Water purification guide: How to prime your Black Berkey elements

It is essential to prime your Black Berkey water purification elements before first use, otherwise, water will not be able to flow properly from the upper chamber into the lower chamber. 

The micro-pores within the Black Berkey purification elements are so small that gravity pressure alone is not sufficient to force air out of the pores of a new element.

The purpose of priming the elements is to saturate the micro-pores with water, which requires pressure of some kind to overcome the water tension (viscosity of water), and initiate the flow of the water through the filtering element. 

  1. Place the tan-colored priming button on the stem of the Black Berkey element.

  2. Press the priming button up against the faucet.  If necessary, unscrew the wingnut on the element's stem without removing it, so that your fingers can fit under the wingnut to hold the element firmly against the faucet.

  3. Gently turn on the faucet so that water comes out as a small trickle.  Water always takes the path of least resistance, so make sure the priming button is firmly pressed against the faucet, otherwise water may spray out the sides of the priming button and give you an unexpected shower!
  4. Allow the water to fill the cavity of the filter element.  You will soon notice water beads forming at the surface of the Black Berkey element, starting at the bottom and working up towards the stem.  Once the water beads reach the top, keep holding the filter against the faucet for 10-15 more seconds, and then turn off the water.

  5. Correctly primed Black Berkey elements should sink to the bottom of a container full of water.   To check if your elements have been fully purged of air and filled with water, fill the bottom chamber of your Berkey system with tap water and place the elements in the chamber full of water, stems facing upwards.  If the filters sink, your elements have been properly primed.  If they float, then repeat steps 2-4 until the filters sink.  Otherwise you will not get the maximum flow rate from your filters.

    NOTE: One should never put untreated water into the stem of a Black Berkey element.  When priming Black Berkey elements in an area where treated water is not available, we recommend that the user use the Black Berkey Primer to safely prime the elements.  Alternatively, you can submerge the elements in any water source and use the suction power of your mouth on the filter stem to slowly draw water through the micropores and up through the stem, as through a straw.  Given the small size of the micro-pores, this rudimentary method of priming the Black Berkey elements in case of an emergency requires constant and stiff suction pressure for at least a minute or two until water starts flowing through the stem. The whole filter, with the exception of the stem, need to be fully submerged in water during this procedure.

    How to use the Black Berkey Primer

    The Black Berkey Primer™ is a hand-powered priming pump that makes it possible to prime Black Berkey® Purification Elements easily using any source of treated or untreated water without the need for faucets or hose connections.  Priming the Black Berkey® Purification Elements saturates the filters with water prior to use, allowing for clean water production anywhere you go.

    The Black Berkey Primer™can also be a welcome accessory for those who may have difficulty priming their elements in a small sink or with their kitchen sink shower faucet.



    1. Make sure the valves are correctly attached to the 2 ends of the pump so that air flows out of the elbow end of the pump assembly.  If not, reverse the hex nut and elbow at the 2 ends of the tubes.

    2.  Attach the pump to the element by screwing the hex nut onto the stem of the Black Berkey element.
    3.  Immerse the element into your water source so that it is fully submerged.
    4. Squeeze the pump with your hand and allow it to expand.  The expansion of the pump can be quite slow as the element's micro-pores that the water is being drawn through with the pumping action are very small.

    5.  Repeat pumping action several times. At first, only air will exit the elbow end of the pump.  Continue until all air has been evacuated and only water comes out of the elbow.  When elements are fully and correctly primed, they are full of water and should sink to the bottom of a container full of water.


    The Black Berkey Primer™ also allows you to purge water from your elements for quicker drying prior to storage or travel, or to back-flush your Black Berkey® Purification Elements to delay clogging and extend filter life.

    1.  Make sure the valves are correctly attached to the 2 ends of the pump so that air flows out of the hex nut end of the pump assembly.  If not, reverse the hex nut and elbow at the 2 ends of the tubes.

    2.  Attach the pump to the element by screwing the hex nut onto the stem of the Black Berkey element.

    3.  Squeeze the pump with your hand and allow it to slowly expand.  This pumping action will suck air from the elbow end of the pump and push it through the element's micropores, to not only evacuate water but also to back-flush silt and debris that may have accumulated in the filter over time (particularly with untreated water sources).

    4.  Repeat pumping action several times until no more water comes out of the elements.

    How to prime and install your PF-2 fluoride water filters

    If you have fluoride in your water, you need to install the same number of PF-2 fluoride water filters as Black Berkey elements you have in your system.

    In order to use your Berkey fluoride filters for the first time, you must prime them. The filtering media contained in the element is very dense and contains dust from the manufacturing process. This dust needs to be rinsed from the media in order for the water to run clear and to break the surface tension of the filtering media.

    Please follow the instructions below in order to get the best results possible from your PF-2 water filters: 

    1. With the blue end caps in place wash the exterior of each PF-2 fluoride element with water and a mild dishwashing soap, then rinse.

