The Best Water Filters For 2015

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In A Nutshell

I’ve been reviewing water filters for about 12 years. During that time, I’ve become convinced that gravity-fed filters are the best filter you can buy for under $500.

I recommend ProPur or Big Berkey filters. These filters use a combination of ceramic and carbon block filtration. Overall, they are the least expensive type of filters to maintain.

If you are able to spend $2000 to $3000, whole house filters are the way to go. In the long run, they are an inexpensive, hassle-free option. I recommend the whole house filters from Pure Effect Filters — these are made in the USA by a family-run company with an excellent track record.

Personally, I use an Ovopur (pictured below), and supplement it with binchotan charchoal from Japan for filtration.

ovopur

The Details

Here are the typical contaminants you want to remove from water:

  1. Toxic metals (Lead, Mercury, Aluminium, Cadmium, Chromium, Copper, etc.)
  2. Additives (Chlorine, Chloramines, Fluoride)
  3. Chlorination By-Products (Trihalomethanes or THMs)
  4. VOCs and other Organic Compounds (Pesticides, Herbicides, Pharmaceuticals, Fuels)
  5. Bacteria and viruses (Giardia, Cryptosporidium, etc.)
  6. Radioactive substances (Radon and Uranium, etc.)

If you use municipal water, these are the most common contaminants you’ll find:

  • chlorine
  • chloramines
  • fluoride
  • THMs
  • VOCs / organic compounds

If you use well water or other non-municipal water, these are the most common contaminants you’ll find:

  • particulate matter
  • bacteria and viruses
  • VOCs / organic compounds
  • radioactive substances

The Effectiveness Of Different Types Of Water Filters

Pitcher Filters

Pitcher-style filters such as Brita filters are inexpensive units, making them very popular with consumers. However, in the long term, they are actually one of the most expensive option. This is because the filters cartridges require frequent replacement — the cost for 40 gallons is $7-$10 each, or $130-$190 for 750 gallons.

Almost all pitcher-style filters use GAC or “granulated activated carbon” as the filtration medium. Typically, GAC is coconut husks that has been heated to a high temperature in the absence of oxygen (or activated) and then granulated. These types of filter do remove some chlorine and hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs odour), but are not effective at removing VOCs, metals, pesticides or fluoride. Overall, they are not very effective water filters.

My Overall Rating: Poor

Colin Ingram, author of the The Drinking Water Book rates all pitcher filters no higher than “Acceptable”.

Faucet Filters

Filters that attach to your kitchen faucet are very similar to Pitcher Filters, but do filter a little better than the pitcher-style filters. However, they have the same drawbacks — they are expensive to maintain and they do not remove many contaminants. You must replace filters every 100 gallons at $20-$40 each or $140-$180 for 700 gallons.

My Overall Rating: Fair

Colin Ingram, author of the The Drinking Water Book rates all faucet filters no higher than “Acceptable”.

Gravity-Fed Drip Filters

BerkeyHome
In my opinion, the best water filters are gravity-fed drip water filters. These filters are excellent at removing chlorine, chlorination by-products, fluoride, VOCs, pesticides, particulates and pharmaceuticals. These filters use “candle” type filters, which are widely available and can be customized to your specific filtration needs.

Gravity-fed filters require no electricity to operate — water is filtered as it drips from the upper chamber to the lower chamber. Because the water is filtered slowly, the filtration is much more effective than a faucet-mounted filter. Generally, slow filtration methods tend to be best.

Berkey is best-known drip filter manufacturer. They make good quality filters. You might also consider ProPur filters. Their latest filter, the ProOne G 2.0, will remove fluoride — including hydrofluorosilicic acid (few filters remove this contaminant).

These filters use carbon block filtration, which works by the process of adsorption (different than absorption). In this process, the carbon attracts certain contaminants at the molecular level, and the contaminants become attached to the surface of the carbon. Once the surface of the carbon is full, the filter must be thrown out and replaced. However, the ProPur filters can be periodically scrubbed, and thus reused for years.

