The Best Filters for Removing Fluoride in Drinking Water, the Shower/Bath, and Whole House Systems
*Please note, I receive a small commission at no cost to you when purchases are made through links to products on Amazon and some other products on this page. Thank you for supporting my efforts to spread the word about fluoride and acne!
Article at a Glance:
For countertop and standalone units, I recommend a steam distiller
For under-counter units, a reverse osmosis system with an added fluoride filter is my top recommendation for filtering fluoride
For reducing fluoride exposure in the shower and bath, I recommend a whole-house bone char filter (or a DIY reverse osmosis option)
When I wrote The Hidden Cause of Acne, I did not recommend a specific brand of water filter because I thought there were a lot of different systems that were equally effective at removing fluoride. I did not have much personal experience with fluoride filters because soon after figuring out my fluoride sensitivity, I was fortunate to be able to move to a non-fluoridated county.
Thanks to my readers and all the fluoride-sensitive people in my private Facebook group, I have now learned that some of the suggestions I previously made for filtering fluoride from drinking water were inadequate.
I knew pitcher filters are not an effective option, even when they claim to remove fluoride, but what about that reverse osmosis (RO) water available at Whole Foods? I was surprised when my readers reported their skin could not tolerate RO water. And that pricey under-counter system with the special fluoride filter? I spent $800 to test it myself and the results were not good.
Even the shiny, beloved Berkey water filter with the added fluoride cartridge does not reduce fluoride to a level that is adequate for many people who are fluoride-sensitive (see below for more info).
The four primary types of water filters known to remove fluoride are activated alumina, distillation, bone char, and reverse osmosis. These methods are often able to remove 90 percent or more of the fluoride from drinking water, but that is not always enough.
In this article, I will explain how to know if your water contains fluoride and then do my best to point out the pros and cons of each type of filter. I will also recommend a variety of water filtration options that I have come to learn are the best methods for removing fluoride.
How to Know if Your Water Contains Fluoride
Whether you drink city water, well water, or bottled water on a daily basis, the first step is to educate yourself on the precise fluoride content of your drinking water.
If you consume city water, the easiest way to determine the fluoride content is to review the latest water quality report from your local water supplier. This annual report is required by law to be available to consumers. Many water providers post it on their website or send it out in one of their monthly billing cycles. It is sometimes referred to as a "Consumer Confidence Report."
To find your most recent water quality report, do an internet search for "water quality report" and the name of your town. You can also call your local water provider and ask for a copy directly.
To illustrate how to read these reports, here is a screenshot from one of the first water quality reports I viewed when I started to suspect fluoride might be the cause of my cystic acne. It was the 2004 water quality report from Newport, Rhode Island. (When I was stationed in Newport with the Navy, my skin was at an all time low.)
Sample Water Quality Report with Measured Fluoride Levels
In this report from Newport, the fluoride content of the water is 1.41 ppm (parts per million), but the amount detected in tests throughout the year varied from 0.08 to 1.41 ppm.
If your water quality report indicates a level of fluoride near 0.7 ppm or above, it is likely your water supply is artificially fluoridated. The average fluoride content of fresh water is 0.05 ppm. I usually tell people anything under 0.1 is a good level to see on your report.
If your water quality report lists the level of fluoride as ND, that's even better. ND stands for not detected.
Thanks to some wily science on behalf of corporate polluters in the mid-1900s, the CDC recommends an "optimal" level of 0.7 ppm fluoride in drinking water because they think it helps prevent cavities in children (see episode 2 of my podcast, The Gallico Show, to learn more about the pollution story behind fluoridation).
As you can see in the note at the bottom of this report, the city of Newport adds fluoride to their water supply. Approximately 70 percent of public water supplies in the United States are artificially fluoridated. The overwhelming majority of fluoride added to water is hydrofluorosilicic acid (FSA), a hazardous waste product of phosphate fertilizer mining in central Florida.
This report also indicates the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for fluoride set by the EPA, which is currently 4.0 ppm. This is the amount of fluoride in public water supplies that is allowed by law. The maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) is also 4.0 ppm. This is the amount of fluoride the EPA claims causes health effects.
