We bought 11 of the best water filters on the market in 2020 after researching over 70 different products to find out which filters are truly the top models out there. We tested pitchers, under sink, and faucet-based filters, evaluating their flow rates, how they make water taste, and how well they remove various contaminants. We leverage a side-by-side testing setup to directly compare performance and also had an independent water quality lab measure samples collected before and after filtering to objectively determine scores. Read on to see which filter took the top spot, which under sink model is best, and which filter gives you the most bang for the buck.
The Best Water Filters of 2020
Best Filter Overall
ZeroWater 10-Cup Pitcher
Earning the top score in the category and outperforming models that cost over ten times as much, the ZeroWater 10-Cup is our top recommendation overall. This filter delivers exceptional performance in all of our impurity removal tests and is particularly impressive when it comes to removing salts. It also did very well in our taste test, greatly enhancing the taste of our contaminated water and failing to impart any negative flavors on pure water.
One limitation is that this pitcher only has a 10-cup capacity, which led to unimpressive results in our flow rate test. It pours already filtered water very quickly, but it does take a decent amount of time to refill and re-filter. Regardless, this is still an amazing product at an even better price and is our absolute favorite water filter that we have tested.
Read Full Review: ZeroWater 10-Cup Pitcher
Best High-Capacity Option
ZeroWater 23-Cup Jug
If you want the same great performance as the ZeroWater 10-Cup, but with increased capacity, check out the larger ZeroWater 23-Cup Jug. This product uses an identical filter as its smaller sibling so it is just as impressive when it comes to removing contaminants like salt, lead, or chlorine. Our judges agreed the resultant filtered water tastes great and the filter didn't add any negative taste to clean water that passed through as well.
The 23-Cup is quite a bit larger and is much better suited to remaining in your fridge or on your counter as a dispenser rather than carrying it around like you would with a pitcher. We also wish that you didn't need to hold down the button to keep water flowing and that it filtered a bit faster. Regardless, it's one of our top recommendations for anyone who needs more filtered water readily available than a 10-cup pitcher will provide and isn't ready to make the leap to a large and expensive under the sink option or sacrifice performance with a filter-mount.
Read Full Review: ZeroWater 23-Cup Jug
Best Under the Sink Filter
If you need a much larger capacity than a pitcher, then you should consider the iSpring RCC7. This under the sink filter delivers a fantastic performance in our lead and chlorine removal tests and does an admirable job in our sodium removal assessments. This filter makes the water taste crisp and clean and doesn't impart any negative flavors.
However, this product is definitely on the more expensive side, both in terms of the initial outlay as well as the cost of replacement filters. It is a much larger system that will eat up a non-trivial amount of space under your sink and has a much more involved installation process. It also has a relatively mediocre flow rate. Despite all of this, it is still our first choice when it comes to under the sink water filters, making it a great option for someone who wants clean, great-tasting filtered water on tap at all times.
Read Full Review: iSpring RCC7
Best Value for Under the Sink Filters
If you got sticker shock at the price of the iSpring but are still set on an under the sink filter, then consider the APEC WFS-1000. This product costs quite a bit less and has only a slight drop in performance compared to the iSpring, making it an excellent option if you are shopping on a budget. This model does a great job of removing both lead and chlorine from the water and has an exceptionally high flow rate.
Unfortunately, this model does a poor job of extracting sodium from the water. The filtered water it produces also didn't perform too well in our taste test. It doesn't impart any bad flavors in pure water, but we definitely could taste residual traces of salt and chlorine in our contaminated water test. This filter also will take up a decent amount of space under your sink and takes time to install. However, if you are trying to save some cash on an under the sink filter and don't mind salts in your water, then the WFS-1000 is an excellent choice.
Read Full Review: APEC WFS-1000
Best Faucet Mount Filter
While the BRITA SAFF-100 didn't distinguish itself overall, it is our favorite option of the faucet mount variety. It did very well at removing chlorine and has a mediocre flow rate.
However, this filter is a disappointment when it comes to extracting lead or salts from the water. It also missed the mark in our contaminated water taste test. Regardless, it is a great value pick and the best option if you aren't interested in a pitcher or permanent under the sink system.
