Environmental quality experts will tell you that the biggest threats often aren’t what you can see, they’re what you can’t see. The same caution applies to drinking water: often, the biggest concerns aren’t what you can taste, they’re what you can’t taste.
Sure, tap water in most municipalities is generally considered safe to drink (unless you’re unfortunate enough to live in Flint, Michigan), because the water has to meet minimum quality standards set by the EPA. That doesn’t mean you’re home free, however.
Local water testing is only conducted every so often and federal enforcement of testing regulations is spotty. Additionally, the standards don’t apply to small water systems, and they don’t help at all if contaminants get into the water between the water source and your faucet or if you get your water from a well.
What’s more, the EPA standards are minimum standards. They’re also old and outdated (most were set in 1986) and at times they’ve even been lowered; for example, a greater amount of arsenic has been allowed in drinking water ever since a 2001 rule change.
In short, government standards don’t mean your water is clean. There could be fairly-high levels of bacteria, lead, radon gas, pesticides or other chemicals in your water, and the standards don’t address “harmless” contaminants like iron, sulfur and chlorine that make tap water smelly and/or taste bad.
If you weren’t convinced before starting this article that a home water filter system is a very worthwhile investment – we’re guessing you might be convinced now. Our Your House Garden review team has been convinced for a while, and we’ve ranked our choices for the top 5 best water filter systems. You can check them out after reading a bit more about the type of systems you can choose from.
Water Filter Choices: Which Is Best For You?
Stand-alone Water Filters
There are a few options which don’t involve messing around with your plumbing, but they fall short on the convenience scale for most people. Inexpensive stand-alone pitchers with a water filter inside the lid are able to remove chlorine, trace metals and some chemicals, improving the water’s quality, taste and odor. However, they usually only hold ten or eleven cups of water, meaning they have to be refilled quite frequently and aren’t of much use for a large family.
Water Filter Kitchen Faucet Mounts
Water filters that mount directly onto your faucet are a step up from pitcher filters. They are just about as effective, but the water is filtered as it comes out of your tap so you get cleaner water on demand. Installation is simple; you just unscrew the aerator from the faucet and screw the filter on instead. The downsides: they don’t fit all models of faucet and they slow down the flow of water. They also tend to clog fairly regularly.
Countertop Water Filter Mounts
You can purchase a similar device that sits on your countertop, which attaches to your faucet in the same manner and dispenses water (after it’s been filtered) much like a traditional coffeemaker. Once again, there’s no guarantee this device will fit your faucet or in your available counter space, it also is prone to clogs, and most models don’t do as good a job as the options we’ll look at next.
Reverse Osmosis Water Filters
Many have heard the term “reverse osmosis,” but very few understand exactly what it means. Basically, it’s a system that pushes water through a special membrane and several filters, taking out most impurities and contaminants and discarding them into the drain. It’s a fairly complicated process that involves a number of components and filtration stages and is able to remove lead, pesticides, sulfates, nitrates and many other contaminants that simpler systems can’t catch.
At one time “RO” was almost exclusively used to treat the water in an entire home, but there are now many three-, four- or five-stage (the more, the better) reverse osmosis units that can be installed right under a kitchen sink – although they’re sometimes complicated to install and take up a lot of room. They require regular filter and membrane changes as well as yearly maintenance, waste some water in the disposal process, and result in some healthy minerals like magnesium and calcium being filtered out in addition to sediment, radon and trace metals, although some also don’t remove chlorine.
Carbon Block Water Filters
Carbon block filters are recommended by the EPA for the removal of VOCs (volatile organic chemicals) like pesticides and commercial chemicals, and they’re also effective against bacteria, heavy metals, nitrates and other organisms. The block of activated carbon acts effectively to remove contaminants, and the density and source of the carbon (coconut shell is best) also affect how well the filter works. Under-counter models are also space-hogs and can require complicated installation, and since this filter doesn’t remove sediment, a second filter is needed for that purpose.
