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We tested water filter pitchers for weeks: Here’s the best one

(CNN) —  

When you dive into the marketplace for water filters, pitchers and dispensers, you’ll find a wide variety of offerings. In an effort to find the best brand and shape that fits every lifestyle, we tested eight options — ranging from a super-small, made-for-one pitcher to a giant, double-digit cup dispenser. We put these filters through the test over the course of a few weeks, setting them up, leaving the water overnight and in the fridge, and even conducting a “water tasting” party.

After weeks of testing, one water filter pitcher stood out from the pack:

  • Brita Standard Everyday Water Filter Pitcher ($27.99; amazon.com)

The Brita Standard Everyday Water Filter Pitcher was a cinch to set up, left water free of any odd flavoring, features a simple pouring mechanism and is ideally designed for storage within a fridge. It stood out from the other filters in nearly all areas that matter most, and its well-rounded simplicity makes this Brita filter the perfect option for anyone looking for a water filter pitcher.

Best water filter pitcher overall: Brita Standard Everyday Water Filter Pitcher ($27.99; amazon.com)

Brita Standard Everyday Water Filter Pitcher
Brita Standard Everyday Water Filter Pitcher

The shape and design of this modern 10-cup Brita pitcher caught our eye from the start. It’s white and understated, and the first thing we noticed was its lightweight feel — something you always want when you’re using an item daily.

This pitcher came with Brita’s Standard Filter, which lasts for 40 gallons, or an estimated two months. This, of course, depends on how many people in your home are drinking out of one pitcher. For those who want to replace their filters less often, this pitcher is also compatible with Brita’s Longlast+ Filter, which keeps water clean for up to six months, or 120 gallons. This Brita pitcher doesn’t have a digital reminder to replace the filter like the other two Britas we tested, but it does include a sticker we placed on the side. You circle when you need to replace it on this sticker so you don’t forget. All of the pitchers, with the exception of the Soma pitcher, had a reminder feature, which is fairly standard in modern water filtration options.

The most critical factor for us was taste. By far, the Brita filter made the best-tasting water. As we described in our notes during the taste test, we felt like the water was crisp, smooth and natural. In many ways, it reminded us of fancy European water you might be served at a fine dining establishment. It didn’t leave any lingering aftertaste or reek of chemicals, or have any other downfalls. Brita promises to reduce chlorine, mercury, copper, zinc and cadmium (though we did not independently test this, Brita’s filters are certified by the Water Quality Association, which you can read more about below).

Another feature of a water filter you don’t realize is super important until you try: ease of pouring. Some filters spilled everywhere. Others lost their lids. Some were just downright heavy. And not to sound like Goldilocks here, but this one was just right. It’s comfortable to hold, the lid stays in place and the pour is smooth and predictable.

The included instructions were straightforward and easy to understand. To set up the Brita, we washed the entire pitcher with lukewarm water and soap, then we ran the filter under cold water for 15 seconds. Next, we started the process of filling up the pitcher to activate the filtration.

Though Brita is still our No. 1 pick for a water filtration solution, its drawback is how time-consuming the setup process can be. For this particular pitcher, the instructions recommend filling up and emptying the water three times before using the H20 for drinking. (They also suggested using the dumped aqua to water plants, which we appreciated!) While it did take 20 minutes, which is less time than the larger Pur Water pitcher we tested, it wasn’t as fast as the ZeroWater of the same size.

How we tested

To whittle down the many, many water filter options to a pool of eight to test, we chose only those certified to the ANSI/NSF industry standard. Both independent organizations, American National Standards Institute and NSF International set stringent quality standards and rigorous testing to ensure products, such as water filters, hold up to those standards.

We researched to ensure the filters we chose to test were certified by either the NSF itself or the WQA, the two main certifying labs. All filters we tested had a certification of at least Standard 42 and Standard 53, which cover chlorine and other contaminants that may leave water tasting funny.

When we had each water filter pitcher in hand, we focused primarily on performance. We measured how long it took to filter the water from the moment the tank filled up until it was safe to pour into our cup. We rated the water filtration product’s design based on the size of the reservoir tank compared to the pitcher. In other words, if the tank is significantly smaller than the overall pitcher, it takes much longer to refill.

We tasted the water from each filtration system many times and at various temperatures, including the first pour, the morning after at room temp, overnight in the fridge and several days later. We tested if the water filtration pitcher or dispenser kept the H20 cold in the fridge and if it kept it from being too warm on the counter.

Another primary category we took into consideration was the build of each pitcher. We rated how easy it was to take the water pitcher out of the box, set up the filter, fill the tank and begin enjoying the aqua. We researched how quickly and easily we could replace the filters online.

We rated the pitcher’s design based on a variety of factors, including how much space it took up in the fridge and if it offered enough cups of water throughout the day for drinking. We poured so many glasses of water, we lost count! We rated how heavy or light the pitcher was, how well the dispenser worked and the flow/stream of water. Finally, we tested how easy it was to take apart the pitcher to clean it, using warm water and soap.

Other water pitchers we tested:

ZeroWater ZP-010 ($28.74; amazon.com)

We have to admit, we’re confused by the hype with ZeroWater. Many people rave about the taste and product design of this relatively new water filtration company. However, we weren’t impressed. First, the positive: It’s super fast to set up. You just run the filter under cold water for 15 seconds, then place it in the pitcher — and you’re ready to go. We appreciated the speed from the filter to glass, but that’s about where our support ended.

