Berkey vs. Reverse Osmosis: Which Is Best for You?

By: Jake Gallagher | September 26, 2023

If you’re on the go a lot, you may enjoy the freedom of a Berkey water filter. But if you spend most of your time drinking water at home, a reverse osmosis system may be more practical.

Both systems have their pros and cons, and it’s important to consider your individual needs and preferences when deciding which one is right for you. So we’ve written a Berkey vs reverse osmosis comparison to help you do just that.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the differences between Berkey and reverse osmosis, and help you decide which filtration system you need.

Berkey vs Reverse Osmosis Filters

Berkey water filters have become a popular choice for those seeking clean and safe drinking water. The company was founded in the 1990s and has since become a world leader in water filtration. Berkey water filters use a powerful gravity filtration method that combines absorption, adsorption, and microfiltration to remove contaminants from water.

Reverse osmosis technology began with industry, including the pharmaceutical and food and beverage sectors, as early as 1977. Over time, its applications expanded to residential use, providing households with a reliable and effective water purification method.

The chart below highlights the main differences between the two water filtration methods:

System ProsCons
BerkeyCost-effectiveRetain beneficial mineralsPortable and easy to useEffective at removing a wide range of contaminantsSlow filtrationLimited capacityNo NSF certification
Reverse osmosisHighly effective at removing contaminantsProvides thorough filtration Versatile home useExpensiveHigh maintenanceRemoves beneficial minerals from waterWastes water during the filtration process

Berkey systems are portable, cost-effective, and retain beneficial minerals. But reverse osmosis systems provide more thorough filtration and can remove a wider range of contaminants. 

However, reverse osmosis systems can be expensive to purchase and maintain, and they may remove beneficial minerals from water.

Let’s take a closer look at each filtration system below.

Berkey vs Reverse Osmosis Filters: Features Comparison

Filtration technology

Winner: Tie

The Berkey filtration process involves three different principles: absorption, adsorption, and microfiltration. The first stage involves the absorption of contaminants by the filter media. The Black Berkey Purification Elements and the Berkey PF-2 Fluoride and Arsenic Reduction Elements are designed to attract and hold harmful contaminants. 

The second stage of the process involves the adsorption of contaminants by the filter media, which prevents all the contaminants from mixing with the clean water. And lastly comes the microfiltration stage, in which particles are removed from water by passing it through microscopic pores as small as 0.5 microns.

Reverse osmosis (RO) is a bit different. Household reverse osmosis systems use pressure to push water through a semipermeable membrane that acts as a fine filter. This membrane allows water molecules to pass through while blocking impurities, contaminants, and dissolved solids such as salts, minerals, and heavy metals, from your tap water. 

The result is filtered water that is collected and stored for consumption, while the rejected impurities and wastewater are flushed away. Some RO systems may include additional filtration stages, such as sediment and carbon filters, before the water reaches the membrane, further enhancing the overall purification process.

Determining the “better” filtration technology depends on individual needs and preferences, as well as how contaminated your water is. 

Contaminant removal

Winner: Reverse osmosis

Berkey purification systems utilize a multistage filtration process with activated carbon elements and Berkey’s own proprietary media, effectively removing a diverse range of contaminants:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Sediment
  • Chlorine
  • Fluoride
  • Heavy metals
  • Pesticides
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

While Berkey’s approach is comprehensive and suitable for various water sources, its effectiveness might be limited by the specific contaminant mix and concentrations. Berkey systems do, however, retain beneficial minerals, offering a balanced approach to water purification.

Reverse osmosis is a highly effective water purification process that removes a wide range of impurities from water, including beneficial minerals. The semipermeable membrane used in RO systems is designed to allow only water molecules to pass through while blocking larger particles and ions. 

While some minerals are essential for human health, they are present in relatively small amounts in drinking water compared to the minerals obtained from a balanced diet. Drinking demineralized water from an RO system is not likely to cause significant mineral deficiencies in individuals who consume a well-rounded diet. However, some people prefer water that contains trace minerals for taste or potential health benefits.

In terms of sheer efficiency at contaminant removal, reverse osmosis filters tend to have the upper hand due to their ability to effectively eliminate a broader range of impurities, including dissolved solids and salts. 

While Berkey’s filters are comprehensive, their gravity-fed design might result in somewhat less rigorous removal of certain contaminants compared to the highly specialized purification of RO systems.


Winner: Berkey

Berkey systems are known for their user-friendly installation process — there really isn’t one. They require no complex plumbing or electricity, making them simple to set up on a countertop. Users mainly need to assemble the system, prime the filters, and pour water into the upper chamber to initiate the gravity-fed filtration.

Reverse osmosis filters, while highly effective, involve a more complex installation process. They usually need to be installed under the sink and connected to the water supply. Thus, installation often requires some plumbing knowledge for users to connect the system to both the cold water supply and the drain. 

