Best Home Water Filter: A Comprehensive Guide to Clean, Safe Drinking Water
Clean and safe drinking water is essential for maintaining good health and wellness. In an era of increasing water pollution and contamination, investing in a high-quality home water filter is more important than ever. With a vast array of options on the market, it can be challenging to determine the best fit for your home. This article will guide you through the top home water filter systems available and provide essential information to help you make an informed decision.
- Reverse Osmosis (RO) Systems
- Activated Carbon Filters
- Ultraviolet (UV) Disinfection Systems a. VIQUA VH410
- Overall Best Pick: Big Berkey Water Filter
- Direct Competitors to Berkey
- Budget Picks
- Also Great Picks
- Common Contaminants
- How to Find Out What’s in Your Local Water
- National Standards and Ratings
- DIY Methods
Water supplied through a developed infrastructure is generally considered safe, but there have been cases where even treated sources have become contaminated. Additionally, some individuals may not have access to pre-treated water grids or prefer alternative options. In emergency situations, these systems can also experience disruptions. As a popular choice among preppers, the Big Berkey Countertop Water Filter is highly regarded as a valuable addition to any household. Whether used for daily convenience or as a backup during emergencies, it offers reliable water filtration.
When it comes to prepping, water treatment can be divided into two categories:
- Portable filters: These are compact filters that can be carried in a bug out bag or similar kit, providing access to small amounts of clean water wherever you are.
- Home filters: These filters are designed for use at home and are capable of producing larger quantities of clean water more frequently.
If you have to choose just one, prioritize investing in a portable water filter as it offers versatility for both home and on-the-go use. Carrying a large pitcher like Brita during an evacuation can be cumbersome.
This review focuses on the best water filters for home use.
There are two main types of home systems:
- Point-of-use filters: These can be standalone filters or easily attached to a single faucet. Examples include common brands like Brita or PUR pitchers found in supermarkets.
- Point-of-entry filters: These are larger systems installed between your main water source (grid or well) and the rest of your house’s plumbing and faucets. They provide filtration for your entire home, ensuring clean water from any tap.
Installed point-of-entry systems offer the advantage of providing continuous filtration for your entire home. With these systems in place, clean water is readily available by simply turning on any tap in your house.
During an interview with water quality expert Rick Andrews from NSF International, he highlighted that installed point-of-entry systems are costlier, require more installation effort, and have a critical drawback for emergency preparedness: they can only process water from the normal source or pipe.
One of the fundamental principles of prepping is planning for the unknown and maintaining flexibility. Therefore, it is crucial to consider alternative water sources and how to treat them in case your regular supply is contaminated or unavailable.
It’s important to note that installed systems cannot simply process water from unconventional sources such as lakes, water heaters, toilet tanks, rainwater, etc., and provide potable water. This lack of flexibility could be a disadvantage in an emergency situation.
Here are some key considerations to keep in mind when shopping for water filters:
- Consider the cost and frequency of filter replacements when determining your budget. It’s often better to invest in a slightly more expensive product upfront that offers longer-lasting filters, avoiding the need for costly monthly replacements that some companies profit from.
- Be cautious of marketing claims regarding filters that primarily improve taste rather than ensuring water safety. Trust your instincts, especially when dealing with inexpensive, lesser-known brands found on platforms like Amazon.
- Filters are effective at removing physical particles such as bacteria and lead, but certain contaminants may be too small or diluted to be captured by a physical mesh screen. In such cases, additional purification methods like UV treatment, chemical disinfection, or boiling are necessary.
- However, in most cases, a filter alone is sufficient to provide safe drinking water.
- Keep in mind that water from oceans or pools should not be used with standard water filters. Specialized desalination equipment is required to treat such water sources.
- When uncertain, opt for products certified by NSF International. Some products may claim to be “tested to NSF standards,” but certification ensures compliance and prevents deceptive marketing practices employed by unscrupulous sellers.
- It’s worth noting that certain reputable companies may highlight third-party testing from laboratories like Envirotek, also known as the “Quality Filter Testing Laboratory.”
- If you’re willing to put in some effort, you can create cost-effective DIY versions of water filters. Gravity-based systems, such as using a filter like the Sawyer Mini to move water from one large container to another, can be an effective solution. Additional details on DIY options can be found at the end of this article.
1. Reverse Osmosis (RO) Systems
Reverse osmosis systems are among the most effective and popular home water filter choices. These systems work by forcing water through a semipermeable membrane that filters out contaminants, including heavy metals, bacteria, viruses, and chemicals. Some of the best RO systems on the market include:
a. APEC Water Systems RO-90
This RO system offers a 5-stage filtration process and is capable of removing up to 99% of contaminants. It features a 90 GPD (gallons per day) capacity, making it suitable for large households.
b. Home Master TMAFC-ERP
Known for its innovative design, this 7-stage system not only removes contaminants but also adds essential minerals back into the water. It also has a built-in permeate pump, which increases water production and reduces waste.
2. Activated Carbon Filters
Activated carbon filters are an affordable and eco-friendly option for those looking to improve their water’s taste and odor. These filters use activated carbon to adsorb impurities and remove chlorine, organic compounds, and sediment. Some top-rated activated carbon filters include:
a. Aquasana EQ-1000
This whole house water filter system can filter up to 1,000,000 gallons of water, making it perfect for large families. It has a unique up-flow design that prevents clogging and maintains water pressure.
b. Big Berkey BK4X2
This countertop filter is perfect for small households or those who require portability. With its 2.25-gallon capacity and gravity-fed design, it can filter out more than 200 contaminants.
3. Ultraviolet (UV) Disinfection Systems
UV disinfection systems are a chemical-free solution to eliminate bacteria, viruses, and other harmful microorganisms from your water. These systems use UV light to destroy the DNA of these organisms, rendering them harmless. Some popular UV disinfection systems include:
a. VIQUA VH410
This whole-house system is ideal for larger households and can treat up to 18 gallons per minute. It features an interactive LED display and alerts for lamp replacement.
b. SteriPEN Ultra
This portable and compact UV water purifier is perfect for travelers or outdoor enthusiasts. It can purify up to 8,000 one-liter treatments and features a USB-rechargeable battery.
Overall Best Pick: Big Berkey Water Filter
The Big Berkey Gravity-Fed Water Filter is a popular choice among preppers. While it comes at a higher price point compared to budget options, ranging from $250 to $700 depending on size, many experts believe the premium is justified for a dedicated countertop filter.
Berkey filters operate using gravity, allowing water to pass through small filter pores without requiring water pressure or electricity. Simply fill the top tank, go about your tasks, and soon the bottom tank will contain clean, filtered water ready for use.
Available in sizes ranging from 1.5 to 6 gallons, the 2.25 gallon “Big” model is the most commonly recommended for households of 1-4 people. A guide and calculator are available to help you select the appropriate size.
One notable feature of Berkey filters is that they only require two filters to function (which are included), although they can accommodate up to four. This means you can keep four filters in place for an extended period without maintenance or replacement. Alternatively, in an emergency situation, you can reserve two filters for future use and continue using the minimum required two filters.
Berkey claims that their cleanable filters can last up to 6,000 gallons with occasional basic maintenance, such as wiping them down. While this durability is stated to be ten times longer than that of competitors, user feedback suggests that the filters may not be quite as long-lasting as claimed.
Although the Berkey filters are not NSF certified, we still recommend them based on their extensive real-world usage, third-party testing, and the manufacturer’s willingness to share lab results. While we generally prefer NSF certified products, the widespread use and testing of Berkey filters provide a level of confidence in their effectiveness.
It’s important to note that the standard Black filters offered by Berkey do not remove fluoride. For fluoride removal, an additional small PF2 add-on filter is required.
If you prefer to stick with filters that are NSF certified, the ProOne G2.0 9″ Filter Element from Propur is a suitable option. It carries NSF/ANSI 42 certification and can be used with Berkey filter bodies.
Great for Countertops: Impresa 8″ Countertop Stand
NSF Certified Filter: Propur ProOne G2.0 9 inch Filter
Direct Competitors to Berkey
St. Paul Mercantile System
The Berkey stands out for meeting all the requirements: it is a reputable brand, provides excellent filtration for a wide range of contaminants, surpasses NSF standards, offers a large water production capacity while remaining portable, and can effectively process water from any available source.
There are several competitors to the Berkey, including the Alexapure Pro, Propur Nomad / Propur Big, and St. Paul Mercantile System. Although we have less hands-on experience with these alternatives compared to the Berkey, their laboratory results appear satisfactory. If you are facing difficulties in finding the Berkey in stock, any of these options should suffice.
Pur Ultimate Dispenser
Brita Ultra Max
For those with a budget under $50, well-known brands Brita and Pur offer the best options. Both companies provide two relevant choices: a tip-over pitcher style and a slightly larger dispenser style, both suitable for fitting in a standard refrigerator. While we prefer the larger dispensers for their extra capacity and form factor (linked above), here are the Pur 11-Cup Pitcher and Brita Everyday 10-Cup Pitcher.
However, there isn’t a clear winner between them. Pur outperforms Brita in terms of contamination certifications, but Brita’s Longlast filters have a three times longer lifespan than Pur’s, which is a reasonable tradeoff considering that “stricter” filters tend to clog more quickly. Additionally, Pur products tend to receive lower ratings on ancillary features such as LED lights.
Pur’s top filter offers lead protection but has a slower flow rate compared to the same filter without lead protection, which is still NSF-certified for a wide range of 22 contaminants. If you opt for Brita, choose the Longlast filter with 14 certifications, as the basic Brita filter only provides six certifications.
If you prefer better contamination protection without investing in expensive countertop models, go with one of the Pur options. On the other hand, if you’re on a tight budget and want to minimize the frequency of filter replacements, Brita is the way to go.
Also Great Picks
Culligan FM-15A Faucet Filter
PUR Advanced Faucet Filter
If you prefer a hassle-free solution without the need for a reservoir, attaching a filter directly to your faucet is the easiest option. However, there are two significant tradeoffs to consider: you won’t be able to filter wild water easily, and the flow rate will be slower as the filtration occurs in real-time.
One recommended option we discovered during our research is the NSF-certified Culligan FM-15A Faucet Mount Filter. This filter is known for its easy installation and its ability to remove chlorine, lead, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). It has a lifespan of 200 gallons, which typically lasts 3-5 months in a typical household. Another similar option is the slightly pricier PUR Advanced faucet filter, which receives consistently positive reviews for its ease of installation. However, it requires the filter to be replaced after filtering 100 gallons of water.
For an under-sink water filtration option, the Woder WD-S-8K-DC is highly recommended. Installation is straightforward as it involves inserting the filter between your existing cold water hose and the faucet connection. This filter is NSF certified and generally receives positive reviews from users.
If you’re looking for a more permanent point-of-use filtration system, experts recommend the Aquasana OptimH20 reverse osmosis system. This system involves installing a separate faucet next to your main one and placing the filtration system under the counter or sink. While the three-stage filtration may appear less extensive compared to other similarly-priced options like the six-stage iSpring RCC7, we favored the Aquasana due to its comprehensive NSF certifications for reverse osmosis filters and the availability of clear testing documentation.
It’s important to note that safe drinking water is not solely defined by the combination of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. Some additives, such as chlorine and fluoride, are commonly considered beneficial. Chlorine helps keep water and pipes free from germs, while fluoride is added to promote dental health.
While you have the option to remove these compounds, it’s essential to be aware that doing so means losing their associated benefits. It is worth emphasizing that there is no global conspiracy regarding fluoride in water, contrary to some conspiracy theories.
NSF International provides a comprehensive list of contaminants and the products they have tested for each. Here are a few of the most concerning contaminants:
- Bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms: Among these, E.coli and Cryptosporidium are particularly harmful and can cause severe illness or even death, especially in vulnerable populations.
- Chlorine: While some amount of chlorine is beneficial, excessive levels can lead to skin irritation or an unpleasant taste reminiscent of pool water.
- Nitrates: These chemicals are commonly found in fertilizers, manure, and liquid waste from plumbing systems and septic tanks. Consuming nitrates can result in various health issues, and it is especially dangerous for infants, as it can cause a condition known as “baby blue” disease, which impairs oxygen flow in the blood.
- Arsenic: Arsenic is a metallic substance that can occur naturally from mineral deposits or, more commonly, through contact with hazardous industrial waste. It can lead to severe health problems, including skin issues, digestive disorders, and numbness in limbs.
- Aluminum: While low levels of aluminum are not harmful and can even help eliminate bacteria like E.coli, high levels can have adverse effects on the nervous system, with potential links to diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. It can also cause kidney damage and anemia.
- Lead: Any amount of lead consumption is unsafe. It typically enters water through contact with old plumbing materials such as pipes and faucets, and is most commonly found in homes built before 1986.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): According to the EPA, VOCs are existing in 20% of the U.S. water supply and can enter from various sources. Examples of VOCs include benzene, which can contaminate groundwater due to gasoline or oil spills, and dichloromethane, an industrial solvent. Other VOCs include trichloroethylene, used in septic system cleaners, and tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), commonly employed in the dry-cleaning industry.
How to Find Out What’s in Your Local Water
To ensure that your home water filter meets your specific needs, it can be beneficial to understand the local risks associated with your water supply. This knowledge allows you to customize your filtration system accordingly. However, if you prefer to prioritize maximum protection without conducting tests, you can opt for a comprehensive filtration solution.
If you receive water from a municipal supply, contacting your local water service provider and requesting the annual quality report is a good starting point. In many cases, these reports are legally mandated to be shared with the public. Some cities even proactively mail the annual reports to homeowners.
For those who rely on a private water supply or have doubts about the official reports, there are a couple of options. You can hire local companies specializing in water testing, or you can utilize services like Tap Score, where you send a water sample to a laboratory for testing. The cost of these tests typically starts at $100 or more, depending on the extent of analysis required.
National Standards and Ratings
The most reliable and recognized standard for rating the effectiveness of a home water filter system is provided by NSF International. It is crucial to look for the NSF mark on a filter system to ensure its performance and reliability.
An NSF certified filter system will prominently display the NSF mark, along with specific numbers such as NSF/ANSI 53 or NSF/ANSI 42, indicating the standard to which the filter has been certified. Various NSF standards are applicable to different water treatment aspects, such as standard 41 for taste and odor, 53 for cyst reduction, 58 for reverse osmosis, and 62 for distillation.
For instance, according to NSF International, when sourcing water from a lake or river, it is recommended to use a UV system or a product certified to NSF/ANSI 55 Class A.
The NSF certification signifies that the filter system meets the following criteria:
- Verification of contaminant reduction claims
- Testing to ensure that no harmful substances are introduced into the water
- Verification of structural integrity and reliability
- Accuracy of advertising, literature, and labeling
- Testing to ensure that the materials and production processes remain consistent over time
The filters used in home water products are not significantly different from the portable filters recommended for go-bags; the main distinction lies in their form factor.
For instance, the Berkey system resembles the multi-pouch gravity filters carried in go-bags, but it is housed within a sturdy stainless steel frame for convenient use at home and with larger volumes of water.
This implies that it is possible to save money by assembling a similar system yourself. The Sawyer Point ZeroTwo Bucket System, for example, features the same filter used in go-bags, but includes additional hoses and components to connect the filter between a dirty water bucket and a clean container. By ensuring that the dirty bucket is positioned at a higher level, gravity facilitates the filtration process. This makeshift setup could serve as a budget-friendly home filter alternative.
There are also less convenient methods available for producing clean water at home, typically involving some form of distillation where dirty water is heated, and the resulting “clean” steam is collected and recondensed.
Some of these methods can be do-it-yourself, such as using a pot over a kitchen stove, BBQ grill, or campfire, while others involve purchasing specialized products like an alcohol still. Although functioning as a purifier rather than a filter, as it eliminates all impurities except pure H2O (including salt) through evaporation, the process of distilled water production involves boiling water in a larger container, channeling the steam through a pipe, and gradually collecting the pure distilled water. However, it has drawbacks, including being time-consuming and requiring fuel to heat the water. Therefore, while it is effective, it is generally considered a suboptimal choice unless faced with the challenge of filtering salty or other hard-to-treat water, or in need of a long-lasting solution.
Choosing the best home water filter system depends on factors such as the quality of your water source, your household size, and your budget. Reverse osmosis, activated carbon, and ultraviolet disinfection systems each have their advantages and are ideal for various needs. No matter which system you select, investing in a high-quality water filter is crucial to ensure clean, safe, and great-tasting water for you and your family.