How Do Water Filter Pitchers Work? (a Water Doctor Explains)

So, you’ve heard about water filter pitchers, and now you want to know more.

What are water filter pitchers, and how do they work? What contaminants do they remove, and what are their benefits? We’ve covered everything you need to know in this guide.

🙋 What Are Water Filter Pitchers?

Water filter pitchers look like regular water pitchers with a twist: they have a filter on the underside of the lid that filters water before it enters the jug.

A water filter pitcher comes in all sorts of shapes, styles, and designs. Some water filter pitchers are plastic, while others have chrome, glass, or bamboo features that give them a more attractive appearance.

The standard size for a filter pitcher is 6 cups. Some pitchers can hold 8 or 10 cups, but bigger sizes than this aren’t common – you need to be able to hold the pitcher while it’s full.

No matter what it looks like, the purpose of a water filter pitcher is to remove impurities that affect the taste and quality of drinking water.

Clearly Filtered water filtration pitcher

📥 What Type of Filter Does a Water Filter Pitcher Use?

Most water filter pitcher models use carbon filters, such as activated carbon.

The carbon filtration process is known as adsorption. The media grabs onto contaminants, pulling them out of the water that passes through the filter.

The reason why carbon filters are popular in filtration pitchers is that the adsorption process is most effective when done slowly. Because water pitchers use gravity filtration, water flow is much slower than the flow of water in your pipes. This allows for a longer contact time between water and the filter, so more contaminants can be removed.

While carbon filter cartridges are highly effective at removing a select range of contaminants (chlorine, pesticides, herbicides, and other impurities affecting taste and smell), they’re not the best at removing a wide variety of impurities.

For this reason, many water pitcher manufacturers combine carbon media with other media types, like KDF media and ion exchange resin.

Brita Coconut-Based Activated Carbon Media

📰 How Water Pitcher Filters Work: Step-By-Step

Here’s the step-by-step process of how most water filter pitchers work:

  1. You fill the top chamber of the pitcher with water from your faucet and put the lid on the pitcher.
  2. The tap water passes through the filter and into the bottom chamber. This process can take up to 20 minutes, depending on your water quality, the age of the filter, and the size of the pitcher.
  3. The filter pulls contaminants out of your water, and the water that enters the bottom chamber is filtered.
  4. You pour water from the pitcher. The spout only has access to filtered water from the bottom chamber, so there’s no risk of cross-contamination.
How a water filter pitcher works

🛑 What Do Water Filter Pitchers Remove?

Not all water pitchers remove the same impurities. The exact contaminants removed depend on the water filter pitcher brand, the filter media, and the quality of the product.

The best water filter pitchers can remove hundreds of harmful contaminants from treated tap water, including:

  • Chlorine taste and odor
  • Chloramine
  • Lead (i.e. from lead pipes)
  • Organic compounds
  • Mercury
  • Copper
  • Arsenic
  • Fluoride
  • VOCs
  • Agricultural chemicals like pesticides and herbicides
  • Emerging contaminants like pharmaceuticals
  • Cadmium
  • Other heavy metals

For the complete list of specific contaminants removed by a water pitcher, contact the manufacturer and ask for a datasheet.

Note: although a water pitcher filter can remove an impressive range of impurities, there’s no guarantee that the filter will remove total dissolved solids or alter your TDS reading, like a reverse osmosis system. That doesn’t mean that the filter is ineffective – total dissolved solids include healthy impurities, too, like minerals.

✅ Water Filter Pitcher Benefits

The biggest benefits of pitcher water filters are:

Greatly Improves Water Taste

Even the most basic pitcher filter removes chlorine, which is the biggest contributor to poor-tasting tap water. After filtering your water in a pitcher, it should taste and smell clean, fresh, and chemical-free.

Makes Water Safer and Healthier

Water filter pitchers don’t just remove chlorine – they also remove heavy metals like lead, agricultural chemicals, VOCs, fluoride, and other dangerous impurities that are commonly found in drinking water. The filtration process gives you the reassurance that your water is safe and healthy to drink.

Affordable to Buy and Maintain

Drinking water filter pitchers are some of the cheapest home water filters for treating public water supplies, costing as little as $20 for a smaller pitcher. The cost to replace the filters is low, too – around $20 per filter, depending on the brand. Even with a small budget, you should be able to afford to buy and maintain this type of filter.

Benefits of a water filter pitcher

No Installation Needed

Pitcher filtration models are much easier to set up than most tap water filter units. You don’t need to connect a pitcher up to your water line. Instead, simply slot the parts together and fill the pitcher with water. You won’t need to pay an expert to set the filter up for you.

