Posted on: October 4, 2016 at 12:04 pm
Last updated: September 27, 2017 at 11:03 am

This amazing post was written by Jenn Ryan, a freelance writer, and editor who’s passionate about natural health, fitness, gluten-free, and animals. You can read more of her work at

I’m the type of person that’s totally skeptical of drinking water. Sure it looks fine, but what’s in that stuff? It’s also easy to be suspicious of things that taste really bad, like the tap water they give you at restaurants. Yikes! That stuff tastes awful.

When I moved into a new house this summer, the first thing I was immediately skeptical about was the drinking water. The house gets its water from a spring, which is great…but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to travel through pipes to get to the house. The house is old. The pipes are old. What was IN that stuff?

The water tasted fine, but I couldn’t help but wonder—what was in there? And what could I do about it?

Common Contaminants in Water

Here’s a list of some of the common contaminants you might experience in your drinking water. The likelihood of having these contaminants in your water depends on your location. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets international guidelines for removing these contaminants from public water; water suppliers must follow very strict regulations.

The EPA requires that suppliers of tap water must provide a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) to the public they’re serving every year. If  your tap water comes from such a supplier, you’ll want to check out the CCR and compare the quality results to the EPA’s guidelines for each contaminant. Read this to learn how to understand your CCR.

If your water comes from a private source, like well-water, you will need to purchase a water testing kit (available at most hardware stores), because the EPA doesn’t regulate private water. Find out more about testing private water from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

Dissolved Inorganics

These include heavy metals. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [1], this list of inorganic compounds could end up in your drinking water.

Asbestos: From “decay of asbestos cement in water mains, erosion of natural deposits”.


Arsenic: From “runoff from glass and electronic production wastes, runoff from orchards”. Lovely!

Chromium: From “discharge from steel and pulp mills”.

Copper. Copper is commonly used in home plumbing, so the EPA says copper could contaminate your water if your plumbing equipment is corroding.

Cyanide. What?! “Discharge from steel/metal factories as well as plastic and fertilizer factories”. Another reason not to use plastic!

Lead. Again, the EPA says this could happen as a result of the corrosion of your home plumbing. If your house or neighborhood is older than the 1980’s, you should test your tap water for lead. 

Mercury. “Discharge from refineries and factories, runoff from landfills and croplands”. That’s nice. (Want to know how to detox from mercury? Check out this list of foods you can eat [2]!)


These compounds involve chemical solvents, some of which you’ve probably heard of.

PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls). These compounds cause harm to your reproductive organs as well as increase your risk for cancer. The EPA says they come from “runoff from landfills or discharge of waste chemicals”.

Dioxin. TAMPONS! Seriously, dioxin is a known carcinogen that is a byproduct of tampons. Yes, even chlorine-free tampons can still produce dioxin. Check out more about the dangers of tampons here [3]. The EPA acknowledges that dioxin causes “reproductive difficulties and increased risk of cancer”.

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Glyphosate. You guys know glyphosate. It’s in Round-Up, which is used on genetically modified organism (GMO) products. It’s acknowledged by the EPA to cause reproductive problems and recently it’s been noted to “likely cause cancer”.

Its main source? “Runoff from herbicide use”. (Pretty soon you’ll be like me and start cursing those tractors you see that are spraying herbicides and your friends will think you’re crazy).

Radiological Contaminants

These sound fun, right? They include cesium and plutonium, as well as the following agents. 

Radium. Known to increase your risk of cancer. 

Uranium. Toxic to the kidneys as well as increases your risk for cancer. 

Biological Pathogens

These include viruses, bacteria, and parasites, especially from human and animal waste. E-coli and total coliform bacteria are the most common. 

What Can You Do?


The first step to ensuring your water is clean is to know exactly what’s in it. Read through your CCR or your home water testing kit results to find out what contaminants are present, and which ones exceed the EPA’s guidelines. Once you know which contaminants are a potential risk to you, you can decide what kind of filter system you’ll need.

Here are the four ways you can filter your drinking water and ensure that your body is receiving safe water. The pros and cons of each can help you decide which method is best for you! Keep in mind any filter system that you buy, whether it’s a Carafe or a much bigger system, should be certified to meet the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF)’s standards (not just “tested to the NSF standards”).

Finally, you’ll want to double check that the filtering system is effective against the contaminant that’s relevant to your water. For example, buying a Brita filter might be a waste of money if your water is contaminated with inorganic or radiological contaminants.

1. Activated Carbon Filter

Let’s start with the most “popular” option. Most people know this type of filter from Brita water carafes. Also known as granular activated carbon (GAC), this water filtering system is great at removing organic chemicals [4]. Heat “activates” the carbon and can effectively remove chemicals, which get trapped in the filter. Charcoal, also known as carbon, is super porous and holds contaminants well.

Pros: Made from raw materials, different types available based on what you like. Great at removing organic and manmade chemicals from water. A natural method for filtering water.

Cons: Not great at removing impurities or metals (think copper and radionuclides as discussed above). These are better removed with reverse osmosis or distillation.

Keep reading for the 3 alternatives to your Brita filter!

2. Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis involves moving water through a membrane to separate out contaminants and leave you with clean drinking water. It can be installed at your home to provide you with clean water.

Pros: Saves money as you’ll not need to buy bottled water, tastes and smells better, can be as rigorous at removing contaminants as you’d like.

Cons: Not totally effective for all the contaminants; this will depend on exactly how contaminated your water is and what method you’re using. Filters need to be replaced regularly. Water that’s rejected from the system is then wasted, so not considered environmentally friendly or for homes in places that experience shortages of water.


3. Distillation

Pros: Reliably removes all contaminants, even heavy metals. Best for heavily contaminated water, very effective at removing bacteria.

Cons: Tends to be acidic and not appropriate for long-term use for the body. People complain about the “flat” taste. This method does not remove synthetic chemicals. Slow process that uses heat. May use several gallons of water to give you one gallon of clean water. Removes even good qualities of water [5].

4. UV Water Sterilizer

UV water sterilizers are becoming more popular and involve the use of a UV lamp to “zap” the water to remove bacteria and other impurities.

Pros: Very effective at destroying organisms [6], no disinfection byproducts, and reliable. This system only requires that you change the lamp every year. It’s considered eco-friendly on account of its low energy usage.

Cons: Must replace lamp every year, but the low-running costs make it relatively inexpensive. This system does not remove heavy metals, chlorine, or synthetic chemicals. Needs electricity to work, can only work with water that does not contain outside particles, otherwise it will need a primary filter to clean the water.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is to test your water and understand what type of filter you need. If your water is heavily contaminated, distillation will be perfect for you. If your water is only contaminated with organic and manmade chemicals, a carbon filtering system can work great. Reverse osmosis can waste lots of water, but may provide you with water that’s free of heavy metals.

Which system is the best for your home? Get your water tested and find out. Use clean water in your home and experience the benefits!

Jenn Ryan
Health Expert
Jenn Ryan is a freelance writer and editor who's passionate about natural health, fitness, gluten-free, and animals. She loves running, reading, and playing with her four rescued rabbits.

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