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Top 3 Tips For Choosing A Water Filter

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Tap water isn't as clean as you might think. While filling up a reuseable container from the kitchen faucet is much better for the planet than purchasing bottled water, doing so could expose your family to unwanted minerals and chemicals. 

According to a 2012 report featured in Wired, plain old tap water can have dozens of undisclosed contaminants floating around in it, including those put there intentionally by municipal water treatment facilities. Take a gulp, and you could be drinking sulfate, radio-nuclides (as in radiation), N-Nitrosodimethylamine (used to induce cancer in rats), lead, chlorine, bromate (a potential carcinogen), and chloramines (a compound that can damage red blood cells in mice and some humans).

But don't reach for the Dasani just yet. Installing an independently certified water filter can be a good temporary fix for your kitchen faucet, ensuring that less of that yucky stuff makes it into your system. With many different water filtration styles, prices, and brands available on the market, choosing the right one can be somewhat tricky. 

We've rounded up three of the most important things to keep in mind when choosing a water filter for your home or office. Following these tips will make it easier to stay hydrated without waste while avoiding potentially dangerous toxins.

1. Find out what's in your water

No water supply is completely free of contaminants, whether they're natural or manmade. To find out exactly what's swirling around in your H20, contact your water utility and request a copy of the Annual Water Quality Report, also called the Consumer Confidence Report. Every utility is required by law to provide this. If you get paper bills, you may have seen a copy of it included in the envelope, and if you pay your bills online, an electronic version might be available. If it seems a little too technical, the NRDC's "Making Sense of Your Right to Know Report" can help you decipher issues reported by your water utility.

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From the Organic Authority Files

2. Understand available filter types

Not all water filters are created equal, and if you're just shopping based on the price tag, you might end up drinking water that tastes better, but isn't much cleaner. There are five main types of water filter: Activated Carbon Filter, Cation Exchange Softener, Distiller, Reverse Osmosis, and Ultraviolet Disinfection.

Carbon filters, also called adsorption filter, are most common and likely to be found at big box retailers. Adsorption filters usually employ activated carbon or granular activated charcoal to remove or reduce chlorine, particulate matter, and organic contaminants such as pesticides. Keep in mind that prolonged use can clog a carbon filter, reducing effectiveness. As such, carbon filters must be changed according to the manufacturer instructions for best results; failing to change a filter can even reduce the water quality because of microbial growth and/or breaks in the filter, according to Food & Water Watch.

A reverse osmosis (RO) filter, more popular lately, employs a semipermeable membrane that separates impurities from water. RO filters usually come as under-the-sink units; often in combination with a carbon filter or UV disinfection unit. One major drawback of this type of filtration is that it wastes a substantial amount of water during the treatment process. 

3. Look for an independently-certified design

Before settling one one of the filtration systems listed above, it's important to determine whether or not your chosen brand has been independently certified. The most notable and well-regarded organizations (all non-profit) that test and verify water treatment and filtration products are National Sanitation Foundation International, Water Quality Association, and Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. The website of each organization offers a search tool so you can see which products have earned their seal of approval.

Ready to get started in your search for a better water filter? Don't worry, you won't have to trudge from store to store. The Environmental Working Group recently unveiled a new buying guide that makes it easy to find the right water filter for your family and budget. Once you know which contaminants you're trying to filter out, and how much you want to spend, the EWG tool takes care of the rest!

Image: bohman

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