Choosing a Water Filter: How Do I Pick One?

Charlie Hardcastle

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Lack of clean water can have devastating effects on human health. However, it takes time and resources to collect water from distant locations, so most villages and communities do not have access to safe drinking and cooking water. The same goes for cities, where water is distributed and regulated by the authorities.

“Pure water” does not mean that it’s completely free from contaminants. Regardless of whether your water comes from a nearby well or the city, it does not hurt to invest in a high-quality water filter; if anything, it is an investment in your health. Fortunately, there are many water-filtering products available for home and commercial use that can improve the quality of your tap water considerably.

One of the most important ways to protect your health is to filter your water before cooking. The chlorine and chemical additives present in water can change the taste and color of foods. This is especially true for raw foods. And while most of us don’t realize it, our food can be contaminated without us knowing it. For these reasons, it is essential to make sure that you use water that is entirely free of chemicals and other volatile organic compounds.

So, what type of water filter is the most effective at removing contaminants like heavy metals?

Common Water Contaminants

Now before you choose or invest in a water filter, it is essential to understand what you are dealing with in the form of water contamination. Whether your water comes from the city or a nearby well, you will need to deal with a couple of contaminants depending on where you live.

Most people are aware of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, which was brought on by the discovery of lead and possibly Legionella bacteria. Unfortunately,  similar situations are still reoccurring throughout the U.S. In Newark, New Jersey, the city was handing out bottled water to residents because it was found that their water supply contained dangerous levels of lead, pharmaceuticals, nitrates, bacteria, and more. Because of these incidents, the federal government passed the Safe Drinking Water Act.

There are several different contaminants in water, and some are naturally occurring. Among them are bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and metals. These microbes are found in soil and plants, but some are harmful to humans and animals. For example, runoff from factory farms contaminates groundwater and surface water. The EPA has established a limit of 10 parts per million for each nutrient, now the legal limit in many states.

Other contaminants that can cause illnesses include nitrates, chloride, and chromium. While there is no scientific proof that all nitrates are dangerous, they can significantly impact human health. Even high levels of nitrates can harm a newborn’s nervous system. Infants and toddlers are particularly susceptible, with nitrates being shown to interfere with the development of their nervous system.

Manganese-contaminated water can have brownish or black sediment. The taste is bitter and may be unpleasant. Arsenic is another contaminant that can affect the water. It is a mineral that occurs naturally in rocks and in pollution, primarily affecting well water. In recent years the EPA has linked high levels of arsenic in water to cancer.

Iron and manganese are among the most common contaminants found in water. These two contaminants can interfere with thyroid hormone production and cause severe health effects.

In addition, high concentrations of Manganese in the water can interfere with memory, attention, and motor skills. It is also known to cause diarrhea and kidney failure. The most common sources of manganese contamination in water are agricultural products, sewage, and industrial runoff.

What Water Filteration System Should I Buy? 

There are many types of household water filters, making it challenging to determine which is the best one for you. In general, whole-house carbon-based filters are the best choice for most people. They generally cost under $800 and can filter up to 300,000 gallons of water, enough for the average family of four. These systems will have a pre-filter that filters out large particles and some even come with ultraviolet light filters. Most have a copper-zinc blend to remove chlorine, lead, and dissolved metals. Then there’s the activated carbon filter, which eliminates dangerous organic compounds.

There are several different types of household water filters on the market, so choosing the best one for your needs is essential. You can use the NSF database to check if a filter is certified. In addition to NSF certification, look for the label stating the contaminants reduced by the filter. This will help narrow down your search. Also, read the label carefully and verify manufacturer claims. If you buy a filter at a store, ensure the representative understands your specific needs.

What Is Water Filter Performance Certification?

When buying a water filter, you will want to check its NSF rating. Generally, this means that the water filter’s performance has been tested and certified as per the standards identified by NSF International and the American Standards Institute.

These same standards have been adopted by other providers like the Water Quality Association.

The certification is broadly based on the number of contaminants the water filter can reduce below the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) determined by the EPA and the various filtration technologies tested.

The best way to understand this is with an example. For instance, NSF 42 and ANSI standard 53 is for a carbon filter, with reverse osmosis standard set at 58 and 62 for water distillation.

NSF certification is mandatory in some US states while voluntary in others.

How To Buy Water Filters?

Buying a household water filter is not an easy task. You will want to start by testing the water you use to determine what harmful contaminants need to be removed. This will help you select the best filter for your needs.

Alternatively, you can order a home water test kit to check your water quality. These kits are easy to use, inexpensive, and are readily available online.

Once you know what contaminants need to be removed from the water, the next step is choosing a system. While there are various water filters, some work using carbon filtration, others use reverse osmosis, while larger commercial units are designed to remove every impurity possible.

Suffice to mention that no filter can remove every contaminant or chemical in the water. In other words, you will have to live with some substances in the water. If you want everything removed and opt for this often much more expensive filter, it is worth adding that these filters even remove minerals.

There are two leading filtering technologies, i.e., reverse osmosis and carbon filtering. Depending on the type of water they get, most homes will be able to ensure that their water is safe to drink with any one of these systems.

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis systems filter water at high pressure removing contaminants as small as 0.0001 microns. The number of gallons per day per filter is dependent on the water source, but most systems can handle up to 100 gallons. A lower GPD system will not require pre-filters, but a higher GPD one will.

Reverse osmosis systems work by passing clean water through a membrane. Then, the water passes through a post-filter, removing odors and other tastes. Many systems also have a storage tank to provide instant access to clean water on demand.

Reverse osmosis is an excellent choice for a home that requires a standalone water filtration unit. Restaurants are increasingly using reverse osmosis to improve food safety and taste. The filtration process is effective in removing 99.9% of dissolved solids. Depending on your needs, advanced systems can include more filtration stages.

Some reverse osmosis systems have a carbon or sediment filter to remove sediment from the water before it reaches the membrane. This filter helps prevent deposits from impeding the performance of the membrane, ensuring it lasts longer.  

How to choose a reverse osmosis water filtration system?

Reverse osmosis systems come in a variety of prices, so be sure to compare features and costs. Remember that one size does not fit all, so choosing a system to meet your needs is essential. The cheapest methods may not be as effective at removing most contaminants, so a more robust model is probably your best bet.

Another consideration is brand reputation. A reputed brand’s product is more likely to last and perform better than a budget one. Yet there is no reason to choose one that’s extraordinarily expensive because the technology does have its limits that can’t be bypassed despite the higher price tag.

The reverse osmosis system should be relatively easy to install. However, installing most reverse osmosis filters or even water filters, in general, requires plumbing skills.

If you’re buying a new reverse osmosis system, make sure it comes with a warranty. A manufacturer’s warranty is essential for people who invest in a new water filter for their entire home. Reverse osmosis systems are expensive, so you want to ensure that they last for years.

Carbon Filters

Carbon is a naturally occurring substance, and most of it is produced from coal. However, other substances, such as coconut shells, can also be turned into carbon and used. Carbon filters have proven highly effective at removing certain types of organic water contaminants. The coconut shell carbon is particularly good at removing trihalomethanes, a group of chemicals present in the water. Some specialty carbon is catalytic carbon, used to remove hydrogen sulfide gas, the culprit behind the smell of “rotten egg” in some types of well water.

 It is estimated that one pound of granular carbon has a filtering surface area equivalent to more than 125 acres. In addition to removing organic compounds, carbon filters are also very effective at removing chlorine byproducts, which is an important feature, mainly because water delivered by the city has high levels of chlorine.

Carbon filters are classified according to their micron rating. The micron size of the particles in the carbon filters varies. Generally, 0.5-mm-sized particles are the most effective, but some larger particle sizes help remove certain chemicals and odors from the water, but it is important to note that the pore size of the carbon filters is an essential part of their efficacy.

The way most commonly available carbon water filters work is to push water through the pores of the carbon block. All impurities larger than the pores are absorbed and accumulate on the surface of the block. The positively charged activated carbon also attracts the negatively charged particles of chemicals like that of Chlorine, which helps eliminate the bad taste and smell from the water.

The most common carbon filtering system is a whole-house one. The filtering unit is integrated into the plumbing in your home, excluding the faucets on the outside. It removes chemicals that would otherwise be ingested or inhaled, eliminating the odor and taste associated with chemically-laden water.

How to Choose A Carbon Water Filtration System?

As you’d imagine, not all carbon water filtration systems are equal, and they may not be ideally suited to your home or business. Ideally, you will want to buy and install a “whole home” system that’s directly integrated into the plumbing. The beauty of this is procedure is that you get good drinking and cooking water straight from the faucet. It can also be a lot cheaper in the long term compared to a stand-alone system.

You can expect to pay more for filters by more reputed brands in terms of pricing. However, we strongly advise that you pay the extra money since these brands back their filters with a warranty, and the filter will filter out all the impurities as advertised. The carbon blocks used for these filters will also be easy to find and replace when the time comes.

Final Word

It is important to understand that there will always be some contaminants in your water, regardless of whether it comes from private wells or the municipal. However, seeing as how important water quality is to our health it is worth doing our part to remove contaminants by using the best possible water filtration system.

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