Why Filtering Your Tap Water is Important + Which Water Filters Really Work

Choosing the right water filters can be really difficult. After in-depth research, we’ve confirmed these brands to be the most effective on the market.

Why Filter Your Tap Water?

The Environmental Working Group tested tap water in 45 states a couple of years ago and found 202 chemical contaminants that are not subject to any government regulation or safety standards for drinking water.

  • Chemicals like herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and by-products from the chlorination process
  • Residue from waste particles, bacteria and micro-organisms that cause illness
  • Heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, and more (lead can enter tap water from pipes in older homes long after the water has flowed from a municipal water treatment plant, and is STILL one of the largest preventable sources of poisoning in children!)
  • Fluoride (this is a tough one, so see notes below)

What about bottled water? Despite the marketing hype, bottled water is not necessarily safer than tap water and it can cost up to 1,900 times more! In fact, industry reports show that up to 44% of bottled water is just tap water, sometimes left unfiltered and tainted with the same pollutants.

Not to mention the single-use plastic being tossed into our landfills, and the shear amount of energy used in production. IOP Science did a study evaluating whether the energy consumed to treat the water itself justified the energy expended to make the plastic bottles. Here's what they found:

Combining all of the energy inputs totals, we estimate that producing bottled water requires…as much as 2000 times the energy cost of producing tap water. Given an annual consumption of 33 billion liters of bottled water in the US, we estimate that the annual consumption of bottled water in the US in 2007 required an energy input equivalent to between 32 and 54 million barrels of oil or a third of a percent of total US primary energy consumption. We estimate that roughly three times this amount was required to satisfy global bottled water demand.

The convenience of bottled water is overwhelmingly negated by the oftentimes poor water quality and energy expenditure in manufacturing. The best choice is to avoid bottled water, and purchase a high quality water filter that removes the largest number of contaminants and saves energy in the process.

 The Dangers of Prenatal Fluoride Exposure

Researchers recently found that for every 0.5mg/L of fluoride in the mother's urine, an additional 4 point I.Q. drop was seen in the child.

…A mother's exposure to fluoride during pregnancy could lower the intelligence of her children, researchers say…

We agree with Dr Mercola's assessment: “If everyone knew the dangers of fluoride and had a choice, most would likely opt for fluoride-free drinking water. Unfortunately, you don't have that choice if you live in an area that adds fluoride to its municipal water supply. Whether you want it or not, you're being medicated with a substance known to have toxic effects.”

Fluoride is a tough chemical to remove, so go for the Berkey system with fluoride filter or a reverse osmosis system (see notes below)

Exposure to Fluoride During Pregnancy May Lower Her Child's I.Q.

Which Water Filters Remove the Most Contaminants?

Choosing the right water filter can be really difficult, especially with the convincing marketing strategies being used. We set the bar pretty high with filtering requirements that include heavy metals, sediment, chemical compounds, pharmaceuticals, and pollutants such as herbicides and pesticides, and after some in-depth research we've confirmed the following brands and styles to be the most effective on the market.

Berkey Water Filtration System with Fluoride Filter ($290.00) 

Purifies both treated water and untreated raw water (remote lakes, streams, stagnant ponds and water supplies in foreign countries). The Big Berkey system removes pathogenic bacteria, cysts and parasites entirely and extracts harmful chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, VOCs, organic solvents, radon 222 and trihalomethanes. It also reduces nitrates, nitrites, unhealthy minerals such as lead and mercury and even food coloring from water without removing the beneficial minerals. Good for 3,000 gallons per filter element.

Zero Water Pitcher ($28.00-$40.00)

5-stage filtration process removes over 99% of heavy metals, and nearly 100% of radioactive elements uranium and cesium, and has an average reduction rate of 99% of chemical compounds, pharmaceuticals and inorganic contaminants including fluoride. Good for 30 gallons.

Instapure Faucet Mount Filter ($33.00)

Reduces chlorine taste and odor along with 53 other contaminants including 95% of heavy metals, agricultural and industrial pollutants, and 99% of cysts and turbidity. Good for 100 gallons.

