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Understanding The Process Of Reverse Osmosis And Its Effectiveness

Reverse Osmosis (RO) is a commonly used term today. It is often included in advertisements for water purifiers. However, a decade or two ago, it was only used in that one physics lecture or by industrial specialists involved in water purification. That said, since you are bound to come across the term every now and then, it is important to understand the process of reverse osmosis in detail. Before we get into the specifics though, let us take a brief look at the industry definition of the term.


Meaning of Reverse Osmosis

Reverse Osmosis is a system that forces contaminated water through a semipermeable membrane. Only water molecules can pass through the membrane while the contaminants remain behind. Then why is it called reverse osmosis if there is no trace of osmosis in its definition, you may ask. The thing is, RO is a process that is critical to the operation of a water purification system like that. Pressure is applied to the water, just so much that it can counter the osmotic pressure. Osmotic pressure is a colligative property that defines exactly how much pressure needs to be applied for pure water to pass through the membrane.

Understanding the RO Process

The RO system isn’t too complicated to figure out now that you know the term’s meaning. The partially permeable membrane is usually found in the middle of every RO mechanism. The first stage of the system is called a prefilter. Water passes through a basic filter to clear out the noticeable sediments and chlorine. It then enters the RO tube where most of the dissolved impurities are removed. There is a postfilter too, one that refines the pure water even more.

Quite an efficient system, isn’t it? You may believe that after going through so many filters, the resulting water would be pure enough for even infants to drink. Not quite, not yet. It is indeed true that purification by a reverse osmosis system is satisfactorily effective. The resulting purified water will reap numerous benefits for your body. However, to bring about the highest level of purity and benefit, the water needs to go through additional stages of filtration, not just RO.

Apart from the prefilter, RO membrane, and the postfilter, a standard water purifier usually has one of two filters. They may either be positioned before the membrane or after. The sediment prefilter is generally coupled with a carbon prefilter, which removes volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the water. In short, the water will be completely colorless and odorless, just as it should be, after passing through the carbon filter.

RO Filtration Steps

Now that you have understood the basic RO process, let us take a look at the steps involved in purifying contaminated tap water.

  • Prefiltration

Tap water usually flows through a pipe into the water purifier. It passes through the first two prefilters, getting rid of visible sediments and VOCs.

  • RO Purification

The moderately filtered water enters the RO system, passes through the membrane, and flows out the other side as pure water.

  • Storage Tank

This pure water isn’t directly transferred to the faucet. It gets accumulated in a storage tank and is held there till the tank fills up.

  • Post Filtration

As soon as you switch the purifier on, the accumulated water in the storage tank flows through one or two post-filters, refining it even more, before coming out the faucet, crystal clear and ready for drinking.

Effectiveness of an RO Water System

As mentioned earlier in the article, RO ensures the removal of sediments, chlorine, visible and dissolved impurities, VOCs, and many other contaminants. Water from an RO system doesn’t smell or taste bad. The odor-inducing germs are also removed by the filters. All those impurities comprise a major part of the tap water, and since most of it is collected as waste or brine behind the core membrane, there are growing concerns among the people of excessive water wastage. However, ask yourself – would you rather preserve water at the cost of harm to your body?

It is thus that reverse osmosis works its magic on the water. It doesn’t really matter how contaminated it is. Most top-grade RO systems have the capability of filtering even puddle water unless of course the filters or the main membrane has been damaged. Hence, you need to clean the filters and the membrane from time to time to ensure optimum water quality. That said, during this COVID-19 pandemic, it is doubly important to consume clean, pure water, and it has been surmised by experts that a reverse osmosis system can effectively separate most kinds of viruses from it.

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