Ack! Help me figure out what kind of water to drink at home.
March 12, 2013 12:57 PM   Subscribe

I am totally overwhelmed trying to figure out what water (tap, bottled, filter, RO, etc.) to drink at home at this point. Can you help?

Goals (in order of importance): water that is safe, tastes good (or neutral), affordable, and convenient. (Am I missing anything important)?

We are relatively paranoid types living in DC with a small daughter. Safety (i.e. removes as many dangerous chemicals etc. as possible) is very important to us and we don't trust DC WASA. We also don't like the taste of DC tap water - there is a lot of chlorine. We used a Pur filter for years but found it annoying (and we don't think it removes lead). We switched to Deer Park's BPA-free bottles, but they are expensive and a babyproofing hazard (our daughter could easily knock over the stand/bottle).

So now we're thinking of installing a reverse osmosis under sink system. But (1) they're expensive, (2) I hear they are incredibly inefficient (therefore, negative for environmental impact and negative for water bill costs) and (3) I've heard they remove some beneficial minerals(magnesium? floride?*) and (4) I'm totally utterly overwhelmed trying to find a good, reliable RO filter.

So. Do you have any insight re what sort of water would best meet our needs? And if it's an undersink RO system, do you have any recent product recommendations?

Thank you!

*I heard floride may no longer be considered a benefit. (Am overwhelmed to hear this too.)
posted by semacd to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Apparently DC Water offers free lead testing.
posted by DoubleLune at 1:07 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Could you explain why you don't trust the DC water system? (Trying to understand the how you judge things safe and unsafe to drink will help answer the question...)
posted by unixrat at 1:09 PM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Please drink tap water. Not only is about a hundred times cheaper than anything in a bottle, it is the safest water you can find. Most bottled water is completely unregulated and untreated. There are no rules about where it comes from. Some of it even comes from taps elsewhere!

Municipal water is tested and regulated vigorously. Test different filters to see which balances the taste, but seriously, bottled water is a scam.
posted by dry white toast at 1:10 PM on March 12, 2013 [50 favorites]

This question led me to check whether my Brita water pitcher removes lead. It does not; only their faucet filter does:

³Certified to reduce Copper (pitcher only); reduce Lead (faucet mount only).
posted by exhilaration at 1:10 PM on March 12, 2013

Fluoride is only beneficial if you don't regularly brush your teeth. But the scientific consensus is that the levels in tap water are not harmful.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:10 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

A quick search shows that Pur and Brita filters do in fact remove lead, chlorine, and other chemicals, while leaving fluoride in the water. Check out their websites.
There is some discussion of dissolved vs. particulate lead, and that not all filters meet the newest standards - but those articles are several years old at this point so newer consumer filter technology has probably improved vastly since the standards were changed.
I'd strongly consider going back to them if possible. To add to the convenience factor, either get the faucet mounted filters or the large dispensers that you put a gallon or two of water in and place on a shelf with the spigot to dispense.

*I heard floride may no longer be considered a benefit.
I admit I'm not current on literature about this, but I remember hearing almost a decade ago about how it's actually not good...but this was from the same people who advocate non-science-based "alternative medicine" such as homeopathy and other woo, and generally love to buy into conspiracy theories about western medicine and public health initiatives. Plus a quick look at dental problems in countries that don't fluoridate their water shows a clear benefit to fluoride!
posted by trivia genius at 1:11 PM on March 12, 2013

We lived in DC and for out infants got an undersink filter (this one) and then ran that though a Britta filter. We have since changed to this filter as it has a higher flow rate. These were all top rated by Consumer Reports, for what that is worth.

On preview: unixrat, DC has a history of lead problems in the water.
posted by procrastination at 1:11 PM on March 12, 2013

FWIW, we had a reverse osmosis system in our old rental and it was AWESOME. It seemed superfluous at first, but we came to love it. When we update our kitchen in our new house we will totally spring for one. (I'm a big water drinker, so it's worth the expense to me.)
posted by jrichards at 1:13 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get testing, then you have quantitative numbers to make a decision with which may make this less overwhelming. You could discuss the results with a few nutritionists to get a few opinions as far as what is ok to consume.

Legally, I don't think that municipal water sources can distribute unpotable water without letting you know, and bottled water is often from other municiple sources and not magic clean pure sources.
posted by cakebatter at 1:14 PM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

A Brita filter will take care of flavor and chlorine. If you're worried about lead, get your first draw water tested, or just always run the faucet for five seconds. Otherwise, yes, bottled water is less well regulated and tap water is some of the safest drinking around.
posted by ldthomps at 1:15 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

We just put in a reverse osmosis system and it is beyond wonderful. You can get cartridges for it that replace magnesium and calcium. Yes, it is wasteful, but we live in an agricultural area with absolutely horrible tap water and the bottle water service here, where they bring 5 gal bottles to your house, uses RO water anyway so it's a wash. I'm drinking so much more water now and it tastes delicious. I used to be ashamed of all my plastic Dasani bottles in the recycling bin but now Dasani flows from my tap! (Almost literally--Dasani actually is just RO water with minerals replaced.)
posted by HotToddy at 1:24 PM on March 12, 2013

I'm fine with just tap water filtered at the faucet to get rid of the chlorine taste, but due to the fact that our pipes date back to the Roman aqueduct, my partner prefers to go the extra mile and so we also use a home water distiller. It's not terribly convenient, but I must admit it does make the water taste even better.
posted by scody at 1:30 PM on March 12, 2013

Yes, another vote for testing your tap water. Make sure you test both the initial flush (after you've let the sink sit overnight without running -- this is the worst-case scenario and isolates potential exposure from your internal plumbing) and then a second sample once the sink has been running for long enough that the water runs cold (this gives you an idea of what is coming in from the street).

