Ask an Expert·4 min read

Do You *Really* Need That Water Filter In Your Fridge?

A woman pouring a glass of water from a filtered pitcher
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
March 5, 2024

The past decade has raised major concerns about the quality of our drinking water. From the water crisis in Flint, MI, to reports on PFAS- and microplastic- contaminated water, it makes sense that you might feel safest with a water filter pitcher like Brita in your fridge. But do they actually work? And if so, what are they even removing? We asked Anna Reade, PhD, senior scientist and director of PFAS advocacy at the Natural Resources Defense Council for the unfiltered truth. 

How effective are water filters like Brita?

It “depends on both the type of contaminants you are aiming to address and the type of technology your filtration system is based on,” says Reade. While the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 set regulations in place to protect us from contaminated water, there are still certain contaminants that may be present, like PFAS, nitrate, lead, and in some cases, bacteria.  

Featured Expert:

Anna Reade

Anna Reade - Senior scientist and director of PFAS advocacy at the Natural Resources Defense Council

One study found that water pitcher filters like Brita — which are carbon-based filters — can reduce the amount of lead in drinking water. Another found they can remove about 50% of PFAS. However, they can’t remove nitrate, iron, or most bacteria.

Reade says your water filters are most effective if they:

  • Are certified by NSF or the Water Quality Association. Look out for the NSF or WQA seals on the packaging. (Companies have to get certified, so it’s important to check.) 

  • Are changed according to the instructions. The smaller it is, the more often it needs to be switched. If you leave it too long, “the filter can no longer remove contaminants from the water, and may, in some cases, even start releasing contaminants back into your water,” says Reade. Not exactly the refreshing drink you’re after. 

  • Flow relatively slowly. “The slower the water moves through them, the more effective they are at removing contaminants,” says Reade. 

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What else can I do to filter tap water?

If you want something more heavy-duty Reade suggests looking into “under-sink reverse osmosis filters that can filter the water coming out of a specific tap, or larger whole-home filter systems to filter all of the water in a home.” Pro: They may be more efficient than the pitcher in your fridge. Con: They’re more expensive and require more maintenance. 

Do I need to filter my water? 

Generally, no. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates tap water — even more than bottled water, says Reade. Exactly how safe your water is mainly depends on your water system. Including…

  • The source of the water (reservoirs, groundwater, etc.) and whether it's been contaminated.

  • Whether contaminants in the source are regulated. 

  • How the water is being delivered. “Lead or plastic pipes can contaminate your water during delivery from a public water system to your tap,” says Reade. 

If you want to check the status of your water, request a water quality report from your water provider, says Reade. Once you get your results, plug them into this tool to make sense of them.

Ask an Expert is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a question, you are agreeing to let theSkimm use it—in part or in full—and we may edit its answer for length and/or clarity.

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