Read Full Review: BRITA SAFF-100
Why You Should Trust Us
We bought all of the water filters in this review ourselves. We did not receive any free or sample models from manufacturers. We have been testing water filters for over a year now, even going so far as to build a custom testing rig with an isolated water supply so we can control the contaminants going in and out of the system. Our testing team of Austin Palmer and David Wise have tested well over 200 home and kitchen products and bring this experience to the table when it came to designing our testing procedures, along with David's formal training as a mechanical engineer.
The bulk of the scores for each filter are based on how well they removed various contaminants and other impurities. Since some of these tests exceeded the technical abilities we have here, we took samples of the tainted supply and the filtered water and sent them off to an independent water quality lab for precise analysis to determine how well each filter did. We also used chemical indicator strips and a total dissolved solids (TDS) meter to determine how well each filter performed. We had a panel of judges rate and rank the taste of each water for the taste metric, looking both at how well each filter removed unsavory compounds and if it added any undesirable tastes to clean water. Finally, we measured how long it took to dispense and filter a quart of water in each product for our flow metric.
Related: How We Tested Water Filters
Analysis and Test Results
Our review is divided into five weighted testing metrics: a trio of impurity removal tests, a taste test, and a water flow rate test. Each rating metric is weighted based on its overall significance and is composed of a variety of different subtests.
Related: Buying Advice for Water Filters
Surprisingly, our overall winner, the ZeroWater 10-Cup Pitcher is an excellent value. Not only did this product deliver the best score overall, but it also has one of the lowest prices of the entire group. If this one is still too expensive, the BRITA SAFF-100 is a few bucks cheaper, but this reduction does come with a substantial drop in performance. If under sink filters are more your style, then either the iSpring RCC7 or the APEC WFS-1000 Super Capacity are fantastic options. The RCC7 performs a little better, but the APEC is a better option if you are looking for a better bang for the buck.
Then it's best to leave all of these products behind. While under the sink or faucet-mount filters obviously aren't suited to the backcountry, filter pitchers are designed to improve the taste and quality of already-potable water, not to render lake or stream water safe to drink. That task is best left to a water filter specifically designed for the backcountry. We recommend that you always consult the manufacturer's specifications to make sure the filter you are considering is up to the task you have in mind for it.
Our Lead Removal metric accounts for 25% of the total score for each filter. To score the performance of each model, we measured the percentage of lead that the filter removed from the water. We dissolved lead shavings in vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, then seeded the isolated water supply tank until it reached a concentration of 2.3 ppm — well above the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) legal limit of 0.015 ppm for drinking water. We then ran this contaminated water through each filter and collected samples to send to a local lab for testing.
Several filters tied for the top spot, with the ZeroWater Pitcher, the ZeroWater 23-Cup Jug, the Home Master HydroPerfection, the iSpring RCC7, the APEC Essence, and the APEC WFS-1000 all receiving perfect scores for their fantastic performance. Each of these products removed at least 99% of the lead from the contaminated water, dropping the lead levels in the filtered water to well below the safe limits as defined by the EPA.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the filters in the group failed to reduce contamination to a level below the acceptable amount. The contender that came the closest in our test to the EPA level was the BRITA SAFF-100, earning it a 6 out of 10. This pitcher filter reduced the lead levels to about 0.066 ppm — still over four times the acceptable level.
The Aquagear is next, reducing the lead level considerably, but still leaving it about nine times higher than what the EPA considers safe. It is worth noting that we added this filter in a subsequent update and its initial lead level was much higher than many of the other models, so it still removed 99.0% of the lead in our tests. Accordingly, we did award it a 9 out of 10 for its performance in this metric.
The BRITA Pitcher and the BRITA Ultramax all followed, reducing the lead levels to 0.38 ppm. The Ultramax and the BRITA Pitcher use interchangeable filter cartridges, so we used the same results for both products. This translates to exceeding the acceptable level by about 25 times for the BRITA products, earning these filters a 3 out of 10.
