The Best Water Filter

We’re 60 percent water — make it the good stuff

The 30-Second Review

The best water filter for you depends on what's in your water — and what you want gone. Weird taste? Bad smell? Scary contaminants? We talked with filter designers and water experts to learn what's up with certifications, analyzed long-term costs, and splashed around a lot of water to find a sturdy filter that will live up to its claims.

Top Picks
Best Pitcher Filter

Simple, streamlined, and certified to remove a ton of junk, this pitcher beat out some much bigger names. (We're looking at you, Brita.)

Other Top Picks

We all kind of assume the water filter sitting in the fridge is doing its job and keeping our water clean. But do we really care if we let the filter expire? Or how much it’s actually cleaning? That’s the job of the public utilities! As we saw in Flint, Michigan, municipal water goes on quite a journey before it comes out the kitchen faucet, and the little pitcher in the fridge actually has a big job making sure our water is drinkable. (And that it’s tasty — in the water filter industry, that’s called “aesthetic effects.”)

The best water filters, like our favorites, the Mavea Elemaris XL pitcher and the PUR Ultimate faucet filter, are certified by a third party to remove most common pollutants, and are designed to make water safe — and satisfying — to drink.

Our Picks for the Best Water Filters

You’ll notice we don’t recommend a pitcher filter over a faucet filter, or vice versa. We can see both sides of the coin: Faucet filters tend to give you better bang for your buck over time and the pressure from the sink gives you cold water faster than a gravity-fed pitcher. Also, the most advanced faucet-mounted filters tend to handle more contaminants than their pitcher counterparts.

On the flip side, faucet mounts can be clunky and sinks with hand-held or pull-out faucets can’t accommodate them. Plus, there’s a simplicity to pitchers that faucet mounts just can’t match. Which one is best for you is up to you.

Best Overall Pitcher Water Filter

Mavea Elemaris Filter lifetime: 40 gallons
Replacement filter: $8
How long it takes: 5 mins

First, the important stuff: The Mavea Elemaris is certified to remove more of the NSF-53 crud than most pitcher filters: cadmium, copper, mercury, atrazine, benzene, simazine, and tetrachloroethylene. They’re goners.

And when it comes to taste, we were pleased: It reduced the TDS level in our water from 172 to 148, which puts it right at the sweet spot. “I’ve found that if you do any baking, a TDS of 150 makes a far better product,” says Beeman. “It sweetens it. If you start making pancakes with 150 TDS water, you won’t go back. The flavor change is just that dramatic.” (This is also the same formula Beeman developed for Starbucks coffee).

The Elemaris also stands out for its thoughtful design. Water from the faucet pours through a spring-loaded cap that works like a doggy door. (Most pitcher filters use hinged caps on the top of the filter that have a tendency to flap around and fall off.) And most strikingly, it touts a feature all pitchers should have, but don’t: Everything stays in place when you pour. The lid doesn’t fall off; the filter doesn’t come crashing out. Only a lovely, controlled stream of water streaming smoothly to its destination.

Unlike most carbon-activated filters, Mavea’s filters don’t require any pre-soaking, so you don’t have to wait to get your water. The company has a nifty recycling program for them too. Since carbon alone can’t filter metals, the filters also have a plastic resin that acts like a magnet — it works, but it’s not-so-ecofriendly. To compensate, you can drop your used filters off at a store, or stock up a sack of six, request a pre-paid shipping label, and mail them off to their second life.

Surprised our top pick isn’t from a brand you recognize, like Brita or PUR?
We weren’t all that familiar with Mavea, either, before our testing starting — or so we thought. Mavea might be new to the US water filter market (it launched here in 2008), but it’s no stranger to the game. In fact, Mavea is actually the same company behind the original Brita filters. Brita GMBH, a German company, used to own the Brita brand in the US, but sold its US rights to the brand to Clorox Co. (yep, the bleach makers) back in 2000. At the same time, it signed a non-compete agreement promising the company wouldn’t sell water filters in the US until 2005.

When 2008 rolled around, it relaunched in the US under the brand Mavea, one-upping Brita with better-fitting filters that don’t require pre-soaking and a micromesh fabric to keep pesky charcoal bits from filtering through. (Clorox’s Brita brand had to improve its filters to keep up!) So, while you might not know Mavea by name, you’re more familiar with the company than you think.

Honorable Mentions

Aquagear Pitcher Filter Filter lifetime: 150 gallons
Replacement filter: $25
How long it takes: 7 min

We like that the Aquagear is certified to eliminate an impressive list of contaminants (it’s one of the only gravity-based pitcher filters with the NSF-401 distinction). Aquagear also has a lifetime guarantee and its filter lasts longer than most pitchers: 150 gallons. However, we weren’t blown away by its design.

In fact, we were nearly splashed away. When we poured water, the pitcher’s spout cover never could open. The little white plastic flap kept getting stuck and the water sprayed out like a busted downspout, not a thing meant to serve dinner guests. The Aquagear pitcher is more expensive than its competitors, and for $70, we expect not to get soaked.

Aquasana Powered Water Filtration System Filter lifetime: 320 gallons
Replacement price: $30
How long it takes: 1 min

The Aquasana PWFS main benefit is speed: Fill up a pitcher; mount it on the base; and it’ll suck your water down and through a ringer of filters in 55 seconds flat. It’s faster than any other system because it’s using a motor, not just gravity. But it’s a loud and bulky giant that has to sit on the counter near an outlet. For the entire 55 seconds the machine sounds like an air compressor — and that whine makes the minute feel loooooong. Also, when you’re not expecting it, the Aquasana makes loud industrial noises when it’s calibrating. Great.

But, if you’re after major contaminant removal, this guy’s got it: NSF-401, check! And we can imagine a world (maybe a house that’s already loud because it’s packed with a soccer team of 9-year-olds) where speed will trump silence.

Brita Grand Pitcher – One We Don’t Recommend

At first touch, the Brita Grand seemed great: It could fit lots of water and had a no-slip rubber-grip handle. But the initial intrigue faded quickly: A rubber stopper on the flip-up top already started coming unglued as soon as we touched it. The top of the filter itself also didn’t click tightly into the unit — anytime we weren’t super conservative with our pouring angle, the filter fell out. Once, the filter hit the lid, knocked it off, and spilled all of the water.

We also caught water circumventing the filter altogether — in fact, the Brita’s best quality (its sturdy clear plastic) made the issue all the more visible. The few dollar savings on the initial pitcher ($32 instead of $40 for the Mavea) aren’t worth it if you have to mind dam-breaking filter fallout. Brita might have the brand-name recognition, but it didn’t win this contest.

Best Overall Faucet Filter

PUR Ultimate Horizontal Water Filter Replacement filter: $20
Filter lifetime: 100 gallons

Of the five faucet filters we hand-tested, PUR was the only one that was NSF-401-certified. We also liked how easily the PUR was to install: It has “one-click” installation technology — all you have to do is hold down a couple buttons on the side of the unit, press it up to your faucet, let go, and the faucet mounts nice and tight.

There are a few negatives about the PUR. The first is its bulkiness: it’s downright giant. When we did dishes, the PUR was always in the way. Also, its “chrome” and “stainless steel” finishes are really just a metallic film over plastic. When we first took it out of the box, it looked pretty, but it felt cheap — and many reviewers complain that after some use, the housing of the PUR filter cracks or leaks water. We personally didn’t have any issues with leaks, but aren’t surprised that the featherweight plastic may not hold up over time.

PUR has addressed this by offering a metal adapter attachment for free to customers who have problems and offers a 30-day money-back satisfaction guarantee. It’s easy to install and filters out pretty much everything you’d want gone, so it’s worth a shot.

Best Long-Term Value

Culligan FM-25 Faucet Mount Water Filter Filter replacement price: $7 Filter lifetime: 200 gallons

If we were judging on design alone, the FM-25 would take the top spot for faucet-mount filters. It’s made of real metal, and has a compact seriousness. It feels like an actual part of a sink, not like a shiny, plastic barnacle. The filter trigger is a metal pin: Pull it out and wait for the water to flow through. It takes longer to trigger than the plastic switches on the PUR or Brita, but it also feels like it’ll outlast them. Turn off the faucet and the filter defaults back to unfiltered water — a super-handy feature that’s unique among its competitors.

The FM-25 is also the cheapest: Its $7 filters last for an average of 200 gallons. That’s twice as long as the PUR or Brita faucet filters that run roughly $20 each. In other words, looking simply at cost, a family of four would pay about $1,200 less over 10 years for the Culligan than they would for a PUR Ultimate filter.

Again, though, the more contaminants a filter removes, the harder it has to work. What made the FM-25 miss top spot was the shorter list of NSF-53 contaminants it filters out. It only catches four: lead, atrazine, cysts, and/or turbidity. That’s part of the reason the filter lasts as long as it does: it just doesn’t have to work as hard. If all you want is good-tasting water and don’t mind the shorter list of targeted junk, we highly recommend it.

Honorable Mention

Brita Complete Faucet Filtration System Replacement filter: $19 Filter lifetime: 100 gallons

On the whole, the Brita Complete was also simple to install, and it is NSF 53-certified to filter out dozens of health-related contaminants. And, it’s a lot smaller. But there are a few reasons it couldn’t measure up to the PUR: It doesn’t have any NSF-401 certifications and it only carries a 90-day warranty, compared to PUR’s two years. At the same price for the complete faucet mount, and nearly the same price for replacement filters, why not get the more effective one? Plus, even though we aren’t particularly impressed by the finishes, the PUR has five color options to the Brita’s two.

Did You Know?

Water in the US is among the most rigorously regulated in the entire world. So what happened in Flint?

Your local water treatment plant tests for lead as a matter of course every day. “For Flint to have happened was gross negligence. An abomination,” Beeman says. Flint’s water supply was so corrosive (and so untreated) that it leached lead from the city’s pipes — scary stuff, and not likely to happen to you. Or is it? USA Today recently independently tested water throughout the US and found that more than 2,000 drinking water systems had excessive levels of lead content. So who do you believe?

Home plumbing systems built pre-1986 — before the Safe Drinking Water Act and back when lead was less tightly regulated in piping systems — are in higher danger of lead contamination, Beeman says. Corrosion in the pipes can result in lead in your home water supply. “That is exactly what happened in Flint,” says David Loveday of the WQA. The pipes there weren’t treated correctly with anti-corrosive materials, and neither was the water.

If you have reason to be worried about lead, many common water filters can be effective — all our faucet top picks are, as well as both our pitcher runners-up. “When in doubt,” Beeman says, “run your water through the filter two or three times. It’s all about contact time — the longer your water runs through the filter, the higher the chance the bad stuff will get filtered out.”

Do you use groundwater? The US Geological Survey monitors which states rely on groundwater the most. If yours does, it’s recommended you get your water tested by an EPA-certified lab, and use a filter as backup. If your water is in bad enough shape, a more advanced reverse-osmosis filter system may be necessary.

Groundwater is most likely to contain dangerous contaminants.

According to the National Groundwater Association, about 44 percent of the US population relies on groundwater for its drinking water supply — and that groundwater is at risk of pesticides, solvents, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds that have seeped into the water table.

Your carbon filter might very well be burnt coconut shells.

The carbon material in your filter is oftentimes the burnt charcoal remains of a natural substance, like coconut shells. “Carbon looks like a big sponge if you look at it under a microscope,” says Beeman. And that’s exactly how it functions during water filtration: It absorbs organic materials.

When water passes through this carbon material — either by gravity (pitcher filters) or through water pressure (faucet filters) — pollutants are bound to the carbon, thereby keeping them away from your water. Carbon in and of itself is not effective at taking out volatile organic compounds and heavy metals like mercury and lead. To accomplish this, NSF-53 certified filters add a non-carbon layer to the filtering process: a plastic resin that works like a magnet.

Alkaline water is trendy, but it’s not much else.

When shopping for filters, you might come across “alkaline filters” or “ionized alkaline filters,” trendy machines that claim to decrease the acidity of your water — that is, increase its pH level — thereby giving your body more of a “pH balance.”

This is irrelevant, Beeman says. “Your body already regulates your pH levels, and it does quite a good job.” Talking up pH regulation is all about marketing, according to Beeman: In other words, a machine “changing pH level” in water sounds meaningful, but it isn’t.

The real benefit of alkalized water, Beeman says, is in its ORP: oxidation reduction potential. True alkalizers can turn your everyday water into an exceptional anti-oxidant. Many alkaline filters don’t actually alkalize the water, but it’s possible to test the ORP of water with an ORP meter. To note, the higher the negative number the better the alkalizer.

The Bottom Line

It’s easy to take water for granted — but it’s just as easy to use a filter and make sure your H2O is clean and tasty. Learn what contaminants are in your drinking water, and then find a filter with NSF certifications to make sure it will do the job it claims to do.

Take Action

Best Overall Pitcher Water Filter

Mavea Elemaris Hello, streamlined designed. See ya, contaminants!

Read your municipal water quality report. You won’t know what you need to filter out of your water until you know what’s in it. Your municipal water service is required report on the most common contaminants in your water — just give them a call. The EPA also has a helpful online database with this information, or you can ask for a copy of your water utility’s annual report.

Look into a free lead test. If you’re worried about lead leaching from your pre-1986 pipes, see if your utility offers free lead tests. Some do!

Replace your filters on time (or even sooner). A filter works just like a sponge: Once it’s full, it’s useless. Though most filters have an anti-bacterial treatment, it’s only so long before that wet carbon is a breeding ground for grossness.