Choosing a Safe Countertop Water Filter for Your Home and Travel

Branch Basics | Choosing a Healthy Water FilterWhat’s Wrong with Tap Water?

Why Drink Filtered Water?

You may be accustomed to drinking tap water, which is inexpensive, readily available, and low-waste (no plastics needed!). However, there are many reasons to avoid drinking municipal water and seek out filtered water instead. For some, taste is a concern – you can generally taste the differences in tap water in different cities. The differences in taste in tap water reflect the different combination of dissolved solids in the water, which commonly contains contaminants such as fluoride, nitrates, arsenic, and metals like lead, copper, and aluminum.1 You will also find pesticides and pharmaceuticals in most municipal tap water, which can bioaccumulate in your body. These are of particular concern to infants, children, and pregnant or nursing women.2, 3

Home Water Filter Versus Water Bottles

We recently purchased a Zero Water filter to use in our Branch Basics office. Previously we had glass containers, which we would take to the grocery store and fill with reverse osmosis water. Although buying the water from the store and storing it in glass containers ensured that we had pure and inexpensive (about $0.25 per gallon) drinking water in the office, it quickly became cumbersome to constantly be running to the store to refill the bottles. Not only was it a pain to spend time each week doing that chore, we found that it was a waste of gas to drive the bottles back and forth. The glass bottles (we typically used 2.5 gallon bottles) are also quite heavy to haul!

Branch Basics | Choosing a Healthy Water Filter

For these reasons, we decided to invest in an economical countertop water filter that we could refill with tap water at our office. As a bonus, our new Zero Water filter came with a digital Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) tester. We found that Austin tap water from our office sink was about 155. You are looking for an ideal TDS reading of TDS of 5 – 10, and really no higher than 15 – 20. If you haven’t figured out by the name, “Zero” Water refers to the promise that their filters should give you a zero TDS reading. The Total Dissolved Solids test is used as an indicator of the general quality of the water. Dissolved solids refer to any minerals, salts, metals, cations, and anions dissolved in water. A high level does not necessarily mean that the water is contaminated, it means it could be contaminated or could just have a high mineral content (this is often considered “hard water”).

What to Look for in a Water Filter

If you are shopping for a portable home/office water filter, look for a water purifier that is BPA-free and removes lead (and other heavy metals), perchlorates, hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs now found in municipal water supplies. We chose Zero Water because it meets all of these standards and is certified to meet the highest standards for removal of lead, iron, zinc, and mercury. It also removes up to 99.4% of fluoride and reduces arsenic in the 99% range as well. The Zero Water purifier even removes contaminants that many other popular units do not. We recommend you compare specifications of any water purifier you are interested in – for example some purifiers may lower lead levels, but do not totally remove it. The Zero Water purifier even removes chloramines and ammonia because the water is purified through the deionization method. Zero Water purifiers are recommended for use on municipal water supplies, not for well water. If you drink well water at your home, you’ll have to do your research to determine which water purifying option would be best for your home.

How Does it Work?

Zero Water filters are gravity-fed, with a 5-stage ion exchange filter that delivers water with a TDS of 000 and that rivals the best reverse osmosis purified water. You should keep your TDS monitor handy and periodically test the quality of your filtered water. When the TDS reads 006, then it is time for a new filter.

How to “Sun” or Offgas a Plastic Water Filter

Branch Basics | Choosing a Healthy Water Filter

Although Zero Water filters are the best on the market (in terms of in-home water filter pitchers), they now only offer plastic filters rather than glass. While we would always prefer a glass option for filtering and storing water, we still find that their filtration system is the most healthy. As with nearly any new purchase, particularly plastic ones, we first offgassed the VOCs from the water filter unit by sunning it outside for several hours. You may have seen the photograph of Tricia testing the Austin tap water with the new Zero Water kit. We got a lot of questions about what sunning is and how to do it. Our sunning method works equally well on smaller pitchers as well as water bottles and other new purchases. Here’s what Kelly did to speed up the offgassing VOCs from our new Zero Water kit:

  1. Fully unwrap the new water filter kit and place outside in full sun, ideally on a hot summer day.
  2. Allow the filter to offgas in the sun for several hours. This process may need to be continued for several days. Check on the plastic occasionally by sniffing the filter and container. If the “new” plastic smell seems to be gone, the offgassing is complete.
  3. Wash and rinse the new filter well with Branch Basics All-Purpose and set up the kit in your kitchen.
  4. Fill the filter with water from your sink and enjoy! Refilling Tip: we keep a glass pitcher by the filter, which we use to transport water from the tap and pour into the filter unit.

Tips for Using an In-Home Reverse Osmosis Filter:

  • Reverse osmosis system water, like distilled water, is called “empty water” and is very aggressive water that can leach minerals from the body if no minerals are added. Unfortunately, in order to remove the bad (like toxins and pesticides), you have to also remove the good (healthy minerals). To compensate for this issue, you can add a pinch of himalayan pink salt to your water, which carries minerals like magnesium and calcium.  You can also add minerals into the water with a mineral product like Hydra Booster.
  • To regularly maintain a clean, healthy water container, spray the interior of the bottle, pitcher, or crock with All-Purpose Branch Basics. Let sit for 5 minutes, add hot water, shake, swirl, and rinse with water.