The filter, though easy to use, is heavy. Like, really heavy. Even without the water inside of the pitcher, it felt significantly heavier than the other pitchers. The lid on this pitcher was finicky and didn’t stay put, which was frustrating while pouring. The water’s flavor was fine, but we did notice a sweet aftertaste to it that other pitchers didn’t carry.

Lastly — and probably our biggest complaint — is the Water Quality Meter that ZeroWater is known for. At first, we were intrigued by the concept; we could test tap water for contamination before we filtered it and then afterward, to compare results.

The brand’s gimmick is that the Water Quality Meter will read 0 (hence its name), resulting in the cleanest water. Because we had two ZeroWaters to try out, we decided to put them to the test. The meters gave 10- to 15-point differences on the same unfiltered tap water. After passing through the ZeroWater filter, the water would read “0” each time, but none of the other filtered waters got anywhere close to ZeroWater’s rating of “clean.” This could just mean the ZeroWater filter is cleaning the water better than the others; however, if we put our two ZeroWater testers into the same glass of filtered Brita or Pur water, there was often a 10- to 15-number difference between the ratings. To us, it feels fishy.

Pur CR1100CV Classic Water Filter Pitcher Filtration System ($27.99, originally $29.99; amazon.com)

This pitcher may look a lot like the winning Brita pitcher, but it had some key differences that resulted in a lower rating. Firstly, it has a larger, round design that made it difficult to fit in our fridge. Because we live in an apartment with a smaller kitchen, we prefer to keep the water pitcher in the door to use the rest of the refrigerator for food storage. This Pur pitcher quite simply wouldn’t fit.

Setting up the pitcher wasn’t tricky: Run the lightweight filter under cold water for 15 seconds, fill up the pitcher and go. However, filling up the pitcher took the longest of other pitchers of the same size. It almost felt as if the water was getting stuck or taking longer to pass through.

The other not-so-great part about this design is the lid. Like ZeroWater, it kept slipping off, which would sometimes cause a spill. And though I’m not sure why, we noted a chemical-like aftertaste. We followed setup instructions, but it still remained after a few days and a few refills.

Soma Pitcher Plant-Based Water Filtration ($39.43; amazon.com)

The marketing copy, packaging and overall aesthetic of the Soma Pitcher was clever and modern. It screams Scandinavian design, making it the perfect choice for any hygge household. Setup of this pitcher wasn’t difficult; however, it did take longer than some of the others since it needed to soak in water for 15 minutes before use. It came with an included sealable cone-shaped bag for soaking the filter, which was helpful since it naturally floats.

Once the filter took its bath, we began filling the pitcher. Because the reservoir size is so small, it took forever — ahem, 15 minutes — to fill it up. Then, when we went to pour, we made the biggest mess from the whole experience. Though the handle is comfortable, the stream of water is all over the place due to its wide mouth, so you really have to pay attention or you’ll have a puddle on your floor or counter. The taste of the water was solid, and for a plant-based filter, it stacked up to the others. However, the brand could have sacrificed some of the design for better function.

Pur Ultimate Water Dispenser ($33.99, originally $39.99; amazon.com)

Unlike the pitcher, this Pur dispenser requires the filter to soak for 15 minutes before use. Though not that demanding of a task, the filter floats, so it was tricky to get it fully submerged. It took longer to fill up than the Brita of the same size, but it was smaller than the ZeroWater, making it a happy medium. The dispenser itself was easy to use and prevented leakage. I also appreciated the digital “filter replacement” addition that turns red when it’s time to swap it out. This dispenser was very similar to the larger Brita pitcher we tested, but it still didn’t outrank our winner.

Brita Standard Metro Water Filter Pitcher ($15.49, originally $19.99; amazon.com)

If you live by yourself, this is an ideal one-person water filter pitcher. It holds only 5 cups, so you’ll probably need to replace it throughout the day if you’re drinking the recommended daily water intake. However, refilling is a breeze. Since all Brita filters recommend pouring out the first three filters, we went through the process, and with this one, it took less than 10 minutes. The reservoir tank is about half of the overall pitcher, so it wasn’t time-consuming at all. As a bonus, this Brita does have a digital filter replacement that alerts you when it’s time to buy a new one.

Brita Longlast UltraMax Water Filter Dispenser ($39.99, originally $44.99; amazon.com)

If you have tons of space, this filter should definitely be on your radar. It holds an enormous 18 cups, so it doesn’t make sense for a pint-size, apartment-style fridge, but compared to others of the same size, its square-shaped design made it easier to stack in the fridge or push against a counter. The reservoir tank to overall size ratio was great, and of all of the larger-size dispensers, this one was the fastest to fill up.

ZeroWater ZD-018 ($29.76, originally $39.99; amazon.com)

All of our same concerns with the Water Quality Meter with the pitcher are still relevant with this option from ZeroWater. Coming in at the largest capacity on our list, with 23 cups, this pitcher is the heaviest by far. The filter is heavy and the water load is heavy, and you probably don’t want to move it too much once you fill it. Another drawback of this option is the dispenser itself. You push a button to release water, which is smart because it won’t keep going, but also when you’re filling up a 24-ounce water bottle, it can be painful for your finger. If you’re looking for a filter with a large capacity, opt for the Brita Longlast UltraMax instead.

Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: