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David WatskySenior Editor / Home and Kitchen
David lives in Brooklyn where he's logged more than a decade writing about all things edible, including meal kits and meal delivery subscriptions, cooking, kitchen gear and commerce. Since earning a BA in English from Northeastern in Boston, he's toiled in nearly every aspect of the eats business from slicing and dicing as a sous-chef in Rhode Island to leading complex marketing campaigns for major food brands in Manhattan. These days, he's likely somewhere trying the latest this or tasting the latest that - and reporting back, of course. Anything with sesame is his all-time favorite food this week.
ExpertiseKitchen tech, cookware, small appliances, food innovation, meal delivery and meal kits.
While conceptually simple, water filters are an increasingly complex product. The team here at CNET has undertaken detailed testing to identify the key traits of a good one and come away with a clear winner: the ZeroWater 12-cup Water Filter Pitcher. ZeroWater does not mess around when it comes to filtering 100% of total dissolved solids, or TDS, out of your water -- the company even includes a test meter to prove just how effective it is. Additionally, the ZeroWater pitcher performed as well or better than every other unit we tested at removing other contaminants from the water. With an affordable price tag to round things out, it’s no wonder that the ZeroWater 12-cup takes our top spot comfortably.
These days, a water filter in your kitchen is all but a necessity since you never know what’s in your tap water -- and relying on disposable bottles is both expensive and incredibly wasteful of plastics. A good water filter pitcher is substantially more affordable (we did the math), it’s healthy and convenient, and if that isn’t enough it’ll also make your tap water taste great.
With that in mind, what exactly should you expect from a high-quality water pitcher filter? There are a number of substances you may wish to see removed from your drinking water, including but not limited to: calcium and magnesium deposits making your water “hard,” chlorine and fluoride added by water treatment plants, and even heavy metals such as lead, chromium or arsenic in trace amounts. The activated carbon filters utilized in most pitchers do a great job pulling these out in general, but as you’ll see, some are markedly better than others.
If you're ready to take home a pitcher for cleaning, better-tasting water without the cost of bottles, we've run all the tests and settled on the following models as the best water filter pitchers for 2023. Keep reading if you're thirsty for the details.
Have you ever raised an eyebrow reading a company’s marketing claims? I once tested a flashlight that claimed a lumen output of 200,000 -- bright enough to be seen from an airliner. The true value turned out to be a much more realistic 1,500 lumens. Suffice it to say, I had my doubts when I read that ZeroWater could consistently remove a perfect 100% of TDS from water filtered through it.
ZeroWater is confident for a reason, however, and even provides its own TDS testing meter with every pitcher to prove it. Even though we still used our own test meter, the results were identical: 0 TDS remaining across every trial and no chlorine left suspended in the water either.
This formidable water purifier pitcher is also affordable and sturdy, and it's available in a few sizes, all of which use the same five-stage filter to great effect. Those include a smaller 10-cup round pitcher, 23-cup dispenser with spigot and even a massive 5-gallon water jug that can be fitted onto a water cooler. The only downside to these powerhouse filters is that they're a bit more expensive to replace, and it takes them somewhat longer to filter compared to the rest of the field, but neither is much of a surprise given how much better they actually filter the water.
Brita is probably the best-known of the water filter pitcher brands, and while it wasn't included in our most recent round of tests at the CNET Labs product testing facility in Louisville, Kentucky, it still performed quite well in previous rounds of at-home testing, second only to the ZeroWater in removal of total dissolved materials. The Brita extracted about 40% of the TDS -- not a bad showing but still significantly less than the winner.
This model is a few bucks cheaper than a ZeroWater pitcher of the same size, making it one of the most budget-friendly water filter pitcher options out there. To make things even more cost-efficient, the replacement filters can be had for about $6 if you buy them in a multipack. Each one is said to filter 40 gallons of water, enough for roughly two months of steady use (the same lifespan as ZeroWater). Brita also makes a more expensive "Longlast" filter that's designed to last three times as long as the standard filter. We tested one and found it performed significantly worse than the standard "Legacy" filter.