Berkey KDF Shower Filter ($35.00)

The KDF 55 granules and process media remove up to 95% of chlorine, reduce hydrogen sulfide, microorganisms, scale and water-soluble heavy metals such as lead, mercury and iron, and also kill bacteria and inhibit the growth of algae and fungi. Good for 10,000 gallons or one year whichever comes first.

APEC Under-Counter Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System ($200) 

Premium, long-lasting 5-stage filtration process treats tap water, well water, hard and soft water at variable pressures and pH extremes. All reverse osmosis systems have the same fundamental functions: Incoming tap water is pushed through the filtering membrane(s) which removes sediment, bacteria, pyrogens (micro-organisms that cause fever and sickness), viruses, hydrocarbons (benzene, petroleum), radioactive contaminants, chlorine, detergents, industrial wastes, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, asbestos, dissolved solids, sodium, lime, sulfates, VOC's, fluoride, and heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium). Made in the USA.

Psssst…reverse osmosis removes the good minerals too, so you might want to learn how to make sole water to replace some of them!

iSpring Tankless Whole House Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System ($600.00)*

Electric booster pump drives extra 200GPD RO membranes and saves more than 40% of water with 2:1 waste ratio vs 3:1 or greater in other RO filters. A high quality, whole-house system like this one not only offers all the benefits of a reverse osmosis system for your drinking water, but also removes contaminants from steamy vapors you and your family inhale while showering and washing dishes.

*See the under-counter RO system above for a complete list of contaminants that reverse osmosis systems remove/reduce.

What About PUR and Brita Water Filter Pitchers?

We also did extensive research on PUR and Brita filters, but found them to be weak performers in water purification and product quality compared to those listed above. The two companies are fairly equal in every product category except the pitcher systems where PUR outperforms Brita by a 15 contaminants.

And last, but not least: don't forget to choose a stainless steel, glass or BPA-free reusable plastic water bottle to carry your filtered tap water on the go.

P.S. Wondering about NSF Certified water filters? The EWG says if a filter is labeled “NSF certified,” it may be certified by their product evaluation company to improve water’s taste and odor, but not necessarily guaranteed to remove any specific contaminants. So be sure to read the fine print.

88 comments
    1. We looked into ZeroWater, but found that the products fall very short in all departments except for heavy metals. They don’t filter any sediment, industrial pollutants, pesticides or microbiological contaminants like bacteria and viruses, and we were able to find much better alternatives in the products we listed. We’ll be adding more water filters over time, so be sure to check back!

    1. As mentioned in the article, our research exposed some big brands like Brita and Culligan as very lacking in their scope of filtration. In fact, they filter only a tiny fraction of what we look for in a filter product. The ones we listed are excellent filters that cover a wide range of water contaminants, and we highly recommend them!

  1. Thanks ladies for the valuable information you’ve provided here.  I’ll be switching my Brita out for a Pur and picking up a Crystal shower filter.  Thanks for the recommendation.

    Did you research the Kinetico home water system and if so how did it compare to the Crystal?  I have a Kinetico twin tank system spec’d for my home when finances become available, but will consider the Crystal if you think it is significantly better.  Thanks for your thoughts on this. 

    1. Hi Joy! We checked on the Kinetico home filter system you mentioned and found that it doesn’t remove more than a couple of contaminants in the water, which doesn’t make it the best choice overall. The company does carry a whole house reverse osmosis system that seems to be a good quality choice.

    1. Hi Monique, Berkey filters are pretty impressive as well. They don’t provide any information on pharmaceutical contamination filtration, but they do offer an additional fluoride filter that fits their systems. Overall a very good choice!

      1. They will also send you out the full test reports from the lab if you contact them (customerservice@newmillconcepts.com)

        I was wondering about the lack of NSF certification and their response made sense (although they haven’t tested for sucralose/Splenda yet which is becoming more important):

        Thank you for your email. NSF certifications are not required but rather optional. In our opinion, NSF certifications are expensive and somewhat limited in their application with respect to our gravity filtration elements. The only NSF certification available for filter elements is a certification that verifies material safety and if applicable, structural integrity only. This certification does not test for removal of the various contaminates. These test, by in large are automatically performed when certified labs test for more specific contaminate removal. NSF standards require that the filters be tested using water pressure that would be found in a typical home (~60psi). As you know our purification system does not use water pressure, rather it relies on gravity. Therefore we retained several qualified labs to test our purifiers modifying the NSF protocol for gravity filters. When tested, our purifier not only met the NSF standards but also significantly exceeded those standards. For your convenience, I have attached those tests.

