It’s easy to forget just how important water is. Most of us never have to worry about having access to safe, clean drinking water. And that’s a good thing, because going without water for just a couple of days can have a seriously bad impact on your health, especially when you live in a hot climate.
The problem is, water is really good at dissolving stuff. It’s not so easy to get rid of bits of dirt, bacteria, and toxic substances when it’s in our water supply. So how do you make sure you’re drinking the safest, cleanest, tastiest water possible? You can wash your dishes and clothes to get rid of dirt, but how do you wash your water?
Water filters are often touted as the best way to get the perfect water. But how well do they work, and should you be using one? Find out everything you could want to know about water filters in this helpful review from Canstar Blue.
What are water filters?
Water filters are devices used to filter out particular unwanted qualities in drinking water. Different types of filters can filter out different kinds of contaminants. For example, ion-exchange resin can remove poisonous and heavy metal ions (e.g. lead) from water, while activated carbon can remove chlorine and sediment particles.
Why use a water filter?
There are two main reasons to use a water filter:
- Taste & appearance
- Health concerns
Public water supplies are filtered and treated to meet stringent safety standards, although this can depend on where you get your water from. Tap water is generally perfectly safe, unless you have particular sensitives to certain additives or usually harmless contaminants. For example, very low concentrations of chlorine are commonly used to disinfect water supplies, but some people have very high chlorine sensitivity or just really don’t like the taste of chlorine-treated water. Rural water supplies may be at greater risk of contamination from farming runoff. Water bores or rainwater tanks are also vulnerable to contamination.
Even if your drinking supply is completely reliable and well treated, you may still want to filter your water. Safe drinking water requires some additives that can affect the taste. Water filters can use physical and/or chemical means to get rid of any unsavoury tastes. The same effect could be accomplished by leaving water to sit in a jug for a couple of hours, but a water filter may be more convenient than this.
Do water filters work?
It depends on what you want a water filter to accomplish. Water filters can be pretty good at improving the taste of water. When it comes to removing contaminants, however, the reliability of water filters can be questionable.
First off, check the product certifications. Just because a water filter is claimed to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean it works. Australian standard AS/NZS4348 covers a number of different contaminants, but there are also different standards for water softeners, reverse-osmosis systems, and distillation. Compare what the product claims it can do with what it is certified as able to do.
Also, don’t believe the marketing. Not all pollutants need to be removed. Some retailers try to sell water filters by claiming that certain contaminants or additives are harmful, when either they aren’t or the science is still out on the matter. If you’re worried about water safety, a water filter shouldn’t be your only safety check because it won’t be able to stop all dangerous pollutants. Many contaminants such as lead, pesticide residues, bacteria, viruses and algal toxins can’t be removed by most household filters. You’ll likely need stronger chemical treatment or a new water source altogether.
How do water filters work?
Broadly speaking, there are two types of ways to filter water. Physical filtration means sieving out larger particles. Chemical filtration means using an active material to remove particles.
There’s no way to completely remove all pollutants with just one type of filtration, so many filter systems use multiple processes. A few of these methods are:
- Adsorption: That’s not a typo – adsorption is different to absorption. Adsorption filters use a material like carbon which makes certain particles stick to its pores. Coconut, charcoal and ceramic are common materials used in adsorption filters. You may see this process referred to as using ‘activated carbon’.
- Softeners: These are designed to tackle ‘hard water’ which can cause build-up in the sink, kettle, etc. Hard water is water which contains a high proportion of dissolved minerals. A common medium used to ‘soften’ water is ion-exchange resin.
- UV treatment: Using ultraviolet light on water disinfects it, but this only works on relatively clear water.
- Reverse osmosis: Water is pushed at high pressure through a thin membrane which blocks out most contaminant particles. The downside of this process is that it’s highly energy intensive and wastes a lot of water.
- Distillation: This involves boiling water and collecting the condensation, leaving most contaminants behind. It’s another very energy intensive process.
What types of water filters are there?
Water filters come in a range of designs, from the budget friendly, to the temporary/low volume to the permanent, durable installation. Pick what suits your needs and budget
Some are more reliable and long-lasting than others, but are then usually a lot more expensive
These are the cheapest option, and can be a good entry-level filter to see whether you like the taste of filtered water (or can notice the difference at all!). It’s handy to keep one in the fridge for chilled filtered water. Water bottle versions have become pretty popular recently for filtered water on the go. Filters in these types usually use both activated carbon and ion-exchange resin. These filters will need to be regularly replaced.
Jug water filters are split into two sections – you fill up the top half with tap water, which then gradually passes through the filter to the bottom part. When you pour the jug, only the filtered water in the bottom part comes out. The downside is that it usually takes 30min to an hour for all of the water to filter through. Some designs simply suspend the filter into the water, which means it can take longer to get the desired effect.
A large water urn can filter more water than a little jug without having to install any new plumbing. With a flow rate of around 1-3 litres per hour, it can keep a decent filtered water supply for a small number of people.
These have a durable housing, but the ceramic filter is vulnerable to damage. Over time, invisible cracks can form which weakens the filter and allows bacteria to grow. Cleaning the inside of the urn can damage the ceramic filter. Some manufacturers recommend replacing the whole urn as frequently as every two years.
Filtered water literally on tap is more convenient than having a separate filtering container, as it just attaches to your existing tap to filter as it passes through. It’s small and unobstructive, and replacing the filter is fairly simple. You can switch between filtered and unfiltered water with relative ease. On the downside, tap-mounted filters slow the flow of water and aren’t compatible with all taps.
The most permanent and heavy-duty kind of water filter, these are installed into your plumbing underneath the sink. While this takes up more under-sink space and usually requires professional installation, it can churn out a lot of filtered water effectively.
The fittings for under-sink water filters either replace your existing tap fittings or are installed as a new separate spout specifically for the filtered water system. Many also include a cooling system as well as a boiling water switch.
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Do water filters make water safer?
Debate is still ongoing as to whether or not certain additives and contaminants are actually harmful or not. Even where there is some low risk from certain water additives, such as chlorine or fluoride, these are considered by health scientists to be worth the benefits.
There’s no way to definitively remove every single contaminant from water. However, depending on the quality of your water and your particular concerns, a water filter can reduce risk from contaminants, depending on the type of filter and how well you keep up with its maintenance.
The added safety benefits of a water filter usually depend on the reliability of your water supply. For example, major city water supplies in Australia are very well treated, while rural areas can be more vulnerable to contamination from farmland or mining activities. Different authorities have different testing schedules and procedures, so if you’re unsure give your local council a call to ask about your water source.
If your water is contaminated, it may not be the water supply. It could be issues with the plumbing in your building. This is a problem worth addressing with professionals rather than just getting a water filter and hoping for the best.
How much do water filters cost?
Water filters range from the basic no-frills to the high-end multifunction system that also dispenses boiling and chilled water. There’s a massive price range, so you’re sure to find something to fit your budget. Below we’ve put together an indicative price range for each broad filter type, from major retailers. Brands included are Brita, Stefani, Aquaport, Zip, Billi and BIBO.
|Filter Type||Cheap||High End|
|Jug water filter||$19||$75|
|Countertop water filter||$69||$1,295|
|On-tap water filter||$49||$65|
Should I buy a water filter?
A water filter probably isn’t going to significantly improve the safety of your water. They can, however, add an extra layer of protection against any risk, and give you extra peace of mind that the water you’re drinking is a safe and pure as it can be, though it probably already is anyway. If you have serious water contamination problems, you’ll need to seek professional help.
Not everyone can notice the taste difference between regular and filtered tap water. For those who can, a water filter can improve their water drinking experience.
Before buying a water filter, you should also consider ongoing maintenance cost and requirements. Filters need to be replaced regularly, which is an unavoidable ongoing expense. In the long term, other parts of the water filter system may need repairing or replacing.
Regardless of whether you buy a water filter or not, drinking more water is almost always a good thing!