Water filter pitchers might look fairly unassuming, but they’re highly effective at filtering out unwanted impurities in your drinking water. The top contaminants removed by water filter pitchers are chlorine, lead, disinfection byproducts, fluoride, volatile organic compounds, pesticides, and herbicides.
We’ll be listing the 14 contaminants that most water filter pitchers get rid of in this guide.
Table of Contents
- 🧫 The Top 14 Contaminants That Most Water Filter Pitchers Remove
- ❌ What Can’t Water Filter Pitchers Remove?
- 📖 Water Filter Pitcher Types and What They Remove
- 📝 How to Know What a Water Filter Pitcher Removes
- 📜 Common NSF Certifications for Filtered Water Pitchers
- 🧠 What do Water Filter Pitchers Remove FAQs
🧫 The Top 14 Contaminants That Most Water Filter Pitchers Remove
First off, it’s important to know that not all water filter pitchers reduce all of these contaminants. Some of the less impressive pitcher filters can only remove a handful of contaminants. However, the best water filter pitchers certainly remove all of these impurities – and more.
No matter what type of water filter pitcher you buy, it’s guaranteed to remove chlorine. Chlorine is the number-one contaminant that these filters are designed to remove, with the goal of improving water’s taste and smell.
Chlorine is a disinfectant that’s added to drinking water during treatment. It kills bacteria and other harmful microorganisms, so it’s important. However, by the time our water reaches us for drinking, we no longer need that chlorine – and it also produces dangerous disinfection byproducts.
Removing the chemical makes water safer, cleaner, and tastier to drink. Look for filters that have been tested to NSF 42, or have an official NSF 42 certification, for chlorine removal.
It’s easy to confuse chlorine and chloramine, and that’s because they’re virtually the same thing – chloramine is chlorine with added ammonia. However, chloramine is more difficult to remove than chlorine. Luckily most of the best water filter pitcher models that use catalytic carbon media can remove this chemical.
Like chlorine, chloramine is added to public drinking water as a disinfectant. It’s becoming a popular chlorine alternative because it’s more stable and produces fewer disinfection byproducts. However, chloramine still produces nitrosamines, a new type of disinfection byproduct that’s linked to cancer.
Regular activated carbon alone can’t remove chloramine, so check the filter type if you need to get rid of this chemical.
Lead is one of the most dangerous drinking water contaminants, so it’s good to know that most water filter pitchers are designed to remove this toxicant. Lead pipes are banned today, but thousands of existing public supply lines still contain lead. When lead gets into the body, there’s no way for it to leave, so it builds up to dangerous levels over time.
Because of how dangerous lead is, the EPA has set a Maximum Contaminant Level of 0 for this metal. You can’t see or smell lead in your water, but it’s surprisingly common, which makes it all the more deadly. Long-term symptoms of lead accumulation include anemia, hearing loss, high blood pressure, mood disorders, reproductive issues, and miscarriage.
Chromium 6, or hexavalent chromium, gets into drinking water through industrial pollution. Chromium 6 also occurs naturally in the wild, and can get into water through the erosion of chromium deposits. This cancer-causing chemical compound is worryingly common in US waters – just search “chromium 6 news” to see what we mean.
Long-term high exposure to hexavalent chromium causes kidney and liver damage, sinus and nasal cancers, skin irritation, eye irritation, and more. Ion exchange resin is the best filter material for removing this chemical from water.
Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS for short, are a group of man-made chemicals that are widely used throughout society. These chemicals are commonly used in manufacturing items such as waterproof clothing and non-stick cookware.
PFOA and PFOS are two of the most common PFAS existing today. Worryingly, PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they linger in the environment for centuries. It’s through environmental pollution that most PFAS end up in our water. Not all water filter pitcher models can remove these chemicals, but the most capable can. Look for a pitcher filter that has official test results to prove its ability to reduce PFAS.
