Okay, so you need a water filter. You’re on a city water supply and the stuff coming out of your tap absolutely reeks of chlorine, and doesn’t taste very good either. Maybe you’ve read about how dangerous chlorine is. After all, it was put into your water supply to kill stuff, so why would it stop killing just because it is no longer in the pipe?
You’ve probably also tried bottled water.
Some of those taste just as bad.
Some are just filtered city water.
Some are more expensive than gasoline.
They all come in cheap plastic bottles that leach chemicals into the water.
Now it’s time to look into a water filter, but there are so many choices. It’s just mind-boggling. There is just too much information out there about how to choose the best water filter. You have water softeners and water filters. You have whole-house filters and point-of-use filters. There are ones that attach to your faucet, some that are stand-alone, some use gravity, and some need to be plugged in. Some water filtration systems make the water alkaline and others make it acidic. The price range is huge. Is one system better than another? Do you need a combination? How do you know?
You search online for advice and find articles about water filters but that doesn’t make it any easier because most of them are written by someone who has a financial stake in you choosing the one they think is best. None of the information you find agrees with any other info you will find.
I’m going to attempt to help clear this up for you because it really is confusing.
I will also be completely honest with you right here, something that none of those other reviewers is likely to tell you. I do have a financial stake in a water filter, but I’m going to let you decide what is best for you because everyone has different needs.
Before You Look for a Water Filter
First, you have to know what kind of water you are dealing with, especially if you are on a well. Get your water tested. In most cases you can go to your county extension office if you are in the US. They will give you a clean container to put a sample of your water in then take it back to them for testing. It should be very inexpensive, possibly free, and you will have your results in a few days.
Now that you know what you have, you can figure out what kind of system you need to treat your water.
Whole-House Filters vs Point-Of-Use Filters
The biggest debate that you will find when researching water filters is between whole-house water filters and point-of-use water filters.
Whole-house water filtration systems are installed where your water comes into your house, so they will filter all of the water that you use for drinking, cooking, showering, watering plants, doing laundry, flushing toilets, brushing your teeth and so on.
They are great for removing anything from the water than can damage the pipes in your house, like sediment that can settle out of the water and eventually block up or scratch up the pipes.
What a whole-house water filter cannot do is prevent the water from picking up anything that is already in the pipes of your house. That can include any chemicals that were left behind when the pipes were fitted together or anything that has already collected there prior to you getting a water filtration system.
Finally, you will need some plumbing skills, or a plumber, to install a whole-house water filter. If you rent your home, you will need to get permission from your landlord as well. The changes your are making involve cutting pipes and fitting them into the filtration system, and the changes are pretty much permanent.
Point-of-use Water Filters
Point-of-use water filters are just that, they are located at the point where you use the water. These include filters that are installed at the kitchen sink, in your refrigerator, and maybe in your shower head. They also include any free-standing water filters, perhaps in a water cooler.
There are three main points in favor of a point-of-use water filter.
First, you don’t need to filter all of the water in your home to the same standard. The water that you use to flush your toilet doesn’t need to be as clean as the water you drink or cook with.
Second, a point-of-use water filter will remove anything from your water that was picked up in the pipes within your home that a whole-house system obviously cannot address, so you know that the water you are drinking is clean.
Third, they are a lot easier to install than a whole-house filter, especially if you choose a free-standing point-of-use system. They may be your only choice if you pay rent.
The water in some areas is high in calcium and magnesium that make water hard. Hard water can cause scale to build up in your pipes and restrict the flow of water. The calcium and magnesium also react with the soap you use causing you to need to use more soap and then leaving soap scum residues in your sink, tub and washing machine. The soap can also build up on your skin and clothing make everything feel stiff and probably still dirty.
A water softener exchanges sodium or another salt for the calcium or magnesium to make the water softer. I found a very good explanation of how water softeners work on the Popular Mechanics website.
The downside of a water softener is that it leaves the water a little bit salty, which affects the taste and may be an issue for anyone who needs to watch their salt intake.
Note that water softeners don’t filter the water, only exchange minerals that harden water for minerals (sodium) that don’t.
Water Filtration Types
There are three common types of water filters – reverse osmosis, distillation, and carbon (or other media). I have my preference but I will explain how each of these works and let you decide for yourself.
Reverse osmosis uses water pressure against a semipermeable membrane to only allow pure molecules of water through. If you have some seriously contaminated water, or have some contaminants that other filtration methods can’t remove, then reverse osmosis may be a good solution.
There are a few problems with reverse osmosis. It takes a lot of pressure to make it work, pressure that you are not likely to have sufficiently in a residential setting, especially if you are on a well. Water that does not make it through the membrane is flushed down the drain. That makes it self-cleaning, but because residential water pressures are relatively low, not much water gets through.
Residential reverse osmosis filtration systems can flush 50% to 90% of the water that flows into the system down the drain depending on your water pressure. That means you will only get 1 to 5 gallons of useable water for every 10 gallons that goes into your reverse osmosis system. If you pay to get your water from a municipal system your water bill could get expensive.