Considering over thirty percent of American children now have dental fluorosis severe enough to require treatment, dental fluorosis obviously occurs at much lower levels than this. The EPA justified raising the safety standard to 4.0 by refusing to consider dental mottling and discoloration a health effect.
Well water can also contain high amounts of fluoride. In most states, testing is up to the homeowner. The CDC recommends testing well water for fluoride every three years.
The fluoride test from My Tap Score is the most sensitive test I've found and can detect fluoride as low as .001 ppm. They also offer a number of comprehensive test kits for well water that all measure for fluoride. If desired, you can order add-on tests for perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and a host of other specialty testing options, too.
If you drink bottled water, the manufacturer should provide an annual water quality report, as well. You might be able to find it by performing an online search for "water quality report" and the name of the brand, or contact the manufacturer. If the company draws water from a variety of springs, the level of fluoride listed on the report will not necessarily reflect the amount of fluoride contained in the bottle you purchased at the store. Usually this isn't a large variation, but it's something to keep in mind.
If you are still unsure of the amount of fluoride in your bottled water, My Tap Score offers a bottled water test or you can measure the amount of fluoride in water by using a fluoride meter. The most inexpensive version is this handheld colorimeter from Hannah Instruments. However, be advised these meters are not always easy to use and the results can be inconsistent. I also hesitate to recommend them because the reagents contain mercury which, like fluoride, is a known neurotoxin.
The Extech FL700 Fluoride Meter is considerably more expensive but it can be used to measure fluoride in a variety of liquids. This is the one I own and in my experience, like the one from Hannah Instruments, it is not as easy to use as you would hope. However, if you like science experiments as much as I do, you might enjoy it.
Resources referenced in this section to help determine if your water contains fluoride:
Why a Countertop Distiller Is the Best Choice for Filtering Fluoride from Drinking Water
Steam distillation is an extremely effective way to remove fluoride from drinking water. With a distiller system, the water is boiled and the steam is collected in a separate reservoir where it is converted back to a liquid. The distilled water is free of over 99 percent of contaminants.
Distillation is so effective at removing fluoride that I often recommend a 30-day distilled water challenge for people who are trying to figure out if they have fluoride-induced acne. Even if you are still exposed to fluoride from other sources, 30 days of fluoride-free drinking water should be enough to give you a good indication if fluoride is affecting your skin. If you don't want to invest in a distiller just yet, you can purchase distilled water by the gallon at most grocery stores.
Steam distillation will not remove certain pesticides, volatile solvents, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as benzene and toluene, that have a lower boiling point than water. For this reason, higher quality units, like the Waterwise 4000, include a carbon post-filter to catch any VOCs that remain after the distillation process.
One of the primary drawbacks with distillation is that it can take a significant amount of time and electricity to purify one gallon of water. For example, the Waterwise 4000 takes just over four hours and consumes approximately 40 cents of electricity per gallon (depending on the rate charged by your utility company). The 3200 model is twenty minutes faster but unlike the 4000, the reservoir is made of BPA-free plastic instead of borosilicate glass.
Another excellent option for a steam distiller is the AquaNui CT, a countertop unit made in the United States from all stainless steel parts and a glass reservoir. It produces 3 quarts (.8 gallons) in 4.5 hours and has a unique steam sterilization option. It is engineered not to boil dry—which in theory means water distilled from this unit will contain less VOCs since the temperature will never go above the boiling point of water—but it also contains a carbon filter to absorb any remaining VOC gases. Like the Waterwise 4000, it requires no installation.
AquaNui offers larger automatic distiller systems, too. These are standalone units installed directly into your plumbing system. They begin to refill automatically once the water in the reservoir dips below a certain amount. To give you an idea of their capacity, the AquaNui 8G distills a gallon of water every 3 hours and has a 5-gallon storage tank. Higher capacity systems are available, as well as options for connecting the unit to a faucet, ice maker, and/or refrigerator.
