water filtration systems

How To Diagnose and Solve Any Water Quality Issue – In 5 Easy Steps

Do you have a water quality issue in your home? 

Are you looking for a whole house water filter, water softener or reverse osmosis system - but are unsure which one to buy?

Then you've come to the right place!


What's In This Guide

This is a do-it-yourself water treatment guide for home owners.  

In this guide, we walk through a simple 5-step process for diagnosing and solving any water quality issue you have in your home - including: 

After you identify your issue, we'll recommend the best water treatment product to fix it - including

This guide is about a 15-minute read from beginning to end.  If you'd like a copy for reading later, then enter your email below and we'll send it right away.

Use this table of contents to jump around this page:

Every product we recommend on our website is available for sale on the internet, and the advice we give is (for the most part) something you can do yourself.

Using this guide, you won't need to hire an expensive local plumber/specialist to solve your water quality problem.

That said, we do recommend you get a professional second opinion before spending a lot of money, especially if you want to treat your entire home's water supply or you are dealing with a medical condition.


Quick Solution Chart

If you already know your problem and just need a quick recommendation, then here are our top product recommendations for each common need/situation:

Note: rotate your phone or slide the table to the left to see more columns.

Your ProblemOur RecommendationTypePrice 
Hard Water
(Whole House)
Fleck 5600 SXTWhole-house
water softener
$$Learn More
Hard Water
(Drinking)
iSpring RCC7AK-UVUnder-sink reverse
osmosis water filter
$$Learn More
Hard water
(Bathing)
coming soonShower head filter
Chlorine
(Whole House)
iSpring WGB32B 3-StageWhole-house
water filter
$$Learn More
Chlorine
(Drinking)
PUR FM-4100B 3-Stage VerticalFaucet water filter$Learn More
APEC WFS-1000 3-Stage Under-sink water filter$Learn More
coming soonWater filter pitcher
Fluoride
(Drinking)
Home Master TMAFC-ERP
Artesian
Under-sink
reverse osmosis water filter
$$Learn More
Tyent UCE-11Water ionizer$$$Learn More
Cloudy Water
(Whole House)
Watts WH-LDWhole house
sediment filter
$Learn More
Cloudy Water
(Drinking)
APEC WFS-1000
3 Stage
Under-sink
water filter
$Learn More
PUR FM-4100B
3-Stage
Faucet water
filter
$Learn More
coming soonWater filter
pitcher
Bacteria, Viruses, Cysts
(Whole House)
VH410 VIQUAWhole house
UV filter
$$Learn More
Bacteria, Viruses, Cysts
(Drinking)
Home Master TMAFC-ERPUnder-sink reverse
osmosis filter
$$Learn More
Chemicals
(Whole House)
Aquasana RhinoWhole house
water filter
$$$Learn More
Chemicals
(Drinking)
Home Master TMAFC-ERPUnder-sink reverse
osmosis filter
$$Learn More
APEC WFS-1000
3-Stage
Under-sink
activated carbon filter
$Learn More
coming soonWater filter
pitcher
Metals & Minerals
(Whole House)
Fleck 5600 SXTWhole house water
softener (for calcium
and magnesium)
$$Learn More
Metals & Minerals
(Drinking)
Home Master TMAFC-ERPUnder-sink reverse
osmosis filter
(for other minerals)
$$Learn More
Acidic waterTyent UCE-11 Water ionizer$$$Learn More
Unsafe water at
camping sites, RV parks
or hotels
coming soonPortable
water filter

Step 1:  What Kind Of Water?

Water Softener

The table below lists the common uses of water in a home

The reason we want to talk about this is because each water use has a different water quality standard regarding pollutants.  

Use this table to identify the kind of water you need to treat and the pollutants you should be most concerned about

Click the [+] button to learn more.  

After you've identified the kind of water you want to treat, jump to Step 2. where we will identify/confirm the issue(s) you have.

Water UseBiological ImpuritiesMineral ContentChemical ImpuritiespH / AlkalinityTaste, Smell and Color
DrinkingMust be free of harmful microbes.Some minerals like calcium and magnesium have health benefits, but too much inhibits cleaning and washing. Must be free of harmful chemicals like pesticides and industrial solvents. Balanced pH between 6.5-8.5 is ideal. Alkaline water with pH up to 9.5 has health benefits. Certain impurities like chlorine, sediment and hydrogen sulfide can impact odor, taste and appearance.
Washing & LaundryNot important for laundry. Important for washing dishes.Softened water is best. Hard water inhibits cleaning and leaves a mineral residue.Dish washing water should be free from dangerous chemicals.Neutral pH (7) is the best for washing. Acidic water is good for disinfecting. Alkaline water is effective against stains. Sulfur and chlorine chemicals leave an unpleasant smell / taste in your clothes, on surfaces and on utensils.
Gardening & OutdoorsTo rid fruits and vegetables of bacteria, use treated tap water. Softened water may be bad for plants due to added salt. Remove chemicals like chlorine that can damage plants over time.Best pH depends on plant. For most plants, stick to balanced pH water between 6.5-8.5.Generally not important for outdoor water.
Aquariums & PetsMust be biologically pure. RO-treated tap water is the best. Best level of hardness depends on fish species. Use tap water then add a buffer to adjust hardness as needed.Must be free of chlorine and fluoride. Ideal pH depends on type of fish. Add buffer to tap or RO water to get pH to the right level.Not important, but usually a sign that chlorine or sulfurs are in the water (which is bad).
CookingSame as drinking water - must be free of harmful microbes.Hard water can affect the quality of certain foods. Soft water is best for cooking and mixing beverages. Must be free of pesticides and industrial solvents.
RO water is best.
Balanced pH between 6.5-8.5 is best though some people prefer ionized alkaline water. To avoid affecting the quality and taste of your food and drinks, use filtered or purified water to remove impurities like sediment, chlorine and Sulphur.

apec roes 50

Of all the kinds of water you rely on, drinking water has the highest quality standard. 

But clean and safe water are also required for many other uses including: washing, cooking, brewing coffee and gardening. 

It just doesn't need to be as clean as drinking water.

The point is, quality standards and water treatment solutions differ depending on the kind of water you are talking about.  

So: what kind of water are you most concerned about? 

Drinking? Gardening? Bathing? 

In this section, you will learn about the quality standards for each kind of water used in your home and discuss the pollutants and quality issues you should be concerned about.  

Please don't skip this section - this is important information for anyone who cares about the health and safety of their family.


Drinking Water

water filter

In the US, the EPA is responsible for sets and enforces drinking water standards via the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

This act applies to drinking water supplies in the entire country though it leaves room for local governments to enact their own standards for some parameters.

The EPA sets the maximum allowed concentration of various contaminants in public water systems. For certain highly toxic contaminants like lead no level of concentration is considered safe. 

To get an idea what kind of contaminants the EPA regulates, read this PDF containing the 2018 EPA drinking water standards.

The EPA not only sets standards for potentially harmful contaminants but also for the impurities that affect water aesthetics such as fluoride, turbidity and TDS (total dissolved solids).  The EPA doesn’t enforce limits on these impurities; instead, they recommend maximum limits.

Something else the EPA strictly regulates is water microbiology. This refers to pathogens in water that can cause illness.

As for pH, the EPA recommends maintaining your water between 6.5 and 8.5. This prevents corrosion from highly acidic or highly alkaline water. Most cities provide water with a neutral pH of around 7.  If you prefer drinking alkaline water (several studies show it may provide some health benefits), you’ll need to buy a water ionizer.

So here is the bottom line when it comes to drinking water standards:

  • Your water should be free of harmful microbes, chemicals and heavy metals.
  • Substances like TDS and fluoride are not dangerous to your health but can affect the aesthetic quality of water. It’s best if their levels remain well below the maximum limits set by the EPA.
  • pH for drinking water should be at least 6.5. You can use an alkaline water machine to increase your water’s alkalinity and pH.

Note: The EPA does not regulate private water supplies such as wells.  But EPA standards for public water systems are also the best guide to maintaining safe well water.


Water For Washing & Bathing

water filter

The EPA does not set standards for bathing water.  It only regulates the quality of drinking water.

If you rely on treated city water, it’s likely fine for both drinking and washing.

But with both city and private well water, you should consider the level of hardness.

High levels of dissolved calcium and magnesium make it difficult to wash utensils, surfaces or laundry using soap and detergent. As well as to wash your hair and body.  Worse, hard water minerals leave behind unsightly stains on glassware, surfaces and clothes.

