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We bought 13 of the best water filters available today 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 leveraged a side-by-side testing setup to compare performance directly. We also had an independent water quality lab measure the samples collected before and after filtering to determine scores objectively. 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.
Editor's Note: We updated our water filter review in August 2022 to include the ZeroWater 12-Cup Pitcher and the Travel Berkey. On November 25, 2022, we updated this article again to share additional information on how we scored our rating metrics.
Mediocre flow rate if using more than 10 cups at a time
The highest performer in our review is the ZeroWater 10-Cup Pitcher. This model managed to outperform filters that cost ten times as much, removing impurities with ease in our testing. It performed especially well at salt removal. It also impressed in our taste test, enhancing the flavor of our contaminated water without imparting any bad taste.
We were disappointed with this pitcher's limited 10-cup capacity. Once the water is filtered, it pours quickly, but the filtering process itself is rather slow. Still, this is our favorite filter tested. It excels at its intended task, and the price is very agreeable, to boot.
If you need a larger volume of water but still want the same great performance that the ZeroWater 10-Cup delivers, the bigger capacity of the ZeroWater 23-Cup Jug might be right for you. This jug features the same filter utilized in the 10-Cup model, so you're getting identical performance when it comes to removing contaminants like salt, chlorine, or lead. Our panel all confirmed that the water from this filter has an excellent taste, and we noticed no negative taste imparted from the filter, either.
The larger capacity of this model means the intention is to keep it stationary in the fridge or on the countertop, rather than carting it around like you would a pitcher. The filtration time is slow, and we found continuously holding down the button to maintain water flow is somewhat annoying. Regardless, it's one of our top recommendations for anyone who requires a larger volume of filtered water than a pitcher and isn't ready to commit to a large, expensive under-the-sink option or sacrifice performance with a filter mount.
If you need a much larger capacity than a pitcher, consider the iSpring RCC7. This under-the-sink filter does an admirable job in our sodium removal assessments and delivers a fantastic performance in our lead and chlorine removal tests. This filter makes the water taste crisp and clean without imparting any negative flavors.
However, in terms of the initial outlay and the cost of replacement filters, this product is definitely on the pricier side. It's 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 average flow rate. Despite all of this, it is still our first choice when it comes to under-the-sink water filters, making it an excellent option for someone who wants clean, great-tasting filtered water on tap at all times.
If you're still set on an under-the-sink filter despite the initial sticker shock of the iSpring, then consider the APEC WFS-1000. It's a bit less expensive and has only a slight drop in performance when compared to the iSpring, making it a great option for those shopping on a budget. This model has an exceptionally high flow rate and does a great job of removing both lead and chlorine from the water.
Unfortunately, this model didn't extract sodium from the water, and the filtered water it produces didn't score very high in our taste test. Though it doesn't impart any bad flavors in pure water, we definitely could taste residual traces of salt and chlorine in our contaminated water test. This filter also takes time to install and will take up a decent amount of space under your sink. However, we still think the WFS-1000 is an excellent choice for those trying to save some cash on an under-the-sink filter, so long as you don't mind some salts in the water.
The Brita SAFF-100 didn't stand out among the competition. However, this is our favorite choice for a faucet mount filter. It had no problems removing chlorine while the flow rate was about average.
However, the filter's inability to successfully extract lead and salts from water is disappointing. We were subsequently disappointed by the SAFF-100's performance in our contaminated water taste test. Still, we find it to be a great value option and the best choice if you want a faucet mount water filter.
We purchased each water filter tested here at full cost. We did not receive any free or sample models from manufacturers. We have been testing water filters for over three years now, even going so far as to build a custom testing rig with an isolated water supply to control the contaminants going in and out of the system. The bulk of each filter's scores is based on how well they removed various contaminants and other impurities. Since some of these tests exceeded our technical abilities, we sent samples of the tainted supply and the filtered water to an independent water quality lab for precise analysis to determine filter performance. We also used a total dissolved solids (TDS) meter and chemical indicator strips to determine how well each filter performed. We had a panel of judges rate and rank each water's taste for the taste metric, determining if it added any unpleasant tastes to clean water and assessing how well each filter removed unsavory compounds. Finally, we measured how long each product took to dispense and filter a quart of water for our flow metric.
Our water filter testing is divided across five different metrics:
Lead Removal (25% of overall score weighting)
Chlorine Removal (25% weighting)
Salt Removal (25% weighting)
Taste (15% weighting)
Flow (10% weighting)
Our testing team of Austin Palmer, Matt Spencer, and David Wise have tested well over 1000 home and kitchen products, and along with David's formal training as a mechanical engineer, brought these experiences to the table when designing our testing procedures.
Analysis and Test Results
To determine the best water filters, we divided our review 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 various subtests.
Surprisingly, our overall winner, the ZeroWater 10-Cup Pitcher, is an excellent value. Not only did this product have one of the lowest prices of the entire group, but it also delivered the best score overall. If this one is still too expensive, the Brita SAFF-100 is a few bucks cheaper, but this reduction comes with a substantial drop in performance. If under sink filters are more your style, then 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 choice if you're after more bang for your buck.
Heading Into the Great Outdoors?
Then it's best to leave all of these products behind. While under the sink or faucet-mount filters 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 better left to a water filter specifically designed for the backcountry. To ensure the filter you are considering is up to the task you have in mind, we recommend that you always consult the manufacturer's specifications.
Our Lead Removal metric accounts for 25% of the total score for each filter. To score each unit's performance, 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.
