simple stuff: water filters.

January 28, 2019

I have water on the brain. For one thing, at the time of writing, it’s pouring fat, wintry drops begging to be snow. For another, last week, I got cheeky and shared a glimpse of our fridge on Instagram which brought a torrent (water pun!) of questions about the black charcoal sticks we use to purify our water. I’ve written about this before, but it’s been a good five years, so here’s an update.

Suffice to say, I haven’t done a comprehensive scientific study of water filters. The degree to which water filters work (and how they work!) varies drastically on the type you have and your own needs and concerns. (Here’s a handy chart from the CDC if you’re interested in learning more about the different approaches you might take. Ditto this one from the NSF.)

For our part, we take an admittedly extremely low-tech approach to water filtration and purification. We use activated charcoal sticks to purify our water in glass bottles that we store in the fridge. Charcoal water filtration of this sort has been used in Japan since the Edo period (which began in 1603!). The Kishu Binchotan charcoal that we use is made from 100-percent Ubame oak heated to high temperatures and quickly cooled. The basic principle is that toxins bond to the porous charcoal and leave water tasting fresher, brighter, and with any luck, free of some of the heavy metals that can be found in drinking water. Anecdotally, I’ve found that the charcoal helps the water taste a whole lot better. Better still, it comes minimally packaged and doesn’t require lots of moving parts or complicated disposal.

What we use:

+ Morihata Binchotan Activated Charcoal Water Purifying Sticks or Kishu Charcoal Sticks

+ 64 ounce Ball jar

+ Glass Carafe with Handle

+ Small Glass Water Pitcher Great for little kids.

How we use it:

+ We keep charcoal sticks in three glass vessels filled up with tap water. The charcoal starts working nearly immediately. Generally, I find that by the time the water has been in the fridge long enough to get cold, it’s already tasting better.

+ Every few weeks we boil our charcoal sticks to reopen pores and give them a kickstart.

+ Every six months or so, we replace them.

+ Spent charcoal can be used as odor absorbers, or put into a garden bed or the bottom of a potted plant.

Other options:

+ Walter Filter: This ceramic countertop filter is extremely lovely looking. It’s designed to use the Berkey Filtration system, which aren’t inexpensive and they don’t meet NSF filtration standards, but then, neither do activated charcoal sticks.

+ Soma: This B-Corporation makes lovely looking pitchers (including the glass carafe shown here) and delivers filters directly to your door. Filters are made from certified sustainable coconut shell carbon and plant-based sugar cane but are not currently recyclable. Like the Brita below, they’re NSF-certified. A portion of sales go to charity:water.

+ Brita: I don’t love keeping water in plastic and I find that these guys take up too much room in our little fridge, but they’re highly recommended, NSF-certified, and long-lasting. Plastic cartridges can’t generally be recycled curbside, but some stores offer recycling programs. This slim model seems like the best small-fridge option.

Other things:

+ New Yorkers (and no doubt folks in many places) can get a free lead water test kit. We did it when we moved into our current apartment and it might be something you choose to do too!

+ Reality check: Personal preferences and particulars aside, having guaranteed access to clean, potable water is something that lots of folks can’t take for granted. No surprise, unsafe drinking water disproportionately effects poor, BIPOC and communities. Here’s a sobering look at safe drinking water across the US. And here’s a look at what’s changed—and what hasn’t—when it comes to the Flint Water Crisis (and why we should all care).

+ Earlier this year James and I decided to get our first new set of water glasses since we moved in with each other 12 years ago. This glass is one of them (in the medium size!).

This post includes affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links.

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  • Reply Molly January 28, 2019 at 10:15 am

    The (stainless steel) Berkey seems like it should be on this list – one of the best standalone water filters out there. We make space for it in our tiny NYC apartment. Highly recommend!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 28, 2019 at 10:35 am

      Glad to know you’ve enjoyed it!

    • Reply Audrey January 28, 2019 at 2:39 pm

      +1 on the Berkey! We love ours too and it’s super easy for our toddler to pour himself a glass.

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 28, 2019 at 7:46 pm

        So handy!

  • Reply Meg January 28, 2019 at 10:27 am

    I’m curious as to why 3 vessels? Do you use the filtered water for cooking as well?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 28, 2019 at 10:34 am

      We don’t usually use this water for cooking, but we’re a family of four and drink a lot of water!

  • Reply Kirsten January 28, 2019 at 10:53 am

    I used to use a charcoal stick filter like this, but I live in Michigan where there is so much PFAS (and who knows what else) contamination. I loved how simple and compostsble the charcoal was, but then thought “they didn’t have industrial chemicals to deal with in the Edo period!” We installed a reverse osmosis system from Aquasana under the sink. When we move to our forever home, I’m planning on getting a whole house filter installed. I hate how disposable the filters are but I’m also not willing to mess around with contaminated water :/

  • Reply Megan Meagher January 28, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    So sad it seems the charcoal filters you use that you linked aren’t available on Amazon and may not be going forward. Hopefully they will get them back!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 28, 2019 at 7:47 pm

      Yes! Thanks for letting me know! Added another brand we’ve loved up above in case it’s helpful.

