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The Complete Beginners Guide to Water Filters

The Complete Beginners Guide to Water Filters

If you’re like most people, you want to drink clean water but aren’t sure where to start. Or, perhaps you’ve looked into all the different types of water filters and found yourself totally confused. There’s a good reason for this! The information available is complex, sometimes misleading or conflicting and there’s so much to digest. Until now.

You don’t need to become a water quality expert to choose the best water filter. We’ve put together the basics on what you need to know.

Welcome to the Complete Beginners Water Filter Guide. You’ll learn why it’s important to drink filtered water, important considerations for choosing a water filter, and our top picks in our 2019 Water Filter Guide.

In this Guide, we’ll cover the following:

Let’s start with why it’s important to drink filtered water.

Tap Water Contaminants – It’s a Long List

If you think about it, your water department has a big job. Hundreds of contaminants end up in your water supply including:

  • Agriculture pesticides & fertilizers
  • Industrial pollutants
  • Urban runoff chemicals
    • Car emissions
    • Road surfaces
    • Pharmaceuticals
    • Personal Care Products
    • Flame Retardants
  • Water treatment chemicals & their byproducts

It’s an overwhelming list especially since well-respected research has linked many of these contaminants to cancer, liver, kidney and nervous system problems.

So, it’s important to understand some of the shortcomings in the system that provides your drinking water. Here are our top 5 concerns about tap water and why it’s important to use water filters.

1. EPA Standards aren’t Stringent Enough

Did you know that the EPA sets two levels for water departments?

You are probably wondering how this works.

The EPA sets two measures; one standard is enforceable while the other is not.

  • The unenforceable standard is the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG). The EPA sets the MCLG at a level where they expect no adverse health effects
  • The enforceable standard is simply called the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) – this is often set higher than the goal

Think of the MCLG as considering your health and the MCL as considering your health and the costs of removing contaminants.

As a result, your tap water may have unhealthy levels of contaminants (exceeding MCLG), but still be meeting the enforceable standards (meeting MCL).

It’s a troubling thought, isn’t it?

Your water is not meeting the EPA experts’ standards for good health because the EPA also factored in the cost of meeting those safety levels.

To get an understanding of how this works, consider arsenic standards. The EPA classifies arsenic as a known human carcinogen. Its MCLG is 0.00 meaning that to avoid any adverse health effects, water should not contain any arsenic. However, arsenic’s MCL or enforceable level is 0.01 which allows water supplies to contain arsenic and meet standards.

You’re probably not on board with drinking arsenic–didn’t think so.

2. The EPA doesn’t Regulate ALL Pollutants (Not Even Close)

The EPA does not regulate all pollutants. In fact, a 2009 study detected 316 contaminants and a whopping 202 of those contaminants had no safety standards. About 132 million people in the US had unregulated pollutants in their tap water according to the study.

Admit it. You’d rather have safety standards for more contaminants.

You’d like to think that the EPA has selected the most dangerous contaminants to regulate, but there’s a constant stream of new chemicals being developed and an understaffed/underfunded agency trying to keep up.

The EPA is only regulating 1/3 of contaminants. Does that seem like enough to you?

3. Your Water Department isn’t Perfect

It’s possible that your water department is failing on certain regulatory standards.

People make mistakes. Processes fail. Equipment malfunctions. When these mistakes occur, they can negatively affect many people.

For example, from 2004-2009, the Environmental Working Group reports that water departments serving 53 million people failed to meet the goal for Trihalomethanes, a likely carcinogen, according to the EPA.

That’s a lot of imperfection.

4. Bad Stuff Can Happen Between the Water Plant and your Sink

Your water gathers contaminants between the water plant and your house, so even if you’re convinced that your water department is doing a perfect job, your tap water can be contaminated by the pipes that lead to your house or the pipes inside your home. This is precisely what happened in Flint MI and many other cities as well. Lead leached from the pipes and contaminated the water.

You may think that lead pipes are a thing of the past. It’s true that lead water pipes are no longer used today, but many older lead pipes are still in service. And during a repair or change in water chemistry, these pipes can leach lead into tap water.

And, it’s not just lead that could be a problem. Other contaminants can end up in your drinking water as well.

So, as your tap water travels from your water treatment plant into your house, it can pick up contaminants along the way causing unsafe levels of lead and other contaminants.

5. Fluoride Levels May Exceed Healthy Levels

Tap water contains fluoride which can cause adverse health effects. A 2006 study of Fluoride in Drinking Water sponsored by the EPA recommended lowering the MCLG due to concerns about increased bone fracture rates and enamel fluorosis in children 0-8 years old. The committee unanimously recommended that the EPA set fluoride levels lower due to strong health concerns.

