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Water filters not only help improve the flavor of your water but also protect you from impurities such as rust particles and harmful contaminants such as bacteria and lead. Sure, bottled water is easily available as a quick and (initially) cheap solution, but water filters are more sustainable—and will save you money in the long run.
There are, however, countless types of water filters available on the market, each differing in what they remove from your water. These include under-sink filters, faucet attachments, whole-house filtration systems, pitcher filters, and more. While there isn't a one-size-fits-all filter solution, we help narrow down the list of the best water filters based on your needs. Each item included in this roundup has either been certified by the NSF, a health and safety standards testing company, or tested and certified by an independent third party to NSF standards.
Uses five stages of filtering
Easy to install
Many say water tastes very clean
Takes up a lot of space under the sink
A highly efficient system, and also an attractive option, the filtering system is designed to be placed under the sink but can also be placed in a basement or attached garage with the water routed to the sink for easy dispensing with the included faucet. Along with the typical lead and other heavy metals, bacteria, and chlorine, this removes as many as 1,000 different unwanted contaminants from the water.
The CDC notes that no filter can eliminate all contaminants, and many are specialized. To know what contaminants need to be removed, certified labs can test water from private wells or cisterns, but it’s easier for consumers who get water from their city because a Consumer Confidence Report is sent annually with your water bill.
This filtering system uses five separate stages of filtering to remove 99 percent of contaminants. It has a sediment filter, two stages of carbon filters, a reverse osmosis filter, and a coconut fiber filter. Filters need to be changed at different intervals; the first three last six to 12 months, while the two stages can last two to four years.
Installation is designed to be a DIY project, but specialized tools may be required to install the faucet if there isn’t already a hole drilled in the sink or counter that can accommodate the new faucet. Still, most reviewers like that the installation instructions were very clear and that the system was relatively quick and easy to install.
Easy to install
LED light indicates when filter needs replacing
Doesn't work with pull-out or handheld faucets
When an under-sink filter is too much trouble, but pitchers aren’t sufficient, a faucet attachment can be the perfect fit. Many customers who rated this filter highly did so because of how simple it is to install: It mounts easily to the existing faucet without any tools. Plus, it removes a host of common contaminants like lead and other heavy metals, chlorine, pesticides, and more. The internal filter is easy to change, which is necessary every two to three months based on average water use. A sensor checks the filter and indicates when it’s time for a change, so there’s no need to track time or usage.
Since there are plenty of times when filtered water isn’t required, this makes it simple to switch filtering on and off, so drinking water is clean and cold brew coffee tastes right, but dishes can be rinsed in unfiltered water. This includes three different adapters to fit common faucets, but it won’t work with pull-out or handheld faucets.
Doesn't require electricity to set up
Can last through 1,000,000 gallons
Can be challenging to install
Most water filtration systems are designed for kitchen use, but if the local water supply is so off-putting that brushing your teeth makes your mouth feel dirtier than before, a whole-house filtration system may be the best option. Not only will the water from all the faucets be clean and drinkable, but the shower and tub will thank you, too.
This system filters and conditions the water, so it removes heavy metals, chlorine, pesticides, and contaminants while leaving beneficial—and tasty—minerals behind. Several customers who typically deal with hard city water treated with heavy chlorine claim that the chemical odor was completely removed and their water is softened adequately. A less expensive option that filters but doesn’t condition is also available, as are several other filtering options, so there’s something for every need. The system itself is rated to last for ten years or 1 million gallons, but filters need to be changed about every three months.
The CDC has a wealth of information to help you decide which type of water filter is best for your home. One word of caution about whole-house systems: According to the CDC, "filtering that removes chlorine might increase growth of germs in all the pipes in your house."
Note that while all of Aquasana's filtering systems are NSF-certified to remove PFOA and PFOS, the whole-house system in its entirety is not certified because the company cannot guarantee that contaminants are not in the house's pipes and not being picked up after going through the system.
Includes water quality meter
Some say filters don't last long
Great for small spaces, this pitcher holds 6 cups, so it won’t take a lot of space in the refrigerator or on the counter. It’s great for filtering drinking water for singles or small families and is small enough to bring to the office or when traveling. While it might take several batches to fill a large pot for making stock, this will work for small cooking tasks.
This filter removes chromium, lead, and other heavy metals along with all solids. Several reviewers commented that the filtered water tastes just as good, if not better, than bottled water. The filter also includes a water quality meter, so users can test their water before and after filtering.