This stylish Swedish kitchen brand is best known for its elegant sparkling water makers but now offers an equally eye-catching filter pitcher. It was the best looking of the bunch, made from a glass and stainless steel frame with a sleek overall design. It also did well in our tests, removing the second most dissolved solids from our tap water. Plus, this pitcher is good-looking enough to set out for a dinner party. It's not as efficient as our top pick, the ZeroWater filter pitcher, but about on par with the Brita models. Plus, this pitcher is good-looking enough to set this out for a dinner party.
It's worth noting that the Aarke has a reusable filter so you only buy the granules which are easily loaded into the metal filter cartridge and saves a bit on plastic waste. A three-pack of filter granules costs $19.50 on Aarke's website, about the same price as Brita replacement filters and less than half of what you'd pay for ZeroWater filters. One package of granules is estimated to filter about 31.7 gallons of water. That's about 9 gallons less than Brita claims its filters will purify. You can also buy Aarke enriching granules to alkalinize your water if you prefer.
If the goal is to add alkaline to your water, then you'll want a completely different model. In a previous round of filter testing, we ran pH readings (measurements of how acidic or basic your water is) ranging from 0 to 14; 7 is a neutral reading.
Despite conflicting research on the topic, some people attribute health benefits to more basic (or alkaline) water. As a result, select companies make water pitchers with filters that actually add nutrients as your tap water passes through. The $80 Seychelle pH20 pitcher took tap water from an already basic reading of 8.39 to 10.1, the largest increase out of the three alkaline pitchers in our test group. This pitcher's water filtration system uses two filters at a time, but they are supposed to last for up to 200 gallons. A replacement filter two-pack costs $55.
With the outliers in terms of performance and presentation out of the way, the rest of the pack starts to look a lot more similar. If all you’re looking for is a quick, effective water filter pitcher that won’t require you to change the filters all the time, we recommend the Waterdrop 10-cup Water Filter Pitcher, which typically costs $30 or less. In terms of performance, it made a respectable dent in the TDS of our tap water, but where the Waterdrop really shines is in the lifespan of its filters. These filters last 200 gallons, while the rest of the units we tested range from 40-60 gallons. Better still, replacement filters are available in a three-pack for $46, which is great value.
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All the water filter pitchers we tested
Here is a list of the other water filter pitchers we’ve tested:
Brita is a name everybody is familiar with for a reason, and their filters will serve you well if that's the direction you choose to go. While not as effective as the ZeroWater, they are affordable, effective and have a respectable service life before requiring replacement.
An important item to consider when making your choice is the frequency and cost of replacement of the filter itself in your pitcher. The ZeroWater filters are priced at $35 for a two-pack and last for approximately 40 gallons. Brita filters are priced at around $18 in a three-pack and last for the same amount of water. Waterdrop filters last five times as long, at 200 gallons, and are priced at $34 for a two-pack or $46 for a three-pack.
Assuming you'll be diligent at replacing the filters on time, these costs can add up over the duration of your use. Also be sure to keep in mind that the overall quality of your tap water will affect the life of your filter -- better quality water will ease the stress on the filter.
As you can see in the picture above, the ZeroWater filter on the far right is massive compared to others. That doesn't necessarily equal better performance, but in this case, the ZeroWater did soundly outperform the others in removing contaminants. ZeroWater says its five-stage filter is better at removing particles while preventing mold from growing with use. Based on our testing results, it seems the brand may be onto something.
(Keep in mind that filter life will vary based on the quality of your tap water and how much your filter has to "work" to remove impurities.)
How we test water filter pitchers
As mentioned earlier in this article, there are quite a variety of contaminants worth removing from your tap water. The team here at our lab settled on three primary tests to benchmark the efficacy of these filters: TDS, pH and chlorine. Before we began the actual testing, each pitcher was removed from the packaging, cleaned and then prepared per the manufacturer’s instructions. This is very important, as most of these filters utilize activated carbon filtration, which will deposit sediment into the first batches of water that you filter if not cleaned properly in advance.
Testing for TDS
TDS stands for total dissolved solids and encompasses many different impurities present in water. Examples of the most common TDS include "calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, sulfate, chloride, nitrate, and silica," according to the US Geological Survey. In practice, calcium and magnesium deposits in your tap water result in so-called “hard water” that tastes bad and can be actively detrimental to your health at higher concentrations. (Read more about TDS here and here.)
We began TDS testing by mixing an 8-gallon bucket of tap water, measured at 220 ppm TDS, with table salt until we reached a TDS measurement of 300. Generally speaking, 50-150 TDS is considered an ideal range for drinking water. We used an Orapxi water quality tester to take these measurements and since the ZeroWater filter includes a TDS tester as well, all TDS readings were verified on both devices. Once we had established our control source, we measured 1 liter of the 300 TDS water into each of the water filter pitchers and allowed the full quantity to pass through the filter.
Once finished, we measured the TDS again and noted the percentage change. This process was repeated for higher and lower TDS concentrations, and our findings indicate that each of the units we tested is very consistent at removing the same percentage of overall TDS from any water passed through it.
Testing for chlorine
Chlorine in your drinking water may sound strange, but it is actually a very common practice for water treatment facilities to add chlorine to the water supply as a disinfectant. This is extremely effective at getting rid of other, nastier contaminants in the water, but the World Health Organization estimates that a concentration of ~0.2-4 ppm is standard for tap water, indicating that at least some is left over after disinfection.
For our testing, we decided to ramp things up a notch and test water prepared at a concentration similar to that of a swimming pool -- 10 ppm chlorine. This gave us a clear indication of the changes after filtration. Once again, each filter was tested with 1 liter of solution and compared to results from the water prefiltration and once again, filters such as the ZeroWater substantially outperformed the others.
Testing pH changes
Finally, during TDS testing, we also measured the change in pH. pH stands for “potential of hydrogen” and is used to quantify the acidity of a substance. A pH of 0 is extremely acidic, 7 is considered neither acidic nor basic, and 14 represents an extremely basic substance. Since the minerals that comprise the TDS in tap water increase the alkalinity, we expected the filtration process to decrease the pH of the water. Indeed this did turn out to be the case, and you can see a table of the pH changes below.
Here's a table of our most recent TDS removal test results. The data represents an average of three test runs for each filter pitcher.
TDS (% change)
Brita Metro Standard
Which water filter pitcher removes the most impurities?
The ZeroWater pitcher managed to reduce all of the total dissolved solids in my tap water, from an average initial TDS reading of 57 ppm down to zero. Both Brita pitchers with the standard filter tied for second place, with a reduction of TDS from 57 down to 31 (a 45.6% decrease). The stylish (and expensive) Aarke also did well, removing nearly 40% of the TDS from tap water.
Water taste is a bit trickier to measure, but every pitcher did help reduce the slightly metallic taste of my tap water. Unsurprisingly, the ZeroWater pitcher model tasted the best, with no discernible metallic taste or scent.
Overall, the ZeroWater (ZP-010) made our job pretty easy. It completely dominated in terms of removing TDS and also happened to have one of the sturdiest designs. But there are other good options here too: The Brita Metro Standard is a great budget filter pitcher that weighs less than ZeroWater's pitchers and has cheaper replacement filters. The Seychelle pH20 is a great pitcher pick if you want to add alkaline to water. And Aarke's water purifier is my pick for the most stylish water pitcher with a sturdy build, stainless steel frame and glass pitcher. It costs much more than the others but offers a bit of elegance that few others do.
