7 Types of Water Filters Explained

Updated
If you’re feeling worried about water contaminants, let’s talk about water filters — all 7 types.

Do you ever feel concerned about what might be lurking in your drinking water? Things like bacteria, lead, and other contaminants can cause some severe health issues. Fortunately, a water filter can keep your H2O safe.

There are many types of water filters, some of which can be installed in your home. Some are easy to set up, while others require professional help. Either way, we’ve got you covered!

Table of Contents

    Popular Methods of Water Filtration

    Before we dive into the different types of water filters, let’s first look at some of the popular methods. Each one has its pros and cons, so it’s essential to consider the quality and type of your local water before deciding which is best.

    1. Activated Alumina

    Activated alumina is commonly used to remove fluoride, arsenic, and thallium from drinking water. Fluoride isn’t a big issue in North America; however, this is still a popular filtration method and is used in the United States’ biggest fluoride removal plant.

    It’s a ceramic emulsion made of aluminum oxide. This is the same mineral make-up found in rubies and sapphires, but without coloring impurities.

    There’s a common concern that activated alumina will add aluminum to the water you’re treating. However, a study proved that only tiny amounts leaked into the water (1).

    PROS:
    • One of the only filters to effectively remove fluoride.
    • Inexpensive and effective.
    CONS:
    • Can leak a small amount of aluminum.

    2. Ceramic Filter

    Ceramic water filtration is a traditional method that’s been adopted globally. It consists of a flowerpot-shaped filter that can hold up to 2.6 gallons of water. The filter is placed inside a ceramic or plastic receptacle, which is then filled with water.

    The water flows through the ceramic filter, or filters, and enters the storage receptacle. At the bottom, you’ll find a spigot for easy access to clean water. Ceramic filters are effective at removing bacteria and large protozoans, but they aren’t as effective at removing viruses.

    Keep in Mind

    The quality of the ceramic is crucial. Studies have shown an increase in bacterial contamination in poor-quality ceramic filters (2).
    PROS:
    • Natural method.
    • Filters bacteria and protozoans effectively.
    CONS:
    • Not as effective at removing viruses.

    3. Water Distillation

    This is one of the most effective methods of water filtration. There are three types:

    • Household.
    • Plumbing distillers.
    • Commercial distillers.

    This method purifies the water using heat to vaporize it. As the water evaporates, it separates from the contaminants (3).

    Water distillation can filter out several contaminants such as:

    • Arsenic.
    • Benzene.
    • Fluoride.
    • Lead.
    • Biological contaminants.
    PROS:
    • Highly effective.
    • Improve the smell and taste of the water.
    CONS:
    • Slow process.

    4. Reverse Osmosis

    As the name suggests, reverse osmosis systems reverse the flow of water. The water passes from a concentrated solution to a diluted one through the semipermeable membrane (4).

    Reverse osmosis systems can remove several contaminants, viruses, and bacteria such as:

    • Protozoa.
    • Salmonella.
    • Hepatitis A.
    • Rotavirus.
    • Lead.
    PROS:
    • Highly effective at removing all kinds of contaminants.
    • Doesn’t need electricity to operate.
    CONS:
    • Needs high water pressure to work efficiently.
    Learn More
    Woman getting reverse osmosis water from tapIs Reverse Osmosis Water Safe To Drink?

    5. Ultraviolet Water Purifying System

    A UV water purifier disinfects water by passing it through a glass, plastic or stainless steel chamber. Here, the harmful micro-organisms are exposed to intense UV lights that are generated by a UV lamp.

    The lamp heats to approximately 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and a screen protects the bulb so it won’t cool (5).

    PROS:
    • Kills bacteria, parasites, and viruses.
    CONS:
    • Doesn’t remove contaminants like minerals or lead.

    6. Activated Carbon

    Activated carbon filtration uses a layer of activated carbon to absorb impurities and contaminants and extract them from the water.

    The carbon particles each provide a large surface area of pores to filter out harmful impurities (6).

    It’s effective at removing things like:

    • Chlorine.
    • Volatile organic compounds.
    • Odor and taste.
    PROS:
    • Removes contaminants, bad odor, and taste.
    • Doesn’t require electricity.
    CONS:
    • Can’t eliminate minerals or salts.

    7. Granulated Carbon

    These filters use tiny granules of carbon to purify your water. Granulated carbon has a smaller surface area compared to activated carbon and is, therefore, less effective.

    They will remove the same kinds of contaminants as their block counterparts. Water pressure has a significant influence on its effectiveness.

    PROS:
    • Inexpensive.
    CONS:
    • Less effective.

    8. Ion Exchange

    Ion exchange filters use a resin to replace harmful ions with less harmful ones. This method is often used in water softeners because it can replace magnesium and calcium with sodium.

    Of note is that these filters require regular recharging to work for an extended period. This is accomplished by adding harmless ions for replacement.

    PROS:
    CONS:
    • Requires regular maintenance.

    Types of Water Filters

    Now that we know more about the different filtration methods, it’s time to take a closer look at the types of water filters on the market.

    1. Water Pitcher Filters

    Water pitcher filters are a widespread and affordable solution. They look similar to a pitcher but have two compartments inside.

