Home Water Treatment 101 – Water Filtration, Water Softening and Other Ways to Treat Water

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Unlike the name suggests, best-ro-system.com is not only about reverse osmosis systems. The website already covers various home water treatment topics and more are about to follow soon. Want to learn more? Enter Home Water Treatment 101!

Water Filtration, Water Softening and Other Ways to Treat Water

Home water treatment is an umbrella term. It includes all processes making water (better) suited for a specific end use. Ideally,

  • Water filtration makes water ready for drinking or other uses that require a certain level of purity.
  • Water softening makes hard water ready to use with home appliances.
  • Water heating makes water ready for washing, cooking, or cleaning.

These are just 3 examples of how one can treat water at home. We will discuss each process among others in detail in the following section.

Water Filtration

There are physical, chemical, and biological processes to filter water. The goal is to reduce the amount of undesirable impurities. This can make water safe for direct consumption, or ready for use with appliances like water heaters.

Whatever the goal may be, all water filtration methods rely on filter media, either in form of filter screens or filter media beds. Water filter screens will only let certain substances pass through their pores but reject others. The distinction is usually made by particle size. Water filter media beds trap substances that have certain characteristics like large size or high ionic charge.

What can water filters remove from water? Sediments, chemicals, heavy metals, salts, organic matter, viruses; almost anything if the process is sophisticated enough!

Pouring water into glass

Water Softening

You’ve just learned about one form of water purification: water filtration. Another form is the softening of water. Water softeners make use of large tanks with resin beds inside of them to remove hardness minerals from water. The process is called ion exchange and it works on the principle of surface charge attraction.

As hard water rich in calcium and other minerals gets in contact with a water softener’s resin bed, the positively charged minerals stick to the negatively charged resin beads. They thereby replace sodium ions, also positively charged, that go into solution.

The once hard water is now soft causing less to no scaling. Apart from no more hard water stains, the main benefits are increased longevity and less maintenance requirements for your water heater, dishwasher, and other appliances. Another positive effect is higher energy efficiency for reduced operating cost. Beneficial side effects include healthier skin and hair after showering, softer clothes, and reduced water usage.

In case of severe hardness, water softeners are often the only treatment solution.

Water Distillation

If you want highly pure water distillation is the way to go. A water distiller boils water, collects the steam, and cools it down in a condenser. The condensed water is almost free from contaminants which are still in the boiling chamber.

Two of the biggest benefits of water distillation, apart from the extraordinary purity level, are

  1. You can feed the process with water from almost any source.
  2. You can use fire as your heat source and are not reliant on water pressure. This can be a crucial factor in an emergency scenario.

Water Heating

There are water heaters that heat water storing it in a tank for later use, and there are tankless models which heat water on demand. Going tankless reduces your monthly energy cost by up to a third. You also never run out of hot water. And tankless water heaters are space-saving and last up to twice as long as tank water heaters. The downside of tankless water heating is the higher initial investment. Above that, you are limited by how much hot water can be delivered at any given time. This is especially a problem with electric tankless water heaters.

Regardless of which option you choose, the underlying process is the same. Water gets in contact with one or more heating elements to warm up.

Water heaters are powered either electrically or by a gas burner. Gas units are usually more expensive to buy but cheaper to operate. Electric water heaters are easier to install.

Water Cooling

A water cooler cools water using a cooling medium, or refrigerant. The process is identical to how a refrigerator works. First, the refrigerant is compressed which causes it to heat up. This heat is expelled from the water cooler in the next step. The cooled refrigerant is forced through a valve where it expanses into gas causing a big temperature drop. The cold refrigerant gas can now adsorb heat from the water, leaving you with cool, refreshing water readily available.

Contaminants

Fluoride

Fluoride is in everything from public drinking water to toothpaste. Unfortunately, like most things in life, too much of anything isn’t healthy. While a tiny amount of fluoride has a positive effect on the development and resilience of our teeth, there’s a reason toothpaste isn’t meant to be swallowed. Even in small amounts, fluoride is known to be toxic. Because of this, an increasing number of people are pushing for non-fluoridated water. Until then, the best option for those who hope to go fluoride-free are water filter systems certified to remove fluoride.

Lead

For decades, lead was used as a plumbing material. It wasn’t until years later that we came to understand the involved health risks. Research concluded that lead causes kidney damage, harms red blood cells, and may cause brain disorders. The stakes are even higher in unborn babies, infants, and young children. The good news is, modern water filtration systems are highly effective at removing lead, providing safe drinking water and peace of mind.

