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By Javier Cruz
August 20, 2020
Money; Shutterstock

Though laws like the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act promote the regulation of contaminants in water, it doesn’t mean that all pollutants are regulated, or that violations aren’t widespread. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there are more than 287 contaminants found in US tap water. The solution? Get a water filter. It’s a cost-effective and safe alternative to tap water — and more environmentally friendly than bottled water.

The essence of a good water filters is its filtration system; here’s a rundown of the five types that any potential customer should know about.

  • Distillation: With distillation, water is boiled and turned to steam in one chamber and then cooled in another, leaving all contaminants that have higher boiling points than water behind. Distillation is great for removing lead, arsenic, fluoride, and viruses, but it won’t remove contaminants whose boiling point is equal to water, like benzene.
  • Reverse Osmosis: This filtering process pushes water through a series of membranes in such a way that the water passes freely, leaving all contaminants trapped. Reverse osmosis can remove almost all contaminants, but it has two downsides: the process is slower than other filtration systems, and only one-third of the water filtered is purified into drinking water, so there’s a lot of wastage. Reverse osmosis can successfully remove many contaminants, including—but not limited to— hexavalent chromium, fluoride, arsenic, copper, and radium.
  • Activated Carbon: One of the simplest and cheapest filtration methods, activated carbon uses adsorption to trap pollutants in a porous, carbonaceous component that has been activated through oxygen. When water passes through an activated carbon filter, contaminants stick to the carbon, and the water is left pure. Be aware that this filtering process doesn’t remove all pollutants, working best against organic substances, sediment, chlorine, magnesium, and chloroform.
  • U/V Disinfection: This filtering system is the most effective method to sterilize water from bacteria and viruses. Water is passed through a tube with a U/V lamp, which emits light waves that remove any living pathogen. U/V filtering systems aren’t effective against non-organic contaminants, so they’re usually used as an add-on to other filtering systems.
  • Ion Exchange: this process uses small zeolite resin beads that contain sodium ions. When water passes through, ions from contaminants like magnesium and calcium are trapped in the beads, which in turn release sodium ions. Ion exchange is mostly used to soften water so that all dissolved mineral contaminants are removed.
  • Point of Use vs. Point of Entry: Although there are different water filter types out there, there is an additional distinction between them that you need to be aware of. Water filters are divided into two additional types: point of use and point of entry filters. This distinction doesn’t have to do with how well the filter purifies your water; instead, it determines what waterline it uses to process water. A point of entry filtering system uses the main water line to source its water, so, once the water is filtered, it reaches every faucet and showerhead in your home. Point of use systems, on the other hand, only filter water that flows from specific areas of your home, such as the kitchen faucet or your showerhead. The best example for point of use systems is a whole house filter, while the best examples for point of entry filters are activated carbon filters, which are typically placed in faucets or showerheads.
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Important Things to Know About Buying Water Filters

  • Assessment: if your home’s water looks, smells, or tastes funny, you need a filter.
  • Use a home water quality kit to know what contaminants are in your home’s water.
  • Get acquainted with your local water quality using the EPA’s online drinking water quality report.
  • Compared to bottled water, filters are healthier, eco-friendlier, and more cost-effective.

The Best Water Filters of 2020

To find the best water filter for your needs, you must first determine what pollutants are present in your home’s tap water. There are two ways to do this: first, you can read the “Annual Drinking Quality Report”— also known as the “Consumer Confidence Report”—released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This provides information about the quality of your local drinking water. Alternatively, you can use a home water test kit, which is readily available to purchase online, and are quite easy to use. This kit will reveal how many pollutants are swimming in your tap water.

Once you know the contaminants in your water supply, you can decide which filters will work best for your specific needs. For example, if your tap water is mostly contaminated by bacteria and viruses, your best bet would be a U/V light filter, but if chloride is the highest contaminant, then activated carbon would be a great choice.

To determine whether a particular filter or brand is reliable, look for specific certifications, such as the one provided by the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI), a non-profit group that works with different health organizations like the National Science Foundation (NSF). The ANSI/NSF certification is considered the best in the industry, so having this certification ensures that the water filter you’re buying meets the highest standards.

The ANSI/NSF has two certifications: one for water aesthetics—tastes and odor— and another for water safety. Each of these are assigned a specific number based on the contaminant(s) it removes. To know the meaning of each number and the contaminants it removes, or to find all the filters that fall into one particular certification, you can use the NSF’s certified drinking water units and water filter’s search engine. Clicking on the product standards tab will show you each number and its intended purpose. Here’s a breakdown of what each of these numbers means:

o NSF/ANSI 42

Given to filters that filter chlorine, taste, and odor.

o NSF/ANSI 53

For filters that filter contaminants.

o NSF/ANSI 44

This number is specifically given to water softener filters.

o NSF/ANSI 55

Specifically for filters that use UV light.

o NSF/ANSI 58

Specific for systems that use reverse osmosis.

o NSF/ANSI 62

Only for distillation systems.

o NSF/ANSI 177

Only for shower filters.

o NSF/ANSI 401

Specifically for emerging contaminant filters.

o NSF P477

Specific for filters that diminish microcystin.

o NSF/JWPA P72

For filters that reduce iodine in drinking water.

Here’s a quick list of Money picks for best water filters of 2020.

