Debunking Popular Myths About Home Water Filtration

As concerns about drinking water safety continue to rise, so do the misconceptions surrounding home water filtration. Well-meaning folks reference sketchy science, clever bottled water ads twist the truth with fancy images and buzzwords, and even legit research gets misinterpreted sometimes.

In this article, we debunk some of the most popular myths still causing confusion among families striving to secure safe, great-tasting water for their homes. Our goal is not to shame anyone who has bought into the deceptive marketing ploys or questionable claims but to empower you with science-backed facts, so you never get misled again. Stay tuned as we uncover the truth.

Myth #1. Boiled water is healthier than filtered water.

For ages, boiling has been the go-to method for purifying water. Even today, it’s normal for health officials to issue boil water notices, advising residents to boil their water if there’s a known or suspected microbial contamination issue in the area.

Heating water to around 212°F for a minute or two is said to kill most disease-causing microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and parasites. But this is where things often get tricky—many people falsely believe boiling alone is enough to make their water safe to drink and use, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just boiling the water may not make it safe if it is contaminated with inorganic contaminants like heavy metals, salts, radionuclides, or pharmaceuticals. The same goes for most chemical threats, such as chlorine, PFAS, and pesticides.

Essentially, boiling eliminates microbiological hazards while leaving most other contaminants intact. So, while boiling has its place, don’t fully rely on it to get rid of all the unwanted (and potentially dangerous) elements possibly lurking in your water supply. Filtering your water is a far better option, as many home water filtration systems are designed to tackle a broader range of contaminants—not just biological contaminants.

Myth #2. Refrigerator filters are enough to produce safe drinking water.

Refrigerators with built-in water filters have become a staple in many U.S. households, and for good reason. They’re designed to keep your groceries chilled and fresh and should dispense cleaner, fresher, and safer drinking water for you and your family. They sure seem like an amazing two-for-one bargain, but just how effective are they at filtering water?

While fridge filters may improve the taste and smell of water and screen out some particulates that can gunk up your ice and tubes over time, many homeowners rely solely on them to eliminate toxins they aren’t meant to address—heavy metals like lead and arsenic, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, PFAS, VOCs, disinfection byproducts (DBPs), and the list goes on.

Some fridge filters use multiple filtration stages to trap and remove contaminants of different sizes and types but most use a single activated carbon filter made of small, crushed-up pieces of charcoal that work to attract and absorb several contaminants. This type of filter removes chlorine, volatile organic chemicals, radon, benzene, and other man-made chemicals. However, they’re far less effective than other bigger and more complex systems like reverse osmosis filters and whole-house carbon filtration systems engineered to catch more contaminants.

The whole fridge filter pitch relies heavily on convenience while virtually ignoring the performance gaps. Don’t get lured in by the two-for-one hype without first understanding the significant limitations of these types of water filters.

Learn more: The Hidden Dangers of Refrigerator Water Filters

Myth #3. Tap water doesn’t require additional filtration/treatment.

Many people believe that tap water is safe because it’s filtered naturally as it journeys underground or because the EPA requires public water suppliers to treat the water and ensure it’s safe before distributing it to homes and businesses. We’d hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is not exactly the case–at least not always.

Yes, water traveling underground gets filtered (to some extent) as it percolates through layers of rock and soil. But what often gets overlooked is the multitude of contaminants the water picks up as it travels to your water well, and ultimately, your drinking glass.

Well water can be polluted by runoff from farms, septic tanks, industrial discharge, and other sources. Besides, private wells aren’t regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, increasing the risk of contamination.

If your water comes from a municipality, it’s usually the same result. Public water providers employ various methods to reduce contaminants in water, per EPA requirements, but even after being treated, the water may still contain a cocktail of contaminants at levels linked to negative health impacts.

Take this study by the USGS, for example. Researchers estimate that at least 45% of the nation’s tap water from both private and government-regulated public water supplies have one or more types of chemicals known as per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, or PFAS. If you’ve read any of our articles on PFAS, you know the dangers of this group of cancer-linked chemicals.

