Water Filters: A Review of the Different Types and the Contaminants They Filter 

 October 9, 2020

By  Julius Hagenes

While water is one of the most abundant resources on earth, safe drinking water is not as readily available. A majority of people spend a lot of money annually on drinking water. For example, US consumers spent 12.3 billion dollars on bottled water in 2013 alone.

While this is not economically viable in the long run, throwing away a piece of plastic every time you do something as basic as hydrate is also devastating for the environment. This is one of many reasons why you should have a water filter. With it, you can make water drinkable anywhere.

Why Do You Need a Water Filter?

If you are not yet sold on getting yourself a water filter, let’s look at a few more of the reasons why you should get one.

Removal of Disease-Causing Pathogens

According to the World Health Organization, 3.4 million people die annually from waterborne diseases. With access to safe filtered drinking water, these deaths can be lowered significantly.

Water in most households is chlorine-treated. While this treatment takes care of most pathogens, some tough bacteria like giardia can survive chlorine treatment and cause diseases like giardiasis. The only way to get rid of them is by mechanically filtering your water.

Filtering water filters out these pathogens, making the water safe for drinking and household use.

Removal of Farm Chemicals

Large-scale farming with organic pesticides has largely corrupted water that used to be drinkable. While water from streams might have been safe to drink a few decades ago, nowadays, you cannot afford to take such a chance. Farm chemicals are also seeping into the groundwater and contaminating it, making water filters a necessity you cannot do without.

Improved Taste

While some salts in drinking water are harmless, they can cause a salty taste. Other minerals, like excess fluorides, can cause the teeth to discolor and can interfere with your bones.

Filtering your water gets rid of the unnecessary salts and minerals, leaving the water tasting much better and safer to drink.

Removal of Sediment

Sediment in the water, such as soil particles, leaves debris and makes the water look cloudy and dirty. If used for washing, your clothes may discolor. This sediment can also cause some health problems.

Mechanical filters will effectively remove any sediment and leave the water much cleaner and clearer.

It’s Economical

The other option for drinking water, rather than using a filter, is buying bottled water for drinking. This can be a bit expensive in the long run. Water filtering is a much more sustainable option.

It’s Good for the Environment

The more people use filters instead of buying water bottles, the less plastic materials we put into the environment. If this doesn’t like enough of a reason to filter your water, we don’t know what is!

How to Make a Homemade Water Filter

If you want to buy a water filter, you can get yourself one of many different types of filters for anything from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars. But you also have the option of making one yourself! If you want to make a water filter at home, read on for a simple how-to procedure.

This water filter replicates the natural geological formation of the earth, imitating how groundwater is filtered naturally. You can also use this simple water filter as a science project when your kids are asked to make one in school. Here is what you need:

  • A plastic soda or water bottle with the bottom cut off
  • Clean sand
  • 2 pieces of wood: one about 2 feet long and half a foot wide, and the other about a foot long and a foot wide
  • 4 screws
  • Activated charcoal
  • Pebbles or small stones
  • A coffee filter

Steps to Make the Water Filter

  1. Start by screwing the two pieces of wood together. They will be used as an anchor for the filter.
  2. Screw the cut bottle to the longer side of the wood. The shorter side should be at the bottom acting as a base.
  3. When screwing the bottle, make sure it is suspended so you have some space to place a water-collecting container underneath. The longer side of the wood can be as long as you need it to be to leave enough space for the collecting container.
  4. Drill two holes on either side of the bottle near its mouth and use a string to fasten the bottle to the wood, passing it through the holes and knotting it in place.
  5. Now put the coffee filter into the bottle, so that it covers the mouth of the bottle. It will be the last thing the water passes through to filter out the sediment. You can also use a paper towel in place of a coffee filter if you don’t have one.
  6. Layer the charcoal, sand, and small stones in the bottle.
  7. Start with the activated charcoal, pouring it carefully so it doesn’t damage the coffee filter. Next, pour the sand, and finish with the pebbles. Your filter is now ready for use!
  8. Pour some dirty water in at the top and place a clean collection container at the bottom to collect the clean water.

You may not get 100% clean water free of all contaminants, but you will definitely end up with clearer water. The speed at which this rudimentary water filter works is pretty slow, so you might have to wait a lot longer to filter a substantial amount of water. But it’s effective nonetheless, especially if you want to filter out soil particles and any other kind of sediment in the water.

