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The 9 Types of Water Filters for Home & Commercial Use

Scott Winfield
Written by Scott Winfield
Last Updated on

Simply put, a water filter is a device that removes contaminants and leaves you with purified water. So, any type of filter should be suitable for your home or business, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that straightforward.

Some filters are ideal for removing a wide range of contaminants, such as heavy metals, chlorine, and PFOAs. Some, on the other hand, are only effective against minerals like calcium and magnesium. The type that’s best for your home or business will depend on your specific needs.

In this guide, we discuss nine types of water filters for home and commercial use:

  • Mechanical filters
  • Ion exchange filters
  • Reverse osmosis (RO) filters
  • Activated carbon filters
  • Ultraviolet (UV) filters
  • Distillation systems
  • Ultrafiltration (UF) systems
  • Water softeners
  • Ceramic filters

We’ll explain how they work and explain their advantages and disadvantages. We’ll also discuss the types of filters that are best for home use and those that are best for commercial use.

How Do Water Filters Work?

There are plenty of different types of water filters, and they all work in slightly different ways. Let’s explore how each type of filter works and how effective the method they employ is for contaminant removal

Mechanical Filters

In a mechanical filter, the water passes through a physical barrier where suspended particles and contaminants become trapped. The filter usually consists of a mesh or cartridge made of porous materials like fabric, fiber, and cellulose.

Large particles like silt, sand, and clay are deposited on the filter material as the water flows through, but smaller particles are able to pass through.

Advantages

  • Mechanical filters are highly effective at removing large suspended particles like sand and organic matter from water.
  • They have a simple design, which makes them low maintenance and very dependable.
  • The straightforward design also makes them one of the most affordable types of water filters. Faucet and under-sink models often cost between $20 to $50 and whole-house systems usually cost around $50 to $200.
  • Mechanical filters tend to have a high flow rate. This means they allow water to pass through quickly, which maintains good water pressure.
  • As these filters remove large particles at the start of the filtration process, they prevent them from reaching other elements within the system. This reduces clogging and can extend the lifespan of the overall system.

Disadvantages

  • Mechanical filters only remove large particles and are ineffective against dissolved contaminants, bacteria, chemicals, and viruses.
  • As they trap debris, the filters can become clogged easily. They need to be cleaned fairly regularly to maintain efficiency and a high flow rate.
  • To purify water, you need to use mechanical filters in conjunction with other types of filters. Otherwise, the dissolved contaminants will remain present in your water supply.

Ion Exchange Filters

The main element of an ion exchange filter is the ion exchange resin. The resin consists of tiny beads usually made of natural or synthetic polymers. These beads contain active sites that are pre-loaded with harmless ions.

The resin is designed to target water impurities on a microscopic level, particularly dissolved ions. But how does this work?

Well, the filter media attracts ions of the opposite charge from the water passing through. For example, if the resin has positively charged sodium ions, it will attract negatively charged ions like magnesium and calcium from the water.

Essentially, the ions in the water and the ions on the filter swap places so that only the harmless ions are left in the water.

Advantages

  • Ion exchange filters are very effective at removing specific contaminants like hardness-causing ions, heavy metals, and other dissolved inorganics.
  • The upfront costs don’t tend to be too high.
  • They’re known to improve the odor and taste of water.
  • They’re easy to install and don’t require much maintenance.
  • By choosing the right ion exchange resin, the filters can be customized to filter various types of water (well water, city water, etc.).

Disadvantages

  • Ion exchange filters aren’t as effective at removing some organic contaminants like chlorine.
  • The resin needs to be regenerated periodically so you have to flush it with a salt solution.
  • Wastewater is created as a byproduct of the regeneration process and it needs to be disposed of properly.

Reverse Osmosis (RO) Filters

In RO filtration, the system applies pressure to the water to force it through a semi-permeable RO membrane. This allows water molecules to pass through but acts as a barrier for the dissolved minerals and salts.

Once this is done, the water that passes through is collected and the water containing the contaminants is flushed away. So, you’re left with purified water you can use in your home or business.

Advantages

  • The main advantage of RO is that it’s one of the most effective filtration methods available. In fact, RO filters can remove up to 99% of dissolved inorganic contaminants.
  • RO filters produce odorless, clean-tasting water as they remove the minerals that typically cause unpleasant tastes and odors.
  • They’re pretty versatile and can be installed as whole-house or point-of-use systems.

Disadvantages

  • They tend to remove beneficial minerals like magnesium and calcium too, which are important for bone and tooth health.
  • They tend to be fairly expensive.
  • They also produce a relatively large volume of wastewater so, depending on the model, they don’t tend to be the most eco-friendly devices.

Activated Carbon Filters

Activated carbon undergoes a high-heat activation process in order to create a huge network of tiny pores within the structure of the carbon. These pores enable activated carbon filters to trap impurities through a process called adsorption.

