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How to Change Any Water Filter in the Home

by Carl Jensen

Plumber, Welder, Contractor

> 2 min read


When your water filter is working well, it’s easy to forget about its necessary maintenance. If you wait until your water starts to taste strange or the water comes out slower than before, your filter may have already failed due to age or wear.

Since changing a filter is usually easy, you can do it yourself without waiting for help from a plumber. The exact method varies depending on the type of filter, but most have intuitive directions that you can follow with minimal help from the instruction manual. Here’s a quick guide to how to change any water filter in your home.

HERE ARE OTHER QUESTIONS THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE ABOUT WATER:

  • Water Filters: Do I Need This?

How to Change the Filter

Water Softener Filter

The water softener filter should be clearly marked and easy to find. For best results, clean it every 3 months, although you can go a little longer between cleanings if your area’s water has a low hardness rating.

Shut off the water supply and the valve to the softener itself, remove the old filter, and ensure the O-ring is still securely in place. Replace the filter and reattach the filter’s housing, making sure it twists snugly back into position.

In addition to the filter itself, you will need to clean the brine tank periodically. Although some manufacturers recommend running a vinegar or bleach cycle every few months, check the owner’s manual to confirm. You may also need to periodically clean salt sludge or “bridges” out of the tank, so check for these every time you refill the tank with salt.

The resin beads that help filter out the iron in the water are highly specialized and expensive but only need to be cleaned or replaced once every 7 years. You can do this yourself using a special iron-cleansing solution, but that will only buy you a little more time before the beads need to be replaced entirely. A professional can dispose of the old beads, clean the resin tank, and then replace them with brand-new beads.

The good news is that water softeners are the only system that is this complex. When people wonder how to change any water filter in the home, they usually don’t realize that most systems just use mess-free filters with simple designs.

Sediment Filter

For a whole-house system, you need to start by shutting off the main water supply completely. Although you should check the manufacturer’s directions to confirm the location, these filter systems should have a red pressure-release button that makes it safe to open. After pressing this button, look for a lever with an “Off” or “Bypass” option and turn the lever to that option.

Unscrew the housing and take the opportunity to clean the O-ring and housing with soap and water. Replace the filter cartridge in the bottom of the housing and reassemble. When replacing the O-ring and filter, make sure both are fully pushed into place, otherwise, the housing might not close properly.

Reverse Osmosis Filter

Reverse osmosis filters usually have sediment and chlorine pre-filters that need to be changed annually and membranes that need to be changed every 2-3 years. In some areas where the water is high in chlorine, you might have to change the pre-filters every 6 months. The post filters or polishing filters aren’t dealing with the raw water coming from the city's pipes, so changing them annually is sufficient. 

Start by shutting off the tank’s valve and running the faucet to let the last of the water drain. For most systems, pre-filters are housed separately from the membrane and post-filter, so look for the correct housing to unscrew. Remove and wash any O-rings as well, making sure to inspect them for damage.

Replace the filter and re-insert the O-ring, ensure both are snugly in place, then reassemble the housing. It’s wise to replace the sediment, chlorine, and post filters at the same time to keep them on the same schedule. However, make sure to replace them one at a time instead of taking apart multiple filters at once.

Carbon Filter

Carbon filters sometimes exist as part of a larger system, so check carefully to make sure you don’t need to shut off water to the whole system first. In some cases, you may be able to just drain and open the carbon filter.

Carbon filters usually are cleaned just like the rest of the system and may contain an O-ring. You should wash the entire housing with soap and water to make sure the system is fully flushed of any lingering contaminants.

Both carbon block filters and granulated carbon filters are easy to install, but make sure you’ve purchased the right one for your device. They rely on different mechanical processes to make the filter work, so they are not always interchangeable.

Refrigerator Water Filter

When thinking about how to change any water filter in the home, the refrigerator water filter is one of the easiest. These filters are usually installed inside the refrigerator, so you won’t have to pull the fridge away from the wall to access it.

On city water, a refrigerator filter usually lasts for about 6-12 months. Even filtered well water may cause a refrigerator filter to need replacement sooner. Modern refrigerators often detect when a filter needs to be replaced and will tell you with a notification light.

Check the instruction manual to figure out which notification light to look for and where the filter replacement is. You typically won’t need to unplug or shut off the refrigerator to replace the filter but have a rag on hand to mop up any water that drips out while the filter is being changed.


Change Your Filters Regularly to Enjoy Pure Water at Home

After replacing any filter, make sure to run the water for a few minutes before using any of it. Replacing the filter can knock loose sediment and even bacteria, so you’ll want to rinse away any water that might have come into contact with contaminants. Also, double-check the filter housing for leaks after running the water for a few minutes, just in case you missed an O-ring or otherwise installed the new filter improperly.

As long as you shut off the water before opening the tank and wash your hands before and after filter changes, you should be able to complete filter changes without any problems. Improvements in technology and engineering have made these tasks easier than before, so you usually won’t need a plumber’s help.

Carl Jensen

About the Author

Carl Jensen is a plumber with over 50 years of experience in the industry, as well as related jobs like underwater welding. He runs a successful plumbing practice in Tampa, Florida, and contributes his plumbing expertise to our DIY articles, and helps to fact check and consult on most of our other stuff to boot.