Additionally, RO systems usually require electricity to provide the necessary water pressure for filtration. This added complexity may make the installation of RO systems more challenging for some users compared to the straightforward setup of a Berkey filter.

In terms of ease of installation, Berkey filters typically have the advantage due to their simplicity and lack of plumbing and electrical requirements. They offer a more convenient and user-friendly installation process for individuals who prefer a hassle-free setup.


Winner: Berkey

When comparing the cost of Berkey filters and reverse osmosis filters, several factors come into play. 

Berkey filters generally have a lower up-front cost since they don’t require electricity or complex installation. The initial investment includes the cost of the filter system itself, replacement filter elements, and potential accessories. Berkey filters are also known for their longevity. For example, the filter elements can be cleaned and reused, reducing ongoing replacement costs.

RO filters typically have a higher up-front cost due to the complexity of the system, as well as the need for installation, additional filters, and additional components such as a remineralization stage. 

RO systems also require electricity and may incur maintenance costs for replacing filters and membranes. While the initial investment for a reverse osmosis system can be higher, it’s important to also consider the long-term expenses associated with filter replacement and potential maintenance.

Overall, Berkey filters are generally cheaper to own in the long run due to their lower initial cost and the fact that filter elements can be cleaned and reused. However, for larger households, reverse osmosis may actually be the cheaper and more practical solution because it has a larger filtration capacity than a Berkey water filter.


Winner: Berkey

Berkey filters have a distinct advantage when it comes to water waste. 

These gravity-fed systems operate without electricity and do not produce wastewater during the filtration process. Water simply passes through the filters due to gravity, ensuring every drop is utilized for drinking or other purposes. This design makes Berkey filters incredibly efficient in terms of water conservation.

Reverse osmosis water filters, unfortunately, generate wastewater during the filtration process. For every gallon of purified water produced, an RO system can produce a significant amount of wastewater, which is simply flushed away. 

The ratio of purified water to wastewater can vary depending on the specific RO system and water source. This aspect of RO systems can make them less water-efficient compared to Berkey filters, especially in regions where water scarcity or conservation is a concern.


Winner: Tie

When it comes to convenience and portability, Berkey filters stand out for their mobility. They are easily set up on countertops, require no electricity, and offer gravity-fed filtration that’s straightforward to use. 

Their adaptability to various water sources, including untreated ones, makes them a versatile choice for outdoor activities, emergency situations, and everyday use without the need for complex installation or electrical connections. However, they require frequent refills and filter replacements and are designed for individual or small group use.

Conversely, reverse osmosis systems, while effective, are not portable and require a more installation-intensive setup. RO filters typically require under-sink installation and connection to the water supply, involving plumbing work and sometimes electrical components for water pressure. 

While some models may offer features like remineralization, their focus on thorough purification is balanced with a more intricate setup and ongoing maintenance involving filter and membrane replacements. RO systems are perfect for large households, as they filter water directly from the source to a dedicated faucet in the kitchen.

So, Berkey is more convenient on the go, and reverse osmosis is more convenient at home. It’s a tie. The ultimate winner will depend on your needs.

Berkey vs Reverse Osmosis: Standout Features

In order to make an informed decision on this topic, here are the features that make each filtration method stand out:

Berkey water filter

  • Portability and versatility: Berkey systems are highly portable and don’t require electricity or complex installation, making them suitable for outdoor use, travel, and emergency situations. They can be easily moved and set up anywhere, providing clean water even in off-grid locations.
  • Retention of beneficial minerals: A Berkey system retains essential minerals in the water, ensuring that the purified water remains well balanced and, potentially, healthier for consumption.
  • Adaptability to various water sources: They can effectively purify a wide range of water sources, including untreated natural sources, like rivers and lakes.
  • No water wastage: They operate using gravity and do not produce wastewater, ensuring that every drop of water processed is used for drinking or other purposes, making them highly water-efficient.
  • Simple maintenance: Maintenance of Berkey water filtration systems involves straightforward tasks like occasional cleaning and filter replacement. The lack of complex parts and electricity contributes to their ease of upkeep.
  • Gravity-fed filtration: Berkey’s gravity-fed filtration requires no external power source, providing a reliable filtration method without electricity or water pressure.

Reverse osmosis system

  • Thorough contaminant removal: RO water filters are highly effective at removing a wide range of contaminants, including dissolved solids, heavy metals, pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and more. Their specialized membrane filtration provides an exceptional level of purity.
  • Demineralization: They produce demineralized water, which can be useful for applications that require soft water or for individuals with specific preferences for low-mineral water.
  • Customizable filtration stages: Some RO systems allow for customization with additional filtration stages, such as sediment and carbon filters, to further enhance water quality based on specific needs.
  • Options for remineralization: Certain RO systems offer remineralization stages, allowing users to add back beneficial minerals to the purified water, potentially addressing concerns about mineral loss.
  • Compact under-sink installation: They are designed for under-sink installation, saving countertop space and providing a dedicated water source for clean and pure water.
  • High filtration capacity: RO systems can provide a continuous supply of purified water and are suited for households with higher water consumption needs.


