Whole-house water filters are perhaps the most mixed bag of all the filtration methods. Installing one is a big chance to take! It could solve all your water worries in one fell swoop, or create even bigger headaches for you.
We’ve created this guide so that you can be absolutely sure you know what you’re getting into. We’ll help you choose the right solution for your contaminants, and talk you through the installation process!
In this guide, we’ll answer all your questions about taking the big plunge, and we’ll introduce you to the most effective, reliable, and user-friendly whole-house water systems on the market.
Here are our top recommendations, at a glance:
|Watts WH-LD||CULLIGAN WH-S200-C||Aqua Filter Plus|
|Our Rating: 4.4|
|Our Rating: 4.5|
|Our Rating: 3.8|
“the cheapest option we’ve found that’s durable, functional, and certified by the NSF”
Watts’ Premier whole-house filter is our least expensive recommendation in this category. It’s made by the same company as our midrange Culligan picks, and uses the same sediment cartridges.
We suggest to to folks who don’t want to spend as much money, and can do without the timer and heavier build quality on the Culligan models below!
It’s quite a bit cheaper than the Culligan models, even though it’s made by the same manufacturer and uses the same cartridges. Prices vary constantly, but we’ve found that this one’s typically 50% cheaper!
It’s the cheapest option we’ve found that’s durable, functional, and certified by the NSF. There are a lot of other whole-house options around this price, but most aren’t independently tested or certified. The Watts is!
“a lot sturdier than the competition in its price bracket!”
While it’s no surprise that something so affordable is mostly made from plastic, the Watts is a lot sturdier than the competition in its price bracket! It’s made from rugged, heavy-duty plastic components, with stainless steel inserts. As long as you’re careful not to over tighten, this should last for years of use.
It’s assembled in the USA, with very good quality control. Most others at this price are made completely overseas. This one’s at least put together and inspected here, which is why units don’t have so many issues out of the box as other models.
The filters are very inexpensive, despite the fact that they’re NSF-certified as well! You get 4 in the box, and the replacements are Culligan’s standard P5’s. They’re an all-purpose sediment cartridge, sized for 50 microns.
The P5 will handle sediment, dirt, and rust, as well as suspended particulate matter in your water. It’s on the larger end of things, but you can also get it in finer versions for even more thorough filtration. Even the 50 micron version does an excellent job preserving carbon filters further along, and removing sediment from well and city water.
Even though it’s inexpensive, it’s industry-standard. A lot of other affordable options don’t work well with other brands’ cartridges. The Watts will! Any 10” standard cartridge will fit, so you can choose any certified filter type you want to use.
While the housing and cartridges are simple and affordable, they do the job well. Pressure drops aren’t noticeable with the Watts, and you can easily link several of these in succession as needed, using different micron sizes.
It has a built-in bypass valve, so you don’t have to shut off your water to change the cartridges. That’s not something that’s standard on all inexpensive setups! The Watts also comes with a wrench to help you out with opening and closing the chamber.
It’s covered by a 1-year warranty. Most others at this price don’t have any coverage! We’ve also linked to an Amazon listing where you can easily grab a few more years of coverage.
The price tag on this one is very low, but you’ll still probably want to pay for professional installation. That’ll definitely cost you more than the unit itself, so get an estimate before you buy!
It’s pretty bare-bones. There’s no timer on this, so you’ll have to judge when the filter needs to be changed. This is only a sediment model, too, and there are no good carbon cartridge options from Culligan. If you want something more sophisticated, look at the Aqua Filter Plus below.
There are stainless steel inserts for the fittings, but this thing is essentially solid plastic. It’s better than others, but won’t last as long as more expensive options like the Culligan below, which has more metal components.
One place the plastic isn’t ideal is the bypass valve, which can wear out a lot faster than a brass component.
You also have to be extremely careful not to over tighten something like this, because the plastic can develop hairline cracks. Even installed perfectly, it probably won’t last more than a few years, given the pressure that these components see on a daily basis.
You’ll probably need a mounting bracket to get up and running–Culligan’s is pretty affordable, and you can just throw it in at checkout.
It can be tricky to realign the housing threads when you’ve added a new cartridge. It’s not as seamless as our more expensive picks.
