Buying a water filter is a challenging task. If you do not get it right the first time, correcting your mistake can be time-consuming and very costly. Besides, how do you know which one is the best water filter system for you? I have been researching this field since 2012, and I have used my share of filters, too. In this post, you will find out about some water filtering options that the market has to offer. Read on to learn what you should know before buying one and discover the best water filtration system for you.
I do a lot of research and reading to form an opinion about products.
I have been doing consumer goods research since 2012 when I investigated a supposedly non-toxic baby shampoo. My spheres of interest range between non-toxic makeup and organic mattresses and include safe cookware and sunscreens, to name but a few.
Over the years, I have created e-books such as Diaper, Baby Wipes, Shampoo, Conditioner, Body Lotion rating lists, and others. In addition, I have established and run the Savvy Consumer Circle that unites people who desire to make healthy changes in their homes.
When I do research, I rely on credible sources of information including medical and scientific publications. I also survey the industry the product belongs to and contact manufacturers to clarify the questions I have. You can learn more about my research process and the sources I use here. Moreover, the medical information in a growing number of my posts is reviewed by Myrto Ashe, MD, MPH, IFMCP.
In 2012, I bought what I considered to be the best water filter system out there. But the truth was, I had no idea what contaminants it filtered out, and what media (aka components/cartridges) it had. I did not even know what kind of contaminants my drinking water had. So, I continued researching the market and found what was in my opinion the best water filtration product.
But first things first – why do you even need a water filter?
You need the best water filter system to clean your water of pollutants.
The short answer to the question why you need a water filter is because our water is polluted. In other words, your best water filtration system must be able to clean your water of all the pollutants.
On the one hand, the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 is supposed to protect our water supply. However, in practice, it does not always work well. Indeed, records have shown that 49 million Americans drink water that contains illegal concentrations of chemicals. They include lead, arsenic, dangerous bacteria, and even radioactive substances. The worse news is that you might be one of these 49 million.
On the other hand, the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 covers only 91 contaminants out of 85,000 chemicals used commercially within the United States (source). That is to say, many chemicals used by industry find their way into streams, rivers, lakes, and, ultimately, water supplies. In large part, this happens because the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 does not cover them.
Now, let’s talk about common contaminants in your drinking water that the best water filtration system must deal with.
Remove PFAS, chlorine, and chloramine from your drinking water.
Definitely, the best water filter system must be able to handle PFAS, chlorine, and chloramine.
Common uses of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) include non-stick coating in cookware and water- and stain-repellent finishes in clothes and carpeting. Unfortunately, they are associated with such health problems as an increased risk of cancer, potential harm to the developing fetus, and even reduction of vaccine effectiveness.
Further, municipalities use either chlorine or chloramine (chlorine plus ammonia) to kill pathogens, viruses, and mold in our drinking water. However, we need to remove the disinfectants and their by-products from our water before drinking it.
The problem is that chloramine is harder to remove than chlorine, and a granular activated carbon filter cannot do it. So, your water filter would need catalytic carbon or KDF (Kinetic Degradation Fluxion) media to deal with chloramine.
The best water filtration product must remove lead from your water.
In addition, chloramine has a tendency to pull more lead from lead-soldered water pipes (source). Therefore, if you have lead-soldered water pipes and your municipality switches from chlorine to chloramine, you can expect more lead showing up in your drinking water. In fact, houses built before the mid-1980s would most likely have lead-soldered water pipes.
As for regulations, the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) limit for lead is 0.2 ppb (source). However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no safe level of lead for children.
In contrast, the Federal government considers 15 ppb level safe, which seems like a compromise between industries and health advocates. Note that it is 75 times higher than the California Health Goal. By the way, when testing for lead, make sure that the lab’s minimal detectable level is at least 1 ppb.
Thus, if you have chloramine in your water and lead-soldered water pipes, the best water filter system for you must be able to remove lead, not just reduce it.
Fluoride may cause health issues.
To begin, they started adding fluoride to the public water supply in the 1950s. Before that, it was considered an environmental pollutant resulting from the aluminum and phosphate fertilizer industries. Besides, when governments decided to add fluoride to water, there was scarce health research on the subject.
