I recently stumbled on an article comparing water filter pitchers, and surprise, ZeroWater came out on top. That wasn’t the notable part of the article, the notable part was that it did a comparison mash up of two very different filters: filters meant to remove as much as possible, and filters meant to maybe do that and add back minerals and change pH. There was no clear standard for effectiveness shown, no numbers showing if the mineralizing pitchers removed any harmful substances – it was quite literally the least helpful comparison of some numbers went up while others went down with no direct way to show the effectiveness of either. It didn’t even cover filter costs or try to get an estimated annual cost of use. I honestly don’t know how it slipped through the media companies rigorous standards. It was almost as big of a waste of time as the time you just spent reading this paragraph about their crappy article. The rest of this page is more informative.
You don’t need a full blown mineralization pitcher filter to get minerals back into your pitcher filtered drinking water, or to change the pH. There are a few options from drops to cartridges that you can add to the water. To change the pH you can use something like pH10Max Alkaline Concentrate to change 7.5 gallons of water with one bottle up to a pH of 10. For minerals you can use Concentrace Trace Mineral Drops from Trace Minerals Research to re-mineralize your water, and a little really goes a long way with this. Start with one drop per glass of water and add more to taste. This stuff lasts forever. Then there are mineralizing and pH modulating water infusers which you just leave in your water source (this could be inside the clean water part of your pitcher water filter) and replace it every 3 months.
If I wanted all the features of a Reverse Osmosis system with re-mineralization built in to one unit, why would I bother with water filter pitchers? I rent my place, and ZeroWater on its own is a better price proposition for two people with the current total dissolved solids of water in my area. I’ll get into number crunching and why total dissolved solids may change the math in favor of a countertop reverse osmosis system over pitcher filters further down. It may be that you find a mineralization pitcher also fits your needs better. I don’t always want mineralized or pH adjusted water, but I always want filtered water that is reliable and trustworthy.
Installation of Reverse Osmosis, damage, and maintenance
To install a traditional under sink reverse osmosis system you have to permanently cut into 3 things: the water supply line, the sink drain line, and the counter top for the dispenser if you don’t already have an extra hole for it to be mounted into. All of those are non-starters for me in a rental. The water supply line and drain line you would have to replace when you move, and that’s not something I want to add on to a todo list when moving time comes around. There is no extra hole at the sink for a dispensing faucet at my place, so that’s a non-starter.
Countertop Reverse Osmosis options
But wait, there are countertop reverse osmosis options! They generally come in two varieties: supply line that attaches to your faucet with a switch to supply the reverse osmosis unit or let water flow out of the faucet along with a drain line into the sink (I’ll call these “attached”), or standalone units that have a refillable basin that use electricity to pump water through the filters to a clean water reservoir, but require you to drain waste water and refill the supply basin regularly (I’ll call these detached). Reverse osmosis filter systems generally last longer than pitcher filters because they constantly pump out concentrated TDS and other content that is filtered out whereas in pitcher filters they just accumulate until they can no longer effectively filter.
Important Note: I have not purchased the below water filtration devices (except for the linked ZeroWater products), and listing them here should not be construed as a recommendation to purchase; you should do your own due diligence. There are affiliate links which may earn me a small amount of money, but their inclusion is primarily for illustrative purposes of cost and options. I do however recommend ZeroWater pitchers and filters and use them constantly and purchase them with my own money.
Attached Countertop RO Options
The ones with supply lines are relatively cheap starting at around $130. They are purely mechanical, and fairly easy to install. Let’s take the Express Water EZRO5 Countertop Reverse Osmosis Filtration System it is around $150 as a one-time cost, comes with a dispensing faucet attached to the filters, and a set of 1 year replacement filters costs around $100 annually. It’s a genuine eyesore in my opinion, but it gets the job done. The cons are that attached countertop RO choices don’t have a storage tank, so when you open the faucet you’re going to see a slow flow of water (user reports indicate it could take upwards of 15 minutes to produce a gallon of filtered water), dependent on your water pressure, while you fill you’ll watch a lot of waste water going down the drain (according to user experiences, twice as much waste water is produced as filtered water, not great if you live in a drought prone area).