The long-term buildup of these minerals, known as scale, can also damage your dishwasher or washing machine.

If you live in a hard water area, the right solution is to install a water softener. ​

You water softener can be an under counter unit that softens water from your kitchen faucet, or a whole-house system that softens all the water coming into the house.

For homes that receive well water, you also need to make sure that your water doesn’t contain high levels of sediment and dissolved iron. These impurities can leave stains after washing.

As for contaminants like chemicals and microbes, it depends on what you are washing.

For laundry, in general you don’t have to filter the water.

But for cleaning utensils and surfaces that come into contact with food, it’s a good idea to use filtered or purified water.

TIP:  Consider buying a kitchen water ionizer/alkanizer to produce acidic and alkaline water on demand. Acidic water is great for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and alkaline water may provide some health benefits.  


Gardening & Outdoor Use

water filter

When it comes to gardening/outdoor water quality, you mainly need to consider the water’s pH, mineral content and chemical impurities.

pH: The ideal pH depends on the types of plants. Some trees and shrubs thrive in alkaline soil while some plants do better in acidic soil. Check the requirements for that particular plant. If you are not sure of the ideal pH, go with a balanced pH between 6.5 and 8.5 (normal tap water has balanced pH).

Mineral content: Do not use softened water to garden. Not only does it rob plants of some beneficial minerals, the salt in softened water can stunt the growth or even kill off certain plants. Hard water is okay for many plants but make sure the mineral content is not too high. As with pH, your normal non-softened tap water is good enough for gardening.

Chemical impurities: While tap water has the right level of pH and minerals for gardening, it often contains chemicals like chlorine and fluoride that can harm plants. Filtering out these chemicals makes the water safer for gardening.

Rainwater, distilled water and reverse osmosis water are the best types of water for gardening. They are free of chemicals and minerals that might hurt your plants. For gardening, these three types of water allow you to precisely control the level of various minerals and pH in plant soil.


Aquarium Water 

water filter

If you have a fresh water aquarium, tap water is the best kind of water to use.

Tap water has the right level of pH, it’s usually not too hard and any harmful microbes have been killed at the treatment facility.

The only problem with tap water is the presence of chemicals like chlorine and fluoride that can harm or even kill fish. But you can easily solve this using an aquarium water conditioner that dechlorinates the water.

Alternatively, you can install a whole house or undercounter carbon filter to remove chlorine and other chemicals from the water.

What about purified (reverse osmosis) water?

While purified water from a reverse osmosis system sounds perfect for an aquarium – it’s free of almost all impurities, after all – it is actually potentially dangerous for your fish.

This is because purified water is highly sensitive to sudden changes in pH, which will kill your fish.

If you use RO water, then we recommend adding a buffer to stabilize the water’s pH.


Water for Cooking and Brewing Tea/Coffee 

water filter

The same standards for drinking water apply to water for cooking, making ice, mixing beverages and brewing tea and coffee.

The most important thing is to make sure the water is biologically safe. That is, it doesn’t contain harmful bacteria and viruses.

All public water supplies are treated and generally free from biologicals. But if you use untreated well water, a reverse osmosis system offers the best protection from microbes and viruses for your family.

If your water is biologically safe but chlorine and other chemicals are affecting how your food and beverages taste and smell, then an activated carbon filter should help.

TIP: If you prefer alkaline water for cooking and brewing tea/coffee, buy a water ionizer.


Step 2:  What's Your Specific Issue?

The table below lists the telltale signs of common water issues in the home.

Use this table to identify the specific issue(s) you need to address.

Water UseCommon IssuesWarning Signs
Drinking & CookingChemicals, fluoride, chlorine, cloudy water, minerals, biologicals.- Chemical or metallic taste and smell.
- Unexplained health symptoms such as
diarrhea, fever and headache.
- Cloudy or discolored water.
- Mineral deposits on surfaces.
Washing & LaundryHard water, cloudy water, minerals- Scale deposits in the washing machine.
- Clothes appear duller than usual.
- Stains on clothes and fabrics caused by sediment or
dissolved minerals.
- Water appears murky or cloudy.
Gardening & OutdoorsChemicals, chlorine, fluoride, biologicals- Unmistakable taste/smell of chlorine.
- An unusual odor or taste, indicating the presence of a chemical.
- Discolored water.
Aquarium & PetsChemicals, hard water, soft water, hard water, chlorine, fluoride, biologicals- Chlorine odor/taste.
- A chemical smell or taste.
- Scale deposits.
- Plumbing corrosion caused by acidic soft water (look for water discoloration or a metallic
taste, both of which indicate possible corrosion).

best whole house water filter

Water quality issues vary based on your location and the source of your water.

For example, some states supply very hard water from ground wells and city taps. In particular, water from a well will often have high levels of dissolved solids compared to city water.

In this section, we describe the most common water quality issues found in North America, their health effects and signs to look for to diagnose the specific issue(s) you have.

Make note of the issue(s) you recognize in your home before moving on to Step 3., where we will recommend a product/solution for your issue & budget.


Hard Water (High Mineral Content, Scale)

water filter

Hard water is water that contains a high amount of dissolved minerals.

Water is an excellent solvent. It dissolves more substances than any other liquid.

As H20 passes through rocks in rivers, streams and underground, it dissolves various minerals and salts along the way.

Hard water contains two particular minerals of note: magnesium and calcium.  These minerals interact with most cleaning agents to reduce their effectiveness.

Hard water is relatively harmless, but it can be a serious nuisance in applications such as bathing, washing dishes and cleaning clothes.

Obvious Signs You Have a Hard Water Problem 

  • Soap scum stains on the bathtub, on the shower glass door, on the shower curtains and bathroom floor. These white filmy deposits occur when magnesium and calcium ions in hard water react with soap.
  • Scale deposits around the shower, in the toilet bowl, in the bathtub and sinks. You may also notice that the water from your shower and taps is coming out with less pressure. This is caused by a buildup of mineral deposits on areas where hard water frequently passes through.
  • Dull and itchy skin especially after a shower.
  • Water heaters don’t last long. Scale buildup damages the heating elements.
  • Spots on your glassware and dishes. These occur when detergent reacts with the hardness minerals in water.
  • Dull looking clothes. If you notice that your white and brightly colored clothes look duller, it’s probably the minerals in your water.

Health Concerns

FACT: Hard water is not a health risk.

Some studies have suggested a link between hard water and eczema, but that’s likely caused by increased use of soap to achieve sufficient lather. 

Other Concerns

FACT: Hard water is a nuisance.

The buildup of scale can clog plumbing, reducing water pressure and even causing leaks and pipe bursts.

The minerals also accumulate in appliances and water heaters, significantly reducing their lifespan.

Then there are the aesthetic problems. Scale and soap scum leaves surfaces looking dirty and stained. No matter how much you clean the stains off, they keep coming back.

Hard water is also difficult to wash with. It doesn’t interact well with soaps and detergents, making it almost impossible to get a good lather.

Difficulty of Fixing

Hard water is easy to fix.

A good quality water softener, either whole house or undercounter, will remove most of the minerals from hard water.

The best water softener systems are those that use salt - either sodium or potassium based.

Salt-free water softeners are less effective but are great for those who don’t want added salt in their drinking water.

How to Know For Sure

The easiest way to tell if you have hard water is to call your city (if you use city water) and ask them.

You can also check your city’s consumer confidence report. Some reports include the level of water hardness.

If you want to test the water hardness yourself, add tap water to a clear glass bottle and add a few drops of dish washing soap.

Shake vigorously and leave it to rest. If the resulting solution is cloudy and there are no bubbles, you likely have hard water. If you see lots of bubbles and the water at the bottom is clear, you probably don't have a hard water problem.

For scientific proof, buy a water hardness test kit online. One of the highest rated ones on Amazon is the Hach 145300 kit that works by titration. 

Alternatively, you can buy test strips. Here are some good ones by Hone Forest that can test up to a hardness level of 425mg/l..


Soft Water (Low Mineral Content)

water filter

Having too few minerals in your water - soft water - can be a problem too.

There are two kinds of soft water to be concerned about.

There’s naturally soft water, which is water with a low level of dissolved minerals. For example, snow melt water from mountains and glaciers has almost no calcium and magnesium.

The main problem with soft water is its low pH, which is a big issue for plumbing and aquariums.

