How To Filter Your Drinking Water Very Efficiently


I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching how to filter drinking water effectively. Originally, I was interested in filtering the rainwater that falls on my roof. But I had to put that project on the back burner for now. During my research I noticed that there is little unbiased information available on water filters and filtration techniques.

Update: I discovered a good book on the subject of drinking water filtration: The Drinking Water Book. The author, Colin Ingram, includes a comprehensive collection of water filter reviews. He rates filter from “Acceptable” to “Excellent”. See our review The Best Water Filters Of 2009 for more information.

Waterwise 4000 Countertop Water Distille
Waterwise 4000 Countertop Water Distiller

I like clean tasting water, and pure water is quite important to one’s health. Filtering your own water at home is really the most effective way of ensuring good water quality. As you may know, bottled water is extremely inefficient, and tends to be of lower quality than municipal tap water. However, tap water often picks up contaminants on its way through the pipes to your house. But with proper filtering, it can be made quite pure.

There are six types of contaminants you want to remove from municipal tap water:

  1. Chlorine and chloramines
  2. Volatile Organic Compounds (pesticides, herbicides, etc.)
  3. Heavy metals (Lead, Mercury, Aluminum, Cadmium, Chromium, Copper)
  4. Bacterial and viruses (Giardia and Cryptosporidium)
  5. General Sediment
  6. Fluoride

In terms of personal health, chlorine and VOCs are the most toxic contaminants commonly present in municipally treated drinking water.

You can remove most of these contaminants using water filters (except for fluoride and MTBE, but more on that later). There’s really no need for elaborate filtration systems like reverse-osmosis or distillation. These systems are expensive, and they are not needed when filtering tap water, plus they also remove useful minerals from the water and give it a “flat” taste due to the lack of minerals and oxygen. Moreover, the distillation process does not remove VOCs in the water.


There are a lot of water filters out there, and most will do their job reasonable well, but only if they are replaced every six months, and this can be quite costly (I’ll let you know about less expensive filters below). The editors at ConsumerSearch.Com compiled water filter reviews from various magazines, and the consensus seems to be that Pur brand are the best faucet-mount filters and pitcher filters, and Whirlpool has the best whole-house filters.

NSF International certifies water filters — this certification ensures that the filters do their job, and do not re-contaminate the water with bacteria. Most filter manufactures will advertise that their filters are NSF certified. However, many commonly available filters will let quite a few contaminants through. For example, granular filters do not utilize the chemical adsorption process, allowing several contaminants to pass through. Likewise, rapid water filters do not give the water adequate contact time with the filter media, limiting the number of contaminants that may be removed. For example, in-fridge or faucet-mount filters may not filter VOCs and chlorination by-products like Trihalomethanes (THMs). Generally, slow filtration tends to be best. Drip filters will remove a wider range chemicals, pesticides and MTBE (a gasoline additive).


In my home, I use a British Berkefeld drip filter, which is made by Doulton (pictured above). I like drip filters because they provide great quality filtration, and they are inexpensive to use, because they only need to be replace every six months. You can clean them with a stiff brush if they become dirty with sediment. To use a drip filter, you pour tap water in the top, and the water slowly drips through the filter to the bottom compartment. The process takes a couple of hours.

My Berkefeld drip filter contains two SuperSterasyl self-sterilizing ceramic elements. The elements are made with diatomaceous earth (a silica-like sediment originating from kiesel algae), silver and activated carbon. It’s important to have self-sterilizing elements because they can easily become contaminated with bacterial, especially while cleaning them. The sterilization is achieved by impregnating the filter with silver.


Another good ceramic drip filter is made by Stefani (pictured above). I like their French Provence inspired design. The filters are manufactured in Brazil, and the units are hand made by local clay potters. The clay cools the water, due to an evaporative cooling effect. These filter remove 95% of chlorine, pesticides, iron, aluminium and lead; and 99% of cryptosporidium, guardia and sediment. The filters lasts six months or 300 gallons. Stefani filters are available at Amazon.

