How to Clean and Reuse Water Filter Cartridges

Author: Rory Mullan - Published: 2021/08/12 - Updated: 2022/11/08

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Water filter cartridges are not meant to last forever, which means you’ll have to change them every now and then. However, instead of replacing a filter each time its efficiency decreases, you could also clean and reuse it.

Along with being kinder to the environment, the latter is also good for your pocket as it saves you money.

Here’s the thing, though; cleaning a water filter isn’t child’s play. You need to ensure you’ve removed every last piece of gunk without damaging the internal components. In this article, we’ll discuss the dos and don’ts of this.

So, here is our step-by-step guide on how to clean and reuse water filters!


Sediment filter cleaning

  1. Wash off and scrub

Carbon (charcoal) filter cleaning

  1. Cut and remove the netting.
  2. Cut through the paper layer and remove it.
  3. Clean the paper and the charcoal core of any coarse grit.
  4. Using a brush and bleach solution, scrub the paper layer.
  5. Rinse.
  6. Using nylon ties, tightly roll up the paper layer and secure it.

Why Should You Clean Your Water Filters?

First of all, let’s get into why it may be a good idea to clean your water filters.

We already mentioned that cleaning is free, replacing isn’t. But there’s more…

Germs Accumulating Inside the Filter

Depending on your water conditions, it’s possible that germs like bacteria[1], mold and even fungi grow and accumulate inside your water filter. In this case, cleaning or better sanitizing the element can solve the contamination. Not only is this better for your health, it also improves water aesthetics.

Contaminants Breaking Through

A clogged sediment filter may not be able to trap all incoming contaminants causing them to break through. Carefully cleaning it can restore the filter’s filtration capacity and make it as good as new.

Lower Flow Rate

Clogged filters tend to reduce water pressure and flow rates.

How to Clean a Water Filter Step By Step

How to Clean and Reuse a Water Filter Thumbnail

How to clean a water filter primarily depends on the type you’re using. Some modern fiber-pleated filters are possible to clean with ultimate ease. As a result, their filtration speed improves, and they once more become substantially effective at removing contaminants from water. However, the paper models cannot be cleaned so easily.

Is Cleaning Better Than Replacing?

Along with the filter type, you also need to determine if cleaning it is worth the hassle in the first place. In some cases, replacing a water filter cartridge twice a year will cost you around $20-40 total, or even less.

Would you rather spend the meager amount or spend an hour cleaning the filter? The choice is up to you.

More importantly, there are only so many times you can clean and reuse a water filter. After a certain period, its efficiency and filtration capacity will decrease, irrespective of how much and how thoroughly you clean it. Therefore, buying a new filter cartridge becomes a necessity.

The bottom line is that cleaning a water filter should be an economical alternative, must ensure clean drinking water, and be worth your time.

How to Clean Sediment Filters

Before we go into this method, let’s just remind you that cleaning is not ideal for all types of water filters. You should only follow it if you have a sediment filter.

If you get well water in your home, rich in impurities, you must clean your sediment filter regularly to ensure it lasts long and performs well. Follow the steps mentioned below to make your sediment filter is as good as new:

  1. To clean your water filter, you need to use an organic acid. You can either opt for oxalic or muriatic acid. Both are available on Amazon and at your local stores.
  2. If you’re using muriatic acid, it will come pre-mixed. However, for oxalic acid, you have to form the solution yourself by adding two ounces of the acid powder in a gallon of water.
  3. Remove the cartridge from the unit by removing the filter housing.
  4. Take the O-ring off and clean the housing with water to ensure all big particles wash away.
  5. Then, wash the filter with water. Use the acid mixture to remove any tough spots or stuck dirt particles.
  6. Keep the filter housing – with the cartridge in it – in the solution of organic acid for up to 20 minutes. If there’s only a little contamination, soak it for 15 minutes. You don’t have to scrub or put in any elbow grease.
  7. Take the filter housing and cartridge out of the solution and rinse them.
  8. Make sure there are no remains of acid in the housing or the cartridge.
  9. Finally, assemble everything, and you’re good to go.

Here’s a pro tip: pouring the acid solution down the drain can damage the plumbing lines and pose a health hazard. Therefore, you should add a few tablespoons of baking soda to it. Doing this will neutralize the solution, making it safe to pour down the drain.

If you’ve cleaned the sediment filter multiple times already and the dirt doesn’t seem to go away, the cartridge has outlived its lifespan. You need to get a new one.

How to Clean Activated Carbon/Charcoal Block Cartridges?

