Water filtration is a science-backed industry. There’s a lot more to it than just running water through mesh screens or thin membranes. Specifically designed media, intentional chemical reactions, and strategic material interactions all combine to help remove targeted contaminants from the water supply.
This makes it harder for the average person to understand exactly what’s going on. But it makes it easier for industry experts like us to verify claims and debunk misinformation.
All we have to do is go to the data.
Part of our seven-point water filter review methodology is to gather as much data as possible on each product we’re analyzing to help weed out the imposters and leave us with the best.
Analyzing Manufacturer’s Claims
The very first thing we do when we start digging into the data is ask what kind of data we actually need. For the most part, what we’re trying to do is verify the claims the manufacturer is making to ensure the products we recommend do what they’re designed to do.
Fortunately, because of the scientific nature of water filtration, we actually don’t always need to do this. Based on information made available to us by the manufacturer, as well as our own expertise, we’re typically able to verify manufacturer claims without having to launch a massive testing project.
In most cases, it’s a simple matter of comparing the technology featured in the product with what we as scientists know the technology can do.
What raises red flags is when the technology used does not align with the claims being made, or when there is a new technology being used that is unproven or unverified by the industry as a whole.
In either case, we proceed to collect and analyze as much data as we can on each product we review. Even when there are no red flags, we still verify each claim.
There are a number of different ways we can obtain this data. For each review, we collect as much as we can and use it as the basis of our analysis.
Industry Standards and Certifications
Sometimes companies go out of their way to collect data on their products from independent testing and accrediting bodies.
In the world of water filtration, you’ll find the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). This is an independent testing organization that tests and certifies products across a wide range of industries, including, but not limited to, water treatment and filtration. Its standards comply with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which is another independent body that oversees standards making across the United States.
Neither are regulated by the federal government. Instead, they both provide independent testing and certifications to companies and products. This also makes them voluntary organizations.
In other words, companies who wish to have their products certified will ask the NSF to test them, and if they meet certain standards, they will receive a certification. Not having this certification does not mean the product doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. It just means the company has not paid for an independent certification.
There is also the Water Quality Association (WQA). Companies can pay to have their products tested, and if they meet WQA standards, they will receive a special stamp of approval.
This is not the same as being a WQA member. To get this designation, all you have to do is pay your dues to the organization and adhere to its code of ethics. Displaying a WQA member logo does not necessarily mean the company has had its products tested.
The Good and the Bad of NSF/ANSI and WQA Certifications
NSF/ANSI and WQA testing and certification are a good place to start. Having these shows the company has made the investment to prove its products are effective and reliable. But it’s not the only thing that matters.
A big reason for this is that many standards are vague.
For example, NSF/ANSI 42 says: “Filters are certified to reduce aesthetic impurities such as chlorine and taste/odor. These can be point-of-use (under the sink, water pitcher, etc.) or point-of-entry (whole house) treatment systems.”
Notice it does not say by how much they reduce these impurities.
Many manufacturers also choose to certify components rather than entire products. The idea is that if they use the same components in multiple products, they can advertise their certification for more than one product.
Having certified components is a powerful indication that the product does what it’s advertised to do, but it doesn’t always tell the whole story. For example, certain filter media could be certified for one use, then listed in the specs of another product that’s for a different use but still labeled as “certified.”
Plus, because these are optional certifications, not having one means nothing. And if a product or component failed to achieve certification, there’s no way of knowing this testing was ever conducted.
All in all, certifications and standards are great, but we dig a lot deeper. We get beyond the surface level so you can trust that the products we recommend have been fully vetted for effectiveness.
After taking a look at the certifications for each product, our next step is to reach out to the companies to see what test data they have. Any company worth its salt runs tests on its products before bringing them to market, and as a leader in water quality and a trusted resource used by millions, they are often willing to provide us with the results of this testing.
Most of these tests are conducted by labs external to the company since few manufacturers have these capabilities. Many of these labs are familiar to us, and our team of excerpts is able to examine the testing methodology and process to ensure the results are viable and trustworthy.
If, for some reason, they are not, we can use our contacts in the industry to find out why, or perhaps move on to independent testing.
Independent Lab/Publications Data
There are numerous bodies around the country that conduct water testing, and they have heaps of anonymous data we can use to better understand a product’s efficacy against certain contaminants.
We maintain close contacts with many of these groups to be able to get additional data on water filtration products.
It can be tricky to get data this way. We have to find water test results before and after filter systems are installed. But it does exist — people who buy filters often pay for these tests to confirm they bought the right system and it’s working properly. They then agree to add this data to anonymous databases that we can access thanks to relationships with these labs.
Additionally, well owners are encouraged to test their water yearly, which provides a nice dataset to use.
This data, while complex to go through, can provide invaluable insights into the efficacy of certain filters.
In addition, our team of experts is constantly monitoring industry publications and staying up-to-date on all the latest research. If a company claims to have found some sort of new filtration media, there is almost always a paper about it in the journals, which we can analyze and use to determine the validity of the claims.
Water filter manufacturers also conduct testing, and they also maintain relationships with their existing clients. From time to time, when we really need to, we may ask a manufacturer to reach out to a customer on our behalf to get some water test data.
All steps are taken to ensure customer privacy, but this can be an excellent way for us to obtain data, and it aligns nicely with the marketing and customer service objectives of manufacturers and retailers.
Our Own Data
On rare occasions, and usually only when requested by readers, we will run our own tests. We have a lab with a large holding tank of water, which, when needed, we can blend to mimic certain water supplies. We then install the filter in question and run the water from our tank through the filter and test samples before and after.
This is an expensive and logistically difficult process. If requested, we can do it in our facilities. In most cases, we are able to determine the validity of manufacturer claims long before we get to this point. But if we must independently verify something, we have that capacity.
Reviews You Can Count On
As part of our rigorous product research and testing methodology, we look at every aspect of buying and owning a water filtration system. Obtaining water test data is just one of many important steps we take to create product reviews you can count on.