Many people are looking to bottled water as an alternative to tap water. A variety of home water filters allow you get freshly filtered water straight from the tap. They're easy to install and maintain, and may be just what you need to improve the quality of your family's water.
Types of Water Contaminants
Your water may, or may not, suffer from any of these contaminants. If you're concerned about the quality of your water, have it tested by an independent laboratory. The filtration system you need for your home depends upon the quality of your water supply. Water filters do require some maintenance, and cartridges should be changed according to the manufacturer's recommendations.
Taste- and Odor-Causing Contaminants: If your water smells or tastes bad, there's little doubt that you would benefit from a water filter. Municipal water often smells of chlorine, which is used to treat the water. Well water, which is dependent upon many local conditions affecting the water supply, also may smell bad. Water filters often treat these conditions by using granular activated carbon (GAC), a substance that absorbs contaminants that would otherwise cause offensive tastes and odors.
Filters that use GAC may cause cloudy water for the first couple of weeks after a filter change. This is a harmless condition caused by the release of air from the GAC and can be reduced by running the water for several seconds before each use until the air is flushed out.
Rust and Sediment: You may notice visible particles in your water. Sediment can collect in the bottom of your dishwasher or commode, for example. Larger particles may collect behind the screens of your faucet aerator. Smaller particles may collect at the bottom of a glass of water that sits for a time. Rust and sediment are easily collected by particulate filters. Whole-house particulate filters are easy to install and protect not only your drinking water, but also your appliances, such as dishwashers and ice makers.
Water filters aren't effective against clear water iron, which can leave red stains in tubs and toilets. To treat this substance, a water softener is required.
Bacteria / Parasites: If your house relies on a well, your water is more likely to be contaminated by bacteria and parasites. Many bacteria and parasites occur naturally in clear water supplies. Others are the result of water-supply contamination by sewage and wastes. Some bacteria and parasites affect the taste and smell of the water, but others don't. Cysts, such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia, are particularly hearty parasites and have been known to contaminate even chlorinated municipal water supplies. They can cause illness and are a serious hazard to the young, elderly or those with immune deficiencies. Water filters are available with various filter cartridges, which are effective against many of these contaminants.
Lead: Houses built before 1986 may have pipes joined with lead solder. Your municipal water system also may be composed of components that contain or are soldered with lead. If you're concerned about the possibility of lead in your water supply, have your water tested by an independent laboratory.
Lead contained in water is tasteless and odorless but should be avoided as much as possible. It can be removed from your drinking and cooking water by installing a lead filter directly under the sink in your kitchen. This filter placement assures that even if you have lead in the pipes of your home, it'll be removed from your drinking water.
Types of Home Water Filters
There are several types of water filtration systems available. Homeowners should be able to install the units described in this article simply by following the manufacturer's installation instructions. Choose the system that meets your needs based upon the contaminants you're trying to remove. Be aware that although the countertop and faucet-mounted filters are easiest to install initially, they're more bulky and less convenient than the hidden undersink filter. They're also less versatile if you're attempting to filter contaminants other than tastes, smells and lead.
Whole-House Filters: Whole-house filters are available and easy to install. They're placed in the main water line entering your home and are designed to remove sediment and rust particles from all of the water entering your home. They can also benefit the other types of water filters by acting as a particulate prefilter.
Undersink Filters: Different varieties of undersink filters are available and should be chosen depending upon your home's individual needs. Some of these filters remove bad tastes and odors only. Others also may remove lead, bacteria and sediment or any combination of the four. These units may have multiple cartridges, each designed to filter a particular type of contaminant.
Undersink filters are convenient because, once installed, you don't even know they are there. Turn on the water, and filtered water comes straight from the faucet. They're also efficient because they allow you to filter only the water going to a specific faucet, thereby reducing the demands on the filter cartridges. You don't need to filter your bath water to remove a chlorine taste, for example, but you may want to remove it from your drinking water. Undersink filters are also helpful if your plumbing is joined with lead solder. By being in line immediately before the faucet, undersink filters provide maximum filtration protection.
Faucet-Mounted Filters: These filters connect directly to the faucet and require no plumbing connections. Some models are designed simply to remove bad tastes and odors, while more sophisticated units now have lead- and cyst-filtering capabilities. These filters are small and very easy to install and remove. Also, they filter the water at the point of use. But they are a highly visible attachment to your faucet. Compared to more expensive and versatile undersink filters, they provide limited filtration.
Countertop or Canisters Filters: These are the simplest water filters available. They're countertop appliances, like toasters, and can filter drinking water for different contaminants. Unlike undersink filters, their use isn't transparent. Some of these filters must remain on your counter, some require connection to your spigot and some require that water be poured through them, much like a drip coffee maker.