Different Designs to Choose from

Glass, plastic and stainless steel pitcher filter systems are available today, in a variety of shapes and sizes. If you prefer a smarter, more modern look for your kitchen, opt for a glass pitcher. If ease of use is more important, choose a lightweight plastic model.

❎ Water Filtration Pitcher Setbacks

There are a few setbacks to using pitcher water filters, including:

  • They don’t force water quickly through the filter, so it can take up to 20 minutes for them to dispense water that has been filtered. You don’t get water on demand.
  • The filters need to be replaced regularly. One filter lasts for two months, on average.
  • Most filter pitchers can’t remove calcium and magnesium from tap water. You’ll need a water softener if you have a water hardness problem.
  • As the filters get older, they no longer offer optimum performance. Their speed of filtration reduces. This happens quite quickly if your source water contains sediment and other contaminants that clog the media.
  • You can’t filter gallons of water per day. How much water a pitcher can filter depends on its size, but most modes hold up to one gallon of water at most.
  • You’ll need to spend money on filter replacements, and clean the pitcher regularly, to ensure the pitcher continues to remove contaminants over the duration of its use.
Setbacks of water filter pitchers

📖 How Do You Set Up a Water Filter Pitcher?

Water filter pitchers are very easy to set up, so don’t worry if DIY isn’t your strong point! There are no difficult steps involved – simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions to prime the filter and put the pitcher together.

Water pitchers come partially assembled. The handle is usually already attached to the jug.

Typically, the process of setting up a water pitcher filter goes like this:

  1. Remove the filter and the pitcher parts from their packaging.
  2. Assemble the pitcher. Usually, you’ll need to click the filter into the housing on the underside of the lid, then place the lid on the pitcher.
  3. Prime the filter. This is usually done by adding water to the top chamber, allowing it to fully filter through to the bottom of the chamber, then throwing out the batch of water. Repeat as many times as the manufacturer recommends.
  4. Add a final batch of tap water, and drink up! That’s all there is to it. Your filter should be set up and ready to use.
Assembling a water filter pitcher

🔩 How Do You Maintain a Water Filter Pitcher?

The biggest maintenance task involved in owning a water filtration pitcher is changing the filters. The average filter life for pitcher water filters is 2-3 months. It’s important to keep on top of filter changes to prevent a slowdown of water flow.

The process of replacing filters usually goes like this:

  1. Lift the lid off the pitcher and remove the filter from the reservoir. Depending on the pitcher design, you may need to click or twist the filter to remove it, or simply tip it out.
  2. Unpackage the replacement filter. You should use the same filter type as the original filter to ensure it properly fits in the reservoir.
  3. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to flush the filter. Some filters need to be soaked in water, while others just need to be rinsed for five minutes.
  4. Slot the new filter in place. Filter two batches of water in the pitcher, or more if the manufacturer recommends it, to prime the filter and remove carbon particles.
  5. Put the lid back in place and recycle or dispose of the old filter.
Replacing the pitcher filter

🧠 Water Filter Pitcher FAQs

Can a water filter pitcher kill bacteria?

No. The only way to get rid of bacteria with a pore filter is to use a filter with very small microns, which wouldn’t be effective in a gravity filter. If you’re concerned about bacteria in your water, use a method of killing bacteria, like a UV purifier.

Can you use well water in a water filter pitcher?

In most cases, no. Most pitchers are designed for city water only, and can’t be used to remove bacteria, iron, manganese, sulfur, tannins, and other common well water contaminants. However, some specific high performing models can be used with well water – check them out here.

Are pitcher filters dishwasher-safe?

It depends on the brand of the filter. Always check the user manual before putting a pitcher in your dishwasher. In all scenarios, you’ll need to remove the filter cartridge and store it in a safe location while you wash the pitcher.

Are Brita filters worth it?

Brita was originally one of the most popular brands for filtration pitchers, and many of us still think about Brita when we think of pitcher water filters today. But Brita’s Standard filters and LongLast filter can remove far fewer contaminants than other pitchers today, including the Clearly Filtered and the Zerowater filter. If you want to remove the most contaminants from your water supply, Brita isn’t your solution.

Do filter pitchers really work?

Yes – as long as you buy from one of the best water filter pitcher brands. We’ve tested tens of filtration pitchers over the years, and we know first-hand that they’re not all equal.

Do pitchers take up a lot of fridge space?

It depends on the shape and size of your pitcher, but most are designed to fit snugly in your fridge door. If your fridge is particularly small, you might need to opt for another water filtration method. For example, refrigerator filters connect to your water and ice dispensers, so they don’t need an entire jug for storing water.

Filtered pitcher in refrigerator

How do you fill a filtered water pitcher?

Just make sure the top chamber is slotted in place, then hold the pitcher under your tap and fill it with water. Set the pitcher on the base of your kitchen sink if it’s too heavy to carry as it fills with water.