If your water contains chlorine or chloramine, it will also contain disinfection byproducts. These chemical substances form when disinfectants react with natural compounds in a water supply, and can increase the risk of certain cancers, and have reproductive and developmental effects.
Some of the most common disinfection byproducts are organic chloramines, haloacetic acetic acids (HAAs), trihalomethanes (THMs), chlorite, and chlorate. Many of these disinfectant byproducts can be removed by a capable water filter pitcher using activated carbon filters.
Mercury, Arsenic, and Other Heavy Metals
Lead isn’t the only problematic heavy metal in tap water. Mercury and other heavy metals, like arsenic, chromium, and copper, are also found in public drinking water supplies. Some of these metals are naturally present in the earth, while others get into water through leaching and pollution.
Heavy metals are linked to cognitive problems, kidney damage, and developmental issues. Granular activated carbon filters are suitable for removing some heavy metals. Blending this filter media with ion exchange resin and KDF media will produce even better contaminant removal results.
Pesticides and Herbicides
Poor farming practices lead to pesticide and herbicide groundwater pollution. These agricultural chemicals aren’t entirely filtered out of water during large-scale treatment. Though they’re rarely found in high enough concentrations to be dangerous to human health, they do affect water quality – and most of us would rather not drink even trace amounts of toxic chemicals.
Activated carbon water filter pitchers are the best water filters for removing pesticides and herbicides from drinking water.
Fluoride is added to our water in community water fluoridation. This mineral is also present naturally in the earth. You’ll probably know that fluoride is good for dental health and prevents tooth decay, but the matter of water fluoridation is controversial, and some people believe that we should have a choice over whether or not we drink fluoride in our water.
High levels of fluoride cause dental fluorosis – discoloration of the teeth – especially in young children. Fluoride can also accumulate in the bones and cause a disease called skeletal fluorosis, which makes the bones more susceptible to breaking.
Pharmaceuticals get into public drinking water supplies from municipal wastewater, and luckily, they’re only found in very low concentrations. With that said, the idea of drinking even low concentrations of medications you don’t need is worrying.
Examples of pharmaceuticals in our tap water include antibiotics, personal care products, antimicrobials, hormones, detergents, and other prescription medications. Activated carbon media and nanofiltration can both reduce pharmaceuticals in water.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are organic chemicals that are capable of vaporizing in air and dissolving in water. These chemicals get into our tap water supplies through improper disposal, which causes them to infiltrate into groundwater and travel to reservoirs and lakes.
VOCs in water cause health effects including kidney, spleen, and stomach damage, eye, skin, and throat irritation, and problems with the nervous, reproductive, circulatory, immune, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems. Most pitcher water filters that use carbon media can remove VOCs from water.
Plastic pollution is a major global problem. Microplastics predominantly leach into water in one of two ways: through the breakdown of plastics that are washed into drains, and from particles released from synthetic clothing, car tires, and more. Microplastics accumulate pollutants from their environment, and leach chemicals into water.
There’s a lot we still don’t know about the effects of microplastics on human health, but studies have found that they’re harmful to the kidney system, skin, respiratory system, and digestive system. Most filter pitchers struggle to remove microplastics from water as they’re so tiny. Some ceramic filters can remove these impurities.
Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring fibers that was commonly used in the construction industry until the late nineties, thanks to its strength and resistance to thermal, chemical, and biological degradation. Recently, asbestos has been classified as a known human carcinogen (a cancer-causing substance), but it isn’t banned in the US, and is still used in many manufacturing processes today.
Asbestos gets into water through industrial wastewater runoff and erosion and corrosion of pipes containing asbestos. Micro or nanofiltration is the best method of removing asbestos from drinking water, so not all pitcher water filters can remove this contaminant.
Finally, sediment refers to suspended particles in water, such as sand, dust, dirt, rust, and clay. Sediment is typically filtered out of municipal water supplies during treatment, and it’s more commonly found in untreated well water. While sediment isn’t dangerous, it does affect water quality, and it can often indicate the presence of harmful contaminants, like bacteria.
