Reverse osmosis (RO) water systems: 3 great models reviewed
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The ROES-50 is the most popular model in APEC’s essence series and also one of the top-selling RO water filter systems on the market. It’s a basic model but provides great contaminant rejection rates and delivers enough filtered water for smaller households. This and the fact that it has received lots of positive reviews are why it’s our pick for the best standard RO water filter.
RO water filter systems provide a more comprehensive way of removing many different kinds of contaminants present in water. They usually utilize 5 filtration stages with some including special filters and features like UV filter, remineralization filter and permeate pump.
In this article, we’ll look at three of the best RO systems from some of the popular brands in the industry and give you an insight on their quality, filtration performance, the extra features they come with as well as the downsides that each unit has.
1. APEC Essence ROES-50 RO Water Filter System
- Supreme quality - designed, engineered, and assembled in USA to guarantee water safety & your health.
- Only technology to remove up to 99% of contaminants such as chlorine, taste, odor, VOCs, as well as toxic fluoride, arsenic, lead, nitrates, heavy metals and 1000+ contaminants. Max Total Dissolved Solids - 2000 ppm. Feed Water Pressure 40-85 psi
- WQA Certified System. Premium long-lasting filters used to treat tap water, well water. Provide unlimited clean, refreshing crisp tasting water superior to bottled water
- Removes 99% of contaminants in the water
- Filtered water tastes good and it’s completely odorless
- Decent filtration capacity and holding tank
- Filters and RO membrane last fairly long
- Compact unit that fits under most kitchen sinks
- Backed with a 1-year limited warranty
- Plastic fittings and drain saddle break easily
- Takes a long time to fill the holding tank
- Produces slightly more wastewater
- Slow water flow from the faucet
- Doesn’t alert you when filters need changing
The complete APEC ROES-50 system is a compact unit with standard dimension and weight (26 pounds). The RO unit measures 16 x 5.25 x 17.5 inches while the storage tank is 11 x 15 inches – it can easily fit under any small or standard kitchen cabinet/sink or bathroom cabinet.
The unit comes with a dedicated lead-free faucet that features a chrome finish. Its appearance wasn’t appealing to many people but it’s a quality, sturdy faucet and you can rotate it 360°.
One caveat is that the plastic fittings seem not durable and might require replacement. The drain saddle is equally cheaply built and breaks easily when over tightened. There were also several reports about the canisters starting to leak after a few months of use.
The Essence ROES-50 is WQA standard 58 certified system and despite being a basic RO water filter model, it’s filtration performance is good. It utilizes a 5-stage RO filtering process that effectively eliminates a wide variety of contaminants in the water.
The 1st stage is a 5-micron polypropylene sediment pre-filter which clears out sediments and fine particles including dust, rust, sand, silt and scale. It prevents the other filters from clogging.
The 2nd stage is a 10-micron activated carbon block filter made from coconut shell and it removes chlorine, tastes, odors, water cloudiness, VOCs and other common chemicals.
The 3rd stage features the same carbon block filter which helps to further remove residual chlorine and chemical compounds. This double carbon block design ensures maximum contact time allowing the ROES-50 to efficiently eliminate all the chlorine and chemicals in the water.
The 4th stage is the semipermeable TFC reverse osmosis membrane with a 0.0001 microns rating. Its contaminant rejection efficiency is very high. It’s able to removes up to 99% of all the remaining contaminants including lead, fluoride, chromium, arsenic, radium, and heavy metals.
It does an excellent job, particularly, at removing lead – eliminates almost 99.96% of the lead content. It equally performs well at filtering out salts (over 96%) and total dissolved solids (it can handle up to 2000 ppm of TDS – which is a lot). It manages to reduce waterborne pathogens too.
The last stage is another coconut-shell carbon post-filter which helps to clear out any residual tastes/odor when you draw the water from the storage tank. Users attested that the filtered water you get is clear, completely odorless and tastes very pure. Some found it to have a bland taste though because all the minerals that provide flavor get removed during the process.
Filtration Capacity and Efficiency
The production rate of the ROES-50 is 50 gallons of filtered water per day. However, the actual amount might vary (around 40 GPD) based on the pressure and temperature of your feed water. Still, it’s enough to meet the needs of smaller families, plus the storage tank has a slightly large capacity (4 gallons), so it’s sufficient even for medium-sized families.
The downside is that it takes a long time to fill the tank once it’s empty – it takes 2-3 hours to fill it and then automatically shuts down. The output flow of the filtered water from the faucet is also slow – it can take up to 3 minutes to fill a small container.
