Why is a Water Filter Important?
According to the Environmental Working Group, there are over 300 pollutants in US tap water. Among these pollutants are endocrine disruptors, industrial chemicals, heavy metals such as lead, and trace amounts of pharmaceuticals. Any of these chemicals has the potential to compromise fertility. With a good-quality water filter you can remove the vast majority of these contaminants and instead drink clean, healthy water.
Whether it is also necessary to choose a water filter that can remove fluoride is open to debate. To me, the best reason to buy a filter that removes fluoride is if you will likely find yourself making up powdered baby formula. The CDC recommends using fluoride-free water for making baby formula. My babies were born through surrogacy, so I knew they would be formula-fed and chose a filter capable of removing fluoride for this reason (since I was in the market for a new water filter anyway). If you are planning to breastfeed your future baby, this may be a lower priority. (Note that deciding to get a filter that removes fluoride will narrow your choices dramatically, but there are several good options- including #1 and #2 in the list below).
Is It Necessary to Avoid Plastic in Water Filters ?
Ideally, it is best to find a filter where the water is not in contact with plastic for long periods of time. The best choices in this regard are faucet filters and filters made from stainless-steel or glass (all of the filters recommended below).
But sometimes these options are simply not practical and a compromise has to be made. If you are renting a small apartment or on a tight budget, a plastic water filter pitcher is still an acceptable choice. As long as you choose a filter pitcher made from a safer type of plastic (HDPE #2, LDPE#4, or PP #5) and never wash in hot water or the dishwasher, the filtered water is probably going to be cleaner and healthier than tap water or bottled water (which may have been sitting in plastic for months or years and possibly exposed to heat). Sometimes it is necessary to compromise for the sake of practicality, and using a plastic filter is not the end of the world.
That said, if you are in the market for a new water filter, there are now several good choices for water filters with minimal contact with plastic.
My Top Recommendations for Water Filters
1. Best Premium Under Counter Filter
Pros: Unique among under the counter options in having both a stainless steel housing and a fluoride-removal cartridge. This is what I chose when we bought our first home, because it is one of the only filters that removes fluoride and doesn’t take up any counterspace. It also removes more than 85% of a wide range of chemicals (insecticides, herbicides etc) and 99% of lead. Also available as a compact stainless steel countertop filter, but without the fluoride-removal cartridge.
Cons: I have not seen data confirming that it removes endocrine disruptors. Relatively expensive upfront.
2. Premium Countertop Filter
The Big Berkey Countertop Filter is a popular stainless steel gravity filtration system that can also remove fluoride. Available in various sizes, the cost is typically $300-400 for one of the two smaller sizes (which are sufficient for most families).
Pros: The manufacturer claims it can remove more than 99% of BPA and phthalates from water.
Cons: high upfront cost, requires counterspace and manual filling. Some reports of bacterial growth on filters if unit is not used continuously.
3. Low-cost Countertop Filter
Pros: Made from glass. Reduces pesticides, herbicides, chlorine, lead, and fluoride. Low cost option.
Cons: Takes up some counterspace. Amazon reviewers report having to replace the cheap chrome-painted spigot with a stainless steel spigot (for $12). Not as thorough filtration as more expensive options.
4. Best Faucet filter
Reduces over 70 contaminants, including lead & chlorine, by using activated carbon & ion exchange. This is the filter I used for many years when renting an apartment.
Pros: Low cost. Does not take up counter space, require manual filling, or professional installation. Water is not in contact with plastic for long periods of time. NSF certified for removal of many contaminants.
Cons: filter cartridge must be replaced every couple of months or flow rate will slow dramatically and unit will leak or crack. I have not seen data on removal of fluoride or endocrine disruptors. Only suitable for certain faucet/tap designs.
5. UK/EU Premium countertop filter
Compact countertop filter system that uses activated charcoal and activated carbon to remove heavy metals, nitrates, hormones, drug residues and other contaminants. After the four-step filtration process, mineral stones enrich the water with essential minerals.
Pros: filtered water stored in glass. Extensive filtration removes more than 99% of chemicals such as pesticides.
Cons: High upfront cost.
6. Built-in Refrigerator Water Filters
Yes, the filter built in to your refrigerator water dispenser has plastic parts, but the water flows through these systems relatively quickly and will not be in contact with the plastic for long periods of time. Many are very effective at removing lead, other heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and even endocrine disruptors such as BPA (e.g. GE filters). So if you already have a fridge with a built-in filter, you can rest assured that your water is probably quite clean and there may be no need to buy a separate filtration system unless you would like more serious filtering to remove fluoride.