The 8 Best Reverse Osmosis Systems of 2021
Our top choice is the APEC Water Systems Essence Drinking Water Filter System (view at Amazon) since it offers five stages of filtration and filters are long-lasting, easy to change, and widely available. If you're looking to spend less, consider the PureDrop Five-Stage Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration System (view at Lowe's). It's also a five-stage RO system but may require more frequent filter replacement.
Unlike traditional water filters, not all of the water that is pumped through a reverse osmosis filter comes out the other side as drinkable water. Only a relatively small percentage—50 percent or less—is filtered, and the rest is considered waste. When possible, avoid units with 75 percent or more waste, especially if you are treating a high volume of water per day. This unit is typically measured in ratio form, so a tank that produces 75 percent waste will have a filtered water to waste water ratio of 1:3.
Reverse osmosis filtering takes time, so most filters of this type have tanks that store water, rather than filtering it on demand. If your family drinks a lot of filtered water or you are filtering all of your tap water through reverse osmosis, make sure your tank is big enough to accommodate your needs.
While there are reverse osmosis filters that can filter water as you need it, most of them take some time to refill. If you are replacing your regular tap water with purified water, look for a unit that can filter 50 or more gallons a day (the unit measurement for this number is called GDP). If you're just using it for drinking water, you can opt for a unit with a slower refill rate and a smaller tank.
How does a reverse osmosis system work?
In every reverse osmosis system, there is an RO membrane, sediment filter, carbon filter, and several stages of filtration. When water first enters the system, it goes through prefiltration which usually consists of the sediment and carbon filter to remove sediment or chlorine that could clog up the membrane.
Water then goes through the membrane where dissolved particles are further removed. Once the filtering is complete, it goes to the system's storage tank where it is ready for use. When you turn on your faucet, the filtered water will come from the storage tank through another filter in the system that polishes it for drinking.
How do you install a reverse osmosis system
If you're installing a reverse osmosis system underneath your kitchen sink, you'll first want to make sure you have enough room in your cabinet for the storage tank and filters. It's best to install the sink spigot first so you're able to get the lines under the countertop before it gets crowded underneath the sink. Installation is simple and only requires basic plumbing knowledge. For detailed instructions with photos for reference, check out our full article on how to install a reverse osmosis system.
How do you replace filters in a reverse osmosis system?
Every reverse osmosis system requires periodic maintenance to keep your water as pure as possible. If you don't replace your filters and membrane every so often, you risk lowering the quality of your water and damaging or clogging the system. Refer to the owner's manual for how often to replace your filters, but this will also depend on the quality of the water in your area.
Although it doesn't require professional plumbing skills to change the filters yourself, you'll want to read the manufacturer's step-by-step instructions carefully on how to replace them. Make sure to purchase the right filters that need replacing as there are both carbon pre-filters and carbon post-filters for reverse osmosis systems.
This article was written by Erica Puisis, a freelance home writer who has been contributing to The Spruce since 2017. When researching picks for this list, she consulted dozens of customer and third-party reviews, considering RO systems with and without a storage tank. She evaluated the most popular options based on the water waste of each system, filtration speed, filter maintenance, and storage tank considerations. All of our recommendations include at least four stages of filtration and some include a remineralization filter.
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You must first obtain a Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) number from us prior to shipping the return. Please contact us at iSpring Support Center or 678-261-7611 or [email protected] in order to get an RMA number. Any products sent to iSpring without an RMA number may not qualify for a refund.
All returns must include the original invoice and have the RMA number indicated clearly on the return label. You will need to send the products via a courier who provides tracking, and provide us with the tracking number. Every return that we receive will be inspected to confirm that it contains everything included with the product.
Please ship the product in its original box. Kindly secure all parts to prevent damages during shipping. Make sure to drain out all water from the systems and filters and place them in a zip bag if possible.
30-day Return Policy:
Only purchases made directly from our website or our seller offers on other channels can receive a refund directly from us. Orders shipped and sold by Amazon.com directly can be returned/refunded through Amazon within 30 days. Amazon direct orders that are out of the 30 day return window can be accepted by us under the out-of-return-window policy below.