Then there’s softened water, which is water that has gone through a cation exchange process to remove hardness minerals.

The main issue with softened water is the added salt.

Obvious Signs Your Water Is Too Soft 

If you don’t see any of the obvious signs associated with hard water, then you likely have soft water:
  • No soap scum.
  • No scale deposits on the shower or surfaces.
  • No film residue on glassware.
  • Water lathers easily.
  • You skin doesn’t feel itchy and appear scaly after a shower.

If your water is too soft, then you may suffer from one or more of the following issues:

  • Pipe corrosion. You may notice leakages, water discoloration and reduced water pressure because of clogging in the pipes.
  • Wilted or dying plants. Some plants may also experience stunted growth. This is caused by using softened water from a water softener. The salt affects plant growth.
  • Dead fish. If you own an aquarium and your fish keep dying, it might be because the water is too soft.

Health Concerns

Soft water does not pose a major health risk.

The only potential issues are the low pH of naturally soft water and the high salt content of softened water. 

Experts recommend drinking balanced pH (6.5-8.5) or alkaline water (up to 9.5pH).  Drinking acidic water may cause cell-damaging oxidation in your body.

Other Concerns 

Naturally soft water is often acidic because of the low levels of mineral ions.

This makes it corrosive on surfaces it passes on including pipes. This can cause lead to leach into drinking water.

This is not a problem for most homes since most cities add products to soft water at the plant to prevent corrosion. By the time it’s getting to your home, it’s safe for your plumbing.

For example, Washington D.C. started adding ortho phosphate to public water in 2004 to stop it from corroding pipes and leaching lead into the water supply. 

But the water can still be acidic when it gets to your home. If you use it in an aquarium without proper conditioning, it can kill your fish.

As for artificially softened water, the biggest problem is the salt that the water softener adds to the water.

It can kill fish in an aquarium and if you use it for gardening, it will kill your plants or stunt their growth.

Difficulty of Fixing

The type of fix for your soft water problem will depend on what you are using the water for.

  • If you are worried about drinking acidic water, get an alkaline water machine, also called a water ionizer.
  • For gardening, do not use softened water. Filtered city water (filtered to remove chlorine and other chemicals), reverse osmosis purified water or rainwater is the best.
  • For aquariums, test the water to determine pH and hardness level. Then add buffers and other conditioners to make sure the water is safe for the type of fish you keep.

How to Know For Sure

The same soap and water test we described for testing hard water can also be used to test soft water at home.

Add some soap to water in a clear glass bottle and shake. If you see bubbles and the water below is clear, you have soft water.

TIP: For a truly accurate reading, buy a water hardness test kit.


Salt in Your Water

water filter

If your water has a slightly salty taste, it is likely due to high levels of chloride and sulfates in your water supply.

Chloride ions can be introduced by irrigation drainage or industrial waste. Salt used to de-ice roads in the winter may also find their way into water supplies.

Sulfates on the other hand often come from soil and rocks that the water passes through.

The EPA considers chlorides and sulfates to be aesthetic impurities, not health risks. They mainly just affect the taste and smell of your water.

Obvious Signs Your Water Is Too Salty 

  • Salty after taste in your drinking water. May affect the taste of food and coffee/tea.
  • Corrosion in pipes caused by excess chloride ions. You may notice leaks, water discoloration because of the corroded metal and a metallic taste in your water.

Health Concerns

Sulfates and chloride in water pose no major health risk to you or your family. They only affect the taste and smell of your water.

The worst you might suffer is a bit of diarrhea because of the laxative effect of sulfate.  But this happens only briefly if you’re not accustomed to drinking sulfate-rich water.

While salty water is generally harmless, it can be indirectly dangerous if it corrodes older lead pipes. The lead could leach into your drinking water, causing developmental problems for children and infants.

Other Concerns

Salty water has an unpleasant taste. It can also affect the taste and quality of foods and beverages.

Another issue is plumbing corrosion from excessively salty water.

Difficulty of Fixing 

It’s easy to get rid of the salty taste from your drinking water.  All you need is a reverse osmosis water filtration system.

A reverse osmosis membrane is the best kind of filter to remove dissolved salts from water.

As for the corrosion problem, there is no easy way to fix that. The best option is to change your plumbing to one that is more corrosion resistant.

Luckily, your water is unlikely to be salty enough to corrode your pipes - especially if it comes from the city.

How to Know For Sure 

The best way to know for sure that your water is salty is to measure its salinity.

There are two ways to do this: use a chemical test kit or use a salinity meter.

A salinity meter is the easiest and most accurate way to test your water. You just dip the meter into your water sample and it displays the salinity on a small screen.

Salinity meters are more expensive than TDS meters but are very helpful if you want to know whether your RO filter is working or you want to use the water for gardening or in an aquarium.

Two good options on Amazon include this one by MXBAOHENG that measures in mg/l and this one by Trans Instruments designed specifically for Koi Ponds.

We also love this 5-in-1 Meter that can measure salinity, TDS, pH, temperature and conductivity.


Cloudy/Turbid Water

water filter

If your tap water has a white cloudy look to it when you put it in a glass, it may be due to water bubbles trapped in the water.  

If the cause is bubbles, then just let the water settle for a while and it will clear up. And you have no more problems to fix.

However, if the cloudiness looks brownish or grayish, you should be more concerned.

The technical term for cloudy water is turbidity. Turbidity is usually caused by minute suspended particles in water such as silt, rust, sediment and sand. Living organisms like algae and plankton can also murk up your water.

The suspended particles are usually not a health concern. But they can carry biologicals such as bacteria and cysts that cause illness.

Obvious Signs Your Water Is Turbid

  • Water appears cloudy or murky. It might have some discoloration, usually brownish.
  • Visible particles suspended in water.
  • Stains in the sink, bathtub, bathroom floor and other surfaces. These are the particles left behind when the water dries.
  • Clogged shower heads.

Health Concerns 

Sediment in water is not dangerous, at least not directly.

The particles might contain harmful microbes that can cause illness in humans and pets.

Generally, the cloudier the water the higher the risk that it contains disease-causing bacteria and viruses.

Other Concerns 

  • Cloudy water can clog up plumbing and fixtures because of sediment build up.
  • If you have a UV water filter, too much sediment in water will reduce its effectiveness.The particulates shield bacteria and viruses from the UV light.
  • Turbid water leaves unsightly stains on surfaces and fabrics.

Difficulty of Fixing 

Turbid/cloudy water is easy to fix. Whether it’s city water or well water, all you need is a good sediment water filter.

The solution can be a standalone sediment filter or a part of a bigger filtration system that also includes an activated carbon filter, a UV lamp and other types of filters.

A whole house sediment filter is the best but you can also install a sediment filter for just a single faucet.

How to Know For Sure

Just looking at the water should tell you whether it’s turbid or not. Put the water in a clear glass or bottle to clearly see any discoloration and sediment.

If you want to know exactly how turbid your water is, you’ll need a turbidity meter.

It works by directing light at the water and measuring how much light is scattered by the suspended particles.

The Sper Scientific 860040 turbidity meter is compact and easy to use. 

Another good option is the Apera Instruments TN400 Portable Turbidity Meter. It’s expensive but offers more accurate readings.


Flouride

water filter

The practice of fluoridation, deliberately adding fluoride to public drinking water, is highly controversial.

Organizations like the CDC and the FDI World Dental Federation support the practice arguing that it prevents tooth decay.

But other organizations and experts argue that it’s unnecessary since there are many other sources of fluoride today such as toothpaste. They argue that fluoride in water has negative health effects.

Many large cities in the US add fluoride to their water supply.

While the benefits of fluoridation are debatable, what’s without doubt even among supporters of the practice is that too much fluoride is dangerous.

It weakens the bones, making them brittle and painful.

It’s not just excess fluoride in tap water you should be worried about. Well water can have it too and it can be higher than the recommended level.

Obvious Signs 

  • White streaks or specks on teeth especially in children. The discoloration is harmless but permanent.

There’s no other obvious way to tell your water contains fluoride since it does not affect the appearance, taste or smell of the water.

Health Concerns 

At the very least, too much fluoride in water can cause teeth discoloration especially in children. It appears as white streaks that don’t go away.

In severe cases, excess fluoride leads to a bone condition called skeletal fluorosis. Bones get weak and brittle. It affects mobility and can lead to chronic pain.