These filter are certified to NSF/ANSI standards #42 (test for chlorine, taste, odor and particulates), NSF Standard #53 (tests for Cryptosporidium, Giardia, lead, VOCs and MTBE) and NSF Standard #61 (tests that toxins aren’t leached into water). They are manufactured in England.

Berkey filter range in price from $260 to $3380. They are available from Amazon.

Propur filters range in price from $129 to $299. They are available from Amazon.

Overall Rating: Excellent

Reverse Osmosis Filters

ispring-filter

Reverse Osmosis filters use a membrane which removes many contaminants from water. They is usually paired with a Granulated Activated Charcoal filter to remove chlorine. Most reverse osmosis filters are installed under the sink and have a holding tank. The semipermeable membrane separates many contaminates (which usually have a larger particle size that water) from the water and rejects a large amount of water in the process. The result is a waste of several gallons of water for every gallon filtered and many naturally occurring minerals (including calcium and magnesium) are also removed from the water.

However, they are quite effective filters, in terms of removing contaminants. However, they do not reduce VOCs or pesticides (unless a Carbon Block filter is included). They can take up to an hour to filter one gallon of water and the filters need to be replaced regularly.

If you want to got this route, I recommend the iSpring Reverse Osmosis System, which is quite reliable.

Overall Rating: Very Good

Countertop Distillers

Countertop distillers are effective water purifiers, but they take some time to distill water (for example 5 hours to distill 1 gallon). They also require electricity to run, and they give off some heat and the integrated fans make some noise. Also, most distillers do not remove VOCs (like benzene) because they have a lower boiling point that water. So they will vaporize together with the stream, resulting in a contaminated distillate.

Countertop distiller that get a rating of “Excellent” from Colin Ingram in the The Drinking Water Book are: Megahome Countertop DistillerWaterwise 4000 and Waterwise 8800, Kenmore 34480 and Pure Water Mini-Classic.

Megahome Countertop Water Distiller

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This distiller is sold under many brand names — it’s the most widely distributed distiller in the world. It has many quality components despite being inexpensive. It produces 1 gallon of water in 5 hours. The water is passed through a small granular carbon filter. There’s a sealed connections from the distiller to the water collection container, so there is minimal risk of contamination by air. The unit has a stainless steel boiling chamber that is easily accessible for cleaning.

The Megahome Countertop Distiller is available from Amazon for about $150.

Waterwise 4000 Countertop Distiller

This is a more powerful version of the distiller listed above. It has the same features but produces 1 gallon of distilled water in 4 hours. Also received an “Excellent” rating from Colin Ingram in the The Drinking Water Book.

The Waterwise 4000 is available from Amazon for about $280.

Overall Rating: Excellent

The Best Shower Filter Of 2015

The Best Shower Filters Of 2013

In A Nutshell

Almost all popular shower filters available today only remove 20%-80% of free chlorine (not total combined chlorine) from your shower. This includes shower filters that are certified by the NSF #177 Standard — unfortunately this standard only indicates that a filter will remove 50% of free chlorine in the water.

Also, many cities now treat water with chloramines instead of chlorine. There are no conventional shower filters that will remove more than a small amount of chloramines from your shower water. The only way to remove chloramines is to use a Vitamin-C based shower filter which are only made in Korea and Japan.

Here are my recommendations:

  • If you only want to remove free chlorine and other impurities from your water, I recommend getting a Sprite HOB-CM Brass Shower Filter. This is one of the few showers filters that will remove most free chlorine from your shower.
  • If you want to remove both chloramines and chlorine from your shower, I recommend a vitamin-C based shower filter, like the Sonaki In-Line Filter

For optimal filtration, I recommend a Sprite filter followed by a Sonaki In-Line Filter. See my set-up for example:

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Why Filter Your Shower?

Because your skin absorbs substances while showering. Typically, 60% of the chlorine that most people absorb daily comes from showering in chlorinated water. Chlorine damages your hair and skin  — you can read about the hazards of showering in chlorinated water here.

Shower water also contains things like heavy metals and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Ideally, all these things should all be filtered out, but filtering water at the shower head is problematic, because the water is typically hot and under high pressure, making filtration difficult. Carbon filters, which are normally excellent at remove chlorine, cannot handle the volume and heat of shower water.