While this method will work great at home when you can easily find all the items you need, what if you were out in the wild?

How to Filter Water in the Wild

When you plan a camping trip or an outdoor adventure, hopefully you will remember to bring everything you need, including a water filter. But what happens if you forget one? What do you do then? If there is no water source with clean water near you, don’t panic. You can still filter water for basic uses and drinking.

You will need a bottle, much like the homemade filter we discussed earlier. However, you probably won’t have all the ingredients we listed there when you’re out camping. Luckily, there are some natural replacements you can easily find in the woods.

Instead of a coffee filter, you can use moss or dry grass. Either of these will work just fine to filter out any sediment. Moss, however, does a better job than dry grass, as it’s more compact. This time, when you cut the bottle, you will need to keep the top. Make two holes in it and cover the upside-down bottle.

In place of activated charcoal, you can use the charcoal from a campfire. Just crush it as finely as you can by wrapping it in a piece of paper or cloth, and then using a stone or a piece of wood to crush it.

In place of the wooden stand, get some fresh green bark from a tree to suspend the bottle above the collecting container.

Remember, however, that filtering water this way does not completely purify it. Yes, the charcoal may do a bit of purifying, but out in the wild, you can’t be too careful. If you don’t want to risk getting sick, you should boil any water you plan on using in order to kill off disease-causing pathogens.

Water Softener vs. Water Filter

The water that comes to your home from the city pipes is not always at its best. Sometimes it might have too much hardener, and other times too much chlorine that you might want to get rid of.

But what do you use? Do you get a water filter or a water softener? If you are not sure which way to go between these two, let’s explore them and see what works best in what situation, so you can make the best choice possible for your case.

Water Hardness

Depending on where you live or the source from where you are getting your water, you might be getting hard water delivered to your home. Hard water has a high concentration of magnesium, calcium, and iron.

There are generally two types of water hardness. There is temporary hardness, which is caused by the presence of bicarbonates in the water, or permanent water hardness, caused by the presence of chlorides or sulfates in the water.

Temporary water hardness can be taken care of by boiling the water. This is because bicarbonates dissipate when boiled, leaving the water soft.

Permanent hardness, on the other hand, is a bit harder to take care of, and for that you will need a water softener.

While drinking hard water may not present any health issues, hard water is a lot more difficult to work with around your home. Here are some challenges you can encounter when using hard water.

Challenges with Hard Water

Clogged Pipes

The minerals in hard water can build up on the insides of the pipes distributing the water through your home. Over time, this build-up can lead to clogged pipes. Replacing them will cost you a lot of money. A water softener can resolve this.

Scale Build-Up

The minerals in hard water can also lead to scale build-up, especially in electrical appliances that deal with hot water in your house, like a boiler or heater. This reduces the performance of the appliances and also reduces their life span. You have to replace them more often as a result.


The minerals in hard water cause stains on your bathroom faucets, bathtubs, and even utensils. While this means cleaning more often, these stains are not appealing to look at either.

Faded Clothes

Your clothes won’t look as vibrant if you are washing them with hard water. This is because soap does not lather well with hard water.

All these issues can be fixed by getting a water softener. What about a water filter? Why or when should you get a water filter instead?

What Can’t a Water Softener Do?

While water hardness is an issue, it’s not the only problem you can encounter with the water. As mentioned earlier, there could be other more harmful contaminants in your water, like disease-causing pathogens. A water softener cannot filter these out. A water filter, on the other hand, is made to fix such an issue. But this also depends on the kind of filter you buy.

Types of Filters

There are many kinds of water filters on the market, depending on the contaminants you want to eliminate from your water.

You can also get a water filter for the whole house, where you filter water at the point of entry, or you can get yourself a point of use filter. A point of use water filter is one that you can attach at the sink to filter the water coming through the faucet, or at the water dispenser, so that the water your family is drinking is filtered, or anywhere else water directly comes out of.

When it comes to functionality, there are many kinds of water filters depending on your needs. Here are some of the most common kinds:

Mechanical Filters

Mechanical filters are water filters used to remove solid particles from the water. They will not remove any chemical or organic water contaminants. If you are looking to clean your water by removing leaves, debris, and sediment formations, this is the kind of filter to buy.