Most purified bottled water companies use this method. Industrial systems can generate more pressure and increase their efficiency to 50% or better. RO bottled water shows another potential problem with very pure water. If you test the water with a pH strip or pool test kit you will find them highly acidic. I was amazed when I checked it for myself. The water is pure, so when you expose the water to the air it starts to absorb carbon dioxide and forms carbonic acid. It’s the same thing as the bubbles in your soda, just not to the same degree.
Distillation is another method that will produce pure water. It involves evaporating (or boiling) the water to separate the water from the contaminants then condensing the pure water in a separate container for consumption.
As with reverse osmosis, the water is very pure after distillation. As a result, the water has the same problem as reverse osmosis water, it came become acidic by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air.
Unlike reverse osmosis, distillation doesn’t waste water. Instead, it requires energy for evaporating and condensing the water. Therefore, it can still be expensive depending on what your energy costs are.
Carbon (or other filtration media)
Filtration by carbon and other materials is an old and proven technology. Filter cartridges are usually composed mostly of carbon that will filter out most of the common contaminants that you don’t want in your water, like chlorine and the other chemicals involved in chlorinating water. Some water filtration systems include other media that remove additional contaminants like lead, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mercury and more.
Carbon water filters do have limits in what they can remove. In most cases the water coming out won’t be as pure as reverse osmosis or distillation but it will remove most of the contaminants that you are concerned with. That also means that you won’t have the same acidity problem that the other methods have. In some cases the water can actually come out alkaline, which can further boost your health.
One big benefit of those carbon water filters is that they don’t incur the same expense as a reverse osmosis or distillation system. All of the water that goes into the system comes out clean and there shouldn’t be any energy cost to them. Some of these water filters attach to your water faucet, so they are powered by your existing water pressure, but don’t need anywhere the amount of water pressure as reverse osmosis systems. You can also find completely free-standing units that are powered by gravity pulling the water down through the filtration media.
What is the Best Water Filter?
You now know pretty much everything I do about water filtration. So, you have probably already realized that there isn’t one ideal solution that covers all situations.
As I said, it all starts with what is in your water to begin with. If you have hard water then you may need to invest in a water softener, otherwise you will probably have problems with your pipes and appliances down the road. If you need to restrict the sodium in your diet then find a system that uses something other than sodium for the exchange.
If you have really bad water or live in an area where your water may be heavily contaminated, then you probably need a reverse osmosis system to make the water safe to drink. In my opinion, most areas of the U.S and Canada shouldn’t have these concerns. This may come up if you are in an area prone to hurricanes or earthquakes that can severely compromise the water safety. I’m thinking of situations like what Hurricane Katrina did to the New Orleans area several years ago.
If you are on a well then you may want a simple whole-house water filter that will remove sediment that may collect in your pipes or appliances. We used to be on a well that had a lot of sediment. Everytime my wife took a bath she ended up sitting in grit and there was a ring around the tub. We picked up a simple, inexpensive filter from Home Depot that I was able to plumb inline and it took care of the issue.
No matter what I have filtering the water coming into my home, for my drinking and cooking water I use a free-standing gravity-powered carbon-based point-of-use water filter. Now that’s a mouthful. It gives me clean, alkaline water that is more than safe for my family to drink and tastes great. Right now our water comes from a well, but if we were on a chlorinated water supply I would also have a filtered shower head, and have used one in the past.
One Final Word
Water filters have replaceable parts. You have to monitor and maintain them, which means replacing the filter cartridges and other necessary components on a timely basis, if you want them to continue to protect you from the unwanted elements in your water. If you don’t, then buying any kind of water filter will be a complete waste of your money.
My Full Disclosure
As I said back at the beginning of this post, I do have a financial stake in a water filter, two if you include a shower filter. I use the PiMag Waterfall from Nikken. It is the free-standing gravity-powered carbon-based point-of-use water filter (still a mouthful) that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. It removes chlorine, chloramine, and all of the other nasty chemicals that get into the water with chlorination. It also removes lead, mercury, VOCs and other contaminants. I have used my PiMag Waterfall for a few years, and it’s predecessor, the PiMag Aqua Pour before that going back the full ten years that I have been a Nikken distributor.
Nikken also has a shower filter, the PiMag MicroJet shower system. It is available in both a wall-mounted shower head and a handheld version. I used the previous version of the wall-mounted unit which used the same filter cartridge that is in the current model.
As an independent Nikken distributor, I may earn a commission if you decide to order either the PiMag Waterfall or one of the MicroJet shower filters. Nikken products are only available through independent distributors like me.
Please Comment and Share
I would really appreciate your comments. Do you think the information is helpful and unbiased for the most part? Do you think I was too biased to the system that I sell? Please leave me a comment below and let me know what you think. If you think the information was helpful and mostly unbiased, I would appreciate it if you would share it with your followers on social media.