Moreover, the system seems to waste more water during the process than what’s specified. According to APEC, it wastes 3 gallons of water to deliver 1 gallon of purified water but several users mentioned that the ratio is 5:1 when the tank is completely empty.
The unit requires operating pressure of at least 40 psi to work efficiently, anything below that you get poor results. The maximum operating pressure it works with is 85 psi. If it goes higher than that, then the RO membrane is likely to get damaged and the system can start leaking.
Setup and Maintenance
Installing this unit is fairly simple if you have plumbing experience or basic DIY skills. It uses quick-connect fittings and all the tubes are color coded making the process easier and faster. It also comes with everything needed for the setup and the user manual is detailed and easy to follow.
The only challenge might be setting up the faucet. It’s smaller than a standard kitchen faucet, so you have to drill a hole to install it which may require a special hole saw based on your countertop material.
Replacing the filters is a bit challenging too because of their canister filter housing design. You have to remove the housing first, replace the filter you want and then reattach the housing which is a little inconvenient compared to modular filters on other brands like Home Master. Since water also flows through the housing, it can be a little messy.
The upside is that you won’t be replacing both the filters and the RO membrane constantly because they are relatively long-lasting. The first three filters require replacement after every 6 to 12 months while for the RO membrane and the post-filter is after 2 to 3 years.
The lifespan may vary based on the contamination level of your feed water like the RO membrane may need changing every 2 years if you use it to clean well water. There’s no indicator to let you know when they need changing which is another problem – you have to use a TDS meter to gauge when to replace them.
Should you buy the APEC ROES-50?
This is a nice choice if you have a small family and you’re looking for a standard under-sink RO filter system. The wastewater it produces is a little on the high end but the filtration process is efficient and you get a decent production rate. The unit relies solely on water pressure, so it makes less noise when running.
2. iSpring RCC7AK RO Water Filter System
- 6-Stage Alkaline Remineralization Layered Filtration: Exclusively designed to restore the natural alkalinity and mineral balance of water; this reliable and ultra-safe Reverse Osmosis (RO) water filtration system converts your water into clean, pure and healthy drinking water by removing up to 99% of over 1, 000 harmful contaminants like chlorine, fluoride, lead (removes up to 98%), arsenic, asbestos, calcium, sodium and more.
- BENEFITS: The iSpring RCC7AK water softener includes an additional sixth stage - an Alkaline Remineralization filter which restores healthy minerals and produces a balanced alkalinity, which gives your water a more natural taste than regular 5 stage RO water filter; the RO membrane removes not only harmful pollutants but also a few helpful minerals. As a result, a standard 5 stage RO system produces slightly acidic water with a pH of 7. 0 or below
- FEATURES: Beautiful European-Style kitchen faucet. Transparent 1st stage housing for easy visual inspection. Three extra long life pre-filters to remove large contaminants and protect RO membrane. Ultra fine (RO) filter to remove contaminants down to 0. 0001 microns; fine GAC filter to provide final polishing to the purified water and (AK) filter to finally restore just the right proportion of healthy minerals and a natural alkaline balance. The end result is great-tasting bottled-water quality
The iSpring RCC7AK is yet another very popular water filter system that has earned high positive ratings from customers. It’s a more advanced version of iSpring’s RCC7 model as it features an additional remineralization filter which seems to do well in improving the taste and pH of water.
It’s our pick for the best alkaline RO water filter for this reason but it also offers other advantages like a fairly high water production rate and a water leakage alarm.
- Removes more than 95% of all contaminants
- Restores the healthy minerals stripped out by the RO process
- Raises the water pH level and gives it a great taste
- High production capacity ideal for large families
- Simple to set up if you have plumbing experience
- Fits in most under sink kitchen cabinets
- Comes with a 1-year warranty and 1-year money-back guarantee
- Takes pretty long to fill up the holding tank
- Reports of recurring leaks in the filter housings
- Water flow from the faucet is slow
- The plastic fittings can break easily
- It has no filter life indicator
The iSpring RCC7AK measures 15 x 8 x 18 inches while the holding tank is 14 x 11 inches. This is a moderately compact size and it can fit in the cabinet under most standard kitchen sinks without taking up much room. The faucet provided with the unit is very solid and has a stylish brushed nickel finish that could complement a modern kitchen.
The build quality is okay but a handful of users complained about recurring leaks in the filter housing. The o-ring for the water supply valve is also thin and flimsy which tends to cause water to leak. Others mentioned that the plastic material for the pipe fittings is not that strong and can break quickly.
