How to Choose the Best Water Filter For Your Home

You already decided that you want to buy a water filter and enjoy healthier and cleaner water for yourself and your family. But maybe you are not sure where to start.

I wrote an easy to follow guide, that will help you to pick the right one for your budget and needs.

Start with these 3 easy steps to find the best fit for you and your family.

1. Check the quality of your water

Sounds complicated? It is not.

Does your water have a strange color, taste or smell?

Or do you want to remove a certain contaminant like fluoride, lead or chlorine from your water?

Here are some tips, if you are not sure about your water quality.

Every year, public water suppliers have to issue a customer confidence report. It lists all water problems in your area and compares them to the official EPA's drinking water standards.

Some local health departments offer free water tests, and you can buy your own test kit online and in home improvement stores.

Unfortunately, well owners don't get this report and have to run their own tests. There are water test kits especially for wells or you take a sample and send it to a lab. Here is a list of certified laboratories.

2. Estimate the Capacity you need

How many people (and pets?) need clean water every day?

For drinking purpose only, you can calculate about one gallon per person. Add a bit more, if you also want filtered water for cooking.

3. Decide

Check out various filter types and brands. Compare their features to your needs.

Buyer guides and reviews can be helpful in this process.

Then decide which water filter is the best fit for you.

What else to consider?

Cost

Before you decide for a certain filter model, take the cost of replacement filters into account as well. You will be surprised, how “expensive” especially smaller water filters get over time. Pitcher filters are relatively cheap to buy, but the cartridges do not last that long and replacement filters are not so cheap.

Gravity water filters on the other hand, or reverse osmosis systems cost more initially, but because their filters last longer, the running costs are much lower.

And your new water filter will only continue to work, if you change the filters as recommended. Some pitcher and faucet filters have indicator lights to remind you that a filter change is due. Another indicator that you need new filter elements is a longer filtration process.

Filtration Ability

Does the filter you have in mind reduce the right kind of contaminant? Removal rates can vary a lot even with the same type of filter.

Home Water Filter Technologies

  • Activated Carbon
    Activated carbon filters are made from charcoal, treated with oxygen. In most cases, the charcoal comes from coconut shells. Often they also contain silver to avoid bacterial growth inside.They come in two forms, as granulated active carbon (GAC) and carbon block filters. Carbon block filters are a bit more effective.

    The activated carbon has huge porous surface with a positive chemical charge. Impurities are trapped and cling to the material.

    Sooner or later, it is “full” and you need to replace the filter regularly.

    This filtration technology works great against chlorine or bad bad taste and odor. Some filters also can remove VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

    You find activated carbon filters in pitcher, faucet or countertop water filters. And all reverse osmosis systems use it as additional filters.

  • Ceramic
    Ceramic filters are made from diatomaceous earth, backed at high temperature. They have tiny holes to let the water pass through while impurities get stuck.Many of these filters are treated with silver to stop algae and bacteria from growing inside.

    The material is hard, and you can clean it from time to time with a brush. So they last a long time.

    Ceramic filters are effective against bacteria and protozoa. They also catch dirt, rust and silt, generally everything that is bigger than the holes.

    Unfortunately, they are ineffective against chemicals or viruses.

    You find ceramic filter candles in gravity water filter systems.

  • Reverse Osmosis Membrane
    Reverse Osmosis is a process that uses water pressure to move the water through a semi-permeable membrane. This reverse osmosis membrane lets water molecules pass, but holds back everything that is bigger, like cadmium, chlorides, fluoride, chromium or lead.Reverse osmosis membranes are part of all reverse osmosis systems, where they are combined with activated charcoal filtration. This combination makes them so effective against nearly all contaminants found in water.

  • Ion-Exchange or Water Softener
    Ion exchange is a process where calcium and magnesium ions in the water are replaced with sodium or potassium ions to make it softer. This is a technique often used in whole house filters.Ion exchange is effective against calcium, dissolved iron, magnesium and manganese in water. It does not kill bacteria or cysts.

  • Ultraviolet Disinfection
    Ultraviolet light is seldom used as the only water filter as it is only effective against bacteria and cysts (i.e. Cryptosporidium, Giardia).It only works on clear water and you can find as part of some activated charcoal and reverse osmosis filtration systems.

6 Types of Water Filter Systems for Home Use

Now, that you know all about the different filtration techniques, let's have a look at the type of filters available.

You will see, that some types combine different filtration techniques. That makes them effective against more contaminants.

Pitcher water filters

Pitcher water filters are easy to use and don't require installation. You fill up the reservoir on top with tap water and wait until the water dripped through the filter cartridge.

Pitcher filters are come in various sizes and all sorts of colors. Most of them are from BPA-plastic, but I also found a few glass filter jugs online.

Pitcher filters don't cost much, but beware, continued use can get a bit expensive over time if you use them a lot. The cartridges are sometimes so expensive, that you could get a complete new pitcher for the same price.