  • Reply susanna January 28, 2019 at 7:40 pm

    I checked this charcoal-thingy couple of years ago (and checked again now to be sure) and it isn’t really recommended water filter as it don’t work against things like heavy metals, fluoride and bacteria etc. It mostly just make water taste better so you shouldn’t use it as a primary filter for drinking water. Good tasting water isn’t a proof about good quality.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 28, 2019 at 7:44 pm

      Yes, understood this might not meet everyone’s needs. Please check out the links I provided for alternatives that might be better for you!

  • Reply Marianne January 28, 2019 at 9:50 pm

    We use an Enviro 10 stage water filter that sits on the counter and connects to the faucet via a hose. The filter generally lasts 12 months before we change it with a family of 4 and the whole set up is over 15 years old and going strong. We used it for all the years we’ve rented and are still using until we can install an under sink mounted system.

  • Reply Lacey January 29, 2019 at 7:47 am

    Love this minimal approach! My question is would you want to use them in your garden after they’ve been acting as a filter for your water and potentially filled with crummies? Or would you simply boil them to clean them before using them in soil? Thank you!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 29, 2019 at 9:05 am

      My understanding is that once bound to the charcoal, anything you wouldn’t want around won’t leach back out again!

  • Reply Christie January 29, 2019 at 11:11 am

    I’m sorry that this question is on the wrong post, but I was afraid if I put it on the last week’s post, you wouldn’t see it. I hadn’t seen the instagram video you linked to above, but I found it really inspiring yesterday. I could not get my husband to watch it because right now we are feeling really defeated by our home. It’s small, 900 square feet, with 5 people and a cat. And even though we are minimalists, it feels like a constant (losing) battle to keep tidy. Our boys are not tidy, and we have a toddler who is into everything. But after seeing your post and video (and the link someone linked to in the comments about Guatemalan/Mayan children) I am feeling inspired. So a couple of questions, if you don’t mind answering: (1) What do you do with your kids’ artwork from preschool? Our house is constantly flooded with arts and crafts from elementary school, pre-school, and daycare. We get all kinds of “this bracelet is for you, mama” “I painted this photo for you” “this taped together amalgamation of boxes is really a race track/airport/whatever for our cars.” What do you do with those things (Or maybe you don’t have so many yet?) (2) What do you do for your children’s personal things? My kids always have little treasurers that they find or are gifted from friends; perhaps a little card or picture a friend drew. We don’t really have a special place for each child to keep his or her things safe. Any ideas? (3) Where did you get those awesome bags for toys under the bed? Thank you!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 29, 2019 at 11:27 am

      Hey Christie! No worries!

      A few past posts address some of this stuff.

      Here’s one on art, for instance:

      For little treasures and the like, we really limit what we keep and when things become broken or damaged, we encourage parting ways. Kids get so much junk thrown at them (a problem that I wish more parents and teachers would consider when giving things to kids) so we try to have pretty straightforward discussions about what’s junk and what’s something that might last forever. Some stuff, I just say no to from the get-go: chokeable bouncy balls or junky plastic rings or things that I don’t want ending up in my kids’ mouths, I simply explain that they’re not safe and I throw them away. So far we haven’t felt super overwhelmed but we definitely stay on top of this kind of thing. That said, last week Faye really wanted a plastic ice-cream cone shaped lip balm from the pharmacy and so we came home, carefully counted up quarters from her piggy bank and I let her make her own decision about buying it. As the kids get older, I’ll get more creative about giving them the space to store their own special treasures. I’m a toolbox person, so I imagine we might go that route. Right this minute I’m looking at a bonne maman jar filled with tree bark, a christmas tree clipping, and half a plastic dog tag Faye found on the street. Magpies, all of them!

      Bags are from assorted places and some have come into our house along with other gifts (a pair of shoes came in one, a pair of pajamas came in another), but I’ve also bought a bunch of simple sturdy drawstring bags to keep things like puzzles, etc. The link’s in this post:

      • Reply Christie January 29, 2019 at 1:55 pm

        Thank you, as always, for helping all of us think through this stuff.

  • Reply Lizzy January 30, 2019 at 7:01 am

    I used to use charcoal sticks as well, but didn’t really feel like they did much. However, as a child we had a water filter at home, and I do remember that one making the water taste really fresh. I should really give a good water filter a go. Thank you for reminding my of the importance of filtering water (albeit it might be of less importance here in the UK).

  • Reply Amanda February 2, 2019 at 7:21 am

    Both of the charcoal sticks you listed are sold out. 🙁

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 2, 2019 at 8:47 am

      Aw that happens! Check at a local natural food store or try an online search!

  • Reply Carolyn August 3, 2020 at 9:29 pm

    Just wanted to say thanks and FYI, Kishu has their own web site if you want to order directly from them instead of amazon. 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 3, 2020 at 9:34 pm

      Ah, thanks so much! I’m no longer an Amazon affiliate and have been painstakingly removing Amazon links, but it’s a long game! Will update the post!


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