The committee also recommended further study about fluoride’s impact on thyroid and brain functioning.

Unfortunately, the MCL and MCLG are still set at 4 mg/L, an unsafe level according to the committee. For a full copy of the report, click here.

Seems hard to believe, right?

A huge study conducted by experts says that the fluoride goal is too high. And, ten years later, the goal still hasn’t been reset?

What Type of Water Filter is Best for You?

Now that you’ve learned about the EPA’s two standards, the burgeoning number of new, unregulated chemicals, the fallibility of your water department, the possibility of unsafe water pipe infrastructure, and the potential of having more fluoride in your water than is healthy, what’s next?

Well, you probably want to know how to get drinking water that you can trust. This next section explains the basics of water filter systems. The last section of the Water Filter Guide provides recommendations.

Water Filter Systems Basics

Almost all drinking water filters use some form of carbon filtration while the best and most effective purifiers use more than one type of filtration media. Why would products have more than one filter type? Because different filter types are effective at removing different types of contaminants.

The most common types of media are carbon and/or activated carbon, ceramic filters, metallic alloy, carbon block resin, and reverse osmosis membranes. Each filter medium has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, carbon filters are excellent at removing a broad range of contaminants but are completely ineffective at removing contaminants like Fluoride.

Water Purifier Product Types Explained – Gravity, Faucet, Counter Top, Under Counter & Whole House

There are many types of water purifiers to choose from. Let’s start with the Point of Use (POU) filter types. The simplest POU filters are Gravity-fed Pitchers or larger dispensers that you fill manually.

Then there are Faucet Filters that attach to your water spout and Counter Top Filters with a free-standing water filter unit that sits next to your sink and attaches to the end of your faucet via hoses. Both faucet and counter top filters have a diverter valve that engages the filter when you want filtered water. All of these filters are easy DIY solutions.

The next level in terms of installation difficulty is Under Counter Filters. These filters attach to your cold water line and provide filtered water to a separate, dedicated drinking water faucet (included with your filter). Under Counter Filters come with and without Reverse Osmosis (RO) filters. The RO filters need a separate holding tank for filtered water as well as a connection to your water waste line. These systems can either be installed by a handy homeowner, or by a plumber. Keep in mind that when you install a separate water faucet, you’ll need a hole cut in your countertop. A plumber can handle this for you.

A Point of Entry (POE) or Whole House System connects directly to your incoming water line and filters all the water to your home. A Whole House Filters has a high water flow rate, so most can’t filter out as many contaminants as a POU system. You’ll need a licensed plumber to install your Whole House Filter.

Depending on the type of Whole House System you install, you’ll still need drinking water filter. Read How to Select a Whole House Filter for more information on why you might need two systems.

Determining Effectiveness

How do you know which products are effective? The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) with the National Science Foundation (NSF) have contaminant reduction standards for drinking water treatment units. When buying your filter, look for these NSF standards:

    • NSF Standard 42-Aesthetic Effects. This standard covers Chlorine, Taste and Odor, and Particulates.
    • NSF Standard 53-Health Effects. This standard applies to hazardous contaminants including microbiological (harmful cysts), chemical (disinfection byproducts, pesticides and herbicides, VOC’s, and MTBE’s), and particulate matter (lead, mercury, etc.).
    • NSF Standard 58-Reverse Osmosis. This standard applies only to RO systems and addresses Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and other hazardous contaminants.
    • NSF Standard 401-Emerging Compounds/Incidental Contaminants. This standard covers up to 15 contaminants found at trace levels in public drinking water. These include certain prescription drugs as well as over the counter pain medications, pesticides, and herbicides not before targeted, and some new chemical compounds used in flame retardants, plastics, and detergents. All good things to remove from your drinking water!

It is important to note that although these standards cover many contaminants and set up MINIMUM reduction requirements, a product does not have to remove ALL of the contaminants to earn NSF certification. The filter only has to reach the minimum requirement for the contaminants claimed by the manufacturer to receive certification.

You Must Read the Fine Print, Really!

To compare filters you have to look not only for the NSF certification, but you need to check each filter’s Performance Data Sheet to find (1) the number of contaminants removed, and (2) the real level of reduction achieved. So while it is true that ALL CERTIFIED products meet minimum reduction requirements, some will perform better than others at removing contaminants.

This is where we come in.

We can help you make the best choices for you and your family. We’ve already read the performance results and performed the side by side comparisons, so you don’t have to. All you need to know is that all products that are certified to an NSF standard are not created equal, so you aren’t confused by marketing claims. Our Water Filter Guide will make your decisions much easier!

Choosing the Right Filtration Product Type For You

How do you choose the right type of filter? Here’s a quick outline of the options.

Pitchers and Gravity Fed Dispensers:

These filters are not connected to your plumbing, are free-standing and portable.