    The filter part is mostly filled with granular activated carbon and resins. These trap contaminants as the water passes through. It’s effective at reducing pollutants such as lead (7).

    PROS:
    • Free-standing.
    • Improves the taste and odor of water.
    CONS:
    • Short shelf life and needs to be replaced regularly.

    2. Faucet Water Filters

    Faucet water filters attach to any standard faucet. They can be switched on and off when you need filtered or unfiltered water. These systems are inexpensive and therefore a popular choice for homeowners (8).

    PROS:
    • Attaches easily to any faucet.
    • Filters water right at the tap.
    CONS:
    • Slow the water flow.

    3. Whole House Water Filters

    These filtration systems filter all water that enters the house. You’ll get cleaner water for showers, appliances, and drinking. These are especially effective in areas with hard water since this type of water can also affect appliances and cause damage to laundry.

    PROS:
    • Treats all water in the house.
    • Removes volatile organic compounds.
    CONS:
    • Requires professional maintenance.

    4. Under Sink Water Filters

    As the name suggests, these are installed under the sink. They send the filtered water through a pipe and out of a unique faucet.

    These systems tend to take up quite a lot of space. Under sink water filters are also more expensive compared to others.

    PROS:
    • Filters more water at a time.
    • Won’t take up countertop space.
    CONS:
    • Will sometimes require plumbing modifications.

    5. Countertop Water Filters

    Countertop, also called on-counter, filters are compact devices that you connect to the faucet. They clean the water as you open the tap, and some will even come with a spout. Despite being small, these filters can still take up significant countertop space.

    PROS:
    • Switch easily between filtered and unfiltered water.
    • Can have their own spout.
    CONS:
    • Requires installation.

    6. Refrigerator Water Filters

    Refrigerator water filters are installed in the refrigerator, and the water usually runs through the door. Most refrigerator filters use a combination of carbon and sediment filtration to remove bad odors and tastes.

    The filtration process involves a carbon block that’s wrapped in a particular material such as polypropylene. Contaminants will stick to the carbon block but won’t be absorbed.

    PROS:
    • Removes bad odors and tastes.
    • Eliminates contaminants.
    CONS:

    7. Portable Water Filters

    Portable water filters are a must-have for many campers and hikers. They enable you to filter any water on the move and effectively remove micro-organisms.

    PROS:
    • Small design.
    • Removes micro-organisms.
    CONS:
    • Only filters limited amounts at a time.

    What Type of Water Filter Is Best?

    Which type of water filter is best depends on a few factors. It’s important to remember that just because a filter works for someone else, doesn’t mean it will suit you.

    Here are a few things to consider before choosing:

    1. Water Source

    It’s important to consider where your water comes from, such as a private well or cistern.

    Water from a private well should be tested by a certified lab once a year. It should be tested for things like total coliform bacteria and pH levels.

    If you get your water from a public system, you should get an annual water quality report. This will include information about specific contaminant levels. Knowing from where your water is sourced can help you figure out what you need to filter out.

    2. Why Do You Want a Filter?

    Knowing why you want a water filter can help you to make a better decision. Common reasons include:

    • Bad taste: A bad taste can be due to water disinfectant, minerals or sulfur. Many filters, such as refrigerator and pitcher versions, are designed to improve the taste and odor of water. They will also protect against harmful contaminants.
    • Lead: This is a serious problem in many states across the U.S. Lead comes from the pipes through which the water runs. Many filters, especially the reverse osmosis models, are very effective at removing lead.
    • Hard water: Water that contains excessive amounts of minerals is referred to as “hard.” This type of water can leave a hard residue, block taps, and prevent soap from lathering. You can use water softeners to combat this, however, these won’t treat bacteria. Instead, go for a filter that removes minerals (9).

    3. How Will It Fit Your Home?

    Think about the space you have available. Also, consider what the filtered water should be used for. Some people only filter their drinking water while others like to have filtered water throughout the home.

    Take into account water pressure — some filters can reduce the flow significantly. If you’re looking to create a more eco-friendly home, then a ceramic filter would be an excellent choice.

    4. Maintenance

    Water filters are meant to purify your water, but a poorly maintained filter can do more harm than good. It’s crucial you follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to properly clean it. Some filters require replacement regularly (10).

    When you handle the filter, it’s essential to wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterward. Because filters collect bacteria, viruses, and contaminants from water, you have to stay protected. People with lowered immune systems shouldn’t handle the filters at all.


    Stay Safe

    Water is the source of life — all living things need water to function. However, impure water can do more harm than good. Water filters are an easy way to ensure you and your family have clean H2O to drink.

    Bad taste and the fear of lead contamination are compelling reasons to install a water filter. Many types of water filters will do this, but it’s essential to choose one that will suit you and your home. Consider why you need the filter and what impurities might be lurking — this will make it easier to make a decision.

    Do you use a water filter in your home? Or do you have any questions about any of the information in this article? Let us know in the comments section below!

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    About the Author

    Peter Gray

    Peter has been a homeowner for 35+ years and has always done his own repair and improvement tasks. As a retired plumber, Peter now spends his time teaching others how they can fix leaks, replace faucets, and make home improvements on a budget.
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