Has an electronic filter-change reminder
Some say it's slow to pour
Let’s face it: Most water filter pitchers are built for function, but they don’t look great for serving. The last thing a host wants is for guests to be wondering how bad the water really is, so this pitcher hides the filter from view with an attractive design element. Since it filters as it pours, there’s no waiting for clear, tasty water. Just fill it and bring it to the table to fill water glasses. Most customers are happy with the flavor of the filtered water; however, some note that it pours more slowly the less water there is in the pitcher.
This holds 12 cups and is designed to fit the fridge, so it’s ready to dispense chilled water when you want it. It has an electronic filter change reminder, so you don’t have to chart time or usage. It’s made from BPA-free plastic and the filters are recyclable through TerraCycle.
Comfortable silicone mouthpiece
Filter needs cleaning after each use
Built for camping but great for on-the-go drinking (particularly when you’re not sure of the water supply when you’ll be refilling), this travel bottle has an integrated two-stage filter. It removes bacteria and protozoa from lake or stream water, while it also removes odor, contaminants, and chlorine from funky tap water. Many customers who used the bottle when camping or traveling to places such as India and several countries in Central America claim that the water tasted great regardless of the source.
This holds 23 ounces, so it won’t need to be refilled constantly, but it’s also convenient for carrying. The silicone straw/mouthpiece is comfortable to drink from, and the bottle is designed to be leak-proof so that you can throw it in a backpack without worry. This comes in a variety of colors and designs, so everyone in the family can pick their favorite.
The APEC Top Tier 5-Stage Ultra Safe Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Filter System earns our top spot because of its five-stage filtering system and simple installation. Plus, most reviewers praise how clean and smooth the resulting water tastes. If neither under-sink filters nor pitchers is an option, try the PUR PFM400H Chrome Horizontal Faucet Mount with 1 MineralClear Filter; it's attractive, effective, and you don't need tools to install it.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie has lived and worked in areas of the country where the water was rated in the top ten in the country … and she’s lived in areas where the water was decidedly unpleasant. Over the years, she’s tested a variety of models and done her research on the rest. Associate Commerce Editors Taylor Rock and Fran Sales researched and contributed to this piece, incorporating information from Rick Andrew of NSF International’s Global Water program.
What to Look for When Buying a Water Filter
There are two reasons to get a water filtration system, explains Rick Andrew of NSF International, a health and safety standards testing company that certifies water filtration systems. Because drinking water in the U.S. is generally very safe, it's more likely that you’ll want a water filter to improve taste or remove hard minerals and protect your pipes; hard water (i.e., water with high mineral content) can damage pipes and water fixtures with buildup.
However, there are still times when you may want a system that can filter out more dangerous contaminants like lead or man-made chemicals that are increasingly present in our water. If you are on well water, have old pipes, or live in an area with unsafe drinking water, you may need a water filter to remove contaminants like lead or to remove actual particles like sand.
If you are on city water, you can look at the annual water reports to see what kinds of contaminants are in that water. Even if your municipal water is safe, you may have old pipes that could be leaching contaminants into your water. Adding a water filter can help remove those impurities. Filters certified to remove chlorine, for example, can also encourage hydration by making water more enjoyable to drink.
Because effective filtration is so important (and because it’s so hard to actually be able to tell if it’s working), certification is one of the only ways you can actually be sure your water filter is removing the contaminants its packaging claims it is. The NSF, where Andrew works, is one certifying body. Other certifications to look for are the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Water Quality Association (WQA). There is no one-size-fits-all certification, so it’s important to know what you want removed from your water. For example, the NSF offers certification for removing a certain amount of chlorine and a separate one for removing lead. The more certifications a filter has, the more contaminants it can remove.
Andrew cautions that you just need to make sure it’s actually certified. Marketing jargon to look out for is things like “filters to NSF standards,” which does not mean it has been independently tested. An earlier version of our list included several water filters that were removed based on similar language that made it unclear whether they were independently tested.
You will also want to consider your household’s water consumption when purchasing a filter. A smaller pitcher for a dorm or apartment, for example, may be fine. But for larger households (or if you want to filter water for cooking as well as drinking), faucet or under-sink filters may make more sense. Refilling a pitcher doesn’t take a huge amount of time, but if you need to do it several times a day, it can be easy to give up on it and simply go back to drinking unfiltered water from the tap.
Filter cost is another thing to consider. A water filtration system is only as good as its filters, so be sure to factor them in, including price, availability, and how often they need to be replaced when deciding on your filtration system.
Water filtration systems can either cost thousands of dollars or, if you’re getting a small pitcher, around $20. The good news is that both systems can effectively remove contaminants from the water. You can get an affordable water filter for personal use without spending much—but make sure to look for certifications. Also, consider the cost of the water filter and how often it will have to be replaced when deciding what you want to spend.