Because of these problems, most shower filter makers rely on a metallic medium called KDF. Shower filter sellers typically show impressive charts that demonstrate long-term removal of chlorine. However, if you read the tests carefully, you’ll see that they apply to “free chorine” (chlorine that has not combined with other constituents in water), and the unfortunate reality is that KDF-filters have little effect on “total chlorine” (combined chlorine), which is the form in which chlorine exists in most tap water. In fact, chlorine is often added at the water plant as a blend with ammonia called “chloramine.” KDF is not effective at removing chloramine or combined chlorine in general.

Here are the details on my recommended shower filters:

Vitamin C Shower Filter

Vitamin C shower filters are very effective in removing chlorine and chloramines from shower water. Chloramine or NH2Cl  (a combination of chlorine and ammonia) is now commonly being used in place of chlorine for disinfection, but chloramines are not easily removed from water. Carbon filters are virtually useless in showers, because they do not work when the water is warm, and they also get clogged fairly quickly. KDF filters also don’t perform well in hot water, and they don’t remove chloramines. However, Vitamin C filters can remove chloramines effectively from water. To back this up, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission now states on their website that only Vitamin C can be used to remove chlormaines from municipal water. Here is the quote from the Commission:

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) has recently been included in AWWA Standard (AWWA, 2005b) as one of the methods for dechlorination of disinfected water mains. SFPUC and other utilities have used Vitamin C for dechlorination prior to environmental discharges of chlorinated and chloraminated water. Since ascorbic acid is weakly acidic, the pH of water may decrease slightly (Tikkanen et al., 2001). Ascorbic acid has been used for a long time as one of the dechlorinating agents for preservation of chlorinated or chloraminated water samples for laboratory analysis.

The full document can be found here.

Vitamin C filters are simple in design — they contain a solid block of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and water runs through the filter and comes into contact with the Vitamin C. The Vitamin C neutralizes about 99% of the chlorine and chloramines in the water, and their effectiveness does not diminish until the Vitamin C is completely used up.

My recommendation for a Vitamin C showerhead is the Sonaki In-Line Filter

The filters last about 2-4 months before they need replacing, depending on how many showers you take. The filter is transparent, so you can see when the Vitamin C has run out.

Refills for the Sonaki filters are priced at $50 for 5 filters. You can buy them at Amazon.

Sprite HOB-CM Brass Shower Filter

If you are just interested in removing free chlorine and sediment from your water, my recommendation is to use a Sprite HOB-CM Brass Shower Filter. This filter is NSF Certified to standard #177 for shower filtration. It removes most free chlorine and some combined chlorine, sediment, hydrogen sulfide, iron oxide. Besides the fact that it does not remove chloramines, this is pretty good filter, and it is constructed with brass instead of the usual plastic.

The filter comes with a one year warranty, it is rated to filter 20,000 gallons or last 12 months, which ever comes first. It should be flipped half-way through the year. If the O-ring on the filter breaks, Sprite will replace it for free.

You can get the Sprite HOB-CM Brass Shower Filter on Amazon for around $51.

See also my review of low-flow shower heads — these shower heads can be used in conjunction with these filters.

The Best Filters To Remove Fluoride From Water

The Best Filters For Removing Fluoride From Water

In A Nutshell

The best way to remove fluoride from tap water is to use a filter containing Brimac (or bone char) —  these filters will consistently remove 90% of fluoride from water. Another good option is use a Propur drip filter — these filters make use of AquaMetix a new proprietary carbon-based filtration technology — these filters will remove 50% – 85% of fluoride.

The Details

Fluoride is difficult to remove from water. Filters by Brita and Pur use activated carbon, which does not remove any fluoride. The filtration methods listed below are only methods recommended by the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) and the WQA (Water Quality Association) for fluoride filtration.

