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As whole food enthusiasts, we do our best to prepare nutrient-rich meals for our families. We scrutinize the labels on foods to avoid nasty preservatives, additives, and genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). We opt for stainless steel or wooden kitchen gear over plastics to steer clear of BPA and other hormone-disrupting chemicals. We even carefully select cleaning products that are free from synthetic, carcinogenic ingredients.
Yet, paradoxically many of us don’t give enough thought about the quality of the water that we are using or research what might be the best water filter for our particular situation and the water available in our area.
Even if we do manage to filter our drinking water, the filter is usually not of the quality necessary to remove fluoride or pharmaceutical residues. And surprisingly, the vast majority of people still bathe or shower in tap water containing chlorine and other toxins which research has shown devastates beneficial gut microflora.
Water is the most basic raw material of the kitchen and today, with the unprecedented amount of contaminants in the environment, the same level of care and concern we use in planning our meals must also be used for examining our water.
Water quality in this country is being severely impacted with each passing day whether we realize it or not. Contaminants from a myriad of sources continue to enter into our water supplies at an alarming rate either by accident, incident, runoff or intentional chemical treatment. Increasingly, as toxins accumulate in the environment, including those from herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals and commercial solvents, they are seeping into our water reserves. These dangerous industrial chemicals were never meant to be ingested or absorbed into the skin, and yet many of us have been gulping them down by the glassful and showering daily in this toxic soup.
Over 2,000 chemical compounds have been found in US drinking water, although the EPA has established enforceable safety standards for only 87 of them – that’s less than 5%. Water filters have sadly become a modern necessity, but how do you find one that fits your house, lifestyle and budget?
Steps for Selecting the Best Water Filter
Finding the best water filter for your situation is not always a simple process. However, the steps below will help you to navigate all of the marketing and hype around water systems, so that you can more easily track down the best option for keeping your water clean and your family healthy.
#1: Figure out what is in your water
The first step in making a change to the quality of water in your home is to investigate what is actually in it! This seems basic enough, but strangely enough, is skipped by most people in the market for a water filter.
By determining the basic chemical make-up of your water, you will be an armed and informed consumer, ready to make decisions about the type of system that will protect your family to the greatest degree.
In many major municipalities, water is piped in, chemically treated and often sent right out to homes without being filtered! Although disinfectants such as chlorine and chloramines are added to town supplies with the intention of protecting us from unwanted pathogens, they also have undesirable chemical side effects.
Chlorine reacts with the naturally occurring organic and inorganic matter found in water to form harmful disinfection by-products. Other chemicals such as fluoride are often added to public water supplies as well. If you are on municipal water, there should be regular district reports that may disclose certain facts about your water. Be warned that many communities only report on EPA requirements, which may not tell the whole story behind the water in your home.
This is why testing your water yourself is a very good idea before purchasing any water filter. This resource provides reliable options for getting this accomplished for a reasonable cost.
Chemical treatments aren’t usually the primary concern with well water. However, homes which obtain water directly from underground sources need to examine other issues such as bacteria and microorganisms in their water, the presence of arsenic, excessive iron, manganese or hydrogen sulfide (the rotten egg smell), fertilizer runoff, general industrial pollution, pharmaceutical residues and extreme hardness.
Hard water is characterized by high mineral content, primarily in the form of calcium (Ca+2) and magnesium (Mg+2) ions. These minerals will form deposits in your pipes and water appliances, leave a white residue in your sinks and bathtubs and clog your showerheads and faucets. Because well water is often unpredictable and varies significantly from property to property, a water testing kit is the best tool for understanding its precise composition.
#2: Make personalized water goals
Based on the data you receive from your water testing, you will have to decide on what your personal goals are for your household water. Is your primary objective to have healthy water everywhere in your home, to decrease the burden on your plumbing, to remove toxins in drinking and bathing water?
There is no right or wrong answer here—everyone has different objectives, budgets and living situations. Generally speaking, there are two types of filtration products that you can choose from:
Point-of-Use (POU) water filtration
Point-of-Use (POU) water systems are stand-alone devices that are customized for each separate room in the house. In the kitchen for example, a POU system might be a pitcher placed in the refrigerator, a countertop gravity filter or under-counter multistage water filtration system.
There also are individual filters tailored to remove chlorine from the shower and bath. I’ve used these shower filters for many years. It’s especially important to filter bathing water for children and women who are pregnant!
When selecting a POU drinking water filter, it is important to realize that these filters vary significantly in their ability to filter water and remove contaminants. For example, typical portable kitchen water pitchers or refrigerator drinking water filters are designed only to address chlorine taste and odor and have a limited lifetime due to their small size.
