What is a Shower Filter and Is It Necessary?

Posted by
John Woodard on December 14, 2023

Shower filters remove skin-damaging chlorine and chloramines from your shower water. Many people filter their drinking water to get rid of the nasty chemical aftertaste chlorine leaves behind. However, chlorine does more than just make your tap water taste like pool water. It can also wreak havoc on your body, leaving your hair lifeless and faded and aggravating skin conditions like acne and eczema. Shower filters ensure that when you step into your hot shower at the end of the day, you can truly relax and unwind in water that is kind to your skin. In this article, you can learn answers to common questions about water shower filters.

What is a shower filter? 

shower filter is a water filtration system that protects your skin and hair from chemicals added to city water. The chlorine and chloramines added to municipal water contribute to dryness and irritation of both skin and hair. Chlorine is an agitator for a host of skin problems, exacerbating blemishes, acne, and rashes. Your skin naturally produces oils to protect itself from damage and overexposure. Chlorine strips these oils from skin, leaving it rough and itchy. Chlorine easily irritates any existing skin sensitivity, especially those in infants and children.

Chlorine is also a detriment to hair. If you have dyed hair, the chlorine will prematurely fade the color and leave your hair looking flat and dull. Washing hair in chlorinated water gives hair a brittle texture and leaves it dry and stiff. Chlorine can cause split ends, leave blonde hair tinted green, and cause dandruff in both your family and your pets. Just like with your skin, chlorine removes the protective oils that keep your hair healthy and strong. This causes dry, itchy scalps and lusterless hair cells. If your water possesses high levels of chlorine that are agitating your skin and hair, a shower filter is a necessary addition to your home. 

When you step into your shower, the warm water and steam opens your pores. Your skin is much more absorbent when it is in a warm, wet environment (hence why soap and skincare products often instruct you to apply to skin rinsed in warm water.) However, this also means your skin is much more prone to absorbing chemicals and contaminants while you are showering. Chlorine has a low molecular weight and can easily pass through the skin and into the bloodstream while you bathe. Furthermore, it's also released as a gas that can be inhaled. In fact, taking a 10-minute shower in chlorinated water exposes you to more chlorine than drinking 10 glasses of chlorinated water. 

Why is chlorine added to water? 

Chlorine is used by municipal water treatment plants to disinfect drinking water and make it safe for citywide distribution. When chlorine contacts bacteria, it breaks them down through a process called oxidation. Introducing chlorine to a water source forms a weak acid called hypochlorous acid. Hypochlorous acid can penetrate the cell walls of bacteria and eradicate it from the inside out. Chlorine is a remarkably powerful disinfectant and keeps city water safe from pathogenic bacteria and harmful microorganisms. 

However, after it has killed microorganisms, there is no benefit to leaving chlorine in your water. It has a notoriously unpleasant taste, leaving your water with a sharp, acrid smell and a strong chemical taste. Furthermore, it has become increasingly common for municipalities to use ammonia in addition to chlorine to treat water supplies. This creates a chemical byproduct called chloramine. Chloramines are the culprit behind the famous “pool water smell”. They are considered a much more effective disinfectant than chlorine, and they are much trickier to eliminate from water than chlorine alone. While filtration media like carbon and KDF are successful at eliminating chlorine via adsorption, removing chloramines requires a more extensive filtration system or extended periods of contact time.

How do shower filters work?

Shower filters reduce skin irritants like chlorine and chloramines in your shower water by passing them through a filtration media like KDF. When chlorine content is eliminated, the water is much gentler on your hair and skin and no longer bears a harsh chemical smell. KDF is a granular zinc alloy that exchanges electrons with waterborne contaminants, chemically converting chlorine and heavy metals into benign materials that will not aggravate your skin. KDF (an acronym for “kinetic degradation fluxion”) is also popularly used to improve the taste of water as well. Everpure, a brand renowned for its restaurant-quality water filtration products, uses KDF media extensively in their filter cartridges. 