Detached Countertop RO Options
Detached reverse osmosis units are designed to actually look good. They are far more efficient with their generation of waste water than an attached RO system, and if you want to keep your faucet free of dangling hoses, it could be a great option. Let’s take the AquaTru Countertop Water Filtration Purification System it has a one time cost of $426 to buy it right now on Amazon and the AquaTru 2 Year Combo Pack of replacement filters is $150, so $75 per year for ongoing costs excluding power and water. The cons of systems like these is that they are quite pricey, and with that price comes a lot of sensors and electronics to make sure everything is closed up, locked down, and in functioning order before turning on. They track water levels, filter use, waste water status, and control water pumps to push the water through and that means it needs to be plugged in, plus screens, buttons, led lights. That’s a lot that could go wrong. Plus, you have to fill and drain a water reservoir, and keep all the water basins clean (they recommend washing them once a week).
Filter Performance, What to Look For
One of the things I really like about ZeroWater is that they are up front about their filter performance by publishing an online report that not only discloses all the things that are tested, but the results for their filters at 20 gallons and again at 40 gallons. According to the NSF Certification, their filters are rated for a service life of 20 gallons, so showing the results at twice that, and for it to still perform that well is remarkable. For most filtering purposes ZeroWater says to replace the filter when the TDS meter reads 006, and that is the general methodology I follow.
Only the companies that are serious about their filter performance will give you the water analysis to back it up. If you ask a lot of manufacturers for this data they’ll tell you their filters “perform great”, *wink*, but will avoid providing any data to back it up. Others may give you a report, but only for when the filter is fairly new, and not how it performs over time. I saw a water quality report recently for a mineralization pitcher whose filter was 1/4 the size of a ZeroWater filter, included the re-mineralization stones inside, and produced water that had nearly everything removed at 99.99%. I’m super skeptical of the methodology that could produce results like that.
ZeroWater is nice enough to provide you with a TDS meter (total dissolved solids, ie minerals, salts etc…) which you can use to measure the water before and after it is filtered to give you an ongoing idea of how well your filter is performing. In my area the water from the faucet is usually between 050-080, and I can get around 80 gallons of water before the meter reads 006. That is because the filter can only absorb so much stuff before it is no longer effective, so the higher TDS of water going in, the shorter the filter life.
Cost Analysis per Year
In my case for two people, we use around 500 gallons of filtered water per year, mostly for drinking, some for cooking certain things, some for watering certain plants, and other utilitarian uses.
|ZeroWater||My actual results||TDS 50||TDS 100||TDS 150||TDS 200||TDS 300|
|Gallons per filter||80||40||35||30||25||15|
|Filters per year for 500 gallons||6.3||12.5||14.3||16.7||20||33.4|
|Annual cost at $10 filter*||$63||$125||$143||$167||$200||$334|
|Cost of 1 Pitcher per Year**||$20||$20||$20||$20||$20|
|Total est annual cost for ZeroWater||$83||$145||$163||$187||$230||$354|
|4 year cost for ZeroWater||$332||$580||$652||$748||$920||$1416|
** Pitchers do wear out, and I have 2 in my household, replacing one per year. ZeroWater has manufacturer coupons available from their website for retail discounts, and they stack with a Bed Bath Beyond 20% discount since that is a store discount
I’m assuming that the reverse osmosis units will last 4 years, maybe that’s generous. It’s always a risk with 1 year warranty products. There are more options on the market than what I’m listing here, this is just to give you a sense of cost. It’s also important to make sure you understand the filters you need to buy, and the replacement schedule. Make sure the company is going to be around when you need to buy new filters, or purchase them in advance so you have several years worth of replacements on hand.
As you can see from the price tables, which solution you pick is going to depend first on the TDS of your local water, and how much filtered water you need, if it is low then there is no doubt a water filter pitcher like ZeroWater will be the easy choice. If it’s low and you have a larger need for filtered water, like 1000 gallons/year, then it would make sense to go with a reverse osmosis unit. If your TDS is over 150, then a reverse osmosis unit is easily the right choice. After that it comes down to if you want to spend another $200 to have it be detached with the inconvenience of filling water basins, or attached and have hoses connected to your faucet and dangling into your sink.