Iron

For those who receive water from a well, iron can be a significant concern. While levels have to be incredibly high to pose a risk of toxicity, even a moderately high iron concentration can make water taste and smell less than fresh. In addition, iron causes unsightly stains, it can harm your household appliances, and cause extra wear and tear on your water treatment equipment. But don’t worry! There are countless water treatment options for getting rid of iron.

About Reverse Osmosis Water Filter Systems

Reverse osmosis systems filter water often using a combination of different filtration stages and methods. At the heart of a reverse osmosis system is the reverse osmosis membrane. It rejects all contaminants larger than 0.0001 micron which includes almost anything you can think of. Apart from size, the rejection is also dependent on ionic charge. The efficiency of the filtration depends on water temperature and pressure as well as solute concentration.

Because reverse osmosis membranes are prone to clogging and sensible to chlorine and other chemicals, reverse osmosis systems come with different pre-filters. One or more post-filters are used to round off the taste and might even remineralizes the water or disinfect it using UV light.

reverse osmosis water filter system

Advantages of Reverse Osmosis Water Filter Systems

  • Very effective filtration process
  • Make water ready for drinking
  • Simple to install and maintain
  • Affordable

Disadvantages of Reverse Osmosis Water Filter Systems

  • Some water goes down the drain
  • Water lacks healthy minerals

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

test tubes

When shopping for a reverse osmosis system, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:
  • NSF Standard 53. It guarantees that a water filter can remove certain contaminants affecting our health. An NSF Standard 53 certification does not mean that a water filter removes all of the contaminants, however, but only those it was tested for.
  • NSF Standard 58. Established for reverse osmosis systems specifically, it guarantees the removal of a variety of substances a system was tested for.
  • NSF Standard 401. It tests for the reduction of emerging chemicals.
  • NSF Standard 42. It tests for the reduction of chlorine taste and odor and other aesthetic factors.
  • NSF Protocol P473. It tests point-of-use water filters for PFOA and PFOS reduction.

About Whole House Water Filtration Systems

If you want filtered water everywhere in your home, a whole house water filtration system is what you need. It filters all the water at a central point before being distributed. Systems you find most often provide for basic filtration, taking care of excess chlorine and some other chemicals, and sediments. The quality of your water might not reach first-class drinking water status, but it’ll taste and smell much better for sure. The protection of your plumbing and appliances is an extra bonus.

Advantages of Whole House Water Filtration Systems

  • Provide filtered water throughout the entire house
  • Your plumbing and appliances are protected from clogging
  • Simple to maintain
  • Affordable

Disadvantages of Whole House Water Filtration Systems

  • Installation requires plumbing
  • Getting water that is safe for consumption is not guaranteed

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for a whole house water filter, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:

  • NSF Standard 53
  • NSF Standard 42

About Under Sink Water Filters

Under sink water filters are similar to reverse osmosis systems, only that they don’t feature an ro membrane. You can still achieve excellent water purity by combining different filter media matched against the quality and condition of your feed water. A sediment filter helps to trap larger particles. Granular activated carbon or an activated carbon block filter cartridge adsorbs disinfectants, disinfection byproducts, pesticides, and other chemicals. It’s also effective against lead. The same goes for catalytic carbon which also eliminates chloramines, more heavy metals, and other harmful stuff.

Advantages of Under Sink Water Filtration Systems

  • Can make water safe for drinking
  • Simple to install and maintain
  • Affordable

Disadvantages of Under Sink Water Filtration Systems

  • Water flow may be low

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for an under sink water filter, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:

  • NSF Standard 53
  • NSF Standard 42
  • NSF Standard 401
  • NSF Protocol P473

About Countertop Water Filters

A countertop water filter makes a great temporary solution if you are not yet ready to go full blast with an under sink system. The provided water filtration is often less sophisticated, although there are exceptions. Some countertop water filter systems with multiple filtration stages are in no way inferior to their under sink counterparts. See: Best Countertop Reverse Osmosis System Reviews.

The great advantage that all countertop water filters have in common is they are installation-free. You just need a compatible faucet that you can connect the system to. Most countertop water filters come with a bunch of adapters.

Advantages of Countertop Water Filters

  • Can make water safe for drinking
  • Installation-free which is ideal if you don’t want or can’t make changes to your plumbing
  • Connect to faucets within minutes
  • Most are highly portable making a great travelling companion
  • Affordable

Disadvantages of Countertop Water Filters

  • Incompatible with pull out faucets, handheld faucets, sprayer faucets
  • Water flow may be low

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for a countertop water filter, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:

  • NSF Standard 53
  • NSF Standard 42

About Pitcher Water Filters

If you feel like you don’t want to overthink water filtration and you don’t have a lot of money at hand either, a pitcher water filter is the best solution. There’s no need to install anything. You fill water into the top container and wait 15 minutes – easier than pie!

