By Rehan Iqbal
So, you’re thinking about buying a water filter or water purifier? You may not know it, but there’s actually a difference. For home water filtration and purifying systems, Reverse Osmosis (RO) is generally considered as the most effective water purifier. Though, not all RO systems purify the water. More about that later.
The most basic water filters, like pitchers and faucet water filters may only remove common toxins found in drinking water. Generally, these would be chlorine and Sulphur, sometimes lead. That’s not to say that you don’t get more effective water filter pitchers and faucet filters, some filter most to all known water contaminants. So it’s not a simple matter, choosing the best water filter for your needs.
This guide is going to look at all your water filtration and purification needs, discussing each option in detail. So you know what to consider before you start on a search for the best water filter.
What are Your Options When Buying a Water Filter?
In this water filter buying guide, we’ve chosen to undertake the mammoth task of describing all types of water filters, what they do, and what to look for. There really is no one size fits all when it comes to water filters. Even choosing a specific type of water filter is only the starting point. But we have to start somewhere and here’s a list of what types of water filtration systems expect in this buyers guide:
Choosing the type of water filter is a matter of practicality and your filtration requirements. In discussing these options, I’ll guide you through the process of deciding which of these water filtration systems will meet your requirements.
I’ll also help you understand the filters themselves. Most filter systems use some form of cartridge, but these are not all the same. When you look at phrases like activated carbon or alumina, you probably don’t know too much about this. When it comes to UV filters and water softeners, it becomes even more complex. Understanding water filtration methods and how they work, is going to equip you with the knowledge to make the right decision.
You may be considering a water filter simply to improve the taste of your water and to remove odors. Though, there could be harmful contaminants in your drinking water that you are not aware of. So. It’s best to start out by knowing what is in the water that is supplied to your home.
Amongst its many functions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring safe drinking water in our homes. To achieve this, the EPA mandates that all bulk domestic water suppliers issue a Consumer Confidence Report (CPR) to their customers. This is a water quality analysis that details the level of contaminants in the water, providing a comparison to standards set by the EPA.
If you live in a rural area, it’s possible that you’re using a well and this means you won’t receive a CCR. The EPA does not regulate private water supply from a well. You can have your well water tested by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or have it tested by a private laboratory.
Whether your water is supplied with a CPR or not, this is only the first step in knowing what’s in your water. The pipes in your home, especially if you live in an older house, may be a source of contamination and water decolorization. Houses built before 1986 may contain lead in the pipes as legislation forbidding lead water pipes did not exist before this time.
Furthermore, specified contaminants are only elements that are deemed by the EPA as being hazardous and there could be other substances in the water that could affect the taste and odor, or block water pipes. If your water supply poses the risk of causing damage to your plumbing, you’d probably need to consider a whole house water filtration system. Though you may not be aware of this danger, without proper testing.
Private water testing can be expensive, but you only need to do this once and a comprehensive lab report is the best way to go. You can also get home water test kits, which may not test for all possible harmful elements, but they are relatively inexpensive.
How Do Water Filters Work?
There are various methods for filtering and purifying water. It is helpful to know how these filters work. What are the pros and cons of using a specific type of filter and, more importantly, is the filter going to meet your expectations.
Activated Alumina Water Filters
An Activated Alumina filter cartridge has a ceramic compound containing aluminum oxide. Water passes through pores in the filter to remove certain contaminants. While activated alumina filters are generally considers as the most effective way of removing Fluoride (at least 90%), they also remove Arsenic, Thallium, and Selenium from the water.
There is a danger that Activated Alumina filters can cause aluminum to leach into the drinking water. However, extensive laboratory testing has proven this to be false in most cases. Aluminum Oxide, manufactured with correct PH, is safe (less than 40 -60 μg/l). However, cheap activated alumina filters may not be manufactured under the correct conditions. It is, therefore, important to use filters that are certified as being safe by a recognized authority. Generally, Activated Alumina filters are cost-effective and are considered the best at removing fluoride from water sources, both in home and commercial filtration systems.
Activated Carbon Filters
These are probably the most common water filters because they effectively remove chlorine, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), as well as improving taste and removing odors from the water.
These filters usually contain charcoal that has been treated to increase the pores, trapping contaminants as the water flows through the filter. These are inexpensive filters, but cannot remove minerals, salts, and inorganic compounds. Carbon filters usually make up one or more stages of RO filtration systems and are used in most other filter systems, often in conjunction with other filtration methods.
Ceramic Water Filters
A ceramic receptacle with fine pores prevents anything smaller than these pores from passing through. A Basic ceramic filter will only remove solid matter and is not effective at controlling bacteria. If the ceramic is coated in silver, this will kill bacteria, mold, and algae, but cannot control viruses.
While these are effective water filters, they are very slow. It takes a long time for the water to trickle through the fine pores. The biggest advantage to using ceramic water filters is their long term cost effectiveness. They can last almost indefinitely and can be cleaned, unlike filter cartridges that need to be replaced regularly.
Ultraviolet Water Purifiers
Ultraviolet light is used to purify the water, as opposed to capturing particles in a filter. Unlike chemical purifiers, that use harmful and foul tasting chemicals, and water distillation, ultraviolet light is the safest and easiest way to control bacteria.
The water passes across an ultraviolet light which kills the bacteria. These water purifiers are usually used as one of the final stages in high-end reverse osmosis systems. This makes them quite expensive and they require electricity.
Reverse Osmosis (RO) uses pressure to force water through a semipermeable membrane. This separates solid matter and allows only filtered water to pass through. When the pressure is reversed, clean water flushes most contaminants from the filter system and releases them through a drain, thereby maintaining a high level of filtration. RO is widely considered as the best method of filtration for any type of fluid. It used for desalination, as well as commercial and home water filtration.
RO filtration systems us anything from 3 to 10 stages to filter water. Advanced stages may purify and soften the water. Although this is the best the type of water filter, there are disadvantages. RO water filters, especially those with more than 3-stages, are expensive and the filters need replacement at least once a year, up to three times a year for high consumption households. The reverse osmosis process requires water pressure and may need a pump if the inlet pressure is too low. The pump requires electricity and adds to the installation cost and effort. RO systems are bulky and require correct installation. They are not portable.
Along with the many benefits, already mentioned, RO water filtration systems can be used for whole house filtration. Localized RO water filters can be used to supply a single faucet, with many offering the option to add one or more outlets for additional faucets or items like espresso machines and dish washers. RO water filters have the advantage of providing water on tap at all times.
It’s important to understand the various stages of RO filtration before buying one. RO systems with multiple stages (more than 3) can be expensive and you need to know what the benefits of using the various stages may be. Not all RO filters work in exactly the same way, though they should have at least 3 stages – Pre filter, RO membrane filter, and an activated carbon filter. So the list of stages below, is an indication of the various stages used, but may not always be used in the same order. Because an RO filtration system stores water in a tank, some stages may repeated when the water is used. This is called post filtration and ensures that any impurities that may have collected in the storage tank are removed.
Choosing the Best Water Filter for Your Home
The filtration methods that I’ve just discussed can be used in various formats and different combinations. So choosing between a faucet or pitcher water purifier and a multi-stage RO system is not always about the level of filtration. While permanently installed RO systems often offer the best filtration, there are portable water filters that provide better filtration than more basic RO systems.
Water Filter Pitcher
Because water filter pitchers are usually the most affordable and are simple to use, they are probably the most popular type of water filter. They are also portable and require no setup. These filters have a water reservoir at the top of the pitcher into which you pour the water.
The water is then passed through the filter cartridge using gravity. The filter cartridge used for cheaper water filter pitchers is usually a simple activated carbon filter. However, more expensive cartridges can use multiple types of filters and silver to provide high-quality filtration.
The disadvantage to using a filter pitcher is the long time it takes for the water to pass through the filter. They also have a limited capacity.
Faucet Water Filter
As you may have guessed, these filters fit directly onto a faucet and clean the water as it passes through the filter. Like pitcher filters, these can be very basic carbon filters up to more advanced multi-function filters. You have the advantage of filtered water for drinking and cooking directly from the faucet.
These are relatively inexpensive compared to all other types of water on demand filter systems. They are not complicated to install but might not fit all types of faucets. Additionally, these filters reduce water pressure which can be problematic in homes that have a low-pressure water supply. They are easy to remove when you relocate.
Shower Head Filter
Like a faucet water filter, these are easily installed onto a shower head. They are inexpensive and generally provide very basic filtration, removing chemicals like chlorine and fluoride that can cause skin irritation and dry the skin.
The advantages and disadvantages are the same as faucet water filters, in that shower filters reduce water pressure. They are easily removed.
Countertop Water Filters
While more expensive than faucet and pitcher water filters, countertop water filters are not as expensive as whole house or under sink water filters and can offer a similar level of filtration, using multi-stage RO filters.
The biggest advantage to using a countertop vs similar permanently installed water filtration systems, is the easy installation and removal. The disadvantages are that they take up counter space and have a limited capacity, when compared to the large storage tanks used for under sink and whole house water filtration systems.
Under Sink Water Filters
These are RO water filters that are installed in a cabinet under the sink. They can be basic or sophisticated, multi-stage RO systems. While they take up a fair amount of cabinet space, they are neatly concealed and won’t disturb the aesthetics of your kitchen.
Under counter water filters can be used to supply an existing faucet, or multiple outlets close to the sink. Alternatively, some under sink water filters can be installed with a separate faucet. The disadvantage is the cabinet space lost and, if they use a pump, this can be noisy. Most RO systems waste water, but this varies. Under sink water filters require installation which may require drilling through the countertop. Though most are designed for easy DIY installation, with full kits and instruction guides.
Whole House Water Filters
These are large RO water filtration systems that connect to the main water supply to your home. This means that all water outlets in the home are supplied with filtered water. They are most beneficial if your water contains contaminants, like calcium that clogs pipes or iron that causes discoloration which may stain sinks, bathtubs, and toilets.
Whole house water filters are large and are usually installed outside or in the garage. They are also the most complicated to install. The high purchase and installation cost make them the most expensive type of water filter for the home. Some whole house water filters can drastically increase your water consumption as they may dump waste water every time use water in your home.