Water Filter Reviewer - Buy Smarter

BUY a filter.
Or BE a filter.
While the human body is a remarkable filtration system, it comes with no warranty, and few replaceable parts. The latest water filters include components that can be quickly and cheaply replaced, and you won’t need a doctor to replace them. If there's more in your water than just water, it's not a bad idea to invest in a little purity. There may be long term health benefits, and even cost savings for your built-in components, and even your household appliances. Read on.
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Ready to Choose a Water Filtration System? Start By Asking Questions
What you don't know CAN hurt you...

One Size? Nope.

When it comes to water filters and filtration systems, there's no such thing as "one size fits all." The system or filter that you ultimately choose will depend on why you want to filter your water. Filters and systems are available to remove a lot of things from a little water, a few things from a lot of water, or nearly everything from as much water as you’d like to pay to filter. The cost and complexity of the system you choose will increase with both the volume of water you want to treat and the level of purity that you want to achieve.

How Much Water Do You Need to Filter?

Since the average American uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day, but only drinks about one quarter of a gallon per day, it’s very rational to consider a system that only filters your drinking water. There may be good reasons to filter more than just just your drinking water, or even all of your home’s water, but we’ll discuss those elsewhere.

What Do You Want to Take Out of Your Water?

If you're mainly concerned about taste, you have more options, and many of them are inexpensive. Bear in mind that taste varies broadly depending on your personal preferences. If you just don’t like chlorine, but don’t mind minerals, a simple pitcher-type filter may be the quickest and cheapest way to filter your tap water. These filters rely mainly on activated carbon which can efficiently remove most chlorine and some of its byproducts from water. Depending on where you live and where you get your tap water, your water may contain bacteria or other harmful organisms, fluoride, chloramines, dissolved solids, and even harmful organic chemicals. Information about specific contaminants is included below

Points to Ponder When Choosing a Filtration System

If you're mainly concerned about taste, you have more options, and many of them are inexpensive. Bear in mind that taste varies broadly depending on your personal preferences. If you just don’t like chlorine, but don’t mind minerals, a simple pitcher-type filter may be the quickest and cheapest way to filter your tap water. These filters rely mainly on activated carbon which can efficiently remove most chlorine and some of its byproducts from water. If you like the taste of bottled spring or mineral water, most public systems have from 50 to 500 parts per million (ppm) of dissolved solids, which include minerals. A filter pitcher might be a good option since it leaves minerals and other dissolved solids in the water. If you like Dasani or Aquifina, they have very low dissolved solids, so you may need to consider reverse osmosis or a Zero Water pitcher.
If you’re motivated by health concerns, I’m in your camp. Just removing the chlorine with a good carbon filter makes great sense when you consider that chlorine is in our water because it kills things. And because chlorine reacts with organic stuff in water to produce what EPA calls disinfectant byproducts, or DBPs, which are known to cause cancer, it all comes together.

If your water comes from a well or spring, you may need to disinfect it to kill or remove bacteria and other pathogens. While reverse osmosis membranes reject nearly every water borne disease vector, the membranes degrade over time, and if a reverse osmosis system’s pre-filters aren’t changed regularly, the membranes pores may expand enough to allow pathogens through. Also, since reverse osmosis systems include activated carbon pre-filters, chlorine is removed from the water, so that water in tanks and lines downstream of the carbon filters may have bacterial growth.