The Culligan filters used in this one don’t last all that long. Some homes may need to change monthly while others might get through two months per cartridge. In high-demand homes, or locations with severe sediment issues, something larger like the Aqua Filter Plus would be more practical.
This one’s meant only for 3/4” hookups. If you need a 1”-compatible unit, look at the Culligan or Aqua Filter Plus models below.
Culligan’s whole-house water models are a notch above the Watts when it comes to build quality and convenience. We’re recommending two variations of the same model here. One is for 3/4” inlets, and the other fits 1” piping. Both have the same sturdy build quality and smart design. It’s easy to see why these are so popular!
If you’re in an average home and just want to remove sediment, these are your best bet.
Click for Price
The biggest difference between the Culligan and the Watts is in the build quality department. All the key areas on the Culligan are reinforced with metal, including the fittings and housing threading. Overall, this is a much sturdier component that’s less likely to crack (as the Watts will eventually do).
The housing is certified by WQA for low lead compliance and against the NSF 42 standard for materials safety and integrity.
As you’d expect from something that’s significantly heavier and made up of more metal, it has a better track record than the Watts over the long term. You can plan on using one of these for many years! Culligan seem to think so too, since they guarantee this for twice as long as the Watts.
“You can plan on using one of these for many years!”
Another reason to pay more for a Culligan: this one’s more enjoyable to use. It has the added convenience of an onboard timer, which is both battery-operated and removable. Its more reliable bypass valve is also something you’ll be grateful for when you go to change your 20th cartridge.
The biggest convenience on this one is its integrated bracket, which makes it far simpler it to install than the Watts.
It’s also available in both 3/4” and 1” fittings, so you don’t need to make any modifications in order to use it! Just be sure to check your inlets, and order the appropriate model.
The Culligan comes with the same P5 sediment filter as the Watts. It’s NSF-certified, and will do a good job on any kind of sediment, from rust to dirt, and will last up to 2 months.
As with the Watts, this one fits any 10” standard cartridge. There are a few Culligan offerings at different micron sizes, which you can install in sequence to do the most thorough job with sediment and particulate contaminants.
“will do a good job on any kind of sediment, from rust to dirt”
This is as good as you need if you don’t have a high-use household or a severe sediment issue. Unless you want to add carbon filtration, which isn’t something Culligan excels at, there’s no need to spend more for the Aqua Filter Plus!
Both models are covered by a 2-year warranty.
Like the Watts, this is only a sediment model as sold. Culligan does make a carbon cartridge which fits this one, but it’s not as good as the Aqua Filter Plus, and as far as we can tell, it’s not NSF-certified. That’s why we don’t recommend it as a viable carbon filtration option.
If you want to have carbon filtration as well as sediment filtration, or purely carbon filtration, go for the Aqua Filter Plus below!
Even though there are additional metal components, it’s not noticeably better-made than the Aqua Filter Plus below.
As we noted in our review of the Watts, Culligan’s cartridges aren’t the most long-lasting. They’re decent for the size, but they can’t compete with the larger AFP options.
You’ll want to replace these every month or two, depending on your water quality. You can get twice as much mileage from the AFP replacements.
Also like the Watts, this one isn’t the easiest to swap cartridges on.
Both sizes of the Culligan are a bit pricier than the Watts.
3. Aqua Filter Plus
“our top recommendation for whole-house filtration.”
The Aqua Filter Plus is our top recommendation for whole-house filtration. It’s a versatile, heavy-duty housing which can be used with both sediment and carbon cartridges, or with both in sequence.
Outfitting your whole house with both sediment and pollutant filtration doesn’t get easier than this! We recommend it to anyone with heavy-use households, high sediment levels to deal with, or chemical pollutants that require carbon filtration as well.
The Aqua Filter Plus’s main appeal is its versatility. Sure, you can stick any standard cartridge in the Watts or Culligan, but it’s always best to find a company which makes all the filters you need by itself. That’s the best insurance of compatibility and performance with your housing! This company makes both sediment and carbon cartridges to suit any need.
The convenient thing is you can get it bundled with either type of media when you buy. Rather than going shopping for cartridges separately, you can just grab a housing with each type, and get your whole 2-stage setup in one shop.
