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Yes, You Need A Filter For Your Tap Water: These Are The 7 Best For The Job

mbg Senior Sustainability Editor

By Emma Loewe

mbg Senior Sustainability Editor

Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of “Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us.”

Image by Mystockimages / Stocksy

Our editors have independently chosen the products listed on this page. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.

July 8, 2022

It’s easy to trust that the water coming out of your tap is totally pure and safe to drink. But unfortunately, decades of lax water quality standards mean that most–if not all–water sources in the U.S. have at least some impurities. This makes water filters an essential item in any healthy home.

Nix the need to buy expensive and unsustainable bottled water with these filter systems that are certified to get rid of the toxins flagged by drinking water experts.

How do water filters work?

There are two main kinds of water filters you’ll spot for sale: carbon filters and reverse osmosis filters. Most pitchers, bottles, and dispensers are powered by a carbon filter.

These have a layer of activated carbon that can trap larger impurities like lead. Sydney Evans, an Environmental Working Group (EWG) science analyst focused on tap water contaminants, notes that these are the more accessible, understandable, and affordable types of filters. The caveat is they can only tackle so many contaminants. They also need to be regularly replaced, as contaminants can build up inside carbon filters and actually make water quality worse over time.

Reverse osmosis filters contain a carbon filter and another membrane(s) to catch smaller contaminants that carbon can’t. “It will filter out virtually everything from your water, to the point where you actually might want to add back some things like salts or minerals to give it some taste,” explains Erik D. Olson, a senior strategic director with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

While these filters are more effective at trapping small particles, they also tend to be more expensive and difficult to install. Evans also notes that they can waste a fair amount of water as they run, which is something to keep in mind if you live in an area with water shortages.

As for which type of filter to choose, it depends on the contaminants in your water source. Every major (serving more than 50,000 people) water utility in the U.S. is legally required to test their water every year and share a public report on the findings. This is called an Annual Water Quality Report, a Right to Know Report, or a Consumer Confidence Report, and it should be easy to access on your utility’s website. You can also head to the EWG’s tap water database to get a quick read on the most recent findings in your area. (These reports don’t account for impurities that might come from your pipe system; to get a complete picture of those, you’ll need to get your home’s water professionally tested, which is very pricey.)

And be prepared: There’s probably a lot to see on your water quality report. Over 300 contaminants have been detected in drinking water systems in the U.S., and Evans explains that “of those, only about 90 are actually regulated.” Even if a certain contaminant is regulated (meaning there is a legal limit on how much of it can be present in tap water), that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s safe.

Olson notes that many of the safe drinking water standards in this country haven’t been updated since the 1970s and 1980s, and are not up to date on the latest scientific findings. They also don’t always account for the fact that while a certain substance may be safe to drink in low doses, it might cause adverse effects when consumed every single day, multiple times a day. “You have an array of things that have an immediate effect, but also things that have effects that take years to show up but are very serious, like cancer,” he notes.

Here are a few of the most common tap water contaminants that Evans and Olson see in their work:

Disinfection byproducts: “These are in most people’s water because they are a byproduct of disinfection, which is necessary to keep people safe from pathogens,” says Evans. Long-term exposure to these substances (which will likely show up as THM or HAA 5 on your water report) has been associated with an increased risk of certain cancers like bladder cancer. Consuming them while pregnant may also increase the likelihood of some birth defects.Heavy metals: Metals like lead and nitrate can also make their way into drinking water from old pipes, industrial leaks, and contaminated water sources. Exposure to them can trigger learning disabilities, developmental delays, and oxygen deficiencies in children and cardiovascular, kidney, and reproductive issues in adults.PFAS: “Most people’s water is probably contaminated with some level of PFAS,” Olson says. These highly persistent chemicals are getting a lot of attention right now, as they are not regulated but have been shown to weaken the immune system and interfere with hormones over time. “But they can be filtered out to different degrees depending on the filter,” he adds.

Water filters vs. purifiers

Those who use well water or are on a small municipal system that they suspect is not well maintained may also want to look into water purifiers. Beyond filtering out chemical contaminants, these also sterilize waterborne pathogens that can cause illnesses like legionella. Most water treatment systems will remove these, though, so they won’t be an issue for most people.

Summary

Over 300 contaminants have been found in tap water across the U.S.–some of which have been linked to serious health threats in adults and children. Reverse osmosis filters will remove the vast majority of them. More affordable carbon filters can remove some of them. It’s smart to look into your area’s water report to see which contaminants are in your water before deciding which filter to choose.

What to look for in a water filter.

Both Olson and Evans are hesitant to suggest one filter over another, as the best choice for you will depend on your water source. Your lifestyle will also play a role, as some people are fine filling up a small water pitcher every day, while others find it annoying and need a larger filtration system. Maintenance and budget are other factors to consider; while reverse osmosis systems are more expensive up front, they don’t require as much maintenance and replacement filters.