        1. What a load of baloney. Aquasana manages to have an extensively NSF certified manual fill filter. Yet another excuse from a shakey company.

      1. Thanks, TSL sisters, that reassures me. I was very happy when I discovered them, they seemed the broadest in filtration spectrum that I had seen. And the service of automated cartridge replacement is great – I have a shower one and one for the sink; I have just switched for under the sink for more convenience, It is a great investment and I agree with you that the quality of our water is crucial –  we have great municipal water to start with, but still needs improvement. I am happy to give this water daily to my baby and my toddler, and also have them washed in ‘clean’ water. 
        I also bought a glass bottle from them and cand carry my filytered water with me. And I was able to help to the decision making at work too, for a water filtering system, vs those gross huge plastic containers…..
        Anyway, thank you for your amazing work at TSL and keeping our families safe(r).

  2. I have the radiant life 14-stage biocompatible water purification system. Any thoughts on that? I believed I was buying the best of the best. I hope I did!

    1. You can remove fluoride using a Berkey Water Filtration system and adding PF-2 filters for the bottom chamber.

  3. I picked up a Royal Berkey from Amazon a couple years ago adding 2 PF-2 fluoride filters and have been really happy. This was after I realized just how poor a job filters like Pur and Brita do. I have an Aquasana filter on the shower to get rid of chlorine. Amazing what you learn about your water when you take the time to do research. Anyway, here looking for toothbrushes! =D

  4. I never hear anything about the water filters in refrigerators. I am concerned about the water coming in contact with BPA or phthalates in the water line, ice cube dispenser, water holder, etc. Anyone know if these two chemicals are found in these places?

    1. All refrigerators (and all other gadgets, appliances, etc.) leech phthalates into any and all fluids – from blood to drinking water. If a gadget contains plastic tubing (this includes IV feeds and dialysis machines), it’s going to leech phthalates into whatever runs through the tubes.

      Hope this helps.

  5. I am curious about the Pur water filter that is designed for Whirlpool refrigerators. Also, we are looking into Ecowater systems for under the sink reverse osmosis and whole home softening/filtration. Any thoughts on either would be great!

  6. What are the oily spots on the surface of my filtered drinking water?
    We are using aquasana 5300 under counter unit. Thank you

    1. Hi Sarah – removing fluoride is definitely important in our opinion, but water filters that remove it are harder to come by. We’re planning to update our guide sometime in the near future to add water filters that do remove fluoride though. ~Alicia

    2. Berkey does have filters that remove flouride…you use them in addition to the filters that remove the other contaniments from the water. I have used both filters together for over 3 years..replacing the flouride ones as suggested by Berkey.

  7. I’m highly skeptical about any filtration system’s ability to actually remove chlorine. Most say that they “reduce chlorine taste,” which is just obfuscation. Chlorine dissolved in water is embedded on a molecular level; mere filters aren’t going to remove this compound.

    Anyone have any ideas on this, short of installing a distiller in the home?

    1. In order to remove chlorine just add powdered Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
      to the filtered water. About 1 gram is good for about 3 gallons of water
      and it neutralizes the chlorine very quickly and its good for your health
      also!!!

  8. I went to the EWG’s original article and discovered this: “In fact, industry reports show that up to 44 percent of bottled water is
    just tap water — filtered in some cases, but not necessarily in all
    cases.” Your article says something quite different, that that same 44 percent is still tainted with the tap water chemicals. Where did you get your information that substantially changes the EWG’s statement? Would you mind posting the reference, please?

