Zero Water vs Reverse Osmosis | An Eye-Opening Analysis

Last updated Nov 29, 2021

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Welcome to our Zero Water vs reverse osmosis comparison. We have an intriguing article here for you. This week, we’ve taken a close look at several top water filter pitcher brands, and the deeper we climbed down the rabbit hole, the more truth we found to add to our knowledge arsenal.

ZeroWater is a controversial product that leads potential buyers to believe 0 TDS water is the ultimate healthy water. Meanwhile, top reverse osmosis brands are selling their equipment to people who have a deeper understanding of how water filtration works. There’s also the fact that a lot of renters are shopping for portable water filters and don’t want to bother with installing a reverse osmosis system.

Additionally, people want to ensure they’re getting the most bang for their buck when they buy a water filter.

In this comparison, you’ll learn the difference between Zero Water and reverse osmosis water. We’ll explain why we prefer one over the other, and in under 10 minutes, you’ll view water filtration in a whole new way.

Let’s begin with the most fundamental question…

Is Zero Water reverse osmosis?

No, Zero Water is not reverse osmosis. Here are the key differences:

  • The ZeroWater filter contains ion-exchange resin and activated carbon. ZeroWater relies on the interaction between the ion-exchange resin and your tap water to make filtered water with zero conductivity. The TDS reading of 0 you see when you use a ZeroWater filter means the water has no electrical resistivity or conductivity. It doesn’t mean the water is contaminant-free.
  • Reverse osmosis systems are multi-stage filtration systems that use sediment, activated carbon block, and granular activated carbon prefilters before the reverse osmosis element or semi-permeable membrane. Your tap water is forced through the 0.0001-micron membrane. 0.0001 micron is equivalent to 0.00000004 inches. This tiny micron size is the reason reverse osmosis removes everything from your tap water, including essential minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
  • Reverse osmosis filtration is effective for desalination aka the removal of salt from seawater. A ZeroWater filter can’t do that.
A TDS meter can’t detect fungi, microorganisms, algae, and other organic contaminants, which is the main reason there’s no direct correlation between water quality and TDS. In other words, 0 TDS Zero Water can still be contaminated.
Reverse osmosis water has a low TDS, typically higher than 0. The difference is it’s virtually impossible for RO water to be contaminated in a properly installed and maintained system because of the membrane’s tiny pore size. The same can’t be said for the ZeroWater system.

Zero Water vs Reverse Osmosis

ZeroWater 10-Cup Pitcher

APEC Reverse Osmosis System

In this section, we compare the ZeroWater filter to the APEC Essence ROES-50 system. We are not affiliated with APEC, we chose APEC’s system because we feel APEC is one of the most reliable water filtration companies in America.

Price and Replacement Filters

The upfront cost of the ROES-50 is higher than the purchase price of the ZeroWater 10-cup pitcher. At the time of this writing, the APEC system is roughly 8x the price of the ZeroWater pitcher (with 1st filter included). At first, this sounds like a big difference.

Then, take into account that you won’t need to replace filters in the RO system for the first 6-12 months. If you use the ZeroWater pitcher every day, you may only get a few weeks to a month out of it. I’ve seen instances where people need to replace their ZeroWater filter every 1 – 2 weeks.

The annual cost of ZeroWater filters will far outweigh the cost of RO replacement filters. Here’s a breakdown of the filter life for the RO filters:

  • Stage 1, 2, 3 Prefilters: 6-12 months
  • Stage 4 RO Membrane: 2 – 4 years
  • Stage 5 Carbon Post Filter: 2 – 4 years

In the first year, the total replacement filter cost for the ZeroWater pitcher is over 5x that of the RO system. In two years’ time or less, the overall costs are even. Thereafter, the RO system costs a lot less to maintain.

Also, do you think the ZeroWater filter pitcher will last multiple years? The two-year estimate above doesn’t include the cost of a replacement pitcher.

