Filter Bypass: How Refrigerators Work Without A Water Filter

Refrigerator water dispensers and ice makers can still be used without a water filter if they have an inbuilt filter bypass mode or have been fitted with a filter bypass.

Deciding to go filter free in your refrigerator could save you a TON of money especially if your water is already filtered but knowing if your water or ice maker in your refrigerator will keep working is another question. To clear things up, I’ve detailed exactly how to tell if you can use your refrigerator without a water filter or if it needs a filter bypass.

In this post, we’ll step you through exactly how to check if you can use your refrigerator with or without a water filter and how to fit a filter bypass if needed, including an inline back-of-the-fridge filter bypass. We also explain what can happen if you don’t change your filter in your refrigerator and what the signs are that you need a new one.

Can I use my refrigerator without the water filter?

Most modern refrigerators with a water dispenser or ice maker will have a water filter (somewhere) that will need changing about every 6 months.

The replacement cost for refrigerator filters can really add up!

Some people consider this an unnecessary cost, especially if they already have clean and safe filtered water in their home.

For example, if you’re running a reverse osmosis (RO) system to your refrigerator, or you have a whole-house water filtration system, your water should already be fairly clean.

In this case, it may not be necessary to change your refrigerator water filter every 6 months. In fact, some people say that they barely change their refrigerator filter (about once a year) if the water comes directly from a RO or whole-house water filter system.

You may also be lucky enough to live in an area with good quality (treated) tap water and feel you just don’t need a secondary filter in the fridge.

If this sounds like you, you may be able to use the refrigerator without a water filter, but you may need to add in a water filter bypass.

Over time, this can save you time and money!

Whatever your reason, the biggest concern for most people in not using a water filter is they want to know if the refrigerator and ice maker will continue to work properly.

Will refrigerator water dispensers and ice makers work without a water filter?

For most refrigerators, the water dispenser and ice maker will work just fine without a water filter, but some do require what’s called a filter bypass to continue working.

What is a filter bypass?

A refrigerator water filter bypass is a small plastic cap, plug, filter-shaped cartridge or even a sediment filter that removes coarse particles that “tricks” the refrigerator into thinking it has a regular filter in place (e.g. the Bosch refrigerator filter bypass).

The filter bypass will have the same end shape as your regular refrigerator filter and is attached in the same location.

How to tell if I need a refrigerator filter bypass?

To check if you need a filter bypass or not, follow these simple steps:

  1. Remove your existing water filter and try and use the water dispenser and ice maker.
  2. If the water dispenser and ice maker continue to work, then your refrigerator has an inbuilt automatic bypass mode and you DO NOT need to buy a filter bypass and you can use the refrigerator without the water filter.
  3. If your refrigerator water dispenser and ice maker don’t work, then you DO need a filter bypass to use your refrigerator without a filter.

Special note on General Electric refrigerator water filters and filter bypass

Modern General Electric (GE) refrigerator require a water filter or filter bypass with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip to work. These will be newer GE refrigerators that require a genuine RPWFE water filter (link to Amazon).

The RFID chip speaks with the GE refrigerator to let it know a genuine water filter or filter bypass is fitted. If you try and use a generic (non-GE) water filter or filter bypass the water dispenser and ice maker WILL NOT WORK AT ALL!

The RFID chip also detects leaks and tells the refrigerator when the water filter has reached it’s 6 months expiry. You can’t use the water dispenser or ice maker past this 6-month date – IT WILL JUST SHUT OFF!

It’s kind of a sneaky way to stop you from buying non-GE (cheaper) water filters or a filter bypass.

This is why many people chose to buy a genuine GE refrigerator filter bypass (link to Amazon).

Special note on the Bosch Refrigerator filter bypass

The Bosch water filter bypass (link to Bosch website) differs from most other brands in that it continues to remove coarse particles from your drinking water.

It looks like a regular Bosch water filter (Amazon link), which requires changing every 6 months, but the Bosch bypass filter does not need to be changed and can remain in the appliance permanently.

How to bypass a refrigerator water filter

To use a refrigerator bypass all you have to do is disconnect your old water filter and attach the filter bypass as you would attach a new water filter.

You generally don’t have to turn of the water that runs into your fridge, but you will definitely have to turn off your water if you are trying to bypass an inline water filter located at the back of your fridge.

