Plus, do you really need one?
man filling water glass
Credit: Getty / Yevhenii Podshyvalov

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There are many types of water filters on the market—and though they may work in different ways, for the most part, they all do the same thing: properly filter your water. But how do these gadgets remove everything you don't want from your water, while keeping everything you do? We tapped two experts to explain, ahead.

How do water filters work?

Water filters work by using a combination of adsorption and physical straining, says Brandon Booker, the founder of On the Gulf Property Management and a licensed water treatment expert. "Adsorption is the sticking of particulate to the outside of the activated carbon (the normal filtrate that is contained within water filters)," he says. "The activated carbon are tiny particles that are peppered with little holes in them; they also physically strain out any particulate that makes it through the water system." There are, however, limitations to what these appliances can do. While the carbon is used to remove small amounts of chlorine from municipal water, amongst other things, it can't filter out biological materials like E. coli, fecal chloroform, and so on. "They also will not remove all of the chlorine or directly adjust the Ph from a municipal water system," he adds.

Who should absolutely use one?

Since the basic idea behind all water filters is to reduce contaminants from a stream, whether or not you need one will vary by your location and your personal preference, notes Christopher Ashley, PhD, the Director of Product Development at Astrea Water. "These contaminants vary by city, county, and state but are largely driven by the pipes used to deliver water from the municipal treatment center to homes, offices, gyms, or other locations—so choosing a water filter is very specific to each person's water source and taste," he says. If you're concerned about your water quality, Ashley suggests looking for a filter that is certified by a third-party regulating body to reduce other contaminants like lead, copper, mercury, and pesticides.

How can you tell if your filtration system is working?

The easiest way to ensure that your water filter is working is to compare a glass of filtered and unfiltered water that comes directly from your tap. "In most cases, the tap water will have a slightly metallic taste or a hint of chlorine, which your filter should remove," explains Ashley. If you're worried that water is heavily contaminated, Ashley suggests having it professionally analyzed. "I would not suggest you rely on things like TDS (total dissolved solids) meters, as those are only measuring one particular aspect of filtration and are not able to detect many contaminants."

Do you really need one?

"Most water filters in residential homes are for the improvement of taste, not necessarily for making water any safer to drink," clarifies Booker. "That's not a huge deal if you live where you receive municipal water, as that is tested for quality and safety well before reaching your home." However, the single biggest thing that customers should know is that there is no United States governmental body that is evaluating or regulating household water filters, says Ashley. He recommends shopping brands that say they are certified to NSF/ANSI water standards, which have been developed by a consortium of public health professionals, industry and university researchers, and consumer advocates and consumers.


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