Lead is also commonly found in tap water across the U.S., making the water dangerous to drink. Disappointingly, EPA regulations permit up to 10 ppb of lead in tap water, although leading health agencies confirm no amount is safe, especially for kids. It also doesn’t help that many of our children nationwide are drinking lead-tainted water at schools and daycares every day. The good news is that some states have started mandating lead filters within these facilities.

Learn more: Effects of Fertilizer Runoff on Drinking Water Quality | The 4 Most Common Ways Our Water is Being Polluted and How You Can Tackle the Dangerous Effects

Myth #4. Bottled water is purer than filtered tap water.

Every year, major bottled water brands spend big bucks to market the supposed ‘purity’ of their products. The carefully crafted ads and labels often display images of crystal-clear mountain springs and pristine glaciers that would make anyone believe there’s not even a trace of contaminants in bottled water. Don’t fall for it.

Research shows that popular bottled waters often carry the same sketchy stuff lurking in taps, particularly PFAS. In 2020, consumer watchdog group Consumer Reports (CR) tested 47 bottled waters, including 35 noncarbonated and 12 carbonated options, and found levels of PFAS chemicals in several popular brands that were above recommended limits. Some of the brands that exceeded the recommended threshold for PFAS include Perrier, La Croix, Canada Dry, Poland Spring, Bubly, Polar, and Topo Chico.

Another study that same year found that 93% of bottled water contained microplastics—small bits of plastic that can build up in the body over time and wreak havoc on your health. CR also warned that Whole Foods bottled water contained “potentially harmful levels of arsenic,” amounting to three times the level of the chemical compared to other brands.

Unlike public water systems, bottled companies don’t need to follow strict testing rules or report what they find in your bottled water. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says a few basic contamination checks are enough. Compare that to hundreds of required tests for public utilities plus full public records on what turned up and how they’re fixing it. And don’t forget that many bottled water products start out as regular tap water before being filtered–which still doesn’t mean it’s safer than filtered tap water.

Related: The Toxic Effects of PFAS in Drinking Water | Effects of Arsenic in Drinking Water During Pregnancy | The Impacts of Plastic Water Bottles on Pollution & Your Wallet

Myth #5. Water with an ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ TDS level is safe.

Is a TDS meter an effective way to tell if your water is safe to drink? Companies that sell these devices would certainly want you to believe so. While a TDS reading provides useful baseline insights into the total concentration of dissolved materials in your supply, it doesn’t reveal anything about the actual identity, size, or toxicity of those elements.

A high reading could be from harmless mineral salts or a mix of heavy metal toxins and sewage. The TDS number alone gives zero clue which is present. Even low TDS tap water can contain contaminants at technically “safe” levels but may accumulate in your body over time. However, those like lead, which has no safe level in drinking water, can be very dangerous at low concentrations.

It gets even scarier. Uncharged contaminants like pesticides, gasoline, motor oil, and pharmaceuticals do not contribute to a TDS measurement. Also, TDS meters do not detect PFAS in drinking water. That means your water may have an excellent TDS rating, causing you to believe it is safe, while the water is still contaminated with all kinds of toxic pollutants.

If you want to know if your water is safe and what’s exactly in it, we suggest purchasing a water test kit and having your water tested by a certified laboratory in your area.

Learn more: What Is TDS & Why TDS is Just a Myth For Measuring Drinking Water Quality | 10 Common Problems a Water Test Can Detect in Tap Water

Myth #6. Water that smells or tastes great is clean and doesn’t need to be filtered.

“If water doesn’t smell or taste weird, it must be safe.” Ever heard that line before? Sounds reasonable but believing it may put you and your household members in danger.

The truth is that some contaminants can cause noticeable tastes and smells in water. However, others may not produce any discernible effects, even at unhealthy levels. So, while a bleach-like or sewage taste or scent means you should avoid that glass for sure, clean-tasting or -smelling water could still secretly harbor potentially dangerous elements. For instance, lead and arsenic are tasteless and odorless but can still pose health risks if present in high enough concentrations.

Private well owners also fall for this a lot, too—especially after big storms. “Our water seems fine, so the flooding didn’t contaminate our supply.” Next thing you know, toxic E. coli and other pathogens from sewage and animal waste get washed into wells and their drinking water supply.

