Are Water Filter Pitchers Effective? (An Expert Explains)

There are hundreds of water filter pitcher manufacturers available today, all claiming to remove harmful contaminants from your drinking water at an affordable price.

Water pitcher filters offer a cheap, convenient means of water filtration, but they’re not all effective.

In this guide, we’ve shared the answer to your question, “are water filter pitches effective?” We’ve looked at the factors affecting the effectiveness of a water filter pitcher, how to determine whether or not a pitcher filter is effective, the pros and cons of a water filter pitcher, and more.

📌 Key Takeaways

  • Some water filter pitchers are effective, while some aren’t.
  • The effectiveness of a water filter pitcher depends on the quality and the longevity of the filter, and the contaminants the filter can remove vs the contaminants in your drinking water.
  • Cheap water filter pitchers are generally only effective enough to reduce chlorine and improve your water’s taste and smell.
  • To determine the effectiveness of a filtered water pitcher, read customer reviews, check for NSF certifications and testing data sheets, read expert buyer’s guides, and conduct a before-and-after water test.

🔎 Are Water Filter Pitchers Effective for Contaminant Removal?

Not all water filter pitchers are designed to offer an equally effective performance.

That’s why it’s difficult to answer with a “yes” or a “no” to this question.

We’ll start by saying that yes, many water filter pitchers are effective for contaminant removal.

Some of the best pitcher water filters available today can effectively remove hundreds of contaminants from water, and have test data to prove it.

But some cheap pitcher water filters offer a much poorer-quality performance, only removing a handful of contaminants from water.

Most cheap pitchers use basic activated carbon filters that can reduce chlorine in your tap water, improving its taste – and that’s all.

On the other hand, the best water filter pitchers use a blend of several of the most effective filter media. This may include ion exchange resin, activated carbon media, KDF media, and more. As a result, the filter greatly improves your tap water quality by significantly reducing hundreds of contaminants in your water supply.

Pouring water from water filter pitcher

📋 What Affects the Effectiveness of a Water Filter Pitcher?

Some of the factors affecting the effectiveness of a water filter pitcher are:

  • The filter price. Generally, the more you pay for a tap water filter, the more contaminants it can remove, and the more effective its performance. The best water filter pitchers often cost about two or three times the price of the less effective filter pitchers. That’s still pretty cheap – think $80-$90 rather than $20-$30 – but price is often (though not always) a good indication of quality, which goes hand-in-hand with effectiveness.
  • The filter manufacturer. Some manufacturers have made a name for themselves in the industry for being the best. You’re likely to get an effective performance from the best water filter pitcher from a well-known manufacturer. Of course, this isn’t definite – there are many emerging manufacturers that give the current leaders a run for their money, and the likes of Brita (once arguably the biggest name in the industry) can no longer keep up. So don’t take this point too seriously.
  • The filter media. The types of filter media, the percentage of the media across the filter cartridge, and the surface area of these media types will all affect the quality of the performance offered by the pitcher. We recommend looking at water filter pitcher brands that use blended media for more thorough contaminant removal.
  • The longevity of the filter. It’s not all about contaminant removal – a filter’s lifespan also determines its effectiveness. After all, a filter that needs to be replaced once a month is clearly lacking in quality compared to a filter that removes tens of contaminants and still lasts at least 2 months – maybe up to 4 or more.
  • Your water quality. The quality of your own water, and the contaminants you want to remove, will determine the effectiveness of a water filter pitcher for you. For instance, if you have a major problem with PFOA in your water, even the best filter water pitcher might not be effective for you if it doesn’t remove this contaminant. That’s why it’s wise to test your water in advance so you know what you want a pitcher water filter system to remove.

🧫 Which Contaminants Can an Effective Water Pitcher Filter Remove?

The most effective filtered water pitchers can greatly reduce or remove the following drinking water contaminants:

Chlorine

Chlorine is a common city drinking water disinfectant that gives water a chemical taste and odor. Chlorine itself isn’t harmful in small amounts, but it can produce disinfection byproducts that have known health effects.

