The Best Water Filters
How We Found the Best Water Filters
3 experts interviewed
12 water filters tested
3 top picks
The Best Water Filters
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, determined the most important certifications, analyzed long-term costs, and poured a lot of water to find sturdy filters that live up to their claims.
How We Chose the Best Water Filters
Carbon pitcher and faucet-mounted filters
We started our search by seeking out carbon pitchers and faucet-mounted filters. These are effective, have low upfront costs, and require little to no installation. Of course, carbon isn’t the only way to treat drinking water — there’s reverse osmosis, where water is pushed through a semipermeable membrane to catch contaminants, and there are whole household systems you can build into your plumbing. However, pitcher and faucet-mount filters are the most easily accessible and low maintenance, and they’re a great place to start.
Most consumers don’t have a degree in hydrology or a scientist handy to verify a company’s claims about a water filter’s effectiveness. That’s why we looked to organizations like the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), and the Water Quality Association (WQA). These organizations set and test water treatment standards, ensuring that the water you get from your filter is actually healthy.
To make our cut, filters had to be certified for NSF-42 and NSF-53 standards by one of those agencies.
- NSF-42 certifies that a filter improves taste and odor and reduces particulates and chlorine, the latter of which is often added to municipal water supplies as a disinfectant.
- NSF-53 certifies the reduction of metals and chemicals that can affect your health.
We didn’t require NSF-401, the most demanding certification. A filter only earns 401 status if it’s capable of filtering microbiological and pharmaceutical contaminants like bacteria, herbicides, and ibuprofen. Most people don’t have to worry about those things in their drinking water, which is why we didn’t mandate it — but we definitely took notice if a filter had it.
From there, we looked at each certified brand and ordered the flagship filter from each. These filters may not have the latest-and-greatest technology (Brita, for instance, offers a model loaded with a Wi-Fi beacon that automatically orders replacement filters), but they represent the most popular models from each brand. With these 10 filters in-house, it was time to filter and pour to see how they fared under day-to-day use.
Taste and odor
Believe it or not, pure water bereft of its total dissolved solids (TDS) — potassium, sodium, and chloride — does not always make for better-tasting water. “In blind taste tests, stripped or ‘pure’ water doesn’t rank well,” says Arthur von Wiesenberger, a Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting Expert and author of H2O: The Guide to Quality Bottled Water. “Most people think it tastes bland and prefer water with some minerals for added flavor.” We found this to be true with the ZeroWater 10 Cup pitcher, which eliminates TDS and scored low in our taste tests.
“On the whole, TDS doesn’t indicate any health concerns,” explains David Loveday, the head of government affairs with the WQA. “It’s more taste and odor.” That said, the EPA advises against drinking water with a TDS reading of more than 500 mg/L (the average across the U.S. is 350). In our tests, we preferred the filters that struck a happy medium.
Construction and design
For pitchers, we looked for long-lasting parts and leak-free top reservoirs. This left us unimpressed both with the Brondell H20+ and the Brita Grand, which leaked unfiltered water and had filters tumbling out mid-pour.
We also looked for sturdiness and signs of leakage with faucet filters. This eliminated the DuPont FM100, which had sturdy housing but leaked easily.
While faucet filters can remain effective for 100 to 200 gallons of water, most pitcher filters only last 40 gallons before they need to be replaced — if you believe the marketing. David Beeman, a water consultant and the developer of the Soma water filter, doesn’t. “I always downrate a filter by a minimum of 50% of what it claims,” he explains.
If the owner of a typical water pitcher filter drank the recommended 12 cups of water per day and diligently replaced their pitcher filter every 40 gallons, they’d be buying about seven replacement filters per year. That number goes up the more people you have in your household, and up even more if you follow Beeman’s advice and replace twice as often as recommended. To compensate, we looked for products with cheap replacement filters. Filtering your water is an investment, but it shouldn’t break the bank.
The 3 Best Water Filters
- Mavea Elemaris XL -
The Best Pitcher Filter
- PUR 3-Stage Horizontal Water Filtration Faucet Mount -
The Best Faucet Filter
- Culligan FM-25 Faucet Mount Water Filter -
The Best Budget Filter
Why we chose it
In addition to removing all of the crud like cadmium, copper, mercury, atrazine, benzene, simazine, and tetrachloroethylene, the Mavea Elemaris produced some great-tasting water. It reduced the TDS level in our water from 172 to 148, 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.”
The Mavea sidesteps those awkward flapping, hinged caps; instead, water from the faucet pours through a spring-loaded cap that works like a doggy door. And, most strikingly, it touts a feature all pitchers should have, but don’t: Everything stays in place when you pour. One lovely, controlled stream of water streaming smoothly to its destination. No muss, no fuss.
No filter pre-soak
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. This can save you 10 to 20 minutes when you’re trying to swap out an old filter for a new one.
Points to consider
If we had one complaint about the the Mavea, it's that it’s not certified for NSF-401. While we didn’t require this of our top picks, it was a notable omission in an otherwise-great filter.
Why we chose it
Easy to install
The PUR has “one-click” installation technology — all you have to do is hold down a few buttons on the side of the unit, press it up to your faucet, and let go, and the faucet mounts nice and tight.
Of the five faucet filters we tested, PUR was the only one that is NSF-401-certified. It’s capable of filtering microbiological and pharmaceutical contaminants like bacteria, herbicides, and ibuprofen. While the risk from these contaminants is low, the certification is still reassuring.
Points to consider
The PUR is a downright giant. When we did dishes, the PUR was always in the way. Anyone without the luxury of a dishwasher might have to navigate around the faucet attachment whenever they’re rinsing the dishes.
When we first took it out of the box, the PUR looked pretty with its stainless steel finish, but it felt cheap because it was just metallic film over plastic. Many reviewers complained that after some use, the housing of the PUR filter cracked or leaked water. PUR has handled this feedback by offering a metal adapter attachment for free to customers who had any problems and offering a 30-day money-back satisfaction guarantee; however, it’s an inconvenience that’s hard to ignore.
Why we chose it
Depending on the finish you choose, the Culligan comes out to half the cost of the PUR, with comparably priced replacement filters. That’s not to say it sacrifices quality; the Culligan is made of real metal, and it has a uniquely compact look. As such, it feels like an actual part of a sink, not like a shiny, plastic barnacle. Unlike the PUR, it doesn’t impede dish washing and it integrates well with any existing design.
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 handy feature that’s unique among its competitors.
Points to consider
Our biggest complaint about the Culligan is 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. The filter is still certified-safe, and you’ll receive good-tasting water, but know that you’ll be getting a few more contaminants than with our other picks.
How to Find the Right Water Filter for You
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 to 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. For drinkable water, look for a water filter that indicates the ability to filter out lead. Many with carbon filters can, including our faucet top picks.
“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.”
Compare ongoing costs
Even though a water filter may seem like a one-time investment, you will also have to purchase replacement filters every three to six months. Before choosing a water filter, look at filter lifespans and the cost of replacements. If you have a lot of people in your household, filters will need to be replaced more frequently — so it’s wiser to choose a pitcher or faucet with cheap replacement filters.