Most filter pitchers are capable of removing sediment from tap water. However, a high concentration of sediment will need to be treated with a pre-filter to prevent instant clogging of the filter media.
❌ What Can’t Water Filter Pitchers Remove?
Now we know what a water filter pitcher can remove, is there anything these filters can’t remove?
This is difficult to answer because it depends on the quality of the filter. However some water filter pitchers can’t remove:
- Water hardness. If calcium and magnesium are big problems in your water, you need a water softener, not a water filter pitcher.
- Fluoride. This mineral is classically difficult to remove. Only the best water filter pitchers can remove fluoride.
- Chloramine. Simple activated carbon water filters can’t remove chloramine. Only pitchers using catalytic carbon can remove this chemical.
- Bacteria and viruses. Many water filter pitchers are incapable of removing microorganisms because their pores are too big to trap these tiny impurities.
- Asbestos and microplastics. These impurities are tiny enough to slip through the pores of a standard activated carbon filter. Only filter pitchers using microfiltration and nanofiltration can remove these harmful contaminants.
📖 Water Filter Pitcher Types and What They Remove
Different types of filter media in filter pitchers reduce different selections of contaminants. Most filter pitchers use one or several of the filter types listed below.
Activated carbon media is a porous media that removes contaminants by attracting them and pulling them out of water, in a process known as adsorption. Activated carbon filters are ideal for treating chlorinated water. As tap water passes through this water filtration media, the filter removes chlorine, leaving clean water with no chemical taste and smell.
The average filter life of an activated carbon filter is three months.
Catalytic carbon is ideal for treating city water that’s been disinfected with chloramines. This water filtration media is less commonly available in pitcher filters, but it’s the best choice for chloramine removal. Again, this filter type uses adsorption to attract chemicals and grab hold of them, like a magnet attracting metals.
Catalytic carbon filters typically last for three months in a water filter pitcher.
Ceramic Filter Media
Ceramic filters are designed to replicate the natural water purification process in the earth. These filters have tiny pores that block most contaminants, including microplastics and microorganisms, from passing through. They’re often combined with other media, like carbon, to improve water purification and produce the highest-quality treated tap water.
Ceramic filters in water pitchers last for two to four months, depending on the quality of the water.
Ion Exchange Resin
Ion exchange resin shouldn’t be confused with ion exchange water softeners. This material isn’t used to soften water – instead, it attracts oppositely charged molecules, like fluoride, nitrates, iron, arsenic, radium, chromium, and manganese. Ion exchange can reduce contaminants that other types of filters struggle to remove.
Ion exchange resin lasts for three to six months on average.
Finally, KDF media uses a redox reaction to reduce inorganic and organic contaminants in a water supply. There are different types of KDF, including KDF-55 – which removes chlorine and soluble metals – and KDF 85 – which removes iron and hydrogen sulfide. KDF is often combined with activated carbon media to more effectively remove impurities from tap water.
KDF media lasts for around three months in a water filter pitcher.
📝 How to Know What a Water Filter Pitcher Removes
A water filter pitcher’s product description might list everything that the pitcher is said to remove. But how do you know that the manufacturer’s claims are accurate?
Here’s what to do:
Look for a Datasheet
First thing’s first, look for a datasheet displaying test results on the manufacturer’s website. Most manufacturers get their product tested by a third party laboratory to determine which contaminants they can remove, and to what level.
It’s becoming common for manufacturers to share these test results online for customers to see – and they’re incredibly handy. A good datasheet will list every single contaminant that the pitcher filter can remove, noting the concentration of the contaminant before and after filtration, and the percentage of removal.
To find out whether a water filter pitcher removes a certain contaminant, simply scroll down until you find that contaminant on the list. Contaminants are often grouped into categories, such as “heavy metals” and “pharmaceuticals”, to make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for.
