Water purification systems can greatly add to the safety and reliably of your water at home. Here’s everything you need to know, to choose that one that will work best for you.
Water Purification Systems: An Introduction
Whether you are getting your water supply from a public water system or a well, once the water is in your house, it should be purified. The specific purification method you choose will depend on your water source, what your level of contamination is, and your budget allowance.
There are several different purifying systems available for home use. These include gravity drip filters, ion exchange systems, and reverse osmosis systems. Not all water filters are created equal, and be aware that filters are not subjected to any governmental oversight or regulation. There is, however, the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) international certification program, which provides certification and standards for many filters and can be reviewed when deciding which filter to purchase for your home.
Water Purification Systems: Gravity Drip Filters
Gravity systems use the weight of a column of water to push the water through a filter that removes contaminants. The main component of a gravity drip system is activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is a processed piece of carbon that has been treated with steam at high temperature, thereby making it porous, with millions of tiny air pockets. In this way, the surface area of the charcoal is increased dramatically, similar to the method your body uses for gas exchange (oxygen and carbon dioxide) in your lungs. Water and gases permeate through the charcoal, and as they do, contaminants attach to the charcoal and stay behind. Activated charcoal is excellent for removing many organic compounds, including VOCs, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, chlorine and its byproducts, bromine, and iodine. However, some inorganic ions, such as fluoride, sodium, and nitrates, and some organic compounds, such as acetone, methyl chloride, 1,4-dioxane, and isopropyl alcohol, do not adhere to charcoal and will not be removed by an activated charcoal filter.
The ability of activated charcoal to absorb chemicals is described in probabilities, as the efficiency of filtration and absorption is dependent on many different variables, including the temperature and pH of the water. As these decrease, absorption increases. So a charcoal filter will remove the most contaminants from cold, acidic water.
Carbon filters need to be replaced periodically because as the binding sites get filled up a filter becomes less efficient, until finally, it no longer functions. The frequency for filter changes depends on how much water you drip through the filter and also on the porosity, or micron range, of the filter. Water will drip through a filter designed to remove tiny particles, down to 0.5 microns, slower than it will for a filter designed to remove particles measuring 5 microns or more, for example. A filter designed to remove tiny particles will also fill up with impurities faster and will need to be replaced more frequently. The micron range varies among systems and therefore the filters’ efficiencies vary. Most cartridges designed to remove chlorine and eliminate odors and bad tastes are 10-micron cartridges.
The most inexpensive gravity drip filtration systems would include the canister systems widely distributed by Britta, Pur, etc. These companies also sell faucet attachments, which are similar in technology and remove a similar number of contaminants.
There are significant differences between vendors in the quality of contaminant removal. In 2014, a study by the Natural News Forensic Food Lab found that the company Zero Water made the gravity drip filter that provided the most significant removal of heavy metals. The more popular brands were found to be much less effective. Bear in mind that these filters do not remove pathogens and should only be used with sterile or sanitized water.
More sophisticated gravity systems typically consist of at least two filters in series, one of which is usually an activated charcoal filter. The initial barrier in a more advanced gravity drip system may be a ceramic filter or micro-sponge that will limit the passage of particles into the rest of the filtration assembly. More common ceramic filters will optimally block all particles larger than two microns in size, thus eliminating almost all bacteria and microorganisms, including yeasts. Viruses, however, are smaller than two microns and will easily pass through many ceramic filters.
Countertop gravity drip systems need to be refilled often, as the canisters that hold the treated water tend to be small. This is by design, so treated water does not stagnate and create the possibility of pathogens growing in the fresh filtered water.
Water Purification Systems: Ion Exchange Systems
Ion exchange systems are mainly used to deionize water or to soften water. Both types of systems work by passing water through different resins that exchange ions with the water. In deionized water all of the salts, including sodium, are removed. By contrast, softened water is processed to remove ions such as calcium, magnesium, and other metals from the water, while leaving behind sodium. The resulting water may taste salty, but it does not damage appliances, sinks, or faucets with the deposits common to hard water. Soft water also requires less soap for washing clothes or dishes and leaves less of a film on dishes and bathroom surfaces after washing.
The states with the hardest water sources are Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Although deionizing and softening systems are very efficient at removing inorganic contaminants, they do not remove organic contaminants. If not maintained properly, these systems can become breeding grounds for bacteria. Ion exchange systems should be used in combination with a gravity drip system or a reverse osmosis system to remove organic contaminants and bacteria.