Other Concerns 

Because the spots and stains caused by fluoride are permanent, they can affect one’s self esteem and social life.

Difficulty of Fixing 

Removing fluoride from your water is easy using the right filter.

You’ll need either a reverse osmosis filter or a water ionizer. The RO filter works by trapping fluoride molecules behind a membrane.

An ionizer on the other hand works by separating water into an alkaline stream without fluoride and an acidic stream containing fluoride.

As long as you stick to alkaline water, you can be sure it doesn’t contain fluoride.

Note: Activated carbon filters do not remove fluoride.

How to Know For Sure

The easiest way to know for sure is by calling your water provider. They will gladly tell you whether they add fluoride to water and in what concentration.

You can also consult your local consumer confidence report.

Another easy method is to go to the CDC web page,My Water’s Fluoride

There, you can click on a map to select your state and county. Select the public system that supplies water to your home to see whether they add fluoride and in what concentration.

If you want to test the water yourself at home, buy a fluoride meter.

One of the most popular ones is the Extech FL700 Fluoride Meter, that will display measurements in ppm.

You can also buy test strips such as this pack of 100 by Baldwin Meadows. They are cheaper than a digital meter but not as accurate.


Dangerous Minerals

water filter

Your tap or well water likely contains both good and bad minerals.

Minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium have various health benefits in your body.

Others like arsenic, mercury, uranium and manganese are harmful in certain concentrations.

Beyond health concerns, high levels of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium, in water are responsible for water hardness. Hard water can be a nuisance around the house.

Obvious Signs You Have High Mineral Content in Your Water

  • Water has an unusual taste and smell. Some minerals like manganese affect the taste and odor of water. Iron gives water a metallic taste.
  • Scale deposits on surfaces and in plumbing. Calcium and magnesium are usually the culprits.
  • Sweet-tasting water. Water with high levels of certain minerals tends to have a pleasant bottled water like taste.
  • Your water comes out whitish and cloudy. If the cloudiness doesn’t disappear after a while when you pour a glass of water, it could be caused by high concentrations of calcium and magnesium.
  • Rust stains on surfaces and fabrics caused by dissolved iron.
  • Discoloration because of corrosion. An unusual color in your water could be a sign that your plumbing is corroding. Minerals like lead and rust from your plumbing might be causing the discoloration.

Health Concerns 

Not all minerals are bad.

Some like magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium are actually good for you in the right amounts.

But your water might also contain dangerous minerals.
  • Lead is one of the most dangerous mineral contaminant. It’s especially harmful to kids and infants since even low levels of lead can cause developmental problems. It can also lead to kidney and cardiovascular problems in adults.
  • Uranium is present in all water but in very low amounts. If your water happens to have high concentrations of the radioactive element, it can cause kidney damage.
  • Copper is healthy, even essential, in small amounts. Too much of it in water can however lead to kidney and liver damage, according to the CDC. The same goes for other trace minerals like zinc, phosphorous and manganese. They are good in small amounts but toxic when levels are too high.
  • Mercury in drinking water can lead to kidney damage.

Other Concerns 

  • Certain minerals can affect water aesthetics – taste, smell and appearance. For example, water with high levels of iron has a metallic taste.
  • Hard water leaves scale deposits on surfaces and in plumbing. Over time, the buildup of these precipitated minerals can cause clogging of water pipes.

Difficulty of Fixing 

It’s easy to remove harmful minerals from your drinking water. All you need is a reverse osmosis filter.

The RO membrane will strip almost all dissolved minerals from water, including the good ones.

Some RO systems have an integrated remineralization stage to put back some healthy minerals to enhance the taste of water and make it healthier.

How to Know For Sure

A TDS meter is the best way to test the level of dissolved minerals and salts in your water.

But the meter doesn’t differentiate between various minerals. So if you want to know whether your water contains lead, mercury or iron, you have to test for that particular mineral.

There are home testing kits for some minerals such as lead, mercury and iron. For other minerals, the best option is to send a sample of your water to a lab approved by the EPA.

Go to this page to find a certified lab in your state.


Chemicals & Toxins

best whole house water filter

Chemical contaminants in water can be traced back to industries as well as human activities such as agriculture.

They come from various products including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, petroleum waste, disinfectants and sealants.

Most of these chemicals are harmful especially to pregnant women, infants and children.

Other chemicals are relatively harmless but affect the taste and smell of water.

Obvious Signs You Have Chemicals In Your Water 

  • An unusual taste or smell in your water. The particular taste and odor will depend on the chemical contaminant present.For example, chemicals from an oil refinery will introduce a petroleum smell in water.
  • Cloudy or discolored water. Some chemicals can change the appearance of water.
  • Unexplained health symptoms that might be caused by chemicals in your drinking water. If multiple family members show similar symptoms, get your water tested immediately for chemicals and other impurities.

Health Concerns 

Chemicals are some of the most dangerous water contaminants.

Some water-soluble chemicals can cause serious health conditions such as cancer, neurological problems and organ damage.

Children and pregnant women are at the highest risk. In kids, exposure to certain chemicals like pesticides can lead to developmental problems.

Nitrates and nitrites from fertilizers, septic tanks and animal waste are particularly dangerous to infants.

They affect the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to different parts of the body, causing a potentially fatal condition called Blue Baby Syndrome

Other Concerns 

Chemicals in water can also affect the health of your plants if you use the water for gardening.

Your fish are also at risk if you use chemical-laden water in your aquarium.

Difficulty of Fixing 

You can remove most of the chemicals in your drinking water using an activated carbon filter.

A reverse osmosis filter is even better. It can remove most of the chemicals that a carbon filter might allow through.

How to Know For Sure

Start by checking your utility’s Consumer Confidence Report. It will contain a list of contaminants in your water and their potential health risks.

You can also test some chemicals yourself using a home test kit. The most commonly available kits available are for nitrites and nitrates.

To test other chemicals, lab testing is the best option.

Look for an EPA-approved lab in your area and submit a water sample.


Chlorine / Chloramines 

best whole house water filter

Unlike other chemicals that find their way into public water supplies from other sources, chlorine and chloramines are deliberately added at municipal water treatment plants.

They are used to kill bacteria, viruses and cysts in the water.

They are not a health concern but they give water a particularly unpleasant taste and smell.

Obvious Signs You Have Chorine/Chloramine in Your Water

Chlorinated water is hard to miss. It has that signature ‘pool chlorine’ smell and taste.

Water treated with chloramines, a stronger group of disinfectants, has a less noticeable taste and smell but you’ll still notice a big difference from bottle or rain water.

Health Concerns 

Chlorine and chloramines mostly affect the taste and smell of water.

But there are a few potential health concerns, too.

One health concern is that chlorine produces dangerous by-products when it reacts with organic matter in water.

Though the EPA has strict rules on the level of these by-products, experts are not sure whether low levels of exposure are safe over time. This one of the reasons why many cities are switching to chloramines. It produces fewer by-products than chlorine.

Inhaling water vapor with chlorine when showering can also worsen asthma symptoms, cause throat irritation and lead to breathing problems in some people.

Other Concerns 

Chlorinated water, when used in gardening, can also kill microbes beneficial to plants​.

But unless the water has very high concentrations of chlorine, which is never the case with municipal water, your plants will most likely be okay.

Chlorine is quickly trapped under the soil and microbes reproduce quickly to repopulate the soil.

When it comes to aquariums, never use chlorinated tap water. It may kill your fish.

Difficulty of Fixing 

Chlorine is easy to remove from your water using a carbon filter.

If your water supplier uses chloramines instead of chlorine, then look for a filter that used catalytic carbon instead of standard activated carbon (chloramines are tougher to filter out).

How to Know for Sure 

Smelling or tasting your water is usually enough of a test to know whether it contains too much chlorine or chloramine.

If you want to be completely sure, then check the Consumer Confidence Report from your water utility. It will state which disinfectant has been used in your water.

To know exactly how much chlorine is in your home water, you'll need to buy a test kit online. We recommend this one by Health Metric because it also tests for nitrates, lead, copper, iron and pH.


Biologicals: Bacteria, Cysts, Viruses

best whole house water filter

‘Biologicals’ refers to microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria and cysts.

Waterborne microbes are very dangerous and have in the past led to outbreaks of deadly diseases like cholera, typhoid and dysentery.

Waterborne diseases still cause millions of deaths per year.

The risk of microbe contamination is high if you use untreated ground water from a well. But you are not completely safe either if you receive city water.

Though city water undergoes an extensive decontamination process, it can still contain harmful microorganisms.

Obvious Signs Your Water Has Biological Contamination 

It’s hard to tell whether your water has any microbes just by looking. It could be clear, tasteless and odorless and still be dangerous to drink.

However, some bacteria can cause cloudiness or introduce unusual tastes and odors into your water.

The presence of suspended sediment may also be an indication of microorganisms in the water.

But often, any change in smell, taste or appearance of water is caused by minerals or chemicals. Microbes are hard to detect without testing.

What you might notice are health symptoms in family members like diarrhea, vomiting, headache and fever.

Health Concerns 

Wikipedia has a handy list of waterborne diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, algae, parasitic worms and protozoa.

Symptoms range from simple things like eye redness to serious conditions like coma and death.

Other Concerns 

Untreated water is also dangerous to pets and fish.

Never give your pets untreated water or use it in an aquarium.

Difficulty of Fixing

It’s impossible to eliminate 100% of microbes from water. But you can come close using a reverse osmosis water filter.

UV filters are also pretty good at killing bacteria and viruses though they are not as effective as RO systems.

How to Know For Sure

The best way to test for microbes in your water is to send a sample to a lab. Find a certified water testing lab on this EPA page.

You can also get a bacteria testing kit though it will not be as accurate as a lab test.

Because of the seriousness of microbes-contaminated water, we strongly recommend testing with a lab to be completely sure.


Step 3:  Select The Right Solution

Listed below are our favorite water treatment products for solving the water quality issue(s) you are experiencing in your home.  

Click Learn More to see the latest price and reviews for our favorite product.

Note: our favorite product may or may not work in your situation.  To see a more complete list of top-rated products for your particular issue, check the buying guides mentioned below.

Your ProblemOur RecommendationTypePrice 
Hard Water
(Whole House)
Fleck 5600 SXTWhole-house
water softener
$$Learn More
Hard Water
(Drinking)
iSpring RCC7AK-UVUnder-sink reverse
osmosis water filter
$$Learn More
Hard water
(Bathing)
coming soonShower head filter
Chlorine
(Whole House)
iSpring WGB32B 3-StageWhole-house
water filter
$$Learn More
Chlorine
(Drinking)
PUR FM-4100B 3-Stage VerticalFaucet water filter$Learn More
APEC WFS-1000 3-Stage Under-sink water filter$Learn More
coming soonWater filter pitcher
Fluoride
(Drinking)
Home Master TMAFC-ERP
Artesian
Under-sink
reverse osmosis water filter
$$Learn More
Tyent UCE-11Water ionizer$$$Learn More
Cloudy Water
(Whole House)
Watts WH-LDWhole house
sediment filter
$Learn More
Cloudy Water
(Drinking)
APEC WFS-1000
3 Stage
Under-sink
water filter
$Learn More
PUR FM-4100B
3-Stage
Faucet water
filter
$Learn More
coming soonWater filter
pitcher
Bacteria, Viruses, Cysts
(Whole House)
VH410 VIQUAWhole house
UV filter
$$Learn More
Bacteria, Viruses, Cysts
(Drinking)
Home Master TMAFC-ERPUnder-sink reverse
osmosis filter
$$Learn More
Chemicals
(Whole House)
Aquasana RhinoWhole house
water filter
$$$Learn More
Chemicals
(Drinking)
Home Master TMAFC-ERPUnder-sink reverse
osmosis filter
$$Learn More
APEC WFS-1000
3-Stage
Under-sink
activated carbon filter
$Learn More
coming soonWater filter
pitcher
Metals & Minerals
(Whole House)
Fleck 5600 SXTWhole house water
softener (for calcium
and magnesium)
$$Learn More
Metals & Minerals
(Drinking)
Home Master TMAFC-ERPUnder-sink reverse
osmosis filter
(for other minerals)
$$Learn More
Acidic waterTyent UCE-11 Water ionizer$$$Learn More
Unsafe water at
camping sites, RV parks
or hotels
coming soonPortable
water filter
best whole house water filter

The best water treatment solution for your home depends on the water quality issue you have and the source and amount of water you'll need to treat.

Water treatment solutions fall into two general categories:

  1. point of entry: these products filter water as it enters your home from your city water supply or well.
  2. point of use: these products filter water at specific points in your home such as your kitchen tap, shower head, faucet, etc.

In this section, we tell you which water treatment solutions and products will solve the water quality problems you identified in Step 2.  

In Step 4., we list our Top Picks for each type of product.


Whole House Water Filter Systems

A whole house water filter is the best solution when you need filtered water for all applications in your home including cleaning, showering and drinking.

Whole house water filters treat water at the point of entry. All the water coming into the house goes through the filter before entering your plumbing.

Whole-house filters are usually multi-purpose filters that remove a range of contaminants including heavy metals, chlorine and chloramine, organic chemicals and sediment.

Whole-home water systems do not remove biologicals (unless there’s a UV filter), some dissolved minerals & salts, and some chemicals.

How A Whole House Water Filter System Works 

A whole house water filter typically consists of multiple stages.

The system usually starts by sending incoming water supply through a sediment filter stage to trap large bits of sand and sediment, followed by a carbon filter stage to remove chlorine and other chemicals, then followed by 1 or more filter stages to meet other special needs. Some systems add later stages to soften well water and others include a UV filter to target biologicals.

The number of stages in a whole home water filtration system will vary among the leading brands and models.  There really isn't a magic number of stages, and more stages isn't always the right solution for your home.

But all whole-home water filters work the same way.

As water passes through each stage, various contaminants are removed. By the final stage, the water is clean.

TIP:  Learn how the leading whole-house systems compare in our recently-updated whole house water filters buying guide.

Issues & Limitations

1. Doesn’t remove all contaminants

Whole house water filters produce filtered water, not purified water.

For example, they typically do not remove all contaminants including biologicals, dissolved salts and minerals and some chemicals.

So while the water may be fine for washing and cleaning, it’s not always guaranteed safe for drinking.

If you want complete peace of mind that your drinking water is safe, you’ll have to invest in an additional under-sink reverse osmosis water filter that produces purified water.

2. Takes more time to install

Another issue with whole home water filters is that they are pretty large and can be challenging to install if you haven't done plumbing work before.

Most whole-house water treatment systems are designed for DIY installation by the homeowner. but it will take you at least 2-4 hours to do the job.

Our Favorite Whole-House Water Filter System:

Aquasana Rhino 10-Year, 1,000,000 Gallon Whole House Water Filter

best whole house water filter

The popular Aquasana Rhino whole-home water filter has one of the largest capacities of any whole house water filter. It will easily provide the average home with 8-10 years of reliable service before you need to replace the filters.

The Aquasana Rhino system consists of four filtration stages that remove sediment, chlorine, organic chemicals, some microscopic cysts and heavy metals.

There are many add-ons available for the Rhino including water softeners and addition filters, so this whole house water system can probably meet any needs you have.


Whole-House Water Softeners

If your main water quality problem is hard water, then a whole-house water softener is your best solution.

See Our Top Picks >

Whole-home water softeners remove excess minerals from all water entering your home, so your entire family can enjoy clean, soft water when showering, doing the laundry, cleaning and drinking.

How A Whole-House Water Softener Works

There are two basic types of water softeners:

  • salt-based, and
  • salt-free.

The most popular water softeners are salt-based. They work using a process called ion exchange. 

As hard water passes through a resin bed, calcium and magnesium ions in the water are electrically removed and replaced with sodium or potassium ions. When the calcium and magnesium ions are removed, the water becomes ‘soft’. 

Most whole house water softeners use a resin bed to make the ion exchange happen.

The resin bed needs to be regularly recharged using salty water (brine). Brine adds sodium (or potassium) ions to the resin and removes magnesium and calcium for flushing out of the system.

The primary downside of salt-based water softeners is they sometimes leave a trace of salt in the water, which some people do not like.

As for salt-free water softeners, there are several different types available.

Magnetic water descalers change how hardness minerals behave, preventing them from sticking onto surfaces and leaving scale deposits.

Other whole-house water softeners use a process called chelation. Similar to magnetic descalers, these change the behavior of hardness minerals. These are strictly known as water conditioners rather than softeners.

TIP: Learn about the best whole-house water softeners in our recently updated water softeners buying guide.

