What is a Water Filter Pitcher & How Does It Work?

Whether our drinking water comes from a kitchen tap or a plastic bottle, we expect it to be clean, crisp, and refreshing. But headlines about toxic lead and cancer-linked “forever chemicals” constantly remind us that our tap water isn’t always safe and pleasant to drink.

Maybe your water has an off-putting chlorine taste, or you are more concerned about old pipes possibly leaching a cocktail of heavy metals and other contaminants in your water. Whatever the case, your best bet to enjoy clean and fresh-tasting water at home is to filter it.

You could install an under-counter water filter or a whole-house filtration system. However, if you’d rather skip the plumbing job and higher price tags (in the short term) and still enjoy filtered drinking water at home, a water filter pitcher is one of the cheapest, most straightforward, and most convenient options.

Ahead, we explain all you need to know about water filter pitchers, including how they work and their pros and cons. And because you’ve been an avid reader of our blogs, we’ll provide some valuable information to help you decide if a pitcher system is a good fit for your home.

What is a Water Filter Pitcher, and How Does It Work?

Think of a water filter pitcher as a kitchen jug that filters your water. In standard pitcher systems, a filter is installed in the lid/reservoir of the pitcher. As you pour unfiltered water from the kitchen faucet, it passes through an opening in the lid, then flows into the top reservoir housing the filter cartridge. As the water flows through the filter, it removes impurities and contaminants and drains the filtered water into the jug, where it’s ready to be poured and consumed.

The filtration process usually occurs in one of two ways;

  • Chemically, where filter media, such as activated carbon, absorbs some contaminants. Carbon filters use a process called adsorption to treat water. In adsorption, organic and some inorganic compounds stick to the surface of the carbon. Because the carbon’s surface area is so large, it acts like a sponge that absorbs contaminants as tap water passes through it.
  • Physically, where a net-like filter traps some contaminants. The filter – which may be a piece of thin gauze or a very fine textile membrane – strains the water to remove larger impurities, like dirt, sand, silt, clay, sediment, rust particles, etc. It works virtually the same as sediment filters in larger-capacity systems.

The filtration process generally takes one or two minutes to complete, and you may need to fill the top reservoir twice or even three times and let it filter slowly down to fill the pitcher. But please note, however, that although these filtering techniques are effective, they are not designed to eradicate every possible pollutant. Removing some contaminant molecules, such as lead, is too complex for the simple filtration processes in standard pitcher filter systems. As a result, you might realize that your water filter pitcher allows specific contaminants to pass through into your drinking glass.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Using a Water Filter Pitcher

If your family, guests, and pets drink tap water, you probably want to ensure you’re providing fresh, clean, and safe water. But since tap water doesn’t always check these boxes, you’re probably wondering if you should purchase a water filter pitcher. Before you pull out your wallet or purse, consider these pros and cons of using such a system:

Pros of Using a Water Filter Pitcher

  • Inexpensive: The main attraction for many homeowners to water pitcher filters is their relatively low cost. Depending on the filter, you will spend around $20 to $60 for a standard model. The more expensive options are usually brand-name, with larger capacities, more advanced filtration features, and other bells and whistles.
  • Compact: The compact size of pitcher filter systems allow them to sit on your countertop or directly in your fridge. They are small and easy to move around, so they can easily fit in any suitable place, and likely won’t be a nuisance in your home.
  • Convenient, simple, and practical: Because of their small size, you can bring your pitcher when traveling or purchase another for use in a building where the water quality is questionable. On top of that, pitcher filters are simple and require no installation. Some even filter as you pour.

Cons of Using a Water Filter Pitcher

  • Less effective: Standard pitcher filters are great for surface-level problems in the water, like foul odors and taste, but are usually unreliable for solving more significant issues. Other water filtration techniques, like reverse osmosis, can remove more contaminants than pitchers.
  • Longer filtration times: Pitcher filters can only filter so much water at a time. Sometimes, the filtration process takes time to purify water. This may not be a concern if you usually fill up your pitcher and store it in the fridge for later. But if your household consumes or uses lots of filtered water daily, it might be an issue.
  • Frequent filter replacements add up $$$: Even after you buy the pitcher, you will need to purchase replacement filters every two to four months, depending on the brand and filter. Manufacturer instructions usually tell you how often to change the filter. You’ll want to follow those guidelines because filters clogged with particulates may stop working. But remember that these filter replacements can be costly in the long run.

Do You Really Need a Filter Pitcher?

The first step to determining if you need a pitcher system is to find out what’s in your water. Even if tastes or odors are your main reasons for looking into a water filter pitcher, it’s a good idea to research other potential contaminants in your water supply.

Your local water supplier’s Water Quality Report (also known as a Consumer Confidence Report) will state the concentrations of pollutants – such as heavy metals, pesticides, and microbes – present. Or you can purchase a water test kit, collect a water sample from your tap, and send it to a certified lab for testing.

