Top-Rated Water Filters (Starting Under $20)

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Grabbing bottled water may be convenient, but it's also costly. Filtering your own tap water is cheaper and better for you. Here's how to pick the right type of filter at the right price.

I cringe every time I have to buy a bottle of water when I’m out and about. It’s more expensive than gasoline.

Because I was too lazy to fill a reusable water bottle before leaving home, I end up spending $1 on a 20-ounce bottle. That’s $6.40 per gallon for a liquid that I can get for free at home.

Plus, bottled water isn’t necessarily any better. The bottled water industry is less regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency than municipal water systems. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, some bottled water is just filtered tap water.

But that doesn’t mean your tap water is necessarily safe either. When Consumer Reports recently analyzed reports from the water systems of the 13 largest cities in the U.S., they found…

Few claimed to have no federal water-quality violations. Though none of the other water systems were consistently unhealthful, all had some samples containing significant quantities of contaminants. In New York City, for example, some samples had lead levels several times the federal limit.

So if you want to save your money and your health – not to mention the environment – there seems only one option: Filter your own water. Water filtration has become a $3-billion-a-year industry, and there are several types of filters and dozens of models to pick from.

If your refrigerator dispenses water, you may already have a filter in your refrigerator. If not, Consumer Reports narrowed the options down to a handful after testing a few dozen for its February issue. All of these models received the magazine’s “Best Buy” label, which means they’re considered the best value for the money in their category…

Pitchers/dispensers

  • Advantage: No installation required
  • Disadvantage: Refilling required
  • Best Buy: Tersano Lotus LWT100, $269 retail
  • Best Buy: Clear2O original water pitcher, $24 retail, $16.50 at Amazon.com (shipping is free)

Faucet-mounted filters

  • Advantage: Relatively easy to install, switch between filtered and unfiltered water
  • Disadvantage: Incompatible with most pull-down or spray faucets
  • Best Buy: Culligan FM-15A, $23 retail, $18.90 at Amazon (shipping is free if you spend $25-plus), $17.68 at Sears (but shipping starts at $6.25)
  • Best Buy: Brita Base on Tap, $19 retail

Countertop filters

  • Advantage: Filter large quantities of water, no plumbing modification required
  • Disadvantage: Unsightly
  • Best Buy: Shaklee BestWater MTS 2000, $260 retail (but if you become a Shaklee member, which costs $20, you can buy it for $220)

Reverse osmosis system

  • Advantage: Hidden out of sight
  • Disadvantage: Hardest to install
  • Best Buy: Whirlpool WHER25, $146 estimated retail, $146 at Lowe’s (shipping to your local store is free)
  • Best Buy: Kenmore Elite 38556, $255 retail, $255 at Sears (shipping is free if you pick it up at your local store)

For more details, check out Consumer Reports’ water filter guide. For more eco-friendly ways to save money, check out 10 Ways to Save the Earth and Save Cash.

Karla Bowsher runs our Deals page and covers consumer, retail, and health issues. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

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