You also absorb fluoride when showering and bathing. Unfortunately, there are no shower filters that will remove fluoride. But you can get a “whole house” filter for fluoride. A good vendor for “whole house” filters is FilterWater.Com. Another option is to capture rainwater and use it instead of municipal water — see the book Rainwater Collection For the Mechanically Challenged for more information.

Why Remove Fluoride From Your Water?

Fluoride has long been known to be a very toxic substance. This is why, like arsenic, fluoride has been used in pesticides and rodenticides (to kill rats, insects, etc). It is also why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires that all fluoride toothpaste sold in the U.S. carry a poison warning that instructs users to contact the poison control center if they swallow more than used for brushing.

Excessive fluoride exposure is well known to cause a painful bone disease (skeletal fluorosis), as well as a discoloration of the teeth known as dental fluorosis. Excessive fluoride exposure has also been linked to a range of other chronic ailments including arthritis, bone fragility, dental fluorosis, glucose intolerance, gastrointestinal distress, thyroid disease, and possibly cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

Water fluoridation is becoming increasing unpopular around the world, due to health concerns about overexposure to fluoride. Since 2010, over 70 communities have rejected the practice, including cities like Calgary, Alberta (pop. 1.3 million people) and Albuquerque, New Mexico (pop. 500,000) that have voted to end their longstanding fluoridation programs. Most recently, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that Israel must stop adding fluoride into public water supplies in one year, following a a decision on fluoride’s potential toxicity to humans by the Israeli health minister. Most developed nations in the world have rejected fluoridation, including 97% of western Europe. The United States, which fluoridates more than 70% of its water supplies, is an exception to this rule. According to the British Fluoridation Society, there are more people drinking artificially fluoridated water in the United States than all other countries combined.

See also this list of things you can do to avoid fluoride.

A Closer Look At The Filter Types

Bone Char Carbon Filters

Bone Char has been used for centuries to remove naturally occurring fluoride from water. Bone contains a porous matrix that is rich in surface ions. These can be readily replaced by fluoride and by some of the other contaminants that may be present with fluoride (heavy metals). When used alone, Bone Char Carbon filters can remove up to 90% of the fluoride in water. The efficiency of bone char can be improved by adding pre-filters to remove heavy metals and other contaminants before exposure to the bone char. These filters work best at a slightly acidic pH and may not work as well with hard water.

Brimac Filters

Brimac Filter For Fluoride Removal

Brimac is a high calcium bone char. To create, you take bovine (cow) out of cold storage. The bones are thoroughly cleaned and put in sun and rain for at least 90 days and totally dried. It is then carbonized at 1472 degrees Fahrenheit in controlled conditions. The result is Kosher Certified, 100% organic bone char made of 80% phosphate of calcium, 10% carbon and 10% calcium carbonate. It lasts a long time, is non-toxic and leaves behind beneficial minerals.  There is no pH effect and it can remove chlorine, heavy metals and radioactive isotopes on top of fluoride. Bone char is considered a more effective contaminate remover than coconut because it is hundreds of times more porous and contains calcium which attract the fluoride.

My Recommended Brimac Filter: Four Stage Countertop Fluoride Removal System by Promolife.

Activated Alumina Filters

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There are many point-of-use filters that claim to remove fluoride using activated alumina. Activated alumina is aluminum oxide, the same chemical substance as sapphire and rubies, but without the impurities that give the gems their color.

When used properly, these filters can remove up to 98% of the fluoride in water while also removing arsenic. The problem with most of these systems is that they only work for a short period of time (usually far less than claimed) before they become saturated. The other difficulty is that point-of-use systems flow too quickly to allow adequate time for adsorption. When the flow rate is faster than ¼ gallon/minute, there is not enough time to adsorb all the fluoride in the water. Recent testing of a variety of these filters revealed that few functioned as claimed for more than a few weeks.

If you are willing to work with these limitations, this filtration system may work for you.

My recommended activated alumina filter is the Tap Master Jr F2 Counter Top Filter, which costs about $90.

Distilllers

Countertop Water Distiller For Removing Fluoride

Distillation is capable of removing just about anything (except volatile compounds) from water. If you have a distiller, you can remove fluoride. However, distillation takes time and lost of electricity. Distillation makes water taste empty and lifeless. If you use distilled water you need to add minerals back into the water.

