The list of ways to treat contaminants in your tap water may seem endless. Choosing the best way to protect your family and keep your drinking water safe can be overwhelming. To help you make an informed decision, we have compiled a list of five basic strategies to improve the safety of your drinking water.
Advantages: Treats all water (drinking, dish washing, showering, etc.) in your home, includes multiple purification steps and strategies (RO, UV, activated carbon, etc.)
Disadvantages: Cost, upkeep (requires servicing for any trouble or filter replacement), wasteful (for the amount of water that reaches your sink, as much as 3-7 times will be flushed away), not septic tank friendly (too much water piped through the system), may lower your water pressure if it contains RO filtration.
This filtration strategy is the second most comprehensive, after whole-house water filtration. Similar to whole-house water filtration, under the sink filters can often combine multiple strategies to purify your water. These filters might include reverse osmosis steps, UV disinfection steps, activated carbon, and more. However, unlike whole-house filters, these filters will only apply to the water for one sink in your home. However, you can often purchase accessories for these filters to attach to your refrigerator, ensuring that your ice and fridge water are also purified.
Advantages: Less expensive than whole-house filtration while still including multiple purification steps and strategies (RO, UV, activated carbon, etc.), can hook up to a fridge to purify fridge ice and water, easier to service and replace filters than a whole-house filter.
Disadvantages: More expensive than the last the strategies in this list, will not treat water for other purposes (showering, dish washing in a dishwasher, etc.)
On Tap Filtration
These filtration systems are mounted directly on your faucet. Though they are smaller and contain fewer filtration strategies than under the sink or whole-house water filters, they are still tested to remove over 90% of certain water contaminants. On tap water filters may contain activated carbon and/or ion-exchange resin. Both of these filtration strategies are designed to trap small molecules like chlorine, lead, asbestos, and other chemicals.
Advantages: Much less expensive than whole-house or under the sink filters, easy to install or replace old filters, high percent removal of many small molecule contaminants.
Disadvantages: Like under-the-sink filters they will not treat water for other uses (showering, washing dishes in a dishwasher, etc.) and also cannot be adapted to filter water to the fridge, not designed to remove microbial contamination. (My two cents: skip a couple of restaurant dinners this week and buy an under-the-sink filtration system that will last you several years).
Pitcher filters are the most common way people first choose to filter their water. Pitcher filters are very similar to on tap filtration in terms of quality and price. They usually contain both an activated carbon filter and an ion exchange filter to remove small molecule contaminants. While they have some convenience over on tap filters as they are more portable and can be put in the fridge for cool, filtered water on demand, they can also be more cumbersome. Pitcher filters must be refilled every time they are used and often the filter lasts less time than a filter in an on tap filtration system, requiring more frequent replacement in a pitcher filter. However, pitcher filters can be a very cheap and easy way to test if you prefer the taste of filtered water before committing to a bigger, more expensive filtration strategy.
Advantages: Relatively inexpensive, can be stored in the fridge for cool filtered water, portable and can filter water from any sink in your home, high percent removal of small molecule contaminants.
Disadvantages: Not designed to filter microbial contaminants, can be tiresome to constantly refill, cannot treat water for other purposes like showering or washing dishes. (My two cents: these filters, just like fridge water filters, can actually become infected with bacteria in weeks and sometime you can even smell it in the water. Get a real under-the-sink water filtration system.)
DIY Water Treatment
Finally, there are also many ways to treat your water that do not require buying a permanent filter or water treatment product. These methods may include boiling your drinking water, treating it with a disinfectant like bleach or chlorine, or using a product like activated charcoal sticks. Some of these strategies can be very risky if you are inexperienced – for instance, while bleach and chlorine can kill harmful bacteria in untreated water, they of course pose health problems of their own when added to drinking water! Thus, many of these strategies are only useful in an emergency, for instance, after a natural disaster, your local officials may recommend guidelines for safely treating drinking water with bleach.
Advantages: Inexpensive and often don’t require any additional purchases, can be very useful in an emergency when no other options are available.
Disadvantages: Do not remove all contaminants (usually most effective against microbial contaminants), can be dangerous if directions are not followed correctly, can worsen the taste of your water.