Choose the Right Water Filter

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choose the right water filter pure water

In the developed world, we often assume that because our water is monitored, sanitized and filtered, it is thus clean and safe for us to drink. However, unfortunately, it is not that simple.


Is our tap water safe?


The answer to this question is complex.

First of all, water disinfection itself is not so straightforward. While we benefit from chlorine added to water, chlorine reacts with naturally occurring organic matter to create many by-products such as chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane, and bromoform. Chloroform and bromodichloromethane are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as probable carcinogens. (Source.)


The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 is supposed to protect our water supply, but in practice, it does not always work well. Records have shown that 49 million Americans drink water that contains illegal concentrations of chemicals such as arsenic, dangerous bacteria, and radioactive substances. Radioactive substances? Yes, power plants are a major source of toxic by-products that go into rivers, lakes, or landfills that leach into nearby groundwater.


Another problem with the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 is that it only covers 91 contaminants. As you might know, there are 82,000 chemicals used commercially within the United States. Many of those chemicals find their ways into our streams, rivers, lakes, and, ultimately, into our water supplies.


In addition to chemicals, we have lots of pharmaceuticals. People take prescription drugs, and these don’t just stay in our bodies. They get excreted and eventually find their way into our drinking water. It has been estimated that at least 46 million Americans are supplied water that contain trace amounts of pharmaceuticals. Access this map here to see if you are affected.


And lastly, much of our water supply also contains fluoride that either comes from natural sources or that was added by local water districts. As you might know, water fluoridation has been a topic of controversy for a while now. 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 that fluoride is associated with underactive thyroid.



Main Types of Kitchen Water Filtering Technologies


The good news is that we can improve the quality of our water by installing a whole house or kitchen water filter. Although there are hundreds of brands of home water filters, they all rely on a small number of technologies to remove contaminants. The main technologies include activated carbon, carbon block, and reverse osmosis. Some filters may utilize a few different technologies. For example, many reverse osmosis filtration systems use activated carbon filtration making it more effective.


Activated Carbon Water Filter


Activated carbon chemically bonds with and removes some contaminants in water filtered through it. Carbon filters vary greatly in effectiveness. Some just remove chlorine and improve taste and odor, while others remove a wide range of contaminants including asbestos, lead, mercury, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and pharmaceuticals. However, activated carbon does not effectively remove fluoride or other common contaminants.


Pros: Inexpensive

Cons: Does not remove fluoride, arsenic, fluoride, hexavalent chromium, nitrate, and perchlorate, and other inorganic pollutants.


Carbon Block Water Filter


Carbon block filters contain pulverized activated carbon that is shaped into blocks under high pressure. They are typically more effective than granulated activated carbon filters because they have more surface area. Their effectiveness depends in part on how quickly water flows through.


Pros: Normally more powerful than activated carbon, removes a wide variety of contaminants, does not waste water and does not de-mineralize water

Cons: Normally does not remove as many contaminants as reverse osmosis filters


Reverse Osmosis (RO) Water Filter


This process pushes water through a semi-permeable membrane that traps particles larger than water molecules on the other side. 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). Fortunately, most reverse osmosis systems include an activated carbon filtration that removes these other contaminants.


Pros: Powerful and effective at removing all types of contaminants

Cons: Can be expensive, wastes water, normally uses 3 times more water than it produces, de-mineralizes water


What are water filter NSF certifications?


In the 1970s, NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) International led the development of the American National Standards for materials and products that treat or come in contact with drinking water, including water filters used in homes and businesses. In other words, as a consumer it is good to know that the filter is certified to NSF standards and thus works as promised. However, that can get tricky. There are different types of standards so it is always a good idea to ask which standard to which the filter is certified.


NSF 42


The NSF 42 standard requires filters to reduce non-health-related contaminants to improve the taste of water, which includes chlorine and particles. Since chlorine is a contaminant that spoils the taste of water, in a way NSF 42 is helpful for chlorine reduction. However, certification to NSF 42 does not mean that the harmful by-products of chlorine mentioned above are removed. Moreover, under this standard, there are different degrees to which a filter can remove or reduce chlorine.


NSF 61


The NSF 61 standard does not tell you if the filter does a great job filtering; instead, it is aimed to prevent leaching of toxic substances from the components of the filter itself, which is great to have.