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Manufacturer Limited WarrantyWe offer a 1 year limited manufacturer warranty on new water filtration systems that are sold directly by iSpring Water Systems on different channels or by an authorized wholesaler such as Amazon.com, Overstock.com, etc. This warranty covers defects in materials or workmanship in manufacturing your iSpring products. The warranty begins from the date of purchase. We will replace or repair any part of the product that we find to be defective due to faulty materials or workmanship within the warranty period starting on the date of the original purchase. The warranty does not cover any systems or products that were not installed in compliance with our instructions or that have been abused or operated incorrectly. Free shipping on replacement parts only applies to the 48 contiguous U.S. states. International customers are responsible for any VAT, tariff, duty, taxes, handling fees, customs clearance charges, etc.
Registration is required to activate your warranty. To register your product for the warranty, go to 123Filter.com and click on the "Warranty" tab. We do not have the order information from vendors other than 123Filter.com (meaning Amazon, Home Depot, etc.), so please be sure to include that info in your registration. If you have any questions or concerns about your product please do not hesitate to call us at 678-261-7611, email us at [email protected], or put it in the "Notes" box in your warranty registration. Your satisfaction is our business! If you are happy with our products and service, we would truly appreciate you leaving a review for your product on the respective site you purchased it from. We sell exclusively online, and customer feedback helps us stay in business and continue supplying replacement filter cartridges at factory direct prices. Thank you!
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You may not be able to control the quality of your well or municipal water, but you can use a filter to protect yourself and your family from potentially harmful contaminants—or just improve your water’s taste. We found the best of a variety of different water filter options that can all make your water cleaner and healthier.
Check out quick info below of the top five water filters, then scroll deeper for buying tips and full reviews of these models plus other high-ranking options.
Easy to install, this quality five-stage filter lives under the sink and produces pleasantly neutral-tasting water.
Apex MR-1050 Alkaline
The MR-1050 not only purges unhealthy chemicals, it adds beneficial ones back in while balancing the pH of the water.
While not as powerful as some others, the SAFF-100 can still handle well water and makes it easy to tell when the filter needs replacing.
Brita Ultra Max
This 18-cup dispenser holds plenty of water without taking up much space in the fridge with its slim profile.
Simple to use and compact, this pitcher even comes with a free water-purity tester.
Do You Need a Water Filter?
While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates public water supplies, this doesn’t mean your water is totally free of certain contaminants like chlorine, asbestos, cadmium, copper, and fluoride. But in order to assess whether or not you should get a filter, you need to understand your water source and its potential contaminants.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that if you get water from a private well, you get it tested at a state-certified lab at least annually. If you get water from a public system, you’ll get a report from the EPA on the quality of your drinking water that will come with your water bill and tell you what contaminants your water may have.
You may decide you want a water filter just to improve the taste of your tap water, even if the poor taste isn’t due to anything actually harmful to your health. However, the CDC warns that many contaminants cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled. If you confirm your water source may have harmful amounts of arsenic, nitrates, chlorine, lead, or other contaminants, you’ll want a water filter that can specifically address those concerns.
What Kind of Filter Do You Need?
No filter will remove all contaminants, so it’s important to select the right type for your water source. We looked into all kinds of filters, from under-sink and countertop systems to faucet attachments, pitchers, and dispensers. The price range of water filters is vast, ranging from reverse-osmosis models that cost hundreds to $20 pitchers. In addition to your water source and budget, you should consider the speed of the filter and your household size as well as how easy it is to install and maintain. You can search some filters in NSF’s database to learn in more detail about what contaminants each is designed to protect you from. The most common NSF/ANSI standards to be aware of include 42 (for removing chlorine and other bad tastes and odors), 53 (for reducing health contaminants like heavy metals), and 401 (for “emerging contaminants” like pharmaceuticals).
How We Rated Them
We researched 10 expert sources and 27,000 consumer reviews to select the best water filters. To determine the Total Expert Score, we calculated the ratings from trusted publications, such as TechGearLab and Helpful Habitat, and converted them to a 100-point scale to make it easier for you to weigh the best options. Because more affordable faucet attachments, pitchers, and dispensers aren’t rated by enough sources for us to give them expert scores, we relied solely on consumer reviews for those models. Our Consumer Score represents the percentage of people who rated the product at least four out of five stars on retail and review sites like Amazon, Walmart, and Home Depot.