Finishing at the back of the group, the PUR performed extremely poorly. It reduced the lead concentration to 0.91 ppm, a whopping 60 times more than the EPA level. Consequently, the PUR earned the lowest score possible of 1 out of 10 for lead removal.
Next, we looked at how well each filter did at removing chlorine, which is also worth 25% of each model's total score. To assess the performance of each filter, we conducted two tests: a chlorine torture test with incredibly high levels and one with more moderate levels. This translated to about 1370 ppm in the torture test and 20-50 ppm in the moderate level test, with the typical pool having 1-4 ppm for reference. We used chlorine bleach to spike the levels in our supply and measured the concentration using chlorine test strips. These strips use a color scale to show the approximate ppm, but the differences between filters were significant, making it fairly easy to score their performance.
Again, we had a large group of products tie for the top spot, with the APEC Essence, the WFS-1000, the iSpring RCC7, the ZeroWater 10-Cup Pitcher, the ZeroWater 23-Cup Jug, and the Home Master HydroPerfection all earning a perfect score.
All of these filters removed essentially all of the chlorine from the water, with the test strip failing to indicate any color in both our torture and moderate chlorine test — a particularly impressive feat, given the extremely high concentration of chlorine in the supply water for the torture test.
Behind this top tier, the BRITA SAFF-100 and the Aquagear both merit a 9 out of 10 for their excellent performance. While SAFF-100 removed all of the chlorine from the 20-50 ppm supply water, it left some residual chlorine after the torture test — in the range of 10-20 ppm.
The Aquagear matched the performance of the SAFF-100 in the mellower chlorine removal challenge, also removing all of the chlorine to the point that both the meter and the test strips registered 0 ppm. However, it did even better than the BRITA with the chlorine torture test, dropping the level to below 10 ppm.
The PUR FM-2000B came next, again removing all of the chlorine from the lower concentration supply. However, our test strips indicated over 20 ppm remaining in the water from the high concentration supply after we ran it through the filter. This earned the PUR an 8 out of 10.
The BRITA Everyday Pitcher and the BRITA Ultramax each received a 7 out of 10. These filters actually did fairly well at removing the chlorine when the supply was only moderately chlorinated, with the pair of BRITA filters dropping the concentration to 1 ppm — according to our chemical test strips. However, these models left a concentration of well over 20 ppm behind when we ran the high concentration supply water through them, exceeding the maximum range of our test strips.
Similar to our other two impurity removal metrics, dissolved salt removal also is responsible for 25% of the total score. We used standard table salt as our sample salt and used a total dissolved solids (TDS) meter to measure the concentration. We found that this meter would tend to give us slightly different results each time, on the order of plus or minus up to 20 parts per million (ppm), so we conducted multiple trials for each filter and took the median result to determine scores. Our supply water started with a concentration of about 445 ppm, with many of the filters struggling substantially in this test.
Breaking the trend, the ZeroWater 10-Cup Pitcher and the 23-Cup Jug are tops in the entire group, meriting a 10 out of 10 for their unparalleled performance at purifying water with dissolved salts. These filters completely extracted all of the salt in our test, with our TDS meter showing a reading of either 0 ppm or 1 ppm in the freshly filtered water.
Next, the iSpring RCC7 and the APEC Essence both earned a 9 out of 10. These filters removed the bulk of the dissolved salt, leaving concentrations of about 21 ppm and 16 ppm, respectively — over a 95% reduction from the supply!
The Home Master HydroPerfection came next and is the last of the filters that did well in this metric, earning an 8 out of 10 for its efforts. This under the sink filter reduced the salt concentration to around 49 ppm.
Finishing next, the APEC WFS-1000 proved to be a bit of a disappointment, delivering very poor performance. This water filter earned only a 2 out of 10, reducing the salt concentration by about 40 ppm, putting it around 405 ppm in total.
Rounding out the back of the group, the remaining filters (the BRITA SAFF-100, the BRITA Pitcher, the BRITA Ultramax, the Aquagear, and the PUR) all earned a 1 out of 10. These filters all have activated carbon filters, which typically aren't designed for removing dissolved salts, though there are a few that will with multiple filtration cycles. None of these five filters reduced the concentration of salt at all (the reductions we did see were well within the variation of the TDS meter).