The best pitchers can reduce chlorine by more than 99%.

hach free chlorine test strips water test results

Chloramine

Chloramine is an alternative to chlorine that’s becoming more and more popular for disinfecting water supplies. While chloramine is less likely to produce disinfection byproducts, it still affects water’s taste and smell.

Some of the best pitchers can reduce chlorine by more than 99% of chloramine, give or take about 0.03%.

Lead

Lead is one of the most dangerous drinking water contaminants as it accumulates in the body over time, causing health effects including hearing problems, anemia, and reproductive issues.

Many of the best pitchers can reduce over 99% of lead.

Chromium-6

Chromium-6 is a chemical that is known to cause reproductive issues, kidney and liver issues, and internal bleeding.

A good pitcher can reduce around 98% of chromium-6.

Disinfection Byproducts

Disinfection byproducts may lead to cancer if consumed over a long period of time.

Some pitchers are capable of reducing up to 99.9% of these contaminants.

Removing dangerous impurities

Pharmaceuticals

Pharmaceuticals aren’t known to cause a risk in low levels, but most people would rather not drink medications in their water.

A capable pitcher can reduce common pharmaceuticals by at least 90%.

PFAS

PFAS are man-made chemicals that are linked to immune issues, and liver and pancreatic damage.

The best pitchers can reduce around 95% of PFAS in water.

VOCs

There are hundreds of potential VOCs in water, causing health issues like fatigue, nose and throat irritation, and headaches.

Some pitchers can reduce tens of VOCs by more than 95%.

Pesticides and Herbicides

Pesticides and herbicides decrease water quality and have a host of potential health issues.

A good pitcher should be able to reduce these contaminants by at least 85%.

herbicide water contamination

Fluoride

Fluoride is a controversial mineral that’s known to cause dental and skeletal fluorosis when consumed in excess.

While some pitchers deliberately retain fluoride, others reduce it by up to 99.9%.

Looking for a high quality fluoride water filter pitcher? See our Must-Buy Recommendations for 2023! 👈

Microplastics

Microplastics are known to cause cancer, inflammation, and metabolic issues.

Only a few filter pitchers (such as ceramic pitchers) can reduce microplastics by up to 99.9%.

📖 How to Determine Whether Or Not a Water Filter Pitcher is Effective

To determine the effectiveness of a water filter pitcher, do the following things:

Read Customer Reviews

Reading customer reviews is a quick and easy way to determine the user response to a drinking water filter pitcher, which is, more often than not, linked to the filter’s effectiveness.

📌 Look for trends in positive or negative statements about performance. For instance, a few positive statements would be along the lines of “improved water taste and smell” and “clean water”, while negative statements would be “no difference to water taste” or even “worse-tasting water” and “filter does nothing”.

Of course, some customers simply have a one-off bad experience with a product, and some don’t know what they’re talking about. That’s why you should always take reviews with a pinch of salt.

Still, reading the first 10 reviews for a pitcher water filter will give you a quick insight into the effectiveness of the product from a customer perspective.

Check For NSF Certifications

Any manufacturer can claim that their filter removes X contaminant. But unless the filter’s performance has obtained official certifications to NSF Standards, or has been tested to NSF Standards, there’s no way to know for certain that the manufacturer is being truthful.

nsf logo

Common NSF Standards that water filter pitchers can be certified to are:

  • NSF 42 (for reduction of chlorine taste and odor)
  • NSF 53 (for reduction of contaminants that pose a health risk, like lead)
  • NSF 401 (for emerging or incidental contaminants, like pharmaceuticals)
  • NSF P473 (for reduction of PFOS/PFOA)

An official NSF certification is ideal, since it tells you that a pitcher has been tested by the NSF itself and deemed capable of removing specific contaminants to a certain percentage (usually 90%+).

However, NSF certifications are expensive, and new manufacturers of promising pitcher filters may not have the funds for an official certification just yet. That’s why we also consider third-party testing to NSF Standards to be a mark of effective performance.

Look At Testing Data Sheets

Following on from the above, reading data sheets and filter test results is a great way to determine the effectiveness of a filter’s performance.

It’s all very well for a manufacturer to claim that their filtered water pitcher is tested to NSF Standards 42 and 53, for 99% chlorine and lead reduction. But if the manufacturer doesn’t offer proof in the form of test results, how can you fully believe their claims?

