Ever since I posted the video tour of our RV on Youtube, I get regular question about our RV Water Filtration setup.
I finally made a video that shows our Water Filter Setup. In the video I discuss RV Water Pressure Regulators, RV Water Filtration, Reverse Osmosis and more. I suggest watching the video first, then read on for more information, details, and links.
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 no more than 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 horrible to have your RV spring a leak – especially in an enclosed area or when you’re not there. A bad leak could cause permanent water damage to your floor, cabinets, walls, storage bins, and anything stored in any of those locations.
Therefor 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 2 problems with standard inline water pressure regulators:
1. Cheap Inline Water Pressure Regulators are usually set to 40psi. This is unnecessarily low, and makes for a weak shower unless you’re using an Oxygenics Shower Head (read our Oxygenics Showerhead Review →).
2. In-line regulators aren’t designed to be cleaned or maintained. Over time they clog up with dirt, calcium, and lime deposits – which means you’ll need to buy a new regulator. In the meantime, you’ll struggle with increasingly low water pressure.
I’m speaking from experience as we went through two of these models (a Valterra and then a Camco unit) before I purchased our current adjustable water pressure regulator. More on that below.
Recommended Water Pressure Regulators for Part Time RVers:
That said, if you’re a part-time RVer and you don’t want to spend extra for an adjustable pressure regular, then the next best thing is to use a high-flow water pressure regular like those I’ve linked to below. The Stainless Steel unit is better as it will resist build up and corrosion better and longer than the Brass unit – but that’s just in my experience. Either unit should last a part-time RVer for at least a few years.
Water Pressure Regulator Recommendation for Full-Time RVers
I didn’t want to have to continually replace water pressure regulators, plus ongoing water pressure issues (shower, sink, etc..) are not fun to deal with. Therefore it felt like a no-brainer to upgrade to an adjustable unit. I love the ability to set the water pressure (60psi = perfect to me) and it completely changed the experience of taking a shower in our RV.
For adjustable units I recommend the Renator M11-0660R Water Pressure Regulator. This unit is constructed of Brass (lead-free) and it’s adjustable to 160PSI. It also includes a one-year warranty and the price is right. As mentioned I usually set ours to 60psi, and in general it’s a set it and forget it type water pressure regulator.
Again, I think adjustable water pressure regulators are the way to go for all RVers, but it’s a must (in my opinion) 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.
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).
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 filter system? See the clear canister with the brown water filter inside? That filter was bright white only a couple months ago. We’ve been hooked up to city water the entire time, and yet a 5-micron filter has filtered that brown gunk 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 – not to mention that we’d be drinking them. Consider that this is after a couple 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 a Camco TastePure inline water filter. These are 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 many 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.”
The 3 Drawbacks to the Camco Inline Filter:
#1 – The Camco Filter is only rated down to 100 microns. 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 – The Filters Clog up Relatively Quickly. As the filter is trying to do everything (vs a multi-canister system) they can clog up after a month or so. I’ve read anywhere from 30 – 45 days of use (maybe 60?). This depends (of course) on how much water you use and how good your source water is.
In spite of these issues, the Camco water filter is still the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to filter water and it’s probably the best option for most RVers. Note that Camco also has a premium version called the EVO Premium filter which I’ve linked to below. This unit does work better and last longer than their inline filter.
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 get expensive in a hurry.
That’s why I recommend adding a 2-canister water filtration system to your RV, assuming you have space to install one.
Updated RV Water Filter Recommendations for 2019
A lot has changed since I originally wrote this article – including my recommendations. First, if you’re interested in a premium RV Water Filtration solution, then read my ClearSource RV Water Filter Review. Clearsource makes the best RV Water Filter System I’ve used, and it’s free-standing design is good for any RV. That said, it’s expensive, so I’ve listed some less expensive and still good options below as well.
Note that even though our system was 3 canister, I recommend a 2 canister system. In 6+ years of RVing, I never used the 3rd canister, so I consider it unnecessary. All the systems below include a set of filters (sediment + carbon), although some filters are better than others. I can vouch for the quality of the Clearsource unit, and the ‘Essential RV’ system is the 2-canister version of our exact system.
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 is so I can gauge when it’s time to replace it. If your system is visible and will get regular light, then you must use opaque (solid color) canisters. Algae needs light to grow, and a clear canister will turn green very quickly if left in the light.
The Clearsource Water Filtration system below has dual clear canisters and a wall mounting bracket so you know it’s designed to be installed in an enclosed storage area – similar to our system.
Once you have a canister system, the next question is what filters should you use? My recommendation is to buy a pack of 1-micron sediment filters from Amazon for the first canister. These will last for a while in some parks and not-so-long in others which is why it’s good to carry a few. They also weigh next to nothing when dry.
The 4- or 6-pack price is much better than buying individually, and each filter should last 2 – 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 if you full time.
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 a Compressed Carbon Block Filter →. This filter won’t last as long as the KDF unit, but block carbon filters do a much better job of removing chlorine and bad taste than granulated activated carbon.
Note that a .5 micron filter like the Pentek I’ve linked to here may slow water flow a bit – and if that’s a concern than stick with the 1 micron activated carbon unit I linked to above.
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.
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.
The Other Problem with Reverse Osmosis
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 (such as the one below) at your sink for drinking and cooking water. This will dramatically cut down on water waste while still giving you clean drinking water.
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.
We lived in our RV in California for a year, and California has notoriously hard water. When we left the state, chunks of scale broke free from wherever they’d been lodged (mostly in the water heater) and clogged EVERYTHING. Our sinks stopped working, our toilet water lines clogged, our shower plugged up, etc.. I was able to remove most of it from our system, but had to open up a bunch of water lines to dump out the chunks of scale, and had to backflush/drain the system several times.
If I had known at the time, I would have used a portable Water softener to prevent this from happening.
July 2017 update – We Added an On The Go Portable Water Softener
I’ll be adding a review of our water softener in the future – but for now, here’s a picture of our water softener tucked into the ‘garage’ of our RV.
How Water Softeners Work
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 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 (salt) 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.
Water Softener Drawbacks
The drawback to water softeners is that they need to be regularly recharged as mentioned above. 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.
Fortunately this is a simple process. You simply dump a container of salt (cheap) in the softener, and then run water in the opposite direction through the unit. An adapter is included specifically for attaching the host the other way.
The water that you flush through the softener should be dumped down the sewer pipe as it’s salty and full of minerals.
RV Water Softener Recommendations
I’d recommend either of the units below. On The Go makes good quality Water Softeners. We use their 8000 grain unit, and we paid full price for it.
I hope you found this post useful. I did my best to condense a LOT of information into a relatively small space and include helpful links to recommended products (affiliate links – full disclosure).
Many RV parks have sketchy water, so I hope this post inspires you to add water filtration to your RV. At the very least use a water pressure regulator! 🙂 Good luck out there, and happy trekking!