The Best Water Filters For Every Budget, And Why They're Worth Buying

Functional Medicine Practitioner By William Cole, D.C., IFMCP
Functional Medicine Practitioner
Dr. Will Cole, D.C., IFMCP, is a leading functional medicine expert who specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Cole is also the bestselling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.
The Best Water Filters For Every Budget, And Why They're Worth Buying

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Even though the water we drink in the United States is regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act since 1974, in my experience, I've found most of us don't go far enough to protect the water we drink for our health. In fact, only 91 pollutants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet more than 60,000 chemicals are used.

One study found 316 contaminants in our water and a staggering 202 of those contaminants had no safety standards. An estimated 132 million Americans in 45 states had unregulated pollutants in their tap water!

A New York Times investigation estimated that from 2004 to 2009, 62 million Americans have been exposed to drinking water contaminated with thousands of unregulated chemicals.

As a functional medicine practitioner, I frequently get asked: What can we do today to take responsibility for the water we drink? Well, I'm glad you asked.

1. Know what's in your water.

Depending on where you live, quality varies, so it's important to know what's in your water. Every year your local water utility sends you a water quality report. Most of us just throw it out, thinking it's junk mail or not useful, but it is! If you don't have yours, you can get them online or by calling your local water utility. Your Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), also known as a water-quality report, compares your water's contaminant levels to the EPA's standards.

This report tells you about the water in your municipality, about what's coming out of your particular tap. Depending on your home or apartments pipes, it's also important to run your own water test as well. Your state or local health department might offer free test kits, or you can find water test kits online or at home improvement stores like Lowe's or Home Depot.

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2. Pick your filtration system.

Once you know what's in your tap water, now it's time to choose the right filter for your needs. There are four main categories: carbon filters, reverse osmosis, UV, and distillation. Let's break down the pros and cons of each.

Carbon filters:

Carbon filters remove fewer contaminants than reverse osmosis filters, but they are cheaper. These include a faucet water filter, a pitcher water filter, an under-sink water filter, and a countertop water filter.

What they remove: lead, PCBs, pesticides and herbicides, chlorine, gasoline and dry-cleaning by-products, radon, small amount of pharmaceutical drugs, and some bacteria and parasites.

There are several ways you use carbon filters. Let's briefly go over the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Faucet water filter:

These filters attach directly to the end of your faucet, hence the name.

Pros: Inexpensive and easy to install. Attach to your faucet and voilà.

Cons: They don't fit all faucets and can slow down flow, which can be annoying. Faucet filters typically require you to change filters more often than other carbon filter options.

Price range: Under $30.

Pitcher water filter:

These are pitchers with an activated carbon filter. You would fill these up and pour from them.

Pros: Inexpensive and no installation needed.

Cons: Some models can pour slowly and filters can clog. They also require more frequent filter changes.

Price range: Under $70.

Under-sink water filter:

These are mounted underneath your kitchen sink, attached to your water line.

Pros: Unlike other models, they don't take up counter or fridge space. They typically require fewer filter changes. Overall more convenient than carafe or faucet filters.

Cons: They require installation, some professionally.

Price Range: $60 to $500

Countertop water filter:

These filters sit on your counter, connecting directly to your faucet.

Pros: Less likely to clog and slow down pour rate. They require less frequent filter changes than the carafe or faucet options.

Cons: They don't fit all faucets and take up counter space.

Price Range: $80 to $1,000.

Reverse-osmosis water filter:

This filtration process uses your water pressure to push water through a semi-permeable membrane that blocks particles.

What they remove: All the chemicals and heavy metal that carbon filters remove and additional ones that they may miss.

Pros: Reverse-osmosis filters are overall more effective at removing pollutants.

Cons: They can be slow and require more upkeep. Reverse osmosis also notoriously wastes water and use up more energy. Look for units that have permeate pumps that decrease water waste.

Price range: $99 to $2,000.

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UV filtration:

This system uses UV light to filter your water.

What they remove: They don't remove things—they only disinfect the water.

Pros: Ultraviolet light units disinfect water, killing bacteria and microorganisms.

Cons: They do not remove chemicals and heavy metals. These are best used in conjunction with a carbon or reverse-osmosis filtration system.

Price range: $100 to $1,000.

Water distillation system:

This filtration approach heats water enough to vaporize it and then condenses the steam back into water.

Pros: Distillation removes heavy metals, fluoride, and bacteria, viruses and chemicals that have a higher boiling point than water.

Cons: Distillers generally use a lot of electricity and require regular cleaning and maintenance. Distillation also cannot remove chlorine and other chemicals that do not have a higher boiling point than water.

Price range: $100 to $1,000.

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So what's the best water filter?

You don't need to break the bank to get a great water filtration system.

If you're on a budget...

I love the Zerowater pitcher system. It’s a combination of filtration and deionization.

Price: Under $50.

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Moderately priced...

The AquaTru Filter is a countertop reverse-osmosis filter that doesn't require any installation.

Price: Around $350.

Most high-end...

Reverse-Osmosis Home system: If you are looking for a quality home system, I recommend The Ultimate Permeate Pumped Reverse-Osmosis Drinking-Water Home System. This is the filter of choice for many celebrities.

Price: from $300.

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What to look for in a water filtration.

There are many different brands of these filters on the market, and they are not all created equal. When buying your filter, look for these National Science Foundation (NSF) standards:

  • NSF Standard 42-Aesthetic Effects: This standard only reduces chlorine and improves the taste and smell of your water.
  • NSF Standard 53-Health Effects: This is the next level of filtration. Look for this standard to remove more chemicals and heavy metals.
  • NSF Standard 58-Reverse Osmosis: This applies only to reverse osmosis systems and removes many toxic pollutants.
  • NSF Standard 401-Emerging Compounds/Incidental Contaminants: This standard covers up to 15 contaminants found in tap water such as pharmaceutical drugs, heavy metals, and flame retardants.

Don't forget about your shower.

If you are filtering your water, it's not just what you drink, it's also what you bathe with. Your skin is your largest organ and is highly absorptive. With a hot shower or bath, you are also inhaling steam.

So whether baths or showers are your thing, Rainshow'r Shower Filter and Crystal Ball Bath Dechlorinator are two great options to decrease chlorine levels.

William Cole, D.C., IFMCP
William Cole, D.C., IFMCP
Will Cole, D.C., IFMCP, is a leading functional-medicine expert and a Doctor of Chiropractic. He...
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William Cole, D.C., IFMCP
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