Susette has a lifelong interest and practice with good physical and mental health, including the environment that sustains us all.
Technically, everyone's drinking water at home does not need treatment. If you live in the United States or another country where city water suppliers have strict rules about the quality of the water they produce, then tap water will already meet high drinking standards.
Testing Water Quality
Water utilities in such locations are required by law to test the drinking water several times per day to make sure it's healthy. They are very aware that anything off could affect hundreds or thousands of their customers. In fact, to make doubly, absolutely sure they add chlorine or another similar disinfectant, after they've treated, to keep the water microbe-free until it gets to your tap.
Unfortunately, chlorine, in large or small steady doses, is harmful to the human body. Just as it kills microbes in the water supply, so it kills microbes in your own body, including the good ones. This is why most city people choose to set up a drinking water filter - to take out the chlorine, and improve the taste and odor. For that you really only need a simple carbon filter.
On the other hand, people who use well water or rainwater, rather than city water, or who live in countries where standards are not so strict, or who have serious health problems, all would be helped by using one or another of the following water treatment methods.
Filtration is the process of passing unclean water through a block of porous material that prevents particulates from following. The water emerging from the other side is cleansed of any material bigger than the hole size it had to pass through. The ideal size hole for a high quality filter is 0.1 microns, which takes out floating debris, as well as any microbes bigger than that, like giardia and cryptosporidium, which cause diarrhea.
- Carbon Filter - This type of filter pushes water through a series of layers of granulated material, as least one of which is activated carbon (same as the activated charcoal you ingest in pills to reduce gas). The other layers remove most impurities and nonorganic materials (like metals), while the carbon layer catches organics and removes chlorine and any gases. Sometimes silver is added to this layer to prevent entrapped microbes from colonizing there.
If you live in an area where tap water is fairly clean and is treated to kill microbes, this is all you will need to keep your drinking water healthy. I've had a Multi-Pure carbon filter for about 10 years and have been fully satisfied with it.
- Reverse Osmosis - This is the system most commonly employed by the military. It entails running water through several membranes, or filters, each doing a different job. The sediment filter traps particles, the activated carbon filter traps organic chemicals and chlorine, and the RO filter captures the rest. There is some worry that it takes out trace minerals and metals that are actually healthy for our bodies.
This system is called "reverse osmosis" because water's normal movement is to flow from a pure, light state toward a more condensed state (osmosis), whereas the RO system forces water to move through filters from a more congested state to become more pure - the reverse of what it normally does. This is the system also primarily used to convert seawater to drinking water. It's a good, safe, thorough water filtering system.
Note: Both of these systems have filters that need to be periodically cleaned and replaced, which should be taken into account when estimating cost.
Purification is a process that creates chemical changes or is a chemical addition to the water that kills microbes. It's purpose is to decontaminate the water. This can include removing bad color, odor, or chemical additives like chlorine, but mostly is focused on getting rid of bacteria and viruses. It is often combined with a filtration process to remove the dead bodies of microbes killed by purification.
- Tablets - Iodine tablets are the quickest and least efficient way to decontaminate water. These are generally used out in the field, where there is no access to electricity. The tablets do kill giardia and cryptosporidium, but they don't take out chemicals or other impurities.
If you need to use this method in an emergency, wait 1/2 hour after dropping the tablet into the water, then add some vitamin C to improve the taste before drinking.
- Boiling - "Make sure you boil your water before drinking" is one of the first pieces of advice a Peace Corps volunteer is given when they arrive in their host country. Boiling effectively kills most microbes and is a good prevention for waterborne diseases. People who are generally healthy and who eat well should be ok with this simple method of purification.
If your primary source of water at home is well water, this is a viable cleansing method for small amounts, especially if you combine it with a coffee filter to take out particles, while adding beans for flavor. If you live in a city where tap water is treated, the primary benefits of boiling are that it removes chlorine and is good for making tea.
- Distillation - Distillation is a process where water is boiled and the water vapor is transported to a cooler, which cools it down into its normal water form, leaving impurities and chemicals behind, and killing all microbes. It has no taste, because there's nothing in it to give it taste. This process simulates the creation of rainwater. It uses a lot of energy - both for boiling and cooling the water.
In an area where rain water is used or tap water is suspect, but there is plenty of electricity, this is an excellent option. Here is a link to a home distillation system made in Sweden: [link - http://home-water-distiller.com/ ]
- Ultraviolet - This system was developed for use in hospitals. It combines a carbon filter with a separate chamber containing a short-wave ultraviolet light. The UV light is highly effective at disabling microbes, preventing them from reproducing and causing disease. The carbon filter generally requires replacement every six months, while the UV bulb will need to be replaced once a year. The bulb stays on all the time, so check to see how much electricity your chosen model will use.