Many manufacturers of water filter pitchers are showing transparency by sharing their official testing data online.

Aim to find a manufacturer that states the name and address of their testing laboratory, and shares a copy of the test results received by this company. You can examine the test results and decide, from the percentage of certain contaminants removed, whether or not the filtered water pitcher is effective for your requirements.

Water testing data sheet report

Read Expert Buyer’s Guides

There are plenty of water filtration experts (like us!) online who want to help you spend your money wisely on a water filter pitcher. These experts produce buyer’s guides that tell you two things:

  • Which features make a water filter pitcher an effective filtration solution.
  • Which water filter pitchers are worth your money, usually because they have these features and use them well.

If you see a filtered pitcher showing up on multiple buyer’s guides, it most likely means that it removes the most contaminants and has other standout features, like a long filter lifespan – making it one of the most effective pitcher filters available.

Related: How to Choose a Water Filter Pitcher

Conduct A Before-and-After Water Test

Even if you’ve followed all of the steps above and you’ve bought a highly-reviewed, expert-recommended, NSF-certified filter pitcher, you might still be skeptical.

After all, it’s not always possible to determine the effectiveness of a filter by the taste and smell of your water alone, since even the cheap, ineffective pitcher filters are usually capable of improving these parameters.

In this case, we recommend testing your water for the contaminants you’re most concerned about, then testing a batch of filtered water from your pitcher.

The pitcher should significantly reduce these contaminants, in line with the manufacturer’s claims. If it doesn’t, it suggests the pitcher is ineffective, or you need a new filter cartridge. If it does, great! You have an effective water filter pitcher.

Tap score water testing kit

⚖️ Pros and Cons of Water Filter Pitchers

Below, we’ve shared some of the pros and cons of water filter pitchers worth knowing.

Pros

  • Portable filtration solution – You can take a pitcher with you for filtered water on the go
  • Easy to set up and use – Even the DIY-adverse can quickly set up and easily use a pitcher filter
  • Affordable – Even the best pitchers cost less than $100 upfront and around $50 per year to maintain
  • Great contaminant removal potential – Despite costing a fraction of the price of bigger, multi-stage filtration systems, some filtered water pitchers remove hundreds of contaminants
  • Eco-friendly – by using a typical water filter pitcher instead of drinking bottled water, you’ll massively reduce your single-use plastic consumption

Cons

  • Slow filtration – Gravity filtration is, by nature, a slow and steady process, taking up to 15-20 minutes to produce a full pitcher of water
  • Minimal holding capacity – Most pitchers hold 8-12 cups of water, so a big family will need to refill the reservoir multiple times a day
  • Frequent maintenance – Because the filters inside pitchers are so small, they need to be replaced frequently (typically every 2-3 months)
  • Not an equal performance across the board – Different pitchers have different contaminant removal abilities, and some remove so few contaminants that they’re not worth your money

❔ Are Water Filter Pitchers Effective? FAQs

Are water filter pitchers worth it?

Yes, the best water pitchers are worth it. However, some pitchers aren’t worth it because they offer a poor-quality performance. For instance, we never recommend the Brita filter pitcher because it only reduces a handful of contaminants, while some filters (such as the Clearly Filtered Water Pitcher) can reduce hundreds of drinking water impurities.

Are water filter pitchers better than bottled water?

Yes, water pitchers with a filter are generally better than bottled water because they massively reduce plastic waste and the best pitchers can get your water cleaner than most bottled water supplies (with the exception of RO-treated bottled water).

Do Brita water pitchers really work?

Yes, Brita pitchers really work, and Brita has obtained NSF certifications to support its filter performance. With that said, we’ve seen much greater contaminant removal from other filters. While Brita filters remove less than 10 contaminants from tap water, other leading pitchers on the market remove 200 or 300+.

Do water filter pitchers actually purify water?

No. Most water pitchers don’t actually purify water, since purification involves removing every single impurity, including all minerals and salts. Some of the best pitchers come close to purification, removing hundreds of contaminants while retaining healthy minerals.

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