  • Easy set-up and operation, no installation necessary
  • Great to use at the office, in dorm rooms or in temporary living situations


  • Only filters small amounts at a time
  • Performance varies widely among pitchers; name brand pitchers only filter a handful of contaminants. However, we did find one brand that filtered as well as an installed water filter system.

Faucet Filters:

Faucet filters attach to the end of a standard kitchen or bathroom faucet and use a diverter for filtered water.

  • Easy to install and move, good for renters
  • Low cost


  • Will not work with many specialty faucets such as pull-out sprayers
  • Limited contaminant reduction; all the faucet filters we researched had the same limited performance much like the big name water pitcher filters

Counter Top:

These filters sit on the counter next to the kitchen or bathroom sink and connect via a small hose to the faucet.

  • Easy to install and move, good for renters
  • Easiest way to install a high capability filter


  • Aesthetics may not appeal to everyone
  • Will not work with many specialty faucets such as pull-out sprayers

Under the Counter Filters:

These are plumbed-in systems that connect to your cold water line under your sink and dispense filtered water through a second small faucet rather than the main faucet. You can install yours at your main kitchen sink or at a secondary sink like a wet bar.

  • High capability filter, installs under the sink and out-of-the-way
  • Dedicated drinking water faucet


  • Requires space under the kitchen sink
  • Requires a plumber or someone with basic plumbing skills to install

Reverse Osmosis Filters:

These are plumbed-in systems that connect to your cold water line and dispense filtered water through a second small faucet rather than the main faucet. Can be located at the main kitchen sink or at a secondary sink like a wet bar. Requires more space than just an under the counter filter to accommodate a separate filtered water holding tank.

  • High degree of filtration
  • Dedicated drinking water faucet


  • Cost – more expensive than other water filter systems
  • Space requirement due to the separate holding tank

Whole House

These are systems that are plumbed-in through your main water line. With the addition of a water softening component, they will also reduce barium and radium typically.

  • Filters all the water coming into your house
  • Can soften hard water with the addition of a water softener


  • Requires a plumber
  • Some have limited capacity to remove other contaminants so a drinking water filter solution is typically needed/required

Our 2024 Recommended Water Filter Guide

Here’s our short list of the water filters we recommend. We’ve read the third-party lab reports and researched these products.

See why this high-tech brand of water pitchers and containers from the US-based company ProOne comes so highly recommended. These pitchers and container water filters are so effective, they remove fluoride, lead, and other hard to remove contaminants. Find out more about these outstanding water filters and why they remove 10-20 times more contaminants than the big brands. 

The ProOne counter top water filters are excellent choices. Portable, highly effective, certified to remove 50+ contaminants. See why the ProOne filters are so highly recommended.

Our favorite Counter Top Water Filter is the ProOne Promax. It uses groundbreaking filtration technology that makes this filter as effective as a four stage Reverse Osmosis Filter! There is nothing else like this available. Learn more about the ProOne ProMax Counter Top Filter.

ProOne Promax & ProOne FS10 under counter water filters tested the best of all the under counter filters certified. See why the ProOne Promax and ProOne FS10 filters are an excellent choice. 

Our favorite Undercounter Water Filter is the ProOne Promax. It uses groundbreaking filtration technology that makes this filter as effective as a four-stage Reverse Osmosis Filter! Plus, it’s so much smaller than a Reverse Osmosis system that you’ll still have space under your kitchen sink for your all natural cleaning products. There is nothing else like this available.

Nothing else on the market compares to this filter.  Learn more about the ProOne Promax Under Counter Filter

If you do not want a separate faucet at your kitchen sink, consider the ProOne FS10 filter. It attaches to your cold water line and delivers filtered water every time you turn on your cold water. The FS10 water filter is a great solution if you want to remove/reduce over 200 contaminants including Fluoride without adding a separate faucet. 

If you’re looking for a Reverse Osmosis & Carbon Water Filter system, Aquasana’s reverse osmosis under counter water filter is in a class by itself. No other reverse osmosis and carbon filter system has three certifications, so you can trust it’s delivering clean water to your tap. It has a 4 stage filtration process and removes fluoride and other hard to remove contaminants. And, it comes with a remineralizer to replace the minerals removed by the RO filter.

With the introduction of the new ProOne Under Counter water filters, you no longer need to install these Reverse Osmosis multiple stage filter!  The ProOne Promax and ProOne FS10 are as effective as a four-stage filter and it’s less expensive to purchase and maintain. Plus, it’s so much smaller and won’t remove the minerals from your water like a Reverse Osmosis system.

If you still have questions after reading this Water Filter Guide, contact us. We’re happy to help you select the best water filter for your needs.