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How to Choose a Water Filtration System
After the headlines about the water woes of Flint, Michigan, many of us were reminded of how lucky we are to be able to filter our water so that we can stop contaminants before they get to us.
Should You Worry About YOUR Water?
Of course, lead-contaminated water is not a problem limited to Flint. The fact is, there are many cities and towns with lead pipes. If you are on a municipal water system anywhere in America, you stand a good chance of having pipes just like Flint’s somewhere in the system.
Besides that, almost all water in our homes/businesses flows through pipes that potentially leach other harmful chemicals. Add to that the various toxins found/added to most municipal water systems, and you realize there are very good reasons to filter your tap water.
How to Choose the Best Water Filter
Obviously, we’d all like to enjoy the best water quality possible, but the world of water-filter technology is confusing to navigate. Our readers often ask: How can I quickly learn what filter is best for my family’s needs? How can I be sure the filter I bought is doing what it claims to be doing?
I’ve been researching (and testing!) various types of water filters for decades now, so I’ll try to provide you with my understanding of this issue, and help you choose the best water filter for your family.
Types of Water Filters
The most widely available and effective water filters are as follows:
- Carbon/activated carbon filters: Activated carbon chemically bonds with and removes some contaminants in water that is filtered through it. Some carbon filters just remove chlorine and improve taste and odor, while others remove a wide range of contaminants including lead, asbestos, mercury, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Activated carbon cannot effectively remove common “inorganic” pollutants like fluoride, arsenic, nitrate, hexavalent chromium, and perchlorate.
There are two types of carbon filters:
a. Granulated activated carbon (GAC) filters: These filters contain fine grains of activated carbon. Typically, they are less effective than carbon block filters (see below) because they have a smaller surface area of activated carbon.
b. Carbon block filters: Carbon block filters are made from pulverized activated carbon that is compressed into blocks. They are typically more effective than granulated activated carbon filters because they have more surface area.
- Ceramic filters: These do not remove chemical contaminants, but they have very small holes throughout the material that block solid contaminants such as cysts and sediments.
- Kinetic degradation fluxion (KDF) filters: KDF is a combination of copper and zinc. It creates an electro-chemical reaction. During this reaction, electrons are transferred between molecules, and new elements are created. Some harmful contaminants are changed into harmless components. Some heavy metals–such as copper, lead, mercury and others–react to plate out onto the medium’s surface, thus being effectively removed from the water supply.
- Distillation: Water is distilled by boiling it and capturing the steam. The steam cools back into water. Many substances are left behind and the resulting water is purer. Unfortunately, most of the dissolved beneficial minerals are absent in distilled water. Also, many feel that distilled water is considerably more caustic and will rob minerals from our bodies. Although this topic is robustly debated, we feel that this technology is not a good solution for filtering water when there are so many better, and less expensive, solutions.
- Mechanical filters: These filters have tiny holes that remove contaminants such as cysts and sediments. They cannot remove chemical contaminants. They filter essentially the same things that ceramic filters do.
- Reverse osmosis filters: This process pushes water through a semi-permeable membrane that blocks particles larger than water molecules. Reverse osmosis can remove many contaminants not removed by activated carbon, including arsenic, fluoride, hexavalent chromium, nitrates, and perchlorate. However, reverse osmosis does not remove chlorine, trihalomethanes, or volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). Many reverse osmosis systems include an activated carbon component than can remove these other contaminants. Quality can vary tremendously in both the membrane system and the carbon filter typically used with it. Consumers should also be aware that reverse osmosis filters use 3-to-20 times more water than they produce. They waste quite a bit of water. One exception is this RO filter.
There are other types of water filtration methods out there, but the above technologies are usually the simplest and most cost effective ways improve the water quality in your home.
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Does Your Water Filter Work?
So how can we know if a particular filter manufacturer is producing effective water filters?
There are independent testing agencies that test contaminated water after it has passed through a test filter. If the filter removes all, or nearly all of the specified contaminants, it qualifies for certification. One of the best certifications is the NSF 53 Protocol. Filters that show positive results are granted certification and can be trusted, in my opinion.
What About Fluoride?
There is a significant debate about the ramifications of the use of fluoride in water. There seems to be science that lends validity to both sides of the discussion, but recent studies do suggest that fluoride may be harmful. We choose to filter the fluoride from our water, but we understand that others might take a different view, which is why we offer two options for filters.
What is the Best Water Filter?
You may have noticed that I did not talk about gravity filters like Brita in this post. Generally speaking, these types of filters reduce select chemicals and metals, but they mostly improve the appearance and taste of the water. We feel that to truly filter water, it is necessary to step up another level or two.
Most households need nothing more than a two-filter or three-filter system in order to have great, healthy water. We have found a small manufacturer to build us water filter systems that are simple, affordable, and effective. They’ve been making filters since 1989, and each system has options for either countertop or under-counter installation. These systems are NSW Protocol 53 Certified.
- The two-stage filter – This water filter uses KDF, granulated activated charcoal, and carbon block filters to effectively eliminate a wide variety of common contaminants, including chlorine, chloramines, heavy metals (including lead, chromium 6, mercury), iron, aluminum, hydrogen sulfide, chemicals, DBPs (disinfection by-products), THMs (trihalomethanes), HAAs (haloacetic acids), MTBE, VOCs, many pharmaceutical products, and more. This filter does NOT remove fluoride. If you want to filter fluoride from your water, you will want the three-stage filter instead.
- The premium three-stage filter – Designed for municipal water that contains a high level of chloramines (chlorine combined with ammonia) and/or VOCs (volatile organic chemicals), PPCPs (pharmaceuticals, personal care products). This triple cartridge water filter includes our fluoride-removal cartridge PLUS our KDF/GAC cartridge PLUS a high performance 0.5 micron extruded multi-media carbon block cartridge.
(Each of the above filters can be easily installed in about an hour or less and require no special tools or skills beyond those found in a typical household.)
- If you can’t drill a hole in your countertop, or if you just want a reverse osmosis water filter, then the ZIP is the best one we’ve found.
The Best Water Filter for Your Bathroom
Finally, it should be noted that chlorine (found in most water supplies) is as easily absorbed through our skin as it is through our stomach. For that reason, we also use a shower filter and a bathtub filter in our home.
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