There are a few different reasons why you’d want to filter the water in your home. How you go about doing it can lead you on a trail of options that’s enough to leave you cross-eyed. I’d like to break down some of the big considerations to help you make an informed choice about your water filtration systems in your home.
Why filter your water?
The answer to this is different depending on your water source. If you’re in a rural area and get your water from a well, your needs will be different than my Toronto tap water. Before you start looking at filters it’s important to know what’s in your water so you can target it effectively.
Here’s what’s in Toronto’s tap water:
- Disinfectant by-products
- Pesticides (i.e. Atrazine)
- Heavy metals (i.e. arsenic, lead)
- Brominated flame retardants
While the test results show that all levels are below regulatory guidelines, these can still accumulate in our bodies over time – especially when we’re exposed to them as regularly as through drinking water. So if you’re looking to reduce your overall exposure to chemicals like endocrine disruptors, which are known to act in the body in very small doses, filtering your water is a good next step.
While you may have thought about, or already are, filtering your drinking water, you are also exposed to chlorine and chloramines through inhalation and absorption while bathing and showering. One study across Canadian cities suggested a link between warm chlorinated water exposure and cancer. It can also be incredibly drying, exacerbating skin conditions like eczema.
Chlorine is a popular disinfectant in municipal drinking water systems because of its efficacy killing practically all viruses and bacteria – preventing serious illness and disease. While I’m not saying I’d prefer dysentery, chlorination isn’t without health risks.
The biggest risk lies with disinfection by-products.
What Are Disinfection By-Products?
Disinfection by-products are created when chlorine reacts with organic matter (i.e. decaying leaves and farm runoff) and can fluctuate depending on the water source and even the season. Health Canada acknowledges that the most common by-products, trihalomethanes (THMs), are linked with cancer. High levels of THMs were also associated with an increased risk of miscarriage in a California study.
What Are the Best Water Filters
As I said off the top, it’s important to know what’s in your water, beyond the chlorine and disinfection by-products, before looking for a filter. Search for your own water supply to see if they have published info like Toronto does.
Here are 3 things to consider about the most common water treatment systems to help you find the best water filter for your home:
Look for 3rd Party Certifications
Look for a 3rd party certification like NSF that includes contaminant removal, and not just colour, odour, and taste. Many pitcher-type filters especially are only rated to treat for colour, odour, and taste. Be sure to look for proper certification, beyond the standard NSF/ANSI 42.
Reverse Osmosis vs Activated Carbon
The two most common home water treatment systems are reverse osmosis and activated carbon. Each system will have slightly different removal profiles, so be sure to look into the specific products you’re considering.
Activated carbon systems can reduce key contaminants like chlorine, THMs, and pesticides – it’s really important to look at each individual system, however, because they have different removal efficiencies depending on what other components are used.
Reverse osmosis on the other hand can remove inorganic chemicals like fluoride and perchlorate (which is a pervasive environmental contaminant and hormone disruptor found in much of the population). RO systems are often more effective at removing bacteria, viruses, and lead. Reverse osmosis is typically paired with activated carbon for optimum removal rates of key contaminants.
Two things of note for reverse osmosis: it removes beneficial minerals (look for a system that re-mineralizes from a natural source) and it wastes more water than it provides (so if you choose to use RO, don’t use it on a whole-home system, but rather for drinking only).
Santevia vs Berkey Gravity-Fed (aka Countertop) Systems
If you can’t install an under-sink unit because you rent or don’t have space or funds, gravity-fed units are available that sit on the countertop. The most popular brands are Santevia and Berkey. Both are decent, but since Berkey is made with stainless steel instead of plastic and has a longer filter life, they get my vote. You can learn more about Berkey here.
Vitamin C Shower Filters
To remove the chlorine and chloramines from your shower water, look for a Vitamin C filter. I’ve recently tested the VitaFresh, and notice a significant decrease in chlorine odour, and my hair isn’t as dry! If you find your natural shampoo and conditioner aren’t working well, or you suffer from skin conditions or asthma, a shower filter is a good item to consider.