KDF eliminates the dissolved chlorine from water by converting the chlorine disinfectants into a water-soluble, environmentally safe chloride ion. As the chlorinated water passes through the KDF filament, the two dissimilar metals in KDF (copper and zinc) create a galvanic or electrolytic reaction that turns chlorine into chloride. Chloride does not antagonize any skin conditions, negatively affect your hair, or bear any undesirable taste. KDF is also adept at eliminating heavy metals like iron, lead, and copper from water supplies. Furthermore, KDF media is bacteriostatic and inhibits internal bacterial growth. The media prevents any algae build-up within the shower filter and is increasingly used as a replacement for bacteriostatic silver within carbon filters. 

Are shower filters carbon filters?

Carbon filters are heralded for their ability to remove chlorine from water, but they are not used for hot water applications like showerheads. This is because the efficacy of carbon’s chlorine reduction decreases as the temperature of the water increases. This makes them ideal for drinking water applications, as most people are filling their glasses with cold water. However, since most people use hot water in the shower, activated carbon media is a poor choice for a shower filter. Running hot water through activated carbon filters releases contaminants trapped within the carbon media back into the water. Unlike most filter media, KDF’s performance is unaffected by the temperature of the water. 

Learn more: Activated carbon filters 101 

Do shower filters soften water?

Shower filters remove chlorine and chemical contaminants, but they cannot soften water, despite the claims made by many shower filter products. Water softeners use a process called ion exchange to replace water hardness ions (magnesium and calcium) with sodium ions. For ion exchange to occur, the hard water needs to flow through charged resin beads that periodically regenerate. A small shower filter cannot provide the appropriate amount of contact time for a true ion exchange process to occur. There is also no way for a shower filter to regenerate any ion exchange media that would be placed inside of it. Water softeners strip water hardness ions out of water by perpetually flushing the resin beads with a sodium-rich brine solution. This flushes the calcium and magnesium ions down the brine and recharges the beads with sodium ions so they can continue the softening process. 

When shower filters claim they are softening the water, they are making a claim that is frankly untrue. They may provide softened water benefits by reducing the calcium and magnesium content or altering the form of the mineral ions, but they aren’t softening water. Hard water wreaks havoc on skin and hair, much like chlorine. The minerals dry out hair cells and make it very difficult to sufficiently clean yourself. Hard water impedes soap’s lathering quality, meaning you will not be able to satisfactorily scrub your skin or shampoo your hair. A shower filter, even ones that claim to soften water, aren’t eliminating these hardness minerals and therefore will not significantly improve your shower experience. It can be a common practice to label water filtration equipment as “softening” when it mitigates the hardness. However, to truly “soften” water, it must be put through an ion exchange water softener or treated by a comprehensive filtration process like water distillation or reverse osmosis. 

Learn more: What is hard water? | The truth about salt-free water softeners 

Do shower filters remove chloramines? 

Traditional shower filters are unable to remove chloramines from water. Chloramine reduction demands significant contact time with the filtration media. Showers move water too quickly for chloramine to be removed. The sheer volume of water and the high flow prevent shower filters from making a significant impact. To proper eliminate chloramines, the water needs to be fed through a more powerful filter, like a reverse osmosis system, an ultrafiltration unit, or exposed to catalytic carbon

The only shower filters capable of chloramine reduction are called Vitamin C filters. Vitamin C filters use a tube ascorbic acid to neutralize chloramines. The pure, pharmaceutical-grade vitamin C dissolves as the shower water flows through it. Vitamin C filters can eliminate over 90% of chlorine and chloramines even with limited contact time. Vitamin C shower filters are a recent water filtration innovation. However, they do have the downside of costing significantly more than their carbon and KDF counterparts. The lifespan of the ascorbic acid tube is heavily dependent on how many chloramines are in your water and how often you use your shower. These filters are packaged in clear housings, so you will be able to visually monitor the remaining chloramine-reducing ascorbic acid levels. 

