Choosing a Water Filtration System: Ensuring Clean and Healthy Water

Clean and safe drinking water is a fundamental necessity for our well-being, which is why many families choose water filtration systems to help eliminate contaminants and pollutants.

“Drinking water comes from a variety of sources including public water systems, private wells, or bottled water,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Ensuring safe and healthy drinking water may be as simple as turning on the tap from an EPA-regulated public water system. Other water sources may need a water filter. It is important to know where drinking water comes from, how it’s treated, and if it’s safe to drink.”

Choosing a water filtration system can be confusing with a myriad of systems that use different water treatment technologies.

“With so many options, the choice can be dizzying,” says the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF).

From built-in refrigerator filters to under-the-sink filters, and from reverse osmosis to ion exchange filters, shopping for a water filtration system can be a learning experience.

Six Essential Steps to Choosing a Water Filtration System

For those looking to get up-to-speed on choosing a water filtration system fast then a great place to start is these six essential steps from NSF’s international water systems expert Rick Andrew:

  1. Do your homework: Under your water source and its quality including any issues that could affect its safety.

  2. Buyer beware: Look past the marketing and buzzwords associated with many water filtration products. As always, if it seems “too good to be true” … then it is!

  3. Find the Best System for You: There are many different water filtration systems and different treatment technologies, so you must focus on finding the best combination for your family.

  4. Make it NSF Certified: Check for NSF certification which ensures that your water filtration system has been tested for safety, leakage, and performance and that its manufacturing facility has been audited.

  5. Check out the Most Popular Contaminants: The NSF Contaminant Reduction Claims Guide can help you choose a water filtration system that meets your water safety needs.

  6. Change the Filter: If you fail to change your filter as required on any system it will fail to properly protect your water.

In addition to looking for the NSF Certification, it will help to understand some other fundamental terms and definitions when shopping for water filtration systems:

  • Pore Size: Refers to the size of the openings in a filter. Smaller pore sizes can capture smaller particles, but they may also restrict water flow.
  • Micron Rating: Indicates the filter's ability to remove particles of a certain size. A lower micron rating means finer filtration.
  • Gallons Per Minute (GPM): Measures the flow rate of water through the system. A balance between filtration efficiency and flow rate is important.

The Need for Water Filtration Systems

The decision to invest in a water filtration system is driven by several factors, including the quality of your main drinking water source and your location.

“Instead of stocking up on single-use plastic bottles and filling up landfills, many homeowners are adding a water filter to their kitchen to help remove the things they don’t want lurking in a glass of drinking water — while some just want to make their water taste better,” says the NSF. “In addition, certain water treatment systems (those that reduce hardness buildup, for example) can protect and extend the lifespan of appliances, including dishwashers.”

The main reasons to consider purchasing a water filtration system include:

  • Contaminant Removal: Tap water and well water can both contain various contaminants, such as lead, arsenic, nitrates, and microbial pathogens. A filtration system can effectively remove or reduce these harmful substances.
  • Improved Taste and Odor: Even if your water is technically safe, it might have an unpleasant taste or odor due to naturally occurring minerals or added disinfectants like chlorine. A filtration system can help improve the overall taste and smell of your water.
  • Health and Safety: Consuming water contaminated with harmful substances can lead to health issues over time. Filtration systems provide an additional layer of protection, ensuring the water you drink is safe for your health.
  • Environmental Concerns: Reducing the need for bottled water by using a filtration system contributes to less plastic waste and a lower carbon footprint.

The CDC found that some common reasons for choosing a water filtration system included:

  • I don’t like the way my water tastes.

  • I’m worried about the lead in my water.

  • I have arsenic in my water.

  • I have nitrates in my well water.

  • I have a weakened immune system.

  • I’m planning a camping trip and plan to purify water from a stream, lake, or spring to drink.

  • I want to use my water for nasal rinsing, such as a neti pot, or as a religious practice.

  • I have hard water.