Let’s address some the contaminants that can only be removed using specialties filters: fluoride, arsenic, and MTBE. These special filters are typically added in series to a standard water filter.

Fluoride is commonly added to municipal water in the U.S. The reason given is that it supposedly improves the health of children’s teeth. However, many people (including me) would rather not have fluoride in their drinking water, for a variety of health reasons. The Fluoride Action Network has a lot of relevant information on this topic. Fluoride is actually quite difficult to remove from water, almost all water filters will not remove it. It can be removed with an “activated alumina” filter. Doulton and other companies offer activated alumina filters.

MTBE (a gasoline additive) has contaminated much of the groundwater in the U.S. In drinking water, even trace amounts of MTBE can cause taste and odor problems. The potential long-term health effects of MTBE are not understood at this time, however, initial studies indicate MTBE may cause kidney and liver problems. You can remove MTBE using a specialty filter, for example this one.

Arsenic is another common contaminant that can only be removed at significant levels using a specialty filter. For more information about arsenic in drinking water see this page. Filtration through activated carbon (which many water filters use) will reduce the amount of arsenic in drinking water from 40 – 70%. Anion exchange filters can reduce it by 90 – 100%

More information can be found in The Drinking Water Book.

46 thoughts on “How To Filter Your Drinking Water Very Efficiently”

  1. Stefani water purifier offers a very promising purification system but unfortunately it’s not available locally. I also tried the Amazon link on this article but the Stefani page is no longer available their. Too bad we cannot get it here.

  2. In my county the level of fluoride in the public water supply is kept between 0.8-1.4 mg/L (which is same as ppm). I’m looking for low budget ways to remove the fluoride. I’m considering the Berkey or the Crystal Quest Fluoride Multi PLUS but am wondering if it is even worth it in terms of how much either one would lower the ppm. Looks like Crystal Quest says it would get it down to .2 or .5 or so, not sure about the Berkey. Should I just go the distillation route instead? and is there a cheap and energy efficient distillation unit out there? (like under 200 bucks). Thanks.

    1. Rain water is a natural and fairly clean supply of water in most cases. Unfortunately we human beings have contaminated the atmosphere a bit with things that are not so pleasant, some of them making rain more acid than wihtout them, some of them heavy metals and a whole array of organic substances of unknown character. What further can contaminate the rainwater is how you collect it. Have your collected water tested! It should turn out very soft and depleted of minerals. So what is needed is to increase the pH, especially if you plan to use the water in tubings, appliances etc. That would be best done with a whole house good quality dolomite (eg. calcite/corosex) media filter. The filter the water through a activated carbon, that should take care of most unknown and unwanted organic substances. Due to the collection and storage situation I would also strongly suggest desinfection with UV-light, the last filter before entering the tubing system for your house. You never know what can grow in that storage tank! But if you manage to raise the pH high enough (over pH 9) in the storage tank, no bugs will thrive there. And never mind if the pH gets really high, since you accomplish that with dolomite rather than NaOH, which can be irritating for your mucus.

  3. Great info about filters, thanks for sharing! Seems like the debate about purified vs. tap water continues to rage on. All I know is that I prefer the taste of filtered water to tap, so that’s what I go with. I also don’t like to shower in unfiltered water either so I use shower filters. But that is my preference.

  4. Will:
    I don’t know what sources you have for the first statement, but naturally, only drinking water and NOT eating food will be hazardous to your health, regardless of how much minerals the water contains. And even if your water has really high levels of minerals, it will only provide a few percent of the RDI (which is not the ODI) of minerals. With the ones you might consider healthy comes negative health effects most of the time and Fluoride is definitely a mineral I don’t want a trace of in my drinking water. Even calcium is bad for your cardiovascular system in the long run, increasing the risk of acute myocardic infarction. Magnesium opposes that effect, but most waters have far more calcium than magnesium.

    And even if you still beleive that some minerals in the water are healthy, the seldom come alone… Eating a healthy organic food and taking high quality supplements will provide you with the right balance of minerals in a digestable and non-toxic form (be aware of methyl mercury from fish though!).