One of the reasons I like AquaNui distillers is they all come with a 15-year limited warranty, including a 2-year full warranty on electrical parts. This is especially important with the larger automatic distiller systems because one of the general complaints about these units is that the parts can be expensive to replace. (I have not heard this about AquaNui distillers in particular, but if you have experience with automatic distillers like this, please let me know how you like them.) Another potential drawback you might want to research before purchasing a larger distillation system, especially if you live in a warm climate, is that some units tend to give off a significant amount of heat.
Finally, because distillation removes 99.9 percent of minerals and lowers the pH of drinking water, some people are concerned about the long term health effects of drinking distilled water. If you are concerned about consuming water devoid of minerals, there are many things you can do to recondition your drinking water. You could throw in a pinch of sea salt, add an electrolyte powder or a greens supplement, experiment with a stylish alkaline pitcher or water bottle, or use distilled water to make lemon water or herbal tea.
Resources referenced in this section on filtering fluoride from drinking water with a steam distiller system:
The Best Under-Counter Reverse Osmosis System for Filtering Fluoride, and Why
Reverse osmosis (RO) units are widely touted as the best option for filtering fluoride from drinking water. I used to think most residential RO systems were equally effective at removing fluoride. Unfortunately, some of the earliest readers of my book had to learn the heard way that this is not the case.
Now that the book has been published for over a year and I've had a chance to connect with so many other people who are fluoride-sensitive, I am happy to pass on to you all the valuable information gained through our collective experiences.
First, a little background on reverse osmosis. Osmosis is the chemical process where molecules dissolved in a liquid solution on the diluted side of a semipermeable membrane tend to pass to the more concentrated side until an equilibrium is reached. In reverse osmosis, a pressure is applied to the solution on the concentrated side of the membrane to force the flow in the opposite direction. Molecules that cannot pass through the membrane are washed away as wastewater. Reverse osmosis filters remove approximately 95 percent of minerals and other contaminants from drinking water.
One of the primary complaints about reverse osmosis filters is they usually waste more water than they produce. Some units produce four times more wastewater than drinking water.
Another common complaint with reverse osmosis is that, like with distillation, the resulting water is devoid of minerals and tends to be on the acidic side of the pH scale. It's true we get most of our minerals from food, but is it possible that years of drinking acidic, mineral-free water over time will leach minerals from certain body tissues? To be honest, I do not know. A lot of manufacturers now include inline mineralizers to add minerals and increase pH after the water goes through the RO membrane.
However, the biggest complaint with reverse osmosis filters among the fluoride-sensitive individuals in my private Facebook group is that as effective as they are, many of these units still do not remove enough fluoride to eliminate symptoms of fluoride toxicity. This is easier to see with distinct physical symptoms, such as acne and migraines, where the fluoride trigger can cause a clear reaction within a few hours of exposure.
One of the reasons the efficacy of reverse osmosis filters varies is because of variations in the pressure that forces water through the membrane. If this pressure drops below a certain psi, contaminants concentrated in the wastewater can backwash into the filtered water.
It can be a challenge to know when this is happening, but one easy way to test if your reverse osmosis system is running at top efficiency is to use a simple, handheld TDS meter. TDS stands for total dissolved solids. This meter will not measure fluoride specifically but it will help establish if your filter is removing as many contaminants as usual. However, if your unit has a mineralizer, this testing method may not be as effective since your filtered water will already contain added minerals.
(If you are getting frustrated at this point and want to demand government officials stop adding fluoride to our public water supplies in the first place, please join Gallico Studios on Patreon to help make this vision a reality!)
While reverse osmosis is not the easy answer I once thought it was, there are still some good options out there. The 2000MP under-counter reverse osmosis filter from Crystal Quest can be ordered with an optional fluoride cartridge. This is the best way to ensure your reverse osmosis system is reducing fluoride effectively. The system also comes with a pump to ensure a steady pressure of 60 psi across the membrane, reducing the probability that contaminants from the wastewater will backwash into your drinking water.
The filtering media for the fluoride cartridge is bone char, a granular solid obtained by calcining cattle bones. Bone char is made through a thermal treatment process where crushed bone is stripped clean leaving carbon and tricalcium phosphate. The resulting media has a strong affinity for fluoride. It also has a high absorptive capacity for other natural toxins like lead, mercury and arsenic.