My recommended distiller: the Megahome Distiller, which costs about $200.

Reverse Osmosis Filters

Reverse Osmosis Filter For Fluoride Removal

Reverse osmosis relies on pressure and a semi-permeable membrane to remove contaminants from water. It can remove between 90 and 95% of fluoride (depending on the efficiency of the system and depending on how well the system is maintained). Contaminants are trapped by the membrane and flushed away in the waste water. The process requires between 2 and 4 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of clean water. Water with an abundance of contaminants (including hard water) can reduce the efficiency of an Reverse Osmosis system and it can shorten the life of the membrane.

Like distillation, reverse osmosis removes almost everything from water, and makes the water taste flat and empty.

My recommended activated alumina filter is the iSpring 75GPD 5-Stage Filter, which costs about $170, plus any installation costs.

The Best Portable Water Filters Of 2015

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In A Nutshell

Portable water filters have improved in recent years — manufacturers are now producing units that filter contaminants the size of nanometers (a billionth of a meter).

The best portable water filters available today are:

I recommend using a Lifesaver Bottle  for overseas travel, where viruses may be present in the water. For U.S. wilderness water, I recommend the Sawyer Filtration System or the Katadyn Microfilter.

Another reliable method of killing all pathogens in water is using chlorine dioxide tablets, such as Katadyn Micropur Purification Tablets.

The Details

Portable filters are designed primarily to remove pathogens from outdoor water. Some units also include carbon filters to reduce VOCs and toxic metals in the water.

These are the three type of pathogens you want to remove from wilderness water:

Protozoan Cysts (Cryptosporidium parvum, Giardia lamblia)

Size: 1 – 20 microns

Type of filtration needed to remove: Microfiltration, ozonation or reverse osmosis, UV (ultraviolet light)

Bacteria (E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni, Yersinia entercolitica, Leptospira interrogans, etc.)

Size: 0.1 – 10 microns

Type of filtration needed to remove: Microfiltration needed, ozonation or reverse osmosis, UV (ultraviolet light)

Virsuses (hepatitis A, rotavirus, enterovirus, norovirus, Norwalk virus)

Size: 0.025 – 0.1 microns (25 nanometers to 100 nanometers)

Type of filtration needed to remove: Ultrafiltration needed – ozonation or reverse osmosis, UV (ultraviolet light)

Notes On The Pathogens

Protozoan cysts and viruses are present in surface water that has become contaminated by animal or human waste, principally feces. Bacteria, including many beneficial bacteria, naturally occur in water.

Viruses are rarely encountered in North American wilderness waters. Pesticides, herbicides and other toxins and pollutants associated with agriculture and urban development do not normally impact water sources found deep in wilderness areas.

Lifesaver Bottle 6000

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The Lifesaver Bottle was introduced in 2004, and it was the first portable filter to have the capability of removing harmful viruses from water sources. It does this because it able to filter down to 0.015 microns, which is ultrafiltration levels. It also has a carbon filter, which reduces pesticides, endocrine disrupting compounds, medical residues, and heavy metals.

The bottle’s cartridge service rating is 6,000 liters (1,585 U.S. gallons). However, one drawback about this system is that there’s no indication as to when the filters need replacing.

Overall, this an excellent filter for overseas travel.It’s the only self-contained filter that eliminate all water-borne pathogens.

The Lifesaver Bottle 6000 is available from Amazon for about $215.

Sawyer Products Complete 4-Liter Filtration System

The Sawyer Filtration System is an excellent kit, that filters down to 0.02 microns, using a hollow fiber membrane. That’s almost on par with the Lifesaver, with it’s 0.015 micron filtration. Thus, the Sawyer can filter out most pathogen, including viruses.

What’s great about this system is that it almost never needs a replacement filter. The manufacturer has a guarantee that it will filter 1 million gallons before replacement. However, long-time users report the water reservoir bags need replacing after a couple of years.

The Sawyer System is gravity-fed, and allows you to purify 4 liters of water in about 10 minutes.

