Big Berkey Water Filter Review: Your Questions Answered!
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I've owned a Berkey water filter for years, and I'm a big fan.
Earlier, I wrote the Berkey Water Filter Buyers Guide covering all six models and how to choose the right one. But since the Big Berkey is the most popular one, I thought it should get its own post.
If you're thinking about buying a Big Berkey water filter, you probably have some questions you want answered. Well, you're not the only one!
I took a look around the Internet and found what people are asking about it. Then I picked some of the best questions and listed them below along with the answers. You'll find a lot of information here that will help you decide if you want to invest in a Big Berkey.
1. Who makes Berkey water filters?
Berkey water filters are manufactured by New Millennium Concepts, Ltd. in Arlington, Texas. The black Berkey filters are made in the USA. The stainless steel housings are assembled from US parts and imported parts. None of the parts are made in China.
2. How does a Berkey filter work?
Berkey filters work primarily by using two technologies: microfiltration and adsorption.
Each filter has millions of microscopic pores that are big enough to allow water molecules to pass through but small enough to block many contaminants. That's the microfiltration part.
Adsorption (to quote Simple English Wikipedia) is the sticking of atoms or molecules to a surface. Molecules of contaminants that are smaller than the pores get stuck onto the filtration media, and they can't pass through with the water. So, microfiltration and adsorption work together to eliminate a wide variety of contaminants from the water as gravity pulls it down through the system.
To use it, all you have to do it take off the lid and fill the upper chamber with water. The water drips down to the lower chamber, and you dispense it through a spigot.
3. What contaminants does it remove?
A Berkey water filter system reduces way too many contaminants to list. For starters, though, it works on sediment and rust as well as all kinds of organic and inorganic contaminants like bacteria and viruses, parasites, cysts, heavy metals, radiological contaminants, and chemicals. It also eliminates bad tastes and smells.
The Black Berkey water filters remove both chlorine and chloramine. This is especially important if you're on city water. (Suggested Reading: Chlorine vs Chloramine in Drinking Water: What’s the Difference and Why Does It Matter?)
A Berkey water filter can reduce fluoride if you add the optional PF-2 fluoride and arsenic filters. They will reduce the fluoride by 98%. Please note that the black Berkey water filters can't remove fluoride on their own.
See my article Quick Guide to Berkey Water Filter Contaminant Removal for an easy to understand infographic about the kinds of contaminants the Berkey can filter out.
And, if you'd like to see the independent lab test results for Berkey filters, you can access them here. You'll see why I haven't listed everything the purification elements can do!
4. Does a Berkey system remove minerals?
No. Healthy minerals are not filtered out. That's true of any carbon based water filter.
5. Does a Berkey filter increase alkalinity?
Yes, it does raise it a little because it eliminates contaminants that tend to make water more acidic. Several factors play into the pH level of the filtered water, including the pH of the prefiltered water.
6. How many filters does Big Berkey have?
It comes with two black Berkey filter elements, but it can hold up to four. You can also add up to four PF-2 fluoride and arsenic filters, corresponding to the number of black Berkey filters you're using.
7. How big is it and how many gallons does it hold?
When assembled, the Big Berkey is 19" tall and has a diameter of 8.5". It has a total capacity of 2.25 gallons and is recommended for individuals or groups of up to 4 people.
8. How long does it take to filter water?
If it has 2 black Berkey filters and if the upper chamber is filled to the top, it can theoretically filter 3.5 gallons per hour. However, as the water level in the top goes down, the flow rate also decreases. That's why it's best to fill it all the way to the top and keep refilling it often. You can also speed up the process by adding more filters.
9. How do you assemble a Berkey system?
It's very simple. First you prime the filters by flushing them with water. Then you place the black filters in the upper chamber and secure them with the provided wingnuts and washers. The optional fluoride filters screw right on to them. Attach the spigot to the lower chamber, place the top chamber on the lower one, and you're good to go.
10. How do you prime the filters?
You do this by flushing them with water from kitchen faucet. Warning: Prepare to get wet! I've never succeeded at priming the filters without spraying water all over myself and the kitchen. This is the only gripe I have with Berkey.
11. How long do the filters last?
It depends on your usage. Each Black Berkey filter has a life of 3,000 gallons. That means that if you have 2 filter elements and use 3 gallons a day, they will last over 5 years. A pair of fluoride filters should be replaced every 1,000 gallons. At 3 gallons a day that's about once every 11 months.
When you calculate the cost per gallon based on the price of the replacement filters, you get a cost of about 2¢ per gallon of filtered water with the Black Berkey filters only. If you want add on the PF-2 fluoride/arsenic filters, the cost increases to about 7¢ per gallon.
12. How do you clean it?
Your Berkey water filter will need a little bit of maintenance. You can clean the stainless steel container with some mild soap and water or diluted white vinegar.
When the black Berkey filters need a cleaning, you just scrub them with plain water, using one of those scratchy green scrubbing pads. And by the way, if the flow rate slows way down, there's a good chance that you need to clean those filters. Always try that first before assuming that they're worn out.
The fluoride filters aren't washable, in case you're wondering. When they've come to the end of their life, they should be replaced.
13. What kind of water can you use?
Besides tap water, you can use water from rivers, ponds and lakes. This is really great for people who want to be prepared for emergencies. It also makes it ideal for camping or for off-grid living.
But it doesn't desalinate, so don't try to use a Berkey filter with ocean water. If you put salt water into it you will ruin the filters. Don't put water from a saltwater pool into a Berkey, either.
You can filter hard water, but it won't soften the water. Hard water results from minerals in the water. Berkey doesn't remove healthy minerals, so if you put hard water in, it's going to stay hard.
If you have a problem with sulfur or iron in well water, you'll be interested to know that it will reduce those elements quite a bit. It won't remove them completely, but the taste and smell will be noticeably better.
14. What warranty does Berkey have?
The manufacturer warranty is 12 months on the system and PF-2 fluoride/arsenic filters and 2 years on black Berkey filters.
15. Where can I buy a Big Berkey?
Last time I checked, the manufacturer, New Millenium Concepts, was no longer selling their products directly. This happened, I believe, in late 2018. If you go there, you'll see that they tell you to buy from other online retailers or authorized distributors.
Speaking of authorized distributors - I recommend one called Berkey Filters. They have special offers on accessories and add-ons at the time of purchase. Sometimes you can find some great deals on scratch and dent items, too.
I hope these Q&As covered what you need to know about the Big Berkey in order to make an informed decision. But if there's something I missed, leave a comment and I'll try to find the answer for you.
For more information, you can read my post about how to save money on Berkey filters and accessories, my Berkey water filter review and buyers guide, and an overview of the entire line of Berkey filter products.
If you'd like to see how the Big Berkey filter stacks up against its competitors, please see Countertop Gravity Water Filters: Which is Best?