After our impurity removal triad, we moved on to what most people will immediately notice when using these products: taste. To assess the performance of each filter in this metric, worth 15% of the overall score, we made a batch of foul-tasting water by mixing a decent amount of both salt and chlorine into our supply tank. We then ran this water through each of the filters and had a panel blind taste and score each water. Additionally, we also ran pure water through each filter and repeated the process, to see if any of the filters degraded the taste of the water.
Some familiar contenders claimed the top spot, with the ZeroWater 10-Cup, the ZeroWater 23-Cup, the HydroPerfection, the iSpring, and the APEC Essence all earning a 9 out of 10 for the superior tasting water that they produced. This quartet all removed any taste of chlorine and salt, producing clear, crisp, and refreshing water. They also failed to impart any taste on the pure water, leaving it untainted.
The Aquagear Filter Pitcher followed, earning a 7 out of 10. This filter made the nasty tasting chlorine/saltwater taste significantly better by removing most of the chlorine taste, but the taste of salt was still quite prevalent. However, it did do well in the second test by leaving already clean water tasting fine, although some of our judges did note that the filtered water tasted a bit more "bland" after it went through the Aquagear.
Next, the BRITA Everyday Pitcher and the BRITA Ultramax earned a 6 out of 10, slightly redeeming their earlier lackluster performances. These models didn't impart any negative taste on the pure water, but neither could completely remove the gross taste of our tainted supply water. Our tasting panel didn't think that it necessarily tasted bad but unanimously agreed that something just didn't taste quite right.
The APEC WFS-1000 and the SAFF-100 both earned a 5 out of 10 for their mediocre performance. This pair also didn't degrade pure water, but there was a noticeably undesirable taste left behind. The water samples weren't quite undrinkable but were well on the way there.
The FM-2000B came next, earning a 4 out of 10 for their substandard performances. The PUR left behind distinct traces of chlorine when filtering the tainted water — to the point where none of our testers felt that they would continue to drink the water. On top of that, this pair also imparted what our panel felt was a slightly funky taste to the pure water.
Our last metric — accountable for 10% of the final score — focuses on the flow rate for each filter. To score each product, we timed how long it took to fill up a quart container, assuming each filter had the maximum amount of filtered water ready, essentially emulating what would occur if you went to fill up a coffee carafe in the morning. This would mean the filters had all night to filter water in the case of the under the sink models or assuming you topped off a filter pitcher before you went to bed. However, we did take into account if we needed to filter more water before a quart could be dispensed.
The APEC WFS-1000 earned a 9 out of 10 for its exceptionally high flow rate, almost matching the top models. It only took about 15 seconds for the APEC to fill the test container.
Next, there was a bit of a drop in performance, with the Home Master HydroPerfection taking close to a minute and a half — 84 seconds — to fill the quart container.
The bulk of the filters came next, with the SAFF-100, BRITA Everyday, iSpring, PUR FM-2000B, Aquagear Filter Pitcher, and ZeroWatcher Pitcher all earning a 5 out of 10. The ZeroWater 10-Cup , the Aquagear, and the BRITA Everyday both have exceptionally high flow rates, being pitchers, but all three take a decent amount of time to filter new water, so if you need more water than what is currently in the tank, expect to be waiting for a while.
The ZeroWater 23-Cup, the BRITA Ultramax, the BRITA SAFF-100, and the PUR all just have reduced flow rates for faucet filters, taking about 24, 25, 30, and 34 seconds to fill a quart container, respectively. The iSpring is the slowest of this group, taking 35 seconds to accomplish the task.
Finishing last, the APEC Essence has the lowest flow rate of the overall group, taking 38 seconds to output a quart of water.
Hopefully, this review has been helpful in your quest for cleaner, tastier tap water. Whether you are searching for a new pitcher, under the sink, or faucet-mount filter for your home, there is a model out there for you and your family. However, we think it's important to reiterate that these products are designed to remove contaminants and improve the taste of already potable water and shouldn't be used for camping or backpacking water purification purposes, which is best left to a backcountry-specific filter.
— Austin Palmer and David Wise