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The Complete Beginner's Guide to Water Filters

Start Here:
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 different types of water filters and found yourself totally confused. There’s a good reason for this! The information 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.

In this Guide, we'll cover the following:

  • Why You Should Drink Filtered Water
  • What Type of Water Filter is Best for You (Water Pitcher/Container, Countertop, Faucet, Under Counter, Reverse Osmosis, Whole House)
  • Our 2019 Recommended Water Filter Picks
Skip to Explanation of Water Filter Types
Filter Types Explained
Skip to Water Filter Recommendations
Select a Filter
Why It's Important to Filter Your Water
The 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) – the enforceable standard can be more lenient then the goal allowing more contaminants in your water

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 comprehensive study conducted by experts says that the fluoride goal is too high. And, ten years later, the goal still hasn’t been reset? If you're concerned about fluoride, then filtering your water is important.

What Type of Water Filter is Best for You?

Water Filter System 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.

Determining Effectiveness

How do you know which products are effective? The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) with the 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!
Water Filter System Basics (cont)

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. 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.

Water Purifier Product Types Explained - Gravity, Faucet, & Counter Top Filters
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. 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 & Counter Top Filters

Faucet Filters attach to your water spout. Counter Top Filters have 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.

Faucet Filters

  • 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

  • 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 Counter, Reverse Osmosis & Whole House Water Filters
Under 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

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.

  • High degree of filtration
  • Dedicated drinking water faucet

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

Whole House System - Point of Entry (POE)

A 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 many can't filter out as many contaminants as a POU system. You'll need a licensed plumber to install your Whole House Filter.

  • Filters all the water coming into your house
  • Can soften hard water with 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

Water Pitchers & Water Containers
See why this high-tech brand of water pitchers and containers from the US-based company Propur comes so highly recommended. These pitchers and container water filters are so effective, they remove fluoride, lead, and over 200 other contaminants.

Tested by a third-party lab to meet NSF standards. The water quality lab reports are available in the product detail.
Propur Water Pitcher Filter - Fruit Infused
$69.95 Free Shipping
The Propur Water Pitcher Filter is the only pitcher filter that is as effective as counter top and under counter water filters at removing toxic substances from your water. Plus, this pitcher comes with an easy to use fruit infusion tube! 
Traveler - Propur Water Filter Container - 1.75 Gal.
From $189 - Free Shipping
The Traveler has a 1.75-gallon capacity and is made of high-quality stainless steel. It's tested to reduce over 200 contaminants. 
Nomad - Propur Water Filter Container - 2.1 Gal.
From $215 - Free Shipping
The Nomad has a 2.1-gallon capacity and is made of high-quality stainless steel. Plus, it can hold two filters for faster water filtering flow. It's tested to reduce over 200 contaminants.
Big - Propur Water Filter Container - 2.75 Gal.
From $279 - Free Shipping
The Big has a 2.75-gallon capacity and is made of high-quality stainless steel. It can hold up to 3 filters for fast water filtering. It's tested to reduce over 200 water contaminants.
Counter Top Water Filters
The Propur Promax, Austin Springs and WaterChef counter top water filters are excellent choices. Portable, highly effective, certified to remove at least 50+ contaminants.
Propur Promax Counter Top Water Filter
From $189 - Free Shipping
This water filter changes everything. With the Propur Promax, you get the cleanest water with the convenience of a counter top system. The filter uses leading edge technology to reduce a broad range of over 200 contaminants.
Austin Springs Counter Top Water Filter
Regularly $124.99 Now $89.99 Free Shipping
This Austin Springs counter top Water Filter is third-party certified by NSF to remove 60 contaminants including chlorine and chloramines, VOC’s including TTHM’s, lead, mercury, and MTBE. A great value. 
WaterChef Counter Top Water Filter
WaterChef uses a single solid carbon block filter that lasts for up to 1000 gallons or 1 year. This filter removes 57 NSF targeted contaminants including chlorine and chloramines, VOC’s including TTHM’s, lead and MTBE.
Under Counter Water Filters
Our top picks include the Propur Promax, Austin Springs & Aquasana RO System.
Propur Promax Under Counter Water Filter
$189 - Free Shipping
The new Propur Promax is our favorite. 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.
Austin Springs Under Counter Water Filter
Regularly $199.99 Now $124.99 (while supplies last) - Free Shipping 
This Austin Springs Under Counter Water Filter is third-party certified by NSF to remove 60 contaminants including chlorine and chloramines, VOC’s including TTHM’s, lead, mercury, and MTBE. It's a great value.
Aquasana Under Counter Reverse Osmosis Water Filter - Q RO3
The Aquasana Reverse Osmosis (RO) Water Filter System carries NSF 42, 53, and 58 certifications and is certified by NSF to remove 74 contaminants. It has a re-mineralizer to replace minerals removed during the RO process.