How to Clean RO Membrane?  Complete Steps Guide

Maintaining the health of the RO membrane is paramount for the optimal functioning of a reverse osmosis (RO) system. Over time, various pollutants can lead to membrane fouling, reducing the system’s performance. In this guide, we’ll walk you through cleaning an RO membrane and offer some tips to ensure the longevity of your system.

RO Membrane Cleaning

The Importance of Cleaning RO Membrane

Mud, colloids, organic matter, microorganisms, and other pollutants in the raw water can impact the health of an RO membrane. When these substances deposit on the membrane’s surface, it results in a phenomenon known as fouling. This can lead to reduced water production, increased salt permeability, and decreased system efficiency.

Regular cleaning is essential to maintain an efficient system and extend the membrane’s life.

How to Determine When Cleaning Is Required?

Regularly monitoring your system can save you from unplanned downtimes. Indicators that suggest it’s time to clean the RO membrane include:

  • 10-15% reduction in water production
  • 15% increase in operational pressure
  • 10-15% rise in salt permeability

How to Clean RO Membrane?

1. Initial Flush

Start using reverse osmosis product water, ideally, or at least softened water that meets RO standards, to flush the RO membrane components and system pipes.

2. Prepare the Cleaning Solution

Use qualified softened water to prepare the cleaning liquid. Ensure uniform mixing and check the pH value and temperature of the solution before cleaning.

3. Introduce Cleaning Fluid

Inject the cleaning fluid into the RO equipment at 1/2 of the normal cleaning flow rate and an operating pressure of 40~60 PSI. This process helps in removing any residual water inside the membrane container.

4. Cycling and Soaking

First, drain any retained water. Then, cycle the cleaning fluid through the system. Monitor the turbidity and pH value of the reflux cleaning fluid. If changes occur, consider replacing or readjusting the cleaning solution.

After the initial cycle, let the membrane soak in the cleaning solution for about an hour. If the contamination is severe, extend this period. Remember to keep the cleaning solution between 20°C and 40°C.

5. Post-soak Cleaning

After soaking, cycle the cleaning fluid through the system again at the standard cleaning flow rate for 20 to 60 minutes.

6. Final Flush

Once the cleaning process is complete, flush the system with RO product water to remove any traces of the cleaning solution.

7. Sterilization (Optional)

Use an approved sterilizing solution to ensure the system is microbial contamination-free. After sterilization, it’s crucial to rinse the system thoroughly to avoid contaminating the product water.

Types of RO Membrane Cleaning Chemicals

Acid Cleaning Agents

Acidic agents target inorganic scales and rust found on the RO membrane. Some of the common acid-cleaning agents include:

  • Nitric acid: Highly effective in removing inorganic scales.
  • Nitrous acid: Utilized to tackle tough rust patches.

Alkaline Cleaning Agents

For organic matter and oil stains, alkaline agents are the preferred choice. Here are the commonly used agents:

  • Sodium hydroxide: Best for getting rid of organic stains.
  • Sodium bicarbonate: Effective for lighter organic residues.

Oxidizing Agents

When the RO membrane gets contaminated with adhesive organic matter or certain microorganisms, oxidizing agents come to the rescue. They include:

  • Hydrogen peroxide: A powerful oxidizing agent, great for various organic materials.
  • Potassium permanganate: Known for its ability to target specific microorganisms.
  • Ozone: Another strong oxidizing agent, efficient against a range of contaminants.


These are proactive agents that prevent inorganic scales and rust from forming on the RO membrane in the first place. Some of the popular choices are:

  • Citric acid: An eco-friendly option for scale prevention.
  • EDTA: Effective for more persistent scaling issues.


Maintaining a clean RO membrane is essential for the longevity and efficiency of your reverse osmosis system. By following the steps outlined above and understanding the potential issues and their solutions, you can ensure your system operates at its best. Regular cleaning enhances the performance and extends the life of the membrane, providing you with clean and safe water for longer.


What’s the best cleaning agent for carbonate scale?

A specialized antiscalant should work effectively against carbonate fouling.

Can I use a homemade cleaning solution?

Using homemade solutions without consulting experts can damage the membrane.

How often should I clean the RO membrane?

Cleaning should be performed every 6-12 months, depending on the water quality and system performance.

What temperature should the cleaning solution be?

The cleaning solution should be maintained between 20°C and 40°C for effective cleaning.

Can the cleaning process differ based on the type of RO system?

Yes, multi-stage RO systems may require stage-by-stage cleaning to avoid flow imbalances and secondary contamination.

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