If you filter your drinking water to avoid potentially harmful chemicals, it’s not a huge leap to consider a shower water filter. According to Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., a senior science adviser at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), chlorine, a by-product of water disinfection, is commonly found in municipal water supplies, as well as hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including the carcinogenic trichloroethylene. These chemicals don’t have to be ingested to cause health problems, she says, as studies have shown that lifeguards and frequent swimmers at indoor pools with high levels of chlorine have experienced problems such as exacerbated asthma symptoms
There are also aesthetic reasons for filtering your shower water. “Many people notice their hair is drier when they shampoo with hard water, that it frizzes more easily, and that not as much lather is created,” says Anabel Kingsley, a trichologist (hair and scalp specialist), at the Philip Kingsley Clinic. Hard water contains minerals like calcium and magnesium that can dry out the hair and skin. Water softeners and filters can remove these elements to relieve issues like dry skin or dandruff. Luke George, founder of the site Mr. Water Geek, says shower-filter users find that they have “softer hair and skin, hair color that lasts longer and is better able to maintain its gloss and shine.”
When selecting a filter, Naidenko recommends first searching your Zip Code in the EWG’s tap-water database to see what substances have been found in your area’s water supply, then looking for filters that are certified to remove or reduce those specific contaminants. Below, we’ve rounded up the filters recommended by experts, and certified by third-party testing, for targeting common contaminants.
Many shower filters use carbon to absorb hazardous materials. “Activated carbon is able to bind to all kinds of chemicals, collect VOCs, decrease the levels of chlorine, and reduce — but not remove — various types of metals,” says Naidenko. This WaterChef filter employs a carbon block with a large surface area to come into contact with most of the water flowing through. Like many of the filters on this list, it’s received NSF/ANSI 177 certification, which, according to Stefan Buck, business unit manager for filtration at NSF International, means a filter has met the public health and safety organization’s requirements “for chlorine reduction, material safety, and structural integrity.”
Another type of filtration is oxidation reduction (or redox), in which a copper-zinc alloy exchanges electrons with contaminants, including metals like lead and mercury, to chemically convert them to harmless substances. The most commonly used type of redox material is the proprietary kinetic degradation fluxion (or KDF) formulation. In conjunction with a carbon filter, KDF can also prohibit the growth of bacteria in shower water. This KDF filter is certified by both the NSF and the Water Quality Association.
According to George, Culligan filters are “easy to install, fit most standard showerheads, and aren’t as bulky as some of the others.” Certified by the NSF to remove chlorine, this model works with your existing showerhead and also combines activated-carbon and oxidation-reduction technology to filter out contaminants and reduce bacteria.
One of George’s favorite filters, the pH Energize eliminates the need to decide between filtering methods, as it includes eight levels of filtration for water to pass through. “This means that you don’t have to worry about what each filter technique does,” says George, “and simply focus on what the shower filter is able to remove.” The eight stages include tourmaline for absorbing potentially carcinogenic substances, KDF for removing heavy metal, and a steel micro-net for removing any silt or rust that may have transferred into the water from old pipes.
With five spray settings, including one for “muscle massage,” this showerhead filter is both functional and luxurious. The shiny, chrome minimal design is, as George says of Culligan filters, “aesthetically pleasing.” It uses both granulated activated carbon and KDF for filtering.
If you’re looking for something to match your bath fittings, Sprite offers its NSF-certified filter in a variety of finishes, like gold, copper, and brushed nickel. With a 25,000-gallon service cycle (double that of most filters), it also needs replacement cartridges less frequently. Naidenko says replacing your filter cartridges is vital to ensure that it keeps working properly. While most filters come with guidelines, if you live somewhere with very hard water, you may need to replace it more frequently. “Knowing what’s in your water and the concentrations for various contaminants will help people know how often to replace their filters,” she says.
If your main concern is softening water to make it gentler on your hair and skin, George says this filter “does the best job at purifying shower water. It has two powerful stages of filtration [and] enhances the water pH balance.” Redox and activated carbon remove chlorine and heavy metals, and neutralize potential contaminants.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.
Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.