NSF 53


This standard establishes the minimum requirements for the certification of filtration systems designed to reduce specific health-related contaminants, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, lead, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether).


The scope of NSF 53 includes material safety, structural integrity and health-related contaminant reduction performance claims. The most common technology addressed by this standard is carbon filtration.


NSF 58


This standard establishes the minimum requirements for the certification of reverse osmosis systems designed to reduce contaminants that may be present in public or private drinking water.


The scope of NSF/ANSI 58 includes material safety, structural integrity, total dissolved solids (TDS) reduction and other optional contaminant reduction claims. The most common optional claims addressed by NSF/ANSI 58 include cyst reduction, hexavalent and trivalent chromium reduction, arsenic reduction, nitrate/nitrite reduction, and cadmium and lead reduction.


NSF 401


This standard addresses the ability of a water treatment device to remove up to 15 individual contaminants, which have been identified in published studies as occurring in drinking water.  This standard was created to address a growing concern over pharmaceuticals, BPA, and flame retardant chemicals in our drinking water. It is applicable to both RO and carbon filters.


For a full list of NSF standards, visit here.

Choose the right water filter

Shortcomings of NSF certifications


So, when you are buying an NSF-certified water filter, ask to which standard the filter is certified. It can be only NSF 42 and 61, which means that the filter removes some chlorine and the filter itself does not contaminate water.  These standard are very helpful but they do not answer all questions about the performance of a water filter.


Also, even filters that are certified to the same standard may vary widely in terms of their performance. In other words, the number of contaminants and degree of their reduction can vary under each standard. If a filter is certified, it is a good idea to take a look at the certification report. Unfortunately, not every manufacturer has that information readily available.


For a filter manufacturer, to go through the process of NSF certification can be very costly; it can cost more than $100,000 to receive the certification. Not all manufacturers, especially small businesses at the beginning stages, can afford it. For a consumer, that means that generally NSF-certified filters are more expensive. Instead of going through the NSF certification, some water filter manufacturers rely on tests by independent labs, which is much more affordable.


Another thing I noticed is that custom water filters that utilize a variety of technologies do not fall under any specific standard. And I have not seen a water filter certified to all NSF standards that would reduce all of the contaminants from which I would like to protect my family.  Instead, I found these two great water filter businesses that answered all my numerous questions to my satisfaction.  I found that a great customer service is very critical when buying a water filter.


The Water Filters I Like


Clean Air Pure Water Filters by Jim McMahon


While reading my article, you are probably thinking that shopping for, and owning, a filter is a daunting task – choosing a type of filter, choosing a brand, installing it, changing filters regularly, etc. I agree. That’s why I love a small business called Clean Air Pure Water by Jim McMahon. Although he is located in Utah, you can order products from him over the phone. Jim will talk to you about your water concerns on the phone and ask you to provide him with your water district’s water quality report. After he studies your report, he will recommend the most cost effective filter for your needs. The water filters he sells are made to his specifications at a local factory. Mr. McMahon can also customize a filter for you at an affordable price.


The water filters are not certified to NSF standards because they are custom-made. However, the components that go into making the filters are certified to NSF 61 and NSF 42.


Mr. McMahon is an ecologist with more than 30 years experience working in environmental science. He is very knowledgeable and makes the process of buying, installing and maintaining a water filter is so much easier. If you tell Jim that I (Irina Webb) referred you, he will give you 5% off on your purchase, not including shipping (and, full disclosure, I will receive 5% as well).


If you tell Jim that I (Irina Webb) referred you, he will give you 5% off on your purchase, not including shipping (and, full disclosure, I will receive 5% as well).


Do not hesitate to contact Jim McMahon by phone.  You can find his phone on his website.


Pure Effect Water Filters


Pure Effect offers unique filters that utilize a number of different technologies as well and offers water filters that remove a wide variety of contaminants. Igor Milevskiy is the founder of this small business. He is a passionate advocate for pure water, who was not happy with the filters offered on the market and decided to create something better.


He was able to create a water filtration system that is reportedly as effective at removing a wide range of contaminants as reverse osmosis systems are, but without the shortcomings of reverse osmosis filters, which are water waste and demineralization of water. I asked him lots of questions about his water filters and he patiently answered them to my satisfaction.


Pure Effect Water filtration systems utilize a combination of innovatively designed carbon block, activated carbon, KDF55, UV technologies and others to achieve powerful results.