With this in mind, we went ahead and did the legwork of finding seven filters that approach water cleaning a little differently–but all do it really well. We pored over customer reviews to find the products that have the fewest pain points and make daily use a breeze.

The following options span budgets, sizes, and systems, but all earn high marks for how easy they are to install, use, and replace as needed. Each company is transparent about the contaminants that their filters reduce–and has had them independently certified by a third-party tester to do what they say they do.

What we skipped:

“It’s really important that people aren’t just buying filters because [the company] says it’s a good filter. You need to get one that’s certified,” says Olson. So, all the products on this list have been certified by either NSF International or the Water Quality Association (WSA)–two premier independent testers in the tap water space. You won’t find any that make vague claims that aren’t supported by third-party testing.

How we picked

Functionality

These filters have all been independently tested to prove that they reduce the contaminants they claim to. We call out some of the major contaminants in the product description.

Upkeep

All of these filters are designed to last longer than their competitors, and they are easy and intuitive to swap out when the time comes.

Format

From a small fridge pitcher to a whole-house system, you’ll find a filter on this list to fit your preferences.

Budget

We were sure to include both carbon and reverse osmosis filters on the list, to fit a variety of needs and budgets.

mbg’s top picks for the best water filters of 2022:

Best for sink: PLUS Faucet Mount Filtration System

PLUS Faucet Mount Filtration System

VIEW ON Amazon | $30VIEW ON Walmart | $35VIEW ON Home Depot | $35

Pros

Easy to attachLight up when filter needs to be replacedAffordable

Cons

Does not filter as much as a reverse osmosis filterFilter needs to be replaced every 3 months

Type of filter: Carbon

Regular replacement required: Yes

What it filters: Lead, Mercury, Pesticides, Chlorine, Disinfection byproducts

Certification: NSF

PUR’s carbon filter comes with three screw attachments that make it easily fit on most faucets (just don’t try it on a pullout or handheld one). Reviewers note that it’s easy to install in a matter of minutes, and it leads to noticeably cleaner-tasting water. A standout of this product is the attached light, which alerts you when the filter needs to be replaced, reducing the chance of a dirty filter contaminating your water. Each filter typically cleans about 100 gallons of water and lasts for three months. This filter is NSF certified to reduce 70 contaminants (check out the full list here), and it’s a great choice for those who are looking to protect their kitchen tap water from lead, pesticides, and disinfection byproducts and don’t need a more comprehensive reverse osmosis system.

Best water filter pitcher: ZeroWater 12-Cup Ready-Pour Pitcher

ZeroWater 12-Cup Ready-Pour Pitcher

VIEW ON Amazon | $30VIEW ON Walmart | $30

Pros

Can be used as a pitcher or water spoutComes with water testerAffordable

Cons

Only fits 12 cups at a timeDoes not filter as much as a reverse osmosis filter

Type of filter: Carbon

Regular replacement required: Yes

What it filters: Lead, Mercury, Fluoride, Nitrates, Chlorine, Chromium, PFOS/PFOA

Certification: NSF

If you are someone who always likes to have cold filtered water in the fridge (and doesn’t mind constantly refilling pitchers), this option is the way to go. It’s lightweight and features a unique design with both a top pour and side spigot that allows you to quickly fill water bottles and access clean water while the top compartment is still filtering. Reviewers appreciate its sleek design and accompanying water testing meter that helps them gauge when to replace the filter. (You can expect to get 20 gallons’ worth of clean water from each filter, and they usually last around one to two months depending on how much you’re using it.) Be sure to stay on top of replacing the filter, as well as washing and drying the inside of the pitcher so mold doesn’t form. This filter is NSF certified to reduce PFOS/ PFOA, lead, and the contaminants on this list.

Best under-sink water filter: APEC Water Systems RO-90

APEC Water Systems RO-90

VIEW ON Amazon | $230VIEW ON The Home Depot | $230

Pros

Reverse osmosis filterDoesn’t require professional installation

Cons

More expensive than a carbon filterEach filter must be replaced individually

Type of filter: Reverse Osmosis

Regular replacement required: Yes

What it filters: Lead, Mercury, Pesticides, Fluoride, Nitrates, Sodium, Chlorine, Disinfection byproducts, Chromium, PFOS/PFOA

Certification: WQA

The APEC system is great for a set-it-and-forget-it sink filter. Its reverse osmosis design features five stages of filtration to reduce 1,000-plus contaminants from drinking water. A downside is that each filter does need to be replaced separately–but you shouldn’t need to do this more than once a year. While there is an installation manual for installing yourself, you may need to call in a professional if you’re not all that handy. Once installed, reviewers appreciate the fact that this system is reinforced against leaks and leads to super-clean water, beyond what you’d get with just a standard carbon filter.

Best whole-house filter: Rhino(R) 600,000 Gallons

Rhino(R) 600,000 Gallons

VIEW ON Aquasana | $1,498VIEW ON Amazon | $751

Pros

Filters out practically everything

Cons

ExpensiveRequires professional installationMight lead to water waste

Type of filter: Reverse Osmosis

Regular replacement required: No

What it filters: Lead, Mercury, Pesticides, Microbes, Fluoride, Nitrates, Sodium, Chlorine, Disinfection byproducts, Chromium, PFOS/PFOA

Certification: NSF

This whole-house system will ensure your water is filtered for up to six years, and it cycles through 600,000 gallons without replacements. Its multi-tank design both filters out chemical contaminants as well as softens water and purifies water to remove tiny microbes, viruses, and bacteria. It’s designed in a way that allows for quick water access without clogging and is treated to prevent bacteria and algal growth. Reviewers note that once installed (you’ll likely want to get a professional to come in), this system basically runs itself and requires very little upkeep.

Best water bottle with filter: astrea ONE

astrea ONE

VIEW ON Amazon | $10

Pros

AffordableBPA-free

Cons

Straw requires a lot of suctionFilter needs to be replaced every 3 monthsDoes not filter as much as a reverse osmosis filter

Type of filter: Carbon

Regular replacement required: Yes

What it filters: Lead, Mercury, Pesticides, Chlorine, Chromium

Certification: NSF

This durable stainless steel bottle filters through 23 contaminants you’ll find in the tap, including lead, chlorine, and pesticides, and the bottle itself is BPA-free. Its filter can churn through up to 30 gallons of water and typically lasts about three months. It’s a good idea to stock up on a few replacement filters up front; each one costs $12.99. Reviewers appreciate the bottle’s sleek and durable design but do note that sucking up the filtered water through the straw does take some effort. This is a good option to take with you on the road if you’re traveling to a new area and are not sure what the water situation will be.

Best for camping: GRAYL GeoPress 24 oz Water Purifier Bottle

GRAYL GeoPress 24 oz Water Purifier Bottle

VIEW ON Amazon | $100VIEW ON GRAYL | $100

Pros

Filters water in 8 secondsRemoves waterborne pathogens from freshwater

Cons

Does not filter as much as a reverse osmosis filter

Type of filter: Carbon

Regular replacement required: Yes

What it filters: Lead, Pesticides, Microbes, Chlorine, Chromium, PFOS/PFOA

Certification: NSF

Campers who need to quickly clean and purify their freshwater source will want to look into GRAYL. This heavy-duty purifier can remove pathogens and bacteria, as well as chlorine, pesticides, and some heavy metals. You simply fill the bottle with water from a river or spigot, press down on the cap for eight seconds, and release to get three cups of clean water at your fingertips. Each carbon filter lasts for about 65 gallons of water before needing to be replaced. Reviewers note that it works great on multi-day camping trips but caution that you’ll always want to bring a backup water source when you head into the backcountry, just in case.

Best dispenser: Brita 18-Cup UltraMax Pitcher

Brita 18-Cup UltraMax Pitcher

VIEW ON Bed Bath & Beyond | $33

Pros

Holds more water than a pitcherAffordable

Cons

Does not filter as much as a reverse osmosis filter

Type of filter: Carbon

Regular replacement required: Yes

What it filters: Lead, Mercury, Chlorine, Chromium

Certification: NSF

This BPA-free dispenser can be placed on your countertop or fridge for quick clean-water access. It fits 18 cups of water, and reviewers note that it’s nice and easy to fill up at the sink. We’d recommend using it with Brita’s longlast+ filter, which is NSF-certified to remove chlorine, lead, and mercury and last for up to six months (120 gallons). Bonus: Unlike most carbon filters that should be thrown in the trash, these can be recycled through TerraCycle’s program.

Do you really need a water filter?

In short, yes. “Even though there are some regulations in place, what’s coming out of your tap does have some level of health risk depending on which contaminants and at what levels they are detected in your drinking water,” Evans reiterates. “I don’t think, in all of my research, I’ve come across a water system that has zero contaminants. There’s probably going to be something there that’s worth filtering.”

And with significant gaps between what’s legal and what’s safe to be drinking, it’s worth erring on the side of caution and filtering the water you drink daily.

The takeaway.

Filtering your water with one of these seven certified systems is one way to ensure that you’re not accidentally drinking anything that could make you sick. Once you make the individual choice to buy a filter, you can also consider taking action to clean up your water system as a whole.

“The best solution is for everybody to be getting tap water that is safe and fully tested, so it’s not every man, woman, and child for themselves having to buy and maintain at-home filters,” says Olson.

Strengthening drinking water regulations in the U.S. will undoubtedly be a long and complicated process, but you can show your support by reaching out to your local Congress member or an EPA representative to demand safer drinking water standards in your community. Here’s hoping for a day when we won’t need to filter our drinking water at all.

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