A recent study requested by the EPA reported that even current levels of fluoride may cause tooth and bone damage. There is also growing evidence associating fluoride with an underactive thyroid. Additionally, studies show that even 2 ppm (or 2 mg/L) in drinking water can damage kids’ kidneys and liver (source).
However, not every water filter system removes fluoride. Thus, when searching for the best water filtration product, confirm that it has a filter medium that works for fluoride.
Below are my thoughts on three water filter brands that I studied in detail to figure out how they work. Also, in a private consultation, I can present you with my research into a water filter of your choice.
In my opinion, Berkey is not the best water filter system for everyone.
On the one hand, Berkey has advantages because it can work without electricity and does not demineralize water.
On the other hand, there are several things to bear in mind when you look at Berkey’s water test reports. The way the testing was designed might produce an impression that Berkey filters remove all contaminants, which carbon filters usually cannot do.
The following information will help you decide whether Berkey is the best water filtration method out there.
Berkey’s ability to remove fluoride, lead, and PFAS is controversial.
First, Berkey filters use activated alumina to deal with fluoride. How well it removes fluoride depends on your tap water. Thus, it works best with water whose pH is between 5 and 7 and at a slower flow rate (1). As I understand it, normally tap water pH is higher than that (e.g., our tap water pH was 8.17). With pH higher than 7, activated alumina might not be the best option for removing fluoride from your tap water. Hence, Berkey does not seem to be the best water filter system for you.
Second, for lead, the Berkey report shows the detectable minimum of 2 ppb. This is 10 times more than the California Health Goal’s level of 0.2 ppb (source). In other words, the test will not detect anything less than 2 ppb. So, if the water has 1.9 ppb, the result will be negative for lead. Under the circumstances, I would find this rather misleading.
Third, scientists at the Duke and North Carolina State Universities tested some filters, including Berkey filters, to see how well they removed 11 chemicals of the PFAS family. According to the tests, Berkey pitchers removed some PFAS, reduced others, and in one instance, actually added more PFAS. In this testing, the Big Berkey with 2 black filters did poorly. Indeed, it removed some PFAS, did not significantly reduce PFPA, and actually added GenX and PFBA.
Based on this, I do not think that Berkey is the best water filtration product out there.
I do not consider Aquasana the best water filter system either.
Like Berkey, Aquasana filter systems are popular because they are budget-friendly. Besides, the Duke University and North Carolina State University scientists tested Aquasana filters for PFAS, and all models fared well. In addition, I called them to ask for a list of filtration media that go into their filters.
Among four Aquasana under-sink models, the most powerful one is the OptimH2O® Reverse Osmosis + Claryum®. Indeed, it includes granular activated carbon, catalytic carbon, ion exchange, sub-micron filtration, reverse osmosis membrane, and remineralization technologies. Supposedly, the remineralization cartridge puts back calcium, magnesium, and potassium into the filtered water. Generally, reverse osmosis is the best water filtration method for the removal of fluoride, arsenic, and hexavalent chromium.
Additionally, Aquasana carries a whole-house water filter for city water and well water. You place it where your water enters the house, and it filters the water before it gets to anything else. On the one hand, having a whole-house water filter is great for reducing chlorine and other contaminants. But on the other hand, you still need a kitchen filter to reduce many other contaminants. Thus, normally, whole-house water filtration systems are not designed to remove fluoride, arsenic, radioactive elements, chromium-6, and other contaminants. Most of them focus on dealing with removing chlorine or chloramine, at best.
My experience with Aquasana was unsatisfactory.
I do not consider Aquasana the best water filter system for the following reasons.
First, after several attempts, I couldn’t get a satisfying answer regarding the amount of beneficial minerals their remineralization medium adds to drinking water. This is a concern because if you add too much, it can make your water too alkaline. As a result, alkaline water may interfere with the stomach’s natural acidity and undermine digestion and absorption of nutrients. Clearly, this is not a characteristic of the best water filtration product.
Moreover, in 2021, I installed the Aquasana Reverse Osmosis filter and tested the filtered water using Tap Score test kit. The test revealed that the filter removed the contaminants well, including 100% of uranium, but it raised the water pH to 9.5. (Read my post to learn more about potential harms of uranium in water and what the government does about it.)