Unlike absorption, adsorption traps and holds molecules on the surface of the carbon. This removes contaminants from the water, and, as a result, you’re left with purified water.

Advantages

  • Activated carbon filters can remove a wide range of contaminants. This includes chlorine, many different organic chemicals, and heavy metals.
  • These filters can be utilized in many different system types such as under-sink models, pitcher filters, and countertop units. This demonstrates their amazing versatility.
  • They also tend to be affordable compared to more expensive options like RO filters.

Disadvantages

  • Activated carbon filters don’t remove certain contaminants, such as viruses, bacteria, or dissolved minerals like fluoride and lead, which limits their contaminant removal capabilities.
  • These filters need to be replaced regularly, which increases the maintenance requirements and can become quite costly.
  • They’re not suitable for all water sources. For example, if your water has high levels of chlorine or sediment, you’ll need to install a pre-filter that removes these contaminants before the water reaches the activated carbon filter.

Ultraviolet (UV) Filters

UV filters are very different from the other filters we’ve covered so far as they don’t rely on a physical barrier to remove contaminants. Instead, they utilize a UV lamp to blast microbes with UV light which disrupts the DNA of the microorganisms. This means they’re highly effective at removing contaminants like viruses, bacteria, and protozoa.

Essentially, the UV light scrambles the DNA of these contaminants, which prevents them from reproducing. This makes them inactive and stops them from making you sick.

Advantages

  • UV filters are an excellent choice if you’re primarily concerned about eliminating bacteria, viruses, and protozoa from your water. By removing these contaminants, UV filters can help to prevent several waterborne illnesses.
  • UV filtration happens in real-time as the water passes through the chamber. It’s a rapid process that requires no waiting around.
  • Chlorine is commonly used to disinfect water but, naturally, this leads to high levels of chlorine in your drinking water. UV filters are chemical-free, providing you with clean water without the need for chlorine.
  • Aside from replacing the UV lamp periodically, these filters don’t require much maintenance.

Disadvantages

  • While they’re great for removing bacteria and viruses, they don’t remove other contaminants like minerals, heavy metals, and pharmaceuticals. Because of this, UV lamps work best when they’re installed alongside other filter types.
  • If your water is cloudy, this may reduce the effectiveness of a UV filter. So, it’s important that sediment is removed from the water before it reaches the UV lamp. Otherwise, the water may not be fully exposed to the UV light.

Distillation Systems

Distillation systems are fairly basic devices that usually consist of four main elements: a heating element, an evaporator chamber, a condenser, and a collection container.

They essentially mimic the natural water cycle with a simple yet effective method—boiling. When the water in the system is boiled, it turns into vapor and leaves behind the minerals dissolved in it.

The purified water vapor is then cooled by a condenser in a separate chamber, which turns it back into a liquid state. The impurities that were present in the water at the start of the process are left in the boiling chamber.

Advantages

  • Distillation is a powerful purification method. It can remove a wide range of contaminants like heavy metals, minerals, bacteria, viruses, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Distillation devices are pretty simple, so they’re typically not very expensive—they are an affordable option for at-home water purification.
  • Distilled water tends to have a very clean, crisp taste and is perfect for making coffee.

Disadvantages

  • The distillation process is much slower than other types of filtration. It takes a long time to produce a small amount of water, which means it’s only really suitable for domestic use.
  • Like RO filters, distillation systems remove beneficial minerals along with the contaminants. If this is a major concern, you may want to consider installing a remineralizer to reintroduce beneficial minerals to the water after it’s been distilled.
  • In order to heat the water, distillation systems use quite a lot of energy. As a result, they’re less energy-efficient than many other types of filters.

Ultrafiltration (UF) Filters

UF filters feature a membrane that contains many microscopic pores. The size of the pores means water molecules are able to pass through but large contaminant particles like viruses, bacteria, and parasites are unable to.

Within a UF filter system, water is highly pressurized so that it’s forced to pass through the membrane. Most contaminants are left on the concentrate side of the membrane, and purified water is produced on the other side. In a way, it’s kind of like a tiny sieve!

Advantages

  • UF filters are one of the best options for microbiological purification. They’re very efficient at removing parasites, viruses, and bacteria from water.
  • UF filters are versatile and have a wide range of potential applications. For instance, they’re often used to purify water for beverage products like juices and bottled water. These filters are also commonly used as a part of wastewater treatment processes.
  • Unlike RO filters, UF filters allow some beneficial minerals to pass through the filter membrane. So, you can still enjoy the potential health benefits of mineral water.

Disadvantages

  • If your water contains high levels of sediment, you’ll need to use a pre-filter to prevent the UF filter from being clogged by large sediment particles.
  • Although UF is great at removing microbes, it’s less effective against heavy metals and some emerging contaminants.
  • UF membranes need to be cleaned or replaced regularly to maintain effectiveness. Of course, how often you need to do this depends on your water usage and the specific application you’re using the filter for.

