We all know it's cheaper to drink tap water than bottled water and the latest "green" campaign has stars like Cameron Diaz asking us to help save the world by "filling our own bottle." But how can we be sure the water from our faucet is safe?
At some point not too long ago, Americans stopped trusting the water from their own house and started turning to companies like Dasani, Brita and Culligan to provide them with healthy, great-tasting water. But the tide is turning! Real Simple magazine's Kris Connell explains how we can determine if the water from our faucet is clean enough to drink and then offer some tips for finding the right filter to fit our family's needs and eliminate contaminants:
How Safe is Your Tap Water?
Generally, our water is very safe. The U.S. has some of the cleanest drinking water in the world. According to the EPA, 9 out of 10 public water systems meet federal health and safety standards.
A Great Place to Start Your Search
Read the water-quality report that your utility company is required by law to release each year. Go to your water utility's website or to the EPA's site, which has links to scores of local water-quality reports.
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Should You Test Your Water?
Even if the report is reassuring, you might want to test your water for lead and arsenic, both of which are potentially harmful to your or your children's health. Lead contamination can come from the plumbing in people's homes (most often in houses built before 1986), so it isn't accurately represented in water-quality reports. Arsenic is common in both well water and public water collected from wells. If you're worried about unregulated contaminants (if there's a factory upstream or someone in your household has a weak immune system) you might want to test for microorganisms and other contaminants. If you find your water has contaminants, contact your local water carrier.
The EPA does not test individual homes, and cannot recommend specific laboratories to test your drinking water. However, states do certify water testing laboratories. You can call your state certification officerto get a list of certified laboratories in your state. Depending on how many contaminants you test for, a water test can cost from $15 to hundreds of dollars.
Do You Need to Use a Filter?
If you learn that your water has lead, arsenic, or other contaminants, yes. And if you’re concerned about your water quality for any reason, you should buy one. Filtering tap water is affordable and can remove everything from potentially dangerous chemicals and microbes to foul-tasting additives.
Choosing Filter Based on Targeted Contaminant
At the NSF site you can search for certified water filters by the contaminant you're targeting; click on "Consumer," then "Drinking Water" or click here.
A Few Other Common Water Problems
Hard Water: minerals in your water can mean residue on your clothes, body and household surfaces.
Taste: if you water has a distinct taste, then it is a tell-tale sign that something is wrong.
Odor: if your water has a distinct smell, then there is most likely a problem
Iron: reddish stains on your clothing, yellow colored water and a metallic taste could all be signs there is a high iron count in your water.
Copper: metallic taste, corrosion on aluminum surfaces are signals that copper may be sneaking in from your plumbing.
No matter what the source, a home filtration system can purify your water further. Whether you need to eliminate contaminants or just correct a funny smell, there's a filter that can do the job.
How It Works: You fill the pitcher, then store it in the refrigerator. Activated carbon, metal-scavenging agents, and size-exclusion filters remove contaminants.
Pros: Easy to use; nothing to install.
Cons: Fewer gallons per filter cartridge than other types; inconvenient to keep full; filters require frequent changing (about every two months).
Examples:Pur Ultimate large-capacity pitcher, approx. $30, at most major retail stores. Replacement filter: approx. $20; Brita Ultramax Dispenser - 4.5 qt filtered water capacity, approx. $45; Pur Flavor Options Pitcher, approx. $25.
How It Works: Faucet-mounted filters either replace the faucet aerator or screw on over it. They duplicate some or all of the filtration technologies used in pitchers.
Pros: Easy to install; lets you enjoy filtered water conveniently from your tap; makes cooking with filtered water easy
Cons: May work slowly; cartridges require frequent changing (at least every two to three months), and filtration can slow further with extended use.
Examples: Chrome Brita On Tap filter, approx. $30, at most major retail stores. Two-pack of replacement filters: approx. $30; GE GXFM03C Faucet Mount Filter, approx. $25.
How It Works: These filters hook into the cold-water line under the sink and need to be attached to a wall or cabinet back. Filtered cold water is drawn through a separate faucet.
Pros: Filters quickly; cartridges can be long-lasting (change every three to six months).
Cons: Usually requires professional installation; filter cartridges can be hard to change.
Examples: Whirlpool® Under Sink Main Faucet UltraEase™ Plus Filtration System, approx. $58. Replacement filter: approx. $30; Culligan US-600 ACE Slim Under Sink Water Filter System
Point of Entry — Whole House
How It Works: Point-of-entry filtration systems hook up where the water line enters a home, filtering water for cooking, cleaning, and bathing. Good for homes with hard water.
Pros: Filters all water entering your home; protects appliances.
Cons: Professional installation required; some brands need a filter change every three months.
Examples:Culligan Valve-in-Head Whole House Water Filter, approx. $35, plus about $200 for installation. Replacement filter: approx. $7; Ace Valve in Head Whole House Water Filter, approx. $37, plus installation.
For more home tips and solutions, visit the Real Simple magazine website.
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