Contact the Manufacturer
If you can’t find a datasheet online, contact the manufacturer and ask them for a copy of their test results. They should be able to email you a copy even if, for some reason, they’re not keen to share it on the product page.
It’s a red flag if a manufacturer can’t, or won’t, send you a copy of the datasheet at all. As a potential customer, it’s your right to know all the most important information about a water filter pitcher’s performance before you make a purchase. You have to ask yourself why a manufacturer can’t show you their test results – has the product even been tested at all?
Look for NSF Certifications
For certain contaminants, an official NSF certification is the proof you need that a water filter pitcher can remove them.
View the full list of common NSF certifications just below.
If you’re not sure whether a water pitcher is officially NSF certified, search the NSF catalog to find out. This will tell you whether a water filter has an NSF certification, and for what percentage of contaminant removal (i.e. “certified to Standard 42, for 99.7% chlorine removal).
Test the Pitcher
We don’t recommend buying a water filter pitcher unless you have evidence from a datasheet or NSF test results that it removes the contaminants you’re concerned about. However, if your drinking water pitcher of choice does have this evidence, but you still want to know whether it lives up to expectations, you can always test it yourself.
Use an at-home test kit to test for some of the most common contaminants in your tap water, and note down the results. Then, use the same test on a batch of filtered water from your pitcher filter. Compare the results side-by-side. The filter should significantly decrease these problem contaminants.
📜 Common NSF Certifications for Filtered Water Pitchers
Not all contaminants are covered by NSF certifications, but it’s handy to know those that are. Some of the common NSF certifications for filtered water pitchers are:
- NSF Standard 42 – For pitchers that can remove aesthetic impurities that affect taste and smell, like chlorine
- NSF Standard 53 – For pitchers that can remove impurities with health effects, such as lead, asbestos, radon, VOCs, and other contaminants that fit into this category.
- NSF Standard 244 – For pitchers that treat water to be microbiologically safe (remove bacteria, viruses etc.)
- NSF Standard 401 – For pitchers that remove emerging contaminants, like pesticides, prescription drugs, and OTC medicines.
- NSF Standard 473 – For pitchers that remove forever chemicals like PFOS and PFOAs.
🧠 What do Water Filter Pitchers Remove FAQs
Do reverse osmosis water filter pitchers exist?
No. The reverse osmosis process is complex and requires high water pressure. It couldn’t take place in a gravity filter.
Do water filter pitchers kill bacteria?
No. Typically UV disinfection kills bacteria. Some pitcher filters are capable of trapping bacteria in their pores, though. Only micro and nanofiltration can remove bacteria.
Do water filter pitchers reduce hard water?
No. While some pitcher filters are capable of reducing hardness, they can’t entirely solve a hard water problem. Plus, there’s no point in removing hardness minerals after they’ve traveled through your home, anyway – you need to catch them before they can do any damage, at your water’s point of entry.
Do filter pitchers eliminate TDS?
No, most pitchers can’t eliminate TDS, or total dissolved solids. The ZeroWater pitcher is one of the few that can. However, TDS removal isn’t necessarily a good thing, as TDS isn’t always bad. Healthy minerals and salts also contribute to TDS. So, removing all TDS doesn’t mean that water will be healthy.
Which popular brands of pitchers reduce the most contaminants?
Some of the top water filter pitchers available today are the Clearly Filtered Water Pitcher, the Epic Nano Water Filter Pitcher, the Epic Pure Water Filter Dispenser, and the Proone Water Filter Pitcher.
Which filtered water pitcher removes the most impurities?
The Clearly Filtered pitcher removes the most contaminants – more than 365 in total. You can read our full review of this capable filter pitcher here.
Clearly Filtered Water Pitcher
Which pitchers don’t you recommend?
We wouldn’t recommend Brita filters. They can only remove a handful of impurities, while some of the best pitchers on today’s market can now remove hundreds.