Answered: What Do Water Filter Pitchers Remove?

Author: Jason Hollow - Published: 2021/09/30 - Updated: 2021/10/22

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Ensuring your family has access to the cleanest possible water is the key to fostering a healthy household. That’s where in-house filtration systems, especially water filter pitchers, come into the picture.

If you’re looking for the easiest and hassle-free way to get pure filtered drinking water at home, you’ll instantly fall in love with filter pitchers.

Apart from helping you get rid of bottled water that is not only expensive but also wasteful and alarmingly unsustainable, they bring about a noticeable change in the taste, smell and looks of tap/well water by removing a wide range of impurities, aka contaminants.

But what exactly do water filter pitchers remove? Since they all employ different filtration technologies, there is a wide discrepancy in their performance.

So, here is our guide on the question, what do water filter pitchers remove?

How Does a Water Filter Pitcher Work?

water filter pitcher on kitchen countertop

As you fill your water filter pitcher, water passes through a small filter cartridge that restricts, absorbs, adsorbs or rejects impurities. It takes roughly 10 to 15 minutes for all clean water to settle at the bottom of the pitcher in the reservoir.

Some pitchers have a 40-gallon filter life, while others can last as long as 200 gallons before needing a replacement cartridge.

Given the fact that each jug has a maximum capacity of 12 cups, an average-sized family will need at least 4-5 jugs to make it through the day.

How well a filter water pitcher works to purify your water depends on two main factors: the filtration technology used and your water quality.

Source Water Quality

Quite simply, the quality of water can vary greatly from one household to another, and even more from one region to the next. In fact, you’re probably struggling with a whole different set of contaminants compared to your relatives living in a different state.

This is why it’s crucial to get your water tested by a private laboratory to get accurate information about its biochemistry.

You can also refer to the water quality report issued by your municipal board[1], but that will not take into account the downstream contamination and the harmful pollutants that could leach into your water from your home’s plumbing system.

Similarly, private well owners cannot rely on Consumer Confidence Reports. Plus, they are more often concerned with sediment, iron, pesticides and microorganisms. Whereas, city water is riddled with chlorine or chloramine and disinfection by-products.

Once you get your water report, make sure to choose a filter type accordingly.

The Type of Pitcher Filter

Since no filtration technology can remove every contaminant from your water, you must choose the type of filter that treats your unique water problem.

Here are the few most commonly used filter media found in water filter pitchers. Some pitchers even combine multiple types to ensure a more thorough and meticulous filtration.

Activated Carbon

The most common media used in water filter pitchers is activated carbon. This could either be in the form of:

  1. Granular activated carbon (GAC)
  2. Block carbon

Carbon usually obtained from coconut shells is modified to expand its surface area to adsorb contaminants more effectively.

The only difference between GAC filters and block carbon is how they are packed. GAC comprises loose carbon held together by a thin membrane, while block carbon is simply compressed carbon in block form.

That said, all carbon filters are not the same. Their performance will vary greatly depending on:

  1. The type of carbon used (GAC or block)
  2. How it is designed (chlorine removal or heavy contamination)
  3. And the amount of carbon used (influences the time water stays in contact with the filter media)

How it Works

Carbon-based filters work through the process of adsorption. Once treated, the surface area of carbon expands multi-folds. For reference, one tablespoon of activated carbon has a surface area equal to a soccer field.

As water passes through, chlorine and other taste and odor-causing substances are adsorbed. Many carbon-based filters also remove various chemicals, asbestos, lead and more.

However, regular carbon filtration is ineffective at treating water containing other types of contaminants such as chloramine, bacteria, viruses and most heavy metals.

Ion Exchange

Ion exchange resin, also called ion exchange polymer, refers to small porous beads that attract oppositely charged atoms and molecules. As water flows through the ion exchange resin, it traps the unwanted ions and releases other, harmless ions in exchange.

The process removes ionic contaminants from your water, such as:

  • Nitrates
  • Fluoride
  • Chromium 6
  • Arsenic
  • Radium
  • Uranium
  • And more

Ceramic Filtration

Ceramic filters are an inexpensive and effective type of water filer that has been used for centuries to remove turbidity from drinking water. It features tiny pores on a natural ceramic surface to filter out sediment and other solid particles.