Just know that often the filtration process is not the most thorough. Pitcher water filters can handle most water taste issues just fine, but when it comes to certain heavy metals or chemicals, most reach their limits.

Advantages of Pitcher Water Filters

  • Can make water safe for drinking
  • Fit in refrigerator for cooling
  • Installation-free which is ideal if you don’t want or can’t make changes to your plumbing
  • Portable
  • Not reliant on water pressure
  • Affordable

Disadvantages of Pitcher Water Filters

  • Filtration may be slow
  • There’s only so much water you can filter per refill

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for a pitcher water filter, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:

  • NSF Standard 53
  • NSF Standard 42
  • NSF Standard 401
  • NSF Protocol P473

About Faucet Water Filters

We like to compare faucet water filters to pitcher water filters in regards to contaminant removal. The processed water will likely taste clean, but chances are there will be contaminants left in it your senses can’t detect.

Also, with faucet water filters you don’t have to worry about plumbing. What you have to pay attention to, though, is faucet compatibility. Pull-out and sprayer faucets won’t work, and a bunch of other special faucet types neither. Inside or outside threading usually doesn’t matter as most faucet water filters have various adapters included.

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Advantages of Faucet Water Filters
  • Installation-free which is ideal if you don’t want or can’t make changes to your plumbing
  • Affordable

Disadvantages of Faucet Water Filters

  • Water flow may be low
  • Inconvenient to use when kitchen sink space is limited
  • Maintenance cost are high if frequent filter changes are required

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for a faucet water filter, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:

  • NSF Standard 53
  • NSF Standard 42
  • NSF Standard 401

About Water Distillers

We’ve already explained how water distillation works in the previous section. It removes organics, chemicals, metals, and salts for the cleanest water possible. And water distillers with fans and post-filters even take out volatile chemicals.

Advantages of Water Distillers

  • Works with tap water and well water

Disadvantages of Water Distillers

  • Slow, distilling 1 gallon of water takes around 5 hours
  • Home water distillers run on electricity
  • The distilled water can easily get recontaminated

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for a water distiller, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:

  • NSF Standard 62. It tests for optimum system performance and material safety.

About Filtered Water Bottles

The thing about filtered water bottles is they are great to store filtered water and have it with you when you’re outside the house. 99% of bottles are BPA-free, which is a clear advantage over conventional plastic bottles, so no danger of recontamination. However, filtered water bottles don’t do much to further improve the quality of water. They neutralize chlorine taste and odor but that’s about it.

Advantages of Filtered Water Bottles

  • Affordable
  • Portable
  • Ideal to store and transport filtered water when you’re outside

Disadvantages of Filtered Water Bottles

  • Only for improving water taste and odor

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for a filtered water bottle, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:

  • NSF Standard 42

About Portable Water Filters

Portable water filters come in many forms and sizes. Of course you could label any small water filter that doesn’t require permanent installation as portable, but in the survival niche there are 3 main types of portable water filters:

  1. Water filter straws. Filter straws are the most popular type of portable water filters. You hold one end into a freshwater source and suck the filtered water through the other.
  2. Gravity filter bags. If you don’t feel like kneeling down drinking water directly through a filter straw, you can fill water into a gravity filter bag and hang it somewhere high. Gravity filter bags have a tube with a built-in filter element connected to them. The other end of the tube is attached to a second bag to collect the clean water. Now you just have to wait for gravity to do its thing.
  3. Water filter pumps. With filter pumps, an intake hose goes into the feed water. When you start pumping dirty water goes into the hose, into the filter, and then into your bottle.

There are also portable UV water purifiers.

Advantages of Portable Water Filters

  • Affordable
  • Portable, great for travelling

Disadvantages of Portable Water Filters

  • Usually only good for microbiological contamination

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for a portable water filter, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:

  • NSF Standard 42
  • NSF Protocol P231. It tests microbiological water purifiers for their effectiveness.
  • NSF Protocol P248. It tests small water purifiers for their effectiveness as military operations microbiological water purifiers. The purifier must be able to handle water from any freshwater source for individual or squad-size use for emergency or short-term planned missions.

About Shower Water Filters

People are exposed to water contaminants through drinking. Other sources are showering and bathing. In fact, showering contributes for the largest part of our daily chlorine exposure. If you’re sensible, you might be left with irritation, dryness, eczema, and other skin, nail and hair conditions.

lotion on skin

In addition, and what many people don’t know, our skin absorbs certain contaminants. This is why it’s all the more important to have them removed from shower water. On a side note, showering with water free from chlorine and other odors is much more enjoyable.

