If you're reading this cheap water filters buying guide, you probably prefer your water to be cleaner and taste fresher than what you're currently drinking. Although municipal water providers filter water before sending it on its way, that process doesn't get everything. A water filter system eliminates some of the microbes and other contaminants in the water coming out of your home faucet. It can also stem the flow of money to expensive and environmentally damaging bottled water, which may be no better than tap water. There are many types of home water filters, ranging from cheap water filters from well-known brands such as Brita and Pur, which cost between $15 and $40, to high-end water filters costing $125 and more.
Cheap Water Filters Buying Guide
To determine which water filters give you the best performance and features for the least amount of money, we first narrowed down what kind of water filter system a cautious spender should get. Whole-house water filters handle large quantities of water at once, don't need to be changed very often, and don't take over the kitchen sink or refrigerator. Under-sink water filters are mounted under the sink (naturally), usually in a kitchen or bathroom. These two types of filters generally lie well beyond the Cheapism price range and require professional installation. As a result, we confined our search to inexpensive and easy-to-use pour-through water filters -- i.e., carafes and dispensers -- and faucet filters. These don't carry the added expense of installation and are generally the only options for students and renters, who can take the filter with them when they move.
To use a pour-through filter, simply fill the pitcher or dispenser. The water runs through an activated carbon filter into the container, which can be kept cold in the refrigerator. Wallet-friendly models with good reviews include the Brita Everyday Water Pitcher (starting at $25) and two dispensers, the ZeroWater ZD-018 (starting at $36) and Pur DS-1800Z (starting at $26). The Brita Ultramax (starting at $27), on the other hand, shows how cumbersome it can be to use and clean a dispenser. Ultimately our top choice is a faucet filter, the Culligan FM-15A (starting at $16), because it gives consumers the most gallons for their money and doesn't get in the way in the kitchen. You can skip the Pur FM-9400B (starting at $30) because of user comments about leaking faucets and the product breaking easily. (In fact, many Pur models get average reviews, so if you're looking for a faucet filter, you might want to look to another brand.)
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
What We Looked for in the Specs
Certified Contaminant Removal.Before setting out to buy a water filter, be sure to determine the specific contaminants affecting your water and choose a system that tackles those particular impurities. If your home is serviced by the local water utility, you should receive a yearly consumer confidence report that lists the contaminants in your water supply. You can also request one from the company or search for it on the EPA website. If you get your water from a well, your local health department can tell you what contaminants are normally found in your area, as well as give you a list of certified labs that will test the water.
Most filters remove the basics, such as chlorine and sediments, and improve odor and taste. The best cheap water filters also target contaminants with harmful health effects, such as lead and mercury. The ZeroWater ZD-018 comes with a TDS meter to measure total dissolved solids, including aluminum, lead, zinc, and nitrate. The filter promises to reliably deliver a reading of "000 PPM," or zero parts per million.
Many other manufacturers do testing on their own products, but a water filter that's certified by a third party such as NSF International or the Water Quality Association has been independently tested to common standards established by NSF and the American National Standards Institute. These sites have databases where you can find out more about which models filter which specific contaminants. All the products we recommend have been tested and certified to meet NSF/ANSI standards.
Cheap, Long-Lasting Filter Cartridges.The cost of replacement filters and how often they need changing is a big consideration when choosing a water filter system. Most water filters for pitchers or faucets need replacement filters every 40 to 100 gallons of water, or every two to four months for the average family. Filters for the models we recommend range from about $5 to $15. It's often cheaper to buy a few at a time (look for coupons and other special offers on manufacturer websites). The Culligan FM-15A can get you up to 200 gallons of filtered water, one of the higher amounts we've seen, making it a better value in the long run than most pitchers or dispensers. It also handles twice as many gallons as the Pur FM-9400B faucet filter.Many water filter systems have some kind of electronic indicator to let you know when it's time to change the filter, but cheaper models typically don't. Users often must make do with a sticker for marking the date on a calendar or on the dispenser. One cheap water filter pitcher with a digital indicator is the Mavea Elemaris XL (starting at $35), which measures filter replacement based on how long the filter has been used, how much you drink, and the hardness of your water. It also has a sleek design that comes in six colors, so you might be apt to set it out on the table rather than leave it hidden in the fridge.
Large Capacity.Size is a weighty factor, so to speak, when choosing a pour-through water filter system. A pitcher or dispenser can hold as few as six cups or as many as four times that. To a certain extent, the capacity you need depends on the size of your family and the size of your refrigerator. For consumers filling up lots of glasses of water, it can get irritating to repeatedly fill up a small pitcher and wait for the water to filter through. This is why we favor larger dispensers, and why we like a good kitchen faucet filter most of all. It stays put, it's never "empty," and it doesn't take up space in the fridge. Still, a smaller carafe such as the Brita Everyday Water Pitcher, which holds 10 8-ounce glasses, is well worth buying to shoulder a lighter workload.
Water Filter Reviews
To come up with our recommendations, we studied water filter reviews by consumers on retail sites such as Amazon, Drugstore.com, Walmart, and Target, among others. We also considered the results of hands-on testing by consumer product experts and researched the must-haves for a good water filter, which brands are considered reliable, and what really makes tap water taste markedly better in the eyes of the consumer. Ultimately, we narrowed down our list based on how each filter performs in the areas experts and consumers deem most important.
Filtering Performance.Water that tastes OK to one person may not to another, and filter performance may vary based on the types and levels of contaminants that affect the local water supply, whether the filter matches those particular contaminants, and whether the filter is being used properly and changed according to the product guidelines. Therefore, we're inclined to rely more on the certification of testing organizations such as NSF International than on the subjective impressions of reviewers. However, it's worth noting that most users of the water filters we recommend seem pleased with the taste and quality of their filtered water. One consumer reviewing the Culligan FM-15A (starting at $16) on Amazon reports that the filter removed a sour taste and unpleasant chlorine smell that emerged while water mains were being upgraded. The taste of filtered water from the Pur DS-1800Z (starting at $26) converted one bottled-water devotee who posted a review on the Target website.
Ease of Use.This comes into play when comparing different models but also if you're debating between a pitcher and a faucet filter. Once installed, a faucet filter system might be more convenient to use day in and day out. It doesn't take up space in the fridge, you don't have to clean it out regularly, and you don't have to wait for water to flow through the filter, which users note can take several minutes. With a faucet filter, you just put your glass underneath the stream of filtered water, although some reviews point out that a filter slows the flow of water from the faucet. Some people also can't stand having a faucet filter get in the way and prefer to keep water cold in the refrigerator. Which type of filter system truly works best? It's ultimately a matter of personal preference.The Culligan FM-15A gets high marks for being one of the easier faucet systems to install. According to water filter reviews, the Culligan FM-15A fits many types of faucets (although not all), thanks to a range of adaptors, and installation only takes a few minutes, with no tools necessary. Users simply screw the filter onto the faucet and use a toggle to switch back and forth between tap water and filtered water.
The 18-cup Brita Ultramax dispenser (starting at $27) seems to embody many of the problems consumers have with large dispensers. Water filter reviews say this model is hard to fit in the sink for filling and then too heavy to lug back and forth to the fridge. Some users have found the dispenser hard to clean and say the vented cap makes the water susceptible to fridge odors. By contrast, the Pur DS-1800Z dispenser has the same capacity, but its svelte design fits nicely in the refrigerator, reviewers say. Handles make it easy to carry. A small pitcher such as the Brita Everyday Water Pitcher (starting at $26) is the most painless to transfer to and from the fridge, and you don't have to leave the refrigerator door open while you fill a glass.
Durability.Ensuring that a water filter remains in good condition starts with proper care. In general, pitchers and dispensers should be hand washed. Manufacturers also warn that filtering water hotter than 100 degrees Fahrenheit can damage the filter to a point where it should be replaced. Otherwise, if installed and taken care of correctly, water filtration products should last for years (although, of course, the filters must be replaced). Warranties range from 90 days for Pur and Brita dispensers to two years for the Culligan and Pur faucet filters.That said, durability is the main problem critics have with the Pur FM-9400B faucet filter (starting at $30). Users posting water filter reviews on retail sites such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Ace Hardware give it very low ratings due to frequent problems with leaks and breakage within months of purchase. Conversely, owners of the Culligan FM-15A remark on how durable that faucet filter seems when compared with similar products from other popular brands. One reviewer mentions having had the same unit since 2010.
Other filters worth considering: