Essential Water Filter Information: The Complete Guide

Looking for relevant water filter information before deciding which one to buy?

We all know that water is fundamental to our lives, which is a good reason for wanting clean and purified water. That is why so many people invest in water filters to make sure they have access to clean and tasty water for themselves and their families.

But choosing a water filter is not easy, with so many options available. Our team of experts created a guide to let you get all the important water filter information.

You will understand what are water filters, how they work, the main water filtration processes, how to check if your water is safe to drink, what is a consumer confidence report (or CCR), what to consider before buying a water filter, and more!

What are Water Filters?

Water filters are systems or devices that filter out impurities and contaminants from the water. A water filter’s main purpose is to make the water cleaner, removing unwanted particles through a biological process, chemical process, or using a barrier to block them.

Drinking clean water is fundamental to your health, as it will protect you from diseases caused by contaminants, help your children’s development, and reduce the risk of certain types of cancers. 

Water filters are great to make the water pure to drink, but the filtered water generated by them is also used for other purposes such as cook, bathing, and others. 

How do Water Filters Work?

Water filters work in two different ways, through physical filtration or chemical filtration.

Physical filtration basically blocks the impurities, an example is making the water pass through a material with small pores that will block substances that don’t fit the pore, stopping them from passing through.

Chemical filtration makes the water go through some materials that will chemically interact with contaminants to remove them.

Different Water Filtration Processes and Technologies

There are five major water filtration processes that use a mix of the physical and chemical filtration mentioned above.

#1 – Reverse Osmosis:

Reverse osmosis is a process in which the water is pushed through a semi permeable membrane, that keeps most of the contaminants, filtering out that water that passes through.

Typically this process is combined with other processes to pre-filter the water before, to remove the larger impurities that might damage the RO membrane.

While this process is really good at removing contaminants from water, it wastes a bit of water, so ideally you should you this for drinking and cooking, not to clean the water of your entire house.

#2 – Distillation:

In the distillation process, to get distilled water, water is boiled and the generated steam is collected, and then cooled down to get the pure water back but without contaminants, bacteria, metals, inorganic minerals, etc.

This happens because the boiling point of water is 212 ºF (100 ºC), and the boiling point of most of the contaminants is higher than this – so the water turns into steam but the contaminants are left behind.

#3 – Adsorption (through Activated Carbon):

The adsorption process uses activated carbon to filter out contaminants from the water. The water contaminants stick to the porous on the carbon filter.

Activated carbon has oxygen added, which removes some chemicals and bacteria from the water that passes through it.

This process is quite common on the available home water filters.

#4 – Ion Exchange:

Ion exchange is a process in which the calcium and magnesium ions are exchanged by sodium ions, softening the water.

Water softeners use this process, typically to deal with hard water.  If you have hard water at your home, using a water softener will bring you lots of benefits.

#5 – Mechanical:

This is probably the easiest process to understand. In the mechanical filtration process, a “physical barrier”, the filter, blocks the passage of contaminants and impurities, leaving the water that passes through cleaner.

Some filters combine this process with others, like the Reverse Osmosis mentioned above, in which this works as a pre-filtration process to remove larger particles, followed by other water filtration processes.

Do You Need a Water Filter?

Not necessarily, it will depend on your unique conditions. To assess this, we typically recommend people to consider two main points, that we will cover in detail below: first, check if your water is safe, and second, think of what “you” need before buying a water filter.

Part #1: Check if Your Water is Safe

In the US the water is typically safe to drink, and most of the public water systems are able to comply with EPA regulations.

To decide if and which water filter you need, it is important first to know more about the water that is available to you. You may not have contaminants in your water, and if you have, it is important to know which ones, to then decide the best water filter to remove them.

If you get your water from a private well, you should test your water regularly, at least once a year, to assess its quality. You should be particularly careful if you have kids or pregnant women in your household.

If you get your water from a public water system, EPA requires them to share an annual water quality report, known as consumer confidence reports, that helps the public to understand the quality of the drinking water that is available to them.

What is a Consumer Confidence Reports (CCRs)?

Consumer Confidence Reports, or CCRs, are water quality reports to help the public to know more about the quality of their drinking water. CCRs will let you know if the water that you consume has contaminants, which ones, the health impact they have, and if they are above the required limits.

EPA requires that all community water suppliers that serve more than 15 households or more than 25 people, must provide a CCR to their customers. If you don’t pay your water directly, reach out to who pays the water bill to have access to this information.

The CCRs should be provided every year, on the 1st of July, and should be published online or shared by mail or email. 

Understanding Your Consumer Confidence Report

The EPA website has a great graphic that explains the information presented in the CCRs. You can find the most relevant part of the explanation below, or on the EPA website through this link.

As you can check on the image, the CCR will list the contaminants, their maximum level, current level, the contaminant range, if there is a violation for the cases that contaminants are above the allowed levels, and the sources of the contaminants.

Part #2: What to Consider Before Buying a Water Filter?

Your water filter requirements may depend on different factors, like the contaminants you are exposed to, your personal water preferences regarding taste and odor, your budget, if you or someone in your household has a special health situation, etc.