Tap water in the US generally is one of the wonders of the modern world, IMO -- not that it's a perfect system or anything, but it's much better than the oversight applied to bottled water.
posted by pie ninja at 1:45 PM on March 12, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers so far. I've already put many hours into this research (into what solution will be best for us, generally, and RO filter reviews specifically) and currently feel like I know enough to worry, but not enough to be knowledgeable.

Anyway, why are we paranoid about DC WASA? Generally because of the sort of stories linked to by procrastination. And here's another one that fuels the paranoia - a problem was identified, a solution was specified, and later we were told that the solution was inadequate. "The CDC concluded that homeowners who had pipes only partially replaced may have made the problem worse. The center also confirmed that children living in the District were exposed to an increased risk of lead poisoning from 2000 to 2006 as an inadvertent result of efforts to disinfect the water supply that caused lead pipes to corrode and leach into the water that flowed through them." We're afraid that we could get our water tested and it would be fine, and then something would go wrong and we wouldn't find out until too late.

We're also worried about prescription medications in our water.
posted by semacd at 1:51 PM on March 12, 2013

We have a Culligan faucet mounted filter. We switched to it from Brita because Culligan has metal threads to attach instead of plastic (the Brita filter threads stripped). I've been very happy with it. We replace the filter every 4 or 5 months mostly just on principle. I've never noticed a degradation in water quality or charcoal seeping through like you see with other filters.
posted by cali59 at 2:18 PM on March 12, 2013

I have an undersink setup similar to procrastination's, but with different brands. It's great and I recommend it. The filter gets rid of the chlorine taste, which is all I care about, but it doesn't diminish the water pressure at all.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:57 PM on March 12, 2013

If Orange County can make "toilet to tap" water safe for us OCers to drink, presumably Washington DC's water can't be all too bad either. The point is, municipal tap water is presumably a highly regulated industry, with industry standards and a whole slew of companies and experts that provide all kinds of processing and testing equipment, so to some extent you just have to trust that it's relatively safe. What I suggest you do is contact your local water authority and see if they can provide you with a tour or a meeting so that they can address your questions and concerns. If you see for yourself what they do, you can understand it better, and if you understand it better, presumably you can feel more relaxed about it. That's not to say your concerns are not valid, but rather to say that you should try to learn more about the real situation and risks first-hand if possible. If nothing else, it will be interesting and educational.
posted by Dansaman at 2:58 PM on March 12, 2013

Take a gander at this guide from the Environmental Working Group

I have a Body Glove BG 1200 installed under my kitchen counter and I love it. I replace the filter once a year, it has its own little mini tap and I added on a tiny hot water heater thingy that creates the perfect temp water for tea on demand. We drink a lot of tea in this house.

The filter probably costs you the same or less than the total amount spent on PUR or Brita filters for a whole year.
posted by dottiechang at 3:54 PM on March 12, 2013

I didn't mess around and bought a Multipure undersink aquaperform filter. In fact, when I moved houses, I bought another one because I had to leave the old one behind. It's fantastic and water tastes amazing. It's totally worth the money. I've never tasted better water, and I make a point of trying everyone's home filtered water. The initial cost is high, and then it's $120/year for the filter, which is $10/month and much cheaper than bottled.

Btw, you don't need the monitor that tells you how much water you've run through it unless you are installing in a business where 20 people are using it. In that case, the filter needs replacing more often than once a year.
posted by about_time at 8:14 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Consider a Berkey. We use the Berkey Light, which does well for 2 people's drinking supply.

The water tastes so much better and even the cats seem to prefer it.
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 10:12 PM on March 12, 2013

We live in an area with contaminated water (lead, jet fuel, etc.) The locally accepted solution is a PUR filter on the faucet. We found that the vertical ones tend to work better and leak less. If I'm feeling fancy, I'll double filter through the PUR and a Brita.
posted by charmcityblues at 1:07 AM on March 13, 2013

My food coop offers bulk water in glass (BPA free) jugs from Custom Pure (a local Seattle company), which filters out everything you can think of. We fill up a couple jugs 10lb each week. Their water tastes great, too -- better than Brita. The Custom Pure website has a ton of information, though the company is local, and they do plenty of consulting for specific water quality issues for people all over the country (including analyzing samples of water sent in and talking to people about what level of water filtration makes sense for their needs). A friend of mine building a house in Atlanta just used their services and had a good experience. I'm a renter and can't modify fixtures enough to do anything but schlep the jugs back and forth -- if you're interested in that, it is cheaper than bottled water and Whole Foods sells bulk water in the same way.
posted by sweltering at 6:51 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just announced...
posted by grateful at 10:24 AM on March 13, 2013

If you are concerned about lead in the pipes in your house, get your water professionally tested. This shouldn't be expensive and should put your concerns to rest.

(If it helps, I grew up in DC in a 1920s row house in Mount Pleasant. This being the 70s-80s, bottled water didn't enter into the picture, and I'm apparently normal.)
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 1:40 PM on March 15, 2013

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