The following components are certified to the following NSF certifications.


1. The Carbon in SuperBlock is certified to NSF 42 and NSF 61.

2. The Media in FluorSorb is certified to NSF 61.

3. The Filter housings are NSF pressure-tested and certified for material safety.

4. The heavy metal reduction media is KDF55 and is NSF 42-certified.


Pure Effect water filter is designed to remove:

  1. Radiation
  2. Pharmaceuticals
  3. Fluoride (see the report here)
  4. Chlorine
  5. Chlorine Chemical By-Products such as Chloramines
  6. Heavy Metals
  7. VOCs
  8. Agricultural Contaminants: pesticides and herbicides
  9. Microbial Cysts, viruses and bacteria and
  10. Sediment


I love the fact that Igor Milevskiy has water test reports with an independent lab readily available that support his claims.


You can view the comprehensive report here.


What I don’t like about reverse osmosis filters is that the filtered water sits in the tank and the lining of the tank is made of plastic; the safer type of plastic but plastic nevertheless. With Pure Effect filters, there is no storage and the water is virtually instantly filtered, it passes into the unit and through advanced filtration media, and out freshly into the cup, which means the water does not have a chance to go stale or absorb plastic that seems to be part of all filters I have looked into.


Another disadvantage of reverse osmosis water filtration is the fact the water gets deprived of all minerals. This is a controversial subject and there are no scientific studies to tell us if de-mineralized water is bad for us. However, if you are concerned about water void of anything of minerals, Pure Effect water filter may be a solution (sorry for the pun) for you. The water filter does not remove chloride, magnesium, or sodium.  There is some natural calcium in the system, which gets added to the water.  Because of remaining minerals, the water is alkaline. If you are looking for alkaline water, this water filter is worth checking out.


To learn more about Pure Effect water filters, click here.


I hope I made it easier for you to shop for a water filter, providing you with an overview of water filtration technologies, regulations, and specific businesses that can help you choose the best filter for your needs and budget.

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37 Responses

  1. This is great, you were reading my mind. I am very picky about my water. I currently purchase spring water packaged in glass bottles for drinking and regular spring water for cooking but this still
    does not help with showering. I’d been doing research on filters that can remove fluoride, chloramines, voc’s as well as other contaminants and don’t like RO filters because of the water waste. Thanks so much for the info.

  2. Just a few weeks ago I purchased a whole house water filter and under kitchen sink filter. I wish I got to read this sooner. We are going to install it next week. I ordered from a company in Nevada City called Friends of Water. Any chance you did any research on them. It is not a reverse osmosis system. I hope the one I got is ok. Thanks for you input!

    • Hi Amy, I have not researched that filter. What type of filter is it? And what contaminants does it reduce? ~Irina

      • It says it removes chlorine which is what the water in my county is treated with plus 600 other contaminants. I got a separate one for the kitchen to remove fluoride with activated alumina. It uses a foam advantage granulated carbon system. I don’t understand the exact details but it was recommended by someone I know who did a lot of research on it.

  3. Stacey Lukaitis

    Did you look into Berkley filters at all?? Until your article this was the best I could find

    • Hi Stacey: yes – I did some research into Berkley water filters. Berkley indoor filters can’t be shipped to California (where we live) because they are not in compliance with California “lead-free” law. Also, I am not sure I like the fact the water sits in the container on the countertop. ~Irina

  4. Rachel Rich-Shea

    Amy and Irina,

    Friends of Water is very similar to Pure Effects. I know many people who are having a hard time deciding between the two. I have only personally talked to Timothy over at Friends of Water, but not Igor at Pure Effects.


  5. Hi Irina,

    I live in an apartment so can’t get a home filtration system but I was wondering what you think of Whole Foods’ reverse osmosis water. They sell big bpa free bottles which you can fill up from their station. I currently drink spring water but they come in smaller bottles and not they are not bpa free. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Iknur, I did not have a chance to look into Whole Food’s filtered water yet. Do you they provide any information on it? If possible, I prefer to avoid all types of plastic. The Whole Foods we go to has an orange juice maker. I bring my own stainless steel bottle to fill up with orange juice. I wonder if you can do the same with water. ~Irina

  6. Thank you so much for the information you provide to your readers. I use the Zero water filter. The filter system is made of several layers. It comes with a reader so that you can test your water for particles. When your meter reader (resembles a thermometer) says 006 it is time to replace your filter. I feel very safe using this as I have tested this against bottled water, spring water, filtered water and tap water. It is the only filter that actually takes out all of the unwanted particles. Have you heard of this product? What do you think? Thank you for your time and interest & your motivation to help others live a healthier life!

