Shower and drinking water filters
I get a lot of questions about water filters, but I'm definitely no expert on them. So this is just a page of my notes so far, with the products I ended up buying for myself at the end. Feel free to leave comments with additional information for other visitors.
Chlorine and chloramines
Different municipal water supplies will use different germicides, so if you'd like to reduce your exposure, it's useful to find out which type your utility company uses.
For utilities that use chlorine, it sounds like they aim for a few parts-per-million of chlorine at the tap. They don't want so little as to let microbes live, but not so much as to cause direct health issues. Those levels are probably in the range that many people can smell and taste, so tasting and smelling your water before and after filtration could be useful.
"Aging" water to remove chlorine and chloramines
It appears that the common technique of "aging" tap water (leaving it in an open container for a long period before use) is less convenient than you'd think: it may take days to significantly reduce chlorine levels.
Boiling the water can be more effective, with significant reductions in a couple hours for chlorine. However chloramine content might take a day or more of boiling for significant results.
There's several approaches to water testing depending on what substances you want to identify:
- Inexpensive, reusable "total dissolved solids" meters (like the TDS-EZ) give you a total PPM number for the combination of salt/metals/minerals in your water. However, that alone may not be enough to act on, because you won't know whether the solids are of the type to be concerned about. These meters are probably more useful for testing filter performance and watching for water quality changes.
- Inexpensive single-use test-at-home kits (like the First Alert WT1) tell you approximate levels of chlorine, pesticides, lead, bacteria, etc. Make sure the test kit is explicitly for drinking water, there are other types of water tests that won't have the proper sensitivity.
- More expensive mail-in tests (like the KAR Laboratories Kit90) can provide very comprehensive results.
Where should the water be filtered?
I was surprised at the idea that some of the riskiest exposure to chlorine and chloramines may be from showers and baths rather than ingestion. Chris Kresser's article and references have more information about that.
Whole-house filters are very expensive, and I don't see a strong reason to use them instead of smaller filters at the bath and tap.
It sounds like vitamin C based filters are probably the ideal option, but they're expensive. I only care about chlorine reduction (my utility company doesn't use chloramines), so I went with a Sprite HO2-WH from Amazon. It seems reasonably well-reviewed for the price, and is NSF 177 certified to reduce chlorine by at least 50%. I think I've noticed a lack of chlorine smell even a year later, in spite of being too lazy to reverse the filter after 6 months like they recommend.
Drinking water filters
I chose a carbon-based drinking water filter because of my cheapskatery, and because I don't need to worry about chloramines or added fluoride in my local water supply.
For the inexpensive carbon filters I looked at, the replaceable filter cartridges are the sole mechanism of filtration. That means the enclosure can be whatever you prefer (pitcher, freestanding dispenser, or faucet-mount). I went with the PUR 18 cup freestanding dispenser because of its decent reviews, large holding tank of already-filtered water, low-priced filters, and an apparently less-thread-restricted filter chamber that gives you more flexibility to use other brands of filters. There's a subtle taste improvement in the water, and a surprisingly large taste difference when I use it for coffee.
At the moment I'm being extra-cheap and using 3rd party filter replacements from Wamery. They claim several strict certifications, but the broken English on their packaging makes me wonder about their attention to detail. But I can't identify any taste difference between them and the official replacements.
Related water filter links if you'd like to investigate further:
- This extensive water-pitcher comparison and testing reassured me that Pur's filters were a good choice for my purposes.
- The Environmental Working Group has a large database of filters where you can choose your objectives to filter (heh) the results.
- Alarmingly-smart-guy Chris Masterjohn's article on why he went with a higher-end Aquacera is also handy.
- And finally a fun read (and cautionary tale about Soma filters) from a man determined to convince his wife of his water-tasting-powers.