Time to replace your old Brita but not sure if you even need a water filter? It depends on a number of factors. If the tap water in your home meets all the standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), you should feel confident that it is safe to drink without any type of filtration system, says Greg Kail, communications director for the American Water Works Association. The only way to find out? Review the annual consumer confidence report from the local water company.

Your water utility releases these reports once a year to all homeowners (often by mail, but sometimes online). If you live in an apartment, you may not receive a report directly, but you can call the water utility or your management company and ask them for a copy.

The report will tell you if your drinking water has any SDWA violations, Kail tells LivingHealthy. It will also contain information regarding the source of your drinking water, the kinds of treatment the water supply is getting and any contaminants found to be present in your water (arsenic, chromium, lead or cyanide, for example).

This document is the best way to find out what’s flowing out of your tap and can help you decide whether you need or want to consider at-home filtration, agrees Rick Andrew, water quality expert at NSF International, a public health and safety organization.

If you do decide to filter for health reasons—it’s really a personal choice based on what you find in the report—keep this in mind: The most important factor when shopping for a water filtration device is to make sure it’s certified for the specific contaminant you’re attempting to get rid of. If not, it’s a waste of money.

When browsing, look for the NSF blue seal, along with a box underneath that names the contaminant, on the front or the back of the package. This seal means that the product has undergone rigorous testing and is certified to remove the specified item.

And if your water is in the clear, you may still want to filter simply for taste, says Andrew. One of the most common reasons? Chlorine. Even if the chlorine in your tap water is at a safe level, making the water taste better can help your health. “If you like the taste, you’ll probably drink more and stay hydrated,” says Andrew.

At nsf.org, you can search for a wide range of certified water filtration products and prices, based on the contaminant you’re trying to remove. The great news: There’s a good chance you don’t need to blow your budget on a fancy system. A pitcher or a faucet attachment may do the job just fine. Some other factors to consider, according to Andrew: How easy is it to install? How much do replacement filters cost? What’s the warranty on the unit?

Once you make a purchase, keep the instruction or care manual. Not replacing the filter when needed means it won’t work. This isn’t necessarily harmful but could render it useless.

Sources:

  1. Safe Drinking Water Act
  2. NSF