Once you know what’s in your water, you’ll need to find a pitcher system to remove them. Some pitchers eliminate bad-tasting contaminants, like zinc, chlorine, and hydrogen sulfide (known to cause a rotten egg smell in water), while others remove lead. If a pitcher does filter out lead – or other contaminants such as heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and pharmaceuticals – the packaging should cite a separate certification mark for each.

If your water contains serious contaminants, a water pitcher filter might not be enough to mitigate the problem. You might need a more comprehensive filtration system.

What If I Already Have A Water Filter Pitcher?

Sure, having a water filter pitcher is better than having no filtration solution – and certainly better than relying on single-use bottled water, which can be expensive and aren’t environmentally friendly. But that doesn’t mean your pitcher system is reliable and effective, and your water is clean and safe to drink.

Two separate water tests can help determine how well the system cleans your water. The first water test should be performed on the unfiltered water from your tap. The second should provide results about water that has passed through your filter pitcher. By comparing these two tests, you can see what contaminants the pitcher isn’t catching, then decide on what other solution might be a better fit.

Water Filter Pitcher Alternatives

While filter pitchers are usually easy to use, convenient, and relatively inexpensive, there are plenty of more comprehensive and effective options, like under-sink systems and whole-house filters. You can also explore water softeners and UV purification systems for an even smoother and more complete filtering experience and cleaner, better-tasting, and healthier water.

Under counter water filters

Typically installed under the sink, under-counter systems are designed for more extensive contaminant reduction in water – far more than pitcher systems.

Under-counter systems are excellent if you want to treat all the water coming through your tap instead of filling a pitcher. Many under counter filter systems use reverse osmosis to remove/reduce contaminants and are among the most robust and effective filtration solutions. Water filter pitchers don’t even come close to the level of filtration a reverse osmosis system provides. These systems will address water quality issues, including odd tastes, weird odors, and a broad array of contaminants, including lead, chromium, and mercury.

However, unless you’re allowed to, you cannot install an under-counter system in an apartment, rental home, or dormitory. A water pitcher system is the most convenient option if you’re not a homeowner.

Faucet mounted and faucet-integrated filters

Faucet-mounted and faucet-integrated filters are somewhat similar to pitcher filters in what they remove and how frequently their filters need replacing. The main difference is that pitchers are portable, and faucet filters attach to the sink faucet or are integrated into it.

Faucet-mounted filters attach directly to most types of faucets. You might be able to switch the filter on and off, depending on if you’re pouring drinking water or need to water your houseplants. They’re one of the cheapest Point-of-Use (POU) systems and are easy to use, but the filters require regular replacement.

In a faucet-integrated filter setup, the filter is built into the faucet rather than mounted onto it. It’s another type where you can easily switch between filtered and unfiltered water. But they’re more expensive, and you have to factor in the cost and hassle of installing them.

Countertop filters

With this option, the filter sits on the countertop and connects directly to your faucet. That means you don’t have to modify your plumbing for easy installation. But these filters may clutter the sink deck and don’t work with pull-down faucets. In contrast, pitchers are portable, so you can put them in the fridge or elsewhere (depending on their size) and keep your sink clutter-free.

Whole house water filters

Whole house water filtration systems treat all the water coming into your house – not only the water meant for drinking but also the water used in bathrooms and appliances, like dishwashers, refrigerators, and washing machines. Also known as Point-of-Entry (POE) systems, whole-house filters are typically installed at your home’s main water line, where water first enters your home (usually in the basement or a utility closet). This placement ensures that all the water entering your home gets filtered.

Water Softeners

Water softeners don’t filter water, but they have another crucial function: reducing hardness levels in your water supply. The need for a water softener can be recognized by a few common symptoms, including chalky white films on dishes, mineral scale buildup on water faucets and shower heads, and dry hair and skin, to name a few. A water softener can also extend the lifespan of your water-using appliances.

UV Water Purification Systems

Although municipal water providers must adhere to specific safety standards when treating water, once the water leaves the treatment plant and travels to your home, it can quickly pick up bacteria and other pathogens. If you suspect that your water contains bacteria, or you want an extra layer of water protection in the case of a natural disaster, a quality UV Purification system is your best option.

UV systems use ultraviolet light, which – at specific intensities – emits enough radiation to penetrate bacteria and other microorganisms and alter their DNA. As a result, most organisms are rendered entirely harmless and cannot spread through your drinking water.

Should You Buy a Water Filter Pitcher?

It all depends on what’s in your water, your pitcher system, and what you want the system to remove. If you’re looking for a simple and affordable way to filter small amounts of water, a pitcher system might be a good choice for your home. But remember that your water could still contain specific contaminants that the pitcher doesn’t address.

It might be helpful to view pitcher filters as a temporary solution or short term solution until you can get a more comprehensive system to filter your water. A water filter pitcher likely won’t suffice if your water has various possible water quality problems. Therefore, you’ll need something more robust, like a whole-house filter or an under-counter system.

Contact us today if you need help finding the most reliable and effective solution to combat a wide range of contamination problems in your water supply. Our friendly water experts are available to address any questions or concerns you may have.

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