    2. With clean hands, remove both blue caps from ends of each element.

    3. Place the rubber priming button (tan colored) onto one end of a PF-2 and align the hole of the filter with the hole of the rubber washer.
    4. Press the priming button up against the sink faucet so that the priming button creates a seal between the faucet and the PF-2 element.

    5. While holding the priming button against the faucet, turn on the cold water slowly, allowing water to fill the cavity of the filter and discharge from the opposite end. Allow water to flow for at least 30 seconds or until water runs clear whichever is longer.
    6. Hint: place thumb on top of the faucet to apply pressure, this creates a better seal.
    7. Turn the PF-2 filter over and prime the opposite end, reversing the flow of water.  Repeat steps 3 thru 5 until water runs clear from both directions.

    8. When you think the filters are flushed long enough, run some of the water that is being flushed through the filter into a clear glass and hold it up to the light to see if all of the cloudiness is gone from the water, if not continue priming until water is clear.

    9. Screw each primed PF-2 fluoride filter onto the stem of each Black Berkey element so that the arrows on the PF-2 filters are pointing away from the Black Berkey elements.

    10. CAUTION: When screwing the PF-2 elements onto the stems of the Black Berkey filters, do not exceed 8 revolutions or the threaded portion of the Black Berkey stem will protrude too far into the fluoride filter and possibly damage the filter.

    11. Place the upper chamber on the lower chamber so that the fluoride filters are now hanging inside the lower chamber. 

    12. Fill the upper chamber with water and let it run through the system, You are now ready to enjoy fluoride-free purified Berkey water.


    How to maintain your Berkey water filtration system

    1. Wash the lower chamber once per month with soapy dishwater.

    2. Replace PF-2 fluoride removal filters every 4000 litres (1000 gallons), or once per year, whichever comes first.

    3. Clean the Black Berkey elements as needed, when flow rate declines. Remove the elements from your system by unscrewing the wingnuts, scrub the exterior of each element under running water with a green nylon scouring pad or a nylon brush.  For optimal flow rate, re-prime the filters after they have been cleaned to purge any air in the micropores before you reassemble the system.

    4. NEVER use dish soap or any other product to clean Black Berkey elements.

    5. In areas with hard water, calcium scale may build up on the spigot and inside the chambers after prolonged use. To dissolve the calcium, soak affected part(s) in vinegar or a 50-50% mix of vinegar and water for about 15 minutes. Wipe away calcium scale with a ScotchBrite pad or soft brush then wash with soapy dishwater and rinse.

    6. NEVER soak Black Berkey elements in vinegar or use any other cleaning product.  Only clean the filter surface using the cleanest available water.

    7. The standard plastic spigot and the Sight Glass spigot can be taken apart to be cleaned. The spigot has a cap on the top, just below the lever to dispense water.  Unscrew the cap and remove the cap and lever.  Rinse both parts in water, brush with a soft toothbrush, and reassemble. Although the procedure is simple, it must be done carefully not to damage the spigot when reassembling it.

    How to store your Berkey water filtration system

    Properly storing your Berkey water filtration system will ensure that you will always have immediate access to safe, clean drinking water whenever required.

    For short-term storage (1-2 weeks), remove the Black Berkey elements from the upper chamber, shake them lightly over the sink to remove any excess water, and place them in the fridge in a sealable plastic bag or container.  This will allow the filters to stay mostly saturated so that re-priming is typically not necessary.  If the filters run more slowly than usual when you put them back in service, simply re-prime them until the exterior wall of the element begins to sweat beads of water for 10 seconds.

    For longer term storage, it is of paramount importance to allow the Black Berkey elements to dry completely before putting them away.  As with anything else, if elements are stored with any moisture content, this may cause mildew and bacteria growth inside the filters.

    Air dry the water filters by placing them on a window sill with direct sun exposure for 1-2 weeks, ensuring you turn them once in a while so that all surfaces of the filter are allowed to dry.  If you do not have access to a place with direct sunlight, place the filters in a well ventilated warm area and allow to dry for a longer period of time. 

    Once the filters are bone-dry, place them in a sealable plastic bag or container in order to protect them from dust and moisture, and store them in a safe place for easy access, ready for your next trip or in an emergency.  NOTE: Dryed out filters will have to be re-primed before use.

    How to perform the Red Food Coloring Test for water purification

    Black Berkey™ water purification elements are so powerful that they are capable of removing red food coloring from water. This feature gives you a reliable way to test your system periodically to ensure it is functioning properly.  The procedure is called the Red Food Coloring Test.

    When should the Red Food Coloring Test be performed?

    •       When the Berkey® system is new and first assembled
    •       Every 3 to 6 months thereafter
    •       When you take your system out of storage
    •       Before you take your system on a trip or out of the country

    Can I use colors other than RED food coloring to perform this test?