Pros and Cons of Different Types of Water Filtration Systems

The CDC says these are the pros and cons of different types of water filtration systems:

  • Water Filter Pitchers: Water filter pitchers are pitchers that are filled from the top and have built-in filters that water must pass through before being poured out for drinking or other use.

o   Pros: Inexpensive to purchase, no installation, easy to use.

o   Cons: Vary by model and pore size, filters must be replaced regularly, slow filtering.

  • Refrigerator Filters: Many refrigerators have a built-in filter that supplies water through the door and supplies an automatic ice maker.

o   Pros: Comes with many refrigerators, often improves water taste, may also filter water used for making ice, easy to use.

o   Cons: Filters must be replaced regularly.

  • Faucet-Mounted Filters: Faucet-mounted filtration systems attach to a standard faucet and can be switched on and off between filtered and unfiltered water flow.

o   Pros: Can easily switch between filtered and unfiltered water, relatively inexpensive.

o   Cons: Do not work with all faucets, may slow water flow.

  • Faucet-Integrated (Built-in) Filters and On-Counter Filters: Faucet-integrated filtration systems and on-counter filters are faucets designed with built-in filters (instead of an attached filter, like a faucet-mounted system) and require installation.

o   Pros: Can easily switch between filtered and unfiltered water.

o   Cons: Often expensive, requires installation.

  • Under-Sink Filters: Under-sink filtration systems are installed under a sink and send water through a pipe to the filter’s own specially installed faucet. 

o   Pros: Filter large amounts of water, do not take up countertop space.

o   Cons: Often expensive, may require modifications to plumbing.

  • Whole-house water treatment: Whole-house water treatment devices treat all water entering the house, not just the water used for drinking.

o   Pros: Treatment is applied to all water entering your home, which may be important for hard water and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

o   Cons: Often expensive, may require modifications to plumbing, may require professional maintenance, filtering that removes chlorine might increase the growth of germs in all the pipes in your house.

“Many different types of filters are available to consumers. Determining which type is most appropriate for you—or whether you need a filter at all—depends on what functions you want a filter to provide. No filter eliminates all contaminants, so understanding what filters do and do not do is important,” advises the CDC.

Treatment Devices: How They Work and Limitations

Different water filter systems employ various treatment methods with their limitations.

The CDC breaks them down into these treatment devices:

  • Activated Carbon Filter (includes mixed media that removes heavy metals)

o   What it Does to Water

        • Absorbs organic contaminants that cause taste and odor problems.
        • Some designs remove chlorination byproducts.
        • Some types remove cleaning solvents and pesticides.

o   Limitations

        • While efficient in removing metals such as lead and copper, it does not remove nitrates, bacteria, or dissolved minerals.
  • Ion Exchange Unit (with activated alumina)

o   What it Does to Water

        • Removes minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium that make water “hard”.
        • Some designs remove radium and barium.
        • Removes fluoride.

o   Limitations

        • If water has oxidized iron or iron bacteria, the ion-exchange resin will become coated or clogged and lose its softening ability.
  • Reverse Osmosis Unit (with carbon)

o   What it Does to Water

        • Removes nitrates, sodium, other dissolved inorganics, and organic compounds.
        • Removes foul tastes, smells, or colors.
        • May also reduce the level of some pesticides, dioxins, chloroform, and petrochemicals.

o   Limitations

        • Does not remove all inorganic and organic contaminants.
  • Distillation Unit

o   What it Does to Water

        • Removes nitrates, bacteria, sodium, hardness, dissolved solids, most organic compounds, heavy metals, and radionuclides.
        • Kills bacteria.

o   Limitations

        • Does not remove some volatile organic contaminants, certain pesticides, and volatile solvents.
        • Bacteria may recolonize on the cooling coils during inactive periods.

Choosing a water filtration system involves considering your water source, specific concerns, and the type of system that best suits your needs.

By understanding the available options and the terminology associated with water filtration, you can make an informed decision that ensures the health and safety of you and your family.

Remember, clean and refreshing water is not just a luxury but a necessity for a thriving life.

Sign up for blog notifications