I came across this very valuable information on priming Black Berkey water filter elements. I was having trouble priming the element with out water pressure and found this to be very helpful. The guide below contains easy priming instructions for both with and without pressurized water.
Priming Black Berkey® Elements FAQ’S
Please check in the box which held Black your
Berkey purification elements. The box should contain two
(2) elements. Attached to each element should be a rubber washer
and a wing nut. Also in the boxes should be what could looks like
another single black rubber washer. This is your priming button. It is
thicker than the washer and the center hole is smaller. This black priming
button can easily be confused with a washer; so we asked the manufacturer
to change the color of the priming button back to tan.
How do I prime the Black Berkey® Purification
Elements, in the field, when water pressure is unavailable?
The micro pores on the Black Berkey® purification elements are extremely
small, in fact they are small enough to filter red food coloring out of
water. The benefit from having such extremely small pores is greater
efficiency at removing pathogenic bacteria and other contaminates. The
downside is that too much water tension can require that the
purification elements be primed before they will flow properly. When you
receive the purification elements, they are dry and air is trapped
within the tiny micro fine pores. In certain parts of the world, water
has more water tension than in other places and this can change from
season to season. The higher the water tension, the more difficult it is
for the water to force the air out of the micro fine pores using gravity
alone. The pores that have air trapped within them do not allow water to
pass through and therefore become an inaccessible passage for the water.
This then can cause the system to either filter very slowly or not at
Before traveling to the field or using the system in an area without
water pressure, we recommend that the purification elements be primed
using the priming button method. If water pressure is not available to
use the priming button method, the elements can be field primed
approximately 50-75% by using the below method. In other words by using
this method, the elements will not purify as fast as they will by using
the priming button method however they will run significantly faster
than if the elements have not been primed at all. The field priming
method is as follows:
STEP 1: Fill the lower chamber with water, then place the purification
elements into the water in the lower chamber, upside down with the stems
facing upward. Put a ceramic coffee cup (or something else that will
hold them under the water) on top of each purification element stem to
force the element down under the water.
Or, install the elements upside down in the upper chamber so that the
elements are on the exterior of the bottom side of the upper chamber
facing downward. Then place the upper chamber onto the lower chamber so
that the filters are forced into the water within the lower chamber.
Let the purification elements soak in the water for 30 to 60 minutes
until they fill up with water. NOTE: Make sure that the opening in the
stems of the purification elements are not underwater as the water must
be forced through the pores of the element and not allowed to enter the
element through the hole in the stem.
STEP 2: When the inside of the purification elements are full of water
they will be significantly heavier. Next, assemble the purification
elements into the upper chamber while keeping the stems of the elements
facing upward. It is important to keep as much water on the inside of
the purification elements as is possible. Next, fill the upper chamber
with water as quickly as possible. Hint: the fastest way to fill the
upper chamber is to pour the water from the lower chamber into the upper
chamber. Then place the upper chamber onto the lower chamber.
When the purification elements have water within the bore (inside core),
more force is generated to draw water through the purification elements.
This is because the water that drips out of the purification element
also hydraulically pulls new water into the element as it begins to work
like a siphon. Thus, in addition to the “Push” of gravity, there is also
a hydraulic “pull” and this drastically improves the ability of the
water to force the air from the micro pores. The above method is less
efficient than priming the purification elements with the priming button
but should be about 50-75% effective in clearing the blocked micro
Let the water from the first purification cycle that is collected in the
lower chamber run to waste. Next, refill the upper chamber with water.
Your Black Berkey® elements are now FIELD primed and your Berkey® system
is ready for use.
Note: If the water used to field prime the elements is from a
contaminated or suspect source, if possible use a container other than
the lower chamber to immerse the elements. If this is not possible then
use the water that collects in the lower chamber from the first
purification cycle to make a soapy dishwater. Then wash thoroughly the
inside of the lower chamber and discard the soapy water. Next, purify
more water and use it to rinse any remaining soap from the lower
chamber. Your Berkey® system is now ready for use.
More information is available at Survival Camping World: Berkey Water Filters
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