Every system in your body needs water. We need it to regulate body temperature, support healthy digestion, and carry nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. Not all water is equally beneficiary, however. Water that has a strong chlorine or chemical smell or contaminants can be unpleasant tasting or smelling or even cause illness. Water filters can remove unwanted sediment and impurities from water to improve its flavor, purity, and quality. Here is what you need to know about this essential equipment.
How Do Water Filters Work?
Transforming silty, dirty, or contaminated water is no easy task. Filters can do it, though, making it cleaner, safer, and more refreshing. They do this in a variety of ways, often acting as physical barriers to trap or block contaminants from passing into the drinking water.
Many styles and designs of filters are available, each with its benefits depending on what you need and want. Some commercial and home filters are designed to filter the whole structure’s water, requiring supporting plumbing and electrical work during installation. Others are simpler, designed to attach to a faucet or use on the go via a pitcher, backpack, bottle, or straw.
There are specific types of filtration involved, which can vary based on your goals and needs, including:
Mechanical filters work by physically removing sediment and other debris from the water. Mechanical filters have ratings that indicate the effectiveness of the filter. A filter with a 5-micron rating will remove most visible particles from your water. A filter with a 1-micron rating removes microscopic particles while a filter with a 0.5-micron rating removes cysts such as giardia and cryptosporidium.
Carbon Adsorption Filtration
Carbon is a highly effective filter media with a massive internal surface area that effectively traps chemical impurities such as chlorine. Filters that use carbon adsorption typically use granular activated carbon to reduce or eliminate unwanted tastes and odors in the water and may also remove particles and sediment.
This type of filter sequesters or isolates unwanted substances. It most often uses food-grade polyphosphate to sequester calcium, magnesium, and other hard water minerals that cause corrosion and limescale buildup.
Hard water can be softened through ion exchange, which exchanges the calcium and magnesium ions in water with sodium or hydrogen ions. This process does not merely sequester the hard minerals but eliminates them, reducing limescale buildup and softening water sufficiently for a variety of applications.
This filtration process removes dissolved solids by forcing the water through a semipermeable membrane. This type of filtration is quite effective and typically combined with mechanical filters and adsorption filters to provide the cleanest, purest water possible.
What Kinds of Water Filters Are There?
Each type of filtration method removes only specific contaminants, so most filters use multiple methods to maximize their effectiveness. For example, a tap-mounted filter may combine a mechanical filter with carbon adsorption to remove impurities and unwanted chlorine and other chemicals for fresher, cleaner-tasting water.
At home, you may have several options for filters, including:
- Water pitcher styles, which have both mechanical and carbon filtration to clean and purify tap water for drinking and cooking
- Faucet filters, which are installed directly onto the faucet to remove contaminants before you use the water making them a popular choice in areas where water is already fairly clean and safe
- Countertop filters, which eliminate the need to fill jugs and often come with their own tap for convenience and simplicity
- Under-sink filters, which are installed under the sink to remove sediment and pathogens from a larger volume of water than jugs, faucets, and countertop models can manage
- Whole house filters, which are good choices for those who do not have safe tap water and who need safe, potable water throughout the home
When camping, backpacking, and hiking, safety, effectiveness, and convenience will likely be your primary concerns. You may also need to consider size, capacity, weight, durability, and ease of use.
Common portable filters include:
- Pump filters, which are handheld devices that pump water through a filter and into a clean catch container
- Gravity filters, which move water through the filter using gravity
- UV systems, which use UV light to purify water and remove pathogens but require batteries and cannot remove particulates or chemicals without the addition of a mechanical filter
- Water bottles, which are designed like mini water jugs combining carbon and mechanical filtration
- Filter straws, which mechanically filter down to 0.2 microns, removing sediment, bacteria, protozoa, and more
Top Three Filters for Home and Camping
Whether at home or roughing it, you deserve and need a plentiful supply of fresh, clean, potable water, and we’ve got you covered with our recommendation of top water filters for home and camping.
Best Home Filters
1. The Big Berkey Gravity Fed Water Filter
This large-capacity gravity countertop filter holds more than two gallons of water at a time, making it a great choice for families or groups. Filters only need to be changed every three years, and because it relies on gravity, there is no need for electricity or manual pumps. The filter is large but portable, and it removes more than 200 contaminants, including heavy metals and bacteria. Made of stainless steel, it’s built to last.
2. PUR Classic 11 Cup Filter
This pitcher fits easily in your refrigerator and uses activated charcoal and ion exchange filtration, removing many contaminants for fresher, more flavorful water. The stay-tight lid won’t pop off and comes in an array of colors to match your space, and you can even pour it while the water is filtering. One nice addition to this filter is that it is dishwasher safe, allowing you to wash away any bacterial growth occurring within the filter.
3. PUR Plus Faucet Mounted
This filter uses a combination of activated carbon and ion exchange and has NSF certifications, removing more than 70 contaminants. The filter lasts 100 gallons or three months and comes with a 2-year warranty. It mounts easily to most kitchen faucets, but some may need an adapter and requires little or no maintenance apart from periodic filter changes.
Best Portable Filters
1. The Katadyn UV Water Purifier
This handy purifier uses UV-C rays to destroy more than 99 percent of all protozoa and viruses. It even protects you from the pathogens responsible for dysentery and botulism. Simply fill the bottle, click the button, and agitate gently. Within a minute, you can have between 16 and 32 ounces of pure, clean water. The internal battery is easy to charge using any USB source, including solar panels and car batteries.
2. The Sawyer Squeeze
This lightweight portable squeeze-gravity filter is easy to use, compact, and portable. It has a 0.1 Micron rating and can remove sediment, bacteria, protozoa, cysts, and microplastics, making it a great choice for all your adventures. It fits all standard water bottles with 28-millimeter threads and comes with a flip-top sports cap for your convenience.
3. The LifeStraw
This handy little device can easily go anywhere and everywhere you go, protecting against parasites, bacteria, sediment, and microplastics. The filter is BPA-free and durable, and it weighs less than 2 ounces, making it easy to pop into a pocket or your backpack. It filters up to 1,000 gallons of water, which means that it could last 5 years or more, and it has an unlimited shelf life.
Long-Term Water Filter Use: Are there Risks?
Access to clean water is critical to health whether you are at home or camping. The use of water filtration systems dates back to ancient Egypt and India, and drinking water standards began to be implemented in industrial countries by the mid-19th century. Today, most municipal water systems in the U.S. are generally recognized as safe, but when you are camping or hiking, your access to fresh water supplies could be compromised.
This is when it is most critical that you have and use a water filtration system or device. The right filter could mean the difference between a camping trip filled with fun and adventure and one that is memorable for all the wrong reasons. This is why it is so important to understand what you need from your filter and know what could be lurking in your water supply. This ensures that you get the best filter for your needs: a filter that will remove all unwanted sediment and potentially harmful pathogens.
Long-term use of a water filter has no unwanted health effects and could ensure you enjoy better hydration. That counts as a winning situation in our book!