Q&A: Does Consumer Reports test whole-house water filters?

Consumer Reports News: February 07, 2011 12:51 PM

A: Our tests of water filters focus on carafe, faucet-mounted, countertop, undersink and reverse-osmosis filters because, unlike the whole-house filters, they are designed to remove contaminants from water. Whole-house filters, also known as point-of-entry filters, are designed to remove sediment, rust, and sometimes chlorine. We last tested whole-house water filters four years ago and at the time all rated poorly at removing lead and chloroform from water—although most don’t claim to remove those contaminants.

The test for chloroform is especially important because it indicates how well a water filter will remove bad taste and organic compounds such as atrazine, benzene and the byproducts created by disinfectants used in some water systems. “Whole-house filters are really intended to remove large particles like sediment and rust from large amounts of water,” says John Galeotafiore, the associate director of home improvement in our technical division. “To ask them to remove smaller or more diluted contaminants would make for a more complex, expensive unit that is likely to slow down the flow of water into the home and cause the filter to clog more frequently."

A better strategy, Galeotafiore advises, is to use a whole-house filter for the larger particles, and a point-of-use filter such as a faucet-mounted or undersink model to capture smaller particles such as lead that might be in your water.
Different filter types provide different levels of protection from specific types of contaminants, so a bit of homework will ensure that you’re protected against the most common contaminants in your household water supply. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA requires all water systems to provide an annual Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) to their customers. These CCRs can be less-than clear at times, so you may need help deciperhing it.

If you have well water, the Centers for Disease Control recommends getting it tested each year to check for common pollutants. Call the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791) to find out if your municipality provides free or inexpensive testing or to find a certified testing lab in your area.

—Reporting by Gian Trotta
From the labs: Water filter Buying Guide, Ratings, Recommendations.

Aaron Bailey

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