Drinking Water Filters: What You Need to Know

A Carbon filter set and water pitcher

Consumers looking to invest in a high-quality, efficient water filter are faced with dozens of choices, all promising great tasting H20 and ease of use.

You can buy filters online, over the phone, or in your local department store in all methods of dispensation and all sorts of flashy colors. But what do these products really offer, and how can you determine what’s the best choice for your family’s water needs? I’ll explain some of the most popular options, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.

Individual Bottle Filters

How it works: Many department stores offer standard water bottles featuring miniature filters right inside the bottle. You fill it up at any faucet and rely on the carbon filter inside to clean the water before you drink it.

Strengths: The best thing about having a filter in your water bottle is that you can carry it with you wherever you go. Changing the filter is also simple and easy.

Weaknesses: These filters are effective in removing some tastes and odors from your water, but they fail completely to take care of more serious problems like inorganic chemicals, heavy metals, and other dissolved solids. Additionally, if you want to provide your whole family with this filtered water, you need to buy a bottle for every member of your family, at which point keeping up with the filter changes can become expensive and time consuming.

Verdict: There are better, more effective filtration options unless you frequently travel to places with distasteful but otherwise safe water and you’re looking for a portable means of filtering it.

Carbon Filtration Systems

How it works: Modern refrigerators often feature filtered water and an ice machine in the refrigerator door. These systems are typically two-stage carbon filters, and they can also be purchased separately. Carbon filtration systems send water through a pre-filter first. The pre-filter works much like a coffee filter, removing large particles such as sand and dirt that make their way into the water. Next, the water is slowly filtered through the carbon itself. The carbon is usually common charcoal that has been shred into tiny particles to increase surface area. As water flows through it, the carbon bonds with various unwanted sediment particles.

Strengths: Carbon filters will improve the smell and the taste of your water, as well as removing most of the unwanted chlorine. Using an entire system rather than individual bottles reduces the frequency and long-run cost of filter changes.

Weaknesses: Carbon filters are incapable of removing dissolved solids like minerals and salts, as well as bacteria.

Verdict: Because they fail to remove some of the most harmful water contaminants, carbon filters are best left to people who are either A) very confident that their source water is very pure or B) willing to have their water tested frequently.

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Filtration and Purification

How it works: Reverse osmosis systems combine carbon filtration with cutting edge RO purification. A pre-filter takes out large particles and the carbon removes tastes and odors. In the third stage the water is sent through the RO membrane, removing any remaining chlorine, sodium, fluoride, and all other dissolved solids. Lastly, the water passes through one final post-filter before being delivered to your tap. The result is water that’s literally more than 99% pure.

Strengths: In a word: Purity. Reverse osmosis water is water the way nature intended. Maintenance consists of a simple annual filter change. Additionally, the system can be set up to provide water to your ice maker so you don’t have to deal with cloudy ice cubes any more.

Weaknesses: Like every other filter, reverse osmosis is not meant to kill bacteria. If you feel you may have a bacteria problem with your water, consider investing in a UV Purifier.

Verdict: Reverse osmosis systems remain the best option on the market. It’s the purest water modern technology can provide offered for just pennies per gallon right at your kitchen sink.

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