Tap water can contain bacteria, viruses, heavy metals and hormone-disrupting plasticizing chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA). In our increasingly polluted modern environment, using a water filter can help remove as many contaminants as possible from drinking, cooking and shower water.
But are water filters actually proven in studies to reduce contaminants or do they just make convincing marketing claims? Which brands are shown to reduce contaminants the most? What contaminants should people be aware of? And are there any water filter brands that should be avoided?
In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more as we review studies on the water filters that effectively reduced the most contaminants, explain whether tap water is really a health concern, and document how one water filter brand may actually add contaminants to water.
We'll recommend one countertop water filter, one whole-house water filter and one shower filter.
Is Tap Water Actually Contaminated?
A few categories of contaminants in tap water that consumers should be most conscious of are heavy metals, estrogenic plastic chemicals and pesticides.
Heavy metals like lead, arsenic and mercury are present in municipal tap water in many jurisdictions. Although the limits are regulated in the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), any amount of heavy metal intake is toxic, so limiting exposure as much as possible is beneficial for health.
Pesticides are also present in tap water, although thanks to efficient water treatment facilities in the U.S. their levels may actually be lower in tap water than in rainwater, based on medical research conducted in New York State.
We also know from medical research that hormone-disrupting chemical BPA is present in tap water in many countries.
Tap water is safe to drink in most parts of the U.S., but it seems logical for any consumer who can afford it to invest in a research-backed water filter to reduce contaminant intake.
An excellent exposé by Vox highlighted how a particular type of contaminant called PFAS has become a problem in much of America's drinking water, and this is just one type of contaminant that could be in tap water:
Best Countertop Water Filter
The Brita Soho is our top pick for an affordable and effective countertop water filter.
An independent laboratory called ConsumerLab tested several of the leading water filters and found that the Brita Soho With Longlast Filter was the most effective overall.
Brita Soho reduced 100% of the chlorine, 100% of the mercury, 100% of the cadmium and 100% of the lead from the test water, and reduced arsenic by 15.4%.
The most impressive result from the testing though was that Brita Soho reduced 100% of the microplastics from the tap water, and it was the only countertop filter tested that did so.
Interested consumers can check out the Brita Soho at this link to its Amazon listing. It's currently retailing for $44.99 with a replacement filter. This ends up costing well under $1 per day for clean drinking water for the whole house.
Best Whole-House Water Filter
We recommend Aquasana's Rhino Whole-House Water Filter to consumers seeking a comprehensive solution that can filter all sources of water in their house. When you install a whole-house filter, it filters water in all taps and all showers throughout the house, so it's the most thorough way to remove contaminants.
Aquasana's device is independently tested and certified to reduce toxins, and we haven't come across any tested shower filters, so this seems to be the most effective way to guarantee a reduction of chlorine and chloramine exposure in the shower.
Whole-house water filters have a high upfront cost, but are relatively cost-efficient over long periods of time because of how long they last.
The Aquasana Rhino filter we recommend costs $2,368 at the time of writing this article, but comes with a warranty and is guaranteed to last for 10 years. This equates to a cost of $19.73 per month, or $0.66 per day.
This makes the whole-house filter actually cheaper than purchasing separate countertop and shower water filters over a 10 year period. Payment plans are available through Affirm.
Interested consumers can check out the Aquasana Rhino Whole-House Filter at this link to the product page on the Aquasana website.
Best Shower Water Filter
Many consumers are unaware of this, but exposure to contaminants in water is likely higher during a shower than from drinking water.
This sounds counterintuitive, because drinking water is directly ingested, but chlorine in shower water reacts with organic matter at high temperatures and forms trihalomethanes such as chloroform. This is proven in medical research, and we know chloroform to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). These harmful compounds are inhaled and absorbed through the skin during hot showers.
Unfortunately ConsumerLab hasn’t tested the effectiveness of different shower filters, and no shower filter companies we researched published any testing of their products at all.
We recommend the Sprite SL2-CM Shower Filter because it's easy-to-install (we've used it personally), affordable (only $22.98 including the filter) and has great reviews. Interested consumers can check out the Sprite SL2-CM Shower Filter at this link to its Amazon listing.
We would prefer to recommend a shower filter based on testing, but the shower filter industry seems behind the drinking water filter industry in this regard. In the future if a shower filter brand emerges with tests proving its efficacy, we will update this article and recommend it.
Even without testing, there is no harm to using a shower filter, so it seems logical and worth pursuing for those who can afford it. For under $20 per month, even if it reduces contaminant levels by 20% it would be worth it.
Which Water Filters Should I Avoid?
We recommend avoiding the ZeroWater 6-cup Water Filter Pitcher because ConsumerLab testing found it to actually add microplastic particles to the water samples.
We don’t know how that’s even possible. Perhaps their filter media contained microplastics that leached out, or the filter itself was made with cheap plastics that leached into the water sample. Regardless, we recommend avoiding this product and brand entirely as this data is concerning.