I’m Vita C” shower filters deliver a soothing shower experience like none other. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and its role in collagen synthesis make vitamin C a vital molecule for skin health. Every “I’m Vita C” shower filter contains 37,000mg of food-grade vitamin C. That is the equivalent  vitamin C content of 740 lemons. Vitamin C also demonstrates remarkable dechlorinating properties, eliminating waterborne skin and eye irritants from your shower. These filters are also made with powdered milk and arbutin extracted from bearberry leaves to provide additional beneficial skincare properties.

Do shower filters reduce water pressure? 

Shower filters are manufactured to maintain normal household water pressure and have no effect on your showerhead’s flow. Each shower filter is rated for use within a specific pressure range, usually between 20 and 100 psi.  Most shower filters can handily filter water between 40 and 80 psi without a significant reduction in water pressure. Pressure below 40 psi is considered low water pressure for a home. Since water filtration is dependent on adequate contact time to be effective, lower water pressures take longer to process through the filter. So, there is a chance your shower will further lose pressure with a shower filter if you already have pressure of 40 psi or lower. 

However, many shower filter companies design special “low pressure” models of shower filters to help homes with suboptimal water pressure. These water filters usually place the filtration media within a showerhead itself, so the water does not have to pass through a filter before reaching the showerhead. 

Showerheads are already designed to limit water pressure and restrict water flow to conserve water usage. A showerhead that uses the household water pressure at full flow to run a shower could be sending more than 5 gallons of water down the drain per minute. Running high-pressure showers at high flow rates is both costly and an excessively wasteful amount of water to put down the drain. To address this, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 mandated that showers have a flow no greater than 2.5 GPM. In 2010, the EPA released recommendations, though not enforced by law, to limit showerheads to 2 GPM. If your shower was built before 1990, it could be using 3.5 GPM or higher. 

shower water filter

How long do shower filters last? 

On average, a shower filter will last 6 months. However, the lifespan of the shower filter is heavily dependent on the frequency of use. Every shower filter comes rated to treat a specific capacity of water. 10,000 gallons may last an individual 8 months to a year, but if a family of four is all using the same showerhead daily, the filter will exhaust much quicker. Naturally, no one is counting the number of gallons each shower is using. The best way to monitor your shower filter’s performance is to keep your eye out for the tell-tale signs of chlorine creeping back into your shower experience. If a few months have passed, and your hair begins to feel like it’s losing vitality, it is probably time to replace your shower filter. 

How to choose the best shower filter 

When considering which shower filter is best for your home, there are a handful of factors to keep in mind as you make your purchase. 

  1. Appearance: Keep in mind, the shower filter will become part of your bathroom decor. There are a host of styles and designs to select from when acquiring a new shower filter. Many chrome options exist that you can select to match your existing bathroom fixtures. They also come in a selection of other colors and metallic finishes. You can match these to your bathroom tile or showerhead.
  2. Household water use: If you have a large family or are servicing multiple bathrooms, pay attention to the rated gallon capacity of the filter. Once the shower filter’s KDF media has been exhausted, you will cease to see the silkier hair and softer skin benefits the filter provides. Consider how often your family showers and purchase a couple replacement filters to have ready when your shower filters reach the end of their lifespans. 
  3. Water quality: If you do not have a whole-house water filtration system, you need to pay attention to your water quality to make sure you are getting optimal use out of your shower filter. Very hard water will exhaust the media much quicker than soft water will. If you have sediment in your water, like rust, dirt, and debris, it will clog up the filter and render it ineffective. While KDF can reduce chlorine content, heavy metals, and other waterborne contaminants, the more the filter is required to eliminate from the water, the less effective it will be over time. 
  4. Cost over time: A shower filter is an investment. Though it provides ample returns by improving the quality of your skin and hair, you will need to replace the filters a couple times each year. Find a shower filter that meets your household’s needs within your budget, and vigilantly change out the filters when it is time.

What is a bath filter? 