Issues & Limitations

There are two major issues with traditional water softeners:

  • They add salt to the water. While this is harmless for most people, it’s a health concern for those on a limited sodium diet. Luckily, you can use potassium instead. It works just as well.
  • They waste water when recharging.

As for salt-free water softeners, their biggest limitation is that they are not very effective for extra-hard water.

Our ​Favorite Whole-House Water Softener:

Fleck 5600 SXT Digital Metered Water Softener System

fleck 5600 water softener reviews

We chose the extremely popular Fleck 5600 SXT as our top pick mostly because of its high water softening capacity.

With a capacity of 48,000 grains, it will have no trouble keeping up with the needs of a large family.

Something else we like about the 5600 SXT is that it uses metered regeneration. Instead of regenerating on a timer-based system, it automatically regenerates when the resin has reached its capacity. This reduces water waste and the amount of salt you add to the tank.

This system is a proven, reliable and top-rated water softener for the home.


Under-Sink Water Filters

If you are interested in filtering kitchen water used for drinking, brewing coffee and cooking, an under-sink water filter is probably your best solution.

See Our Top Picks >

The contaminants removed by an under-sink water filter depend on what kind of filter it is.

A basic carbon filter will remove chlorine, organic chemicals, sediment and heavy metals while a premium reverse osmosis filter will remove virtually everything.

How An Under-Sink Water Filter Works

A carbon water filter works the same way as a whole house water filter, but on a much smaller scale.  Water passes through multiple stages with each stage targeting specific impurities.

A reverse osmosis water filter works pretty much the same way, except that it also uses a super fine RO membrane that can filter out almost everything except water molecules.

An RO filter may also contain a pH/remineralization stage to add back healthy minerals that were stripped out of the water.

Issues and Limitations 

1. You may need additional filters

Under-sink water filters are point of use systems. That means you get filtered water only at one point.

If you also need filtered water from another faucet or shower, you’ll have to install additional filters.

Another major limitation is filter capacity. Most under-sink systems require filter replacements every 6-12 months.

2. Doesn’t remove all contaminants

Another issue is performance. Unless you get an RO system, a basic under-sink water filter will not remove biologicals, dissolved minerals & salts and certain chemicals.

Our Favorite Under Sink Water Filter: 

The APEC WFS-1000 

soft water

The APEC WFS-1000 uses three filtration stages that remove sediment, greatly improve the taste and smell of water by removing chlorine and chemicals and filter-out harmful heavy metals.

The WFS-1000 is also easy to install, and the filters have a long lifespan of 12 months.


Faucet Water Filters

A faucet water filter is a great choice if you don’t want the hassle of installing an under-sink water filter or don’t have the space to install one.

Faucet water filters are also great for RV'rs, boaters and frequent travelers.

Faucet water filters are normally used to improve the taste and smell of drinking water. They remove common impurities like chlorine, organic chemicals, rust, sediment and heavy metals.

How Faucet Water Filters Work

There are two types of faucet water filters you can buy.

Faucet-mount faucet filters attach directly to your faucet, often replacing the nozzle of your faucet. These contain a filter cartridge through which water flows through.  A lever on the filter lets you select between filtered water or normal tap water.

Countertop faucet filters sit on your countertop next to your sink. You screw an adaptor onto your faucet and connect it to the filter using a tube.  Countertop water filters typically have their own faucet where filtered water comes out.

TIP: Learn about the top-rated faucet water filters in our recently-updated faucet water filter buying guide.

Issues and Limitations 

1. Low water pressure

Filtered water from a faucet filter comes out in a weak stream. It takes a while to fill a large water bottle or pitcher.

But this is not a major issue since you’ll be using the water for drinking only.

For washing and other applications, you can use normal tap water.

2. Doesn't remove biologicals 

Another issue is that faucet filters don’t remove bacteria and viruses. What you get is filtered water - not purified water like a reverse-osmosis system provides.

Our Favorite Faucet Water Filter:

The PUR FM-4100B 3-Stage Vertical Faucet Water Filter System

PUR Faucet Water Filter

The PUR FM-4100B faucet mount filter takes less than 5 minutes to install and is compatible with all standard faucets. It uses a 3-stage filtration process to remove more than 70 contaminants.

A filter life indicator tells you when it’s time to replace the filter (usually after around 3 months).  Note: this product was recently updated to a horizontal filter design, check Amazon for the latest models.


Water Filter Pitchers

If you don’t want the hassle of installing an under-sink or faucet water filter for drinking water, a water filter pitcher is a convenient alternative.

Water Pitcher Filters can also remove most contaminants including chlorine, sediment, organic chemicals and heavy metals like lead.

How Water Filter Pitchers Work 

A water filter pitcher is just a normal water pitcher that contains a water filter inside that stands between the internal container and the external environment. When you add more water into a water filter pitcher, it passes through the filter before landing inside the pitcher.  

Depending on the type of water filter you buy, various contaminants are removed.

Basic carbon filters filter out chlorine, chemicals and heavy metals. More advanced filters use ceramic and tourmaline to remove fluoride and microscopic cysts.

The best water pitchers today incorporate multi-stage filters to increase filtering performance.

Issues and Limitations 

1. Limited capacity 

Water pitchers are really only suitable for filtering drinking water for a few people - you are limited by the pitcher’s capacity.

For a large family of 4 or more people, a faucet or under-sink water filter is probably a better option.

2. They do not remove all contaminants

Another limitation of water pitchers is that most do not remove biologicals such as bacteria and viruses. They don’t provide the same water safety guarantee as RO filters.

Our Favorite Water Filter Pitcher 

coming soon!


Shower Head Water Filters

A shower head water filter is the best solution if you are concerned about impurities in your bathing water and their impact on your skin and hair.

Depending on the type of filter contained, a shower head filter may remove chlorine, chemicals, heavy metals, sediment and microscopic cysts.

How A Shower Head Water Filter Works 

A shower head water filter works like any other water filter. After attaching the new shower head to your shower, tap water passes through a multiple-filtration cartridge. Each stage targets specific contaminants.

There are several types of shower head filters sold today.

There are the shower head replacement filters that completely replace your existing shower head.

In-line shower filters are installed between your existing shower head and the water line. This type is a good choice if you don’t want to give up the functionality of your existing shower head..

Combined in-line + shower head filters replace your entire shower line and head. They attach directly to the waterline and come with their own shower head.

Issues & Limitations

1. Reduced performance

Shower head filters generally don’t perform as well as other types of filters because water has to flow very quickly through the unit, which reduces the effectiveness of the filter.

Compared with a whole-house or under-sink water filter, a shower head filter removes significantly less chlorine and other impurities.

Shower head filters that claim to soften water are not as effective as a whole house water softener - especially when it comes to very hard water.

Also note: Filtration standards for shower water heads are not as strict as those for drinking water.

Our Favorite Shower Head Water Filter 

coming soon!


Reverse Osmosis Systems

If you want complete peace of mind that your drinking water is totally purified for your family, then buy a reverse osmosis (RO) system.

Reverse osmosis systems are the only kind of water filter that produces purified water - meaning almost all (99.9%) contaminants have been removed.

See Our Top Picks >

RO systems are usually designed for kitchen duty. They are typically installed under your sink and require a dedicated faucet installed on the sink or mounted on the wall.

How Reverse Osmosis Filters Works 

An RO system consists of several filters plus a semi-permeable membrane layer that does most of the work.

The pre-filters remove chlorine, organic chemicals and sediment. The RO membrane removes heavy metals, dissolved minerals & salts and biologicals.

Many RO systems also feature a post-filter to give the water a final polish for taste.

Some Reverse Osmosis Water FIlter Systems also add a pH filter to restore the water’s pH balance (purified water is slightly acidic) and another subsystem to replenish healthy minerals that were stripped out by the membrane.

TIP:  Learn about the leading reverse osmosis water systems in our recently-updated reverse osmosis system buying guide.

Issues and Limitations 

1. Wastes water 

For a RO osmosis system to keep functioning properly, it has to regularly flush away captured contaminants. It uses more fresh water to flush these impurities down the drain.

Most inexpensive RO systems waste about 3-4 gallons of water for every gallon used. More expensive and efficient systems waste as little as 1 or 2 gallons for each gallon of purified water.

2. Removes healthy minerals 

Unfortunately, an RO system doesn’t differentiate between good and bad minerals. It just removes everything.

If you want to drink water with a healthy mineral balance, then you’ll have to buy an RO system with a pH/remineralization filter.

Our Favorite Reverse Osmosis Water Filter: 

Home Master TMAFC-ERP Artesian RO System

best ro system for home

The advanced Home Master TMAFC-ERP uses 7 filtration stages and add two remineralization filters to the end that deliver healthy and great tasting water.

The TMAFC-ERP  has a permeate pump that greatly reduces wasted water to a ratio of 1 lost gallon per gallon of clean water produced. That means only a gallon of water is flushed down the drain for every gallon of purified water you drink.


Water Ionizers

Drinking alkaline ionized water may help with reflux, inflammation, irritable bowel disease and skin problems.

See Our Top Picks >

Want to start enjoying the health benefits of ionized alkaline water?  Then you'll need to buy a water ionizer, also called an alkaline water machine.

A water ionizer takes your normal tap water and splits it into alkaline and acidic water. The alkaline water is full of healthy antioxidants. 

How Water Ionizers Work 

A water ionizer uses a process called electrolysis to split water into acidic and alkaline streams.

Normally, you let the acidic water go down the drain. But you can also use it for cleaning, disinfecting surfaces, sterilizing wounds and cleansing your skin.

What you really want is the alkaline water.

Alkaline water contains antioxidants that prevent cell-damaging oxidation. The alkalinity is also great for problems like reflux.

Designed mostly for drinking water, most water ionizer units sit on your countertop or under your sink. You connect it to your faucet (for countertop units) or to your cold water line (for undercounter models).

TIP:  Learn all about the top-rated water ionizers in our recently updated water ionizer buying guide.

Issues and Limitations

1. Wasted water

Like an RO system, an ionizer also wastes quite a bit of water. This is the acidic water that drains out of the system.

If you want, you could save the acidic water for cleaning surfaces and even your skin.

2. Expensive 

Water ionizers are expensive with the top models costing more than $3000.

Our Favorite Water Ionizer System: 

Tyent UCE-11 Under Counter Water Ionizer

Tyent UCE-11 Water Ionizer

With 11 plates and 750 watts of power, the Tyent UCE-11 is one of the most powerful water ionizers.

The UCE-11 produces ionized water with a pH range of 2 to 12 and ORP levels as low as -1050 (ORP is a measure of water’s antioxidant power. The lower the better.)

We especially appreciate the easy-to-use smartphone-style touchscreen control panel that lets you to select 7 types of water and the two turbo modes for highly alkaline and highly acidic water.


Portable Water Filters

Do you want filtered water on the go - for example, when hiking, boating or camping?

Then a portable water filter system is your best solution.

Most portable water filters are lightweight & compact enough to fit into a backpack and are really easy to use.

Most portable filters can also filter water from just about any water source.

How Portable Water Filters Work 

There are several types of portable water filters sold today, and. they all work differently.

A straw water filter contains a filter cartridge inside a straw, through which water passes as you suck water from the source through the straw.

A water bottle filter looks like a normal bottle but with contains a water filter inside which filters water before it enters the vessel.

A pump water filter is a bit bigger but still small enough to fit in a backpack. Pump filters use a hand-operated pump to draw water from the source and force it through multiple filters.

Most portable filters are designed to purify biologically unsafe water. They remove protozoa, bacteria, viruses and cysts as well as chemicals and turbidity.

Issues and Limitations 

1. Slow water flow 

Because of their size, portable water filters process water slower than a bigger filter at home. It might take a while to fill a large bottle from a stream or pond.

2. Short filter life 

Another downside of their small size is that the filters are small too. You’ll have to replace them often especially if you hike or camp a lot.

Our Top Pick 

coming soon!


Step 4:  Purchase & Install

The table below lists our top picks for each kind of water treatment solution sold today. We update this list every few months as new products come online.

Click on Learn More to see the latest price and reviews.

Your ProblemOur RecommendationTypePrice 
Hard Water
(Whole House)
Fleck 5600 SXTWhole-house
water softener
$$Learn More
Hard Water
(Drinking)
iSpring RCC7AK-UVUnder-sink reverse
osmosis water filter
$$Learn More
Hard water
(Bathing)
coming soonShower head filter
Chlorine
(Whole House)
iSpring WGB32B 3-StageWhole-house
water filter
$$Learn More
Chlorine
(Drinking)
PUR FM-4100B 3-Stage VerticalFaucet water filter$Learn More
APEC WFS-1000 3-Stage Under-sink water filter$Learn More
coming soonWater filter pitcher
Fluoride
(Drinking)
Home Master TMAFC-ERP
Artesian
Under-sink
reverse osmosis water filter
$$Learn More
Tyent UCE-11Water ionizer$$$Learn More
Cloudy Water
(Whole House)
Watts WH-LDWhole house
sediment filter
$Learn More
Cloudy Water
(Drinking)
APEC WFS-1000
3 Stage
Under-sink
water filter
$Learn More
PUR FM-4100B
3-Stage
Faucet water
filter
$Learn More
coming soonWater filter
pitcher
Bacteria, Viruses, Cysts
(Whole House)
VH410 VIQUAWhole house
UV filter
$$Learn More
Bacteria, Viruses, Cysts
(Drinking)
Home Master TMAFC-ERPUnder-sink reverse
osmosis filter
$$Learn More
Chemicals
(Whole House)
Aquasana RhinoWhole house
water filter
$$$Learn More
Chemicals
(Drinking)
Home Master TMAFC-ERPUnder-sink reverse
osmosis filter
$$Learn More
APEC WFS-1000
3-Stage
Under-sink
activated carbon filter
$Learn More
coming soonWater filter
pitcher
Metals & Minerals
(Whole House)
Fleck 5600 SXTWhole house water
softener (for calcium
and magnesium)
$$Learn More
Metals & Minerals
(Drinking)
Home Master TMAFC-ERPUnder-sink reverse
osmosis filter
(for other minerals)
$$Learn More
Acidic waterTyent UCE-11 Water ionizer$$$Learn More
Unsafe water at
camping sites, RV parks
or hotels
coming soonPortable
water filter
fleck 5600 metered water softener reviews

NOTE: You don’t need a professional to install any of the water treatment solutions discussed in this guide - unless you can’t find time to do it yourself.

In this section, we explain more about the price range, installation cost and ease of installation for each kind of water treatment solution sold today.  

If you haven't already done so, you can use this information to shop online and make an informed purchase decision.


Whole-house Water Filters 

Price Range 

The cheapest multi-stage whole house water filters start at around $150, while premium systems from brands like iSpring and Home Master can start at around $400 and top out at $700.

The number of stages and water filtration capacity of the filter determine the price.

If you want a sediment-only whole house water filter, you can get a good one for less than $100.

See Our Top Picks >


Installation Requirements 

Whole house water filters are time-consuming to install because you have to cut your main water line, connect the filters and probably set up a by-pass.

While most filters are designed for DIY installation, you may find it easier to hire a pro if you are busy.

Installation costs start at around $700 but can be as high as $3,000 for large filter systems.

But if you have an afternoon free, you can save on installation costs and set up the filter yourself.

The only costs you’ll incur are for the fittings. Most whole house water filters don’t include all the parts and fittings you’ll need for installation.

Some do provide the installation kit, either sold separately or bundled with the water filter.

Don’t forget that you also need some basic tools on hand including a pipe cutter and an adjustable wrench. 

best water filter

Whole House Water Softeners

Price Range 

Whole house water softeners are more expensive than whole house water filters.

The cheapest salt-based softeners start at around $500. The most expensive ones cost over $1,000.

Softeners with a high grain capacity or a dual tank setup are more expensive.

If you want something cheaper, your best option is a salt-free water softener, which start at under $200.

See Our Top Picks >


Installation Requirements 

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Similar to whole house water filters, water softeners also take quite a bit of time to set up.

If you have a busy schedule, you’ll find it easier to hire a pro. Installation costs start at around $500 and can go as high as $3,000 for large complex systems.

But if you have the time, we recommend installing the water softener yourself. It’s not that hard and you can find helpful videos online for the most popular models.

Most water softeners don’t include an installation kit meaning you have to buy your own fittings and connectors to complete installation.


Under-sink Water Filters

Price Range

Under-sink water filters fall somewhere between faucet filters and whole house water filters in terms of price.

The cheapest ones start at around $100 or less while premium ones cost between $150 and $300.

Installation requirements

An under-sink water filter is easier and quicker to install than a whole-house system. You definitely don’t need a pro.

