8 Types of Whole House Water Filters

If you’re considering a whole house water filter, learn about the different types to determine which option is right for your home.

By: Maggie Pace

Whole house water filters treat all of the water that flows through your home, whether it goes to your kitchen, bathroom, or laundry. This water is cleaner, healthier, and often free from odd tastes and smells. The health benefits of a whole house water filtration system are numerous, from the removal of dangerous bacteria and viruses to softer hair and clearer skin.

However, not all whole house systems are equally effective. Most whole house systems utilize several types of filters through various stages of filtration. Often, each stage of filtration serves a different purpose, like targeting a specific type of contaminant. Before purchasing a water filtration system for your home, you should understand the different types of whole house filters to help determine what you need and what you don’t. Knowing this information can help you choose the best system, which tackles the contaminants you care about while allowing you to save money by avoiding unnecessary add-ons.

Before reading, make sure to check your local water quality report to find out what’s in your water. Once you know what contaminants you need to address, check out the information below to choose a whole house system featuring all of the filters you’ll need to get safe water.

Different types of whole house water filters

Each type of whole house water filter system addresses different contaminants and/or water quality issues. Depending on which system you choose, your whole house water filter may contain several types of individual filters (listed below), as individual stages of filtration. Here’s an overview of the different types of whole house water filters offered as stages of filtration, or additional add-ons.

1. Sediment filters

Sediment filters are often the first line of defense against unwanted particles in your home’s water. Typically, they are included in the pre-filter stage of your whole house water filter, and work to remove larger particles from the water before it is filtered for chemicals and other contaminants. 

They remove dirt, dust, rust, silt, clay, sand, and other debris. By removing these larger particles, the following filters can remove bacteria and viruses that are hidden beneath. Removing these particles before filtration also prevents clogging at other stages of filtration, which can improve performance and extend the life of your system.

Sediment filters work in two different ways, depending on the design of your whole system. The first option is a sediment cartridge filter, or spun filter. The water is pushed through layers of filters, which hold onto the large particles but release the water. The second option is a spin-down sediment filter, which flushes trapped particles out through a valve. In this way, spin-down sediment filters do not need to be replaced as a cartridge filter does. 


  • Removes large particles in water
  • Fairly easy to install
  • Relatively low cost
  • Improves performance and lifespan for the entire system


  • Replacements needed often
  • Fails to remove chemicals, bacteria, or viruses

2. Activated carbon filters

Activated carbon filters are the next most popular home water filter, if not the most popular. Activated carbon comes from natural materials like wood, coconut, and charcoal. When water passes through this part of your whole house water filter system, it absorbs chemicals out of the water, releasing the clean H2O back to you.

Granular activated carbon (GAC) filters are more commonly found in whole house filter systems than their counterparts, activated block filters. GAC filters contain loose carbon particles rather than bonded “block” filters, so they are much more efficient and work well with high water pressure. 


  • Improves taste
  • Improves smell
  • Removes chemicals like chlorine
  • Relatively affordable


  • Doesn’t remove large particles like metal

3. Catalytic carbon filters

Catalytic carbon filters work by taking the basic process for activated carbon filtering but adding gas processing at high temperatures. When this occurs, the filter absorbs contaminants and releases the filtered water.

The biggest contaminant treated by catalytic carbon filters is chloramine, a more resolute disinfectant than chlorine. Unfortunately for homes, this means it’s harder to remove.


  • Removes chloramines


  • Doesn’t remove chlorine as well
  • Most heavy metals unaffected
  • Can be more expensive
"Activated carbon comes from natural materials like wood, coconut, and charcoal."

4. KDF Copper-Zinc filters

Kinetic Degradation Fluxion filters, or KDF filters, use copper and zinc to support the other components of your home water filtration system. They control the release of microorganisms into your water, like algae. A KDF-55 or KDF-85 filter may be the final step for some whole house systems.


  • Inhibits bacteria and algae growth
  • Improves taste and smell
  • Extends the life of the system


  • Doesn’t fully remove biomaterials

5. UV filters

UV filters, or UV purifiers, do not use materials to remove particles from your water. Therefore, they aren’t the best option for a standalone water filter. UV filters use ultraviolet light to eliminate dangerous microorganisms. A UV filter can protect you and your family from E Coli, giardia, and other bacteria and fungi that can make you very sick by literally changing the organism’s DNA. These filters are often sold as optional add-ons, but may be a necessity for people who rely on private well water.


  • Sterilizes up to 99.99% of bacteria and viruses and 99% of cysts
  • Annual lamp replacement is easy to accomplish and maintain
  • No chemicals or particles used


  • Must be connected to a power source at all times
  • Doesn’t remove organic particles or chemical contaminants

6. Softeners and conditioners

Water softeners and conditioners are not actually filters, though that is essentially their function. Rather, they are used in conjunction with whole house water filters to remove magnesium and calcium. These particles do not typically cause health issues, but they can wreak havoc on your home’s pipes and appliances if you live in an area with hard water. Softeners and conditioners work in different ways to address hard water.

  • Softeners: Use ion exchange, which requires salt, to swap the hard water mineral ions with ions from the salt you add. In addition to salt, softeners also require electricity and generate wastewater which makes them less environmentally friendly.
  • Salt-Free Conditioners: Use a scale control media to attract mineral ions, then neutralize them by forming small crystals that are harmless. Salt-free conditioners are considered better for the environment because they do not require electricity or produce wastewater.

A softener or conditioner may not be necessary if you don’t have hard water, but can still improve water quality regardless. These are typically sold as optional add-ons, though you may also be able to use a softener or conditioner without a separate whole house system if hard water is your only concern.


  • Prevents scale build-up by addressing hard water minerals
  • Protects your home’s pipes
  • Extends the life of your appliances
  • Improves water texture
  • Improves laundry, meaning cleaner clothes and less damage after a wash
  • Cleaner dishes, without streaks


  • Doesn’t filter out chemical contaminants
  • Can be expensive

7. Calcite filters

Calcite filters are also known as acid neutralizers and work to balance your water’s pH levels. It does this by running the water through natural minerals to bring the pH balance up, closer to a more neutral or alkaline figure. The minerals used are magnesium oxide and calcium carbonate. Unlike the other filters on this list, a calcite filter does not filter out any particles, materials, or microorganisms.


  • Uses natural minerals
  • Makes acidic water more basic for improved taste


  • Doesn’t really filter “out” anything, rather, changes the composition of your water to be more gentle

8. Reverse osmosis filters

Reverse osmosis filters are typically the most expensive, but this is because they are the “one-stop-shop” of all water filter options. Reverse osmosis filters work by pushing water through a semi-permeable membrane at a high pressure. As water passes through, contaminants are left behind and only clean water makes it to the other side. 

These filters are typically considered the most effective filtration method, and in some cases they can actually remove healthy minerals which lowers the health and negatively affects the taste of your water. As a result, you may want to look for a system with a remineralizer that restores healthy minerals lost in the RO process. Additionally, you may find that a whole house RO system isn’t worth the cost, and may be better served with an under sink RO system in the place where you get drinking water from most often like the kitchen.


  • Offers the most powerful form of filtration
  • Provides the best water for cooking and drinking


  • Expensive
  • Sometimes removes healthy minerals, reducing the health and negatively affecting the taste of your water
  • Some systems create wastewater

What type of whole house filter should you buy?

Now that you have a better idea of what each type of whole house filter does, it’s time to choose a system. Consider the contaminants in your area and what stages of filtration you’ll need, then use that information to find appropriate systems. If you aren’t sure where to start, check out our whole house water filters, featuring several stages of filtration and optional add-ons to enhance performance and improve your water quality.