The RCC7AK is an NSF/ANSI standard 58 certified unit. It features 6 stages of filtration that includes a remineralization filter. In the 1st stage is a polypropylene filter that traps all the sediments and particles larger than 5-micron.
Unlike the APEC ROES-50, stage 2 of the RCC7AK is a 5-micron granular activated carbon (GAC, KDF) filter. It’s a loose carbon that’s better at trapping large molecules of chemical contaminants and other impurities. It removes chlorine taste, odor, and water cloudiness.
The 3rd stage is a 5-micron carbon block filter which takes care of the remaining smaller molecules of chemical contaminants. It clears out 99% of VOCs, chloramines, herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other potentially harmful chemicals.
Stage 4 consists of a 0.0001-micron RO membrane which gets rid of nearly all the other remaining contaminants but at different rates compared to the APEC ROES-50 model. It removes TDS (95%), fluoride (94-96%), lead (96%) and waterborne pathogens (98-99%) including protozoa, viruses and bacteria like e-coli.
Stage 5 features a GAC post-filter that clears out residual tastes and odors picked up from the holding tank. The 6th stage is the alkaline remineralization filter which consists of mineral stones and calcite media.
It replenishes healthy minerals that were stripped away by the RO process which include calcium, sodium, magnesium and potassium. This in turn balances the pH levels of the RO filtered water which is usually slightly acidic.
The water is not as alkaline/mineral-rich as it was originally but this filter is a nice addition because it not only helps to balance the pH, but the minerals restored in the water add a little bit of flavor that many users liked compared to the flat taste of RO water.
With a production capacity of 75 gallons per day, the RCC7AK is ideal for most families. It delivers 2-3 gallons of filtered water per hour which is sufficient even for larger families and households that use plenty of water regularly. This rate will vary based on your feed water temperature and pressure. If the pressure is below 40 psi, you won’t get much water in a day.
The holding tank capacity is 3.2 gallon. It’s slightly smaller than that of the APEC ROES-50 but decent enough to ensure a steady supply of water and it has an automatic shut-off valve – the system stops when the tank is full. Unfortunately, it takes pretty long (1 -3 hours) to fill it up.
Wastewater to clean water ratio is specified as 3:1 but several users reported that it wastes about 4 gallons of water for each gallon of filtered water it makes.
It’s a relatively better ratio than that of the APEC ROES-50 but it’s still above average ratio for RO systems which is 2-3:1. Most of the waste happens when drawing small quantities of water from the tank. Another downside is that the water doesn’t come out of the faucet fast – you have to wait around 4 minutes to fill up a water glass.
Setup and Maintenance
It’s not very challenging to set up this iSpring RO filter system if you have some plumbing experience. The tubes are color coded and the unit uses push to connect fittings that have locking connectors/clips which you have to remove before pushing the tubes in place.
Everything you need for the set up is provided alongside the unit including a clear manual. You will need to drill a hole into the counter for the faucet if you don’t have one already drilled and this is the only difficult part of the installation.
The filters take a little effort to change too since they are not modular filters. Like the APEC model above, you have to unscrew the housings using the provided wrenches to replace them. However, the lifespan of the filters is good.
The first three pre-filters, the remineralization filter and the GAC post-filter require changing every 6 to 12 months while the membrane lasts 2-3 years.
The replacement frequency again will be dependent on your water quality and usage, plus there’s no filter life indicator, so you will need to get a TDS meter. The unit does come with a water detector instead which is a small handy device that sets off an alarm once it detects a leak on the system.
Should you buy the iSpring RCC7AK?
The RCC7AK is an ideal option if you need great-tasting water or if your family is large and needs lots of RO water for drinking, cooking and other things. It’s effective and runs quietly. One major concern besides the recurring leaks and the slow flow rate is a few complaints that some of the units come with faulty parts that need to be replaced.
3. Home Master TMAFC-ERP Artesian RO Water Filter System
- A better RO system -- Home Master Artesian Full Contact's innovative design solves the most common problems associated with traditional RO systems
- Highly pure water -- its seven stages of filtration and enhancement remove up to 98 percent of chemicals, including chloramine, and other contaminants
- Added minerals for great taste -- patented Full Contact technology adds calcium and magnesium minerals twice during the purification process.
The Home Master TMAFC-ERP is our pick for the most efficient RO water filter system because it wastes minimal water thanks to the permeate pump it comes with. It also has the fastest flow rate on our list and an effective remineralization system. Its filtration performance, production capacity and overall build quality were as well impressive.