Types of Water Filters
When we think of water filters, a pitcher is the first thing that comes to mind, but water filters can be used at almost every point of water's journey through your home.
Whole-home systems filter all the water coming into your home. The most common kind, says Andrew, is a water softener that will help remove minerals and “soften” your water. Since hard water is bad for pipes and water fixtures, a whole-house filtration system makes the most sense. Because this type of system filters water for the whole house, it's often expensive and time-intensive to set up.
If you are filtering for contaminants or taste in your drinking water, a point-of-use filter is also an option. These can be filters that attach to the sink or under the sink where you get drinking water. Andrew emphasizes that whole-house filtration, unless you are on a well, is generally only for softening water, and that these point-of-use systems are sufficient if you’re filtering out contaminants. Under-sink filters are often easier to install than whole-home systems, but are more expensive than faucet attachments or pitchers.
Like under-sink filters, faucet attachments offer instant access to filtered water at a place where you would be getting drinking water, such as the kitchen sink. These filters can typically be attached to most standard sinks, though they won't work with more unique sink setups, like a pull-down faucet with a spray nozzle. A faucet attachment will typically allow you to filter only the water you want to drink, and let unfiltered water come through for things like washing dishes. If your water is safe and you are only filtering it to improve taste, this should be sufficient. This type of system also puts less pressure on the filter by only filtering the water you need.
Pitchers don’t offer the convenience of a sink filter because they need to be refilled. But, Andrew points out, some people prefer pitchers because they allow you to chill filtered water, which can make it more enjoyable to drink. It’s also the easiest to set up. Furthermore, if you are only filtering water for taste, you may find a faucet filter to be bulky and unnecessary while you do things like wash dishes or your hands at the sink. But, again, this comes down to preference, and both faucet attachments and pitchers are capable of filtering out contaminants.
Countertop water filtration systems work similarly to faucet filters by diverting water from the sink into a filtration system with its own tap. Other countertop filtration systems need to be filled, acting like water coolers; these can be bulkier than pitchers, but require less frequent refilling. They do offer the advantage of allowing you to place filtered water anywhere in your home, away from a water source.
Water bottles can also filter water and thus be certified by the NSF and ANSI. They can filter water as you fill the water bottle or as you drink it. Water bottles can be a great option if you want to drink filtered water on the go, and they're a great alternative to buying water bottles. But many home water filtration brands and filters are designed to remove contaminants from treated water. If you want a water filter for hiking or getting water from sources like creeks and rivers, you’ll need to be extra sure that the filtration system you're buying can remove bacteria and other organisms found in nature.
While filters of all types can do a great job of removing contaminants, Andrew adds that no filter can actually remove all contaminants. Any filter that claims it can remove all or 100 percent of contaminants is misrepresenting itself, and no certifying body would verify those claims. The technology just doesn’t exist, says Andrew.
Nowadays, the term “Brita pitcher” has basically come to mean a filtered water pitcher. Brita’s filters all come with NSF certifications, and its pitchers are popular for their ease of use: drop a filter into the pitcher and you’re good to go. Brita also offers a wide array of pitchers and filtration systems, including faucet filters and water bottles. Brita does not offer under-sink or whole-home filtration systems, however. And not all Brita filters are created equal: Depending on what you want filtered out of the water, make sure to check for those certifications.
Pur and Brita offer very similar products: basic filters that remove contaminants for taste as well as for mercury and other contaminants, and more expensive filters that can also remove lead and an even higher percentage of contaminants. Pur does offer the most certifications in its basic and more expensive filter.
APEC offers a whole-house filtration system in addition to countertop filtration systems. The company’s whole-home systems are designed to remove things like odor and chlorine, as well as minerals that can cause scaling on appliances.
Water filter systems, no matter the size or type, are not a one-and-done purchase. Filters don’t last forever; they'll eventually stop effectively filtering water. This can have two effects, Andrew says. For starters, the water can start to flow more slowly through the filter itself. More seriously, the filter can also stop effectively filtering water, letting the contaminants stay in the water. Filters all come with a lifespan on them, from a few months to a few years. NSF certifications test to ensure that the filter can continue to remove contaminants for as long as its listed lifespan and even allow for a little bit of time on the end.
“But, at some point, it's just not going to work anymore,” Andrew says. Replacing your water filter per manufacturer instructions is just as important as purchasing the right filtration system in the first place.
As brands try to set themselves apart in the filtration space, different accessories and add-ons have popped up, like Bluetooth capabilities and sensors to monitor filter effectiveness. While these can be appealing bells and whistles, they are not necessary. If you follow manufacturer guidelines on replacing filters, for example, the sensor is unnecessary. Ultimately, what matters is if the filter itself is capable of removing the impurities you want removed.