What Do You Drink When Traveling?

Switching To Glass to Avoid BPA Exposure | Branch BasicsTraveling in a healthy way can be a breeze if you plan ahead. We compiled our favorite tips in a Healthy Travel Guide in a previous post, which is helpful if you want to consider common toxins you encounter when you’re on the go. For water specifically, Zero Water also sells a smaller water bottle filter that is great for travel. If you will have filtered water available where you are traveling, glass bottles are the best option. You can even save a glass water or kombucha bottle to reuse as a temporary drinking bottle while on the go. Check out Switching to Glass for our recommendations for glass water bottles.

Drinking water from plastic bottles sold in the grocery stores (or the airport) – even the ones from the “safer plastics” is not recommended. A 2009 German report states that some as-yet unidentified chemicals in these plastics have been shown to have the potential to interfere with estrogen and other reproductive hormones, just as the plasticizers BPA and phthalates do.4

Branch Basics: Guide to Healthy TravelCurrent recommendations in the U.S. are that if you find that you must drink water from a plastic bottle, check the number inside the triangle on the bottom of the bottle and drink only from the safer plastics. Numbers  2, 4, or 5 are considered the “safer plastics”. There are also some #1 bottles that are BPA-free (typically noted on the label). Also, make sure you never leave a plastic water bottle in a car or in full sun in hot weather. The heat will leech even more plasticizers into the water.
As with tabletop water pitchers and filters, always wash your water bottles out before refilling. Spray the interior of the glass bottle with All-Purpose Branch Basics (our 2 oz travel spray works equally well for this), let sit for 5 minutes and add hot water. Shake well and rinse with water.

What About Stainless Steel or Metal Bottles?

Stainless steel is a popular, lightweight, sturdy material for water bottles. However, beware that metal bottles, like stainless steel, may not be totally safe. Do your research on the bottle company and the full material list they use for their bottles before you buy. While many of these bottles are healthy and convenient, others contain BPA and other toxins.


What are VOCs? Find out everything you need to know aboutVolatile Organic Compounds and How They Affect Your Health.

Break the fragrance habit. Use these Nontoxic Air Fresheners instead of the synthetic variety to remove odors.

Branch Basics | HEPA Vacuum: Air Pollution's Worst EnemyAddress SVOCs with a HEPA Vacuum. HEPA filters are indoor air pollution’s worst nightmare.  Here’s How to Choose One for Your Home.

Going on a trip? Check out our Healthy Travel Guide for our favorite travel snacks and tips for preventing sunburn, jetlag, and more!

Improve your indoor air quality by using The Official Branch Basics Deep Cleaning Method.

Ready to streamline your routine? Read Clare’s tricks in Safe + Simple: Tips from a Minimalist Mama.

Want another trick for improving indoor air quality? Find out why we’re loving Himalayan Pink Salt Lamps!


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  1. How would you say this compares to a Berkey water filter? I’m trying to decide between the two of them. Thanks!

    1. Hi Christiana,
      We don’t typically like to do brand comparisons, but Marilee has looked at filters extensively and still believes Zero Water is the best for healthy drinking water. Whichever filter you choose, look for one that meets the standards she lists above!

  2. I’ve found through my personal research for purchasing a water filter that many manufacturers make exaggerated marketing claims. A good resource for checking out these claims is, which is a ratings agency that certifies whether water filters meet certain ANSI standards for water quality.

    I’ve never used a ZeroWater filter, but out of curiosity I looked up their published NSF ratings. Their pour-over filters are certified for reduction of Chlorine, Hydrogen Sulfide, Taste and Odor, Hexavalent Chromium, Lead, and Mercury.

    It’s a great idea to include a conductivity meter with each pitcher for testing TDS! However, they imply that reducing TDS is the same as removing all contaminants, which is misleading.

    I also don’t see any evidence that the ZeroWater filter removes fluoride, perchlorates, hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs now found in municipal water supplies, as the article above suggests. I’m curious if you have another source for this?

    Your newsletter is one of my favorites and I get lots of good ideas and inspiration from it! I’ve spent a lot of time researching water filtration and still don’t have a “perfect” solution, although I came up with a reasonable compromise for my own household. 🙂

  3. We have been using a Zero Water filter for many years and still love it. It may not be perfect (plastics), but it today’s world it’s good enough for us. That TDS meter is not just a toy. Let it go too much past the recommended filter replacement zone and your water will likely smell “fishy”. It won’t hurt you (or I’d be dead by now) but it won’t make you want to drink more water! 🙂

  4. My husband and I have been researching whole home water filtration and reverse osmosis systems. Have y’all done any research on that or what do you recommend or do you even think it’s necessary?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Amy. Marilee has researched home water filtration systems, but the topic is a big one. Because the recommendations can vary based on many factors, we chose not to recommend specific systems in this article. A countertop filter can be great for many homes, but we know a lot of people are looking for a built-in system. That’s a great idea for a future post!