Water Purification Systems: Reverse Osmosis Systems
The movement of water from an area with a lower concentration of salts (hypotonic) to an area of higher concentration of solutes (hypertonic) across a semipermeable membrane is known as osmosis. This natural phenomenon occurs until there is an equal concentration of solutes on either side of the membrane, a state referred to as equilibrium. If, however, external pressure is exerted on a hypertonic solution, water flow in the opposite direction can occur. In this way, water is forced under pressure across the membrane from a hypertonic solution to a lower concentration of solutes. During this process, salts and other inorganic contaminants are held back by the membrane and are effectively removed from the water. This is the basis for the reverse osmosis (RO) water purification method. RO systems are excellent at removing inorganic contaminants, including ions, ethanol, and fluoride. This is a purification method that can even be used to desalinate sea water.
RO water purifiers are usually placed in series with other filtration methods, similar to ion exchange systems. Most RO systems contain one or more activated carbon filters that remove chlorine and organic contaminants before the water hits the RO portion of the purification process. These “thin-film” RO units are the most common type sold. As RO systems have been shown to be breeding grounds for bacteria, inline micropore filtration and UV systems are good ways to ensure that water coming from RO systems is safe to drink.
Water Purification Systems: UV Water Purification
UV sterilization systems are commonly used in households that obtain water from private wells, particularly if the home relies on an ion exchange or RO filtration system. UV sterilization kills bacteria by denaturing their DNA with ultraviolet radiation, and has the advantage of being chemical free. As no chlorine is utilized, no chlorine byproducts are generated. UV systems are effective against Cryptosporidium, unlike the concentrations of chlorine typically used for routine sanitation. Although Giardia may be damaged by UV systems, it can sometimes still cause disease after treatment. It is important to pass the water through a pre-filter before it is exposed to the UV light so that all sediment in the water will be removed. Sediment can provide an effective blockade for bacteria to hide behind as they pass through the UV rays. UV systems are not filters and do not remove any organic or inorganic contaminants.
Water Purification Systems: Distillation
Only distillation is capable of removing virtually all of the contaminants found in water, including bacteria, inorganic salts, heavy metals, organic chemicals, and radioactive particles, but it is impractical for general home use. Distilling is also time-consuming and very expensive, because it requires a large amount of energy to produce a small amount of purified water. Demineralized water and distilled water in particular are not optimal sources of hydration for the body, as they are devoid of nutrients and needed minerals.
Water Purification Systems: Whole-house systems
A purification system designed to treat all of the water entering and distributed throughout a house is referred to as a whole-house system. All water purification methods offer whole-house systems. If you get water from a private well, it may make more sense to invest in a whole-house system than if you have access to a reliable public water supply. Technologies can be combined to ensure that you are not only removing organic and inorganic contaminants, but also bacteria. Ion exchange softening systems may be a worthwhile investment regardless of your water source, since they remove metals and therefore reduce water deposits, improving the life and performance of appliances. Water softeners also reduce the amount of soap needed for personal hygiene, laundry, and dishes. While external gravity drip systems are impractical for the whole house, they are useful at select faucets. Many companies make inline shower head filters, which remove chlorine and chloramine products before the water sprays onto your body. I highly recommend using one, especially if you are on a public water source or if your home system uses chlorine to disinfect your water.
All water treatment system companies should provide you with a performance data sheet that lists all the contaminants a system is certified to remove. Hundreds of companies make and/or distribute water purification systems and it would be unwise to purchase a product that does not supply a performance data sheet.
Once your water is purified, keep it stored in the refrigerator in a capped glass bottle. Bacteria could potentially grow in your purified water, so it must be consumed within a few weeks. The amount of water you consume will vary depending on your activity level and, of course, your physical size. If your urine is dark in color or is odiferous, then you aren’t drinking enough water.
As you drink water, consider that it has a hidden, underlying organizational structure, as it is composed of billions of tiny magnets. Pure water will form a hexagonal shape when frozen and crystallized, akin to a snowflake. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese researcher, performed experiments that show focused attention to water will actually affect the energy flow within it and change the shape of the water crystals. Negative thoughts, such as anger and hate, had a disorganizing effect on the water’s energy and inhibited crystallization. Although his scientific method was questioned and his findings were not published in the scientific literature, his work suggests that water will resonate with your intent as you focus upon it. If you bless the water by imparting positive feelings such as gratitude, love, or joy, in effect “praying” to the water, you will impart harmonious frequencies into the water, which you can then drink. Playing music will also affect the energy flow and vibrational frequency of water. I mindfully drink water and believe it does make a difference for my well-being. Provide “blessed” water to your pets and plants too, and take notice to see if there is any observable change in their health.
Water Purification Systems: My Choice
Researchers are beginning to prove that water can hold onto an electromagnetic frequency, which can cause biological effects. A Japanese company, Nikken, has created a series of water filtration units that take into account the magnetic character of water. Their multistep filtration systems ultimately provide a magnetic filtration which is designed to cleanse the water of energetic impurities. The Nikken system produces water that then bathes in mineral rocks, creating a wonderful, slightly alkaline, mineral-rich water, simulating river water. This system has been my choice for water filtration for many years.