Drinking water straight from the tap can be a less than refreshing experience. Both your nose and your taste buds may take offense, and you never know what kind of strange and potentially harmful substances may be lurking in your pipes. The alternative — bottled water, whether sourced from a spring or purified — can be costly to you and harmful to the environment. What’s the best and safest alternative?
All homeowners should consider using some form of water filtration system. But, before you choose the option that's best for you and your household, you'll want to know how water filters work and what makes one type of water filter different from another.
Types Of Water Filters
Water filters remove contaminants from water, specifically for the purposes of rendering water potable — something you can safely drink. Most commercially available water filtrations systems employ one of two technologies: carbon (sometimes known as activated carbon) filters or reverse osmosis (RO).
Carbon or activated carbon filters rely on a specially processed, finely milled charcoal. Because the individual particles of carbon in the filter are so microscopic, together they possess a surface area thousands of times larger than a single piece of charcoal of equivalent size (or volume). This increased surface area gives the filter it's incredible powers of absorption. In effect, an activated carbon filter works as a chemical filter.
In the process of reverse osmosis, on the other hand, water flows through a semipermeable membrane designed to trap particles of a certain size. The pores in an RO filter are typically measured in microns, which means they cannot be perceived by the naked eye. Many RO systems filter water multiple times before producing drinkable water. For this reason, some RO filters may not be as efficient as their activated carbon counterparts. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, RO systems can use as much as three times the amount of water that they treat.
If you know you have a problem with certain chemicals or compounds in your tap water, you can also look for a filter designed to remove specific contaminants.
What Do Water Filters Filter?
Tap water can contain up to more than 2,100 known contaminants. Arsenic, cyanide, lead, radium, various acids and other chemicals can be poisonous if ingested. Further, even treated water can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Cryptosporidium is a chlorine-resistant parasite that not all water filters are capable of removing.
When shopping for a water filtration system, check each product's label to see if it has been certified by NSF International. NSF certifications are also key to understanding each water filter's capacities. You can even search the NSF's online database of water filtration products to see which ones filter which contaminants. Some filters are designed purely to make water smell and taste better, while others are better equipped to remove unsavory elements. However, as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) remind consumers, "filters can remove both good and bad substances" from water. Consider your household's need carefully.
Popular Water Filter Options
Water filters come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and filter methods can be made to fit virtually any lifestyle.
Water pitchers are a popular option and are available at most major retailers. These pitchers are equipped with a carbon filter that's rated to purge water of lead, chlorine, mercury, and other common contaminants. Simply insert a filter cartridge, fill the pitcher's reservoir with water and stash it in your fridge or on the kitchen counter.
Sports bottles are another inexpensive option. Most models remove many of the same contaminants as water pitchers but, being both portable and personal, they're more convenient for those who are on-the-go.
Faucet-mounted filters attach to the faucet's spigot and filter water at your plumbing's point of delivery. A convenient feature of many faucet-mounted filters is the capability to turn the filter on and off. For example, if you're just washing your hands in the kitchen sink, you may want to use warm tap water rather than cold filtered water. While inexpensive and usually easy to install, not all faucet-mounted filters are compatible with all faucet styles.
Under-sink filters involve installing an attachment line to the main water supply beneath your sink. These systems are discreet and a good option if counter or refrigerator space is at a premium in your kitchen. Some plumbing expertise is required to take full advantage of under-sink system, so, if you choose this option, make sure someone handy is available to assist you.
Countertop filtration systems connect to your faucet using a diverted value. Unlike under-sink filters, they are separate units and allow you to continue using your faucet when you want access to unfiltered water. Again, because this filter draws water directly from your home's supply line, some plumbing knowledge is required for installation.
Whichever option you choose, adding a water filter to your home can help you make several improvements. Water filters:
- Contribute to a healthy lifestyle for you and your family. They make water more palatable and encourage everyone to drink their recommended daily allowance of this life-giving liquid.
- Remove health-threatening contaminants and unknown particles from your water.
- Reduce the waste produced by disposable, plastic water bottles.
- Reduce your grocery bills.
Now that you've read about the pros and cons of various water filtration options, check out these other kitchen upgrades that won't break the bank.