Choosing the Best Water Filter for Your Home

Do you need a simple pitcher or a whole-house system? Water filtration isn't a one-size-fits-all solution to your drinking water dilemma.

Think water filtration is a recent invention? Think again. The idea of treating drinking water to improve its safety and taste has been around for centuries.

The Water Quality Association (WQA), an international non-profit group, has been tracking residential drinking-water trends for 40 years. According to Eric Yeggy, their technical affairs director, “We know that ancient cultures used carbon to remove impurities from water as far back as 400 B.C.”

Test Your Water

Homeowners considering a filter should test water for contaminants, then match test results with the right treatment.

Yeggy says homeowners can use the WQA website to find a local certified water treatment professional. He notes the search results only includes testers who meet stringent requirements, continue to seek water-treatment education and agree to an ethics code.

Choosing a Water Filtration System

Water-treatment professionals or experts from your local county health department can help determine what to test for, as there are millions of chemicals that can be found in water.

If you select a water-filtration system of any kind, don’t just set it and forget it. “Maintenance is critical for all water treatment systems,” Yeggy says. Fortunately, it’s getting easier to manage these systems. Some alert the homeowner or a service technician with a text message or email, or simply light up or even change colors when attention is needed.

The three types of drinking water treatment technologies most used in the home, Yeggy says, are water softening, reverse osmosis and filtration. Filtration is one of the easiest to incorporate, but there are so many options it can be overwhelming.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web site offers a concise guide to the pros and cons of home water filters. Here are some highlights of some popular options.

Water filter pitchers

Water poured in through the top of the pitcher passes through a simple filter before filling up the pitcher.

Pros: Inexpensive, easy to buy and use.

Cons: Models vary, filtering can be slow, filters need replacing.

Refrigerator filters

If your refrigerator dispenses water and ice, it may come with a built-in water filter.

Pros: Simple to use, may improve water taste.

Cons: Filters need replacing.

Faucet-mounted filters

As the name says, you attach these to your faucet.

Pros: Inexpensive, can easily switch between filtered and non-filtered water.

Cons: Don’t work with all faucets, might slow down flow.

Faucet-integrated filters

Some faucets are designed with a built-in filter.

Pros: As with faucet-mounted filters, you can easily switch between filtered and unfiltered water.

Cons: Can be pricey, but if your kitchen did not come with one, they need to be installed.

On-counter filters

Some hook up to your faucet. Others, called gravity-fed filters, do not.

Pros: Countertop filters are less likely to clog than pitcher or faucet-mount filters. Some gravity-fed filters are small enough to take camping or in an RV.

Cons: Takes up space on your countertop.

Under-sink filters

These are installed under a sink and deliver water to a specially installed faucet.

Pros: Can filter a lot of water, doesn’t crowd your countertop.

Cons: Can be pricey. May require plumbing modifications. Takes up space under the sink.

Whole-home water filters

A major solution when smaller filter systems aren’t enough.

Pros: These systems treat all water entering your home, not just drinking water.

Cons: Can be expensive. May require plumbing modifications and professional maintenance.

What’s Your Drinking Water Goal?

Here are seven scenarios, along with the best water filter system for the problem or situation you’re trying to resolve,.

In a hurry to get started?

You can buy a water-filter pitcher online or in person and start using it immediately. You won’t find an easier, cheaper or more portable solution. But it can’t hold as much water as you may like, and the water filtering takes time.

Eager to travel or camp with filtered water?

The gravity-fed variety of on-counter filters can go with you camping or in an RV. Water-filter pitches are a good second choice for travelers, though they don’t hold as much water.

Want filtered water and ice?

Many refrigerator water filters also filter the water flowing to your ice maker. But they’re part of your specific refrigerator-freezer, which isn’t cheap to replace, and older or inexpensive appliances may not have them.

Thinking beyond drinking water?

A whole-home water-filtration system treats all the water in your home, including for laundry or bathing. But it’s likely your priciest solution. Do you really need to filter the water for your lawn sprinkler?

Don’t want to call a plumber?

Faucet-mounted filters don’t require a plumbing connection, making them among the easiest to install and start using. You just flip a switch to move between filtered and unfiltered water, right on the faucet. But some may not like the clunky appearance of the visible filter.

Don’t want to see the filter?

Under-sink filters do just what their name suggests — hide away under your sink, filtering water to a specific faucet. They’re convenient and don’t take up counter space. But if you’re filling, say, a large water bottle, be prepared to wait. And, obviously, they’ll steal some of your under-sink storage space.

Want capacity and simplicity?

On-counter filters can hold more water than a filter pitcher and don’t require installation. Some resemble the big silver coffee urns you see at a wedding reception, others the clear water coolers many offices use, and some hook into your kitchen sink. All take up counter space so they’re not ideal for tiny kitchens.

For more information, the WQA offers a Water Treatment For Dummies booklet that is free to download. In addition to filtration, it explains home water technologies like reverse osmosis and water softening. Your local water utility also has online reports. And the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also provides lots of online water information, including local water-quality reports.