The Right Drinking Water Filter for You

Drinking water filters come in many shapes and sizes. From pitchers to whole-house water filters, there is an affordable and effective way to filter water that can be tailored to your individual living situation. The type of water filter that you need depends on the type of contaminants in your water and how much water you want to purify. A little research can help you decide what you need in your home.

Identify Your Contaminants

All tap water contains contaminants from the water source, pipes and household plumbing. Water contamination can cause a host of problems. People with allergies or compromised immune systems can suffer from health problems when they drink contaminated water. Heavy metal contaminants like lead can lead to developmental problems in children. And, of course, contaminated water just tastes bad.

Water filters are designed to eliminate specific contaminants, so the contaminants in your water supply will dictate the water filter that’s best for you. Your local water supplier is required to publish an annual report that lists water contaminants, but this doesn’t include additional contaminants that come from household plumbing. Test your water with a contaminant kit from a local hardware store to determine the water filter you need.

Water filters don’t require certification, but better water filters will have certification from the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) or other independent testing labs for the contaminants you need to remove. If you see a water filter that isn’t certified, move on; you’ll find plenty of water filters that are.

Contaminant Types and Filtration Methods

There are four classes of contaminants contained in water: microbiological, organic substances, inorganic substances and radioactive pathogens. Each type of contaminant requires a specific type of water filter.
Microbiological contaminants include bacteria, protozoa and viruses. It takes a distillation system, UV disinfection or reverse osmosis system to effectively remove these contaminants.

Organic substances include pesticides, herbicides and chlorine byproducts. Most of these are easily removed with an activated carbon water filter or a distillation system.

Inorganic substances include arsenic, fluoride and lead, as well as any man-made substances that do not contain carbon. Reverse osmosis does the best job at getting rid of these contaminants, but these water filters can waste up to five gallons of water to produce one gallon of purified water. They also remove good minerals, like iron, and are among the most expensive water filters, with some under-sink models costing more than $1,000. For people with compromised immune systems or areas prone to heavy metal contamination, reverse osmosis is the best choice. Water softeners and distillation systems will remove some inorganic compounds as well.

Radioactive pathogens are rare, occurring naturally in some soils or resulting from the mining, disposal or storage of radioactive materials. If your water test turns up high levels of radioactive material, contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency immediately for detailed information on filtering and removal. The type of water filter that’s best depends on the specific type of radioactive material in your water, as all water filters have varying degrees of success with these contaminants.

If you have multiple types of contaminants in your water, you will need a combination water filter or several filters to keep your water clean. Combining a plumbing-based water filter with faucet and pitcher filters is the most cost-effective solution.

Water Filter Pitchers

Pitcher water filters are best for households with two or three people who only need to purify a moderate amount of drinking water. Most pitcher water filters use an activated carbon filter to remove organic chemicals, industrial solvents and chlorine byproducts—the contaminants that give water an unpleasant taste.

Look for pitcher water filters from well-known brands to ensure that replacement filters will be readily available, and include the cost of replacement filters when comparing models. Choose a pitcher water filter with a digital indicator that alerts you when it’s time to change the filter.

Faucet Mounted and Under-sink Water Filters
Faucet mount and under-sink water filters are good choices for medium to large households that need more filtered water than a pitcher-style water filter can provide. It’s also the preferred choice for those who like to cook with filtered water. Faucet-mount and under-sink water filters offer an array of water filtration options, including reverse osmosis and ultraviolet disinfection and basic activated carbon filters.

Most faucet-mounted water filters simply screw on to a standard faucet fitting. If you choose an under-sink water filter, include the cost of installation unless you know you know your way around your home’s plumbing system. Improperly installed water filters may leak or provide incomplete filtration.

Under-sink water filters range in price from $50 to more than $1,000 depending upon the filtration method used. As with any water filter, be sure replacement filters are readily available and that it’s clear when you’ll need to change the filter. Look for water filters in this category that feature an on/off switch so you can switch to unfiltered water if you need more water pressure.

Whole-house water filters
Whole-house water filters connect at the water main and filter all the water that enters your home. These are expensive to install and should only be used if you need to filter hard water or have a high level of contaminants. All filtration methods can be installed at the main, but some water filters will restrict flow to the point that water pressure drops to unusable levels. Instead of choosing a whole-house system that filters out everything, and makes showering into a chore, choose a model that filters out one or two contaminants. Use faucet mounted filters and water filter pitchers to catch the rest of them.

The filters in whole-house systems typically last about 6 months, which is longer than faucet-mount or under-sink water filters. Compare filter life spans when shopping, and try to find a system that lets you change the water filter yourself without incurring the cost of a professional.

If your water supply contains large amounts of organic contaminants, you have what is known as “hard water,” or water that is rich in minerals. Hard water takes a toll on laundry and household plumbing, and you should consider installing a water softener, which filters water through a series of replaceable beads to capture excess minerals.
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