Receiving perfect scores for their fantastic performance, the ZeroWater Pitcher, the Travel Berkey, the ZeroWater 23-Cup Jug, the Home Master HydroPerfection, the iSpring RCC7, the APEC Essence, and the APEC WFS-1000 all tied for the top spot. Each of these products dropped lead levels in the filtered water well below the safe limits defined by the EPA, removing at least 99% of the lead from the contaminated water.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the filters 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 ZeroWater 12-Cup Pitcher. This model removed 98.7% of the lead from the tainted water, falling just 0.3% short of EPA guidelines.
The Brita SAFF-100 reduced the lead levels to about 0.066 ppm — still over four times the acceptable level.
The Aquagear reduced the lead level considerably but still left 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.
The Brita Pitcher and the Brita Ultramax reduced lead levels to 0.38 ppm. These models use interchangeable filter cartridges, so we used the same results for both products, resulting in exceeding the acceptable level by about 25 times for the Brita products, which earned these filters a poor score in this metric.
Finishing as one of the last with a dismal performance in lead removal is the PUR Classic FM-2000B. This filter reduced the lead concentration to 0.91 ppm, which is a whopping 60 times more than the EPA level. While it's better than nothing, the PUR earned one of the lowest scores possible 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. We conducted two tests to assess each filter's performance: a chlorine torture test with incredibly high levels (about 1370 ppm) and one with more moderate levels (20-50 ppm). For reference, the typical swimming pool has 1-4 ppm. 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 relatively 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 12-Cup Pitcher 10, the ZeroWater 23-Cup Jug, and the Home Master HydroPerfection all earning a perfect score.
All of these filters removed virtually all of the chlorine from the water, with the test strip failing to indicate any color in both our moderate and torture chlorine test — an incredibly 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, the Travel Berkey, and the Aquagear all showed excellent performance. During our at-home evaluation for this section, the Travel Berkey showed a parts per million reading of one.
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, 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 removed all chlorine from the lower concentration supply. However, our test strips indicated over 20 ppm remaining in the water from the high concentration supply after running it through the filter.
According to our chemical test strips, the Brita Everyday Pitcher and the Brita Ultramax did reasonably well removing the chlorine when the supply was only moderately chlorinated, dropping the concentration to 1 ppm. However, when we ran the high concentration supply water through them, these models left a concentration of well over 20 ppm behind, exceeding our test strips' maximum range.
Like our other two impurity removal metrics, dissolved salt removal is also responsible for 25% of the total score. We used a total dissolved solids (TDS) meter and standard table salt as our sample salt 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 of water began with a concentration of about 445 ppm, with many filters struggling substantially in this test.
Meriting a perfect score for their unparalleled performance at purifying water with dissolved salts, the ZeroWater 10-Cup Pitcher, ZeroWater 12-Cup, and the 23-Cup Jug performed best out of the entire group. 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.
The iSpring RCC7 and the APEC Essence did well, removing the bulk of the dissolved salt and leaving concentrations of about 21 ppm and 16 ppm, respectively — over a 95% reduction from the supply.
The Home Master HydroPerfection is the only other filter that performed well in this metric. This under-the-sink filter showed a strong effort, reducing the salt concentration to around 49 ppm.
After our impurity removal triad, we moved on to what most people will immediately notice when using these products: taste. Taste carried 15% of the overall score. To assess each filter's performance in this metric, we made a batch of foul-tasting water by mixing a decent amount of 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 ran pure water through each filter and repeated the process to see if any filters degraded the water's taste.
Some familiar contenders claimed the top spot, with the ZeroWater 10-Cup, the ZeroWater 12-Cup, the ZeroWater 23-Cup, the HydroPerfection, the iSpring, and the APEC Essence all producing superior-tasting water. This group of filters removed any taste of chlorine and salt, producing clear, crisp, and refreshing water. They also failed to impart any taste to the pure water, leaving it untainted.
The Aquagear Filter Pitcher didn't perform quite as well. Still, it made the nasty chlorine/saltwater taste significantly better by removing most of the chlorine taste, but the taste of salt was still quite prevalent. However, it did well in the second test by leaving already clean water tasting fine, although some of our judges noted that the filtered water tasted a bit more "bland" after it went through the Aquagear.
Slightly redeeming their earlier lackluster performances, the Brita Everyday Pitcher and the Brita Ultramax performed a bit above average. These models didn't impart any negative taste on the pure water, but neither could completely remove the gross taste of our tainted supply of 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 showed mediocre performance. This pair also didn't degrade pure water but left behind a noticeably undesirable taste with the chlorinated salter. The water samples weren't quite undrinkable but were well on the way there.
The FM-2000B had a substandard performance. It 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, it also imparted what our panel felt was a slightly funky taste to the pure water.
Our last metric focuses on each filter's flow rate and is accountable for 10% of the final score. 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 considered if we needed to filter more water before a quart could be dispensed.
The APEC WFS-1000 showed an exceptionally high flow rate. It only took about 15 seconds for the APEC to fill the test container. The Home Master HydroPerfection took around a minute and a half — 84 seconds — to fill the quart container.
The SAFF-100, Brita Everyday, iSpring, PUR FM-2000B, Aquagear Filter Pitcher, and ZeroWatcher Pitcher all had an average flow. Being pitchers, the ZeroWater 10-Cup, the Aquagear, and the Brita Everyday have exceptionally high flow rates, but all three take a decent amount of time to filter new water. If you need more water than what is currently in the tank, expect to be waiting for a while.
Here at GearLab, we aim to provide you with first-hand knowledge from our testing experience so that you can purchase the best products that will work the best for your needs and budget. For water filters, we looked closely at the subtle nuances that set the pitchers and faucet mounts apart from the under-the-sink versions. Whether you are looking to improve the taste of city water or want to have the perfect tasting replenishment for that wedding or backyard BBQ — it is our hope that you now have the knowledge to buy the perfect water filter for you.
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.