One thing to note is that we're really testing the filters here and not the pitcher itself. Because most home filter pitchers made by a single brand will use the same filter, you can bet that no matter which size or shape dispenser you choose, the filter should do the same job, for better or worse. ZeroWater, for instance, has a line of about six pitchers, jugs and dispensers in various sizes, all of which use the same very effective five-stage filter. The one caveat within the brands we've tested here is Brita which offers a LongLast filter that did not perform as well as the Legacy Brita filters.
Another big takeaway is just how widely filtered water pitchers can vary, both in terms of performance and even in terms of their key function, as in the case of alkaline pitchers. As long as you identify your needs before you buy, you're bound to find the right filtered water pitcher for you.
Factors to consider when choosing a water filter pitcher
Type of filter
Most standard consumer filter pitchers reduce impurities that affect the taste and purity of water such as chlorine, lead, copper and other heavy metals. Other more expensive filter systems such as reverse osmosis and ion exchange can remove bacteria and viruses from water. For this list, we focused on basic, mechanical filters which comprise the majority of home filter pitcher types. Mechanical water filters, while limited in their function, are some of the most affordable and don't require costly installation.
Before you choose a model, consider how many water drinkers your filter pitcher will be used by. If it's just you or you and one other person, a small or medium pitcher will likely suffice. If your space is occupied by three or four water drinkers, consider a large pitcher or dispenser jug instead.
The majority of water filter pitchers are made out of plastic. If you prefer a sturdier build there are options for water filter pitchers made from glass and metal to add a refined touch to your H20 experience.
Consider what you'd like to spend on your filter pitcher. There are options ranging from $20 up to $105 or more. If you opt for an integrated water filter system that filters water before it even reaches your tap, you can expect to pay well into the hundreds.
Consider the cost of the replacement filters, too. Most need to be replaced every three or so months and those costs can add up over the course of a year.
Water filter pitcher FAQs
How does a water filter pitcher work?
All of the water filter pitchers we tested use activated carbon technology in some capacity in their filtration process. Activated carbon filters use porous carbon to trap particles through a process called adsorption, which attracts contaminants and holds them similar to the way a magnet would. As you pour the water into a filter it passes through a passage of this activated carbon and the impurities are removed. This also helps explain why you need to replace the filters periodically, as eventually there’s no more space to absorb more contaminants.
What contaminants should a water filter pitcher remove?
Most water filter pitchers will improve the taste and smell of drinking water by ridding it of odorous chemicals such as chlorine. Some more expensive or high-quality models also remove heavy metals, pesticides, PFAs, pathogens and other contaminants. Each water filter pitcher should state clearly on the packaging or website the exact materials it is intended to remove from water.
Which water filter pitcher removes the most contaminants?
In our testing, it was clear which water filter pitcher removed the most contaminants. The Zero Water pitcher, while significantly bigger than the other pitchers, removed all of the dissolved materials we were testing for.
While we haven't tested them yet, there are more elaborate water filters that you can have built into your sink from brands including Aquasana, Hydroviv and Berkley. These water filters may net better results but will run you in the $200-$500 range and require some form of installation which could incur even more costs.
Do water filter pitchers remove bacteria?
No. Water filter pitchers will remove many harmful contaminants like lead, copper, chlorine and organic compounds that affect the taste but they will do nothing to kill bacteria. Your tap water should already be treated for bacteria but if you're concerned about it, a standard water filter is not going to help.
In fact, if left unchanged for long periods of time a water filter itself could build up grime that could potentially cause bacteria to grow and permeate your water. Because of that, be sure to change your filter regularly as prescribed by each brand.
How do you clean a water filter pitcher?
The most important thing you can do to keep your water filter pitcher clean is to change the filter. Most filter pitcher brands including Brita and ZeroWater recommend replacing the filter after about 40 gallons but this number varies by model.
The bulk of the water pitchers that we tested can and should be cleaned like any other piece of plastic kitchen gear every few weeks. You can remove the filter and rinse them by hand with hot water and soap, making sure to fully rinse the pitcher so as not to leave soap residue. Most water filter pitchers are dishwasher-safe as well. Just don't forget to remove the filter which should never be cleaned with soap.