    RO-filtered water is really safe and has so far not been detrimental to the health of me, my family, Dr Mercola and many others 🙂

  5. Sheldon:
    It seems they have tried to include all kinds of media in one tiny system, I’m not sure that blending different media (like KDF55 and KDF85) is a good Idea. One should also understand that any water containing oxidized iron (Fe3+) will clog this filter very fast. High Fe2+ contamination will probably have the same effect on the following media compatments after the KDF85? And claiming that the ion exchange resin would last for more than a few gallons without regeneration is a very interesting thought…

    According to WQA activated aluminium works specifically for Fluoride and no other contaminants, and pH should preferentially be 5,5 to 6,5 for effective reduction. Municipal waters have a pH of at least 7,5 by regulation, at least here in Sweden. They also state that high bicarbonate levels reduce capacity, 100 ppm is not unusual and household water should have at least 60 ppm in order to protect tubing.

    So I still prefer using a RO/GAC/PAC filter system, it reduces most contaminants by over 95%. And if the water has any hardness over 3 dH or contains iron/manganese, I would pretreat the water with a whole house salt-regenerated ion exchange water softener in order to increase the effectiveness of the RO and with it you get perfectly soft water and no staining for the rest of the house.

    Will be interesting to hear about your experience, and if it’s going to be useful I would like to know what the incoming water contains too.

  6. Drinking only purified water can be bad for your health. If you drink too much, it flushes all the minerals out of your body. The fluoride in city water helps keep peoples’ teeth clean so they don’t rot as easily.

  7. I’ve gone for this unit, I’ll try it out and test my water before and after with a kit to monitor just how well it does.
    It’s a very cost effective unit if it does what it claims:
    It’s this unit from Crystal Quest:

    It has no replacement filters, but according to the manufacturer should last for 10000 gallons.
    The manufacturers state the following:
    # In stages 1 and 7, Water flows through pre and post one – micron filter pads (1 micron equals 1/25,000th of an inch), which remove suspended particles such as silt, sediment, cyst (Giardia, Cryptosporidium), sand, rust, dirt, and other un-dissolved matter.

    # In stage 2, Water flows through a FLUORIDE REMOVAL cartridge. Containing fine-mesh pre-resin media to reduce fluorides below 0.5 ppm. Contains Synthetic Aluminum Oxide absorbant media. Specifically designed to have a high affinity for Fluoride, Lead and Arsenic. It removes metals through a mixture of adsorption and chemical reaction with the media, therefore, the elimination is not reliant on ion exchange. It has uniform particle size, is physically stable and can be used over a wide pH range.

    Fluoride reduction capacity is up to 6,000 ppm with effluent levels below 0.2 ppm from 10 ppm feed. Also effectively removes lead and arsenic.

    # In stages 3 and 5,Water flows through a bed of media made of a special high-purity alloy blend of two dissimilar metals – copper and zinc (KDF-55D ®, and KDF-85D ®.) KDF is a major advancement in water treatment technology that works on the electro-chemical and spontaneous-oxidation-reduction (REDOX) principles. Chlorine is instantaneously and almost inexhaustibly oxidized. Tests on KDF/GAC cartridge have shown 99+% chlorine removal past 20,000 gallons of water. In comparison, carbon cartridges of comparable volumes drop below 90% effectiveness after only 4,000 gallons. Iron and hydrogen sulfide are oxidized into insoluble matter and attach to the surface of the media. Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, copper, nickel, chromium, cadmium, aluminum, and other dissolved metals are removed from the water by the electrochemical process. They are attracted to the surface of the media, much like a magnet. The media inhibits bacterial growth throughout the entire unit. In fact, it has been shown to be reduced up to 90%, eliminating the need for silver, which is commonly used in carbon-only filters (silver is considered a pesticide by the EPA and, as such, must be registered with them). Is copper or zinc added to the water in any significant amount? On 2.3 ppm chlorinated water, <0.05 mg/l copper and only 0.46 mg/l zinc were measured. The EPA aesthetic levels are 1.0 mg/l for copper and 5.0 mg/l for zinc. Both zinc and copper are essential minerals for good health – the FDA recommends a daily intake of 15 mg of zinc and 2 mg of copper.

