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Whole house water filters provide tremendous convenience not only by reducing the risk of illnesses from harmful contaminants but also by protecting your pipes and appliances from corrosion and buildup.
There are whole house water filters on the market to suite everyone’s budget, lifestyle and water quality – with varying degrees of filtration capacities and durability.
Thus, before you set out to buy, learn what your water filter options are based on your water chemistry and any constraints associated with these systems.
This article covers:
- The ten most common types of whole house water filters,
- What each type can remove,
- How they work,
- And benefits and limitations of each water filtration system.
So, here is our guide on the different types of whole house water filters!
- 1 The Various Whole House Water Filter Types
- 1.1 Sediment Whole House Water Filters
- 1.2 Activated Carbon Filters
- 1.3 Catalytic Carbon-Based Systems
- 1.4 Whole House Water Filters Removing Iron, Sulfur and Manganese
- 1.5 KDF Whole House Filters
- 1.6 Ion Exchange
- 1.7 Calcite Filters
- 1.8 Activated Alumina (AA) Water Filtration Systems
- 1.9 Whole House Reverse Osmosis Systems
- 1.10 UV Filters
- 1.11 Ultrafiltration Cartridges
- 2 Filter Media Tanks vs Filter Cartridges
- 3 Conclusion
The Various Whole House Water Filter Types
Say goodbye to overpriced bottled water, smelly tap water, dry skin, clogged plumbing, and stained clothes. Whole house water filters do the job of keeping you healthy as well as increase the life of your home’s entire plumbing system.
The reason why there are so many types of whole house water filters is that no filtration technology can remove all contaminants. Some focus on physical contaminants, while others target chemicals or dissolved metals etc.
It’s important to point out here that the presence of water contaminants does not necessarily have to pose a health risk unless the concentration of those contaminants is beyond acceptable levels.
Please note that some advanced whole house water filters integrate more than one type of filtration method or filter media from our list below.
Sediment Whole House Water Filters
Sediment filters focus on the physical contaminants in your water, including sand, silt, rust, clay, debris, or organic material suspended in lakes, rivers, or streams from soil erosion. These particles mainly affect the physical properties or the appearance of water.
Sediment makes your water appear turbid or cloudy, and also have an effect on taste.
Sediment filters use mechanical sieve-like media to stop contaminants from passing on to the other side.
Here we list several configurations of sediment filters that you can choose depending on the level of contamination in your water.
- Pleated filters
- Melt-blown filters
- String-wound filters
- Bag filters
- Spin down sediment filters
All these filters are made of different materials, including wound string/cord, polyester, cotton, polypropylene, cellulose, ceramic and glass fiber. Some filters like the pleated sediment type are ideal for filtering microns of uniform size. Whereas melt-blown water filters strategically remove very fine particles.
Sediment filters are rated in microns which refers to their pore size. The micron size highlights what size of particulate matter your sediment filter can remove. Needless to say, the smaller the micron rating, the better the filtration will be.
You’d be surprised to know that anything below 5 microns is invisible to the naked eye. Therefore, a sediment filter rated 5 microns will remove all contaminants you can see, while a 0.25-micron filter will even remove some bacteria too.
In general, sediment filters make excellent pre-filters that improve the performance of subsequent filter stages in a whole house filtration unit.
- Make excellent pre-filters for water softeners, whole house RO systems, UV filters, etc.
- Improve water texture and looks
- Cartridge-type sediment filters need frequent replacements, especially when dealing with high levels of sediment
- They don’t remove contaminants like chemicals and heavy metals
- They barely improve the taste and smell of water
Activated Carbon Filters
Activated carbon filters are the most commonly used residential whole house water filters. An activated carbon whole house filter generally features one or more pre-filters to give your water what skincare enthusiasts call a “double-cleanse.”
Besides improving the smell and taste of your water by removing chemicals like chlorine and pesticides, these carbon-based systems also reduce disinfection byproducts and VOCs.
Activated carbon can be derived from wood, bituminous coal, bamboo, peat or coconut shell – any carbonaceous source material. But regular carbon isn’t just the same as activated carbon used to filter water. Activated carbon has been processed to increase its surface area multi-folds. For reference, one teaspoon of activated carbon has roughly the surface area of a football field.
Further, we can differentiate between two types of activated carbon used in water purification units:
- Granulated activated carbon (GAC)
- Activated carbon blocks (ACB)
The main difference between GAC and ACB filters lies in the way they are constructed. GAC filters feature fine loose granules of activated carbon, while ACB filters are compressed blocks of powdered carbon.
ACB filters have a much smaller pore size and ensure that water stays in touch with them longer, thereby enabling better removal of contaminants. On the other hand, GAC filters allow a less restrictive water flow, which results in better flow rates and pressure but removes comparatively fewer contaminants.