They work by trapping large solid particles when the water passes through them.

Reverse Osmosis Filters

Reverse osmosis water filters have become very popular lately. Just like the name suggests, they use the osmosis process in reverse. This means that, instead of water molecules being changed from a less concentrated solvent to a more concentrated one, it changes to a less concentrated one by being pressurized through a semipermeable membrane.

These filters are some of the most effective ones currently on the market, because they remove solid contaminants, bacteria and other pathogens, as well as salts from the water. The resulting end product is water that looks and tastes great, and is safe to drink.

The reverse osmosis membranes are very sensitive, and sometimes they require that there is a pre-filter in the system to filter the solid particles before they go through the membrane.

UV Filters

If you are looking for a water filtration system to get rid of pathogens in the water effectively, this is the kind of filter to buy. UV filters use the light spectrum to get rid of bacteria and viruses in the water.

By exposing the bacteria and viruses in the water to the UV rays, they are destroyed, and the water comes out with no pathogens. You should note, however, that UV filters will only remove living contaminants, bacteria, and viruses. If you have other types of contaminants in the water, you might need to combine this kind of filter with another one.

Activated Carbon Filters

Activated carbon water filters are some of the most common ones on the market. This is because they are cheap and they work effectively as well.

If the city line water getting to your house is chlorine-treated, sometimes you will get water with too much chlorine. If you want to filter out the chlorine, an activated carbon filter is effective and works well.

They work by trapping particles larger than the diameters of the pores the water passes through. The positively charged carbon will also attract negatively charged particles like chlorine.

Water Distillation

This type of filtration is not as commonly used as the others we have discussed here, but it still works well nonetheless.

In this process, water is heated, evaporates, and then condenses into liquid again, where it is collected on the other end of the system. The evaporated water leaves contaminants like salts and any other solid minerals behind, which are then discarded later.

Which Filter Should I Get?

While you can get any of these types of water filters for your filtration needs, you need to know beforehand the kind of contaminants you want to eliminate. This way, you can get the appropriate type of filter that will solve your specific water problem.

You can essentially get a water filter for any type of contaminant you want to eliminate. Sometimes though, you might need to combine two types of filters to get the desired results.

To circle back to the softener versus filter argument, it depends on what you are looking to achieve at the end of the process. If you have hard water that you are looking to soften, a water softener is what you should get.

Keep in mind, however, that other than removing minerals responsible for hardening the water, a water softener will not remove any of the other contaminants in your household water.

Water filters, on the other hand, will remove water contaminants depending on the type you choose. Whether to get a water filter or a water softener for your home all depends on what you want to achieve.

Also remember that some water filtration systems, like reverse osmosis, both purify the water and soften it at the same time. If you need both, you can achieve both purification and softening time when using this kind of water filter.

Frequently Asked Questions about Water Filters

How Do You Clean a Water Filter?

Cleaning a water filter depends largely on the type of water filter that it is. Many water filters, however, will clean themselves automatically, and you will only need to replace them after a certain amount of time. If you want to clean your water filter, look at the instruction manual for specific instructions on how to clean it.

How Do You Install a Water Filter?

As we have already seen, there are a variety of different water filters out there on the market. Installing a water filter will also depend on the kind of filter you get. Usually, every filter will come with instructions on how to install it. If you have any issues, you can always contact the manufacturer or customer service for assistance.

Which is Better: Point of Use or Whole-House Filtration?

A point of use water filter is just what it sounds like: a water filter that filters water at the point of use, like at the sink faucet. A water filter placed at such a point will filter all the water coming through that particular spot.

A whole-house water filtration system, on the other hand, filters all the water coming into your entire house at the point of entry, so that water at every point in your house passes through the filter.

Which one of these systems you get depends on your filtered water needs. If you just need to filter drinking and cooking water, a point of use system will work just fine. If you want the water in the whole house to be filtered, then a point of entry or whole-house filter will be best.


Water filters are essential accessories for safe household drinking water. While in most cases, water delivered to your house is already treated by the city, sometimes you can’t fully rely on this treatment, as the regulating bodies are not always as vigilant on purification as they should be.

This is when a good water filter comes in handy. If you get the right one, you can rest easy knowing that your family has access to clean, great-tasting water at all times.

Julius Hagenes

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