    # In stage 4, water passes through an ion exchange resin removing heavy metals such as lead, copper and aluminum, and also reducing water hardness.
    # In stage 6, Water flows through granulated activated carbon (GAC). GAC is universally recognized and widely used as an effective adsorbent for a wide variety of organic contaminants, such as chlorine (99.9%), chemicals linked to cancer (THM's, benzine) pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, volatile organic compounds (VOC's), PCB's, MTBE's and hundreds of other chemical contaminants that may be present in water causing bad taste and odors in your drinking water.

    Carbon is extremely porous and provides a large surface area for contaminants to collect. Carbon-only filters must also use their capacity for chlorine removal, resulting in a shortened life. They also may use a bituminous coal carbon, which is good at removing chlorine, but not as effective at removing chemicals. We use a high-grade coconut shell carbon that is most effective at removing chemicals. Coconut shell carbon provides a significantly higher volume of micro-pores than either coal, wood or lignite based carbon. As a result, it is more effective than other carbon types in removing trihalomethanes (THM's) and other chemicals from municipally supplied water. Since our REDOX media removes the chlorine before it reaches the carbon, the carbon capacity is not wasted on chlorine and is free to concentrate more effectively on organic contaminants.

    Hopefully it does the trick….

  8. I’m biased since I sell water filter systems, nevertheless I’m also an ecologist and have studied medical geology. My own research into the subject has led to the conclusion that minerals should not be obtained via water but via food and possibly nutritional supplementation. Think of the average stone age man, where would he drink his water? Possibly from a creek or a lake, and in most cases that water was rather poor in minerals and not acid or contaminated as in modern days. The only mineral that I have found to be linked to positive health effects when present in drinking water is Magnesium, but then again, you would get ten times the amount of Mg by taking one pill of Mg supplement compared to drinking a whole litre of an average Mg rich water. To my knowledge the most effective filtering is RO but I would go for a system including activated carbon, such as this one (OK I’m biased on this particular filter 😉 If you intend to boil the water, you might want to drip the water through some really pure dolomite (like Calcite/Corosex) after that in order to stabilise the pH of the water and make it more water-boiler friendly. Boiling water low in TDS may be detrimental to the boiler and also release some of the metals from the boiler into the water.

  9. Is there a best shower filter and drinking water filter that would remove Chloramines effectively? Should I be worried about Chloramines in water? I have been reading mixed signals on the subject…Thank you

    1. Chloramines stays in your water longer than chlorine. The only shower filters that remove chloramines effectively are the Vitamin C filters.

      Chloramines have the same health risks as chlorine — they also tend to combine with other chemicals in the water.

  10. Is there anything else out there besides the Berkey now? I want to get rid of chlormaines, flouride. Or is the berkey still the best bet? Is there anything else I should use with the berkey in combination?

  11. Truth-

    I believe it has to do with storage. The chloramine added to our water is to keep things from growing while it is stored, not sure if storage is in large vats, tanks or reservoirs. Filtration to the scale your talking about may be a possibility, but I’m not sure wha kind of cost it would mean.

    I would prefer just plain filtration too, but it seems the authorities are, or have been limited in their scope to provide truly safe water.


  12. I have a question. Why don’t the water treatment facilities and the folks that control the infrastructure of public water supplies just use a large filter or multiple layers of filters on incoming and outgoing water (from the facility), in the pipes that lead from these facilities, and in the pipes that lead to each outlet/inlet to homes businesses, etc. (and anywhere else where the water will be used by people for drinking, bathing, etc)? This seems like the most efficient solution to the problem if our goal is to clean the water for the most people at the source (I mean . . . most efficient besides just stopping everyone from dumping/putting these harmful ingredients in the water in the first place . . . which would be my preference). After that, any filters used by individuals would just be a bonus. And yes, I do understand that there are companies out there that are ONLY interested in making as much profit from this as possible. But surely there is a future in a business that sells, installs, and maintains these filters for the good of the general public.

