Best Cheap Water Filters
Published on By Jennifer Magid
Culligan FM-15A Review
From $16 Best
When it comes to low-cost water filters, Culligan isn't the name on everyone's lips, but perhaps it should be. This faucet filter is one of the cheapest and best.
Culligan FM-15A reviews on Amazon reflect the popularity of this faucet filter. More than 1,600 consumers have left feedback, and half of them give the product five stars (the highest rating). Here and on other sites, such as Drugstore.com, users report that the faucet attachment is easy to install: You simply click the filter into place with one of the provided attachments. The Culligan FM-15A (starting at $16, Amazon) fits many different types of faucets (although not all) without getting in the way of dishwashing and other duties, partly due to its small size. Less bulk doesn't mean less capacity, though -- users can get up to 200 gallons per filter. Culligan nonetheless recommends changing the filter about every two months, the same window recommended for pour-through filters that handle only 40 gallons. One replacement filter should set you back about $10 or so.
The Culligan FM-15A filter is certified by NSF International to remove chlorine, sediment, unpleasant taste and odor, atrazine, lead, lindane, and turbidity. The company offers a two-year limited warranty on this product, far longer than the typical 90-day guarantees for pour-through pitchers and dispensers, which are often more expensive. Reviews contain few reports of leakage, a major issue for many other faucet-mounted models.
To get filtered water from the faucet, users simply pull out the valve stem on the Culligan FM-15A. The filter is supposed to switch back to unfiltered mode automatically. One of the main cons cited in Culligan FM-15A reviews is that the water flow is on the slow side, coming out as a smaller stream than it would without the filter. Some reviewers also complain that replacement filters are hard to install, requiring tools to get the job done, although the instructions don't indicate that any tools are necessary.
The low price of this product means that buyers are getting a relatively basic design. The filter has only a sticker indicator to remind users when to change it. Still, each filter treats twice as many gallons as the other faucet filter on our list and five times as much water as the pitchers and dispensers. In general, the Culligan FM-15A is a cost-effective and reliable option for faucet filtering.
Pur DS-1800Z Review
From $26 Best
Users like the long, slim shape of this dispenser, which holds 18 glasses of water and fits efficiently in the refrigerator.
Pur DS-1800Z reviews posted on the Target website rave about this water dispenser with a two-stage filter. It employs a pour spout, as opposed to a conventional pitcher design. Multiple users assert that the Pur DS-1800Z (starting at $26, Amazon) produces the best-tasting water they've ever had. One in particular appreciates that it completely transforms foul-tasting tap water.
On Vitacost.com, one customer notes that the slim container fits perfectly in the refrigerator and doesn't have to be taken out to fill a glass of water. It contains up to 18 8-ounce glasses of water. Reviewers on another e-commerce site, FridgeFilters.com, declare that the size is perfect because it holds a lot of water but doesn't take up a ton of space.
The filter targets 95 percent of mercury and 96 percent of pharmaceuticals, trace levels of which may be found in the water supply. NSF International and the Water Quality Association certify that the Pur DS-1800Z reduces chlorine; sediment; taste and odor; 2,4-D; atrazine; benzene; cadmium; carbon tetrachloride; copper; mercury; simazine; tetrachloroethylene; toluene; zinc; and microbiological cysts. Replacement filters start at about $6 and last through two months or 40 gallons of filtered water.
Users seem to appreciate the long, slim shape of this dispenser, which fits well in the refrigerator, and like having the pour spout for easy access. Pur DS-1800Z reviews often mention the convenience of this model and users enjoy the taste of the water. Unless you prefer a smaller pitcher, this is our top choice for a pour-through water filter.
Brita Everyday Water Pitcher Review
From $26 Good
Brita has been a standby in the category for years; one could argue rightfully so. This pitcher is easy to use and the BPA-free build is an added plus for many.
This pitcher is a No. 1 best-seller on Amazon, where Brita Everyday Water Pitcher reviews extol its virtues. It is certainly easy to use on an everyday basis, consumers say. It has a removable lid, which pops off for refilling under the tap. Many reviewers note that the pitcher is free of BPA, a common component of plastic that has raised health concerns. Consumers reviewing the Brita Everyday Water Pitcher on Target.com report that it fees solid and does its job.
The Brita Everyday Water Pitcher (starting at $25, Amazon) has been tested under the Water Quality Association's Gold Seal Product Certification Program and by NSF International. It's certified to uphold its claims to reduce chlorine, taste and odor, zinc, cadmium, copper, and mercury. The difference in water quality is evident after using the pitcher, according to user reviewers, who tout the clean, fresh taste of the water. Brita also offers one of the cheaper replacement filters on the market. On Amazon, it's just $8 for one filter, which must be changed within the standard time frame of every 40 gallons or 2 months.
This pitcher isn't without its cons. Some consumers who've used older models don't like the current design. Additionally, the pitcher has only a sticker for tracking when to change the water filter, in lieu of an electronic indicator, so users have to remember to mark off the months until the next filter change on their own. If you register the product on the company website, Brita will send you filter reminders and a coupon for up to $2 off.
With a 10-cup capacity, the Brita Everyday Water Pitcher doesn't make the best choice for larger families, but some reviewers consider it the ideal size. Overall this is a good, basic pitcher for less thirsty households.
ZeroWater ZD-018 Review
From $36 Good
This dispenser's five-stage filtration targets dissolved solids and is touted as an affordable alternative to a reverse osmosis system. It includes a TDS meter.
This 23-cup dispenser features a different type of filtration system than the typical two-stage carbon filters in many cheap pour-through models. ZeroWater ZD-018 reviews confirm to the effectiveness of the five-stage filtration, which is supposed to remove virtually all dissolved solids in your water. This sets up the dispenser as an alternative to a pricey, professionally installed reverse osmosis system. Included in the package is a TDS meter (a $30 value, according to the company) for measuring the level of total dissolved solids, in parts per million. The ZeroWater filter is designed to deliver a "000" reading on the meter. For comparison, the company asserts that most tap water in the U.S. averages between 190 and 200 PPM, other filtered water measures 030 to 500 PPM, and bottled water comes in between 000 and 350 PPM.
Manufacturer Zero Technologies recently got into hot water for implying in an advertising campaign that a TDS reading over zero means the water is unsafe or unhealthy, and that other filter brands don't work as well because they leave more dissolved solids in the water. Higher levels are still perfectly acceptable in many cases. (Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration requires products labeled "mineral water" to include at least 250 PPM.) So, take the claim of zero as the best number with a grain of salt (or, should we say, a grain of a dissolved solid).
The ZeroWater ZD-018 (starting at $36, Amazon) seems to elicit strong reactions in reviews. Most of the hundreds of consumers posting feedback on Amazon either five-star love this product or dismiss the water-testing feature as nonsense and complain about a leaky design. Fans like being able to test TDS levels and see exactly where their water stands. But some have found that the filters have to be replaced more often than they should, based on continually bad TDS ratings. ZeroWater does warn that very high levels will wear out the filter more quickly, but of course there's no way to know how your water ratings will turn out unless you buy the product.
TDS talk aside, the Zero Technologies filter reduces chlorine, hydrogen sulfide, taste and odor, hexavalent and trivalent chromium, lead, and mercury, according to testing and certification by NSF International. Good Housekeeping tested the cheaper 8-cup pitcher and found that the filter removed more than 95 percent of BPA, estrone, fluoxetine, ibuprofen, PFOA, and PFOS and more than 80 percent of atrazine, DEET, TCEP, tonalide, and other drugs.
Although there are some skeptics, and filters may need frequent replacement, in general experts and consumers align behind the ZeroWater dispenser and its visible results.
Brita Ultramax Review
From $27 Think Twice
This dispenser has a large capacity and a flip-top lid for easy refilling, but users find the design unwieldy and not so easy to clean, making it apt to grow mold.
Brita Ultramax reviews acknowledge the appeal of this dispenser, which occupies a happy medium between a water pitcher and a faucet filter. With an 18-cup capacity, it's designed to work for a small office or a large family. Fans of the product who have posted reviews on Amazon appreciate that they don't have to fill the dispenser often because of its large size and recommend it to consumers who make it their business to drink a lot of water. The Brita Ultramax (starting at $27, Amazon) offers the company's standard water filtering system, which is certified by NSF International and the Water Quality Association to reduce chlorine, sediment, zinc, and other potentially harmful substances such as cadmium, copper, and mercury.
The dispenser has a flip-top lid that's designed for easy refilling. However, it's the cleaning that isn't so easy. In a review on the Kmart website, one user complains that all the water doesn't drain out due to the positioning of the spout about 1 inch from the base of the dispenser. This makes it easy for old water to get trapped and, eventually, for mold to grow in the unit. In fact, the word "mold" is mentioned in numerous other Brita Ultramax reviews on multiple sites. Because the dispenser needs to be hand washed, it's up to the user to find a way to clean out all the nooks and crevices, rather than just throw the pieces into the dishwasher. And those nooks and crevices are not easy to get to, reviewers say.
This complaint-ridden dispenser consistently costs more than the comparable model from Pur, which gets better reviews. That makes the Brita Ultramax a much less attractive option for buyers in search of a dispenser-style water filter.
Pur FM-9400B Review
From $30 Think Twice
This faucet-mount water filter features a five-year limited warranty, yet consumers are harsh critics of its durability, with many reporting leaks.
The Pur FM-9400B reviews we read lean negative across the board. One consumer posting at Epinions has had three Pur dispensers and calls them poorly made products. All three started leaking after only a few months of use. Similar problems with leaking pop up in reviews on other sites. Some reviewers report that they are on their fifth or sixth one, after making claims under the two-year limited warranty.
The Pur FM-9400B (starting at $30, Amazon) has a chrome finish and filters 100 gallons, or four months' worth of water, with each replacement filter. The unit comes with an on/off switch in case you don't need filtered water from the faucet and an indicator light to tell you when the filter needs replacing. NSF International and the Water Quality Association certify Pur's claims to reduce a litany of contaminants, including chlorine, sediment, lead, mercury, volatile organic compounds, and microbiological cysts. Pur FM-9400B reviews on Amazon often touch on the clean, pleasing taste of the water after it's been filtered.
Meanwhile, though, negative reviews mention the leaking and spraying, as well as the filter falling off the kitchen faucet. On Amazon, consumers mention that these Pur units are incompatible with pull-out or handheld faucets, so potential buyers should keep that in mind if they are thinking about this faucet filter. We appreciate that Pur honors the warranty and sends users who experience leaks a coupon for a new unit, but that doesn't fix the original problem, and consumers seem frustrated with the process of replacing the whole system every few months. Despite the accolades for water taste, it's probably better to choose a different model in the first place.
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.)
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:
Additional Products We Considered
Mavea Elemaris XL Review
Mavea Elemaris XL reviews portray this as the German sports car of water pitchers: sleek, fast (no presoaking to activate the filter), and safe (BPA-free). Mavea pitchers are manufactured in Germany, of course, and designed to look good on your dining table.
Mavea Elemaris XL reviews portray this as the German sports car of water pitchers: sleek, fast (no presoaking to activate the filter), and safe (BPA-free). Mavea pitchers are manufactured in Germany, of course, and designed to look good on your dining table. This one comes in black, white, eggplant, ruby red, and tangerine. Like a nice Audi or Mercedes, the Mavea Elemaris XL has some rather luxurious touches for a cheap water filter. There are rubberized feet to prevent scratching; a pour-through lid to make water refills quick and easy; and a microcomputer in the pitcher that tells you exactly when to change the filter, based on how long it has been in the pitcher, the volume of water that's been filtered, and how hard the water is. You might think that frills like this would come at a Porsche price, but the Mavea pitcher (starting at $35, Amazon) is comparable in price to options offered by well-known brands such as Brita and Pur.
The Mavea Elemaris XL has a capacity of nine 8-ounce cups of water. A five-cup Kompakt version fits in a refrigerator door. The filter is certified by the Water Quality Association to significantly reduce chlorine and unpleasant taste and odor. It also filters out other unwanted elements, such as heavy metals, agricultural chemicals and industrial pollutants. The claims certified by the WQA are atrazine, benzene, copper, and mercury reduction. The filtered water is also tested internally for hardness, in order to make sure the water quality is good for cooking and drinking.
Mavea Elemaris XL reviews on Amazon, give the pitcher high marks; two-thirds of reviewers award the product a full five stars. Fans like that the filter is easy to change and admire the slick, sturdy design. Despite the thought put into the look of the Mavea Elemarix XL, some reviews on the Williams-Sonoma website point out flaws. Users have found that the water spills out when pouring, for example, because of the wide spout. Additionally, some reviews mention that Mavea replacement filters are not as readily available in stores as more popular brands. The Maxtra filter cartridges can be recycled and start at about $8 for one and $18 for three.
Although the Mavea meter system must be removed and hand-washed, the lid is dishwasher-safe -- one more in a long line of perks that other cheap pitchers don't have. The Mavea Elemaris XL and its replacement filters may not be as easy to come by as our top picks, but many consumers will find them worth seeking out.
Where to buy
Expert reviews generally sing the praises of the Clear2O CWS100A (starting at $27, Amazon). This relatively inexpensive pitcher filtering system scores at the top in consumer product testing, particularly for lead and chloroform removal.
Unlike typical pour-through models, which rely on granulated carbon as a primary filtering agent, the Clear2O CWS100A attaches to a faucet when filling and makes use of the water pressure to push water through a solid block carbon filtration system. Particulates tend to adhere to the block, rather than leak through into the water, as they sometimes do with looser-grained carbon filters. The result is a filtering system capable of dramatically reducing the amount of toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium from drinking water, in addition to attacking volatile organic compounds and other chemicals (herbicides, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals).
These contaminant removal capabilities have not been certified by NSF International or the Water Quality Association, however. A customer service representative told Cheapism the company opted not to renew its NSF certification, in order to avoid the associated fees and maintain low prices on its products. According to this representative, the products have undergone independent third-party testing and the Clear2O CWS100AW meets NSF/ANSI standards for aesthetics and health effects.
The lack of NSF certification has sparked rumors that the brand is discontinuing products or shutting down. The company representative assured us this is not the case -- not only are there no plans to stop producing the popular Clear2O CWS100AW, but the company has expanded the line to include two additional models.
The Clear2O CWS100AW pitcher is a bit harder to find than our top picks, but it can be purchased on the company’s website in addition to Amazon. User reviews on Amazon laud this product for its fast filtering capabilities and the great taste of the water it produces. Most complaints tend to be directed at the somewhat pesky hose adapter, which many say is too short or cannot be connected to their kitchen faucets; the CWS100AW does not work with sprayer-type taps.
The filter cleans up to 50 gallons of water, and the BPA-free, 9-cup pitcher is equipped with an indicator panel that changes color when it’s time for a new filter. A replacement costs about $11.
With no official third-party certification, we can't offer a full-throated endorsement of this model, but expert testing and user reviews strongly suggest it's worth a look.