Water Filter
Buying Guide

Photo of someone pouring a glass of water from their water filter.
Water Filter Buying Guide

Find the Best Water Filter

Water filters can improve the taste of your water and they may even protect your from harmful contaminants. The filters have become simpler to install and more convenient to maintain. Our tests of carafes, faucet-mounted, undersink, countertop, and reverse-osmosis filters found options suitable for removing lead and many common contaminants.  

1

What's In Your Water?

Your Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), also known as a water quality report, states the levels of contaminants detected in the water and how that compares to the EPA's drinking water standards. The EPA requires community water suppliers to provide a CCR to customers every July. If you rent an apartment, contact your building manager or local water company for a copy. Community water systems providing water to 100,000 or more people must post the reports online. The EPA doesn't regulate private wells so a CCR isn't required. The CDC offers information on testing and treatment. 

The water-quality report tells you about the water in your municipality, not necessarily about what's coming out of your particular tap. And if your home was built before lead-free pipes were mandated in 1986, a test is the best way to access your home's water quality. There's no safe level of lead exposure, according in to the EPA. One way to reduce lead is to run the water until it's as cold as it will get—up to two minutes or so—when the faucet has not been used for at least six hours. 

Your state or local health department might offer free test kits, and test kits are sold at home improvement stores. The EPA suggests sending samples to a certified lab for analysis. Your local water authority can offer a list of labs, check the EPA's list, or call the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.  

2

Fit the Filter to Your Needs

Our tests of water filters found models suitable for removing lead and chloroform. A filter's ability to remove chloroform predicts how well it will remove a range of organic contaminants, such as benzene and atrazine. 

Once you know what's in your tap water, consider filter types that best suit your family's water consumption and budget. Contaminant removal claims vary, even within filter types, so read the box and pick a filter that is certified by the NSF, formerly known as the National Sanitation Foundation,and designed to reduce the contaminants found in your water. 

The tested models range from $20 for a carafe filter to $1,800 for a reverse-osmosis model, and all have filters that must be replaced periodically to function effectively. Click the Features & Specs tab in the Ratings to compare the costs of replacing filters. It ranges from $18 to nearly $400, and note that some reverse-osmosis systems require professional installation and maintenance. You'll also see which models have a filter-life indicator, which tells you when it's time to change the filter. 

Use our Water Filter Ratings to narrow your choices. You'll find big differences in contaminant removal, flow rate, and clogging within some filter types.  

3

Filtering Your Choices

Factor in budget, water consumption, maintenance, and most importantly, the contaminants found in your water.  

Photo of a carafe water filter.

Carafe Water Filter

The best model tested did an excellent job removing lead and chloroform without sacrificing cartridge life or flow rate. Some others were slow, prone to clogging, and have a short filter life. A carafe or two stored in the refrigerator might suffice for one or two people, but isn't ideal for a family that consumes several gallons of water a day.

Price of tested filters: $20 to $68.

Carafe Water Filter Ratings
Photo of a faucet-mounted water filter.

Faucet-Mounted Water Filter

If you're looking for easy installation, these are a good choice for filtering drinking and cooking water. Simply unscrew the aerator from the threaded tip of the faucet and screw on the filter. Faucet-mounted filters let you switch between filtered and unfiltered water. On the downside, they slow water flow, and don't fit on all faucets, including ones with a pull-out sprayer. 

Price of tested filters: $19 to $30.

Faucet-Mounted Water Filter Ratings
Photo of a countertop water filter.

Countertop Water Filter

Remove the faucet aerator, then screw the filter onto the faucet. This allows you to filter large quantities of water without modifying the plumbing. Countertop filters are less likely to clog than carafe or faucet-mount filters. But they can clutter a countertop, and they don't fit all faucets.

Price of tested filters: $100 to $1,000.

Countertop Water Filter Ratings
Photo of an under-sink water filter.

Under-Sink Water Filter

Like countertop filters, these can filter lots of water. Instead of cluttering the counter, they rob space from the cabinet beneath the sink. They may also require professional plumbing modifications, and drilling a hole for the dispenser through the sink or countertop.

Price of tested filters: $70 to $450.

Under-Sink Water Filter Ratings
Photo of a reverse-osmosis water filter.

Reverse-Osmosis Water Filter

Using standard household water pressure, water is forced through a semi-permeable membrane, then through filters. Reverse-osmosis filters can remove a wide range of contaminants, including dissolved solids. They can be extremely slow, rob cabinet space, and typically create 3 to 5 gallons of waste water for every gallon filtered. You must sanitize them with bleach periodically, and the membrane and filters must be replaced, per manufacturer's recommendation. 

Price of tested filters: $155 to $1,800.

Reverse-Osmosis Water Filter Ratings
4
The company's e-Spring countertop filters—which treat water with ultraviolet-light technology—are sold through Amway dealers. The countertop model is priced at about $1,000.
This company's countertop models use a dual-filtration system that includes an ion-exchange method in the water-filtration process. Its products are sold online and in plumbing-supply outlets.
The Clorox-owned brand dominates the pitcher category and also offers faucet-mounted models with electronic filling-change indicators. One disposable faucet-mounted filter is designed for easy installation and removal and disposal when its useful life expires. Brita water filters are available in the same retailers and in the same price range as PUR products.
Its filters are sold through Culligan independent dealers nationwide and online. The company offers a wide range of products. One line of its single-stage filters comes in different sizes, and you can chose a model based on household needs, uses, and size. The filters are also easy to snap on and off. The Aqua-Cleer line offers a multistage-filtration system that uses up to four filters at a time.
GE is the major brand in under-sink water filters, with cartridge and reverse-osmosis types available. Its carafe models offer a filter-change indicator with an electronic LED, sliding lid integrated into cover, self-leveling spout, and low-battery LED indicator. All brands are offering products with more-ergonomic handles. You'll find GE filters at Home Depot stores nationwide.
Kenmore offers dual-stage systems and a reverse-osmosis system. The Elite dual stage and its reverse-osmosis system come in a cabinet that sits on its base and does not need to be mounted, unlike most other systems. The filters include a filter-life indicator.
Helen of Troy's PUR brand dominates the faucet-mounted market. The manufacturer offers a wide range of products with features such as a filter-life indicator. They also offer filter pitchers. PUR is available at national chains such as Walmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Lowe's, Home Depot, and Sears and at hardware and plumbing-supply stores, drug stores, and online retailers.
Whirlpool offers reverse-osmosis and dual-stage systems and include replacement indicators. They are sold at Lowe's.
This brand includes filter pitchers, dispensers, and wattle bottles/filters. They use a multi-stage filtration process and are sold at most big box stores.