Berkey Maintenance, Filter Cleaning and the Red Dye Test

Please read all the notes below for vital information on maintaining your Berkey®, cleaning your filters, calculating the lifespan of your filters, and the red food dye test.  

Your Black Berkey® Elements will slow down when the micropores become clogged with contaminants and/or dry out.  They need Cleaning and Re-Priming every 1-6 months depending on your source water quality.  Once completed, your elements will return to approximately their 100% optimal flow rate.

berkey water filter cleaning
  1. Remove the elements and scrub the outer surface all over and vigorously with a stiff kitchen brush or green Scotch-Brite pad under cold running water.  Scrub so hard that you remove a thin layer of carbon and see black water pouring off into the sink.  This is a sign you are removing the clogged micro-pores. 
  2. Re-prime the elements as you first did when you set it up.  This is VITAL.  Use cold water and low flow from your tap making a seal between your element stem and tap with the brown priming button, (video help on this below).  You may see some air misting out of the elements, that is good.  That means they had dried out a bit, creating an air lock, which slowed the flow down.  Allow water to bead (sweat) on the exterior of the element for about 5 minutes ensuring all air is forced out. Do not use soap or vinegar. Do not use hot water. Do not clean elements in dishwasher.
  3. When the elements are fully primed they should feel heavy, full of water, and when you shake them, you should hear water sloshing around inside.  These are the indicators that you have primed them fully.
  4. Re-install the elements with your hands only.  Do not use tools and do not over-tighten as the plastic threads will strip.
  5. Perform the Red Food Dye Test as explained in detail below.
  6. You are good to go!
Here are some helpful videos:

How to Clean and Prime your Black Berkey Purification Elements with the Brown Priming Button


We have the new Berkey Priming Kit with Prime Rite Universal Adaptor available now.  Learn more and order here:

For backcountry and emergency preparedness use without water pressure, purchase the Black Berkey® Primer Hand Pump here:

If you have lost your instructions, they are all available here:

General Maintenance:
  • Wash the lower reservoir of your Berkey® and your spigot with soap and water once a month.  Use some vinegar if you have mineral build-up.
  • If you have the optional alkaline stones, boil them once every 3 months to sterilize them.
Filter lifespan reminders:
  • PF2 Fluoride Filters Lifespan, as a pair – 1 year or 3,785 liters, whichever comes first –   Divide 3,785 by your average daily usage in liters to determine how many days yours will last.
  • Black Berkey® Elements Lifespan, as a pair – 22,700 liters – About 5 years for most folks.  Perform the Red Food Dye Test explained below to know if they are still working 100%.
  • Berkey® Shower Filter Lifespan – 1 year or 75,000 liters, whichever comes first.
  • Sport Berkey® Filter Lifespan – up to 640 refills with municipal water, or 160 refills with untreated water.
  • Alkalizing Mineral Stones Lifespan – 2 years.  Boil these every 3 months to sterilize them.

If you need new filters, you may order easily and securely here:


The Red Food Colouring Test must be performed periodically as per the manufacturer’s instructions included with your Berkey®.

This is the method to determine if your Black Berkey® elements are working 100%.  Do not use organic or natural food colouring as it does not work for this test.  You can not use beet juice and the food dye must be red.

NOTE:  The most common brand of red food dye in Canada now is “Club House”.  The newest version contains Citric Acid which has been an issue giving false readings if too much is used.  Use only 1/4 teaspoon of this dye in a full upper chamber of your Travel, Big or Royal Berkey.  Use a 1/2 teaspoon in your Imperial or Crown Berkey.  Mix in well.  

VIDEO:  Black Berkey® Purification Elements Red Food Coloring Test

  • If you have the PF2 Fluoride filters, remove them before doing this test.  The dye will damage them.
  • Place your upper chamber on 4-6 equal sized strong glasses so each filter and/or blocking plug is centered over each glass.  This way you can watch and see if/where any red water is leaking through.
  • Fill the upper chamber with water so it covers your elements then add the red dye.  Let it run through for 5-10 mins or until the glasses are full. 
  • If the food colouring is completely removed, your Black Berkey® Elements are working 100%.
  • If any red food colouring is leaking through, it is necessary to determine where, for it could be through one of the blocking plugs, leaking around a loose wing-nut, or you may have a cracked/faulty Black Berkey® element.


Is the red water coming through the end tubes of the filters where the water should drip from?

Or is it leaking from around the blocking plug?  If so, push the cork shaped white rubber plug in harder, or for older models, tighten the white screw plug and make sure you have one washer on either side of the steel.

Or is it leaking around the wing-nut area? If so, please tighten your wing-nuts slightly to make a better seal.

Ensure they are not stripped and slipping.  If they are stripped, you may order new ones here:

Please let me know how it goes and we can continue our conversation if you require further troubleshooting or filter replacement.
: )
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