    • Hi Shari, thank you for sharing. I briefly looked at their website and I am unclear which NSF standards the filter is certified to. Do you know? What technology do they use? Is it activated carbon or carbon block? How did you test their meter against bottled water? Does just show a number or some specific contaminants? In other words, how do you know that the filter removes everything? Thanks. ~Irina

  7. Susan Miller

    I actually talked briefly with Jim Mcmahon before we moved awhile back when we had city water. Our new place has well water. I am assuming we would provide Jim or Pure Effects with results of water testing first. I have done the research like you have with the same feelings and findings. Would love your input.

  8. Irina:
    During your research did you happen to look into APEC or Aquasana?
    My brother is recommending APEC and so far I am liking the fact that they are made in the USA (actually here in CA).
    I need to purchase a filter for my grandparents and I really like pure effects but they are out of their price range.
    I am therefore considering the APEC RO system or the Aquasana RO system.
    Please let me know if you have any information on these companies.
    I need to make a decision soon and I need to choose something in their price range without sacrificing quality.
    Thank you!

    • Sorry, Maria, I have not had a chance to research these filters. ~Irina

      • Irina,
        As I continue to do more research about water filters I thought it was worth sharing that I just discovered that APEC has a countertop version of their RO systems which does not require the typical plastic lined tank (which is often times the main concern with RO), instead the output line can be connected or placed inside any reservoir system for example a glass pitcher.
        I will continue to share as I learn more.
        Let me know what are your thoughts.

        • What are the materials that come in contact with stored water? Thanks! ~Irina

          • Irina,
            My understanding is that since there is no tank connected to this unit then you can just filter the water directly into any container of your choice. For example, this would allow you to filter the water directly into a glass pitcher (instead of having it sit inside the tank) by simply placing the output line inside the glass pitcher. I am still in the process of learning more about the materials used in the filters. I will share as I learn more. I have emailed them to find out more about the materials used for
            the plastic in the filters and the output line.

        • Do they offer any output reports? ~Irina

          • Irina,
            I emailed them to ask about certifications, reports and list of contaminants reduced and eliminated (including specific percentages). I will share as soon as I receive a reply.

          • Perfect. Thank you so much, Maria! I am impressed with your research skills. 🙂 ~Irina

        • In the mean time while I wait to hear back from the company or contact them directly I thought I would share the link to their website if anyone is interested in doing their own research as there seems to be two companies with similar names that are not to be confused one with the other.
          The website to the APEC RO system that I am referring to is:

          • Thank you, Maria! Could you provide a link to the over-the-counter filter model you are interested in? Thanks!

          • Irina,
            Yes of course. This is the link to the specific countertop RO system that I am interested on:

          • They are also sold through Amazon and here is the link to this specific countertop RO system if anyone is interested in reading the reviews posted there:

          • Hi, Maria, thank you for sharing! The filter has pretty good reviews. I hope they will respond to you soon. ~Irina

          • Irina,
            I just received the reply from the manufacturer. Here is their reply with my questions included. Please let me know what you think:

            Hello Maria,

            Thank you for your inquiry and I am happy to help! My answers to your questions are as follows:

            1. I would like to know if the system is NSF certified or if it has any other sort of certifications?

            The counter top RO systems are not certified. However, the Dow Filmtec membrane we use in the system is NSF 58 certified.

            2. I would also like to know if the system is BPA, BPS, Lead, Phthalate and PVC free?

            The counter top RO systems are BPA, BPS, Lead, Pthalate, and PVC free.

            3. How many contaminants does the system reduce or eliminate?

            The counter top RO systems are designed to remove 90% or more of contaminants from a water source.

            4. Where can I find a complete list with the percentages included of the contaminants that the system reduces?

            Below is a list of all the contaminants removed/reduced by the RO counter top system.

            5. Are all of the parts in this system made in the USA.?

            All of the filters and the majority of the main components are made in the USA.