    Also, would you mind giving us the figures that demonstrate that Brita filters take out only a tiny fraction of the contaminants in tap water? I am not quite clear what “tiny fraction” means. In other words, please give the total number of contaminants, along with the amounts, and then Brita’s list of what they take out, along with amounts, in such a way that we can see the comparison.

    Thank you so much.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out, Linwood. It seems to have been a mistake in our wording, and I apologize for the confusion. We just revamped the article and added lots of new information and products that we’ve found and love. Enjoy! ~Laura

  9. I have a ZeroWater filter and love the way my water tastes. I worry that I might be missing out on some of the *good* minerals that used to be in my water, though. Do you have any recommendations for re-mineralizing your water?

    1. Great question, Megan! Most manufacturers claim their products don’t remove essential minerals, but we know for sure that reverse osmosis systems are so thorough that they definitely do remove too many beneficial minerals.

      Minerals can be easily replaced anytime you think they’re lacking by adding up to 1/4 teaspoon of Himalayan pink sea salt per gallon of water. Easy peasy! ~Laura

      1. Thanks, Laura! I had no idea that the filters left some of the minerals in there. Good info.
        xo,
        Megan

    2. I use and love the Nikken Waterfall System. It sits on my countertop and is a gravity fed filtration system-no need for electricity. It has a multiple stage advance filtration and adds the minerals that help adjust the pH to create alkaline, structured water. It meets or exceeds ANS/NSF 42 taste and odor, 53 harmful chemicals, 372 heavy metals. I am a R.N. and this is the only system that I will use and recommend.

  10. I love the whole-home water filtration system I just bought. Dishes come out cleaner, my hair and skin feels better out of the shower, and the water tastes better. I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know!

  11. In order to remove chlorine just add powdered Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to the filtered water. About 1 gram is good for about 3 gallons of water and it neutralizes the chlorine very quickly and its good for health also!

  12. I’ve been looking into the Pure Effect Filters, has anyone used these or know anything about the whole home option? Thanks!

    1. I have one of these and purchased it because I heard about it from Debra Lynn Dadd. I like mine, it’s an under counter model with 3 filters.

  13. Have you done some research on Binchotan (the charcoal), which presumably absorbs chlorine, mercury and others from the water by just letting it sit in the water for a few hours. I haven’t been able to find serious studies about it. Thanks for your work!!!

    1. Hi Karine, We haven’t researched Binchotan in depth and a quick search around the internet yielded no scientific studies, however, it appears that type of white charcoal is processed to be especially hard and long-lasting with a much more porous quality to it which is the reason it’s supposed to be the ultimate water filter. It’s definitely something worth looking into! ~Laura

  14. All this talk about water filtration systems has me thinking about all those old filters sitting in landfills. I have used a Brita pitcher in the past and stopped because I don’t know what to do with those giant plastic carbon filters after they are used up. Any suggestions?

  15. Please explain, and if possible a link or citation to show proof, Pür and Brita’s underperformance. As of today, Pür says, all over their site, that their faucet filters remove 99.9% lead among other metals. Three sources that I’ve found, including yours, speak of the opposite, that they DO NOT perform that well. Also I’ve seen that lead is easier filtered in cold water but hardly at all in hot water.
    Anyone?

    Anyone?

  16. Is there any water filters thats mounted that removes VOC? Wanted an undercounter filter but don’t want to change my faucet. Any suggestions ?

    1. it doesn’t remove lead, so i have to disagree with you. the packaging used to say it removes lead, but now it doesn’t. check for yourself. the faucet one does, but not the pitcher. i think there could be a big lawsuit coming. i’m pretty mad about it, actually. been using it for years under the impression that it removed lead.

      1. Check yourself. The faucet mounted has always removed lead as well as 70+ other chemicals including pharmaceuticals, BPA, etc. It is one of the best performing filters on the market.

  17. I ordered a Berkey. Sent it back. The rubber petroleum base was gassing out chemicals in the house – made me very ill. The water tasted like plastic. I got very sick from this system. I don’t understand why people think this is the best when it clearly is toxic. The spicket is made from plastic (ew!) and the water tasted like plastic. We bought all the filters, to no avail. They need to go back to the drawing board and make a safe product. MCS individuals, avoid.

