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Testing Your Tap Water

So how can you tell which water filter is best for you? The first step is identifying the quality of your prefiltered water, Lehrman says.

Community water systems are required to provide this information to their customers every July, in the Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). The report includes details about where your water comes from along with detected levels of dozens of regulated contaminants with the corresponding federal and state limits.

Lehrman recommends going straight to the data tables of the report, which must highlight levels of some, but not all, potential contaminants in drinking water.

The next step is testing the water that comes out of your own faucet. The report recommends calling the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791) or your local health authority to get the names of state-certified testing labs. Or you can do it yourself for under $20 with a commercially available kit like the Watersafe-All-In-One Drinking Water Test Kit, Lehrman says.

If you decide you need a water filter, the one you buy should match your lifestyle and water problems, she adds.

Some things to consider:

  • Whole-house filters ($35 to $80) remove sediment, rust, and other large particles from water, but they are not designed to remove other contaminants. So even if you have a whole-house unit, you may need another filter to purify drinking water.
  • Carafes ($15 to $60), like the Brita and Pur systems, are inexpensive and useful for filtering small quantities of drinking water. One problem was that the better they were at removing contaminates in the Consumer Reports test, the quicker their filters clogged, Lehrman says.
  • Faucet-mounted units ($20 to $60) required less installation than most other installed filters, but they tended to slow the flow of water and can't be used on all faucets.
  • Countertop units ($50 to $300) filtered large amounts of water without plumbing modifications, and were less likely to clog than carafes or faucet-mounted units.
  • Undersink filters ($55 to $350) filtered lots of water but required plumbing modifications, including a hole drilled through the sink and/or countertop for the dispenser.
  • Reverse-Osmosis filters ($160 to $450) removed a wide range of contaminants. These are the only filters certified for the removal of arsenic, but they tend to be slow and create 3 gallons to 5 gallons of waste water for every gallon of water filtered.

The analysis appears in the May issue of Consumer Reports, which is published by the nonprofit consumer watchdog group Consumers Union.

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