Article updated by Bobby on July 12th, 2022 / Switched out the old 1.13 gallon Brita dispenser with the Brita Stream UltraMax. Also added API for all four filters for live pricing.
A reverse osmosis water purifier. Flickr Commons image via StickerGiant
Water purifiers are actually a bit complex, as there are a lot of different kinds that are hard to decipher between.
The simplest form is something like a pitcher with a Brita filter. But you can also have whole-home and reverse osmosis water purifiers with their own faucets, or even filters that attach to your existing faucet.
In this article, we're putting together lists of the best water purifiers based on the following categories:
- Reverse Osmosis
- Whole House
These are the four most common types of water purifiers that will be most likely to apply to your situation.
Do I need a water Purifier?
Most towns and municipalities will provide reports about the quality of public water. For example, we live in the city of Staunton Virginia which publishes water quality reports for each year. If you rely on well water or a cistern, you might have to use a testing kit and gather the data on your own. If you don't want to use the testing kit, your own senses are often reliable enough to tell you if a water filter is necessary.
For example, do you smell sulfur? Does the water ever look cloudy or murky? Does it just have a weird taste? Can you taste chlorine?
Even the slightest distaste or discoloration can be helped by a good water purifier.
If you don't want to mess with the test kits - which I personally never have - you can actually send a sample of your water to test sites, which are listed by the EPA based on area.
Best Water Purifiers Overall (our top 4 picks)
iSpring RCC7AK 6-Stage Reverse Osmosis System
Reverse Osmosis (RO)
iSpring WGB32B Whole House System
Brita Stream UltraMax Water Filter
PUR FM-3700 Advanced Faucet Filter
We only recommend products that we've either used or thoroughly researched. If you have questions about the products or our review process, feel free to get in touch via the comments section below and we'll be happy to answer.
1. iSpring RCC7AK 6-Stage Reverse Osmosis Water Purifier
Reverse osmosis (or "RO") water filters use a pressurized, semi-permeable membrane or grid to filter water at a smaller, molecular level. It's a far more thorough and complete form of water purification than something like a faucet or pitcher filter which don't have any kind of applied pressure and only handle larger particular/impurities. It usually also involves multiple stages of filtering.
Those that want this higher level of purification can purchase a reverse osmosis water purifier for their home, though it is more expensive than a faucet or pitcher option.
One of the most popular reverse osmosis filters in the United States is the iSpring line, where this particular model actually comes with its own faucet. Keep in mind, the most common arrangement is to install the faucet separate from your existing one, per the following image from the user manual:
There are a number of different ways to configure this unit and you can actually run purified water to multiple sources. For example, one friend that bought this unit ran water to the extra drinking faucet and to the water dispenser in their refrigerator.
Filters can be purchased at varying life spans, though six months to two years is pretty typical.
Make sure you have enough room to install the unit under your sink. The RCC7AK isn't particularly big, but you will need room for the pressurized tank which holds two and a half gallons of water. In our experience, the water that comes out of this system does taste extremely pure and clean, noticeably different than tap water. If you don't mind some installation work (though you can always hire help for that part), it's one of the best water filters in a "household" price range.
2. iSpring WGB32B 3-Stage Whole House Water Purifier
Whole house water filters are unique in that they treat water at the point of entry into your home, and not at specific faucets. This means that all the water in your home will be purified and free of contaminants. These systems can be different depending on your situation. For example, well water will often require multiple stages of filtration at the entry point, meaning you could have some kind of sediment filter with a water softener, or even carbon filters. You'll need to take into consideration the quality of the water coming into your home, though most three-stage whole house systems will cover everything you need, like the one recommended below from iSpring.
Whole house water filters are often sold and categorized by what types of impurities they remove. This particular model targets lead and iron, though also deals with general sediment, pollutants, and odors. It needs to be installed at the entry point of your main water line, which is doable for an enthusiastic DIYer, but should be farmed out to a plumber or contractor if you're not comfortable with the process.
