Following instructions and recommended guidelines comes naturally to people. Any job or school subject begins with some dos and don’ts and gradually fills in the nuance. The exception comes when the recommendations feel arbitrary and following them comes at a price, then things slide quickly.
General maintenance routines are the worst to follow. No matter how many times it’s recommended to brush after every meal, nobody has that kind of time or discipline. The same goes for changing out water filters on the refrigerator.
It’s only natural that you weigh the time, effort, and cost of these recommendations against the perceived consequences. Fortunately for regular brushing, there is a financial incentive in avoiding dentist bills and plenty of examples of people that didn’t follow that advice.
On the other hand, the dangers of not changing a refrigerator water filter often go unseen.
Internalizing the risks and benefits of water filters is best done by first understanding how filters function.
Most water filters used in refrigerators use a plastic (polypropylene or other) shell around a filter material. The filter material is commonly activated carbon, though you also find some that use carbon blocks or radial flow fiber meshes.
Any fridge filter will include a list of filters with the sizes the filter fits and also include a micron rating. These come in three classes from 0.5 microns up to 15 microns. The smaller the micron rating, the more contaminants the filter screen.
Activated carbon contains some amazing properties that make it excellent at filtering out contaminants and is also cheap to produce. Taking a look at some of the science behind activated carbon reveals some amazing stats.
Essentially, activated carbons pack a lot of surface area in a small volume, which means lots of filtering in a tiny package. Volume matters when it comes to keeping water flowing quickly. At the same time, a large surface area provides more layers of filtering and more space between the captured elements. This means great filtering at a quick pace.
Risks and Issues of Old Water Filters
Manufacturers recommend changing a refrigerator water filter every six months. This can seem excessive for a lot of people. You might even ask why are refrigerator water filters necessary when municipal water is mandated to be safe and clean?
The best answer to that question is indicated by the EPA’s own resources through the concept of waste water resilience. No matter how well treated the water in your city might be, it still has to travel to get to your home. The path the water takes isn’t tested every few feet.
Plenty of materials from other water sources can infiltrate underground pipes and reservoirs, leading to contamination after municipal treatment. Remember, the water in Flint, Michigan was deemed safe for a long amount of time when it really wasn’t. Here are the big three issues to worry about and a rundown of how each gets into your home:
Once used to die pottery, paints, and even food, lead turned out to be a very bad thing to consume. Unfortunately, that wasn’t figured out until the mid-80s so lead pipes and paints are still found in many older homes.
Not all of the lead pipes have been replaced everywhere and the leaching of pipes miles from your home can contaminate your water. Lead is also an insoluble mineral, meaning it doesn’t get carried out once it gets in. This is why people suffer symptoms of lead toxicity over time and not all at once.
Lead toxicity is responsible for damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, and more.
Volatile Organic Compounds
The acronym VOC covers a wide variety of chemicals harmful to humans and animals. These chemicals find use in agriculture and manufacturing, often for sanitation or pest control purposes.
VOCs enter into drinking water through runoff of fields and factories and then leach into pipes. Since VOCs are organic, they tend to be partially used by your body, meaning that your cells absorb the contaminants resulting in issues with liver and kidney function. Most VOCs are also carcinogenic.
This chemical combination of ammonia and chlorine does wonders for keeping water free of disease. Back in the day before municipal water purification, untreated water was full of typhoid and caused dysentery and cholera.
The downside of chloramines is the flavor and smell it leaves in water often leaving an odor of chlorine.
New Water Filter Benefits
Aging filters start to have problems of their own. While the biggest benefit of a new filter is improvements in the quality of your water, an old filter starts to create issues of its own.
A new filter removes the sediment and contaminants that an older filter has been catching. Those sediments don’t stay inert simply because they’ve been caught. In particular, VOCs are living matter and after being in a filter long enough, they will start to grow and reproduce.
This build-up increases the speed with which the filter clogs, causing flow issues. Go long enough without changing a filter and you also get doses of VOCs and less than completely dead typhoid and etc.
Typically you notice the flow of water lessen or even start to see milky or cloudy water coming out of the spout.
A fresh refrigerator water filter will restore the taste of water. Taste is one of the more obvious indicators that the water filter isn’t working as chloramines get in.
You can also test the efficacy of your filter by comparing the flavor of your fridge water and water from an unfiltered tap or outdoor spigot.
Chloramines also add a bit of swimming pool odor to the water. This can be subtle but builds up, especially in people with allergies or sensitive noses.
A new filter removes these noxious odors and restores your pristine flow. The smell isn’t a great way to check for VOCs or lead but chloramines are smaller compounds, so if you smell something in the water it’s likely your safe from health issues if you swap the filter quickly.
When it comes to your health it’s easy to avoid simple maintenance when the consequences seem remote. Changing a water filter doesn’t need to happen like clockwork but needs to happen more often than you probably currently do.
The consequences of not changing out an older refrigerator filter aren’t always severe or life-threatening but more often fall into a quality category. Weight your tastes against your apprehensions while staying vigilant for warning signs.
If the high price of manufacturer fridge filters is holding you back from regularly replacing your filter then check out our ClearChoice brand of refrigerator filters made right here in the USA. They are certified to the same NSF Standards and are usually about half of the price!