your RV’s water supply and pump, and drain the system so that you don’t cause a flood.
Be sure that you are installing your filter in the correct orientation – most are clearly labeled with an input and output.
Use plumber’s tape to wrap any metal-to-metal connections to prevent leaks. Finally, be sure to test the filter by turning back on the water system before you finish mounting it in the RV.
If you only need to replace the filter, you’ll still want to follow generally the same steps: turn off the water supply and/or your water pump, drain the system as much as possible, and disconnect the filtration system so you can access the replaceable filter.
How to Clean an RV Water Filter
If your water filter is designed to be cleaned (and not all of them are), the first step is usually to backflush it by running clean water backwards through the filter.
This rinses away contaminants and helps unclog the filter so you can continue to use it.
Depending on the filter design, you may be able to simply reverse the flow, or you might need to remove the filter and use an external garden hose to run water through it backwards.
If you have a very small filter and a garden hose is too large, a syringe can be used to force water through it.
Ceramic filters need to be disassembled and brushed clean with a soft-bristle brush. Filters can also be cleaned using chlorinated water or a mixture of water and a tiny amount of bleach, which should both be followed with at least one gallon of regular clean water before you use the filter again.
While it is possible to clean the filters of some types of filtration systems, it’s not always recommended. Cleaning a filter for reuse is labor-intensive, and there’s no guarantee that the filter will work as well as it should, which can have devastating effects on your health and your RV. Unless your filter is specifically designed to be cleaned and reused, it’s best to simply replace it when necessary.
As we’ve covered, each different type of water filter will have a different lifespan. Generally speaking, an RV water filter can last anywhere from 3 months to a year before needing maintenance or replacement. Filters that cost the least tend to need replacement more often, while more advanced and expensive filtration systems usually last longer.
Some types of RV water filters will remove chlorine, while others will not. For example, a sediment filter will not remove chlorine, but any type of filter that includes a carbon element likely will. As such, it’s important to use a combination of a few different types of filters to completely purify your water if you are concerned about a variety of contaminants.
Generally, no. Essentially all RV water filters are not designed to handle hot water, although you can always check with the manufacturer about specific temperature restrictions. However, if you build your plumbing system intentionally, you can have your filters in the system ahead of your water heater. That way, there won’t be any sediment or contaminants to clog up your water heater, and you won’t have to worry about running hot water through your filter.
As you can see, selecting the best RV water filter for your needs is a complex process. However, now that you are armed with the knowledge about how each different type of filter works and some product recommendations for each, hopefully, you are feeling confident and able to make an informed decision. So enjoy that crisp, delicious water wherever your RV travels might take you!
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