This section outlines the steps I went through while reviewing and comparing these two water filtration systems.

Step 1: A list of every product available from both systems

To get started, I needed to compile a list of all the models available from these two brands. Because all Berkey products are listed on Berkey’s online store, that was an easy task. 

However, there are hundreds of reverse osmosis filters available on the market, and I had to go through dozens of online retail stores trying to find the best rated RO filters on sale. After hours of online “window shopping,” I was able to come up with a list of 25 leading brands of RO systems.

Step 2: Online reviews

Next, I needed to know users’ experiences with both systems. This meant reading through hundreds of reports and opinions online, both good and bad. This helped me figure out how the products performed and if customers were actually getting their money’s worth.

Units that reportedly broke right away and didn’t get support from the company were struck from my list, as were those that didn’t properly filter water or got easily clogged. In the process, I was able to remove 10 more brands from my RO list.

Step 3: Product/service analysis

In order to stay unbiased during the research process, I needed to ask myself a few questions about both systems so that I could understand their strengths and weaknesses. These questions include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • How effective are both systems at filtering well or municipal tap water?
  • Does Berkey filtered water have the same mineral content as reverse osmosis water?
  • How often does a user change the filters in a Berkey water filtration system?
  • Does a Berkey system use activated carbon filtration?
  • What is the difference in flow rate between a Berkey filter and a reverse osmosis filtration system?
  • How do both systems compare to other drinking water filter solutions?
  • What is the micron rating of an RO filter’s semipermeable membrane?
  • How do you install an under-sink reverse osmosis filtration system?
  • How do Berkey filters compare to other brands of gravity water filters?
  • How much does it cost to replace the multiple separate filter cartridges in an RO system?

Step 4: Interviews with real customers

Reading online reviews wasn’t enough. Besides, it’s a known fact that a lot of manufacturers doctor their online ratings just to trick gullible consumers. In order to get real user sentiment, I needed to talk to real customers. 

So I devised a door-to-door questionnaire survey and, together with a few close friends, camped outside major retail stores in my city, giving out cookies and lemonade to anyone who would share their experience with Berkey or RO filters. After two days of collecting feedback, I had all the information I needed.

Step 5: Interviews with manufacturers

For this step, I contacted various manufacturers to push them for answers on some of the negative reviews they had received and how they went about solving the issues their customers were experiencing. The main goal here was to observe the demeanor of their customer service reps and how they acted under pressure.

Step 6: Test drives

This was the most crucial step in the process. In order to write an authoritative review, I needed to put my money where my mouth is; I had to test both systems. 

To accomplish this, I got in touch with a few water equipment dealers in my locality and asked them if I could lease a few units of Berkey and RO filtration systems for some test runs. After hours on the phone, one dealer agreed to send all units but on condition that his in-house licensed plumbers oversee the test.

With that, I leased some warehouse space from a friend, rented two massive water bowsers and got started with the week-long process of testing each product on my list.

Step 7: Ratings

After weeks of data collection, I sat down and collated this information to make it easier to understand. I created a spreadsheet and compared each system side-by-side based on the following criteria:

  • Quality of filtered water
  • Filtering water capacity
  • Number of unwanted contaminants removed
  • Eco-friendliness
  • Convenience and portability
  • Water flow rate
  • Maintenance and filter replacements
  • Ease of installation
  • Affordability

After meticulously comparing each system, I was ready to start writing this review article.

Berkey vs Reverse Osmosis: Conclusion

In the quest for clean and pure drinking water, the choice between Berkey water filters and reverse osmosis systems rests on your unique needs and preferences. Both options will give you clean and safe water, which is what’s most important. Here’s a brief rundown to help you make an informed decision:

Choose Berkey water filters if…

  • Portability and adaptability matter
  • A balanced mineral content is essential
  • Water conservation is a priority
  • Simple maintenance appeals to you

Opt for reverse osmosis systems if…

  • Comprehensive contaminant removal is crucial
  • Demineralized water is preferred
  • You want a dedicated drinking water faucet
  • You have a large household

Ultimately, your lifestyle, water source, and desired water quality will determine your choice between the Berkey and RO systems. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a health-conscious homeowner, or seeking the pinnacle of purity, both Berkey water filters and reverse osmosis systems offer compelling solutions for your hydration needs.

If you’re looking to compare various water filtration options further, there are several other vital factors for you to delve into. Take a look at our well water filter recommendations on our pages below: