Written by Maggie Ward, MS, RD, LDN
Water Filtration

Water Filtration

Clean water is at the foundation of good health. All over the world, assess to clean water has become increasingly difficult due to changes to the climate and pollution contaminating ground water. As we work to find ways to protect and preserve our water sources, it’s important to make sure the water you and your family consume is as clean as possible. Water filters offer one of the best solutions. Recently, I dug into the most up-to-date information on this topic to make sure my current home water filter was the best it could be for my water source. Below is a summary of what I found and hope it helps you make the best decision for you and your family.

Types of Filters

There are a few main technologies used to filter water: carbon, reverse osmosis, ION exchange (or a combination of these), and distillation.

  • Carbon filtration is the least expensive option and can significantly lower common contaminants like lead and chlorine. There are different forms of carbon filters that vary in their ability to remove contaminants. Activated carbon that is made into hard blocks are most effective, while granulated activated carbon tends to be less effective because there is less surface area that comes into contact with the water.
  • Reverse osmosis (RO) is a combination of activated carbon and sediment filters. It can therefore remove a greater number of contaminants like arsenic and fluoride. The downsides of RO filtration are the expense and the amount of water they waste, up to 5 times the amount of water you get from them! RO also removes healthy minerals like magnesium, calcium, and iron.
  • Water softeners use an ION exchange system to lower the amount of minerals like calcium and magnesium to protect pipes but will also remove radium and barium. Unfortunately, it is not good at removing other contaminants. Distilling water will also remove some microbes, certain chemicals and minerals by heating the water into steam and collecting the steam.

In addition to choosing the type of filter you want to use; you also need to determine if you want a whole house system (filtering water at the site where it enters the house) or “point of use” filter like a faucet or countertop water pitcher. The advantage of a whole house system is you will have clean water for all uses, including the shower. The downsides are a bigger financial investment, wasted water, and removing chlorine which can increase bacterial growth in the plumbing.

Researching My Filter

Once you determine the type of filter to use, you want to decide on the brand. I read through well-respected certification sites like NSF International (National Sanitation Foundation), Water Quality Association and the Environmental Working Group to see what they were suggesting. Here are the steps you can take:

  1. The first step is to find out what contaminants are in your water. You can request a report from your town Water Department (this should also be available online) or if you have a well, you’ll have to have it checked by either the town/city or a private company. Keep in mind these won’t be showing what your pipes may add to the water. When I reviewed the water quality report from my town online, everything that was checked was listed within allowable limits of federal guidelines. However, when I cross referenced this with the EWG Tap Water Database, they found 12 contaminants, 7 of which exceeded EWG Health Guidelines. As they point out, acceptable levels don’t necessarily mean optimal! My home water filter was a LifeStraw countertop glass pitcher from Vestergaard that has an activated carbon + ION exchange filter and a membrane microfilter. But was this enough to remove those 7 containments? I had to dig further.
  2. I referenced the NSF to see how they rated my filter. The contaminants checked were microplastics, lead, mercury, nominal particulates class 1 and chlorine for which NSF only noted a “reduction” in all of these. Whether that reduction is optimal or not, I had no idea. If you want to search for filters that remove a specific contaminant, this is a helpful link: Filter Guide.
  3. My final step was to go to the company’s website. I researched what type of internal testing they conduct, whether they have 3rd party testing, as well as internal/external data sheets with a list of contaminates tested. I was impressed by what I found on LifeStraw’s website including an extensive list of tested contaminants including heavy metals (chromium, copper, lead, mercury and cadmium), pesticides like glyphosate and atrazine, as well as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances FOA and PFOS (now classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”). Unfortunately, some of the contaminants found in my water were either not removed or removed at amounts that it did not meet NSF standards.


My Final Verdict

I really like my LifeStraw water filter, not only for the quality, but it’s also a climate neutral/certified B corporation that donates filters to areas around the world most in need of clean water. But since it doesn’t seem to significantly remove some of the contaminants that are at the highest levels, I set off on a search for a new filter. I rent my home and due to the extra cost and water waste, I decided to stick with a countertop carbon filter. I chose a Berkey filter that has a special carbon composite with other media that creates a microfiltration system that removes everything I was looking for.   

Below are my top picks for different forms of both carbon and reverse osmosis filters (RO).

Type of Filter Brand
Carbon- faucet PUR
Carbon- countertop Berkey
Carbon- whole house AquaSana
Carbon- travel water bottle LifeStraw
RO- countertop AquaTru
RO- whole house Culligan

One last point, if you currently have a filter and, like me, wonder if it removes your water’s top contaminants, there is a shortcut you can take. You can have your water (pre- and post-filtration) sent to a private company for analysis. I recently had a client do this and found the results impressive. The National Testing Laboratories LTD is the company they used and here is their site. It will cost you some money up front but may be worth the savings and health benefits in the long run!


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