Water Softeners

Water softeners are designed to address one very specific issue—water hardness. To do so, they target dissolved minerals like magnesium and calcium, which are the primary causes of hard water. So, how do water softeners do this?

They include a tank that’s filled with thousands of tiny resin beads. These beads are designed to attract calcium and magnesium ions and hold them in place. This reduces the level of magnesium and calcium in the water, which “softens” it.

Advantages

  • Hard water can cause a number of issues like limescale buildup and the reduced cleaning effectiveness of soap. By reducing the hardness of water, softeners help prevent these issues.
  • By softening water and preventing scale buildups, water softeners can actually increase the longevity of appliances like dishwashers. This can save you quite a lot of money as it’s less likely you’ll have to pay out for expensive repairs and replacements.
  • Water that’s been softened is better for cleaning dishes than hard water, and it can also help with issues like dry skin and hair.

Disadvantages

  • Water softeners require more maintenance than some other types of filters. For example, the brine tank needs to be regularly filled with salt and cleaned occasionally.
  • As they’re designed to remove calcium and magnesium, they aren’t that effective against many other contaminants. If you want more comprehensive filtration, you’ll need to use another type of filter alongside your water softener.
  • Water softeners require regeneration, which produces wastewater that contains a brine solution. This wastewater needs to be properly disposed of and may be a concern if you live in an area with water restrictions. Depending on your area, you may be able to discharge your brine water into a sanitary sewer or release diluted brine solution onto your lawn.

Ceramic Filters

Ceramic filters contain ceramic cartridges made with a fine network of microscopic pores. Their filtration method is very similar to that of UF filters. As water passes through, the pores trap larger particles like bacteria while allowing water molecules through. The purified water then exits the filter system.

Ceramic filters are most commonly found in smaller filter systems, such as countertop units, water pitchers, and faucet filters.

Advantages

  • Ceramic filters have an impressive level of durability. If they’re cleaned regularly, they can often last for years, which is much longer than many other filters.
  • They’re quite simple filters which means they’re easy to use and aren’t overly expensive.
  • The simplicity of the design makes them a good option for portable filter systems like pitchers. So, they can be really useful for purifying water while traveling.

Disadvantages

  • Ceramic filters typically have slower filtration rates than others, like UV filters. This is due to the physical nature of the water passing through tiny pores.
  • To prevent clogging, trapped contaminants need to be removed from the filter pretty regularly. This usually involves brushing or rinsing the ceramic element.
  • These filters have relatively limited contaminant removal capabilities, and they’re not very effective at removing impurities like chlorine or heavy metals.

What Type of Filter Is Best for Home Drinking Water?

The type of filter that’s best for your home depends on a number of different factors. The biggest factor is the level of contaminant removal your home’s water supply requires.

For instance, if you’re only looking to target bacteria and viruses, a ceramic filter should suffice. However, if you want to remove a wide array of contaminants you’ll be better off with a reverse osmosis filter.

If the hardness of your water is your main concern, then a water softener is the perfect option. But if your water tastes and smells like chlorine, you might want to go for an activated carbon filter. If you’re unsure what contaminants are present in your water, you can conduct an at-home test or send your test strips to a lab for testing.

You also need to consider the costs of the different filter types and how this fits into your budget. Often, the filters themselves don’t vary in price too greatly. Generally, it’s the filter system that determines the overall costs. For example, a whole-house system costs a lot more than a smaller system like an under-sink unit.

It’s also important to bear in mind how much maintenance each filter type requires, and how often they need to be replaced. Filter replacements can be expensive so filters with long lifespans are more cost-effective in the long term.

Ultimately, you’ll need to consider all of these factors to decide which type of filter is right for your home.

What Type of Filter Is Best for Commercial Use?

Similarly, different filter types are better suited to different commercial uses. Same as when choosing a filter for your home, you need to consider a number of factors, such as the required contaminant removal capabilities and your budget.

Plus, you need to consider what the filtered water will be used for. Will it be used for industrial processes, drinking, or food preparation?

Although every business’ needs are unique, there are certain filter types that are commonly used in specific commercial settings, such as:

  • RO filters: These are often used in the food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and healthcare industries.
  • UF filters: These filters are also regularly used in the food and beverage industry.
  • Water softeners: These are commonplace in laundromats and boiler rooms.
  • Activated carbon filters: These filters are often used in aquaculture to remove chlorine and in the food service industry to improve the taste and appearance of beverages.

In general, it’s best to consult a qualified water treatment professional before you make a decision. They’ll be able to assess the quality of your water, your specific application needs, and your budget. Then, they’ll recommend the most suitable commercial water system for your business.

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Scott Winfield
Scott Winfield
My name is Scott Winfield and researching and writing about water filters and other strategies to purify water has become my full time passion in recent years. I'm glad that you found our site and you can look forward to authoritative and well researched content here to help you get the best in water.
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