How to Choose the Right Filter for Your Drinking Water - Public Goods

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How to Choose the Right Filter for Your Drinking Water

Human beings need clean drinking water. It’s essential to our basic survival.

two glasses full of water, britta pitcher, house plant

Though the United States has some of the safest tap water in the world, violations of the country’s water quality standards happen more frequently than we may like to believe.

A couple years back, the Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC] reported that “nearly 77 million Americans got drinking water from systems that violated federal protections in 2015, and more than a third of this number relied on systems that did not comply with standards put in place to protect health.”

In the same article, the NRDC also stated that these numbers likely under-represent the severity of the problem. Contaminants that may not be effectively filtered include: lead, atrazine, pathogens, chlorine, arsenic, nitrates, radioactive contaminants, vinyl chloride, perchlorate and pharmaceuticals.

Because the regulatory challenges to upholding the nation’s water safety standards will likely take a while to resolve, investing in an at-home water filtration system might be a good idea. Here are some tips on picking the right system for you.

First, you may want to check your location’s water content on your local water company’s website. Another way to get that information is through Environmental Working Group’s [EWG] Tap Water Database. EWG is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group based in Washington D.C. dedicated to protecting public health and the environment.

After determining what contaminants may be in your water, you can choose the best water filter to remove them.

Pitcher Water Filters

These usually remove pollutants by using granulated activated carbon that is good for reducing chlorine but may not be as effective against heavy metals, fluoride and chemicals that interfere with the body’s hormonal processes. While you can buy a high-quality version that has a more sophisticated filtration system, these generally don’t remove the worst pollutants.

Because the filters require frequent replacement, they may not be the most economical option. Also included in this category are the sink attachments that use the same type of filter.

Popular brands include:

Reverse Osmosis [RO]

University of Wisconsin’s Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart gives a great explanation of the RO process: “Reverse osmosis systems use pressure to push water through tiny pores, to create “pure water.” In the process, chemicals, bacteria, and minerals are filtered through different membranes and carbon filters.”

The process does a great job of removing fluoride, pesticides and herbicides, as well as bacteria and parasites. However, it also strips water of iron, calcium, manganese and other elements that may be good for you.

While the process curbs the purchase of bottled water, which helps to ease the accumulation of plastics waste, it also wastes a ton of water. According to Dr. Gerhart, between 2 to 5 gallons of water are wasted for every gallon of purified water produced.

Just producing one gallon of purified water can also be an incredibly time consuming process. Some other cons to RO is that the costly filters need regular replacement and that it doesn’t reduce the chemicals that interfere with hormonal processes.

Popular brands include:

Solid Block Carbon Filters

These are typically more effective, though more expensive, than their granulated activated carbon counterparts because the carbon forms into blocks under high pressure, creating more surface area. They’re often considered the best option for removing herbicides, pesticides and other volatile organic compounds.

Additionally, they remove bacteria, heavy metals, nitrates, nitrites and parasites. Because the system is based on using gravity, it can work without electricity or running water. Portable options are also available for traveling.

Though it can take up more space than other options, the filters tend to last significantly longer than other options. This option also doesn’t strip water of its beneficial naturally occurring minerals.

Brands Include:

Under Counter Multi-Stage Filters

This is often deemed the most effective water-filtration system. The number of stages of filtering involved depends on the type of multi-stage filter you choose, but they generally both remove pollutants and add beneficial minerals back in. They remove the widest range of contaminants including: fluoride, lead, chlorine, chromium-6, nitrates, pesticides, pharmaceutical residues, water-borne illness and more.

It’s more expensive than other options and requires some plumbing work because it has to be installed under the sink, but it’s widely regarded as a great option.

Brands Include:

When it comes to choosing a water filter, there are as many factors to consider as there are options. For some folks, tap water is good to go. But for others a $300 multi-stage system is necessary before the water feels drinkable.

What factors are you considering when choosing a water filtration system? And are you using anything now? If so, what product?

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Comments (4)

  • I use and under sink high flow filter made by Environmental Water Systems, USA made product bought at a professional plumbing supplier. They should definitely be on your list, it’s far better than then brands mentioned and more cost effective. I was able to connect it myself since it comes with click together fittings, and the cartridge lasts 10,000 gallons. Most undersink filters need a special tap (because they reduce flow to less than 1 gallon per minute) but this one just makes it so all cold water coming out of the main faucet, is filtered, and the faucet flows at its normal rate (so your cooking water is filtered too). People who rent can install it without landlord issues. The filter only lasts 3 months in my home because I have old galvanized pipe throwing off who knows what, but when I tried other brands with cheaper filters they plugged up in 3 days. Aqua Pure makes a similar one. The good undercounter filters definitely don’t come from Amazon or Home Depot.

    • Thank you for the feedback! Tomorrow I am going to call the companies you listed and ask how they would like us to categorize their products in the article. Then I will add those options.

  • I was wondering whether you have looked into the water filters from clearly filtered. It looks like these filters perform much better than Britta or pur filters based on their website.

    • Hi Priyanka,

      Thanks so much for the interesting question! We hadn’t yet, but I just looked into comparisons of the clearly filter to similar brands. While we can’t comment from personal experience and we aren’t extremely familiar with this brand, they do appear to filter out more than Britta or Pur filters. Here is an interesting blog post that directly compares these filters to one another.

      Hope that this helps! As a thanks for taking the time to comment, we’d like to leave you with a little gift. You can use BLOG15 at checkout for $15 off of your first purchase with us. 🙌🌱

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