  18. We have a problem with our water supply. It comes from wells and a reservoir and was found to exceed EPA levels for PFCs. We have a Pur faucet filter, will this remove PFCs?

  19. Thanks for your research, and this post! I sent the link to one of my cleaning customers. Based on what he read here, he bought a Zero Water pitcher.

    Zero Water specs may have changed since this post. From the co’s site:

    Chloramine: “Our filters can reduce chloramine”. “Reduce” could be anything from 1% to 99%.

    Pharmaceuticals: “… Designed to treat organic substances such as the active ingredients in many pharmaceuticals”. “Many” is a vague number. And for all we know, inactive ingredients may make up the bulk of pharm products.

    My customer’s trying to heal from a major gut condition. So I’m concerned about the effects of these chemicals.

    1. Good luck with the Zero Water. Even though the the dissolved solids in my local water register on the low end of the spectrum I only got about 5 weeks out of this product before the most disgusting rotten meat (or fish as some have said) smell permeated my kitchen and had me looking for a dead rodent in the cabinets before i finally realized the vile putrid smell was coming from my ZeroWater.

    2. I bought a ZeroWater water cooler. Maybe it filters things out of the water, but the taste of the “purified” water was awful. It had a chemical taste to it and even after using the filter daily for 30 days the taste was very strong and very bad. ZeroWater refunded the purchase prce and paid for the return of the filter as well. That was nice, but I’m still left with poisoned water in the pipes.

  20. I live in Security, Colorado where our water is currently poisoned with PFCs at rates as high as 30 times over the “safe” levels. The local water board says it isn’t necessarily unsafe, but might be on certain days. I don’t know exactly what they are saying there, but I am certainly not going to drink unsafe water or give it to my pet. This is something that’s been going on since the 1970s, and every ow and then something will bring it to the forefront. Right now the Air Force is absorbing the blame for the PFCs which are a possible overflow of chemicals they’ve been using to train firefighters for over 40 years. They’ve allocated $400 million to “fix” this problem all over the USA where they’ve used the chemicals. The local food program supplied 2 caes of bottled water per week, but the noise has died down and they decided to no longer provide the water. The Air Force said they were going to provide $100,000 of free water to those of us in the worst zone of contamination, but never said how that would be distributed. Trying to buy bottled water or a filter around here is difficult right now as the demand exceeds the ability to provide. The installation of the necessary plumbing and filtration to provide “clean” water to the zone in which I live won’t take place until fall of 2017, 18 months after the emergency notification to quit drinking the water. In the meantime, we either drink the water and guess which days it is dangerously contaminated, our we come out of pocket to purchase our own purification systems at an average cost of $400. Most of us in this zone are retired and living on Social Security so we need a good cheap way to filter our water. The water board tried to tell us that a Pur Filter Pitcher will filter out the PFCs, and here your article says the filter pitchers don’t do a lot of filtering. So, what do you think would be our best bet when it comes to cheap filtration that will actually clean the water we drink?

  21. I’d like to know about emergency water filtration. Let me know if you review those. I want one that removes bacteria, viruses, protozoa, etc, but also, heavy metals, radiation too. And anything else that ought to be removed, ie. pharmaceuticals.

  22. Hi Laura! I really learned a lot in this article of yours. Your list of water filters is really good. Thanks a lot for writing this helpful article. Surely this can help a lot of people looking for a good water filters for their home.

  23. If you are interested in investing in a shower filter I recommend checking out the companies Omica or Sprite – I use the latter but if I was to start over again I would go with the Omica. The Omica seems more thorough.

