Our tap water system may be good, but it’s far from flawless. There are many circumstances that might make you want extra protection. For instance: Water that’s perfectly drinkable at the treatment plant could be dirtied on its way to your sink. “If your pipes are old, a problem can start at the curb and come out the tap,” says EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. “Lead and copper can leak out of old pipe solder. If you’re concerned, ask your local health department about testing.” It’s also possible that your water company is falling short. Request a consumer confidence report (each water utility is required to issue one annually), or check the Environmental Working Group’s tap water database at ewg.org/tap-water/whats-in-yourwater. If you’re on well water (more than 13 million U.S. homes are), the National Ground Water Association recommends annual testing by a certified groundwater contractor.
Thinking about filtering? Here are three options:
1. Cheap and easy
A basic carbon filter—the kind in Brita-style pitchers and faucet-mounted units—can improve taste and do a fair job of removing common contaminants, including lead and “disinfection by-products”—the cancer-causing toxins that can form when chlorinated water mixes with high levels of plant or animal debris. But if your family uses more than two gallons of water a day, you might find the approach too slow.
2. Works harder but is pricier
A filter that combines carbon and reverse-osmosis technology can remove perchlorate and many other toxins. These filters, typically mounted under the sink, process water faster, but they can cost several hundred dollars to install.
3. For the water worrier
If you want to drink your bathwater (or just brush your teeth with filtered water), consider getting a whole-house system. These systems treat all the water in the household and can be customized to target specific contaminants. Typical cost: several hundred to a fewthousand dollars.
For Best Results
- Pick a filter or system certified by NSF International, which sets recognized standards in this field.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and use.
- Replace filters on schedule. Bacteria can grow on outdated filter elements and make you sick.