A query for Filter-Filter
December 12, 2017 8:55 AM   Subscribe

What happens if you literally never clean a water filtration pitcher? A friend of mine, A, got tired of their roommate never chipping in for filter replacement, and tired of an ongoing room-temp-or-refrigerated water squabble, and abandoned use of the household 'shared' pitcher, obtaining their own. Said roommate took over sole possession of the old Brita, but has literally not cleaned it or replaced the filter since then. This was... jeez, maybe a year ago, maybe more. Is the roommate going to make himself ill? Is A morally obliged to stage a filter intervention?

Other friends and visitors are quietly urged away from 'that' pitcher when they want water, and directed to A's well-maintained pitcher kept in the fridge. Roommate could use that water, too, but prefers the handle of the 10-cup, and also seems to prefer room-temp water, so he keeps the old pitcher sitting out on the kitchen table. He just... doesn't seem to get that he needs to clean it, although he knows, on some level, that cleaning-and-replacing-filter needs to happen. (On one occasion, an attempt was made, but it just ended with a replacement filter being left 'to soak' in the kitchen sink for a day or two.)

A, obviously, doesn't want to clean and maintain another pitcher, and A already has to do a fair bit of care and feeding (sometimes literally) when it comes to this roommate -- mostly just cleaning dishes, but roommate is not great at self-care.

Neither A nor I have been willing to actually, like, touch this water pitcher, but I noticed that there is some pinkish bio-film forming around the spout. I also noticed a faint vinegar-y smell coming from said spout. This seems... worrying. I can't imagine what the water tastes like, but mostly I want to know if the housemate will get sick if we don't intervene.
posted by halation to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The pink is likely Serratia marcescens bacteria:
Serratia can also grow in tap water in locations such as toilets in guest bathrooms where the water is left standing long enough for the chlorine residual disinfectant to dissipate. Serratia will not survive in chlorinated drinking water.

Serratia marsescens is not known to cause any waterborne diseases. Members of the Serratia genus were once known as harmless organisms that produced a characteristic red pigment. More recently, Serratia marcescens has been found to be pathogenic to a very small percentage of people, having been identified as a cause of urinary tract infections, wound infections, and pneumonia in hospital environments.

Once established, the organism usually cannot be eliminated entirely. However, periodic and thorough cleaning of the surfaces where the pink slime occurs, followed by disinfection with chlorine bleach is the best way to control it.
posted by zinon at 9:06 AM on December 12, 2017 [9 favorites]

The pink film is more worrying to me than the filter. But the filter is probably having the same issue and maybe more so since it has more nooks to get grody. Truly, you probably don’t need to filter your water. Some people do it for taste. Clearly the roommate doesn’t need that. I would point out one time - “Hey, you’re drinking mold. Just ditch the filter and use a regular pitcher, and clean it once in awhile.”

If you want to gift them a $5 plastic pitcher from, like, Target you could. But just turn a blind eye or clean it if it’s really bothering you. They probably won’t die.
posted by amanda at 9:08 AM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is exactly the kind of scenario I regularly found myself in back when I had roommates. They'd do some small, random weird/gross thing that really didn't have much impact on me but I'd fixate on it because what the hell, you are literally hoarding cat poop in your bedroom eating berries with mold on them drinking water that looks nasty af, the 100th weird thing you've done as a roommate and a bridge too far for me.

It sounds like your friend has solved this pretty well by creating a parallel pitcher they have full control of. The roommate has no problem with the gross pitcher and isn't forcing anyone else to use it, so what's the problem? I'd advise your friend to ignore the pitcher, and maybe encourage them to seek another living situation, preferably solo, because like I said this rings so familiar to me--this pitcher is the physical manifestation of your friend having reached the bitch-eating-crackers stage of his roommate relationship. Personally I'm much happier now living by myself.

tl;dr Ignore it.
In the meantime, get the rent from gross pitcher guy in advance. Just in case ;)
posted by phunniemee at 9:08 AM on December 12, 2017 [21 favorites]

I have used the same Brita filter for months or years without changing the filter. No harm done. However, I kept mine in the fridge and it did not have any pink film on it.

(These days I just drink straight tap water.)
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:56 PM on December 12, 2017

I am a slacker and leave my Brita filter unchanged for months and months after it "should" be changed. I keep mine in the fridge too, and as soon as I notice it looking grotty I clean it. (It's never had pink film though.) I'll change the filter if I have a new one but I have to confess that I have been known to just wash the pitcher if I haven't got a new filter to put in. As far as I know it has never made me sick.

What will happen to the roommate if there is no intervention? I would regard it as an interesting science experiment and find out! It is certainly not your friend's job to intervene. Maybe the pink bio-film is becoming an essential part of the roommate's gut flora and withdrawing it would make them ill!
posted by Athanassiel at 4:11 PM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

It's not A's job to intervene, but this is pink slime and A lives in that apartment, too. Always being on call to swoop in and identify the proper water pitcher for guests is a drag. When roommate is out, A could chuck the old filter, thoroughly clean and disinfect the pitcher, refill it, and put it back on the counter.

(I haven't owned a Brita since Hector was a pup. If this model won't pour without the filter, I'd do the first two steps listed above, stow the Brita under the sink, and swap in an ordinary Rubbermaid water pitcher for the counter.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:14 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

The reason filters are supposed to be changed every few months is because all the minute nooks and crannies of activated charcoal collect stuff that is very nutritious for bacteria. It's probably fine to drink pitchers of bacteria laden water up until the time that it suddenly becomes not okay due to a weakened immune system or a new crop of bacteria superseding the old.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:17 PM on December 15, 2017

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