Your Guide to Water Filters

Provided by Urvashi Rangan, Director, Technical Policy, Consumer Reports Is your drinking water safe? Find out how to utilize the resources at your disposal. Learn the water quality in your area, and what type of filter (if any) is best for your home.

Posted on | By Urvashi Rangan

It's important to know what contaminants are in your water that so you can match the filter to the problem. Claims about contaminant removal vary from product to product, so read the fine print. Also, consider how much water you consume versus how much effort and disruption to your daily routine you're willing to tolerate. Generally, the more contaminants you need to remove, the more complicated the filter, though there are trade-offs.


What's in Your Water?

One way to find out is to check your Consumer Confidence Report, or CCR. The EPA requires utilities to provide a CCR to their customers every year. You may also find the CCR printed in your newspaper or posted on your local government website. Click here to get your Consumer Confidence Report.


Our recent analysis of CCRs from the 13 largest US cities revealed that few claimed to have no federal water-quality violations. Though none of the other water systems were consistently unhealthful, all had some samples containing significant quantities of contaminants. In New York City, for example, some samples had lead levels several times the federal limit.


Note that a CCR might indicate safe levels of a contaminant when your water actually has experienced potentially harmful spikes. Also, a CCR tells you about the water in your municipality, but not necessarily about what's coming out of your particular tap. Only testing your home supply can do that. Homeowners with a well on their property face even greater uncertainty, because such water isn't surveyed or reported on in CCRs. Call the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline (1-800-426-4791) for the names of state-certified testing labs or for your local health authority, which might offer low-cost or free test kits, or check out www.epa.gov/safewater/labs. Ultimately, you might find that you don't need a water filter.

Read on to find out which water filtration system is best for your home.

Faucet-mounted filters

If you're looking for easy installation, these are a good choice for filtering drinking and cooking water. You simply unscrew the aerator from the threaded tip of the faucet and screw on the filter. Faucet-mounted filters let you switch between filtered and unfiltered water. On the downside, they slow water flow, and they don't fit on all faucets.


Countertop filters

These filters screw onto the faucet after you remove the aerator. They let you filter large quantities of water without modifying the plumbing, and they're less likely to clog than carafe or faucet-mount filters. But they can clutter a countertop, and they don't fit all faucets.


Under-sink filters

Like countertop filters, these can filter lots of water. But instead of cluttering the counter, they rob space from the cabinet beneath the sink. They also require professional plumbing modifications, and drilling a hole for the dispenser through the sink or countertop.


Reverse-osmosis filters

These use household pressure to pass water through a semi-permeable membrane. They can remove a wide range of contaminants, including dissolved solids, and they are the only type certified to remove arsenic. But you must sanitize them with bleach periodically. Eventually the membrane must be replaced. They can also be extremely slow, rob cabinet space, and create 3 to 5 gallons of waste water for every gallon filtered.


Whole-house filters

These are an inexpensive way to remove sediment and rust, and with some models, chlorine. Long cartridge life is another plus. But most whole-house filters aren't designed to remove many other contaminants, including cysts, metals, and volatile organic compounds. They require plumbing changes, but not at the sink or faucet.


For more information about drinking water, how to read your Consumer Confidence Reports, and why filtered tap water is often safer than bottled, visit the Consumer Reports' water filters guide at Greenerchoices.org.

Article written by Urvashi Rangan
Director, Technical Policy, Consumer Reports