You'd essentially be hooking it up directly to where the main water line enters your home, as in the following graphic:
The only thing we don't like as much about the whole-house systems (as compared to the RO filters) is that they don't address interior plumbing and faucets. While pollutants coming from them should be minimal, the singular faucet provided by the RO system, with minimal distance between you and the purification site, is missed in the whole-house system.
3. Brita Stream UltraMax Pitcher Dispenser
Filtered water dispensers and pitchers are treated like similar products. They both fill up from the tap and reside in your refrigerator. While we're focusing on dispensers, most companies make a pitcher version of each dispenser filter. Some advantages of these types of water filters are price, convenience, and ease of use. Disadvantages would be that they're not nearly as effective as the RO and whole house methods. Also, the filters in these don't last very long. However, for those that don't want the headache or aren't ready for the install issues related to the other two systems, a simple dispenser is a good place to start.
The Brita Stream UltraMax dispenser can be filled easily from your tap and then functions as a water cooler in your refrigerator. Its filter removes chlorine and several impurities like copper, zinc, mercury, and several others.
It's a good fit for families, holding over one gallon of water. Though keep in mind the included filter only lasts about two months, or roughly 40 gallons of water.
The DSP long last filters will get you six months.
4. PUR FM-3700 Advanced Faucet Water Purifier
Faucet water filters are exactly what they sound like. Instead of filling a separate container or adding a separate faucet (per the RO system) this option lets you attach the filters directly to an existing faucet. The pros and cons breakdown of these systems are similar to that of the dispenser and pitcher. Though the faucet systems are typically a little more thorough about cleaning water and removing impurities, they can have installation issues depending on the type of existing faucet. Like the pitchers, they also need filters replaced roughly every two to three months.
One extremely underrated feature of faucet water filters would be the LED indicator that tells you when the filter needs replaced. Since we've used the PUR FM-3700 with that little green light, it would be impossible to go without it. This particular unit is also said to reduce around 70 different contaminants, and we thought the taste was better than the pitchers and dispensers we've tried. Again, installation could be tricky depending on what kind of faucet you have.
This kind of filter is an upgrade over the dispensers and pitchers, but not better than the reverse osmosis options.
How do Water purifiers work?
In this section, we're going to explain the basics of water purification.
We'll look at the process of purifying water, the types of filtration, and the different methods of filtering most commonly used today.
But before getting into the science of water filtering, it could be helpful to answer this question: Why should we worry about filtering our water at home in the first place?
Let's start there.
WHY PURIFY WATER AT HOME?
While public water quality will vary depending on where you live (my state of Virginia for example), it's almost always true that the large-scale purification methods used by cities and municipalities leave much to be desired in terms of truly purifying your water.
Since it's done at such a high volume, the water quality isn't as good as it might be if we were to address purification at the point of entry.
Thus, it can be beneficial to purify your own water at home.
But how exactly does that happen? Let's get into the details of how water purifiers do the job by talking about their primary task: Water filtration.
TYPES OF WATER FILTRATION
The act of purifying water is done by filtering out contaminants, where "contamination" can refer to either of the following:
- Physical Filtration
- Chemical Filtration
A physical filter or "barrier" actually catches contaminants, just like you'd catch something in a net. However, this is almost always limited in its effectiveness to larger impurities.
Water filters can also use chemical reactions to remove smaller impurities.
A pitcher filter is one of the most common types of water purifiers.
A carbon filter is one of the most common examples of both types of filtration, since it has elements of both physical and chemical purification processes. This might also be referred to as an activated carbon filter or charcoal filter.
From the physical and chemical filtration parent categories, we get a number of different filter types.
In the next section, we'll look at four of the most common filter types, including carbon filters.
DIFFERENT FILTER TYPES OR "METHODS" (FOUR Most COMMON)
Most water purifiers on the market, even if they're labeled with just one of these methods, will employ multiple methods or multiple "stages" of filtration.