Carbon block filters have three layers, with the solid carbon being on the inside. Around it is a paper-type layer, which is responsible for removing the contaminants that the carbon was unable to absorb from the water. On the outside is a plastic mesh netting that keeps the paper in its place.

two water filter cartridges dropped in water

When you’re cleaning a carbon filter, you have to take the netting off. After that, follow the steps given below:

  1. Use a knife to cut around the perimeter of the cartridge and take the netting off.
  2. Then, cut the paper layer but make sure there’s a small strip left attaching this layer to the carbon. By doing this, you keep some paper in place that can be used to roll it back up.
  3. Peel the paper layer on the outside.
  4. Rinse the dust, dirt, and debris from this layer. Clean the charcoal layer at the core too. You can also use a garden hose for this process.
  5. Add a tablespoon of bleach in warm water and use this mixture to scrub the paper layer on both sides.
  6. Then, keep the filter in this mixture and let it sanitize for a few minutes.
  7. While the sanitization is taking place, rinse the filter housing with clear water.
  8. Take the carbon block out and put it in boiling water for up to 15 minutes. Doing this will recharge it.
  9. Roll the outside paper layer up. It should be tightly in place.
  10. Use a nylon tie to secure the paper layer and trim the extra material.
  11. Now, you can assemble everything back together and use the carbon filter again.

When you clean a carbon/charcoal filter this way, you will experience a significant improvement in the pressure, taste, and odor of your water. You can clean your filter a few times before it eventually needs replacement.

If there’s no paper layer on the carbon filter, you can clean the outside layer using an iron sponge or scrub pad.

How to Clean Modular Filters (i.e. Refrigerator Filters)?

Modular filters are found in certain appliances, such as your refrigerator. You can also try to clean and reuse these filters by rinsing them with water. If there are large debris particles stuck in the filter, remove them with a screwdriver.

Make sure you air-dry the filter before putting it back in the refrigerator.

By the way, we wouldn’t recommend anyone to sanitize modular water filters by soaking them in dishwashing or bleach solution. Although you might be able to remove some of the dirt from inside the filter and even kill potential pathogens, the filter media is certainly not designed to get in contact with cleaning agents.

Reverse Osmosis Filter Elements

Reverse osmosis systems combine several filter stages. First come sediment and carbon filters which we’ve covered above. Most of the time, there’s also a carbon post-filter for removing residual taste. This one is impossible to clean and should be replaced when needed.

dirty filter cartridge

This leaves us with the reverse osmosis membrane, the most important part of any RO system.

In order to clean it, soaking in one or more chemical solutions is required. This is usually enough to get rid of fouling or scaling caused by mold, calcium deposits, any organic matter, etc.

Which chemicals to use and how, depends on the type of membrane[2]. You should follow the manufacturer instructions here. The cleaning agents themselves will tell you how to handle and dispose them safely.

Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  1. Wear gloves and protective eye wear throughout the entire process.
  2. Mix the cleaning solutions with the right amount of water.
  3. Remove the reverse osmosis membrane from its housing.
  4. Soak it in each chemical solution at instructed. Don’t go over the recommended time. Rinse carefully between each bath and especially after the last soak.
  5. Reinstall the membrane.
  6. Flush your reverse osmosis system for 20 to 30 minutes prior to using the water.

How to Clean a Water Filter With Vinegar

You could clean the outside of a water filter with vinegar, but that’s it. Using vinegar on the filter screen or filter media may cause irreversible damage which is why we don’t recommend it.

Only Clean When Needed

Sure enough, cleaning a water filter is very important, and you may need to do it from time to time in order to ensure quick water flow and pressure. Also, cleaning water filters can improve their efficiency and speed of filtration.

However, don’t overdo it. You should only clean a filter if it needs to be cleaned.

Here are some signs your filter might need cleaning:

  • The filtration rate is too slow.
  • The water pressure is low.
  • You’re experiencing a weird taste or smell in the water that wasn’t there before.


Cleaning a water filter helps to remove bacteria, mold, mildew and other germs. These are not only potentially harmful, they can also affect the taste and smell of the filtered water. Other reasons to clean water filters are to increase contaminant removal capacities and water flow.

But not all types of water filters can be cleaned. Most suitable are sediment filters, and carbon block filters that have a paper layer wrapped around them.

With that said, new filter cartridges often don’t cost a fortune. So buying and replacing an old one usually isn’t too expensive and it saves you a lot of time – cleaning isn’t always easy.

In the end, you need to decide for yourself whether you want to give cleaning your water filters a try.

Further Reading


Meet Rory Mullan

Rory Mullan Rory has joined the Water Masterz team as a contributing writer. He has covered all sorts of topics in the last several years.

Outside of his writing work, Rory enjoys photographing the Irish landscape and making music!

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