    Red food coloring doesn't have any minerals so the filter recognizes it as a contaminant. While other colors "may" work, we always recommend using red food coloring to test your system.

    Instructions for Red Food Coloring Test:

    1. IMPORTANT: If you have installed PF-2™ fluoride removal filters in the lower chamber, unscrew them from the stems of the Black BerkeyTM elements before you start the test.

    2. Place the upper chamber on large water glasses or transparent jars so that water from each Black Berkey element is collected in a separate container.  This way, you will be able to better observe the results of each filter separately.

    3. Fill the upper chamber with water and add one teaspoon of red food coloring per gallon (approx. 4 liters) of water.  Stir the water so that the food colouring is evenly dispersed in the water

    4. Observe the water dripping into each glass to see if the water is flowing only through the center of the stem.

    5. If the water collected in each glass is clear, then your system is working correctly.  If the water is a shade of pink or red, then please follow the trouble-shooting steps below.

    6. After performing the red food coloring test, reinstall the PF-2 filters that you removed in step 1 (if applicable) making sure that the arrow on the filter is pointing in the direction of the water flow.  Do not screw on the PF-2 filters more than eight revolutions as this may damage the internal media screen. 

      NOTE: The Red Food Coloring Test is only to be performed for the Black Berkey™ purification elements.  Ceramic filters and other types of filters are unable to filter out food coloring. This test is also not recommended for the Sport Berkey™ Water Bottle.


    If your Berkey water filtration system fails the Red Food Color test

    If you follow the Red Food Color Test instructions and the water in the lower chamber is not completely clear, this could be caused by one of several reasons.  Check each of the following possibilities:

    1. Are the blocking plugs properly sealing the unused holes in the upper chamber that do not have elements installed?  Are the plugs installed tightly, with a washer on each side in the case of systems with screw-type plugs? If the plugs are not properly installed, water will flow directly from the upper chamber to the lower chamber without filtration, causing your system to fail the test. Ensure the washers are installed correctly, tighten the plugs more securely and re-run the test.
    2. Is the washer on the stem of each element installed inside the upper chamber and is the wingnut secured outside the upper chamber? If the washer is on the outside of the chamber with the wing nut, you will not have a proper seal and this will cause your system to fail the test. Place the washer on the inside of the upper chamber and re-run the test.
    3. Is the wingnut tightly screwed onto the stem of each element? If your system fails the test, tighten the wing nuts a bit more and re-run the test. However, do not tighten the wing nuts using any tools, they should be hand tightened to a snug fit, but not more.

    4. Are you unable to tighten the wingnuts holding the Black BerkeyTM elements in place? If so, the threads of the wingnut might be stripped. You can wrap Teflon tape around the stem of the Black Berkey elements to help the wingnuts hold the elements in place.  If this doesn’t solve the problem, you can order new wingnuts here

    5. Are you using artificial RED food coloring or another color or type of color? Artificial red food coloring is what is recommended to test your Black Berkey elements.  Other colors and other red products such as beet juice contain minerals and as such will flow through the filters and will not give you a proper reading for the test.

    IMPORTANT: Before you re-run the Red Food Color Test a second time

    1. Rinse off and re-prime the Black Berkey TM purification elements to get rid of any food coloring from the first test.
    2. Completely empty the water out of the lower chamber and run clean water through the spigot to clean it out as well.

      If you have checked all of the possibilities above and your Black BerkeyTM purification elements are still failing the Red Food Color Test, please contact our customer service department at 1-877-411-AQUA (2782) and we will be happy to walk you through the procedure, and direct you with next steps.

      Sport Berkey Water Purifier Use and Care

      Before first use, fill the Sports Berkey Portable Water Purifier with water, screw on cap and tighten securely to eliminate leaks. Flush water through the filter by pulling down lever so that straw is exposed, and squeeze bottle with both hands to expel water through filter & out the straw. Repeat this flushing process a few times to remove excess process dust from the new filter. After flushing, rinse the bottle & cap. Your sport berkey bottle is now ready for use.

      Sports Berkey Refill Capacity

      •      Municipal / Well Water: 640 Refills
      •      Water from untreated sources: 160 Refills

      Sport Berkey water filter is not cleanable like the Black Berkey elements and it must, therefore, be replaced when it becomes clogged.

      NOTE: When using the Sport Berkey water filter with untreated water sources in nature (lakes, rivers, streams), always try to harvest the clearest water possible to prolong filter life.  High levels of sediment in water can clog the Sport Berkey filter more quickly.

      Sport Berkey Maintenance and Storage

      The 22 oz Sport Berkey Portable Water Purifier has a shelf life of 50 years. When the filter system will not be used for an extended period, flush the unit with a chlorinated solution of 1/4 tsp. for 2 liters of water. Allow drying thoroughly with the cap removed. Re-assemble and stow. Do not allow sport Berkey to freeze, do not place in microwave oven and do not run hot water through the filter.