You don’t even need to cut anything.

The most time-consuming part of installing an under-sink water filter is setting up the faucet since you have to drill a hole in your sink or counter.

But there are some water filters that direct filtered water to the existing faucet. These are much easier to install.

Another great thing about under-sink water filters is that you don’t need to buy any parts or fittings. They come with an installation kit including the new faucet.

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Water Filter Pitchers

Price Range

Prices of water filter pitchers depend mostly on capacity and type of filter used.

Basic 8-12 cup water filter pitchers start at around $25. These are good for individuals and small families.

The largest water filter pitchers, some of which have their own faucets, cost close to $100.

Installation Requirements 

best water filters

No installation is required.

Just insert the filter into the pitcher and add water.


Showerhead Filters

​Price Range 

Most showerhead filters cost less than $100,  starting at $25 and reaching $80-100.

Price depends on the type of filter, the number and range of contaminants it removes and the filter lifespan.

Make sure you note the cost of replacement filters and how frequently you will need to replace them - some of the top-rated / cheaper options make all of their profits selling replacement cartridges 😉

Installation Requirements 

You don’t need a pro to install a showerhead filter.

Most showerhead filters are really easy to install; it takes less than 10 minutes.

All you need to do is remove your current showerhead, screw the filter into shower pipe that sticks out from the wall and screw back your showerhead onto the filter.

Depending on the type of filter you have, the process might be a bit different. Some showerhead filters come with their own showerhead attached.

Other than some Teflon tape and maybe a wrench to loosen the showerhead, you don’t need any special tools.

best water filters

Faucet Water Filters

Price Range

Faucet water filters are sold for about the same price as shower head filters - you can get one for as little as $15. Larger countertop and in-line models cost a bit more, around $60 to $100.

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Installation Requirements 

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Faucet water filters are easy to install. You don’t need a pro and you also don’t require any tools or extra fittings.

You just need to unscrew your faucet aerator, put in the adaptor and then mount the filter.

If it’s a countertop model, you’ll run a tube from the faucet adaptor to the filter.


Reverse Osmosis Systems

Price Range 

RO systems used to be crazy-expensive, but prices have dropped dramatically in the past few years. Today, you can get a good-quality reverse osmosis water filter for as little as $200.

If you want more capacity, less water wastage and more features then you’ll have to spend between $300 and $600 for a premium system.

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Installation Requirements 

Installing an RO system under the counter is easy…and free. You don’t need to hire a pro and or buy extra parts.

You’ll have to drill a hole for the new faucet in the sink and another hole for the drain line.

You’ll also need some basic tools including an adjustable wrench and a pair of scissors to cut the tubes to length.

osmosis system

Water Ionizers

Price Range 

Water ionizers are the most expensive water treatment solutions, with top models costing as much as $3,000.

For slightly less performance, you can get a good quality water ionizer for between $1,000 and $2,000.

If you are on a budget, there are some low cost models starting at around $500 - but watch the flow / throughput, some are not that useful.

See Our Top Picks >


Installation Requirements 

water filter

Despite their cost and complex workings, water ionizers are actually easy to install. You don’t need to hire a pro.

Most are countertop models, meaning you don’t need to drill a hole for a faucet.

You just need to remove your faucet’s aerator, attach an adaptor and then run a tube from the adaptor to the inlet port of the ionizer.

Another tube should run from the drain port to your sink.

Overall, a 20 minutes or less DIY project.


Portable Water Filters

Price Range 

Prices depend on the type of portable water filter.

The simplest portable water filters, filter straws, usually cost between $10 and $20. 

Water bottle filters cost around $20-$40.

On the higher end, a portable RO filter like the APEC RO-CTOP costs over $200.

Installation Requirements 

Most portable water filters don’t require any kind of installation. At most, you just need to insert the filter into the bottle or straw.

water filter

Step 5:  Maintain & Enjoy

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Contrary to what you may have heard, modern water treatment solutions don’t require much effort or money when it comes to maintenance. 

For the most part, you just need to replace filters and other consumables after a certain period.

In this section we describe the general maintenance and replenishment requirements for each  type of water treatment solution:
SolutionMaintenance Requirements
Whole-house water filterReplace filters and regularly check for leaks.
Whole-house water softenerReplenish the brine tank with salt when it gets low. Also check for leaks.
Under-sink water filterRegularly check for leaks and replace filters after the recommended period.
Water filter pitcherRegularly wash the pitcher and lid as directed in the manual. Replace filter after the recommended period.
Shower head filterBackwash the filter if you notice reduced water pressure. Replace filter after the recommended period.
Faucet water filterReplace filter after the recommended period.
Reverse osmosis systemReplace filters and membrane after the recommended period. Sanitize the system during filter replacement.
Water ionizerReplace filters and wash the water ionizer at the recommended intervals.
Portable water filterReplace filter after the recommended period/capacity.

Whole-House Water Filter Maintenance

water filter

Despite its size, a whole house water filter is actually really easy to maintain.

All you need to do is replace the filters after the recommended period or capacity.

For most whole house water filters, that’s about 1 year or 100,000 gallons.

But some systems like the Aquasana Rhino can process 1 million gallons before the filter lifespan runs out. That’s about 10 years.

The cost of replacement filters depend on the number of filters the system uses and the type of filters.

A UV or sediment whole house filter is going to be less expensive to maintain than a multi-stage system with 2-3 filters.

It’s also important to regularly check the system for leaks and fix them immediately.


Whole House Water Softener Maintenance

water filter

A water softener technically doesn’t have a filter, so no filter replacements are necessary.

But you will need to regularly replenish the brine tank with salt.

Most manufacturers recommend waiting until the level of salt in the tank goes down to a certain point. Then you can add more salt.

Always use the manufacturer-recommended salt whether its pellet, cubed or solar salt. Do not mix two different types of salts.

Maintenance costs depend on the type of salt you are using. Some salt types such as solar and evaporated salt are more expensive than other types such as rock salt.

Water softener salt is usually sold in 40-50 lb bags costing between $20 and $30.

In addition to adding salt to the brine tank, you may also need to clean the tank and backwash the system at specific period. Check whether your product manual recommends any of this.


Under Sink Water Filter Maintenance

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Replace the filters after the recommended period/capacity or when the filter replacement indicator lights up.

Replacement filters are usually sold as a pack with costs depending on the type and number of filters.


Water Filter Pitcher Maintenance

Yeah, not a lot to talk about here - just make sure you clean the pitcher frequently to keep your water clean. Keep a close eye on the lid, which can develop mold or mildew.

If you notice mildew, dip a sponge in water mixed with white vinegar and scrub until it goes away.

Check the manual for cleaning instructions – whether you should clean it in the dishwasher or hand wash it.

Replace the filter after the recommended period/capacity.  Cost for replacement filters is minimal - usually less than $20.


Shower Head Filter Maintenance

Replace the water filter after the manufacturer-recommended period or if you notice that your shower water quality or pressure has declined, indicating that the filter is saturated or not working properly.

Some shower head filters also need to be back-washed to remove sediment and mineral buildup that may reduce water pressure.


Faucet Water Filter Maintenance

water filter

Replace the water filter after the recommended period/capacity or when the water filter indicator lights up (if your faucet filter has one).

Replacement faucet water filters are generally cheap with major brands like Culligan and Brita selling theirs for less than $20.


Reverse Osmosis System Maintenance

water filter

Replace the pre-filters and post-filter after the recommended period. This is usually between 6 months and 1 year.

As for the RO membrane, you will need to replace it every 2-3 years or at the manufacturer-recommended period.

Before installing new filters, sanitize the system using unscented household bleach or a manufacturer-provided sanitizer. This kills any bacteria or mold in the filter housings and storage tank.

Check your product manual for specific sanitizing instructions.


Water Ionizer Maintenance

water filter

Most water ionizers have a self-cleaning mechanism. But you also need to manually clean the system every few weeks or months using vinegar or citric acid to remove scale buildup.

You also need to replace the integrated filter after the recommend period, usually once a year.


Portable Water Filter Maintenance

water filter

Maintenance will depend on the type of portable water filter you are using.

For most, you just need to replace the filtration media after a certain period or water capacity.


Learn More 

Check out our other popular water treatment guides on this site:


References

Ed Carmichael

Ed is a water specialist in Tampa, FL. He built CleanerSofterWater.com to help his friends and family learn about DIY solutions to common water quality issues in the home.
Ed Carmichael