Here are the four most common methods:
- Reverse Osmosis: Pressure forces water through semi-permeable membrane
- Ion Exchange: Chemical purification process using sodium
- Steam Distillation: Steam is collected and condensed back into water, leaving most contaminants behind
- Active Carbon Filters/Adsorption: Porous surface and chemical reaction
For example, almost every purifier will have some kind of sediment filter, but nicer models will add carbon filters, coconut carbon (nicer but more expensive), UV sterilization, and reverse osmosis stages to their systems.
As a result, you have the following types of purifying systems to choose from.
- Pitcher Filters
- Faucet Filters
- Reverse Osmosis Systems
- Whole-home systems
It can be a bit confusing, because a "Reverse Osmosis Water Purifier" will actually employ multiple methods of filtration in addition to reverse osmosis. Whole-home purification systems will include multiple methods as well.
Though faucet and pitcher filters will often use a simpler setup, with a single sediment or carbon filter.
In every case, the more stages of filtration a water purifier has, the more effective it will be at removing impurities.
This is why RO systems are generally the most effective.
Most Reliable Water Purifier Brands
What about water purifier brands? Which ones are "good" or recommended?
If you're going to shop by brand, keep in mind that different brands may specialize in different kinds of filters. If you are looking for pitcher filters, Brita and Pur win out for reliability and performance.
APEC and iSpring are our top picks for RO systems, and if you're looking for a filter for a shower, Aqua Bliss is a popular go-to brand in that context.
How to Compare Water Purifiers
Comparing purifiers can be tricky because the term “water purifier” is broad and applies to anything from hand held pitchers to whole home or commercial grade systems.
The important thing to remember is that each type of filter or purifier does different things using a variety of methods to cleanse drinking water. Testing your drinking water is extremely important in determining which sort of system to purchase. In fact, it will be nearly impossible for you to compare filtration systems if you have no idea what needs treated in your water.
Narrowing it Down Based on Contaminates
Once you determine the biggest threat from your water, you can research the type of purifier that does the best job of eliminating that contaminate (or contaminates) and begin to compare those systems. If you don’t approach the process this way you risk spending way more money than you have to on a system that is overkill and/or addresses the wrong sorts of contaminants in your water, leading to a super frustrating and potentially expensive experience.
Our recommendation is to determine what you want to treat in your water and then take a look at a couple brands with high ratings and reviews, comparing systems at that point. This will help you narrow down the best option on the market relatively quickly without the overwhelming task of reviewing every single purifier out there.
Compare by Purifier Type
One of the simplest ways to compare water purifiers is by looking at the different types of purifiers, which we've already touched on in this article. Here, we'll provide a quick explanation of all four main types.
- Reverse Osmosis: Reverse Osmosis or "RO" - as it’s known in the industry - forces water through a series of semi permeable membranes, leaving behind unwanted particles and contaminants. RO systems are the gold standard for being cost effective, reliable and thorough.
- Pitcher: Pitcher filters are sold in many places like Walmart and Target and are usually the most affordable option. These filters work by using activated carbon to draw impurities out of the water.
- Faucet attachment: Faucet filters work similarly to pitcher filters but they also catch sediment before sending the water on to be filtered by activated carbon. Perhaps more obviously, they simply attach to your faucet allowing you to have water that is directly filtered as it comes out of the tap.
- Whole home: These systems remove larger particles and sediment at the point of entry level covering your whole house instead of just one particular faucet. Basically, they're larger versions of the filters found on faucets and in pitchers which can be excellent for improving taste, color and odor of all the water coming into your home.
Compare by STAGES AND FILTRATION Type
A basic principle of water purification is that larger substances are removed first and more easily than smaller ones. The more stages of filtration, the smaller the contaminant that can intentionally be removed.