Combination Water Filters
If none of those sounds perfect to you, it’s not you. Even industry experts argue over which type of water filter is the best choice. One option is a multi-stage system that includes all of the filtration methods we’ve discussed – but they’re hard to find and extremely expensive for an under-sink model (for example, Radiant Life offers a 14-stage system for about $1500. The best bet is to figure out which water contaminants are your biggest problems, and select a system that matches your needs.
What Else To Think About
Some lesser water filters, or those with complicated filtering mechanisms, can slow down water flow drastically; make sure the flow rate from the filter won’t leave you waiting and waiting for a glass of water.
You’ll eventually need to change the interior filter and it’s not the best approach to use guesswork, so a model with a filter change indicator really helps.
Finally, you’re safest if you choose a unit that’s been certified by NSF International, the leading independent testing organization.
Let’s get to those reviews.
1. Home Master TMAFC Artesian Undersink Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System
Wow, that’s a lot of title. The Home Master (formerly known as Tap Master) Artesian is a lot of water filter, though. As the long title told you, this is a reverse osmosis system but it has an important attribute that most RO competitors don’t – before the water is delivered through your tap, the system reintroduces the healthy minerals that are usually removed by the reverse osmosis process.
In fact, calcium and magnesium are added to the water twice during filtration. It also delivers filtered water faster than most other RO systems.
Other things to like about the Artesian: it has seven full stages of filtration, the filter housing and filter are integrated so “junk” won’t leak into the filter housing when it’s time for a filter change and the process is easier (although a bit more expensive), and you can install this unit by yourself or with the help of a handyman without having to call a plumber.
This Home Master wastes about 4 gallons of water for each gallon filtered, which is actually good for a reverse osmosis unit. However, if you lay out another $100 or so you can purchase the Artesian with a permeate pump, which increases the flow rate by 50% and reduces waste to an amazing 1-1½ gallons.
The Artesian is expensive, but it’s particularly notable for the feature that re-adds healthy minerals. The review team recommends buying the additional pump, to make this a very efficient filtration option.
Facts and figures on the Home Master TMAFC Artesian Undersink Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System:
2. WaterChef U9000 Premium Under-Sink Water Filtration SystemNo products found.
This one’s expensive too; in fact, more expensive than the standard Artesian without the pump. But for those who prefer a carbon block filter to a reverse osmosis model, the U9000 is the Your House Garden review team’s choice. It’s also smaller than the Artesian, if your under-sink space is at a premium.
There’s only one filtration stage on this carbon block unit, but it does a very good job of filtering out contaminants like VOCs and pesticides, chlorine and lead. Most bacteria, mercury or asbestos will pass through into the water, but that’s the downside of any carbon or charcoal filter. Magnesium and calcium will also pass through, which is a good thing.
The cartridge works for about 1000 gallons of water so it will only have to be replaced about once a year, and there’s a filter indicator to tell you when it’s time.
Unlike most under-sink models, the WaterChef includes an attractive, brass designer faucet with a brushed nickel finish, complete with a ceramic disc valve. The filter is very well constructed, with a surgical stainless steel housing, and there’s an optional kit that lets you attach the filter to your refrigerator’s water supply as well. Installation is pretty easy; it’s unlikely you’ll need a plumber.
Your House Garden believes the WaterChef U9000 is the best consumer carbon block under-sink water filter available, with all the features you’d expect from a carbon model but at a high price.
Details for the WaterChef U9000 Premium Under-Sink Water Filtration System:
3. APEC ROES-50 5-Stage Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System
The review team’s runner-up choice in the reverse osmosis category is the APEC ROES-50. It doesn’t add back removed minerals and it has five filtration stages (including two carbon blocks) compared to the Home Master’s seven. But it does almost as good a job in removing bacteria, heavy metals, nitrates and other contaminants from tap water, for about $100 less.
The APEC model is a bit more efficient than the Home Master, producing about three gallons of wastewater for each gallon of filtered water – not surprising because of the fewer filtration stages. You can add a pump to improve that ratio, but you’ll have to purchase it separately. Or, of course, you can run it out to water your garden or fill your swimming pool.
