How to Clean a Water Filter 

By: Dan
Updated on:
October 23, 2023

Water filters are our unsung heroes, quietly removing impurities from our water supply and ensuring the water we consume is clean and safe. 

Yet, just like any other equipment, these filters need regular maintenance to continue performing properly. Cleaning your water filter is not just about prolonging its life, it’s a critical step to maintaining a high degree of water quality and maximizing health benefits.

Below is a list of common types of water filters and how to clean them, from the supplies you’ll need to what to do afterward. 

Signs of a Dirty Filter

  • Change in water taste or smell
  • Reduced water flow
  • Water discoloration
  • Noisy faucet
  • Leaking filter

Even if you don’t see these signs, that doesn’t mean you should skip the cleaning. Just like going for regular dental checkups, preventive maintenance is key when it comes to water filter cleaning.

Some filters can’t be cleaned but must be changed instead. Consult your user’s manual for more information, and read How to Change a Whole-House Water Filter for a how-to guide.

Before You Begin: Preparing for the Cleaning Process

Having the right tools and taking necessary precautions can make the process more effective and safe. Your shopping list will vary depending on the type of water filter you have, but here are some general tools and materials you might need:

  • Soft-bristled brush or sponge: Gentle on your water filter and strong enough to scrub away deposits
  • White vinegar: A natural disinfectant and descaler perfect for removing mineral deposits
  • Bucket: To mix cleaning solutions or catch water during the process
  • Rubber gloves: To protect your hands during the procedure
  • Warm water: Helps to dislodge debris more effectively
  • Soap: A small amount of mild dishwashing liquid can help in removing greasy residues.
  • Towel/a simple cloth: Handy for clean-up and drying off parts during reassembly
  • Screwdriver: Some filters may require you to unscrew parts during the disassembly process. Ensure you have the right type of screwdriver for your filter design.
  • Bleach: While not always recommended due to its potency, bleach can be used in minute quantities for some filter systems, especially for disinfecting purposes.
  • Salt solution: Specifically for ion-exchange filters. Salt solution helps in regenerating the resin beads in these filters.
  • Descaling agent: Especially crucial for distillation filters or in areas with hard water. Descaling agents help in removing the scale build-up that can affect the filter’s efficiency.

Safety measures

Cleaning water filters is generally safe, but taking a few precautions ensures you stay protected and your filter will run efficiently:

  • Shut off the water supply. This prevents any water from flowing out while you’re working on the filter.
  • Use gloves. Gloves will protect your hands from any deposits or bacteria on the water filter.
  • Avoid harsh chemical cleaners. Stick to mild and natural cleaning agents like vinegar to avoid damaging your filter.

How to Clean a Water Filter by Type

How you clean a water filter is going to depend on the type, since a variety of different media is used to filter water. Here are some of the most common types of filters and how you clean them:

Reverse osmosis (RO) filters

  1. Shut off the water supply. Before you do anything else, make sure you shut off the water supply to avoid any watery accidents.
  2. Remove the filters. Carefully remove each filter and RO membrane. Keep track of the order to make reassembly easier later.
  3. Clean the filters. Using a soft-bristle brush, gently scrub each water filter under running water to remove any debris or build-up.
  4. Sanitize the water filtration system. Mix a solution of 2 cups of bleach solution with 1 gallon of water. Use this to clean the inside of the filter housing. Make sure you wear gloves to protect your skin.
  5. Rinse thoroughly. After sanitizing, rinse the filter housing thoroughly to ensure no bleach residue remains. Any remaining bleach could harm the filters or impact the taste of your water.
  6. Reassemble and flush. Reassemble the reverse osmosis system. Then, run water through the system for about 10 minutes to flush it out before use.

Sediment filters

  1. Locate the flush valve. This is typically found at the bottom of the filter.
  2. Open the valve. Open the flush valve to let water run out. You should see dirty water initially.
  3. Wait until the water runs clear. Once the water runs clear, close the valve. Your sediment filter is now clean and ready for use.

Refrigerator filters

Refrigerator filters are typically housed within the appliance, and cleaning involves replacing the old filter with a new one.

  1. Turn off the refrigerator water supply. This is a safety precaution to prevent any leaks.
  2. Remove the old water filter cartridges. Most refrigerator filters are twist-off or pull-out types. Simply turn or pull the filter to remove it.
  3. Clean the housing area. Using a clean cloth, wipe around the filter housing area to remove any dust or grime.
  4. Insert the new filter. Put the new filter in place and turn or push it into position as per the design.
  5. Turn on the water supply. Turn the water supply back on and run water through the filter for about five minutes to prime it for use.

Carbon filters

While it’s true that carbon filters generally aren’t designed to be cleaned and reused indefinitely due to the nature of activated carbon, there are certain practices you can undertake to extend their life a bit longer. 

However, keep in mind that these methods may not completely restore the filter to its original efficacy and frequent replacement is the best way to ensure optimal water quality. 

  1. Remove the carbon water filter. Start by turning off the water supply. Proceed by carefully removing the carbon media from its housing. It’s a good idea to wear gloves during this process to prevent any contaminants from coming into contact with your skin.
  2. Rinse with hot water. Rinse the filter under hot tap water, gently rubbing the surface with your fingers to dislodge any larger particles. This step won’t remove or rejuvenate the activated carbon, but it can help remove some of the external buildup.
  3. Soak in vinegar. Immerse the filter in a solution of equal parts water and vinegar. Let it soak for about 20 minutes. Vinegar is a natural disinfectant that can help break down some of the contaminants.
  4. Rinse again. Rinse the filter thoroughly under running water again to remove any vinegar traces. The smell of vinegar should no longer be detectable.
  5. Let it dry. Allow the filter to dry naturally in a well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight.