  • Apex MR-1050: Best Countertop Filter
  • Ispring RCC7 AK: Best Under-Sink Filter
  • Culligan FM 15-A: Best Faucet-Mounted Filter
  • Fleck 5600SXT: Best Water Softener
  • Sawyer SP128: Best for Outdoors Activity
  • Aquabliss SF-220: Best Showerhead Filter
  • Aquasana EQ-1000: Best Whole House Filter
  • Brita Grand Pitcher: Best Pitcher

The Best Water Filters of 2020: Company Reviews

Apex MR-1050: Best Countertop Filter

Certification: NSF/ANSI 42 & 61

With a five-stage filtration system, a one-year limited warranty, an annual maintenance cost of $90, and a purchase cost of $80.95, the Apex MK-1050 is one of the most efficient and affordable countertop filters out there. The filter does what all other activated carbon filters do but at a cheaper price, while also keeping your water’s pH balance in check. The Apex MR-1050 works best for families of around four members, who drink six gallons of water per day on average. Since the filter longevity of the Apex MR-1050 is 750 gallons, this provides them up to six months of clean, drinkable water.

Ispring RCC7 AK: Best Under-Sink Filter

Certification: WQA Gold Seal, NSF/ANSI 58

A reverse osmosis filter, the Ispring RCC7 stands out thanks to its price ($197.16 is a good deal!) and for its six-stage filtration system. Typically, reverse osmosis filters have only five stages, but the Ispring also has an extra alkaline remineralization filter that balances your water’s alkalinity, while adding healthy minerals. To top it all off, the device also has an alarm system that goes off if the filter ever leaks.

Culligan FM-15 A: Best Faucet-Mounted Filter

Certification: NSF/ANSI 42 & 53

If your faucet needs an activated carbon filter, then you can’t go wrong with the Culligan FM-15. Not only does its removable filter have great longevity at 200 gallons, but it costs only $23.06 on Amazon. Additionally, its 2-year warranty is among the best on the market.

Fleck 5600SXT: Best Water Softener

Certification: NSF/ANSI 44

An ion exchange resin filter, the Fleck 5600SXT helps remove calcifying minerals in your water. What makes this filter stand out is its cost in relation to its capacity and longevity: for $628.43 at Amazon, you get a filter that has a 48,000 resin grain capacity, and that lasts for around 25-30 years. The Fleck 5600SXT also has some handy features, like a digital meter that helps you set up your water’s softening level, a programming memory that lasts 48 hours, and a status display that lets you know when the device’s salt needs replacing.

Sawyer SP128: Best for Outdoors Activity

Certification: Absolute Microns

Designed for hiking, camping, or any other outdoor activity, the Sawyer SP128 comes with many great pros. First, it has a lifetime warranty, so no matter what happens to your filter, it can be replaced. Secondly, the device’s filter can withstand 100,000 gallons before needing replacing, while costing as low as $19.97. If you were considering a filter for all your outdoor needs, look no further.

Aquabliss SF-220: Best Showerhead Filter

Certification: NSF/ANSI 177

With a filter that lasts for around six to eight months, the Aquabliss SF-220 serves as an affordable and resilient showerhead filter. It is compatible with most showerheads, whether they are fixed or handheld, and it costs less than its competitors (Amazon has it at $34.86). The warranty is also great: a one-year limited and money-back guarantee.

Aquasana EQ-1000: Best Whole-House Filter

Certification: NSF/ANSI 42

A whole house-dedicated filter, the Aquasana EQ-1000 isn’t meant to be a DIY install, so you’ll need to hire a professional. But, for $882, you get one of the most water-efficient 4-stage activated carbon filters on the market. Not only does the unit withstand filtering 1,000,000 gallons before needing replacement, it also has a 10-year warranty and a 90-day money-back guarantee, which are above the industry standard of three to five years.

Brita Grand Pitcher: Best Pitcher Filter

Certification: NSF/ANSI 42 & 53

If you only need your pitcher to do the filtering, Brita’s Grand Pitcher is your best bet. For $27.49, you’re buying a BPA-free pitcher that can hold up to 10 gallons and only needs replacement every two months. To give you an idea of how much clean water one filter can provide, it’s equivalent to 300 16.9 oz standard water bottles. The device also has a status indicator that lets you know when the filter needs replacing.

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How to Find the Best Water Filters

Saying that the water filter market is overcrowded is no understatement: not only are there hundreds of options out there, but the market is also saturated with both high-quality and cheap filters. So how did we make our eight top choices when there’s so much to investigate? We concentrated on three main characteristics: overall costs, effectiveness, and durability.

Cost

There are two ways to get clean water: filtered or bottled. The latter option may seem the cheapest at first, as buying a 40-bottle pack at Costco costs around five to six dollars. But at an average of $9.50 per gallon, you’ll spend around $1,729 per year if you stick solely to bottled water. With water filters, the opposite is true: you spend more initially for the system, but as time goes by, it pays for itself. Priced at $260-$510 on average, you’ll spend $0.91 for the same amount you’d spend per year on bottled water.

To make sure that the water filters we chose were the most cost-effective, we scoured all possible choices per water filter type and determined an average price. Then, we looked at the most popular filters within each range and compared them. We didn’t necessarily choose the cheapest filter choice, balancing cost with quality.

Effectiveness

To measure how effective a water filter was when removing contaminants, we scoured the internet for reviews on their efficiency. Those filters that had constant negative reviews were immediately discarded, while those with mild or positive reviews were considered for comparison. Additionally, we made sure that all the filters we featured passed NSF/ANSI certifications.

Durability

If you want to save as much as possible when buying a water filter, you need to keep an eye out for how long it lasts before needing replacing. If you have to constantly switch your filter to supply your home with purified water, you’ll end up spending more out of pocket. We chose systems with efficient filters, to help you worry less about when you need to change your filter.

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