  24. Thanks for the info Soft Landing. The world of water filters seems highly unregulated and just when I think I’ve found one, I learn about a new potential hazard. I was just about to settle on a Multipure, despite being leery of anything bought from a MLM company. Their filters are certified to remove the most contaminates by NSF, they are certified by the state of California, they are made in the USA and they are housed within a stainless tank. I even contacted them to confirm that the filter was nothing more than solid carbon block (which they claimed it was) and that the grade of stainless was 316. Fortunately their response included an image of the tank with an EPA Establishment #074784-NV-001. Meaning, there is some ingredient included that is considered pesticidal by the EPA. This is likely silver embedded within the carbon which is poisonous if ingested. While it’s probably not going to leech from the system, I’m not interested in taking any chances. Filters containing KDF 55/copper-zinc (which most of them do) have been reported to leech copper into the water, which is also toxic. Their use in residential filtration is not regulated and has not been studied. RO systems may have tanks lined with BPA that leech nickle into the water. Zero water, like RO, removes beneficial minerals yet isn’t certified to remove pharmaceuticals or pesticides. Berkey isn’t certified at all and doesn’t meet California’s lead content requirements. NSF certification is more than “what can the unit remove”. NSF certification guarantees the unit itself is safe for drinking water contact. Realistically, aside from the unknown that I cannot test for (pharmaceuticals, BPA), my tap isn’t that bad. I used Kar Labs to test for 360 contaminates in my water.I would recommend having a lab test your water so that you can make the best decision for your situation. Prior to buying a filter, confirm filtration claims on the NSF website. Whole house filters likely won’t remove anything more than particulate and chlorine odor (chlorine odor is not the same as removing chlorine or trihalomethanes). 3 stage under counters may look robust but are often only certified to remove the same. Meanwhile, your little old GE or Whirlpool fridge filter might be one of the most comprehensive filtration devices on the market. http://info.nsf.org/Certified/DWTU/

  25. Hi ladies,
    Thank you so much for your research, article, and answers to comments! I want a faucet attachment filter, and the Instapure Waterpik F8 has gone up quite a bit in price (ends up at $60 with shipping), as have the replacement filters ($42-$44 each).

    Do you have a cheaper faucet attachment that you recommend?
    How about the DUPONT WFFM350XCH ELECTRIC METERED 200-GALLON DELUXE FAUCET

    Thank you!
    Alexis

    1. Hi Alexis, We haven’t researched the Dupont product you mentioned, but we’ve found that Pur faucet filters are actually pretty impressive and are NSF certified to remove over 70 contaminants. The filters aren’t terribly expensive either. Hope that helps! ~The Soft Landing Sisters

  26. I am surprised you do not mention Seychelle which I thought was a superior brand. How do they rank in your findings?
    Jillian

  27. Are these the same as the pitcher ststem you listed above?
    The article said Zero Water pitchers were a good choice

  28. I found it very interesting when you said that tap water could contain heavy metals. My wife and I are moving to another home, and after asking around, it turns out it doesn’t have a water filter system. We talked with the owner, and he’s stubborn as to install a system. That’s why we think after reading your article he might change his mind. We’re grateful for your information about why it’s vital to have your water filtered.

  29. The Zero Water pitcher does remove lead (unlike the other pitcher systems) but is notorious for getting bacteria built up in it resulting in a fishy smell (look up the reviews online). It’s horrible. Tap filters like Pur can remove lead (they’re used in Flint today) and don’t have this fishy issue, but you do need to swap them out regularly and don’t ever run warm water through them.

  30. I’m glad you talked about the importance of filtering your tap water to get rid of waste particles on it. In my opinion, filtering your tap water should be a must. I’ve heard about how we could get sick by drinking unfiltered one, so I’ll be sure to share this article with my friends and family to spread water filter awareness. Thank you for the information on the health risks of drinking unfiltered tap water.

  31. I like how you pointed out that bottled water is not necessarily cleaner than tap water. My home is rather old, so I’ve been thinking of getting a water filter. I’m just not sure if I should get a container or an add-on to my faucet. Where can I learn more?

  32. Thanks for explaining that finding the right water filter for your home can be difficult to do. I just moved into a home, and I have noticed that the water tastes funny. I’ll look for a professional that can help me with finding appropriate water filtration for my home.

  33. Very detailed write up! Using HAC and GAC technologies, Halo products also give you zero waste and Affordable Home Water Filtration System that require little to no maintenance.

  34. Thanks for the tip to get a nice water filter instead of bottled water. My wife only drinks bottled water. A filter could save us a ton of money because we could stop buying five cases every month.

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