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The Best Water Filters

If you don't have a water filter right now there's a good chance you will use one in the future. In about five years, half of all households in the U.S. are expected to have a water filter.

CBS News Consumer Correspondent Herb Weisbaum reports the results of a new study from Consumer Reports on home water filters.

For some, it's a matter of taste. They just don't like drinking water straight from the tap.

"I feel like it tastes cleaner if I filter it," said one consumer.

For others, it's safety. They worry about what might be in their water.

For both of these reasons, home water filters are growing in popularity. New models are hitting the market all the time.

For most folks, there's one of two ways to go: a filter that mounts on the faucet for those who use a lot of filtered water, or a carafe that you fill up and then leave in the fridge.

Both alternatives are simple and inexpensive. The question is, how well do they work?

To find out, Consumer Reports tested 14 models. Each was fed a smelly and bad-tasting cabbage soup concoction plus water spiked with lead and chloroform. Chloroform is a potentially dangerous chemical that's created when water is chlorinated.

"If you don't like the taste or the smell of your water or the clarity, the color or the clearness of it, these filters are really a good bet," says Ronni Sandroff, health editor at Consumer Reports.

Overall, the faucet-mounted models were a bit better at getting the lead out. But, the magazine says, a good carafe can also do the job.

"Yes, the top-rated carafes can make the water taste better. They can remove some of the harmful contaminants that might be in the water supply," said Jim Nanni of Consumer Reports.

The magazine's testers found that the carafes could address the major issues tested for, and would be a good choice for some consumers.

The top-rated carafes were capable of improving taste, as well as removing significant levels of lead and chloroform. So, the magazine concludes, they would be good performers for many consumers.

Whichever way you go, rememember that buying a water filter is a long-term commitment. You'll need to change the system's filter every couple of months, based on the manufacturer's recommendation. Over the course of a year, that can add up to an additional $60 to $75.

But if you don't do it, you could actually make your water worse.

"There is the potential that contaminants might come through the filter or bacteria might grow if the filter is not changed on a regular basis," said Nanni.

Here are the results of the Consumer Reports tests. For faucet-mounted models the least expensive one did the best: the Culligan FM-15, which sells for about $17. The other top-rated model, the Pur Plus FM-3000, runs around $35.

The top-rated carafe was the Brita Pitcher Ultra. Consumer Reports also recommends thRubbermaid 3775.

One more tip. If you're concerned about parasites such as giardia or cryptosporidium, microscopic bugs that can make you sick, then you'll need to check the package.

Look to see if the filter meets NSF Standard 53. A number of faucet-mounted models did pass the NSF parasite removal test, but only one of the top-selling carafes did, the Pur Plus CR-700.

You'll find all the results of the water filter tests in the October issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

Filters may not be effective for drinking water problems such as those caused by the recent floods across the country. These filters are made to be used with drinkable water. They are not meant to handle serious pollution problems. They cannot take water that is unsafe to drink and make it drinkable.

Consumer Reports says neither the carafes nor the faucet mounted models remove fluoride, something you should know if that's a concern to you.

For people who are concerned about what's really in the water coming out of their taps, there's a new mandate that you'll find of interest. Starting this year, if you get your water from a water utility that serves more than 10,000 people, your utility must send you an annual report telling you what's in that water as it leaves the plant, and how that compares to safety limits set by the federal government.

If you're served by a smaller water system, check with them to get a copy of this report. People on private wells will have to do their own testing.

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