Re(al)view: ZeroWater

published May 5, 2009
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We’ve been using a PUR gravity fed pitcher water filter system in our household for several years now, a decision that has weaned us off a bottled water addiction. Yet, there’s always been this sneaking suspicion that the pitcher’s filter system was only doing a halfway decent job of filtering the water, especially compared to the expensive reverse osmosis systems we’ve occasionally pondered investing in. So we were pleased to learn about a new player in the market of home water purification systems, and one aimed at providing cleaner water with a measuring device to compare what you’ve been drinking to what you could be drinking using their purification filtering system. ZeroWater stands apart from other drinking water filtering systems by providing a digital TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) meter with every purchase, an interesting, if not effective marketing idea. Wth a claim of “000” readings compared to tap’s 75-300 particles per million reading after filtration, did ZeroWater live up to its claims?

Before we get to the actual readings, we need to start off with some of the unique features of the ZeroWater, including its highly addictive-to-use TDS meter device. The TDS meter comes packaged separately and has a built-in compartment inside the pitcher when not in use. Using it is as simple as turning it on and placing the tip of device for a second or two before a reading is displayed on it’s LED screen, and you’ll undoubtedly go from reading tap water, to your pet’s water bowl to looking for stagnant pond water just to see how clean or dirty the water is. There’s a strong urge to carry the TDS meter everywhere you go, perhaps not a bad idea considering the price and claims of bottled water at restaurants.

The other unique feature ZeroWater offers compared to either Brita, PUR or other gravity fed filters is the Yao Ming sized water filter. Its significant heft is attributed to a 5-stage ion-exchangef filter, the first stage composed of activated carbon infused cloth, a second stage activated carbon and oxidation alloy, a third layer improving filtering distribution into the largest section 4th “ion exchange array”, and finally out a non-woven membrane to filter anything small enough to get by the other 4 stages. When you unpack and install the filter (simple screw in), you’ll undoubtedly recognize you’re taking a step up in filtering.

The filter is so large and heavy, upon first use we felt it overwhelmed the ZeroWater pitcher in weight and quality. This takes us to our one notable criticism about the test unit we received: the plastic construction of the pitcher and its lid top did not match the high standards of the filter itself. Compared to our trusty, if not beat-up PUR pitcher, the ZeroWater’s plastic seems thinner, too light and brought up the question of durability (our PUR unit has been with us for 4-5 years now without any worry except for an occasional rinse and filter change out). While the PUR’s spout works without issue, the thin ZeroWater spout is prone to occasionally resist opening fully, causing spills/leaks, and it was too easy for the top lid not to close properly without making sure it locks into place (we’ve learned to hold the top as we pour and have since avoided any problems). That being said, if ZeroWater can nail down a more significant and sturdy pitcher design, there’s little to complain about because as you’ll see, ZeroWater excels at what it advertises it can do better than the competition.

There’s our wonderful Los Angeles Municipal tap water reading, 263 particles per million.

Our PUR filter was due for change, so the reading above is admittedly a poor example of what a new filter could do; 258 particles per million.

Upon placing the TDS meter into a glass of ZeroWater filtered H20, the numbers immediately dropped down to “000”. When the reading hits “006” you’re supposed to change out the filter (we’re considering using these older filters for our cats’ water). That’s the same quality as required by FDA for purified bottle water, and the taste is noticeably improved compared to either our unfiltered tap or the PUR system (as noted by guests who’ve come over to enjoy a cup or two themselves). One bit of advice we recommend whether using ZeroWater or any filtering pitcher is to keep it stored within the fridge and away from light to keep optimal water quality after filtering; taste and water quality can be affected by exposure to light. Filtering and then storing the water in separate sealed glass bottles are a good additional idea to maintain taste and smell (used Trader Joe’s lemonade bottles make for excellent and stylish water bottles).

One incorrect assumption we made beforehand was that the larger ZeroWater filter would take longer to filter water than our smaller PUR system. But when we took the opportunity to time how long one cup of water took to completely filter from top to the bottom of each, we were surprised to discover the ZeroWater system was about 23 seconds faster, probably thanks to the larger circumference filter opening up top. So faster filtering with better filtered water? Like we mentioned above, the only knock against this pitcher in our experience is the inferior plastic used in the pitcher and cheap-o spout. The pitcher offers one additional bonus feature, a back end spout near the bottom of the handle, which allows for pouring from the fridge without taking the pitcher out. It’s a fine extra feature, but we’ve found ourselves to be impatient and mostly resort to pouring directly.

ZeroWater pitchers are priced at $39.99 with replacement filters costing about $13.25 each. Each filter is advertised to last anywhere between 3-5 months (we’re still showing “000” after a month and a half of use. We’re curious to see how long each filter does actually last us and if it ends up costing us less than the PUR in the long run; when our filter finally does end its life of effectiveness, we can mail it back to be recycled through ZeroWater’s filter recycling program, a nice additional environmentally friendly option (though we wish they offered a coupon or some other incentive; maybe a trade-in 10 for $15 off deal). In the meantime we know we’re drinking better filtered water than before, and that in itself makes the ZeroWater a “good buy”.