This system is best used in an area where tap water is often unhealthy, seldom treated, and is easy to get sick from. If you have serious allergies that are aggravated by tap water, this would be a good system to use even where tap water is good.
Water Treatment Products
Water treatment systems take many forms these days. In addition to all those below, there are also smaller portable filters for travelers and larger whole house systems that clean your entire water supply. Here are a couple of the types you can purchase in the United States for kitchen use. They are the brands rating most highly for each type on Amazon.com. Feel free to explore Amazon for other types and their ratings as well.
Note: I am focusing on filter types here, not advocating the brand that shows. The two descriptions below are customized to inform you about the type of filter and how it works. The prices showing up give you an overall idea of how much each type costs, and their photos show you the difference in types better than I can describe. Always include cost of replacement filters in your calculations.
You will have noticed that the types shown above are water filters, not purifiers. Unfortunately, that appears to be what Amazon sells. If you enter "water purifier" in the Amazon search box, the results still show filters, so if you are interested in UV or distillation purifiers, you will have to do a Google search.
Buying a Water Filter or Purifier
All benefits of these different types of filters and/or purifiers will not apply to each person. Therefore, it's important to look at your own situation carefully.
- What is contained in your tap water that needs taking out? Look on your water bill for your utility's website. Go online to see what their water consists of and what the pH level is. If you don't find anything, purchase a water testing kit and measure it yourself.
- How many people are in your family? A larger family will want to use a system with a larger capacity. If you are anxious about chlorine absorption through the skin or lungs of your family while showering, a whole house system would give you clean water throughout.
- How much room do you have on your counter? A smaller place may not have room for a countertop system, but may have lots of room in the refrigerator or under the sink.
- How much do replacement filters cost? It may be that a countertop will be cheaper than a pitcher type over time. Pick a time period - say three years. Figure out how many you'll need to purchase during that time (according to manufacturer's recommendations) and how much the total cost will be. Add that total to the cost of the system you are considering, then compare costs between systems.
Product Reviews - What Do Buyers Care About?
Once you have chosen what kind of system would work best for you, you will want to choose a good brand. For this, it's important to see how buyers experienced the brands you are considering. Always look at customer reviews. Even if you intend to buy in a local store, go online to find reviews first.
According to reviewers on Amazon.com, these are the things they looked for when determining whether or not a particular brand of filtration or purification system worked for them.
- What is treated - What is the product set up to do? Clean particulates? Kill microbes? Eliminate odors? Get rid of chlorine?
- Efficiency - How much water will it clean at a time? How long does it take? How well does it do what it says it will do? How easy is it to use?
- Quality - How well is it built and how long do its parts last?
- Design - How pleasing is the design to the eye? How much space does it take? Does it add to the kitchen or does it just look like clutter?
- Maintenance - Does it have an indicator to show when the filter needs changing? (One person living alone will change less often than a family of five.) How much do new filters cost? Can you buy adapters or valves if they need replacement? Does it have a well-written manual that shows how to maintain it?
- Company service - How does the company react when you call with questions or problems? How long does it take for a knowledgeable company representative to answer the phone? How long does the warranty last and do they honor it?
When to Replace the Filter
Choosing your product carefully can net you many years of healthy and good-tasting drinking water. If you haven't thought about it before, take the time to analyze your needs carefully. If you have been thinking about it, maybe this article is the final thing you need to prompt you to make that purchase. Enjoy!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on August 15, 2017:
Thanks Trisha - Looks like this link you provide is especially good for readers in India.
Trisha Verma from India on August 02, 2017:
Thanks for sharing such a wonderful information. Drinking untreated water can cause several waterborne diseases. Now a days with increase in water pollution level, Water Purifiers has become one of the important appliances in every home. I found one very useful list of top 10 domestic water purifiers for home, which I would like to share with all.. http://water-purifiers.com/top-10-best-water-purif...
Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on July 21, 2014:
It looks like an interesting product, eh meh, although it does appear they took the video offline. I couldn't get it to play - got a message saying, "This video doesn't exist." But I like the fact that they're using a ceramic cartridge and it lasts a lot longer than the other kind.
eh meh on July 21, 2014:
I have an Ideal Standard Cleartap (a 3 in 1 tap, that gives filtered water. i got fed up payin the sometimes high prices for the replacement cartridges, till i found this site: http://www.brookwater.co.uk/Water-Filtering-Mixert... they ofer a replacement kit, with a Doulton Ultracard ceramic cartridge that lasts 3-4 times as long as the cleartap cartridge, in the firtst year I have saved on the cost of 4 cartridges! and there is also a handy how to video on cleaning the ceramic cartridge to prolong the life of the cartridge, ;-) sweet!
great4home on November 16, 2013:
This article is fantastic and very useful. Many people don't know what's in the water we drink. I also find useful water filters: http://topbestreviews.net/best-reverse-osmosis-sys...
Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on June 25, 2013:
"Non-scientists" are who I write for. Thanks for the confirmation, Michael.
Michael Leach from Rosarito Beach, Baja, Norte, Mexico on May 18, 2013:
This is a wonderful, comprehensive, and information-rich article. Most importantly, at least to me, it's written for the "non-scientist". Very readable and understandable. Thanks.
Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on August 22, 2012:
That made me laugh, lindacee. I'm glad my hub helped you plan for the future . . . for when the Brita breaks.
Linda Chechar from Arizona on August 22, 2012:
Thanks for sharing this information. I bought a Brita tap filter a few months ago and expect it to break any day now. I'm not crazy about the taste of its filtered water, so I'm glad you provided some good options that I hadn't considered. My first choice was the Culligan in your Amazon capsule. Think that will be my next purchase.
Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on August 21, 2012:
Test it first, Leah. All cities don't use chlorine . . . some use fluoride, which is worse (lol). Many don't use anything, so test first to see if you need a filter.
I like the carbon filter too, Robert. However, I've also noticed there's an alkaline filter out, which I'll add info about later, when I have more time. It converts the slightly acidic nature of city water into alkaline water that's healthier for our bodies.
Leah Lefler from Western New York on August 20, 2012:
Wow, watergeek - I think we need to get a water filter. We've been drinking from the tap (a habit we got into because we had well water for ages). Now that we have city water, I think we should definitely get a filtration device!
Robert Erich from California on August 19, 2012:
Very interesting article. I like the carbon filter. I have seen a presentation on this kind of filter (or one similar to it) where different sands are placed into a tube and it filters out the water easily and effectively without any need for chemicals or electricity - perfect for rural villages.
Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on August 17, 2012:
One question, Frank - It sounds like you did your research awhile ago. Have you tested lately to find out what is in the tap water in your area (i.e. after it's been processed by your water utility)? I'm curious to know.
Frank Wallace on August 17, 2012:
I searched for many hours finding out what is in our tap water, and the results are absolutely shocking. There are radiation particles, chemicals, pesticides, fecal matter, pharmaceuticals, bacteria, etc, all of which are harmful to the human body. After reading everything, I then searched for the proper system for myself, and ended up getting a reverse osmosis system, as it exceeds requirements and removes up to 99.99% of everything in the water.
Whether or not you live in a municipal area with treated water, it still isn't safe for human consumption. Chlorine itself is carcinogenic, and fluoride, well it's toxic waste, but you can search that topic on google if your interested.
Anyway, I got my reverse osmosis fairly cheap compared to most companies out there. I got mine from a company called Aquasafe Systems, and have been using it for years now without any complications, and the support staff is excellent for any questions I had. Their website is http://www.aquasafecanada.com
I recommend a reverse osmosis unit to anyone thinking of getting a water filtration system as this ensures your are receiving nothing but pure water, and nothing is more important that your health.
Britt Mittemeijer on August 17, 2012:
As one who has written much about drinking water, various technologies and use of good water, I find this to be a very well-rounded article. Anyone reading this from top to bottom will understand a lot more about the water they drink and take for granted.
Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on August 16, 2012:
Thanks all. I believe that sustainable living requires us to purchase only those things we really can benefit from . . . but then purchase the highest quality we can. In this case, if water quality is fine, except for the chlorine (and you expect to stay where you are for awhile) then purchase the best brand that removes chlorine. Don't worry about everything else a filter can remove, if that's not an issue with your current drinking water.
Shea on August 16, 2012:
This is a fantastic article abundant with useful information. I particularly like the factors in making a purchase. Many times people don't consider what is in their water and what needs to be removed. Good job!
Joan Whetzel on August 16, 2012:
You have given some great tips and information here. Thanks.
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on August 16, 2012:
This is excellent information - very detailed and helpful. I like the way you explained how the various purification methods work. Some treated water (from municipal sources) has a harsh smell of chlorine - I lived in Southern California for a few years, and I recall a powerful odor when I'd turn on the tap. As you mention, that's probably not good for us.
Outstanding hub! Voted up!