Current and past water filter history: Soma, AquaOvo (current) & Japanese Pitcher
Since starting Apartment Therapy, I've always felt it's good to do everything you can to make your home comfortable and clean (in as little time as possible), and that air and water quality were fundamental. Living in New York City, I've never had a problem with the water, but when I started to drink cold filtered water I loved the difference. Particularly when making coffee or tea, filtered water really seemed to improve the taste. Years later, this is what I've learned.
I started out after college with a Brita filter and remember the pleasure of coming home late at night after being out drinking and quaffing pitchers of cold filtered water. My friends and I were all CONVINCED that there was something addictive they were putting in the water. It was that good. Particularly with a fresh filter.
Years later I've tried many solutions and graduated to wanting a really good filter that also LOOKS good in my home and makes it easy to drink water often. Because I rent I haven't yet opted for an undercounter system at home (preferable), but we have put one in the office, and it works really well.
For many people filtering improves the smell and taste of their water, particularly by reducing chlorine, which has been added since the 1850's to kill harmful bacteria in the water or along the pipes that transport it. In testing parlance, this is called the "Aesthetic" qualities of water.
Better filters also improve the "Health" qualities of water by reducing tasteless contaminants like lead, benzene, MTBE, chloramines, and PCBs. Contamination of groundwater can result from agricultural runoff, community landfills, leaks from underground storage tanks, injection of hazardous waste into deep wells, etc.
Most cities, however, have pretty good drinking water (NYC is one of them) and the only thing one might think about is that several of them (like NYC) still rely on water pipes that were installed over 100 years ago which can add contaminants. For example Riverkeeper.org, which monitor's NY State water supply, reported the following about lead and PPCP contamination:
"Lead contamination, which is caused by lead-soldered plumbing in older buildings, remains a concern at the tap. Over the four-year study period, New York reported the highest average number of samples that exceeded drinking water standards for lead. However, lead can be flushed from household plumbing systems by running tap water for 30 seconds."
"New York City detected pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), contaminants of emerging concern, in its water supply. After confirming the presence of trace concentrations of some PPCPs in 2010, New York discontinued its PPCP testing program in 2011. Virtually all PPCPs are contaminants for which there are no state or federal standards. No long-term studies exist to determine their potential risks to human health, but many have documented adverse effects on aquatic organisms."
There are three ways to clean water: distillation, reverse osmosis and carbon filtering. Of the three, carbon filtering is the quickest and easiest, but it also largely provides aesthetic improvement, which is all the simple affordable filters do.
Carbon is another name for charcoal. "Activated Carbon" is charcoal that has been treated with oxygen to open up millions of tiny pores between the carbon atoms. This tremendously increases the surface area of the carbon, allowing it to absorb great amounts of certain chemicals that are then trapped for good. Chemicals that are not attracted to carbon pass by, and when all the pores are full, filtering stops. This is why filters need to be replaced.
Below you'll find all the systems I've used over the years, which is a pretty good survey of the landscape and a number of price points. Read through to find the one that works for you and let me know if there's others I should check out.
I would recommend any of these depending on your situation and your budget.
Filtering your water is basically a win-win and you can't go wrong. However, if you want to boost either aesthetics or filtration, the bigger systems will certainly do more.
1. Multipure Aquaperform Below-the-Sink with Faucet - $550 ($250 per year @ 2 filters)
This is a serious carbon filter. A solid block carbon filter held in a stainless steel housing that sits under your sink and comes with its own chrome faucet, we've been using the Multipure for about five years. The water tastes great and the ease of use couldn't be better (it's just not refrigerator cold). The filter (which we change about every six months - or when the water begins to run slowly) is activated carbon inside of a large cylinder and is said to the the only filter in NSF testing that reduces all of the following contaminants: Lead, Mercury, Cyst, Asbestos, VOC, MTBE, PCB, Chloramine, and Arsenic V.
Multipure systems are NSF certified to reduce both aesthetic (NSF 42) and health effects (NSF 53) in water.
2. Ovopur Dispenser - $759 with one filter ($159 per year @ 3 filters)
Another serious filter. This bad boy is really a luxury to have in your home and makes drinking water really easy. The ceramic egg shaped dispenser cools the water and allows it to keep moving, avoiding bacterial buildup. The lower chamber holds 11 liters of water (good for a week in our house). The recyclable glass cartridge is stacked with four levels:
a. KDF55 - removes 99% of chlorine, lead, mercury, nickel, chromium, and other heavy metals that may be found in drinking water.
b. Activated Carbon - It is excellent for neutralizing water’s taste and smell, effectively removes yeast and micropollutants, and absorbs traces of certain heavy metals.
c. Microporous Bioceramics - As well as absorbing chemical or organic residues that might be in the water, active bioceramics can soften and revitalize the water by reducing the size of its molecules.
d. Quartz Crystal - Quartz crystal sand is used to remove any lingering impurities from the water.
Ovopur cartridges are NSF certified to reduce Health Effects (NSF/ANSI 61).
3. Soma Water Filter - $99 with six filters ($78 per year @ 6 filters)
A well designed "aesthetic" water filter. New last year, this attractive glass water filter is a nice alternative if you care about looks and want to keep it on your dinner table throughout the meal. I found it really nice to fill up (water flows through quickly), good tasting, but a little cumbersome on the dinner table. That said, it's a lot better than the alternatives, and Soma is working hard to introduce new models in the next year. They want to kill this niche.
Using a mixture of coconut shells, silk, and a plant-based casings, the Soma filters are officially tested and certified by the Water Quality Association (WQA) to NSF/ANSI Standard 42 requirements for the reduction of chlorine, taste and odor reduction. Additional tests have been done, but not released yet.
4. PUR Faucet Water Filter - $35 with one filter ($75 per year @ 6 filters)
A space saving "aesthetic" and "health" filter. I used this for a number of years when I wanted to get rid of the pitcher entirely. Attached to my faucet it worked nicely. Eventually, when I had more room, I chose to get rid of the bulbous thing, but I totally respect the design for when it's necessary. I found the water quality good and crisp.
PUR is basically a simple activated carbon filter and is certified by NSF to reduce 61 contaminants, substances, plus sediment, chlorine (taste and odor) and its by-products (NSF 53 & 42)
5. Brita Water Pitcher - $27 with one filter ($48 per year @ 6 filters)
Brita was where it all began and they continue to make excellent entry level filters that use activated carbon and ion exchange resin to do a basic cleaning job (reducing chlorine is a big one).
Brita filters reduce chlorine (taste and odor), copper, cadmium and mercury, and "can even remove 96.6% of pharmaceuticals including Acetaminophen, Carbamazepine, Estradiol, Naproxen and Progesterone." Brita filters are NSF certified for aesthetic and health effects (NSF 53 & 42).
6. Binchotan Charcoal - $18 for four sticks ($18 per year @ 4 sticks)
This stuff is also relatively new in the States and a great, affordable and totally natural way to filter your water. While I am not aware of any tests done, charcoal is highly absorbent and the basis of all the other filters. Even when standing in water it is said to absorb toxins in tap water, like lead, mercury, cadmium, copper and chlorine, and imparts calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphates.
DWR used to sell a great glass pitcher which used this system, but it seems to be out of stock right now. Here's a pic for when it comes back.
(Image credits: Maxwell Ryan; Multipure; as linked above; Oh Sweet Joy; PUR; Brita; Amazon)