They have a small activated carbon filter cartridge to remove bad taste and odor. Better pitcher filters can also remove lead and chloroform.

Filter jugs are a good solution for singles or couples without kids. But as soon as you need a few gallons of clean water per day, refilling the carafe becomes a hassle.

Advantages

  • No installation
  • Low initial price
  • Many sizes and colors available

Disadvantages

  • Requires frequent filter changes (1-3 months)
  • Need to refill often
  • Most models spill when you pour.
  • Filter cartridges are expensive.
  • Most are made from plastic.

Price range: $20 - 80

Read reviews of the most popular pitcher water filters here or go to the glass filter jug directly.

Faucet mount water filter

Faucet mount water filters are easy to install. You remove the aerator of your faucet and screw on the filter instead.

A tap filter delivers enough clean water for small families, even if you use it for cooking as well.

They have a small lever or knob to choose between clean drinking water and unfiltered water.

Most faucet water filters use an activated carbon filter to remove bad taste and odor. Some models also remove fluoride or lead.

Advantages

  • Easy installation
  • Low initial price
  • Longer filter life than pitcher filters
  • Choice between filtered and unfiltered water

Disadvantages

  • Requires frequent filter changes (2-3 months)
  • Does not fit all types of faucets.
  • Filtered water runs slow.

Price range: $20 - 100

Read our faucet mount water filter reviews.

Countertop Filter

Installing a countertop filter is as easy as installing a faucet mount filter. You screw them onto the tap after you removed the aerator.

With a countertop water filter you always have fresh water on demand, for drinking and cooking. The filters are bigger than the one in faucet filters or pitchers. That means less frequent cartridge changes or more gallons per cartridge.

You can expect a good removal rates for everything causing bad taste and odor in your water. While basic models only have an activated charcoal filter, better systems have multi stage filters. The best removal rates come from countertop reverse osmosis systems.

Advantages

  • Easy to install
  • Choice between filtered and unfiltered water
  • Filters last longer than faucet mount ones

Disadvantages

  • Takes up space on the counter
  • Does not fit all types of faucets

Price Range: $40 - 500

See a comparison of the best countertop water filters here.

Under sink filtration systems

Under sink filtration systems need a bit more DIY skills to install than countertop models. The filtration unit sits under the counter and you need a hole to mount an extra faucet for the filter.

Effectiveness and contaminant removal varies a lot between models.

Advantages

  • Choice between filtered and unfiltered water
  • Filters last from 3 months to 1 year.

Disadvantages

  • Installation requires DIY skills (or a plumber)

Price Range: $100 - 400

Reverse osmosis (RO) systems

Reverse osmosis systems are a convenient and safe choice for nearly all water quality problems. They are able to reduce everything from chlorine and fluoride to pesticides. Even radioactive contaminants have little chance to contaminate your drinking water any longer.

Once installed, they are easy to handle by small children or elderly people. No need to remember to refill and readily available purified water are more reasons to go for a RO system.

While reverse osmosis units do not need electricity, these systems waste a certain amount of water. The waste water ratio can be as low as 1:1 or as high a 1:5 depending on model.

Advantages

  • Very effective
  • Fast and Convenient
  • Easy to use for children and elderly persons
  • Filters last from 6 month to 1 year.

Disadvantages

  • Installation requires DIY skills (or a plumber)
  • Gurgeling sound while tank refills if you use an air gap faucet

Price Range: $150 - 600

Read more about reverse osmosis systems here.

Gravity water filters

Gravity water filters come is various sizes and the filtration ability depends on the filter candles you use. Ceramic filter candles are the least powerful, but they last long. Ideal, if you just need to filter out bacteria and silt.

More powerful gravity filter elements reduce contaminants to similar levels as reverse osmosis. The downside here is, you need replacement filters every 6 months.

Because gravity water filters do not need electricity, water pressure or installation, they are very popular as camping filters or as backup for emergency situations. Preppers just love these water filters.

Advantages

  • No installation and portable
  • Ideal for emergency situations
  • Various sizes available
  • Filters last from 6 month to several years

Disadvantages

  • Need to refill by hand
  • Slow
  • Needs space on your countertop

Price Range: $150 - 400

NSF Filter Certification

NSF International is a nonprofit testing organization. They also develop industry standards for a wide range of products.

All NSF certified products meet these standards and you can confident that the filters are safe to use. You can easily recognize them, as they have the blue NSF mark on the package.

But read the fine print here, because certified to a certain standard does not necessarily means that the removal rate the manufacturer claims is certified as well.

Other labs that use NSF standards are the WQA, CSA and UL. These organizations have their own standards or seals as well.

What kind of Water Filter works for my Water Problem?

Below you see a graphic that can give you a quick overview of which kind of water filter you probably need to tackle a specific contaminant.

overview of water filter types and what they are able to remove

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