This water filter will take quite a bit of room under the sink, but don’t be too scared of installation. You can probably do it yourself or with a handyman’s help. It comes with a chrome faucet. The filter will last for about six months, and there is no replacement indicator.
By the way, APEC makes a higher-level model, the Ultimate RO-90 (see link below). It’s almost twice the price, and the only major advantage is that the water flow rate is noticeably higher. You might want to consider it if water flow or pressure is already a problem in your system.
The APEC ROES-50 is an effective reverse osmosis water filter – not the best, but it does a very good job of removing contaminants at a very good price.
Looking closer at the APEC ROES-50 5-Stage Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System:
4. Aquasana AQ-5300.55 3-Stage Under Sink Water Filter
Here’s our second choice for the best carbon block under-sink water filter. Aquasana includes carbon blocks in its patented, 3-stage “Claryum” filtration system, which removes most contaminants from tap water while letting healthy minerals pass. Like any carbon block filter, though, it can’t deal effectively with bacteria or substances like mercury.
Water flow from the AQ-5300.55 isn’t quite up to par with the WaterChef, and the filter has to be replaced every 600 gallons (six months or so). There’s an indicator to let you know when to make the change, though. One nice feature is that you get to choose between chrome, brushed nickel or oil-rubbed bronze faucets, and another is that the price is substantially lower than the WaterChef unless you opt for the oil-rubbed bronze faucet. Installation is a bit trickier than with most of our other reviewed filters, although the unit is on the smaller size for water filters that go under the sink.
A good carbon block filter at a very good price, the Aquasana delivers clean and healthy tap water with only a few minor drawbacks.
Specs for the Aquasana AQ-5300.55 3-Stage Under Sink Water Filter:
We wanted to include one water filter system that doesn’t go under the sink – and the Big Berkey isn’t just any countertop filtration system. This huge 2¼ gallon stainless steel tank uses a combination of two ceramic super Sterasyl filters and two PF-4 fluoride filters, able to process 15 gallons of water a day from any source.
“Any source” means you can also take it outdoors, on camping trips or even overseas, where water quality may be even more of an issue than when water comes from the tap. It will remove bacteria and parasites, lead and heavy metals, and reduce parasites, herbicides and other VOCs while leaving healthy minerals intact. It will also take up quite a bit of counter space if you use it indoors.
The Big Berkey doesn’t work quickly, has to be filled regularly, and is quite expensive compared to under-sink carbon block models. It’s extremely versatile, though, and the filter definitely works well.
Specs for the Big Berkey Water Filter System:
Bonus Option: CuZn UC-200 Under Counter Water Filter
There are several major reasons the review team really likes this CuZn under counter model. First of all, it has a very long life span, able to filter 50,000 gallons of water before the filter needs to be replaced – that’s an average of five years’ worth of clean, tasty water.
Secondly, it isn’t a huge unit that requires you to install another faucet for the filtered water; it is a smaller filter that attaches directly to your cold water line with just a few minutes of work. Finally, it does a terrific job, at an extremely reasonable price.
The UC-200 uses a three-stage filtration system with micro-sediment membranes, KDF55 (a patented copper/zinc alloy) and acid-washed coconut shell filters. The entire system is bacteriostatic which means that no mold or bacteria can grow inside, as it sometimes does with systems using carbon filters instead of KDF.
The reason the system is so compact and easy to install is that it is not a reverse-osmosis system (although CuZn does sell one). It simply removes chlorine, heavy metals, bacteria and just about all other contaminants from cold municipal water (not well water) to purify it, without removing the hard minerals like calcium and magnesium that are good for your health.
The bottom line is that the CuZN UC-200 is Your House Garden’s top choice for delivering delicious clean water, when your supply doesn’t need to be treated for excess hardness. The price is good and the installation is hassle-free.
Details for the CuZn UC-200 Under Counter Water Filter:
As you are interested in your families health you might also want to consider buying an air fryer, they are a great way to cook tasty food without the added fat and cholesterol.