That’s why it’s so important to have your water tested regularly, even if there’s no sign that it’s contaminated. You might never know what unseen elements could be lurking in it. Your family deserves facts before the first drink, not risky assumptions. Those flood waters may have very well tainted your well, so check first instead of relying on your senses.

Related: Common Odors in Tap Water and How to Remove Them | 9 Reasons Your Tap Water Tastes Bad and How to Fix It

Myth #7. Home water filtration systems consume too much electricity.

If you’ve been putting off purchasing a home water filter because it will hike up your electricity bill (as you’ve probably been told), we’re here to set the record straight.

The idea that water filtration systems consume too much electricity is a myth—plain and simple. This often stems from folks assuming water filters use the same amount of energy as household appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers, and heating and cooling equipment, which account for over two-thirds of electricity use in U.S. households.

While “too much electricity” is subjective, home water filtration systems are typically designed to use minimal electricity. But, of course, the amount of energy they consume depends on the type of system and how often it’s used. For example, some filtration systems use gravity to filter water, while others use electricity to power the filtration process.

A standard water filter uses approximately 35 to 70 watts per hour—compared to a basic bread toaster hogging between 800 to 1500 watts. Considering that the average price of a kilowatt-hour (kWh) in the U.S. is 23 cents per hour (as of February 2023), a water filter running full capacity for five hours on average each day will cost $1.23 per month or $14.70 per year on the low end and $2.45 monthly and $29.40 yearly on the top end. Not too crazy for something whose job is to provide 24/7 protection against potentially toxic contaminants in water, right? Plus, bear in mind that some water filter systems don’t use electricity.

Myth #8. Water filters are too expensive.

The initial price tags of under-sink filters or whole-house setups often fuel the misconception that water filters are a splurge rather than a wise investment. What many don’t consider is the lowered healthcare costs these systems provide over the long term.

A water filter’s job is to eliminate potentially harmful elements from your water supply, thus safeguarding your health. Better health from fewer toxins like lead, PFAS, and microplastics saves you thousands of dollars in healthcare over time to treat diseases caused by contaminated water and other severe illnesses like cancer, brain and nerve damage, gastrointestinal issues, reproductive problems, and the list goes on.

Most standard water filters cost around $20-$60 a year for a few filter replacements, which is way cheaper than those absurd ER bills or hauling cases of bottled water every month. Spending a few bucks on a bottle of water now and then might not seem like a big deal, but when you make it a regular habit, you may end up paying up to 4,000 percent more on bottled water than filtered tap water, even though as much as 64% of bottled water is tap water.

According to Food & Water Watch, “A gallon’s worth of single-serve bottled water costs almost $9.50 — nearly 2,000 times the price of tap water, three times the national average price for a gallon of milk and four times the national average price for a gallon of regular-grade gasoline.”

Myth #9. Water filter pitchers have high-tech filters.

Water filter pitchers have taken the market by storm. They’re relatively affordable, compact, and convenient and many say these devices can strip out unappetizing flavors and funky odors. But with their growing popularity, many people pit them against more advanced systems.

Like refrigerator filters, most pitcher filters typically only have a carbon filter that helps remove elements to help improve taste, remove unpleasant odors, and strip away some sediment and heavy metals if concentrations are high enough. However, the average pitcher often can’t tackle micro-toxins like lead, pharmaceuticals, or pesticides now being detected through advanced water testing methods.

Water pitchers are no match for larger-scale home filters equipped with multi-stage filtration with membranes and resins tailor-made for specific contaminants. No pitcher filter has this level of engineering.

Make no mistake; small pitchers have their place. If better-tasting water is your goal, they may be a good fit for you. However, relying on their limited features and capabilities often results in major gaps in protection and severe safety risks, especially for susceptible populations like children and expecting mothers.

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

Final Thoughts

When it comes to home water filtration, separating fact from fiction is vital as it empowers families to make the right choices for cleaner, healthier water in their homes. With the proper knowledge, deciding whether to filter your water at home and selecting the right system to do so become far less confusing. No more falling prey to misleading marketing tactics or well-meaning but misguided recommendations from family, friends, and other folks. Finally, you can cut through the noise and see beyond the hype.