Besides raising the pH, the water filter did not do a good job adding back much needed magnesium and calcium. It added potassium which is not an important mineral for me to have in my water.
Furthermore, when a plumber, recommended by Aquasana, installed the filter, it leaked. For some reason, it took Aquasana 2 weeks to ship a replacement part even though I paid for expedited shipping. Therefore, I cannot vouch for the quality of Aquasana filters and their customer service.
So, we ended up returning the Aquasana Reverse Osmosis filter and installed the Pure Effect water filter instead.
I believe that Pure Effect is the best water filter system for me.
In 2015, when I first came across Pure Effect, I was skeptical about them. They claimed that their water filter systems were as powerful as reverse osmosis, but that they did not demineralize water. To make sure that it was the best water filtration system, I contacted Pure Effect’s founder Igor Milevskiy. I appreciate the fact that he took the time to educate me and answered all my questions to my satisfaction.
So, I bought this Pure Effect water filter system and tested it with the Tap Score service. It showed that the Pure Effect filter worked well. Among other things, it removed 100% of uranium. However, it did not remove fluoride 100%. That was when I bought the Aquasana Reverse Osmosis filter and had the experience I described above. In the end, I went back to Pure Effect and could not be happier. I am happy to report that Pure Effect as of now, April of 2022, Pure Effect removes fluoride 100% even in our extremely hard water.
By the way, Katie, one of my Savvy Consumer Circle members, tested her filtered water with a Tap Score testing kit and discovered that fluoride was 100% gone. I believe that it did not remove fluoride completely in our water because our water is extremely hard. Indeed, they consider water with above 10.5 grains per gallon very hard, and our water has 16.11 grains per gallon. Plus, our municipality adds much more fluoride than the usual 0.7 ppm. Thus, the combination of both factors probably makes it hard to remove fluoride without any trace amounts left.
What I like about Pure Effect
First, the owner of the company designed this best water filter system himself. Also, he is knowledgeable and courteous and provides great customer service.
Second, Pure Effect systems reduce fluoride, radioactive elements, arsenic, chromium 6, and pharmaceuticals. Essentially, these are the pollutants that reverse osmosis systems are designed to deal with.
Though the Duke and North Carolina State study did not include Pure Effect best water filtration system, I feel it would have fared very well. To clarify, in the Duke/NCSU study, even some simple pitchers or filters with 2 stage filtration did well. And the Pure Effect filter is a great deal more robust. It even removes fluoride which is one of the hardest chemicals to remove from water.
Third, Pure Effect carries several different models so that you can choose which one is right for you.
Next, unlike reverse osmosis filters, the Pure Effect best water filter system does not use a water storage tank. This is a good thing because manufacturers typically line the tanks with plastic. Plus, Pure Effect filters, unlike Reverse Osmosis systems, do not waste water.
Moreover, the filtered water will contain magnesium, calcium, chloride, and sodium – minerals our bodies need. In the modern world, many of us (including me) are deficient in magnesium.
Above all, over the years, I have never heard bad Pure Effect filters reviews.
This is what Nickie, a member of my Savvy Consumer Circle, said about Pure Effect:
Conclusion about finding the best water filter system
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that everybody’s drinking water is different. Therefore, different water filtration technologies deal with different water pollutants. Thus, there is no best water filtration system in absolute terms.
Ideally, it is best to test your water before and after filtering to know how well your water filter works. The reason for that is that water in different locations has different chemistry: contaminants, pH, and hardness. So far, the best lab I have found for that is Tap Score.
However, if you have no time or the resources to test your water, you can choose the water filter that I have tested. I have already done all the research and testing for you. As a result, my personal choice is Pure Effect water filtration systems. You can also book a consultation with me to get help finding the best water filter for you. The peace of mind you will gain from having chosen the best water system for your water is worth it.
- Kamble, S., Deshpande, G., Barve, P., Rayalu, S., Labhsetwar, N., Malyshew, A., & Kulkarni, B. (2010). Adsorption of fluoride from aqueous solution by alumina of alkoxide nature: Batch and continuous operation. Desalination, 264(1), 15-23.