Thanks to sub-micron-sized filtration, ceramic media rids water of up to 99.9% of pathogenic bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella.

How it Works

Ceramic filters mimic the Earth’s natural water purification system. Millions of tiny pores on the surface of the filter act like layers of sand and rocks.

In modern water purification, ceramic filters are sometimes lined with silver to prevent the growth of bacteria. Since silver has unique antibacterial properties, it helps keep ceramic filters in good shape for longer.

What Contaminants Do Water Filter Pitchers Remove?

What Do Water Filter Pitchers Remove Thumbnail

Since all pitcher brands and models use different filter media, their ability to reduce contaminants varies greatly. Nevertheless, here is a list of contaminants that water filter pitchers can remove or reduce if they are good quality.

Besides, the only way to be sure is to check for NSF certifications (discussed later) which ensure a product works as advertised.

Chlorine

Chlorine is a disinfectant chemical added at your water utility to prevent the growth of bacteria and other forms of potentially harmful microbes to make water safe for human usage. The chlorine level in drinking water does not pose any long-term health risks and therefore is not classified as a “contaminant”.

Sadly though, chlorine is responsible for bringing a poor taste and foul smell to your water. Moreover, it reacts with multiple organic substances and ends up creating harmful disinfection by-products.

Thankfully, most filter pitchers are designed to remove chlorine from your tap water, ensuring better taste and smell. Check your pitcher for an NSF-42 certification that addresses its chlorine removal properties.

Chloramines

Chloramines, also known as secondary disinfectants, are also being used to disinfect public water supplies. They are now widely applied in America as they are more stable than chlorine and provide longer-lasting disinfection as water moves through the pipes to consumers.

Chloramine is also less volatile, stays in the water longer and is less reactive with organic matter.

However, chloramines pose a high risk for hemodialysis patients. Moreover, a recent study has found that chloramines are responsible for a new type of highly harmful disinfection by-product: nitrosamines.

What’s more, it is nowhere as easy to remove chloramine from water as it is to remove chlorine. This is where catalytic carbon water filter media comes in. Activated carbon may, at best, reduce the concentration of chloramines but can’t effectively eliminate them.

Fluoride

Fluoride is added at water utilities to prevent or reduce tooth decay. But since fluoride is a naturally existing mineral already present in water supplies and modern dental products, your tap water may have more than a safe amount of it.

Highly fluoridated water can cause permanent discoloration of teeth in children or skeletal fluorosis in adults, a painful condition that affects joints and bones.

Water filter pitchers that feature ion exchange can effectively remove fluoride from water.

Lead

Lead poisoning can be fatal and cause serious long-term effects in growing children. Not to forget, it can cross the placental barrier and harm the unborn fetus too.

According to the standards set by the EPA, there is no safe level of lead in water. This implies that water utilities should make sure the water that leaves their treatment plants is free of lead.

However, as your water passes through the distribution channels and eventually into your home’s plumbing, it can pick up lead on the way – from pipes.

Not all filter pitchers can remove lead from water. You must look for one that employs either block carbon, ion exchange or ceramic media.

Chromium 6

Almost 200 million Americans across all 50 states have been exposed to the deadly cancer-causing chemical chromium 6.

Chromium 6 contaminated water has been shown to promote cancer in the intestines, oral cavity and stomach. It can also causes stomach irritation, toxicity in the liver and kidney damage.

If you want to remove chromium 6 from your water, you need a high-end pitcher water filter to do the job. Unfortunately, most standard units do not affect it.

The good news is, Clearly Filtered and ZeroWater filter pitchers are tested to remove over 97% of the carcinogenic metal.

Pesticides

Farming tractor spraying a field with pesticides

Pesticides have the potential to contaminate water supplies as they leach into underground aquifers and wash into streams after bouts of heavy rain falls.

While pesticide contamination won’t necessarily cause acute health effects, they severely degrade water quality making it unpleasant to drink.

Can water filter pitchers remove pesticides? Yes, those that feature enough activated carbon are efficient at treating organic compounds, such as pesticides and herbicides.