- Clears out 98% of common and stubborn contaminants
- Produces fresher and better-tasting water with a balanced pH level
- High daily production capacity and fast water flow from the faucet
- Wastes much less water and fills the tank quickly
- Filters last long and are easy to change
- It’s simple to set up and has a long warranty (5 years)
- Needs a bit more space in the under-sink cabinet
- The pump makes noise when running
- The filters tend to pop out of the clamps
With the inclusion of the permeate pump, the whole Home Master TMAFC-ERP system requires a bit more under-sink space to set up than the other two units. The filter system plus the pump measures 15 x 15 x 5 inches while the tank measures 15 x 11 inches, so it may not fit in small cabinets under the sink.
The entire system has a clean and modern appearance. The chrome RO faucet that it comes with looks simple but elegant enough to suit most kitchen styles.
The build quality appears to be great as users mentioned that the filters, tank, fittings and tubing feel solid and well made. The other impressive thing is the modular design of the filters which combines the filters and housing into a single unit. This design makes the filters more durable and hygienic – there were no reports of cracks or leaks from the filters.
Like the other units, the TMAFC-ERP is an NSF certified system and utilizes a multi-stage filtration process that proves effective at removing many different types of contaminants.
The first 2 stages feature pre-filters that include a 5-micron sediment filter and a 5-micron catalytic carbon filter. These filters remove large and small particles as well as chlorine, taste, odor, VOCs, pharmaceuticals and all kinds of other chemical contaminants.
The carbon filter is particularly efficient at removing chloramine which is a very persistent chemical disinfectant that most ordinary carbon filters don’t remove effectively. It’s made of a more advanced coconut shell catalytic carbon media that’s able to get rid of high levels of chloramine – it clears out up to 99% of chloramine in the water.
The 3rd stage is a 0.0001-micron Dow Filmtec RO membrane and this again is a special RO membrane that has a high contaminant rejection rate. It removes 98% of heavy metals, TDS and microorganisms like cysts, bacteria and protozoa. It equally gets rid of fluoride by up to 93.9%.
The 4th stage features Home Master’s patented Full Contact remineralization filter with a 5-micron activated carbon media which remineralizes water through two phases. The first one occurs before the water enters the storage tank and the second one when it moves to the faucet.
At both phases, magnesium and calcium minerals are added into the water at small amounts using crushed marbles while the activated carbon media filter out any residual tastes and odor. The first phase ensures the water that enters in the storage tank is slightly alkaline instead of acidic which helps protect the rubber bladder as it usually gets damaged by the acidic RO water.
It’s a more robust remineralization process compared to other systems and significantly improves the taste and pH of the water. Many users noted that the water tastes great and fresher, and its pH level is often around 7.2 to 7.5.
The maximum production capacity of this Home Master TMAFC-ERP model is 75 GPD and the storage tank can hold up to 3.2 gallons hence it supplies sufficient water to suit medium to large households. The tank has an automatic shut-off valve, so once it’s full the system shuts off.
One advantage of this model is that water flows out of the faucet fairly fast. It uses wider fittings and tubings (⅜ inch) than other brands which increase the flow rate of water throughout the system.
The unit is also equipped with a permeate pump that equally boosts the water pressure resulting in a stronger and faster stream out of the faucet. It takes around 10 – 30 seconds to fill a large cup or glass.
Another major advantage is that it wastes much less water as the permeate pump reduces the water wastage by up to 80%. For every gallon of purified water produced, it wastes only about 1.5 gallons which is more efficient compared to the other models. The storage tank equally gets filled up much faster.
The downside though is that the pump tends to make noise while working which was a bit of a nuisance for some users.
Setup and Maintenance
The TMAFC-ERP uses push-in fittings, so it’s not hard to set up if you are handy and have some plumbing experience. The tubings are color coded and like the rest, it comes with very detailed and clear setup instructions. However, the clamps for holding the filter in place appear to be flimsy as there were reports that the filters keep popping out of them.
Replacing the filters is simple and quick though due to their modular design. They are one complete unit – you just remove the whole unit without using any wrenches or getting your hands messy with a wet cartridge.
There’s no filter life indicator provided but both the filters and the RO membrane have a long lifespan. The RO membrane lasts 3-5 years while the other filters need replacement only once a year.
Should you buy the Home Master TMAFC-ERP?
If wastewater and flow rate is a major concern to you, then this would be an ideal unit for you. It’s equally a perfect alternative to the iSpring RCC7AK if you want an RO water filter that can give you great-tasting, mineralized water.