            6. What is the difference between the regular counter top RO system and the alkaline?

            The difference is that that the alkaline version replaces the post carbon filter to help raise pH, by adding calcium back in to the water after reverse osmosis filtration.

            7. How do I know if I need the UV protection?

            The primary usage for a UV light is to disinfect filtered water at a certain flow rate. Bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms are destroyed by the UV interfering with the DNA and RNA in the organisms’ reproductive cycles. In theory, the reverse osmosis membrane already removes bacteria and viruses from the water, therefore, if you are on a municipal water system (tap water) in the U.S., chances are that you should not need a UV light on top of our ULTIMATE RO System. But, if your water source is known to be unsafe with microorganisms and you want to have extra protection, then you can add an UV as an additional stage to disinfect water.

            8. Does this system remove chloramine?

            The counter top RO system reduces traces of chloramines by the standard granular activated carbon filters. However, if you are looking for a more efficient removal of that type of contaminant, you can upgrade the standard carbon filters to “chloramine filters” that use catalytic carbon for just $2.00 per filter extra when you buy the system directly through APEC.


            I have the representatives direct email and phone number. Please let me know if there are any other questions that I should ask.

          • Hi, Maria: you might want to ask them about whether the system removes VOCs and pharmaceuticals. ~Irina

          • Irina,
            Thank your for your suggestion. I went ahead and contacted the manufacturer and asked the following two additional questions:
            1. Does the system remove VOC’s and pharmaceuticals?
            2. What materials are the filters and tubing made of?

            I already received a response and this is what the product specialist whom I have been communicating with told me:
            -Yes, the carbon filters on the system will help remove VOC’s and the reverse osmosis membrane filter will help remove pharmaceuticals. The filters are made of hard plastic polypropylene and the tubing used to connect the system is made of polyethylene.

            Irina please let me know what you think.

            Thank you,

          • Hi, Maria: everything checks out. Sounds like a standard RO filtration system. Remind me if the filter media is certified to NSF 61 standard, which does not tell you if the filter does a great job filtering; instead, it is aimed to prevent leaching of toxic substances from the components of the filter itself, mainly lead. ~Irina

    • Irina,

      I asked the product specialist if the carbon filters are NSF 53 certified and also asked about your inquiry regarding NSF 61 certification. I was told that the carbon filters are not NSF 53 certified and that the carbon filter are not NSF 61 certified but that the manufacturer of the carbon filters claims that ” from their experience in the water industry for 35+ years they do not think the filter will leach toxic substances so they have not performed any steps on assurance of leaching from the filter(s)”.

      This is not very reassuring for me but I am also aware of the shortcomings of NSF certifications.

      Please let me know what you think.

      Thank you

      • I agree that doesn’t sound very reassuring. At the very minumium, they should have NSF 42 and NSF 61. NSF 53 is more expensive to get and some manufacturers choose to test with less expensive labs. I am sorry. Otherwise, the filter sounded promising. ~Irina

  9. Just so you know, I have a pure effect filter, and the water absolutely sits in the plastic containers. You have to run the water through for awhile to get fresh water, which of course makes the filters not last as long. I know this because if you turn the faucet on the coldest setting it takes the water coming out of the filter about a minute or two to not be room temperature.

    • Hi, Justin: I was informed by the manufacturer that water sits inside the system itself where the majority of it is in contact with the filtration media which absorbs the contaminants including contaminants that might be leaching from plastic walls of the chamber. So it’s extra filtered because of the longer contact times the water has with the carbons and other media in the chambers. They do not recommend to flush the water. In reverse osmosis filters have reservoirs where the water sits in AFTER the filtration process is completed. Let me know if this helps. Thank you for your question. ~Irina

  10. Frank Delaware

    My wife and I have been thinking about getting a water filter for our house for years now, but we weren’t sure how to choose the right one. I really like the sound of the reverse osmosis filter because they are powerful. It would be nice to know that we are purchasing something that will last us a long time.

  11. Love this article. Have you looked into the Kangen water system? It’s supposed to have been approved as a medical device in Japan and removes chemicals from the water as well as making the water truly alkaline without chemicals like other waters.

    • Hi, Nessie: I haven’t had a chance to look into the Kangen water system. The functional medicine doctors I work with believe that alkaline water can be problematic for people because it decreases stomach acid, which may cause digestive issues. ~Irina

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