Total Expert Score: 93/100 | Consumer Score: 94% give it 4 stars or more
Filter type: 5-stage reverse osmosis | NSF/ANSI standard 58 | Estimated annual cost: $36 | Dimensions: 15 x 8 x 8 in.
- Can filter up to 75 gallons per day
- Lower flow rate
- 1:3 ratio of clean to waste water
The iSpring RCC7 is a five-stage reverse-osmosis filter that you can install under your sink to remove 99.9 percent of harmful contaminants (like lead and chlorine) that may be in your municipal or well water. TechGearLab awarded it Editors’ Choice for that, but also its ability to extract about 95 percent of salt. It comes with three pre-filters—a PP sediment, carbon KDF, and carbon block, which you should replace roughly every year. After water flows through those, a reverse-osmosis filter does the heavy-lifting of removing contaminants before a fine carbon GEC filter performs a final polish to deliver clean water to your faucet.
If you’re looking for something more permanent than a pitcher, this under-sink filter is easy to install yourself. Though the flow rate is on the low end for reverse-osmosis filters, its rating of 75 gallons per day should provide plenty of clean drinking water even for a big family. Many Amazon reviewers also confirmed that the iSpring produced completely neutral-tasting water.
Apex MR-1050 Alkaline
Total Expert Score: 84/100 | Consumer Score: 89% give it 4 stars or more
Filter type: Alkaline mineral | NSF/ANSI standard 61 & 42 | Estimated annual cost: $90 | Dimensions: 14 x 6 x 6 in.
- Adds minerals and balances pH level
- Lightweight and clear design
Rather than installing under the sink, this water filter sits on your countertop and attaches to most standard kitchen faucets. It’s an alkaline filter, meaning it adds healthy minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium back into your water, while balancing the pH of water to make it less acidic. It can also clean up to 750 gallons of water—or six to eight months’ worth for a family of four—before you need to replace the filter, though the replacement is relatively expensive. Amazon reviewers preferred Apex’s countertop filter for the health benefits associated with alkaline water, like immune system support and detoxification.
Consumer Score: 78% give it 4 stars or more
Filter type: Faucet mount | NSF/ANSI standard 42 & 53 | Estimated annual cost: $57 | Dimensions: 2 x 6 x 8.5 in.
- Easy installation and filter replacement
- Only removes most common contaminants
Brita’s faucet-attachment filter reduces 60 contaminants, which is fewer than what a five-stage filtration system can do. But it still removes 99 percent of lead, chlorine, benzene, and other particles commonly found in tap water. On Amazon, one user said that Brita’s faucet filters “are effective for the well water that comes into my house, which has high sulfur content and very high iron content.”
This filter will last up to four months or 100 gallons—again, not as long as under-sink systems. However, the fact that the device is visible on your faucet instead of hidden away underneath your sink, along with the status indicator, helps remind you when it’s time to replace the filter.
Brita Ultra Max
Consumer Score: 92% give it 4 stars or more
Filter type: Brita long-last filter | NSF/ANSI standard 52, 53, & 401 | Estimated annual cost: $34 | Dimensions: 10 x 14 x 5 in.
At 14.5 inches deep but only five inches wide, Brita’s Ultra Max can hold 18 cups of water without taking over much valuable fridge space. The filter-change reminder will let you know when it’s time, though Brita’s included Longlast filter is good for up to six months with average use. Some Amazon reviewers claim that the filter slowed down after a few months, but with an average of 4.5 stars from thousands of reviewers, most were pleased with its performance.
Consumer Score: 87% give it 4 stars or more
Filter type: Zero water filter | NSF/ANSI standard 53 | Estimated annual cost: $60 | Dimensions: 11.5 x 5.75 x 10.25 in.
6-Cup Water Filter Pitcher
- Needs frequent filter changes
Even those of us who have limited kitchen and refrigerator spaces can have filtered water. The ZeroWater Pitcher costs only $20, holds six cups, and removes chromium, lead, and other heavy metals, along with any sediment that might be in the water. Bonus: It comes with a water-quality meter, which allows you to test the cleanliness of the water after purification. Reviewers praised the taste of the water, but some complained that the filters don’t last long enough.
More Options to Consider
Total Expert Score: 91/100 | Consumer Score: 86% give it 4 stars or more
Filter type: 5-stage reverse osmosis | Estimated annual cost: $50 | Dimensions: 16 x 5 x 17.5 in.
- Can filter a lot in one day
- 1:4 ratio of clean to waste water
Like the iSpring, this Apec is a five-stage filter that installs under your sink to remove hundreds of contaminants. It features a quality dual-carbon block and a reverse-osmosis filter. It cleans up to 50 gallons per day at 60 psi, and its automatic shutdown system turns it off once the four-gallon tank is full. However, this filter produces more waste water than the iSpring does.
Many homeowners found that this filter was more than capable of producing the results they expected. One Amazon buyer who switched from an old three-stage filter said, “All of the family agreed that this Apec system delivered superior taste and higher flow rate.”
Home Master TMAFC-ERP
Total Expert Score: 95/100 | Consumer Score: 95% give it 4 stars or more
Filter type: Reverse osmosis | Estimated annual cost: $80 | Dimensions: 20 x 12 x 16 in.
- 5-year warranty
- Removes 99 percent of contaminants from water
Though the Home Master may be one of the more expensive options on this list, it’s a seven-stage, reverse-osmosis, under-sink filter that will also add minerals like calcium and magnesium to your water. The filters are among the longer lasting ones we’ve seen, requiring replacement just once a year or after 2,000 gallons. Customers also reported at Home Depot that it was easy to install, as well as maintain, for years.
Brita Grand Water Pitcher
Consumer Score: 93% give it 4 stars or more
Filter type: Brita standard | NSF/ANSI standard 42 & 53 | Estimated annual cost: $25 | Dimensions: 12 x 7 x 17 in.
Grand Water Pitcher
- Convenient and easy to use
Suited for most people’s everyday needs, Brita’s Grand can hold 10 cups of water, ridding it of chlorine, mercury, copper, zinc, and cadmium. The electronic filter indicator lets you know when it’s time for a replacement; depending on if you use Brita’s Standard or Longlast filter, that can range from two or six months. This pitcher’s design is also space-efficient and easy to pour and refill with the locking lid.
Consumer Score: 73% gave it 4 stars or more
Filter type: Activated carbon | Estimated annual cost: $40 | Dimensions: 9 x 46 x 54 in.
- Filters all water in house
- Lasts up to 10 years
If you need more than a pitcher to purify your water for brushing your teeth or showering, you may be better off buying a whole-house filter system. This one conditions all of your water to remove heavy metals, chlorine, pesticides, and contaminants, while leaving in the beneficial minerals. It can be a great option if you have particularly hard water that’s leaving residue behind on your shower and faucets. While it’s more of an investment, the system lasts up to 10 years, though the filters will need to be changed out every three months.
LifeStraw Home Pitcher
Consumer Score: 91% give it 4 stars or higher
Filter type: Membrane Microfilter, Activated Carbon+Ion Exchange Filter | NSF/ANSI standard 42, 53, 401, P472, P231| Estimated annual cost: $60 | Dimensions: 11 x 6 in.
- Removes parasites, bacteria, and pesticides
Though this water filter looks like a classy glass pitcher used to serve water at a dinner party, don’t be fooled by appearances. The LifeStraw brand is known for making personal water filters for drinking right out of streams, because they can not only filter out common bacteria but also parasites, microplastics, heavy metals, pesticides, and herbicides. We were even able to bring this pitcher along on a camping trip to use it to filter water from a state campground after it had been declared impotable.
It functions with two filters: one membrane microfilter that can last up to one year, paired with a carbon and ion filter that should be replaced after every 40 gallons or two months. If you’re worried about glass breaking on trips to the backcountry, you can also opt for the plastic version in either seven- or 10-cup capacities.
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Paige SzmodisPaige Szmodis is an editor for Runner’s World, Bicycling, and Popular Mechanics, who researches and writes home, tech, and outdoor product reviews and news.
Gabrielle HondorpBefore joining Runner's World as an Editor in 2019, Gabrielle Hondorp spent 6 years in running retail (she has tested top gear from shoes, to watches, to rain jackets which has expanded her expertise—and her closets); she specializes in health and wellness, and is an expert on running gear from head-to-toe.
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