Is My Water Filter Actually Working?

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May 3-9 is National Drinking Water Week, so three cheers for those of you who are staying hydrated—Hip Hip Hooray! But is your “filtered” water doing you more harm than good? If you’re not careful with the type of filter you use, your water might contain more contaminants after flowing through your filter. Before you refill your water glass, consider what your filter could be missing.

If you’re using a faucet-mounted filter or a pitcher filter, odds are, it’s using a very basic type of activated carbon granules. While different types of carbon and specialized carbon filters work better than others at adsorbing certain contaminants, no single type of carbon filter can do it all. Compared to other filtration options, these methods just aren’t effective.

The pitcher and faucet filters are inexpensive because they’re extremely simple. Because the water’s contact time with the carbon is so brief, and the amounts of carbon in each filter are so small, these filters only address one symptom of poor water quality. This kind of filtration is a quick way to take care of the taste and smell of chlorine in your tap water. But beyond that, your water isn’t getting much help.

How Carbon Filters Work

As water passes through the carbon, a chemical process called adsorption works to draw out impurities. Carbon is loaded with tiny nooks and crannies, and adsorption traps contaminants in holes kind of like a sponge. But, when the carbon’s cavities can’t adsorb anything else, those contaminants start overflowing. This malfunction is called breakthrough. The stuff you thought was getting removed ends up “breaking through” the filter to return to your drinking water—often in higher concentrations than before.

Even if you can remember to replace the filter on a regular basis, a standard faucet or pitcher filter can’t adequately treat contaminants that pose health risks. Basic tap filters don’t work against heavy metals or microbes (bacteria and viruses). They’re also ineffective against fluoride, sodium, nitrates, the hard water minerals calcium and magnesium, and loads of other harmful compounds. The EPA even has allowable limits for gasoline in our treated, municipal water supply. Basic carbon filters can’t remove these contaminants, but a home filter can. If you’re really trying to remove impurities in your home’s water, you need a better method.

A reverse osmosis system is the best way to ensure your water is truly being filtered. Rather than making a quick pass through one level of carbon, water filtered through a reverse osmosis system has multiple levels of purification.

How Reverse Osmosis Systems Work

Following an initial stage of complex carbon filtration, these systems force water through a semipermeable membrane to remove contaminants. Hydrogen and oxygen molecules can pass through, but the majority of dissolved solids and other contaminants are blocked out and flushed away.

Home filtration systems that combine reverse osmosis with multiple carbon filters offer a complete treatment plan for your water. Some systems even use a series of four filtration stages. These methods work to remove everything from chlorine to lead, arsenic, and cysts. (Because seriously, who wants to drink that stuff?)

For an affordable solution to effective filtration, take a look at a reverse osmosis system. It’s a smarter and safer way to purify your family’s drinking water. And it’s more environmentally-friendly than disposable filter options. With multiple stages of filtration, you can be certain that contaminants are actually getting removed.

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