The irony is that water can eventually find a way between the carbon block filter, limiting its utility considerably.
- Highly economical in reference to contaminant removal capacity
- Do not add/use any chemicals to treat water
- Remove chlorine
- Improve the aesthetics of water
- Easy to maintain
- Cartridge-style carbon-based water filters require frequent replacements
- Will not remove all contaminants, like most heavy metals
Catalytic Carbon-Based Systems
Activated carbon filters are highly effective at removing chlorine, but some water utilities in the US are now using chloramine to disinfect water.
Even though chloramines are more stable and don’t react with organic substances, they are far more challenging to filter compared to chlorine.
This is where catalytic carbon comes into the game. Activated catalytic carbon filters effectively remove chloramine by catalyzing it into chloride.
So, if you are dealing with a high level of chloramine, look for catalytic carbon filters.
- Effectively filter chloramine and chlorine to improve the taste and smell of water
- Faster chemical reactions
- Also reduce heavy metals including lead and mercury and other types of pollutants such as nitrates and arsenic
- Some contaminants like iron swim past the catalytic carbon
Whole House Water Filters Removing Iron, Sulfur and Manganese
Iron is the most prolific metal in the Earth’s crust and therefore one of the most commonly seen contaminants by well owners.
The natural element is notorious for making its way into your water from rock formations in the ground or seeps into aquifers after being dissolved in heavy rainfall. It can also make its way into your water from rusty pipes.
This unwelcomed guest causes stains on clothes, muddy glasses, reddish-orange streaks in bathtubs and sinks, and foul metallic taste all over. Iron will also clog pipes reducing the water pressure considerably.
That said, drinking water with low levels of iron is not harmful and will not adversely affect your health.
Regardless, it is an infuriating contaminant often accompanied by manganese and sulfur. While iron contamination is usually loud and clear, it’s necessary to test your water to figure out whether you are dealing with:
- Soluble or ferrous iron
- Insoluble of ferric iron
- Other types
Ferrous iron refers to iron that has been completely dissolved in water, thus troublesome to remove. On the other hand, ferric iron is easier to remove as it has oxidized already.
Water softeners do a fair job at removing low levels of ferrous iron. But if your water holds a high level of dissolved iron and possibly ferric, you will need a whole house water filter designed for that purpose.
- Effective at removing both soluble and insoluble iron
- Unless designed to target other contaminants, a specialized iron filter will just remove iron, manganese and sulfur from your water
- Backwashing is required unless you are using a cartridge-based filter system
KDF Whole House Filters
KDF, Kinetic Degradation Fluxion, is another popular media used in whole house water filters. KDF filter media employs oxidation/reduction (redox) reactions using high purity copper-zinc alloy.
It features a chemical-free solution for removing lead and other heavy metals from your water. It is also effective at controlling bacteria, algae, scale and fungi. In addition, KDF eliminates chlorine and hydrogen sulfide.
There are two main types of KDF media:
Due to its limitations, KDF is commonly used with other water treatment technologies like carbon filtration to target a wide range of contaminants.
- Chemical-free treatment of water
- Target different types of contaminants
- Ineffective at removing organic contaminants
Ion exchange is the process of replacing undesirable dissolved ions from water with other ions of the same electric charge. Ion exchange filters utilize a specialized resin bed full of either positively charged ions or negatively charged ions.
In water purification, ion exchange is used for water softening or specific deionization purposes like metal removal, demineralization or acid absorption.
- Effective against many inorganic contaminants other types of whole house water filters can’t remove
- Can reduce fluoride, sulfates, nitrates, chromium and more
- Ineffective at removing sediment, organic compounds and microorganisms
Acid neutralization is a water treatment method that uses minerals to raise the pH level of your water. In the best case scenario the resulting water is slightly alkaline enhancing its taste.
Alkaline water also reduces the leaching of copper, lead, and other heavy metals found commonly in pipelines.
Also known as calcite filters, these filters feature naturally occurring calcium carbonate media.
The best part about acid neutralizers is that they won’t overdo the process. Once the desired pH level is reached, it won’t leech any more calcium into your water.
- Use naturally occurring calcium carbonate
- Improve the taste of water
- Reduce risk of contamination due to corroded pipes
- May need a water softener to deal with added calcium carbonate
- Cannot be used as a standalone whole house water filter since it does not remove any contaminants
Activated Alumina (AA) Water Filtration Systems
Is your water high in fluoride? Here’s something that will interest you. An activated alumina filter features highly porous aluminum oxide that reduces fluoride and arsenic concentrations in your water.
AA can also remove thallium, uranium and selenium. Regardless, the most common application of an activated alumina filter is to deal with highly fluoridated tap water.