Advantages of a Reverse Osmosis System

Now, let’s explore several of the advantages of owning an RO system over the ZeroWater filter pitcher:

  • On-Demand Water – with an RO system, you don’t have to worry about waiting for water to filter through a pitcher or how much filtered water you have on hand. RO systems come with a faucet that supplies you filtered water any time you wish. This is especially convenient when filling pots for cooking or pouring large amounts of filtered water to take out of the house.
  • Purer Water – TDS is not an accurate measure of water quality. Reverse osmosis filtration is much more thorough than a ZeroWater filter. In fact, a lot of bottled water is reverse osmosis water with added minerals.
  • Ion-exchange resin is prone to harboring bacteria. ZeroWater apparently includes specific materials inside the filter cartridge to inhibit bacterial growth, but how can people be sure there are no bacteria in their ZeroWater filters? An RO system doesn’t use ion-exchange resin. Also, bacteria aren’t getting through the 0.0001-micron pore size, and that’s before the water passes through the final activated carbon stage in the system.
  • Considering the high ZeroWater replacement filter cost due to short filter life, an RO system costs less in the long run.

Disadvantages of a Reverse Osmosis System

  • The biggest drawback to a reverse osmosis system is the wastewater it creates during the filtration process. Even the most efficient RO systems available for your home will create wastewater.
  • Under-sink RO systems aren’t portable like a ZeroWater pitcher. However, there are countertop reverse osmosis systems available that are portable and extremely easy to install.
  • Most people can install modern under-sink reverse osmosis systems, although it’s certainly not for everyone, which could require hiring a plumber.
  • Replacing RO filters is a bit more complicated than simply popping out a pitcher filter and popping in a new one.

Is 0 TDS water bad for you?

There’s debate over whether demineralized 0 TDS water leaches minerals from the body. Aside from that argument, most people agree that 0 TDS water has a flat, unpleasant taste.

Have you ever drank natural artesian FIJI water? It tastes delicious, right? FIJI water TDS is 224 ppm with a slightly alkaline pH of 7.7. According to ZeroWater logic, all FIJI water would be contaminated. FIJI is the perfect example of why 0 TDS logic is 100% wrong.

The inherent problem with 0 TDS or demineralized water is that it’s eager to absorb like a dry sponge. Once your water passes through a ZeroWater filter or RO membrane, it’s ready to suck up carbon dioxide in the air, which converts to carbonic acid.

For this reason, plain reverse osmosis water is normally somewhat acidic. ZeroWater is the same in this regard. ZeroWater states in its FAQ that its water may start to taste acidic or fishy at the end of the filter life.

If you decide ZeroWater is better for you, we recommend drinking all of the water as it’s filtered. Letting the water sit in the pitcher for 12 hours or more is not advisable. It’s also next to impossible to ensure there are no bacteria lingering inside the pitcher – bacteria that the Zero Water can pick up after it’s filtered.

The bottom line is 0 TDS water isn’t necessarily bad for you, but it’s certainly not better for you than water within the natural TDS range. You won’t find any 0 TDS water in nature. 100% natural artesian water – my personal favorite all-natural water – is never 0 TDS, and it almost always has a pH above neutral or 7.

Would you rather drink unnatural 0 TDS water or water the way nature intended it to be?

Zero Water vs Reverse Osmosis: The Winner Is…

Reverse Osmosis

Any way you cut it, a quality reverse osmosis system is superior. We recommend investing in a reverse osmosis system with remineralization for better quality drinking water.

This type of system adds a mineral filter cartridge after the RO membrane to balance the pH of your water. With the addition of a mineral cartridge, RO water is less “hungry” and a lot less likely to soak up carbon dioxide. Plain reverse osmosis water is also better than Zero Water.

Bottom Line

We hope our Zero Water vs reverse osmosis comparison helped you understand the difference between these two types of water filtration. Our aim is to clear the air with this article because it irks us when we see people measuring water quality with a cheap TDS meter.

Now that you know the reality of the situation, you’ll make a more informed buying decision when choosing the best water filtration system for your home. In the end, you may decide that both of these systems aren’t for you, but at least you know the difference between the two.