PFAS

Perfluorinated chemicals are a classification of man-made chemicals that have existed in drinking water for a few decades only, making it unsuitable for drinking. Exposure to high levels of PFOA and PFOS is linked to the following health problems:

  • High cholesterol
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Thyroid disease
  • Testicular cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension

To ensure your water is free of PFAS, you must use catalytic carbon or ion exchange filter media.

Pharmaceuticals

Pharmaceutical compounds are emerging contaminants that are now classified as environmental concerns. Your water may have trace amounts of:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antacids
  • Steroids
  • Antidepressants
  • Analgesics

Long-term exposure to these compounds is linked with a host of illnesses. Fortunately, a water filter pitcher based on carbon filtration should be capable of removing or reducing pharmaceutical run-offs.

Other Heavy Metals

Drinking water contaminated with elevated levels of mercury, cadmium, arsenic etc. is becoming a significant concern for the public and healthcare professionals.

Some, not all, good quality filter pitchers preferably with ion exchange resin or KDF effectively remove these heavy metals.

Microorganisms

Pitchers that feature a ceramic filter layer can effectively remove bacteria and in some cases even viruses.

VOCs

VOCs are volatile gases that have been known to cause certain symptoms, including: ENT irritation, fatigue, headache, nausea, breathing difficulties, dizziness and skin issues.

Long-term exposure to higher amounts of VOCs can be even more detrimental, causing harm to vital organs in your body, such as the liver or kidneys. Even at low concentrations, these compounds are a cancer risk.

This is why it’s all the more important to have them removed from your drinking water. How? Any type of activated carbon works well.

Microplastics

Thanks to plastic waste ending up in water bodies, microplastics have become a serious nuisance. If they can end up in fish swimming in the ocean, they can also end up in your body. One study found that one liter of water contained on average more than four particles of plastic. Now that’s alarming!

While microplastics can cause problems in the long run, they are not successfully removed by most water filter pitchers. You’ll need a ceramic filter with a low micron rating to eliminate them.

microplastics on spoon

NSF/ANSI Testing

The NSF, National Sanitation Foundation, is a non-profit organization that independently tests products for food safety and sanitation to promote public health. When you purchase a water filter pitcher that is NSF-certified, it means the manufacturer only used FDA-approved raw materials.

Besides, there is a host of scientific jargon and acronyms that can easily baffle naive consumers when it comes to water filtration. NSF standards help by simplifying whether or not the product addresses the issue with your water.

Here are the NSF certifications for pitcher water filters that you should look out for.

Standard 42

NSF 42 addresses the water filter’s ability to target aesthetic contamination. In essence, it focuses on large undissolved particles and chlorine.

Standard 53

NSF 53 tests a water filter against its capacity to a number of contaminants that can affect your health adversely.

Standard 401

If a pitcher is NSF 401 certified, it can remove or reduce any one of the 15 emerging contaminants covered by the standard. This includes drugs, OTC medicines and pesticides.

Standard 244

The filters covered by NSF standard 244 are intended to be used on water that may not be microbiologically safe, i.e., not free from bacteria and viruses.[2]

Protocol 473

The standard verifies a water filter’s ability to reduce PFAS from drinking water.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a water filter pitcher can remove impurities and contaminants from drinking water in various ways, depending on the type(s) of filter media it applies.

There is activated carbon which is the most commonly used filter media in home water filters. It’s great for adsorbing chlorine taste and odor + chemicals.

Ion exchange resin targets heavy metals and other ionic water contaminants that activated carbon won’t even touch.

Ceramic filtration is ideal for reducing solid particles. This can include microorganisms as well as heavy metals etc.

Other contaminants that high quality water filter pitchers can remove include chloramine, fluoride, lead, chromium 6, pesticides, VOCs, microplastics and many others.

Besides, NSF/ANSI testing and certifications is the only way to make sure that a certain product removes all the contaminants as claimed by its manufacturer.

Further Reading

Resources

Meet Jason Hollow

Jason Hollow Jason is the founder of Water Masterz and head of content creation. After six years in the industry, he has tremendous knowledge and first-hand experience on all things related to water treatment.

His credo: Not a single American should have to drink unhealthy water at home.

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