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From lead to arsenic to copper, there are an estimated 80 contaminants in U.S. drinking water at any time, according to the Water Quality Association (WQA). Most of these are absolutely safe in minuscule quantities, but when the numbers creep up, it’s a cause for concern. Plus, even if contaminant levels are totally safe, you probably aren’t thrilled about drinking water that smells or tastes funky.
Not sure exactly what’s in your tap water? Find out, Campbell says, so you can better understand your specific needs in seeking the right filter for the job. There are ways to get intel on your water composition. The first is from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) annual consumer confidence reports. If you get well water, and/or you want to do more investigation yourself, there are other options. You can buy an easy-to-use home test kit. The most expensive and most thorough option is sending a sample to a laboratory. It might also take a few weeks to get results back, but you’ll know the precise composition of your home’s water.
Choosing the best water filter can feel like an overwhelming decision, even though investing in a home water filtration is almost always a smart choice. “In the long term, buying a water filter will always be much cheaper than buying bottled water,” says Brian Campbell, founder and editor of WaterFilterGuru.com. We agree at Simply Recipes, and while it's a step up from the typical pitcher models, the APEC ROES-50 Reverse Osmosis System is our top choice for the best value and cleanest water.
Whether you’re looking for a pitcher you keep in the fridge to a whole-house investment, here are the best water filters to buy.
Best Overall: APEC ROES-50 Reverse Osmosis System
What We Love: Intensive system to remove contaminants, great value
What We Don't Love: May waste some water
Designed, engineered, and assembled in the U.S., this filtering system uses five separate stages—a sediment filter, two stages of carbon filters, a reverse osmosis filter, and a coconut fiber filter—to remove 100 percent of chlorine, 96 percent of lead, and 95 percent of iron. It’s an under-sink system, so it takes a bit of commitment and about an hour to install, and it is a bigger investment than a pitcher or countertop option. It’s not perfectly efficient, though, and will waste a small amount of water during the process.
But you will get incredibly clean water: The APEC Water System removes as many as 1,000 different unwanted contaminants from the water. You won’t find a safer option or better-tasting water bang for your buck.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 16 x 5.25 x 17.5 inches | Contaminants Filtered: Chlorine, lead, iron
Best Budget: Brita 6-Cup Metro Water Filter Pitcher
What We Love: Simple, compact design, Easy to use
What We Don't Love: Small capacity
These are ubiquitous for good reason. Brita pitchers help reduce the amount of chlorine, copper, cadmium, and mercury, all of which may be found in tap water.
Weighing only 1.4 pounds, the snazzy design makes the 6-cup pitcher a welcome addition to your kitchen and fits in any refrigerator, even small ones. Free of BPA, you’ll need to replace your filter about every six months, depending on the frequency of use. Unlike earlier models, these now have an electronic indicator to let you know when it’s time.
"I've tried other brands of water filters, but I keep coming back to my trusty Brita. It's easy to clean and replace the filter, and it has fit inside all of my apartment fridges." — Taysha Murtaugh, Commerce Editorial Director
Dimensions (LxWxH): 9.8 x 4.5 x 9.37 inches | Contaminants Filtered: Chlorine, copper, cadmium, mercury
Best Pitcher: Pur Classic 11-Cup Water Filter Pitcher
What We Love: Easy to fill, large capacity
What We Don't Love: Lid can pops off while pouring
Your PUR water will taste great thanks to a unique carbon water filter, which removes 99 percent of lead, 96 percent of mercury, and 95 percent of industrial pollutants, plus reduces chlorine (taste and odor) and 96 percent of trace levels of pharmaceuticals while leaving behind fluoride.
Its flip-top lid for one-handed filling and comfortable one-handed pouring are great bonuses. This 11-cup pitcher is perfect for big families and/or lots of use, but it can be clunky for smaller spaces. A built-in electric sensor indicates when you need to change the filter.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 11.25 x 6.4 x 10.8 inches | Contaminants Filtered: Lead, mercury, industrial pollutants, pharmaceuticals
Related: The Best Reusable Water Bottles
Best Under-Sink: Aquasana 2-Stage Under Sink Water Filter
What We Love: Eliminates wide variety of contaminants, no water wasted
What We Don't Love: Requires installation
If a continuous supply of on-demand filtered water is a must, this one’s for you. The Aquasana Claryum installs under your sink, and it’s ANSI/NSF-certified to nearly eliminate 77 different contaminants including 99 percent of lead, 97 percent of chlorine and chloramines, 96 percent of PFOA/PFOS, plus mercury, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pharmaceuticals, and other materials.
The two filters are small enough to not take up too much precious room underneath your sink, and they'll retain beneficial minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium for water that tastes delicious. The machine beeps when it’s time to replace them. Since it comes with a separate faucet, it takes a bit of patience to install, but enthusiastic reviewers find it worthwhile.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 8.25 x 4.25 x 9 inches | Contaminants Filtered: Lead, chlorine, chloramines, mercury, PFOA/PFOS, VOCs, pharmaceuticals
Best Countertop: iSpring CKC1 Countertop Water Filter
What We Love: Easy installation, can quickly change filter, affordable price
What We Don't Love: Might drip
The iSpring’s elegant and compact design won't take up too much counter space, and its coconut-shell carbon block filter reduces fine sediment, chlorine taste, and odor. Easy to install, you’ll need to replace the filter about twice a year.
