Clean, safe drinking water is a luxury that many people in the United States take for granted. But your tap water may not be as safe as you think.
Nearly half of US tap water, from both public utilities and private wells, contains so-called forever chemicals—commonly known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS—according to a US Geological Survey study released this month.
The risks of PFAS exposure are well documented and have been linked with a host of health risks, including cancer, obesity, and weakened immune function.
If you’re concerned about PFAS in your tap water, you can take several practical steps.
First, determine whether your water is in fact contaminated, and if so, to what degree.
Then, if necessary, invest in a water filter that significantly reduces PFAS.
Keep in mind that PFAS are ubiquitous in the environment. They’re present in numerous common household products. It’s almost impossible to avoid PFAS entirely. But you can limit your exposure.
That distinction is important. Because PFAS don’t break down, they can accumulate in soil, water, and living tissue. Thus, the health risks may build with repeated exposures over time. For more on limiting your risk, see our guide.
Figure out if your water contains PFAS
The USGS study found that the most at-risk areas are also the most populated: cities and suburbs where industry has, or used to have, a large presence.
If you get your tap water from a municipal supplier, you are entitled under the Safe Drinking Water Act to see a Consumer Confidence Report, or CCR. These reports list what substances have been found in the water supply and at what concentration.
The limit, according to EPA guidelines, is 70 parts per trillion. That’s a very low concentration, equal to 0.07 part per billion. For context, municipal suppliers must take action on lead contamination only if it exceeds 15 parts per billion.
You should receive a CCR with, or prior to, your July water bill each year. If you do not, call your water utility and request that one be mailed or emailed to you, or check the Environmental Protection Agency’s search page; if searching by the utility or town name doesn’t pull up a result, try a broader search by the county name. Then look for whether your supplier actually tests for PFAS—not all do.
If your municipality doesn’t test for PFAS, or if you get your water from a private well, you can use a home test kit.
Wirecutter reviewed 11 home water test kits and found that the Tap Score Advanced City Water kit gave the clearest, most complete, and most actionable test reports, in addition to offering the most convenient sampling method. This specific kit (like the others we tested) does not include PFAS testing, but the company’s separate PFAS kit looks for the presence of 14 different compounds and is the one we’d recommend.
Invest in a water filter
The EPA has found that activated carbon and ion-exchange resin filters can significantly reduce PFAS in drinking water. Happily, these also happen to be two of the most common filter types used in homes, both in pitcher-type filters and in under-sink filters that attach to your plumbing.
The Aquasana AQ-5300+ Max Flow undersink filter adds a preliminary sediment filter, which the EPA says improves the effectiveness of the subsequent activated carbon and ion-exchange filters. Additionally, it is NSF-certified to reduce PFAS, specifically PFOA and PFOS, at levels below the EPA recommended limit of 70 parts per trillion.
The LifeStraw Home Dispenser also contains a sediment prefilter (in the form of a hollow fiber membrane filter that blocks all particles above 0.2 micron), followed by activated carbon and ion-exchange filters. In independent tests using NSF protocols by IAPMO, an American National Standards Institute–accredited lab, the LifeStraw Home Dispenser filter reduced combined PFOA and PFOS to less than 0.01 microgram per liter, which is below the EPA limit.
Lastly, if you’re facing a serious contamination problem, and you need to filter a lot of water, you may consider the LifeStraw Max, which filters up to 40 gallons per hour. We recommend this filter for treating contaminated water during emergencies, such as hurricanes and wildfires. In a pinch, it could be a good option if you can’t afford a plumbed-in whole-home filter (or can’t afford to wait for one to be installed).
We are seeking confirmation that the LifeStraw Max has been tested against PFAS, but with its dedicated sediment prefilter, pair of hollow fiber ultrafilters (which remove all particles down to 0.02 micron), and much larger activated carbon and ion-exchange filters, we’re confident that it can outperform the already excellent LifeStraw Home Dispenser. The membrane filters are rated to last for 26,500 gallons, and the carbon filter is rated for 4,000 gallons. The unit attaches to a standard hose spigot or to a faucet via included adapters.