If you are concerned about the low mineral content of reverse osmosis water and do not want to add minerals back in manually, the system can be ordered with an inline mineralizer to add a small amount of calcium and magnesium and to increase the pH.
A reverse osmosis systems with an added fluoride cartridge is the best under-sink filter for fluoride that I know of at this time. With that said, everyone is unique, especially when it comes to chemical sensitivities. I've heard from some people who cannot even wash their hands in fluoridated water. If that is you—or if you don't want to use reverse osmosis because of all the water it wastes—then a steam distiller would likely be a better option.
Resources referenced in this section on the best reverse osmosis filter for fluoride, and why:
The Best Whole-House Filter for Fluoride (It's Not Reverse Osmosis)
When I was researching the dermal absorption of fluoride for my book, I was shocked when I came across this insightful article about the skin absorption of contaminants from the Office of Research and Standards at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Quality Engineering. The researchers conclude that "skin absorption of contaminants in drinking water has been underestimated and that ingestion may not constitute the sole or even primary route of exposure." (emphasis added)
If you are able to install a whole house filter, this is the easiest way to remove fluoride from shower and bath water. I have not yet found a shower filter that is capable of removing fluoride to any significant degree, despite what many manufacturers claim. The output volume is too great and the filters are too small.
The best choice for a whole house filter for fluoride is bone char, as described in the previous section. Bone char filters are less expensive than whole house reverse osmosis systems and, unlike reverse osmosis, they do not waste water, remove all the minerals, or lower the pH. (They might even increase it.) A bone char filter will also help to remove lead, mercury, and arsenic.
The EZ-Connect Compact Fluoride Removal System from Pelican is ideal for apartments, condos, and smaller homes. It comes with a carbon filter to remove chlorine, chloramines, and a wide range of organic contaminants. A third cartridge can be added specifically for lead.
For larger households, you will need the PF6 Whole House Fluoride Filter. It comes with a pre-filter to remove sediment. This system can handle up to 15 gallons per minute and has a 3-year capacity. Replacement media can be purchased here. I've heard lore of ambitious DIYers purchasing bone char media separately to build their own low-budget fluoride filter systems.
Resources referenced in this section on the best whole house filters for fluoride:
How to Filter Fluoride from Shower and Bath Water
If you cannot install a whole house filter in your residence, here are the best options I can offer for limiting fluoride exposure in the shower.
Take brief, cooler showers and install the best shower filter you can find. Even though it won't remove fluoride, it will reduce chlorine and perhaps some other contaminants, as well.
Shower filters are all about surface area which is why I like this one from Pelican. The "up design" allows the filter to contain more filtering media. It also has a button that lets you switch between high and low output. The low output option not only saves water, but it should also increase the efficacy of the filter since the output volume is reduced.
Some people are so sensitive to fluoride they can't even wash their hands in fluoridated water, let alone take a 5 minute shower. If you are desperate to take fluoride-free showers, this portable camping shower from Petra Tools plugs into a standard electrical outlet and provides a 12-minute shower on a single tank. It will heat the water from 70 to 119 degrees Fahrenheit and has a full shower head with a stand, so it feels like a regular shower.
If you are a DIY type, you could even install a very basic reverse osmosis system directly in your shower line and then divert the water into the tank for the camping shower. Here is a photo of what a setup like this looks like, courtesy of the great American hero, Susan Kanen.
(To learn more about Susan and her whistleblower heroics regarding elevated levels of lead in the drinking water of our nation's capitol, view this TED Talk by Dr. Marc Edwards, aka "the Plumbing Professor," entitled "Heroic by Nature, Cowardly by Convenience.")
DIY Reverse Osmosis Filter for Filtering Fluoride from Shower Water
To install this setup in your shower, you will need a diverter valve and a connector fitting to direct the water to the reverse osmosis filter. A TDS meter is helpful to ensure the filter is doing its job.
The ideal temperature for water going through a reverse osmosis system is 77 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature exceeds 95 degrees, it will start damaging the membrane. For hotter showers, you could run the water from the reverse osmosis system to the portable camping shower mentioned above.