Bath filters are ball-shaped water filters designed to remove chlorine and chloramines from your bathwater. This means you can savor a relaxing, reinvigorating bath without agitation from chlorine. Bath filters provide you with satisfying soap lathers, clearer skin, and revitalized hair. Much like shower filters, bath filters use KDF media to convert chlorine and chloramines into harmless chloride ions. They are usually spherical filter housings outfitted with replaceable filter media. Bath filters have the added benefit of requiring no fittings or plumbing connections. You merely run your bathwater, submerge your bath filter and allow it to circulate and climb into the tub.  

Bath filters are safe for infants and pets alike, meaning your entire family can experience the benefits of filtered bathing water. Bath filters make a great companion to a shower filter because you do not have to sacrifice comfort if you feel more inclined to lay in the bath rather than run a shower on a certain day. These ball bath filters are guaranteed to last 200 baths, which can last you a year or more, depending on the frequency of use. 

Bath filters also come in a powdered form that you can dissolve in your bath like epsom salts. These usually contain some mixture of granular magnesium carbonate and ascorbic acid (the same material used in vitamin C shower filters). Once dissolved in your bathwater, this can reduce up to 99% of the chlorine in your bath. 

Shower filter alternatives 

Shower filters are a point-of-use solution to enhance your shower experience by reducing skin-damaging chlorine. However, there are other ways to protect your skin and hair from chlorine. Whole-house water filters address water quality issues at the point of entry, or the moment the water enters the house. By installing a whole house filter, you can remove chlorine and chloramines from all your appliances, from showers and baths to your kitchen faucet and refrigerator. Eliminating chlorine will restore the water’s natural fresh taste and smell. A whole house water softener protects your appliances from scale and stains. A shower filter only improves your water from one source, but a whole-house filter elevates the quality of your water throughout your entire house. 

Whole-house carbon filter

Whole-house carbon filters remove chlorine from the entirety of your household. This means cleaner tasting water from your refrigerator and kitchen tap. It also means no more dry scalp and irritated skin when you emerge from the shower. If your water has high levels of chloramines, you will want to load the media tank with catalytic carbon rather than just activated carbon. Catalytic carbon is subjected to a chemical process that increases the physisorption and chemisorption capacity of the carbon media. Through catalytic conversion, catalytic carbon is adept at removing chloramines from treated municipal supplies. While granular activated carbon can remove chloramine to a degree, it is entirely contingent on prolonged contact time. Furthermore, activated carbon has a low threshold of chloramine reduction. If your city water has significant chloramine levels, activated carbon will only impart minimal reduction on chloramines. This means you will not see the desired smoother, gentler showers and may still experience aggravated eczema and acne. 

Whole-house carbon filters are installed at the point where the water enters your home. They flush the contaminated water through a bed of activated or catalytic carbon media. The Vortech distributor plate at the base of the tank keeps the carbon media in constant circulation and prevents the water from cutting channels through the media. If your water has low pH, you can also combine the carbon media with calcite to boost your water’s pH levels. A whole-house carbon filtration system means better-tasting water at every tap, no more chemical odor, and refreshingly softer skin and hair. 

Learn more: What is a whole-house water filter? | 5 of the best whole-house water filters

Water softener 

Water softeners remove magnesium and calcium from water through ion exchange. Magnesium and calcium are the two minerals responsible for causing water hardness, a water quality concern that destroys your home and significantly damages your skin and hair. Many shower filter manufacturers falsify claims about their filter’s ability to soften water. Hard water dries out the natural oils on your skin, preventing them from properly moisturizing. This makes your skin more resistant to soaps and body washes. Hard water also leaves your hair frizzy and brittle, whereas soft water restores your hair’s natural pH level. 

If you have hard water, the only way to experience the true benefits of soft water in the shower is to install a water softener. However, the benefits of softened water extend far beyond the shower. If your water is hard, your dishwashers and laundry machines will be destroyed prematurely. Hard water fills pipes with scale and leaves streaks of soap scum on kitchen and bathroom fixtures. Softening your water provides skin and your hair improvements that cannot be replicated by a single shower filter. However, if your water is heavily chlorinated and hard, installing a shower filter after your water softener could truly provide an elevated shower experience. 

Learn more: What is a water softener? | 5 benefits of having a water softener


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