Because not all filters do the same, all of these different factors are important to consider before buying a water filter, and we will cover them now.

Do You Have Water Preferences & Needs?

Even if your water is safe to drink, you might not be happy with its taste and/or odor. Typically when people don’t like the taste of their water, it is because it tastes to disinfectant. Water suppliers use disinfectants like chlorine to clean the water, and even if they respect the defined limits, it may negatively impact the taste of the water.

Another factor that might impact the taste of your water is the presence of minerals in it. Even if they are not harmful, they can give a taste to the water that you don’t like.

If you want to remove taste and odors from your water, look for the NSF 42 certification. Activated carbon based filters, like the ones used in water filter pitchers, are good to remove unpleasant water taste. Reverse Osmosis systems are also good to remove chlorine and minerals that can leave your water with a bad taste.

If you or someone in your household has a weak immune system, due to some health issue, you need to be careful with the drinking water. Always check first with your doctor to be sure about the concentrations of contaminants that are ok to you.

One germ that you might need to be careful about, is Cryptosporidium [1]. Reverse Osmosis systems or filters with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller are good to remove this [2]. Look for water filters with NSF 53 or 58 if you need to remove this germ.

Which Contaminants do you Need to Remove From Your Water?

After reading your CCR, you should know which contaminants you need to remove from your water. Typically the water filters will let you know which contaminants they are good against, and the percentage of reduction that they can achieve.

But we can focus on some specific contaminants. If you want to remove lead, which can be really dangerous for your health, look for a water filter with NSF 53 certification.

Arsenic is another contaminant that can cause several health problems, such as cancer. Water filters with a rating NSF 53 or NSF 58 are good against arsenic.

Do You Have Hard Water?

If you have a hard water problem, then the best option for you is a water softener. Check our article about the benefits of a water softener, and if some of these are applicable to your situation, is because you have a hard water problem to deal with.

Understand Your Budget for a Water Filter

There are many types of water filters and the price range can vary a lot, depending on the type of filter.

There are inexpensive options, like water pitchers, countertop or faucet water filters, in the $25-$50 range, but there are also more expensive options, like under sink or whole house water filters that can cost several hundred dollars.

When checking the best water filter option for your budget, you need to consider that some filter types may require some additional budget for installation, and take also into consideration that there will be a recurring cost for maintenance and for replacing some of the parts periodically. The water filters should have all the suggested replacement information in the package.

But if you currently drink bottled water, buying a water filter will save you lots of money, even if you go for a more expensive option. 

How Much Filtered Water Do You Need?

Another factor to take into consideration when choosing a water filter is the amount of filtered water that you need.

A water filter pitcher doesn’t have much capacity, while other filters like a faucet water filter work directly from the tap.

Also, some filters are a bit slow to filter the water, so you may need to check which one will be the best option for your situation.

If you are considering a whole house filter, it will be important to understand the water consumption in your household. You can try our water use calculator to estimate the daily water usage in your home.

Understand the Different Water Filter Types

You need to understand the different types of water filters available in the market. Each type will have its pros and cons, can filter different contaminants, and will be suitable for different purposes.

We have done extensive research and published an article where we covered the different water filter types, and their main benefits and drawbacks. Check it out to understand the main options available.

Consider that Water Filters Need Maintenance

As mentioned in the budget section, you should notice that the water filter will need future maintenance. This doesn’t mean that they will need a lot of maintenance or that it will cost a lot because water filters typically do not require a lot of maintenance and have a long lifespan.

When the filters block the impurities, they will be stuck on the filter’s pores, so after a while, they will become clogged and won’t be able to filter so efficiently. Other filter types will adsorb the contaminants to their surface, and with use, the surface area will become full and will need to be changed.

Usually, you will need to replace the filter cartridges on some of the water filter types, like water pitchers, water filter faucets, or under sink water filters. Follow the manufacturer instructions regarding the periodicity of the filter replacement, to make sure that you always have clean water to drink. Some water filters will have a device to let you know when the filter needs to be replaced.

What are NSF Ratings?

In the previous section, we made references to NSF ratings, like NSF 53 or 58. Let us now explain a bit more about this.

NSF International is an independent not-for-profit organization that develops public health standards for products, such as water filters. Water filter manufacturers voluntarily submit their products to NSF International for independent test and certification to NSF standards. So using NSF ratings or standards is a trusted way to know if certain water filters are certified to protect against specific contaminants.

Some of the most relevant NSF standards for water filters are [3]:

  • NSF 42: filters certified to reduce taste and odor
  • NSF 44: certification for water softeners, that reduce water hardness
  • NSF 53: filters certified to reduce a contaminant with a health effect, like cyst
  • NSF 58: certification for the Reverse Osmosis process
  • NSF 62: certification for the distillation process
  • NSF 177: certification for shower water filter that reduce free available chlorine

You can search directly on the NSF database that is available online to check if a certain water filter is certified, and which certifications it has.

What Next

With people more aware of the importance of clean water, water filters are becoming more important in our lives.

Know that you know what water filters are, how to check if your water is safe, and what you need to consider before buying a water filter, read our water filter guides to find the best option for you and your family!