Filtering fluoride from bath water is even more of a challenge. There are not many bath filters on the market. This little guy is the best I could find, although I have no idea how many contaminants it can effectively remove, if any. (I still bought one for my mom just in case it does something.)
Besides installing a whole house filter, I do not have a good option I can recommend for filtering fluoride from bath water. But a healthier alternative to an old-fashioned bubble bath is an even older-fashioned sweat bath.
Saunas are an important part of life in many traditional cultures and it is a shame they have been largely abandoned in western society. I bought my first sauna over a decade ago and can't imagine not having one today. In addition to jump-starting lymphatic circulation and many other positive health effects, it is an incredibly effective way to detoxify and exfoliate the skin (I highly recommend using these exfoliating bath mitts from Korea in the last few minutes of a sauna session).
I initially used a far infrared sauna but when I measured significant amounts of EMF emitting from the unit, I upgraded to a near infrared sauna from SaunaSpace. This is the type of sauna recommended by Dr. Lawrence Wilson in my favorite book on this topic, Sauna Therapy for Detoxification and Healing.
Saunas from SaunaSpace are relatively portable and mine has accompanied me on all my extended treks into Fluorideville. Even at home where I have a large garden tub with fluoride-free water, I often opt for 30 minutes in the sauna instead.
If you absolutely cannot do without bathing in fluoridated water, it is likely that adding magnesium and other minerals to the water will make the fluoride less bioabsorbable. I like these magnesium flakes from Ancient Minerals. For a low budget option, epsom salt and baking soda can also be helpful. And while they won't do anything for fluoride, these vitamin C tablets are an effective way to remove chlorine and chloramines.
Another possibility for preventing dermal absorption of fluoride and other contaminants is to rub a thin layer of oil into your skin prior to entering the bath (be very careful not to slip in the tub!). Sesame oil, sunflower seed oil, and fractionated coconut oil are three options to get you started.
Resources referenced in this section on filtering fluoride from the shower and bath water >>
Why I Don't Recommend Big Berkey Filters for Fluoride (or any filter that uses activated alumina)
Activated alumina is the type of media used in the fluoride cartridge from Berkey. Activated alumina is a porous form of aluminum oxide that adsorbs fluoride molecules because of aluminum's affinity for fluoride.
Although activated alumina does remove fluoride, the amount of fluoride it removes depends on many factors. The manufacturer claims this particular cartridge eliminates over 95 percent of fluoride, but when you read the fine print the test was done on water that contained 20-30 ppm fluoride. That is most likely a completely different situation than the water coming out of your tap. The CDC currently recommends a fluoride level of 0.7 ppm and the maximum contaminant level allowed by law is 4 ppm.
When normal household water is tested with this filter, I've never seen the fluoride level reduced by anything close to 95 percent, even with a new filter. It will bring it down considerably, but not enough—especially for fluoride-sensitive individuals.
In addition, these filters lose their ability to filter fluoride over time. The company offers replacement guidelines, but there is no easy way to test exactly when they stop working unless you send samples to the lab or keep a fluoride meter handy. The latter option is not as simple as it sounds since the meter will need to be calibrated and the standard solution has a limited shelf life once opened. (The electrode itself only lasts ten months and costs over $100 to replace).
A TDS meter is not an effective way to gauge if activated alumina filters are working because other minerals will be present in the water.
Furthermore, aluminum is a known neurotoxin that, like fluoride, bioaccumulates in various body tissues over time. Many people are concerned this type of filter releases trace amounts of aluminum into drinking water. The European Food Safety Authority investigated these claims and concluded that "under optimized process conditions the release of impurities due to activated alumina, if it occurs at all, is always lower than the relevant limits."
I see a lot of grey area in that statement and do not feel comfortable recommending a filter that relies on aluminum as its primary media. Plus, with all the other options described above, there are better ways to filter fluoride from drinking water.
I hope I have provided at least a few new ideas regarding the best way to filter fluoride from your water supply. I'd love to hear what you decide to use and how it goes! The best way to reach me is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube.