Watts Premier: Failure and Redemption

Part I: Failure

An unsuccessful attempt to open the filter.

(If you are interested in a 500 word essay on how not to change the filters on a reverse osmosis filter, please continue. Otherwise, please skip to Redemption below)

In my town, we receive a months supply of free minerals every day, delivered conveniently through the city water supply. This is a wonderful benefit for everyone, especially sinks, faucets, shower doors, spigots, hot water heaters, and all sorts of other plumbing fixtures that automatically accumulate valuable white crystals during their normal use. So rich are these mineral deposits, in fact, that many such fixtures are afforded the opportunity to retire early. Many have.

A few years ago, I decided that we had accumulated more than our fair share of minerals. We installed a water softener, thus magically exchanging our minerals for IONS. Specifically, sodium ions, in fact. And while the toilet, shower, and washing machine are delighted to consume these ions, we didn’t really want to drink them, or cook our spaghetti in them either. So we did some homework, contemplated the options, talked with a plumber. He recommended a Watts Premier WP-5 One Piece Manifold Reverse Osmosis System, conveniently available for delivery from CostCow.com for the low low price of $160. Installed under the sink, it quietly provides us with an infinite supply of drinking water, certified to be free from arsenic, cysts (cryptosporidium, giardia, entamoeba and/or toxoplasm), barium, hexavalent chromium, trivalent chromium, copper, lead, fluoride, cadmium, radium 226/228, selenium, TDS and turbidity. And, of course, sodium ions.

Here’s the problem: the filters need to be changes every six months or so. The first time I attempted this, I gave up, and hired a guy to do it. He was successful, but not without a great deal of frustration, anger, and generous usage of colorful language. Now, having put off this filter changing ritual for, oh about two years, I decided it was time to tackle this thing. Armed with pack of replacement filters, an instruction manual, and a genuine plastic toy wrench that came with the system, I began the simple procedure:

  1. Turn off the incoming water, and drained the pressure from the system, per protocol.
  2. Use genuine plastic toy wrench to unscrew filter bowls. Fail.
  3. Become frustrated, and generously use colorful language.
  4. Consult Watts Premier Troubleshooting page. Fail.
  5. Consult Internets. On the Costco review page, WindWalker from New Jersey suggests “The trick is to unscrew and release some of the tubes first. What happened was that the air pressure pushes against the filter caps tight and makes it hard to budge. But if you loosen us a few tubes (closer to the filter caps), it will release the pressure, and make it much easier to unscrew the filter caps.” Thank you Internets, this is why you were invented!
  6. Remove the tubes and wait a little while, then try again. FAIL. Oh, noes! The Internets have mislead me.
  7. Try harder, adding a pry bar to the genuine plastic toy wrench to get more leverage. Stand on manifold to stabilize filter body, and express increasing rage. FAIL.
  8. Stop for a moment and think about which way loosens the thing, and which way tightens it. Yep, that’s the right way. Enjoy another moment of rage.
  9. Consult the Home Despot. Purchase an $8 Husky Strap Wrench, which looks like just the thing to solve this problem. Remove from packaging. It smells bad.
  10. Apply strap wrench to filter, and attempt to unscrew first bowl. SUCCESS! It starts to move. (ok, good, I was actually unscrewing it in the right direction)
  11. Now repeat with second bowl, apply force, and break new strap wrench in two places. FAIL.
  12. Move the leaky and partially dismembered filter to the garage for a week so it can think about what it has done.
  13. Write to Watts Premier customer service and ask them for advice.
  14. Wait a week, then call them to ask why they haven’t responded.
  15. They haven’t responded because they don’t know what to do either.

Part II: Redemption

Now, for the first time ever, I will reveal to the Internets the successful procedure I have developed for replacing the filters on a Watts Premier WP-5 Reverse Osmosis system:

  1. Remove the entire filter assembly.
  2. Place the whole thing in a tub of hot water. This, people of the Internet, it is secret you came to this page to find.
  3. Drive to the Home Despot and exchange and/or buy an $8 Husky Strap Wrench. Open package. It smells bad.
  4. Remove the filter from the now somewhat less hot water.
  5. Use strap to unscrew the filter bowls.
  6. Celebrate victory.

Part III: Footnote

I was able to contact an actual human at Watts Premier when I called them. Let’s call her Ginger, which I think is her telephone name. She was very apologetic, and very nice, but had no useful advice whatsoever. She did suggest, though, that if I was able get the thing open, I could remove the lower O-ring when replacing the filter bowl, because they’ve found that it can make the seal too tight. O RLY? Well, that’s good to know. Since my hot water + strap wrench trick seems to work OK, I left the second O-rings in there. Wouldn’t want it to be too easy next time!


  1. Thanks for posting this. I have a 4 stage water softener unit that just did not want to open. The plastic on my unit is thicker and I had to pure really hot water on it. I had to set my water heater to HOT about an hour before to make sure it is hot enough to work. Beside the thickness of the unit, there is water inside which takes longer to get hot. Also, I had to use a Mallet to loosen it as well. I was worried about cracking it, but as I said, my 4 stage is rather heavy duty. I took the unit outside, since the broken small peaces of Mallet fly everywhere and it is a chore to clean afterward. I had to repeat going to my tub for each filter, since it was just too tight to open. I broke sweat doing this, but I did open it and made sure to screw on the filters not too tight.