Can I Safely Drink Filtered Water If I Never Change the Filter?

Just drink from the tap at that point, seriously.

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If the last time you changed your water filter was in a past life, welcome to the club. But despite being exceedingly common, neglected water filters do pose some real problems.

Basically, water filters run water through various substances, such as carbon or charcoal, which snatch up unwanted chemicals. But over time, an unchanged filter can become sodden, slow, gross and grimy. “Failure to change filters according to the manufacturer’s instructions could result in less effective filtration, ultimately leading to water quality that’s the same as if no filtration system had been installed, because the filter media eventually becomes saturated and can’t trap or adsorb additional contaminants,” says Rick Andrew of NSF International, Global Water Systems, which provides certification and standards for many filters on the market.Another possible result of not changing filters in a timely fashion is reduced water flow due to clogged filter pores.” In fact, one German study found that an old filter may actually add harmful bacteria to your water.

Now, while these filters can remove contaminants that impact the overall taste and smell of your water, rest easy knowing that most tap water in the U.S. is already safe to drink. Still, Andrew says, “Consumers should read their local utility’s annual Consumer Confidence Report to assess the quality of their water and consider if a filtration device is needed to address specific contaminants. Consumers obtaining their water from private wells should consider annual testing to determine water quality and identify any contaminant reduction needs. If you do go with a filtration device, whether for health or aesthetic effects, be sure to change the filter as directed by the manufacturer.” If you neglect to change the filter, they can dispense less pure water than the sink does, so, you really should change the filter regularly if you want the benefits of filtered tap water.

And if you do care about those benefits, you need to choose the right filters, too. “It’s important to choose a replacement filter that’s been certified for your particular certified filtration system,” Andrew says. “Uncertified filters may not reduce the contaminants they claim, could result in a lowered water quality if substandard materials are leached into the water and may cause water leaks if they don’t properly fit. Look for the NSF mark to ensure your drinking water filtration system and replacement filters are certified, or search for the products you’re considering on NSF’s certified listing page.”

Or, again, you could just drink tap water instead. You do you, man.