Possible locations of your refrigerator water filter

  • Grille – located at the bottom of the refrigerator
  • Upper left or right interior
  • Upper left or right interior wall
  • Behind the inbuilt pitcher
  • Lower left or right interior
  • Recessed into the door
  • Back of the fridge (inline filters)

Attaching a filter bypass

Most refrigerator bypasses can be attached by either:

  • Screwing in a clockwise direction about a 1/4 to 1/2 turn
  • Gently pushing it in (plug type). You can wiggle them side to side as you do so.
  • For water filters that have a push tab release, simply push in the bypass until you hear a click.

Once you install a filter bypass, and the water is on, you’ll often here a click and/or rush of water, which means you have installed the bypass correctly.

However, don’t be too concerned if you hear nothing at all, as every fridge is different.

Will it leak

If you notice a leak or dripping water coming from the filter bypass, you will need to remove it and give the bypass and filter head a wipe clean to remove any gunk or sediment that may be in the way.

Also, don’t be surprised if you get a splutter of water when you first use your water dispenser after adding in the filter bypass. There will be some air bubbles in the lines that will need to be flushed out first.

Attaching a back-of-the-fridge filter bypass

There is no OFFICIAL way to bypass an inline-water filter located at the back of refrigerators, so basically you need to buy a:

  • 1/4″ to 1/4″ tube straight push connector

These are super cheap! You can get a pack of 5 Malida straight connectors (with shut off valves) for about 7 bucks on Amazon, but to get the most up-to-date price I suggest you check them out for yourself on Amazon here.

You may also need some extra 1/4″ tubing, depending on how much slack there is at the back of your fridge.

To add in the 1/4″ push connector (inline filter bypass), cut the existing tubing next to your old filter and push the cut tubes into both ends of the connector.

What happens if you don’t change your refrigerator water filter?

Leaving an old water filter in your refrigerator is often worse than having no filter at all (or adding in a bypass filter).

You will need to do this at least every 6 months.

As mentioned before, the only exception is if you already have clean fresh water from an RO or whole-house water filter system feeding into your fridge.

If you don’t change your refrigerator water filter then it can become clogged. You may begin to notice the pressure in your water dispenser or ice maker slow down or stop entirely.

Additionally, if you leave the filter in your fridge for longer than you should, you may start to get black floaty bits coming from your water dispenser or in your ice cubes. Black floaty bits are usually molds or slime that have built up and come loose from inside your filter.

Signs you may still need a water filter in your refrigerator include:

  • Bad taste or smell. If your tap water isn’t that great and you don’t change your fridge filter, the water can start to taste or smell bad. People often say they can start to taste the chlorine or it smells like rotten eggs (sulfur smell).
  • If you live in an area with hard water, which is most of the United States, you may start to notice a metallic taste or a build up of scale in parts of your refrigerator. This is due to an old filter that needs replacing.

So if you’ve decided to go filter free in your refrigerator, it’s best to remove the existing filter, check if the dispenser and ice maker still work, and attach a filter bypass if needed.

Most refrigerators should come with a filter bypass, so if you just bought one new then don’t throw the bypass away thinking they are just a plastic covering for the filter attachment.

The cost of a refrigerator filter bypass can range from just a few bucks up to around $90, but in the scheme of things they could save you a lot of money in buying replacement filters on a regular basis.

Related questions

Can refrigerator water filters be recycled?

Refrigerator water filters of any brand can be recycled for their plastic, carbon and even metal. There are paid options that allow you to mail multiple filters at once and Brita and PUR refrigerator water filters can be recycled for free. For more information check out the post I wrote titled Recycling Refrigerator Water Filters: FREE or Fee?

Is it really necessary to change your refrigerator water filter every 6 months?

Refrigerator water filters need to be changed every 6 months as they contain activated carbon, which stops removing contaminants after roughly 6 months or less. Check out our other article on the Lifespan of Activated Carbon Water Filters – Do They Really Expire? to get the full story.

Russell Singleton

Russell has a Bachelor of Science (Environmental and Marine Geoscience) with Class I Honors. He is currently completing his doctorate in science and is passionate about all earth processes, especially isotope geochemistry and paleohydrology.

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