Larger multi-stage under-counter POU purification systems (such as these) will remove a wider range of contaminants including chlorine, chloramines, disinfection by-products, fluoride, heavy metals, parasites and other microorganisms, bad taste, odors, and sediment. In these larger systems, cartridges can be selected to address your specific concerns regarding the presence of certain contaminants. In either case, multiple POU systems are required if you would like water to be filtered at more than one faucet in the house. They are convenient however for renters and others who do not wish to make major changes to plumbing.
Point-of-Entry (POE) water systems
Point-of-entry water systems are installed wherever the water first enters your home. Thus, this type of filtration provides clean water throughout the entire house. These “whole house water systems” are an excellent choice for homeowners who want to make their water safe for all uses. This would include not only drinking and cooking, but also showering, bathing, and laundry by attacking the problem at the start. This online source has a number of budget-friendly options to choose from.
Although most whole-house units on the market today have a higher up-front cost, they are designed for long-lasting service and low maintenance.
They will also reduce, if not totally eliminate, the most common contaminants found in water such as chlorine, chloramines, trihalomethanes, fluoride, heavy metals along with a wide range of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s).
Don’t forget that your swimming pool is a major source of exposure to these chemicals as well!
Although POE systems will certainly make for better drinking water, there is no substitute for a dedicated POU system installed right at the tap for your drinking water. This is because water can pick up contaminants in a home’s pipes on the way to the tap.
In fact, combining a whole house filtration system with a point-of-entry water purifier in the kitchen will provide you with the best protection against the widest range of contaminants.
#3: Choose the best water filter for your specific situation
One question I often get from people seeking the best water filter for their home is how to wade through all the options and intelligently choose among all the different types of filtration and purifying technologies available in the market today.
What makes this task even more challenging and confusing is that oftentimes the terms “water filter” and “water purifier” are used interchangeably, even though they are not the same, and in fact are very different.
Filters vs Purifiers
First, it’s important to understand the difference between a filter and a purifier. A water filter is generally comprised of a porous media such as activated carbon contained in a cartridge that can generally improve the taste and odor of your water while reducing the level of many chemical contaminants found in drinking water. The large internal surface area of activated carbon filters make them a great choice for removing the widest range of contaminants, however, it is important to know that the carbon media has to be carefully selected and prepared to be effective in removing contaminants. Oftentimes manufacturers will blend a number of different types of activated carbon together to give you the broadest range of protection.
Unfortunately even these specially designed filters cannot remove all the potential toxins found in our water supply today, so to completely remove these contaminants, an additional water purifier is sometimes required.
Most purifiers on the market are under-counter systems incorporating a reverse osmosis membrane or a deionization cartridge to totally cleanse your drinking water. Reverse osmosis is a process in which purified water permeates through the membrane and is collected in a storage tank for future use while the contaminated water, unable to pass through the membrane, continues to a drain. Reverse osmosis is very effective at purifying our drinking water removing up to 99% of contaminants present.
Some manufacturer combine reverse osmosis with deionization cartridges to extend the range of contaminants that can be effectively removed creating safe, clean water for our drinking and cooking needs. With all the contaminants and toxins removed from your drinking water, it is even possible to restructure, rebalance and remineralize your drinking water. A few multi-stage water purification systems on the market today pass the purified water through specially designed cartridges to add back in those important minerals while energetically rebalancing your water to make it taste and feel the way nature intended.
Avoid Water Distillation!
Whatever you do, avoid water distillation systems.
Distilled water is devoid of dissolved minerals. It is not a healthy water source and can be potentially dangerous to consume on a regular basis (source).
#4: Find the right size system to fit family needs
It is important to have a general idea of how much water your family uses on a daily basis. Not only is this beneficial for conservation and environmental reasons, but it is also necessary for deciding on the size water system that will best fit your home and for calculating how often you may need to service that system.
Each unique water system will have a set capacity for the amount of water that can be effectively cleaned at any given time. So in order for a filter or purifier to work properly, this capacity should roughly match up with, or even slightly exceed your daily water use. Before you go running off to your sink or shower with measuring cups and a calculator, here are some simple questions that can be very helpful for estimating your water needs.
Questions for Sizing the Best Water Filter
- How large is your home?
- How many bathrooms are in your home?
- How many adults and children generally live at your home?
- Are there any other daily activities that require water usage?
With this basic information, a water expert should be able to properly size the best water filter for you. A properly selected system will provide your family with safe, clean water for washing, bathing, showering, cooking or doing your laundry for years to come!
(1) EPA drinking water standards
(2) EPA: Types of drinking water contaminants
(3) British Medical Bulletin: Contaminants in drinking water: Environmental pollution and health
(4) Environmental Health Perspectives: Chemical contaminants in drinking water