  5. I love your site and the fascination with water. This is the system I went with: water filter from promolife followed by a water vortexer and I also have one of these: …enjoy your travels around water the great mystery:) an excellent film by the way

  6. Thank you so much admin for sharing such a informative posts with us regarding water purity and safety. I am using bottled water for coking and drinking purpose since last 1 years and still no health issues. As we are planning to buy a water filter for complete home, what will be the best according to your experience ???

  7. It is very true that we should always drink filtered water. As simple tap water may contain so many harmful viruses and drinking of impure water may cause to many water related diseases. So always use a good water filter at your home. I use Pureit Water Filter, it gives pure water and it has good taste too.

  8. I didn’t realize that drinking purified water was this beneficial. My friend has this type of filtration built into certain parts of her home, and I was wondering how it is different from normal water. I am surprised at all of the differences and how helpful this kind of water is to your body. Thank you for a detailed article and for the applicable tips for getting something like this in your home.

    1. I’d be careful; I’ve actually read many things that says drinking purified (not just filtered) water can actually be harmful in the long run. So just don’t think it’s as cut and dry as it seems – unpurified water actually has some things in it that your body needs!

  9. I prefer to get a RO system. I had a reverse osmosis system installed under the sink. It is a Ispring RO system and it works great for me. Of course, my tap water is not too hard to need a water softener. I think such a water filter is enough for me to get clean filtered water to drink. Plus, the initial cost is reasonable.

    1. One of the problems with RO systems is they are extremely wasteful of water. You lose something like 12-20 gallons of water for every one purified gallon. I have only a Brita for now but I’m definitely looking for something better. It’s good to know about the Zero Water system as an alternative.

  10. This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that a water filter improves more than just taste. I didn’t realize that tap water could contain contaminants that could potentially be harmful! I recently moved to a new area, and the water tastes kind of funny, so I’ll definitely look into getting a water filter. Thanks for the great post!

  11. My tap water at my house does not taste very good, so I just don’t drink much water. However, it would be really nice to get a good filter that I can have with me. That way, I will probably drink more water, and it will be better for me, since all the contaminants will be taken out. It is good to know the filter that you bought and that it seems to work well. I will definitely try this out soon to see what I think of it!

  12. I have used a variety of whole house and counter top water filters over the years and agree that a powerful filtration process is great for health and water taste. I hated my reverse osmosis filter and got rid of it because it wasted so much water – 5-7 gallons for every one you use. I also have heard that purified water is good for a cleanse, but when used daily can pull minerals out of your cells that you need. I don’t know if this is true but when you think that a permeable membrane between a denser and a less dense liquid will lead to an equally dense solution on both sides, it makes sense. I’ve found a very inexpensive way to put healthy minerals back into my water. Put pink Himalayan salt rocks in a glass container and cover it with pure water. After 24 hours you’ll have a 26% solution called sole. I put several eye dropperfuls into a pitcher of filtered water and know I’m getting good minerals in my water and a much better taste. When you think Himalayan salt is from primordial seas, with no human manufactured chemicals as we weren’t around yet, and that’s where we came from, it makes sense that it is good for us (and it isn’t recognized as sodium chloride by the body). Love your blog!

    1. Hey Carol!

      Nice info on the Himalayan salt crystals! Thanks! I will def give it a try. There is a water filter from Zen Water Systems that mineralized as well as filters the water. I’ve been trying to decide between it or a Berkley. Check it out

  13. This article is great! I’m not a fan of drinking water from bottled water- take the costs and quality (plus the pollution if it were on disposable plastics). So I think having water filter at our household is more than necessary. I got Berkey through a friend’s recommendation, it is great and we are using it for years already. I guess it has the same standard with your system and it’s gravity fed too, so no need for fuel or electricity. But whatever brand it is, in the very end, what matters most is that we are all able to drink safe and clean water. Yeah! Thanks for a great read!

  14. Recently, I just plan to get a water filter for my house. However, I don’t know choose which type: a whole house water filter or a under sink water filter (normally a reverse osmosis system. Any suggestion? Thanks.

  15. Wow, I didn’t realize that some tap water could have so many TDS! I am wondering what the TDS level is for my city’s water. Thanks for explaining what to look for in a filter. I will have to check out the Zero Water purifier that you have mentioned because it sounds really amazing.

  16. Thank you for all the great information. I am looking to buy a Zero Water filtration system because my biggest concern is fluoride. I read the FAQ’s on their site and it said they do not filter fluoride. It says if you can keep your TDS below 2ppm, your fluoride should be removed. Many people say they cannot get their readings below 2, so it appears you cannot remove fluoride with this filter. Your article states that it removes 99.4%. Is there other information I am missing?
    Thank you.

  17. Thank you for the tips for using an in-home reverse osmosis filter. I will try to do that. And that part “What Do You Drink When Traveling?” made me think to start travelling healthy.

  18. I like the idea of having clean water at the ready right within your own home. I’m sure tap water is fine and all but water filters probably catch little floaties that the tap cannot. I’ll have to consider getting some water filters in the future!


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