A sediment and carbon filter system (pitcher and faucet filters) basically filters water in two stages. Reverse Osmosis can either use three or four stages depending on whether or not the system includes a de-ionization process.
However four stages in RO is considered industry standard and many systems boast as many as seven stages of filtration.
An RO system’s filtration stages could include the following:
- Sediment filtration
- Granular Activated Carbon: Also responsible for removing chlorine which must be done before the water reaches the RO membrane because chlorine can damage the membrane.
- Carbon Block
- Reverse Osmosis membrane: This stage treats organic as well as inorganic materials in water
- Post Carbon: Can be thought of as the insurance policy giving the water a “once over” and making sure there are no remaining odors or offending colors caused by total dissolved solids (TDS).
Keep in mind that even though the lengthy, more involved RO systems do an amazing job at removing waste from water, some of the stages may not be necessary for your particular water’s chemical/biological makeup. Don’t be wooed by the most complex system unless you have had your water tested and know for certain that you need all of those stages to remove things like the tiniest viruses or volatile organic chemicals (VOCs).
Compare by PRICE
When it comes to pure water, price is a huge consideration mostly because the cost can vary so widely.
Pitcher filters and faucet attachments are on the low end of the price range making them extremely accessible to most homeowners. On the other extreme are whole home systems, which can (in some cases) cost upwards of $20,000. The happy medium of of the under sink mounted RO system is that it gives you the best of both worlds. You'll pay between $100 and $500 for a system that ensures top of the line purification for all the water coming into one particular faucet.
You forgo the whole home protection, but one location in your home is often enough.
Our Experience with RO Systems
I (Paige) live on land with a cistern and my husband opted to install an RO system in the kitchen because for only a couple hundred dollars we can rest assured that our family is drinking extremely pure water.
The flip side is that we must be careful not to drink water from other places in the house.
This was a viable solution since we live where county water is unavailable without breaking the bank. Our kids know to get a cup of water at night and make sure not to swallow the water they use when brushing their teeth. If money were no object however, we may have sprung for a massive system for the whole house costing as much or more as a kitchen renovation, but since that isn’t the case, an under sink RO system allows us to have extremely high quality drinking water and the peace of mind that comes with it.
Compare by FILTER LIFESPAN
Filter lifespans can vary a lot depending on the type and manufacturer, so be sure to do your homework before purchasing a system and be prepared to factor in the cost of replacing filters when recommended.
Often the recommended lifespan will be measured in gallons of water with a suggested time that most systems take to process that amount of water.
Perhaps “100 gallons or every 4 months”, or something similar.
This way you can have a pretty good idea of when to switch out the filter even if you aren’t exactly sure how much water is processed every month.
Faucet filters and pitchers recommend changing filters every 4-6 months or 100 gallons. Although the actual RO systems are designed to last between 10 and 15 years, the filters in these systems should be replaced more often. Depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations you are likely to need a replacement somewhere around every 400 gallons.
Pros and Cons of Buying a Reverse Osmosis Water Purifier
Taking a good hard look at pros and cons is always smart when shopping for home improvement items and water purifiers are no exception. In particular, RO systems deserve an analysis of the pros versus the cons since they are considerably more permanent solutions to water quality than a simple pitcher or even a faucet attachment.
- Easy to Install: RO systems are easy to install since they are designed to be purchased and installed by homeowners and rarely require a professional.
- Cost and Value: It may take a little planning for some families, but RO systems costing a couple of hundred dollars are usually feasible and often considered a small price to pay to have that purified water coming into your home.
- Limited Volume/Process: The biggest con of an RO system is probably the process. Because the water travels through so many stages of filtration and purification there is an element of time involved. This is why a whole house RO system is hard to find and/or cost prohibitive for many folks. The system just isn’t likely to be able to keep up with the volume of water required in many homes and if it can it requires some pretty big technological “guns” (read: expensive equipment) to do so.