- Effectively remove up to 99% of fluoride from your water
- Can regenerate itself
- Ineffective at removing many other contaminants
- May require periodic cleaning to keep the system in working order
- May leach aluminum in water if damaged
Whole House Reverse Osmosis Systems
The holy grail of water purification, reverse osmosis, filters your water like no other. This water treatment procedure features the reverse version of the osmosis process.
Here, water is forced through a semi-permeable membrane that rejects up to 99.9% of contaminants, including salts and minerals, from your water. It is, however, ineffective against chemical content – think volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides, and chlorine. That’s why reverse osmosis systems always feature additional filter stages like activated carbon.
The costs? For starters, the RO system removes all minerals from your water, whether good or bad. The resulting water is deficient in essential nutrients required by the human body. Secondly, thorough filtration takes time which negatively impacts water pressure. Therefore, whole house RO water filtration systems are accompanied by pumps and large storage tanks.
Third, they are not exactly eco-friendly. To produce one gallon of purified RO water, your system may throw 1 gallon down the drain.
- With a pore size of 0.0001 microns, the RO membrane rejects the vast majority of contaminants.
- Produces the purest water
- With the right pre-filtration in place, RO membranes are long-lasting
- Waste a lot of water
- Exorbitantly priced
- Slow filtration thus require pump + storage tank
- Remove good minerals too
- RO membrane is sensitive to chlorine
- May lower pH level of the water
UV filters are primarily used as post-filters in whole house water filtration systems. They are inexpensive and effortless to maintain.
As water enters the UV light chamber, the rays from the UV bulb attack and destroy 99.9% of microbiological contaminants in your water. Since UV filters don’t filter anything out, they are used as an additional layer of defense against illness-causing bacteria, viruses and other germs.
- Chemical-free water treatment
- Last very long
- Kill microorganisms that most filtration systems cannot target
- Don’t work without electricity
- Cannot work on turbid water
- Need extensive pre-filtration to remove sediment and other particles
Ultrafiltration whole house water filters boast the same technology as a sediment filter – just one step ahead.
It uses a semi-permeable UF membrane rated anywhere between 0.01 to 0.1 microns. The membrane is made using hollow fiber that easily removes viruses, bacteria, parasites, turbidity, and many other undissolved compounds.
Unfortunately, ultrafiltration can’t remove chlorine or dissolved solids. Therefore, it is most often used as a post-filter in a whole house water purification system to cover its drawbacks.
- Feature robust filtration capacity down to 0.01-micron rating
- Easy to install and maintain
- Chemical-free filtration
- Retain healthy minerals
- Cannot be used on water that has a high TDS level
Filter Media Tanks vs Filter Cartridges
So we have covered the most popular technologies used in whole house water filters. Now, let’s move on to another main classification of these systems.
Whole house water filters can be tank-based or use cartridges.
This brings us to the question, which one is the best? Well, the perfect system for your household will depend on what’s swimming in your water, the level of contamination, and how quickly you need the water to be filtered.
Here are a few pros and cons of both classes.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Filter Media Tanks
- Large filter media tanks are the most commonly used whole house water filters since they are easy to maintain and can last decades without a glitch.
- When sized according to your household requirement, these whole house filters do not affect water pressure or flow.
- For the most part, they are efficiently designed to target a wide range of contaminants.
- Since filter backwashing is often required, they demand adequate feed water pressure.
- You need a drain connection to facilitate a backwashing filter. It may also send a lot of wastewater down the drain, which is not exactly eco-friendly.
- Such a large whole house water filtration system often needs professional installation.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Cartridge-Style Filters
- Cartridge-style home water filters mostly feature sediment, carbon, or multi-stage filtration.
- They are easier to install and maintain.
- Cartridge-based means compact and space-saving.
- No backwashing means neither do you require a drain connection nor do you end up wasting water.
- These systems work smoothly even if the incoming water pressure to your house is considerably low. However, output flow might be considerably slower.
- Canister-style water filters, a sub-category of cartridges, integrate housing and cartridge into one. As a result, maintenance becomes far easier and quicker.
- Unfortunately, cartridge-style systems can considerably decrease water pressure around the house. They feature limited space and, therefore, a slower filtration process.
In conclusion, there are many different types of whole house water filters.
Sediment filters are most common and remove large floating solids.
Activated carbon whole house water filters are great for removing chemicals and chlorine.
Iron filters that also take care of manganese and sulfur are ideal for most private wells.
Then there are more specialized systems using KDF, ion exchange resin, calcite and ultrafiltration among other filtration methods.
We can also differentiate between whole house water filters using filter cartridges and those using a large filter media tank. Both types have advantages and disadvantages.
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- Whole House Water Filter Benefits and Drawbacks
-  https://www.usgs.gov/mission-areas/water-resources/science/volatile-organic-compounds-vocs?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects
-  https://www.safewater.org/fact-sheets-1/2017/1/23/ultrafiltrationnanoandro
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.