Advantages of Shower Filters

  • Affordable
  • Installation is quick and easy, all that’s needed is a wrench

Disadvantages of Shower Filters

  • Can be uncomfortable to shower with (some lower the height of the showerhead)
  • Water flow may be low
  • Basic filtration only

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for a shower water filter, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:

  • NSF Standard 177. It tests shower water filters for chlorine reduction capacities. A minimum of 50 percent free chlorine has to be removed.

About Refrigerator Water Filters

Refrigerators with built-in icemakers or water dispensers usually have hidden water filters that need to be replaced from time to time. The easiest route is to check the model number and buy the exact same replacement model.

Aftermarket refrigerator water filters are a cost-effective alternative to OEM filters. It’s just that they might not do the best filtration job and lack lab testing. And if you choose an aftermarket filter that clogs quickly, you might not save any money at all. Above that, remember to check for compatibility.

Advantages of Refrigerator Water Filters

  • Clear ice cubes

Disadvantages of Refrigerator Water Filters

  • Compatibility can be an issue

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for a refrigerator water filter, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:

  • NSF Standard 53
  • NSF Standard 42
  • NSF Standard 401

About Water Ionizers

Water ionizers separate water into acidic and alkaline components through electrolysis. The alkaline stream (pH as high as 12) is supposed to be beneficial to our health – slow aging, protection from diseases, feeling more energized – when used as drinking water, although there’s no medical evidence to support the claim. The acidic stream (pH as low as 2.0) can be used for household cleaning and other purposes.

How does the electrolysis work? The electrochemical process splits water molecules to form hydrogen and hydroxide at the cathode, and oxygen and proton at the anode. As a result, the water near the cathode is alkaline, while the water near the anode is acidic. To prevent the water from reversing the reactions, water ionizers use a semipermeable membrane. This separates the two streams.

Advantages of Water Ionizers

  • Allow you to select output water pH range

Disadvantages of Water Ionizers

  • No empirical evidence to support health claims
  • Expensive

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for a water ionizer, there currently are no NSF certification standards to look out for.

About Water Softeners

If water hardness is your main problem, a water softener system is the way to go.

Advantages of Water Softeners

  • Home appliances last longer and require less maintenance
  • Improved heat exchange efficiency with water heaters for lower energy bills
  • Less to no hard water stains
  • Easier cleaning
  • Healthier skin and hair after showering
  • Softer clothes after washing
  • Overall reduced water usage

Disadvantages of Water Softeners

  • Costly
  • Added cost for softening salt and water used for system regeneration
  • Release salt into water supplies
  • May make your water taste slightly salty
  • Increased salt intake when softened water is used for drinking, can be problematic for people with certain health issues

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for a water softener, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:

  • Standard 44. It tests cation exchange water softeners for water hardness reduction from public or private water supplies. The scope of the standard includes water and salt usage and efficiency, rated pressure drop, and reduction of certain contaminants.

iron filters and water softeners

About Water Coolers

If you prefer bottled water over filtered or unfiltered tap water, why not get a water cooler for your place? The times that you could only find them in offices are long gone.

Most water coolers are fed by large 5 or 10-gallon bottles. They either load from the bottom or the top. Bottom-load water coolers are easier on your back, and the bottles are usually hidden in a cabinet. Top-load water coolers are more affordable, but they require some lifting every now and then.

Bottleless water coolers are another, less popular option. Because they connect to your home’s water system they usually come with built-in filtration. Personally, we like bottleless best. Unfortunately, they are also the most expensive type.

Advantages of Water Coolers

  • Instant cold (and hot) water
  • Encourage us to drink more and stay hydrated
  • More space in the refrigerator

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for a water cooler, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:

  • Standard 51. It tests for material safety.
  • Standard 42 (only for water coolers with built-in filters)
  • Standard 53 (only for water coolers with built-in filters)

About Water Heaters

Water heaters are probably the most widespread type of water treatment appliance there is. Unless you are living in Miami Beach or your name is John Rambo, nobody likes to shower in cold water. Other domestic uses are cooking, cleaning, and space heating.

NSF Certification Standards to Look For When Shopping

When shopping for a water heater, these are the NSF certification standards to look out for:

  • NSF Standard 372. It tests for lead-free compliance.

Questions? Ask Away!

There’s more to home water treatment than you thought? If you have any lingering questions or confusion, shoot us a line and we’ll be happy to help.

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