Making the Most of Your Water Purifier
TIP #1: Plenty of Research
Research, research, research. Start with getting to know your water and what is in it or not in it. Most counties have a local lab where you can take a sample of your water to be tested for a minimal fee. We recommend getting your water tested even if you have a written report of what is in the water from your municipality. The reason being, the farther the water travels away from the treatment plant and closer to its destination (in this case your home) the more opportunity it has for variables to be introduced into it.
TIP #2: Documentation
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. I am a rules follower. I like rules because they make me feel safe. If you are like me you will probably have no problem reading all of the literature that comes with your RO or other water purifier. Just be aware that if you don’t like following rules you may not get the most bang for your buck when it comes to your water. Just because someone you know only changes the filter in a RO system every six month doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change yours more often if the instructions recommend it. Not following instructions could lead to unfulfilled expectations which can translate into spending more time, energy and money for less quality and in this case, healthy water.
TIP #3: Follow Up Water Testing
Retest your water. Sometimes we have a tendency to “fix it and forget it” when keeping a constant eye on the situation would be a better approach. Having your water tested to be sure that your purifier is doing what it claims to do is well worth the small expense and time. If you install a RO system and have your water retested and it comes back the same as before the system went in, you can contact the manufacturer and have the warranty applied.
Other Water Purifiers to Consider
We have given you a handful of excellent choices of RO systems to consider when shopping for the right water purifier but, if you aren’t happy with any of those, here are a couple others to take a look at.
- Express Water NSF Certified 5 stage RO system comes with excellent reviews and a low price point as well as being certified in 5 stages of filtration. This system scores especially high in value, quality of instruction and taste of water.
- Whirlpool WHER25 RO System earned the Amazon’s choice award for excellent quality and low price point. It gets high marks for taste, value and easy installation.
Frequently Asked Questions
1.PUR FM-3700 Advanced Faucet Water Filter which generally has good reviews, comes from a trusted company and weighs in at a low price point.
2.APEC Top Tier 5-Stage Ultra Safe Reverse Osmosis System is our pick for quality at a reasonable cost. This model gets high marks for taste, easy installation and value.
Definitely consider the cost associated with purchase and maintenance of the system as well as ease of installation and brand name. Installing a RO system in your home is probably not the time to try out the “off” brand you have never heard of just because it is cheapest or has a 5 star rating with a total of 6 reviewers. I know companies have to start somewhere and we mean no disrespect to the less well known companies out there, but at the end of the day you want experience, reliable quality and a fair price in addition to easy installation and a solid warranty.
It depends. Water is not inherently unsafe if it is not as pure as the driven snow (or purer). “Purified” water is just what it sounds like; water without impurities. Some impurities are worse than others however, and so whether or not your water is perfectly purified is less the question than what sort of impurities are in the water. In general, health risk goes down the purer the water becomes, but the reverse is not automatically true. In other words, if you just have a little bit of sediment in your water it probably isn’t “unsafe” to drink it especially compared with someone who has fecal coliform, giardia, high levels or lead, mercury and arsenic in their water.
The short answer is “probably”. Again, this question is dependent on what is lurking in the water. Healthy choices usually boil down to risks versus benefits. If you live in an area with exceptionally pure water which you have verified by a reputable lab testing your water and you have very little financial margin or discretionary funds, maybe the cost doesn’t outweigh the risk of a purification system at this point. However, it is more likely that you have substances in your water which are not ideal at best, and unsafe at worst, and that the cost of the remedy to that is negligible to you and your family in comparison to the risks posed by ingesting the unwanted substances over time. In most cases, thanks to accessible technology, purifying at least drinking water is something worth the small investment involved to ensure the health of your family.
All things considered, we'd recommend going with one of the reverse osmosis systems. This will give you a single point of access to purified water with its own faucet, which can then be maintained and have filters replaced as needed. It's a steeper investment up front, but we'd argue it's worth it, considering how clean those things are able to make your water. Once you have one, you won't want to go without it.