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A clean, healthy water supply is the lifeline of every home. However, depending on the source, your supply could contain various impurities—including heavy metals, sediment, bacteria, viruses, and high amounts of chemicals like chlorine and hydrogen sulfide. If your water tastes bad, smells weird, has a strange color, contains visible particles, looks suspiciously cloudy, or is staining your clothes or dishes, a whole-house water filter can take care of the problem. Water filter systems use various filtration methods, such as fine physical barriers, KDF (which stands for kinetic degradation fluxion), carbon, and UV light. After installing one, your home’s water supply is treated in one place to remove the contaminants in question before it makes its way through each pipe and into every faucet.
When purchasing a whole-house water filter for your home, it’s important to consider several factors: flow rate, which is an indication of how quickly the water will pass through the system and to your desired location, and maintenance requirements, like how often the system needs its filter replaced and whether you have to dismantle the entire unit when doing so.
In addition, you’ll want to make sure the system is designed to filter the specific impurities lurking in your tap water. If you’re not sure what’s contaminating your supply, Richard Epstein, licensed master plumber and member of The Spruce Home Improvement Review Board, says, “It is always best to have the water tested to determine the needs and filter requirements.” You can test your water by providing a sample to a state-certified laboratory. It’s best to contact your local health department or the laboratory to ensure you’re capturing the samples properly and don’t need assistance. After the results come back, you can decide which whole-house water filter will work best for your needs. We researched the finest filtration systems for every concern, home size, and budget by taking into account their filtration method, flow rate, maintenance requirements, and reported effectiveness.
Our top pick, the Express Water 3-Stage Whole House Water Filtration System, works to remove contaminants via three filtration methods and doesn’t require a full dismantling to change the filter.
Here, the best whole-house water filters for every household.
The best whole-house water filter is the Express Water 3-Stage Water Filtration System. This comprehensive solution calls on activated carbon, KDF, and a sediment filter to eliminate chlorine, particulate matter, cloudiness, and multiple heavy metals, including lead. However, if you’re looking for something more wallet-friendly, you can’t go wrong with the GE High Flow Filtration System, which effectively removes chlorine, sediment, and rust from your water supply.
As Epstein notes, it’s best to have your water tested before purchasing a whole-house water filter, as filtration systems vary in terms of what contaminants they eliminate. Some of the most common impurities include chlorine and hydrogen sulfide, which can affect the taste and smell.
There are also substances that can pose a health risk, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other waterborne pathogens, along with heavy metals like lead, iron, mercury, and copper. Lastly, most (but not all) water filtration systems capture particulate matter, like sediment, sand, dirt, and rust.
Flow rates for water filtration systems are measured by gallons per minute (GPM). Generally speaking, slower flow rates are better, as they allow more contact time with the screening media, thus removing more impurities.
The right flow rate for filtering your water supply can also be determined by the size of your household. For instance, if there are two people living in a home with one bathroom, a flow rate of up to 7 GPM is ideal. However, households with five or more people and three or more bathrooms will likely require a faster flow rate of around 15 GPM.
After initial installation, most whole-house water filtration systems are relatively easy to maintain. The most important thing is that you change the filters regularly. Be sure to check the manual, as some need to be replaced as often as every three months, whereas others can last an entire year.
Since every model is unique, you may want to look for an option that doesn’t require dismantling every time you replace the filters. And just like your other HVAC systems, you’re wise to have your water filter serviced by a professional at least once a year.
While many models are in the $500 range, Epstein notes, “A good whole-house water filter can cost you $2,000 or higher, depending on the degree of filtering.” For many homes, water filters are well worth the investment.
To determine whether it’s a worthwhile purchase, Epstein says to consider your immediate needs. “Are you drinking or consuming high levels of tap water? Is the water discolored? Does the water smell? Are there high particle levels?” Answering these questions can illuminate the urgency and need for a filtration system in your home.
Some whole-house water filters remove lead and other heavy metals like mercury, iron, copper, manganese, chromium, and arsenic. However, not all systems are designed to eliminate lead, even if they can filter other heavy metals, so be sure to check the product description before purchasing one.
If there is lead in your water supply, Epstein recommends getting a reverse osmosis system that meets NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) certification standards. Whole-home water filters with kinetic degradation fluxion (KDF) media can also be effective in removing lead.
“They are usually installed where the water service enters the dwelling in order to filter all the domestic water,” explains Epstein. Your main water shut-off valve is likely somewhere on the perimeter of your house, such as in your garage, basement, utility room, or potentially the basement. Additionally, Epstein says power is typically required, and “drainage may be required for automatic washdown of the filter.”
While it depends on the capacity and the size of your home, the tanks of most whole-house water filtration systems last anywhere from three to 10 years. Some high-end ones can last as long as 20 years.
The filters, however, don’t last very long and need to be replaced regularly. Sediment and carbon filters usually need to be switched out every three to six months, and UV water filters typically last about a year. KDF media can last for much longer, often upwards of six years.
This article was written by Theresa Holland, a copyeditor and commerce writer specializing in home improvement and lifestyle. Theresa has contributed to The Spruce since 2019 by writing full product reviews and covering HVAC, cleaning essentials, appliances, and kitchenware. For this guide, she interviewed The Spruce Home Improvement Review Board member Richard Epstein, a licensed master plumber and water filtration expert, for insight into contaminants, safety concerns, and types of filters. Before landing on her final selections, she researched the potential health risks of impure water and treatment certification standards, considering dozens of models from various manufacturers and retailers.