  13. clay filters eliminate 95% impurities is excellent – lets insist on the 5% for anti-bodies purpose. some impurities are necessary for health as they create anti-bodies!

  14. I am interested in a ceramic gravity filter and I like the Brazilian model, but have been bothered by mold with the last filter I used. Once the outer pots start to sweat, mold develops and stains the outer chambers.

    Is there any Brazilian model in which the outer pots are made of another type of material to prevent molding?

  15. My son bought a website several years ago that sells both the British Berkefeld and Berkey brand water filters. As a way of becoming familiar with the product I researched the field fairly thoroughly. Although we sell filters from other manufacturers I was most impressed by the features of the Berkey.
    I lived in Mexico for the last four years and discovered that even the Mexicans don’t drink the water but depend on bottled water for their drinking and cooking water. I used the Berkey water filter with the Black Berkey elements as my exclusive source of drinking water. I found it to be an excellent investment.
    No system is perfect; every one I have researched has advantages and limitations. The Berkey seems to have the most advantages and the fewest limitations. We know the manufacturer of the filter personally and their research is credible. They are based in the USA.

    I appreciate all the comments as we are continually looking for information that either supports or refutes the claims of the products we sell.

    The features of the Berkey that make it my first choice are:
    It is relatively low cost – between $220 for the small Travel Berkey to $350 for the large Crown Berkey (I gave several of these units to local orphanages who were spending much of their limited finances on bottled water),

    It requires little maintenance – I would clean my filter elements about once every two months,

    The effectiveness of their filter – although they do not equal the water quality of reverse osmosis or distillation, both of which I have also used,
    The quality is very high.

    They require no plumbing or electricity to operate, making them an excellent source of water in an emergency. In the small village where I lived the water and electricity was often interrupted. I lived by a lake and would get water from the lake to supply my Berkey and then myself with drinking and cooking water. For those living “off the grid” it is an important feature. If your don’t think having an emergency source of drinking water is important just ask some of the folks stuck without it after Katrina hit New Orleans.

    They are very durable, being made wither of stainless steel or Lexan in the case of the Berkey Light,

    They are portable which makes them convenient to use while traveling, which I did a lot of in Mexico or to take with while camping or any extended activity in the outdoors.

    The same manufacturer makes a portable bottle version which has all the same characteristics of the large Berkey in a 24 oz squeeze bottle.

    I am death on bottled water which is simply one of the most ridiculous ways of providing drinking water to people that has been devised. You have to admire the marketing however. They have people walking into a gas station convenience store complaining about the high cost of gas, who go to the counter and pay more per gallon for a bottle of water then for the gas, without blinking an eye at the irony.

    Any way, that’s my two cents worth.
    Congratulation on the site. It’s always worthwhile discussing options and getting points of view.

    Our web site is and we would love to get some feed back on the products we offer and anyone’s experience with them.

    Daniel Noll

  16. There is a lot of information in the news about pharmaceuticals being in our water. Does anyone have any solutions or suggestions for sink filters, home house systems or drip systems?

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  19. I need to remove the above 6 contaminants from river water. I need to do this on a fairly large scale. Are there any DIY solutions to remove all of the above 6 contaminants. I need this water for my broilers, but as pure as possible. I will also be using this water for the farm house.

    Many thanks,

  20. In fact, it would seem somewhere someone has performance tested the leading filters and compared the results for a thirsty public.

    Does anyone here know of such a study?

  21. I am looking for a filter that filters out aluminum specifically, as this is the largest contaminant where I live. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to find the technical specifications on these water filters. All the sites seem focused more on a dazzling display of links and eye candy and not much on a sober presentation of facts.

    This article is a step in the right direction, however.

  22. Are you saying the Big Berkey is not a Berkefeld product even if it does say on the front by British Berkefeld? Mine looks like the one in the picture. Does this one filter fluride if it has ceramic filters or do I need to purchase something differnt?

  23. Reasonable article but I disagree with the idea this kind of system is enough – and if you have problem contaminants like Fluoride, MTBE, or chloramines you need to add-on to what you have. This seems like a band-aid approach and does not ensure my family and I are drinking the purest water we can.

    Sure, other systems are more expensive, but do you want to drink a lot, a little, or NO contaminants. I prefer NONE for myself and my kids. We used some cheaper models for years, then when we learned about the drugs in water issue as reported in the Associated Press in March we looked for a new system that would solve the problem once and for all.

    We found the systems from Pure Water Systems, Inc. to offer the best solution. The water tastes really great. We also got a test meter and our tap water started with 337 parts per million Total Dissolved Solids. After the PWS BEV 300 system the water measured 1 part per million.

    And while not specifically tested for pharmaceuticals, the systems pass the standard for “general laboratory grade water”, and use the same technology in the home units as the units they build for labs.

    I recommend that if you are looking for a system you consider their products, they seem very robust and have a lifetime warranty too. Replacement parts are ~$110 per year.

  24. You say that you’re using a British Berkefeld unit and you give the actual website for British berkefeld/Doulton. However, the picture of your unit does not have the correct label . It even has the name “Big Berkey” which is not a British Berkefeld name. Big Berkey is a Chinese company that set up shop with a name meant to confuse people into thinking that it was a model made by British Berkefeld. People are selling these counterfeits all over the internet. If this is really the picture of your drip filter, then you may have been tricked. I encourage anyone reading this to call Doulton directly to ask questions, so that they’re sure to get the real, original thing:)

    1. Sophia,
      Your research is wrong & so are you. Big Berkey is not a Chinese company. British Berkefeld is a licensed name throughout North America. New Millennium Concepts manufactures the Big Berkey which uses the Black Berkey Elements. The British Berkefeld uses the Super Sterasyl Ceramic Elements. That’s the real deal.

  25. Thanks for the interesting article. I just came across this site ( which offers similar gravity fed ceramic water filter systems (water crocks). Hope it helps.

  26. The British Berkefeld looks pretty impressive, but I have a question. You mentioned that the “filters need only to be replaced every 7 to 10 years.” However, the Doulton web site states, “The Supercarb element is capable of producing approximately 1,000 gallons (4,000 liters) of the highest quality drinking water – good for about nine months to a year for most families.” Additionally, the Model GSS Gravity Filter instruction sheet states, “Replace the candle once per year to ensure optimum quality drinking water.”

    Am I looking at the wrong product, or do you have additional performance data that is not on the company’s web site? I think it’s a good filter either way, but it makes a difference to me whether I have to replace the filter elements every year instead of every 7-10 years.

    Thanks. I have enjoyed reading the articles on your web site.

  27. Yes, even the Doulton filters don’t remove the chloramines just “some” of the chloramines. The fellow at Doulton also says reverse osmosis doesn’t remove chloramines.

    You can add some vitamina c to the water to remove it though

  28. Thanks for the review. I just want to point out a few things about one of the contaminants you mention: chloramine.

    I did some research into filters for drinking and shower water a few months back and found that most home filters do not remove chloramine. Chloramine is used increasingly instead of chlorine in municipal water systems because it is more stable. I think only the expensive reverse osmosis filters get rid of it, though you want to check on that. Some filters I came across claimed to remove it, but on closer examination, I could tell they were all borrowing from the same incorrect sales copy.

    Should you try to remove chloramine? From what I gathered, it is neutralized in your digestive system, so it should be safe in drinking water. Chloramine is also less volatile than chlorine, so showering in water treated with it shouldn’t do whatever bad stuff chlorinated water does. However, in cases where it would enter the bloodstream directly (aquarium fish, kidney dialysis), it does have to be removed. I lost some fish not knowing that.

  29. Thanks so much for this review. A very nice write-up and much needed — you’ve done a great service. I now know which way to go in my search for a long-term water filter solution.

  30. My apologies to the author for being rude. I enjoy this site, and was trying to offer help. However, I should not have posted my second response.

    I will watch it in the future 😉

  31. Anon,

    We appreciate constructive criticism. Unfortunately, this article was originally posted with a number of typos. They have hopefully all been corrected.


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