This water filtration system does not reduce total dissolved solids (TDS) but instead keeps healthy minerals in your water while removing harmful chemicals. If you’re looking for a filter that removes TDS, check out a reverse osmosis option, like our pick for Best Overall.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 6 x 4.25 x 12.6 inches | Contaminants Filtered: Chlorine
Related: The Best Water Softeners
Best Faucet Attachment: PUR PFM400H Faucet Water Filtration System
What We Love: Easy to install, minimal design
What We Don't Love: Not compatible with all faucets
Mount this filter directly to your faucet for cleaner water filtered over natural minerals and a crisp, refreshing taste. The device simply clicks onto the end of your faucet, no tools or maneuvering required. It’s NSF-certified to remove 99 percent of lead, 96 percent of mercury, 92 percent of pesticides while reducing other contaminants, and will filter 100 gallons of water, the equivalent of 750 single-use plastic water bottles.
An indicator lets you know when it’s time to replace the filter. A con: This filter isn't suitable for all faucets, so make sure it works with yours.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 6.75 x 5.25 x 2.9 inches | Contaminants Filtered: Lead, mercury, chlorine, pesticides
Related: The Best Kitchen Faucets
Best Whole House: Aquasana Whole House Water Filter System
What We Love: Produces high-quality water, built to last
What We Don't Love: Expensive, requires installation
“The best whole house water filters are carbon-based,” says Campbell. “These whole-house systems tend to be the simplest to maintain and the lowest in cost compared to other filter alternatives.”
This high-performance filter system, with salt-free conditioner, carbon, and KDF filtration, is engineered to maximize filtration and reduce scale while leaving healthy minerals in your water. You’ll have clean, great-tasting water from every single tap. The dual-tank design prevents clogging. The obvious downside is its hefty price tag and a time commitment for proper installation.
Dimensions (LxH): 27 x 46 inches | Contaminants Filtered: Chlorine
Related: The Best Kitchen Sinks
Our top pick is the under-sink APEC ROES-50 Reverse Osmosis System (view at Amazon) because it removes as many as 1,000 different unwanted contaminants from the water. However, if you're on a budget or don't want to deal with the installation, opt for the Brita 6-Cup Metro Water Filter Pitcher (view at Amazon), which is affordable and fits in any fridge.
What to Look for in a Water Filter
Type of Filter
The two broad categories of filters are point-of-entry and point-of-use systems. “Point-of-entry filtration is connected to your main water pipe before it splits off to the different areas of your home,” says Campbell. In other words, point-of-entry systems filter water the moment it enters into your home. These kinds of setups are serious investments.
Point-of-use water filters are designed for use in a certain location within your home, like the Brita that might spring to mind when you think “water filter.” Under-sink and countertop systems are also point-of-use, usually hooked up to your kitchen sink faucet, where you’ll head for drinking water. They’re all designed to remove contaminants from water but vary in price and efficiency.
NSF International is the main organization that certifies water filters. It’s a nonprofit that brings together experts in public health, manufacturing, and sanitation. The Water Quality Association (WQA) also tests filters, their top picks are awarded The WQA Gold Seal.
You might see “NSF/ANSI” followed by a number on a product, which signifies that it has been certified: The number corresponds to the category of filtration performance it will achieve. “ANSI” is the American National Standards Institute.
An NSF standard 53 water filter certification is a nationally recognized minimum standard for point-of-use and point-of-entry filtration systems and removes arsenic, cryptosporidium (a microscopic parasite), disinfection byproducts (DBPs), giardia (a single-celled microscopic parasite), lead, MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It’s a mouthful! The quick version is they remove the big offenders, leaving your water tasting and smelling great.
Another factor in your water filter search should be maintenance. “You don’t just buy a water filter and have filtered water for the rest of your life,” Campbell says. “You have to replace the filter on a certain schedule, and costs can vary widely.” Follow the manufacturer's instructions for changing the filter and remember to factor this cost into your purchase.
Is purified water the same as filtered water?
No, they aren’t the same thing. "Purified water undergoes a more rigorous filtering process, often removing contaminants and bacteria," says Cortney Black, owner of Holliston Handy in Holliston, Massachusetts. "Purified water is often found in bottles and not for home systems. Filtered water is much more available to the homeowner for use in refrigerators, under-counter systems, and pitchers. These mostly filter sediment and filter out chlorine smells, but not always the actual chlorine chemical."
Do water filters affect water hardness?
"Unless it includes a water softener, which often is salt-based," Black says, then they generally don't. "These can be used separately on showerheads; they're often bulky and need changing every three months. There is also an option for whole-house water softeners. If you're unsure if you need one, your town or city releases water quality reports every year. Most of the bigger home improvement stores also offer a free water quality check upon leaving."
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Hannah Howard has been writing for more than ten years about food, and she drinks an almost absurd amount of water. Brian Campbell also contributed research and reporting to this piece.
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