Do Water Pitcher Filters Really Work?

Posted by
John Woodard on October 20, 2023

If you have ever searched for a water filter, odds are you have been bombarded with ads about a water pitcher that will revolutionize your water. The form factor and convenience of water pitchers alone make them an intriguing filter solution for homes, but are they worth it for the average consumer? While they can improve the taste and smell of your water, you will find that water pitcher filters are often limited in their use cases compared to other filtration types. In this article, you can discover what water pitcher filters are, what they really remove, some controversies surrounding them, and alternative home water filtration solutions.

Key takeaways

  • Water pitcher filters reduce certain types of contamination in water. The more advanced pitcher filters can remove more difficult contaminants, such as certain types of PFAS and lead, from water.
  • Water pitcher filters are not intended to be used on poor quality water. They simply enhance the taste and smell of water.
  • Beware of false advertising about water pitcher filters. Many ads exaggerate the filtration quality of pitcher filters.
  • For more advanced water treatment at home, consider installing a reverse osmosis system, a water distiller, or an ultrafiltration system.
  • Under-sink activated carbon filters and refrigerator filters are popular alternatives to water pitcher filters with similar filtration quality.

What is a water pitcher filter?

A water pitcher filter is a water treatment device in the lid of a pitcher that reduces specific contaminants through a process of one more filtration technologies, such as mechanical, carbon adsorption, and ion exchange. Water pitcher filters are the second most popular type of home water filter behind refrigerator filters, and they are available in a variety of configurations. A mechanical pitcher filter works like a strainer with very small pores that block sediment or particulate matter as water flows through. Carbon pitcher filters use activated carbon to reduce levels of contamination in water.

Unlike other water treatment systems, water pitchers must be filled manually. Each time your pitcher runs low on water, you must fill it from the sink and wait for the water to flow through the filter. Once the water has been filtered, it should not be left on the countertop or anywhere outside of the refrigerator. Because pitcher filters remove chlorine from water, bacteria have a greater chance of growing at room temperature than in the frigid environment of a refrigerator once the chlorine is removed.

Why are water pitcher filters so popular?

Water pitcher filters are second in popularity to refrigerator filters because of their affordability, convenience, and simplicity. Unlike more comprehensive water treatment systems, water pitchers do not need to be mounted, connected to a water line, or otherwise installed in your home. Rather, they can simply be filled from the tap and stored in the refrigerator. On top of their convenience, water pitcher filters are often marketed to perform better than they actually can. In reality, most pitcher filters are great at improving the taste of tap water, but they are not intended to be the sole solution for homes with poor water quality.

What do water pitcher filters remove?

While water pitcher filters typically use activated carbon filter media, not all are created equal. All carbon pitcher filters should remove chlorine and organic compounds that affect water’s taste, but others are rated to remove more contaminants. NSF-certified filters are tested to ensure they remove what the manufacturer claims, so if a pitcher filter claims to be capable of removing lead, mercury, chlorine, or other contaminants, you should check for certification. NSF certifications contain a number that correlates to the contaminants a filter can reduce. If you decide to purchase a water pitcher filter, you should check the contaminants it claims to reduce and if the claims are backed by reliable testing. You should also check for customer complaints about clogging, filter quality, or other potential areas of concern.

If your water quality is poor, a water pitcher filter is not enough to make it safe. For example, if your water contains bacteria, viruses, or other microbiological contaminants, a water pitcher filter will not save you from waterborne illness. Rather, you will need to install a UV disinfection system in your home. Likewise, most water pitcher filters do not soften hard water or remove TDS effectively. PFAS levels can be reduced with the activated carbon filtration of pitcher filters, but reverse osmosis is a much more effective treatment method for removing these chemicals.

Do water pitcher filters work?

Yes, water pitcher filters reduce the contaminants they are rated to reduce, but many pitcher filter owners overestimate the filtration quality of their pitcher. Most water pitcher filters are rated to reduce foul tastes and odors primarily caused by the chlorine used to treat water. Some premium pitcher filters can remove lead, PFAS, or bacteria, but not all of them can. All of them, however, require filter replacement somewhat frequently. Many water pitcher users fail to change their filters at the correct frequency. This allows the filtered water quality to be even worse than the water quality before it is filtered. Carbon filters, for example, can become exhausted and start to release some of the contaminants they have collected. If you want water in your home to be as pure as possible, a water pitcher filter is not the right solution for you. If you wish to install advanced filtration in your home for drinking water alone, you will want to invest in an under-sink or countertop water treatment system. If you wish to treat all water that enters your home, you will need a whole-house (point-of-entry) system.

Learn more: 5 of the best under-sink water filters

filling water pitcher filter

Controversy around water pitcher filters

False advertising has surrounded the world of water pitchers in recent years. In August 2023, a lawsuit was filed against a water filter company alleging that its water pitcher filters were falsely advertising the contaminants they could reduce. The lawsuit also claims that this deceptive advertising has led consumers to purchase a low-quality water pitcher filter when more effective alternatives are available. A major contaminant type surrounding this lawsuit is PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals” because of their longevity in the human body. According to the lawsuit, certain water pitcher filters that claimed to reduce PFAS and other contaminants in water could not remove them below detectable levels. While certain pitcher filters can reduce PFAS levels in water, the accusations state that some filters that were not certified to remove PFAS were marketed like they could.

The main takeaway for consumers from this lawsuit and other false advertising is that they should always perform research when investing in a water treatment system. Clean drinking water is vital to health, so you should know all your options before choosing the right water treatment system for your family. If you are concerned about your water quality, have your water tested and research the best water treatment systems at removing the specific contaminants in your water. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for home water treatment, so you will need to find the system that best suits your needs.

Learn more: How can I test my water at home? | Lab water tests vs at-home test kits

Advantages of water pitcher filters

Water pitcher filters provide the following advantages over other water treatment systems:

  • User-friendly. Water pitcher filters must simply be filled at a tap and stored in the refrigerator. The filter must then be changed at an interval specific to each filter type.
  • Water pitcher filters have some of the lowest prices compared to other filtration types.
  • Improve water taste and odor. Most pitcher filters use an activated carbon filter media. This removes chlorine, a chemical used by city treatment plants to disinfect water, and other contaminants that cause bitter tastes and foul odors in water.

Disadvantages of water pitcher filters

Because of their weakness compared to other water treatment methods, water pitcher filters possess the following disadvantages:

  • Slow filtration. When filling up a water pitcher, you will need to wait for the water to work its way through the filter. Other filters, like ultrafiltration and refrigerator filters, provide high flow rates at all times. If your home uses a large amount of water each day, a pitcher filter may not provide adequate speed for your drinking water needs.
  • Only usable for drinking water. Unlike under-sink systems, water pitcher filters do not connect to a faucet. As a result, they are only suitable to use for drinking water. If you wish to wash dishes, clean vegetables, or cook with filtered water, an under-sink filter is a more effective option.
  • Frequent filter replacement. The replacement frequency of a water pitcher filter depends on the type of filter used. Some filters may require changing every 40 gallons or two months, whichever comes first. Others may last as long as 120 gallons or six months. Many other filtration types require replacement at most once every six months.

Alternatives to water pitcher filters

Refrigerator filters

Refrigerator filters are the most popular alternative to water pitcher filters because they provide similar filtration quality at an even greater convenience. Fridge filters use a combination of sediment and activated carbon filtration to remove large suspended particles, chlorine, and other contaminants that foul the taste of water. Instead of needing to be filled like a water pitcher, fridge filters provide filtered water at a moment’s notice. In homes that have a refrigerator with a water dispenser, fridge filters are a more practical solution than water pitcher filters for filtering city-treated water.

Under-sink water filters

Many types of water treatment systems can be installed under your sink, and most of them offer more advanced filtration than a water pitcher filter provides. Some common under-sink water treatment solutions are reverse osmosis systems, ultrafiltration systems, and activated carbon filters.

Reverse osmosis systems

Reverse osmosis (RO) systems are the most comprehensive of all under-sink water treatment systems. They reduce levels of almost all contaminants in water through a multi-stage filtration process. At a minimum, these stages include a sediment filter, activated carbon filter, and an RO membrane. Reverse osmosis systems cost at least $200, so they are much more expensive than most water pitcher filters. However, the price of these systems is justified by the quality of water they produce.

Learn more: What is reverse osmosis?

Ultrafiltration systems

Ultrafiltration is similar to reverse osmosis, but the final product of ultrafiltration is not quite as pure as RO water. Both of these systems use a membrane with small pores to reduce contamination, but they do so in different ways. An ultrafiltration membrane is a mechanical filter, meaning it acts like a strainer to prevent particles above a certain size from passing through. These membranes are capable of filtering water down to 0.025 micron, so contaminants above 0.025 micrometers in diameter do not make it past the membrane. Ultrafiltration systems remove many contaminants, but they cannot remove some that reverse osmosis can, such as total dissolved solids (TDS), salts, and nitrates. While not as thorough as RO, ultrafiltration provides more advanced filtration than water pitcher filters at a cheaper initial cost than reverse osmosis.

Learn more: What is ultrafiltration?

Activated carbon filters

Under-sink activated carbon filters remove what membranes cannot, such as chlorine, tastes, and odors. This is why carbon filters are includes in both ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis systems. On their own, carbon filters remove the fewest contaminants out of these three under-sink types, but they also come at a lower cost. All carbon filters are designed to improve the taste and smell of water, but some remove more contaminants than others depending on their pore size. Advanced activated carbon filters, such as the Neo-Pure TL1-C302, can reduce levels of lead and cysts, such as cryptosporidium and giardia, on top of the other contaminants activated carbon reduces. The major contaminants reduced by activated carbon filters include chlorine, pesticides, herbicides, and trihalomethanes. Without these contaminants, water tastes crisper, smells fresher, and is more pleasant to drink. Under-sink activated carbon filters are less expensive than both RO and ultrafiltration, and they can be as inexpensive as water pitcher filters. They are also an excellent refrigerator filter alternative for homes with fridges that do not have a water dispenser.

Learn more: Activated carbon filters 101

Water distillers

Water distillers are a high-performance countertop alternative to water pitcher filters. When it comes to drinking water quality, water distillers offer the cleanest water possible among all treatment types. Distillers boil water into vapor, convert this vapor back to liquid, and collect the resulting liquid in a collection container. Because they must boil water and cool it before it is ready to drink, water distillers are the slowest water treatment method you can use at home. If you have a large family or have other needs for large volumes of drinking water, a water distiller may not be the right fit for you. Water distillers are simple to set up, but they also hog counterspace. If you do not need large volumes of drinking water each day and wish for extremely pure water, a water distiller is an effective pitcher alternative for you.

Learn more: What is distilled water and is it safe to drink?


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