To eliminate bacteria from whatever source, a ultraviolet lamp sterilizer is a efficient and relatively inexpensive. Read more about this under the Pathogens tab.
I’ve created this separate category because whole-house water treatment systems are part of a growing industry. Newer homes are often plumbed to accommodate a whole-house system, which is an enormous advantage to some pretty unscrupulous sales practices.
A whole-house treatment system may well make sense for some people, but they’re certainly not for everyone. And the prices that some national dealers charge for these systems are far beyond the system’s values in order to accommodate massive sales commissions. The first word of caution here is to be extremely skeptical of “water treatment specialists” that contacted you via a telemarketer or a booth at a fair or home show. They may be perfectly legitimate, but if they want to sell you a system for thousands of dollars, and want you to sign an installment contract, think at least twice, and read our section on whole-house systems and water softeners before you commit to anything.
Now that you’ve been warned about the dangers, there are some real benefits to these systems, especially if your water is hard. First, soft water requires far less soap to get things clean than hard water does. Second, your appliances that rely on water will last longer, including your dishwasher, clothes washer, and especially your water heater. And third, your shower will be much easier to keep clean, with hardly any spotting on tiles and glass doors, and the same will be true for glassware, dishes, and cutlery. With all of that said, you have some options that can produce these miraculous results, and hardly any of them will cost you thousands of dollars.
A whole-house system will not produce water of the quality that a reverse osmosis system will, though. I personally can’t live without reverse osmosis water, so you may find that you need both if you choose a softening system for your home. Compare prices and performance here.
There are some good options for testing your water to help you choose a filter or filtration system. I mentioned a TDS meter, and I firmly believe that you should have one. For less than $20, you can instantly tell the relative quantity of dissolved solids in your water. If you have or plan on getting a reverse osmosis system, you will need one to monitor your system’s performance, and to know when to replace the membrane.
Although you can take samples of your water to a laboratory, analytical fees can be expensive. For less than $25, you can get test kits that screen for bacteria, lead, iron, chlorine, nitrates, and and other contaminants.
Be wary of offers for "free" water quality testing. These are often the front end of a high pressure sales tactic designed to sell you a vastly overpriced water treatment system that you likely don't need.
This can include bacteria like h. pylori found in public water systems and show to contribute to stomach ulcers, and other disease-causing organisms like cysts and protozoa, including cryptosporidium. Some of these have become chlorine-resistant, so a filter that can remove them is a good investment. But since filtration may not be enough to remove all pathogens, a good-quality ultraviolet light sterilization system may be a good investment, especially if you get your water from a spring, cistern, or shallow well. Even deep wells can have bacterial contamination if the well isn't properly constructed.
Some water system operators use chloramines in addition to or as a substitute for chlorine. Chloramines stay in the water longer, making them more effective at killing organisms, but also making them harder to remove. The byproducts of chloramines may be more harmful than those from chlorine by itself, so it's worth removing these compounds from your water. Since some of the symptoms associated with exposure to chloramines include skin rash and respiratory distress, it's not a bad idea to consider a shower head filter because much of your exposure is through your skin and lungs.

Activated carbon will remove chloramines, but not as efficiently as catalyzed carbon. Catalyzed coconut shell carbon works very well, and removes a broader range of organic chemicals more efficiently.
This tends to be controversial, although I'm not sure why. While there is a body of evidence suggesting that fluoridated water lessens tooth decay, there is also evidence that it has negative health effects. I would think that there must be better delivery methods, including toothpaste and mouthwash, which you can buy with fluoride if you prefer. I personally would rather have the choice of deciding whether to dose myself with fluoride, or any other chemical whenever possible, so I'm in favor of removing fluoride from water if it's present.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 75% of community water systems add fluoride to their water. It also occurs naturally. If you're concerned about it, you should be. Reverse osmosis removes it effectively, but so do activated polymer resins in some countertop filters. Naturally occurring fluoride is usually only present in very low concentrations, often in the low parts per billion range, and doesn't likely pose much of a health risk. EPA's health-based "maximum contaminant level" or MCL for fluoride has just been reduced from 4.0 parts per million to 0.7 parts per million, apparently because many Americans have white blotches on their teeth, which is an indicator that they're consuming too much fluoride. To date, I'm the only one that has made a connection between twerking, selfies, hip hop, and fluoride. At present, I have very little evidence to support this claim, but I'm working on it. In any case, concentrations in the low parts per billion are 1,000 times less than the concentrations that EPA claims cause health problems. By contrast, the MCL of cadmium is 5.0 parts per billion, for lead it's 15.0 parts per billion.
Test strips are available from Amazon and other sources, but since the detection limits for affordable testing kits is 20 parts per million or more, they're not too useful. If you're concerned, check your water supplier's website for their analytical information, or take a sample of your water to a testing laboratory. Better yet, don't drink tap water that hasn't been filtered by reverse osmosis.
You may not want to know what the source of nitrates in your water is. It's probably sufficient to say that nitrates occur in areas where septic systems are common. This doesn't mean that municipal water systems don't have them - although most public water supplies are from surface water, many rely on groundwater that is drawn from wells in areas where septic systems are in use. And while EPA regulates drinking water quality for public systems, their maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per million may be hard for some systems to meet. Reverse osmosis, distillation, and ion exchange resins remove it. It's easy to test for, check out the link for testing kits, below. If it's present in your water, even in concentrations below the MCL, consider a reverse osmosis system for your drinking water, especially if you have young children.
The most common source of lead in drinking water is from your home's pipes. While you might think that newer homes would be exempt, they're not. Lead solder is thought to be the leading source of lead in drinking water, and lead pipes are often used to connect a public water supply to your home's piping. Also, "lead-free" brass fittings that are common in new homes have been shown to leach lead into drinking water. Since lead is far more soluble in warm water than in cold, it's wise not to use water from the hot water tap for drinking or cooking, and to allow the cold water tap to flush when using water for drinking after no water has been used for six hours or more. This is not foolproof, since flushing times vary depending on how your plumbing is configured. Reverse osmosis, distillation, and ion exchange resins all remove lead. Since EPA has set a maximum contaminant level of 15 parts per billion, down from 50 parts per billion after more health effects were documented, you should take this seriously. If you're concerned, test your water, or install a system that can remove lead. It's important to remember that, since lead can enter water from your piping and plumbing fixtures, you can't rely on analytical testing done by your water supplier.
The pH of water is really a measure of how many hydrogen ions it contains, but we think of it as being either acid (lpH below 7, lots of hydrogen ions looking for electrons) or alkaline (pH above 7, lots of hydroxyl ions with electrons to give up). Ground water is often somewhat acidic, which makes it better at dissolving mineral from aquifer materials, and therefore it usually has higher concentrations of dissolved solids. As I've mentioned, dissolved solids are necessarily bad. Magnesium, calcium, iron, sodium and many others can be part of the suite of dissolved solids in your water. If you don't like the taste of your water, it may be because of the dissolved solids, which may also be an important clue that either you don't need the particular solids in your water, or that you don't need them in this particular medium. In any case, there are "wholistic" health enthusiasts, among others, that strongly believe that your body needs to maintain an overall alkaline state for optimal health, and that your drinking water should have a pH of around 9 to help bring your body into a state of alkalinity. This is by no means the view of mainstream medicine, so be cautious. Also, there are some scam artists pedaling equipment that will alkylize your water at enormous costs, avoid these! Alkalizing water is easy, you can even buy a filter pitcher that will do it for well under $100. These pitchers add minerals to water, rather than removing them, so don't expect to love the taste.

Oxidation-reduction potential, or ORP, is a measure of how readily water will take electrons from, or oxidize, other substances. Adding chlorine to water increases its ORP, which means that it will readily oxidize bacteria and other organic material. This is good in the sense that it kills the bacterial, but it may be bad when your organs and other internal tissues are exposed high ORP water. While there is not a health-based standard in the US for ORP in water, the World Health Organization recommends that you don't drink water with an ORP over 60 mV (positive millivolts). Mother's milk has an ORP of -70 mV, so you might think that a negative ORP is preferable.
There are some very unsavory characters selling water treatment systems. If you've gotten an offer for free water testing, or a caller asks to set up an appointment for water quality evaluation, you're likely being set up for a scam. Demonstrations with "precipitators" that compare your tap water with filtered water, showing that electrodes cause dark precipitate in tap water but none in filtered water are very misleading, since the "precipitate" actually comes from the electrode, and not from the water. Filtration systems for a whole house should NOT cost $10,000 or more, and should NOT require you to sign a financing or service contract. Yes, you'll save a few bucks on soap if you have hard water, but it won't be enough to offset the huge commissions that you'll pay a slick salesman for saddling your children with debt and a mediocre water treatment system. Check out prices for whole house filter systems if you're interested in one, click the tab below, or visit Lowes or Home Depot. But be VERY cautious about signing any sort of contract with a high-pressure sales pitch.

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