A big difference between AFP and other brands like Culligan: all their cartridges are NSF-certified. The vast majority of brands we’ve reviewed don’t have NSF-certified carbon filters available. So, you have no idea whether they actually perform the way they’re supposed to. The AFP’s are independently certified to do their job!
Both types of filter are effective and useful. The sediment option removes the same things as our other picks: dirt, rust, sediment and particulate matter of all kinds. The carbon option removes chlorine and VOC pollutants, as well as chemical contaminants like pesticides.
It’s a carbon block filter, too, not a granular cartridge. That’s a significant improvement over most carbon options that are sold for whole-house filtration! Carbon block types offer much less pressure reduction, and much better performance overall, since they have more surface area to catch contaminants.
The housing is NSF-certified, just like the filters. Even though it’s not metal, it has build quality that rivals the Culligan! The AFP is made from heavy-duty reinforced polypropylene. It’ll last for years of use!
“It’ll last for years of use!”
More than anything else, the advantage of the Aqua Filter Plus is its scale. This thing takes larger cartridges than our other recommendations, and is about twice as wide. Plus, it has less than a 1 PSI pressure drop, even flowing at 15 GPM! That means you can be as demanding as you like without having to worry if it will keep up!
Working with larger cartridges is excellent for high-demand homes and situations where heavy sediment is present (we’re talking about the sediment filter option in this case). You’ll get much better mileage out of each cartridge, with even better pressure performance.
“excellent for high-demand homes and situations where heavy sediment is present”
The difference is pretty significant. You can expect an average of 3-4 months out of these big sediment cartridges, instead of 1-2 from the Culligan’s. The carbon stage will actually last all year, as long as you’re on top of replacing the sediment cartridges in front of it!
Using both media types in two of these AFP housings is the most thorough, effective whole-house filtration system we’ve found. It’ll remove both sediment and harmful chemicals/toxins. Since the cartridges last so long, it’s very low-maintenance. The whole setup is built to last, too. We haven’t heard any reliability complaints about this equipment!
The fittings are high-end and easy to use. They’re made by the John Guest company, which is the supplier for most high-end reverse osmosis system components as well! These fittings are push-fit, so they couldn’t be easier to install.
You also get everything else you need in the package. This one comes with a steel mounting bracket and lag bolts, which are essential when you install something of this size.
Finally, while this isn’t a make-or-break feature, one refreshing change between this and our cheaper picks is how easy it is to change the cartridges! The Aqua Filter Plus has a pressure relief button built in, so water doesn’t spray you as you swap them. It also comes with a wrench to open and close the housing, just like our other picks.
It’s made for 1” fittings, so you’ll need to make some adjustments if you’re running on 3/4” piping. That’s fairly straightforward, but most people should consult or hire a plumber.
You’ll pay more for one of these than for the Watts or Culligan. The housing alone is the most expensive of the three, even though the Watts and Culligan models come with filters included at that price. The carbon bundle in particular is pricey.
However, the high price tag is mainly due to the larger size. We think it’s worth it, considering the extra life you’ll get from the cartridges and the added filtration performance you’ll see if you add one of these with a carbon filter!
Still, if you don’t want or need carbon filtration (more on why you might not want it below!), and don’t have the demand or sediment levels to justify the larger filters, you could be just fine with the cheaper Culligan.
Which of our whole-house recommendations is the best choice for your water?
The Watts is the obvious way to go if you’re stretched for cash and just need to reduce sediment. It offers the same level of filtration as the Culligan, and even uses the exact same cartridges. It’ll do a good job for at least a few years in most homes.
Don’t expect this to last as long as the sturdier Culligan, though. It’s also not ideal for carbon filtration, since Culligan’s carbon filters aren’t certified by the NSF.
The Culligan is our top recommendation to the average buyer. It’s only a sediment filter as sold, and Culligan’s carbon filters aren’t up to specs. Still, if all you want is to filter out an average amount of sediment, this is as much as you need to spend!
People with heavier sediment or high-use households will find that the Aqua Filter Plus is more practical over the long term, though. The AFP is also the way to go if you want to do whole-house carbon filtration as well as sediment removal.
The Aqua Filter Plus is our top quality recommendation for any home, and it’s our suggestion to anyone with larger households or places with high sediment levels to deal with. This is also the only system we recommend for carbon filtration. The AFP might be pricey, but you’ll also get the value and convenience of extended filter life. If you can afford even one of these with a sediment filter, we think you should go for it. If you want carbon filtration, grab one of each.
It might be overkill if you don’t have a high-demand household or all that much sediment to begin with. And if you don’t need or want carbon filtration for your whole house, stick with the Culligan.
We know it can be daunting to choose the right whole-house water filter, so we’ve put together this handy buying guide to talk you through the process of choosing! Here are all the important things to consider as you shop:
Know what you’re trying to filter
You can’t solve any problem unless you know what the actual problem is, right? That’s especially true when it comes to water filtration. Make sure you have a handle on exactly what you’re trying to remove from your water before you choose a filter! Are you trying to cut out sediment (dirt, rust, heavy minerals), or reduce contaminants like pesticides or VOC’s?
Most whole-house water filters are aimed at sediment. That’s because sediment affects everything in your home, from your taps to your washing machine and other appliances. It’s a good idea to filter it out as it comes into the house, so that you can solve the problem at all the outlets.
A few whole-house models offer carbon filtration as well, or will fit carbon filter cartridges. These are what you’ll want for filtering out pollutants like lead, pesticides and VOC’s, as well as chemical content like chlorine.
Find more tips and resources for evaluating your water quality in our main guide to water filtration!
Think about any other filters you may use
Before you decide exactly which filtration you want for your entire house, remember to consider your other filters, if you have any! It’s always a good idea to use a whole-house sediment filter, since that’s a protective step to take for your appliances and plumbing. However, if you’ve already got a good drinking water filter, you probably don’t need carbon filtration for the whole house.
We generally advise that everyone should start with sediment filtration on a whole-house scale. Even if you have a separate point-of-use filter for drinking water, whole-house filtration will protect appliances in other rooms. It’ll also make your showers more enjoyable, and protect plumbing fixtures from mineral buildups and so forth.
Most importantly, having a strong whole-house sediment filter will allow you to get longer working lives from your other filters! They won’t have to deal with the heavy stuff, so they’ll do a better job on finer contaminants without clogging as soon.
If you want to add carbon filtration, be sure to use it in conjunction with sediment filtration, with a carbon stage following your sediment stage! Used on their own, carbon filters will clog in no time. When used behind a sediment filter, you can get as much as a year out of a carbon filter.
Be aware that no whole-house water filters are as good as reverse osmosis! If you’re trying to achieve the best possible drinking water quality, you should consider a whole-house sediment filter and then a RO system at your sink.
Consider whether you want to do carbon filtration or not
Deciding whether to use carbon filters for your entire house is a tricky business. A lot of people have differing opinions on this, so you’ll want to take some time to decide whether it’s the best choice for your own needs.
Who would want whole-house carbon filtration?
- anyone who wants to filter drinking water as it comes into the house
- anyone who doesn’t have a point-of-use filter already installed at a tap
- anyone who has concerns about chlorine, VOC’s, lead, or other contaminants which won’t be caught by sediment filters
Who might want to stick to sediment filtration?
- anyone with a good point-of-use carbon filter or RO system
- anyone who doesn’t need to deal with things like chlorine, VOC’s, or pesticides
- anyone who’s mostly concerned about protecting appliances and plumbing fixtures, rather than treating drinking water
*some people don’t advise using carbon filters for an entire home, though they’re safe in most cases. You wouldn’t want to use them if you aren’t home often and if you don’t often use your water. Carbon filters are great at removing chlorine, and while most of us want to do that to some extent, removing too much chlorine can allow for the possibility of bacterial growth. If you aren’t around much, water can sit in your plumbing and develop bacteria. Ask your plumber if you need advice!
Think about the practical things
- know your outlet sizes
- plan on professional installation unless you’re very capable
- find replacement filters and check prices
We hope you’ve found this guide helpful! To learn more about any of the filters we’ve recommended here, click on the links in our reviews. You can also ask your local plumber, if you need guidance or suggestions on which one to buy.
For more of our in-depth filtration reviews, check out our main water filter guide!
Or, if you want to see what other kitchen gadgets and appliances we review, head over to our home page!