The Sawyer Products Complete 4-Liter Filtration System is available from Amazon for about $180.

Katadyn Pocket Water Microfilter

The Katadyn was the go-to filter for backpackers before the Lifesaver and the Sawyer systems came along. With a filtration member rated at 0.2 microns, it is still a dependable choice.  The silver-impregnated ceramic element is effective against bacteria and protozoa, and it will filter 50,000 liters (13,000 gallons) before a replacement is needed.

The Katadyn Pocket Water Microfilter is available from Amazon for about $340.

Chlorine Dioxide Tablets

Chlroine dioxide tablets are a good choice for water purification. They will destroy all pathogen in water. Also, they leave no taste in the water (unlike iodine tablets). Like all water treatment tablets, these take 15 minutes to destroy viruses and bacteria, 30 minutes to destroy Giardia, and 4 hours to destroy Cryptosporidium.

I recommend the Katadyn Micropur MP1 Purification Tablets. This is only tablets registered with the EPA.

Boiling Water

You can boil water for one minute to destroy all pathogens. It is a foolproof treatment method. Only one minute of boiling is required. The most heat-resistant pathogen out there is the virus hepatitis A. Even it is believed to expire in less than 1 minute in water heated to 98°C/208°F. It is because of hepatitis A (or maybe just tradition) that some health organizations and wilderness rangers persist in recommending at least 1 minute of boiling time to purify water, and 3 minutes at higher elevations.

Binchotan Charcoal: An Inexpensive Way To Mineralize and Filter Water

Binchotan Pitcher - Water Filter

In A Nutshell

White charcoal or Binchō-tan is a charcoal that loves adsorbing things. Binchotan, which has been produced in Japan for centuries, naturally adsorbs toxins such as chlorine, lead, mercury, cadmium and copper from tap water. It also releases useful minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphates.

To use Binchotan, you simply place a piece of the charcoal into a water pitcher, and leave it to sit for 6-8 hours. After this time, the water in the pitcher will be purified and mineralized.

It is recommended that the Binchotan stick be boiled in a shallow pan of water for 10 minutes every month to keep the exterior pores open. After four months, boil the charcoal stick again. If you don’t see a profusion of bubbles circulating around the charcoal stick when it is returned to the pitcher and water is added, the stick has reached its capacity to absorb toxins. At that point it is ready to be composted in the garden or used as an odor absorber in your refrigerator.

You can get Binchotan on Amazon: 1 pound of Binchotan costs about $18. A single pound will last you 3-6 months depending on the amount of water you purify, and the amount of contaminants in your water. You can also get a portable Binchotan bottle for on-the-go filtration.

Binchotan: A Super-Adsorbent Charcoal

Burning-Binchōtan

Binchō-tan is only made in the forests of Wakayama, a province in southern Japan. The branches of Holm Oak trees are sustainably harvested then slowly fired in traditional kiln ovens over many days.

The very dense wood of a Holm Oak has a multitude of open pores through which the tree breathes, nourishes itself, and redistributes chemicals back into the earth. The microorganisms (which are utterly harmless to humans) that live in these pores efficiently decompose toxic chemicals like chlorine, pesticides and herbicides. This phenomenon of adsorption (not to be confused with absorption) ensures that contaminants stick to the active charcoal until it is completely saturated. This is why it is necessary to reactivate the binchotan every three months by soaking it in boiling water.

Japanese Binchōtan water filtration

The fineness and high quality of binchō-tan are attributed to steaming at high temperatures (about 1000 degrees Celsius). Although it is often thought that binchō-tan burns hot, it actually burns at a lower temperature than ordinary charcoal but for a longer period. It does not release smoke or other unpleasant odors. Binchō-tan or white charcoal is harder than black charcoal, and rings with a metallic sound when struck. Wind chimes and a musical instrument, the tankin (“charcoal-xylophone“) have been made from it.

You can read a FAQ about Binchotan on this page.

A number of Binchotan-inflused products are now on the market: Binchotan pumice stones. Binchotan body scrubsBinchotan eye masks and even Binchotan facial soap.