How Often to Replace Your Refrigerator Water Filter

Posted by
John Woodard on May 23, 2024

If you haven't changed your refrigerator water filter in a few months, a year, or several years, you may be wondering when you should replace it. Maybe your water still tastes fine, so you are questioning if changing your fridge filter is even necessary. In this article, you can learn answers to common questions about refrigerator filters and how often you should replace them.

How does a refrigerator water filter work?

The average refrigerator filter uses a combination of sediment and activated carbon filtration. The sediment filter removes large particles remaining in the water while the activated carbon filter clings to particles through a process called adsorption. The main contaminant removed from the carbon core in a fridge filter is chlorine. When water passes through the carbon core, about 90% of chlorine particles cling to the carbon’s surface area. When the carbon no longer has room for any more particles, the filter is no longer effective, and contaminants can even leak into the water as the water passes through the filter. This makes changing a refrigerator water filter regularly essential in maintaining the odorless and clean-tasting properties it provides.  

Learn more: Activated carbon filters 101

What does a refrigerator water filter remove?

Typically, refrigerator filters are designed to remove three major contaminants: lead, chlorine, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some are rated to remove cysts and chloramine as well. Most refrigerator filters have a micron rating of about 20, so extremely small contaminants are not filtered out by fridge filters. Water travels through miles of underground pipes before ever reaching your home or business. Along the way, it may collect lead from old pipes, agricultural runoff, and other harmful compounds.


Until the twentieth century, lead was considered harmless and useful in the production of paint, pottery, and plumbing pipes. 50% of solder used for plumbing prior to 1986 contained lead. Because water is a great solvent, it collects lead from old pipes and carries them to your faucet. A building constructed before The Safe Water Drinking Act probably has lead pipes and lead soldered copper and fixtures that could leach into your water.

Because lead is toxic, the EPA sets the maximum contaminant level for lead in drinking water at zero. Ingesting lead leads to reproductive problems, premature birth, and brain, hearing, heart, and kidney damage. See a full list of the health effects of lead from the EPA.

Learn more: How to remove lead from water


Chlorine disinfects drinking water by killing bacteria, viruses, and parasites, virtually eliminating waterborne diseases like typhoid and dysentery. However, it also ruins the flavor of water used for drinking and cooking. Carbon fridge filters are great for giving chlorine-treated drinking water a fresh taste. 

Chloramines are a combination of chlorine and ammonia that municipalities use to reduce the formation of harmful disinfection byproducts like trihalomethane. Few studies on the health effects of chloramines have been conducted, and the results so far are unclear. Fridge filters with catalytic carbon remove chlorine and chloramines by separating the chlorine from the ammonia and converting the chlorine into chloride.

Learn more: How to remove chlorine from drinking water


Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are harmful chemicals that are found in manufactured products like paints, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals. Exposure to VOCs can cause issues like eye and throat irritation, liver and kidney damage, nausea, and headaches. In addition to these symptoms, VOCs give water an unpleasant odor and taste. The EPA estimates that about twenty percent of drinking water supplies are contaminated with VOCs. Because of this, the EPA regulates the levels of many different types of VOCs in city water. The adsorption properties of the activated carbon in refrigerator filters grab hold of many types of VOCs and prevent them from escaping.

Learn more: What are VOCs and how do you remove them from water?

what a refrigerator water filter removes

Are refrigerator water filters necessary?

New refrigerator filters provide clean water, reduce contaminants, and prevent bacteria from getting into your water. However, carbon has limited capacity. The longer you wait to change your filter, the worse the quality of your water gets.

What happens if I don’t change my fridge water filter?

  1. The filter clogs.It reaches a point where it will no longer filter because it is packed with dirt and debris. You know the filter is past time to be changed when water stops flowing out.
  2. Carbon reaches maximum capacity.Water continues to flow through the filter even if the surface area is full, but the water carries contaminants along with it. When all the spaces in an old carbon filter are taken, particles accumulate or pass through the filter.
  3. Your filter grows bacteria.A loaded carbon filter collects particles that living organisms feed off of, and the filter becomes a campground for bacteria.

Refrigerator filters are effective at what they are designed to do. They are excellent at chlorine taste, odor, and sediment reduction. They will not soften water, remove iron, or prevent health hazards in untreated water. If your water comes from a well, then you are responsible for its safety and need more than a fridge filter to treat your water. Well water typically requires whole house water filtration, including some type of bacteria treatment.

Learn more: How a UV system deactivates bacteria | How to install a well water system.

Is replacing my refrigerator water filter worth it?

Yes, replacing your fridge water filter protects you from the effects of contaminants that refrigerator filters are designed to remove. Just because your water tastes fresh, does not mean it is. Many contaminants are tasteless. A family of four who uses their water dispenser and ice machine often should get a new filter every six months. On the other hand, a couple without children may only need to replace it once a year. If you have not replaced your fridge filter in several years, you are not drinking filtered water but something else entirely.

Seventy percent of your body is made up of water. If the water you drink contains detrimental contaminants, then your body is going to suffer. Grabbing a plastic water bottle on the go is certainly convenient, but filling a reusable bottle with filtered refrigerator water is more friendly to the environment. Using two refrigerator filters a year conserves around 3000 bottles of water, saves you $600 a year, and reduces plastic pollution.

Can old refrigerator water make me sick?

Refrigerator filters are intended to work on already micro-biologically safe water. City water has already been chemically treated for viruses and pathogens. However, if you continue to use a filter past a year, your tap water could be enhanced with all the previously blocked contaminants. An old filter becomes prime living quarters for living organisms that could enter your digestive or gastrointestinal tract and cause flu-like symptoms.

How often should I replace my refrigerator water filter?

Refrigerator filters should be replaced every 6 months. Never leave a filter in place longer than a year. The longer you use a carbon filter beyond its maximum capacity, the more harmful your water could become.

Learn more: Are refrigerator air filters necessary?

fridge ice dispenser

Pros of refrigerator water filters

A refrigerator water filter offers the following benefits over other forms of water filtration:

  • Great convenience. Refrigerator water filters are easily the most convenient drinking water filtration method on the market. They provide filtered water readily at the push of a button and filter the water that is used by the ice maker. Because they have such a high flow rate, refrigerator water filters do not require any type of storage tank to accommodate slow filtration.
  • High flow rate. The high flow rate of refrigerator filters means water can be filtered in “real time” as the dispenser is activated. This allows you to dispense any volume of water desired at any given time, something some other filtration systems, such as reverse osmosis, cannot provide.
  • Simple maintenance. A refrigerator water filter should be replaced about once every six months. While the specifics of replacing a filter vary from fridge to fridge, the process generally involves a simple insertion and twist to lock the filter in place. Water will then need to be run through the filter to flush out compressed air before it is ready to use. Learn how to replace your refrigerator water filter.
  • Improved water taste and odor. Improving the taste and odor of water is the goal of a refrigerator water filter. Chlorine is necessary for killing bacteria, viruses, and parasites in water, but it makes water less pleasing to drink. Refrigerator filters reduce chlorine levels in water to give it a fresh, crisp taste.

Cons of refrigerator water filters

In contrast to other types of water filtration, refrigerator water filters possess the following downsides.

  • Ineffective at removing many contaminants. While refrigerator filters are effective at removing contaminants like chlorine, lead, and some VOCs, other contamination concerns like fluoride, microplastics, arsenic, heavy metals, bacteria, and viruses are not removed. If your home receives city-treated water, microbial contaminants are not a concern unless you are placed under a “boil water” advisory. Other filtration systems, such as reverse osmosis and water distillers, purify water much better than refrigerator filters, but a fridge water filter allows water to taste better than it would straight from the tap.
  • Contain only one filtration stage. Many filtration systems contain at least three stages. This allows for a higher percentage of contaminants to be reduced in the final product. Because of limited space, refrigerator filters only work in a single stage, preventing them from removing higher levels of the contaminants they reduce.
  • Need frequent replacement. Refrigerator water filters need replacement every six months to one year, and they can be expensive for a filter used exclusively for drinking water. Not replacing your refrigerator filter can render a product that is worse than tap water, so maintaining these frequent replacements is essential.
  • Increase cost of refrigerator substantially. Refrigerators that come with a built-in water filter come with higher initial costs, and these do not even include the filter replacement costs that come later. Some users may opt to purchase a less expensive refrigerator without a filter and incorporate another filtration system under their sink.

Can I use refrigerator filtered water for an aquarium?

While refrigerator filters reduce levels of chlorine and VOCs in water, they do not produce water that is ideal for aquarium life. Contaminants like total dissolved solids (TDS), nitrates, and water hardening minerals are not treated by refrigerator filters and can have detrimental effects on fish and plant health. Filtration systems like reverse osmosis and ion exchange are preferable to other filtration methods because they provide a pure base of water that can be manipulated for any fish’s needs.

Learn more: Why you should use reverse osmosis water for your aquarium

Do refrigerator water filters remove fluoride?

No, refrigerator filters are not capable of removing fluoride from water. Fluoride is added to water at water treatment plants to prevent cavities and assist overall oral health. However, some risks are involved when fluoride consumption becomes too high. These risks include joint pain, discolored teeth, muscle impairment, stiffness, hypothyroidism, and reduced intelligence. If fluoride is a concern for you, you will need to use a more substantial filtration system such as reverse osmosis or distillation.

Learn more: How to remove fluoride from water

replacing fridge water filter

OEM vs aftermarket refrigerator water filters

When it comes time to change your refrigerator filter, you have two purchase options:

OEM replacement filters: name-brand filters from the original manufacturer

Aftermarket replacement filters: generic or off-brand filters

Whenever you are shopping for a new refrigerator water filter, purchasing one from the original manufacturer (OEM) is a safe, easy option. Just know that OEM filters could cost $50 or more. If you are looking for a more affordable filter, then you may want to purchase an aftermarket filter compatible with your refrigerator style.

OEM refrigerator filters


  • Simple search
  • Expected quality performance
  • NSF certified


  • More expensive

Aftermarket refrigerator filters


  • Cheaper
  • Quality compatible options


  • Risk of lower performance
  • May not be NSF certified

What to look for in a fridge filter

Each style of refrigerator matches with one OEM filter and a few different aftermarket refrigerator filters. Some aftermarket filters are designed with high standards for quality, and others are not. Once you locate the model of your refrigerator or filter part number, finding the best aftermarket refrigerator filter gets tricky. Consider the below items before making your final decision.

Micron rating

The carbon block in a fridge filter is often wrapped in a material with small pores that stop sediment and other particles from flowing through. The size of the pores is measured in microns. The smaller the pore size, the finer the particles blocked and the better the filter. Refrigerator filters come in class I, II, or III with different micron ratings.

  • Class I: 0.5- 1 micron (the most particulate removed)
  • Class II: 1- 5 microns
  • Class III: 5- 15 microns

Nominal vs absolute rating

A refrigerator filter may claim to have an absolute 0.5 micron rating. This means the filter pore size is exactly 0.5 micron-- nothing larger will pass through. If a 0.5 micron size is described as "nominal," then the pores are roughly that size. Look for filters with absolute ratings for the greatest contaminant reduction. 


If a fridge filter is NSF certified, then it meets certain standards set by NSF International. The two most common NSF ratings for fridge filters are the following:

NSF 42: Filter meets criteria for material safety and structural integrity.

NSF 53: Filter meets criteria for contaminant reduction.

Some aftermarket filters are certified by other third-party organizations. Sometimes these testing laboratories follow the NSF testing protocol, but other times they do not. Use caution when purchasing a refrigerator filter without a valid certification from a third-party lab using NSF testing protocol.

The Neo-Pure refrigerator filters are part of our own line of compatible replacement filters. They are certified to NSF 42 and designed and tested in an independent laboratory according to NSF protocol.


If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.


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