Ion exchange water filters

Ion exchange filters are unique because they require regeneration rather than typical cleaning. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Backwash the filter. Run water through the filter in the opposite direction to flush out impurities.
  2. Recharge the ions. Add a salt solution to the filter to recharge the ions. The salt replaces the ions that have been used up.
  3. Rinse the system. Rinse the filter to remove any excess salt.

Distillation filters

  1. Unplug and empty the unit. Safety first! Always unplug your distiller before you start cleaning, and make sure to pour out any remaining water.
  2. Rinse and wipe. Rinse the boiling chamber with warm water and wipe it clean.
  3. Descale if needed. If you notice any scale buildup, you’ll need to descale. You can use a descaling agent or a homemade solution of 1 part white vinegar to 4 parts water.
  4. Rinse again. Thoroughly rinse the boiling chamber after descaling to ensure no residue remains.
  5. Clean the lid. Don’t forget to clean the lid and fan area, too, using a soft, damp cloth.

Ultraviolet (UV) filters

UV filters are a bit different because they use light, not physical or chemical processes, to purify water. But they still need occasional cleaning:

  1. Switch off the UV system. Always ensure the system is turned off before you start.
  2. Remove the UV lamp. Carefully remove the UV lamp from its chamber. Remember, it’s fragile!
  3. Clean the lamp. Using a soft cloth, gently clean the lamp. Be careful not to touch the lamp with your bare hands as oils from your skin can damage it.
  4. Clean the quartz sleeve. The quartz sleeve around the lamp also needs to be cleaned. Use a cloth dampened with a vinegar solution to clean it.
  5. Reassemble the unit. Once everything is clean, put the lamp back into the quartz sleeve and the sleeve back into the unit.

Mechanical filters

These are generally simple filters with limited filtration ability. Despite their simplicity, they still need to be cleaned. 

  1. Turn off the water supply. Before starting, turn off the water supply to the filter.
  2. Remove the filter cartridge. Unscrew the housing and remove the filter cartridge.
  3. Clean the cartridge. Rinse the cartridge under running water. For stubborn dirt, use a soft brush.
  4. Replace the cartridge. If the cartridge is beyond cleaning or damaged, replace it with a new one.
  5. Clean the housing. Use soapy warm water to clean the filter housing, then rinse it thoroughly.
  6. Reassemble the unit. Put the cartridge back into the housing, screw the housing back onto the unit, and turn the water supply back on.

Post-Cleaning Care

Here are the steps to take to ensure proper post-cleaning care:

  • Test your filter. By testing, we can make sure the filter is working correctly and effectively. Various water testing kits are available on the market. These kits can measure parameters like pH, hardness, chlorine, lead, bacteria, and other impurities. If the test reveals any issues, you may need to revisit your process or consider replacing your filter.
  • Flush your filter. It’s advisable to flush a few gallons of water through your freshly cleaned water filter. The flushing process helps to clear any residual cleaning solution, loosened particles, or trapped air. Be patient with this step — rushing through it might affect your water quality.
  • Monitor performance. Check for signs like a return of the off taste or smell, reduced flow, or discolored water. If any of these signs crop up, it might be time for another round of cleaning or possibly a replacement.
  • Dispose of cleaning waste. If you used any cleaning solutions or produced waste while cleaning your water filter, ensure you dispose of it responsibly. Improper disposal can harm the environment. Depending on the waste, you might need to take it to a hazardous waste disposal site. Check with your local waste management facility if you’re unsure.
  • Keep a maintenance record: Tracking when you clean a water filter can help you create a routine and prevent you from forgetting the next due date.

Warnings and Precautions

Cleaning water filters is generally safe, but it’s crucial to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Here are some tips for ensuring your household stays safe:

  1. Understand your filter type. Before you start the whole cleaning process, make sure you understand what kind of filter you have. Some filters, like reverse osmosis membrane filters (RO) and ultraviolet (UV) filters, have electronic components. 

Cleaning a water filter requires special care to avoid damaging these components or risking an electrical shock. Always consult your user’s manual or reach out to the manufacturer if you’re uncertain.

  1. Use appropriate cleaning agents. Not all cleaning agents are suitable for every filter. Using the wrong cleaning product could damage your filter or, worse, cause harmful residues to contaminate your drinking water. Stick to manufacturer-recommended products or natural agents like vinegar.
  2. Avoid contact with contaminated parts. When cleaning your water filter, avoid direct contact with contaminated parts. Always use gloves, and don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning.
  3. Follow the correct sequence of steps. The cleaning process often involves a sequence of steps. Skipping a step or doing them in the wrong order can lead to less effective cleaning or even damage to the water filter.

Remember, if you’re ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to consult a professional. It’s better to seek help than risk damaging your water filter or compromising your water quality. 


Maintaining the cleanliness of your water filter is about more than just getting crisp, pure water. It’s an investment in your health, the longevity of your filter, and the environment. 

By recognizing signs of a dirty filter, understanding the cleaning process, and taking proactive steps in care and maintenance, you ensure optimal performance and prolong the life of your filter. 

Remember, the key to pure water starts with a well-maintained filter. Let’s make every drop count.

If you’re looking to learn more about water filters, take a look at the guides and reviews we have provided below.

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