9 Best Whole House Water Filter Cartridges – Reviews & Buying Guide

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A whole house water filter purifies every last drop of water in a home before its distribution to taps, faucets, and other outlets. Protection for your health, your plumbing system, and home appliances.

Above that, cartridge-based whole house filters allow you to test – and even combine if you like – different filtration methods and filter media to see what works best for your water problems and conditions. All you need is a simple whole house sediment filter cartridge? No problem! You need an activated carbon filter for chemical removal plus something to tackle iron? Easily doable!

There are so many different types of whole house water filter cartridges to choose from that everyone can find their perfect setup. And that’s what this buying guide is for: To help you through the jungle of products.

So, here is our collection of the best whole house water filter cartridges in 2023.

On This Page You Will…

No Time to Read? Check Our List of the Best Whole House Water Filter Cartridges!

Crystal Quest SMART Plus Mixed Media Bed Whole House Filter Cartridge
Best Whole House Water Filter Cartridge for All Contaminant Types: Crystal Quest SMART Plus

Get 5% Off! Use Code: BOS5OFF

Price: $$
Type: Mix of Filter Media
Cartridge Life: 80,000-160,000 gal
Water: 3-6 Gallons Per Minute
Annually: ~$105-240
Read Review: Click
Crystal Quest Pleated Cellulose Whole House Sediment Filter Cartridge
Best for Sediment: CQE-RC-04034

Get 5% Off! Use Code: BOS5OFF

Price: $
Type: Pleated Cellulose Sediment Filter
Cartridge Life: 12-18 Months
Water: Initial Water Flow Rate
Annually: ~$23-45
Read Review: Click
CQ Granular Activated Carbon Whole House Filter Cartridge
Best for Chemicals + Bad Taste & Odor: GAC Filter Cartridge

Get 5% Off! Use Code: BOS5OFF

Price: $
Type: Granular Activated Carbon
Cartridge Life: 12-18 Months
Water: 3-6 Gallons Per Minute
Annually: ~$26-82
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Carbon Block Whole House Filter Cartridge
Best for Chemicals + Suspended Solids: Carbon Block Filter Cartridge

Get 5% Off! Use Code: BOS5OFF

Price: $
Type: Carbon Block
Cartridge Life: Up to 18 Months
Water: 3-6 gpm
Annually: ~$26-50
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CQE-RC-04077 Iron Whole House Water Filter Cartridge
Best for Iron: Iron Filter Cartridge

Get 5% Off! Use Code: BOS5OFF

Price: $$$
Type: Greensand + Granular Activated Carbon
Cartridge Life: 5,000-10,000 gal at 3 ppm Iron
Water: 3-6 gpm
Annually: Varies
Read Review: Click
CQE-RC-04068 Fluoride Water Filter Cartridge
Best for Fluoride: Fluoride Removal Filter Cartridge

Get 5% Off! Use Code: BOS5OFF

Price: $$$
Type: Activated Alumina
Cartridge Life: 2,000-4,000 gal at 1 ppm Fluoride
Water: 3-6 gpm
Annually: Varies
Read Review: Click
Crystal Quest Lead Whole House Filter Cartridge
Best for Lead: Lead Filter Cartridge

Get 5% Off! Use Code: BOS5OFF

Price: $$
Type: Catalytic Carbon, KDF, Cation Exchange Resin
Cartridge Life: 80,000-160,000 gal
Water: 3-6 gpm
Annually: ~$170-260
Read Review: Click
Anti-Scale Whole House Filter Cartridge
Best Anti-Scale: Eaglesorb ES3 Whole House Water Filter Cartridge

Get 5% Off! Use Code: BOS5OFF

Price: $$$
Type: Anti-Scale Media
Cartridge Life: 2,080-5,200 Hardness Grains
Water: 3-6 gpm
Annually: Varies
Read Review: Click

Best Whole House Water Filter Cartridge Reviews

Review Order

  1. Crystal Quest SMART Plus – Best All-Round Filter Cartridge
  2. CQE-RC-04034 – Best for Sediment
  3. Home Master Multi-Gradient Density Cartridge – Runner-Up for Sediment
  4. Granular Activated Carbon Filter Cartridge – Best for Improving Water Aesthetics
  5. Carbon Block Filter Cartridge – Best for Removing Chemicals
  6. Iron Filter Cartridge – Best for Iron
  7. Fluoride Filter Cartridge – Best for Fluoride
  8. Lead Filter Cartridge – Best for Lead
  9. Eaglesorb ES3 – Best for Limescale

Best Whole House Water Filter Cartridge

1. Best All-Round Filter Cartridge: Crystal Quest SMART Plus

In our opinion, the best whole house water filter cartridge in 2023 is the Crystal Quest SMART Plus. That’s because it combines several different filter media for a very broad contaminant removal.

Meaning, it targets different kinds of contaminants including chemicals like pesticides and chlorine, lead and other heavy metals, sediment, and many more organic and inorganic substances. In addition, ceramic and tourmaline balls enhance the water to maintain a more alkaline pH.

Long story short: You get the complete package in a single filter cartridge. 5 stars!

Crystal Quest SMART Whole House Water Filter Cartridge

Crystal Quest SMART Plus All-Round Filter Cartridge

Type:Mix of Filter Media
Filtration Capacity:80,000-160,000 gal
Flow Rate:3-6 gpm
Annual Cost:~$105-240

Our Rating

Get 5% Off! Use Code: BOS5OFF


  • All Crystal Quest products are made in USA.
  • We have 7 different types of filtration media:
    • Granular activated carbon and catalytic carbon eliminate bad taste & odor and do the bulk of the chemical removal. They filter chlorine, chloramine, disinfection byproducts, pesticides, herbicides, and more.
    • Eagle Redox Alloy 6500 and 9500 – commonly known as KDF – remove chlorine, hydrogen sulfide, and heavy metal content (lead, chromium 6, iron …). They also prevent microorganisms from accumulating in the filter.
    • As the name suggests, the ion exchange resin reduces all kinds of poisonous ions/metals – think cadmium.
    • Besides creating alkaline water, the ceramic balls have an antibacterial effect, they improve water aesthetics, and even absorb leftover heavy metals.
    • The tourmaline balls support water absorption in your body as well as detoxification.
    • Several micron filter pads are used to block sediments and other larger particles.
    • At the end of the filter process you are left with great-tasting, healthy water.
  • 2 different cartridge sizes to choose from:
    • 4.5 x 20 inches (Big Blue) has a capacity of 160,000 gallons at 6 gallons per minute service water flow.
    • 4.5 x 10 inches provides around 80,000 gallons of water at 3 gallons per minute.
    • Please note: 2.5 x 20 and 2.5 x 10 are for point-of-use filters.
  • Thanks to standard sizing the filter cartridges fit almost all filtration systems.
  • The SMART Plus lasts about 12-18 months, depending on your water quality and usage. Annual cost: ~$105-240.
    • You can subscribe to have new filter cartridges delivered on schedule and save 5%.
    • Very large households should upgrade to the Ultra or Ultimate cartridge. They have higher filtration capacities.
  • Great customer feedback. People are more than happy with the support in particular.


  • One customer mentioned an aftertaste.
  • Pricey, especially the ultra and ultimate versions.

Best for

The Crystal Quest SMART Plus whole house water filter cartridge is best for broad contaminant removal.

2. Best for Sediment: Crystal Quest Pleated Cellulose Filter Cartridge

Sediment filter cartridges are part of almost every water filtration and water softening system – for pre-treatment. If you need one, we recommend the Pleated Cellulose Sediment Cartridge by Crystal Quest.

Why? Because of the 5-micron rating which guarantees removal of fine and coarse sand, silt, dust, and even some protozoan cysts and bacteria. And also because the pleated material is washable + reusable several times.

Crystal Quest Pleated Cellulose Whole House Water Filter Cartridge

Whole House Sediment Filter Cartridge

Type:Pleated Cellulose
Filtration Capacity:12-18 Months
Flow Rate:Initial Value
Annual Cost:~$23-45

Our Rating

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  • The cellulose media is designed for “general water filtration”. Any floating particles down to a size of 5 microns will be trapped.
  • Pleated material maximizes dirt-holding capacity.
  • The polypropylene core adds durability.
  • Washable and reusable up to several times saving you money.
  • 2 different standardized filter sizes to choose from:
    • 4.5 x 20 inches (Big Blue).
    • 4.5 x 10 inches.
    • 2.5 x 20 and 2.5 x 10 are for POU applications only.
  • Standard sizing means universally compatible with standard-size filter sumps.
  • You get around 12-18 months of clean water out of every cartridge. Estimated annual replacement cost: $23-45.
    • You can subscribe for a 5% discount.
  • Crystal Quest is known for their excellent customer service. The staff is very knowledgeable, helpful, and patient. They will answer all your questions.


  • Nothing so far.

Best for

The Crystal Quest CQE-RC-04034 is best for trapping sediments.

3. Sediment Filter Alternative: Home Master Multi-Gradient Density Cartridge

Another whole house sediment filter cartridge that we really like is this one sold by Home Master.

What’s special about it is the multi-gradient density structure for up to triple the dirt-holding capacity of similar sized filters. In other words: The cartridge lasts longer meaning less maintenance and lower cost due to fewer replacements required.

Home Master Multi-Gradient Sediment Filter Cartridge

Home Master Multi-Gradient Sediment Filter Cartridge

Type:Multi-Gradient Polypropylene
Filtration Capacity:?
Flow Rate:?
Annual Cost:?

Our Rating


  • The water filter cartridge reduces turbidity, sand, dirt, rust, and silt.
  • Four separate filter layers boost dirt-holding capacity and prevent premature clogging.
    • On the outside, the filter has a micron rating of 25 used to trap larger particles.
    • A 10 and a 5-micron inner layer remove dust and silt.
    • The 1-micron core layer filters what’s left, especially microorganisms like cysts and bacteria.
  • Different micron ratings allow for high flow rates with only slight pressure drops.
  • Material is chemical and bacterial-resistant.
  • Standard 20 x 4.5-inch size fits Big Blue filter housings.


  • We miss customer reviews for this whole house filter cartridge.
  • Filtration capacity not specified.

Best for

The Home Master filter cartridge is our second top pick for filtering sediments and dirt.

4. Best for Improving Water Taste & Smell: CQ Granular Activated Carbon Cartridge

If your water supply is chock full of chemicals and you are dealing with aesthetic water issues, this granular activated carbon (GAC) filter cartridge is just for you.

What makes it stand out from other GAC cartridges is the fact that it combines regular activated carbon with catalytic carbon and a bit of KDF filter media on top. Chlorine, chloramine, pesticides, herbicides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), MTBEs and dozens of other chemical contaminants stand no chance. Neither does hydrogen sulfide and few water-soluble heavy metals.

Want all the details?

Crystal Quest GAC Whole House Water Filter Cartridge

Granular Activated Carbon Filter Cartridge

Type:Granular Activated Carbon
Filtration Capacity:12-18 Months
Flow Rate:3-6 gpm
Annual Cost:~$26-82

Our Rating

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  • This is the whole house filter cartridge to get if you want water without the slightest off-taste or bad smell.
  • Cartridges contain a mixed blend of coconut shell-based granular activated carbon, catalytic carbon, and ERA 6500 (copper-zinc alloy).
  • The carbon reduces and removes all kinds of chemicals, bad taste and odor, and sulfur (rotten-egg smell).
    • Catalytic carbon also helps with some heavy metals and radionuclides.
  • Eagle Redox Alloy features copper and zinc removing chlorine and water-soluble metals.
    • It also controls scale, algae, and bacteria.
  • 2 sizes available:
    • 4.5 x 20-inch (standard Big Blue). Expect 6 gpm flow rate.
    • 4.5 x 10-inch. Provides 3 gallons of water per minute.
    • Smaller sizes are for point-of-use filter systems like under sink water filters.
  • Universally compatible with standard-sized filter housings.
  • Filter changes are easy.
  • Manufacturer estimates filter life of 12 to 18 months. Costs are $26-82 annually, depending on which version you choose.
    • Subscribe to get 5% off.


  • We will update this section if something comes up.

Best for

This GAC whole house filter cartridge is best for improving water taste and odor.

5. Best for Removing Chemicals: Carbon Block Filter Cartridge

Block carbon is a valuable alternative to granular carbon. Due to its compressed form, it not only adsorbs chemicals but also solid particles floating in your water; in this case down to 5 microns in size.

Thus, some heavy metals, microplastics, and waterborne pathogens can be removed.

Crystal Quest Carbon Block Whole House Water Filter Cartridge

Carbon Block Whole Home Filter Cartridge

Type:Carbon Block
Filtration Capacity:1-1.5 Years
Flow Rate:3-6 Gallons Per Minute
Annual Cost:~$26-50

Our Rating

Get 5% Off! Use Code: BOS5OFF


  • Crystal Quest’s 5-micron carbon block cartridges are manufactured from high quality and acid-washed coconut shell-based carbon.
  • Using this whole house water filter cartridge you get better-tasting water free from disinfectants and their byproducts, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and PFOS.
  • Microplastics, sediments, heavy metals, microorganisms, asbestos, arsenic, and other contaminants can also be reduced.
  • Comes in 2 sizes:
    • 4.5 by 20 inches provides 6 gallons per minute of filtered water.
    • 4.5 by 10 inches delivers around 3 gpm.
    • Other sizes are not for whole house use.
  • Compatible with all standard-sized filter sumps.
  • According to manufacturer, you get 1-1.5 years out of a single cartridge, depending on your water quality and usage. Annual filter replacement cost: $26-50.
    • If you subscribe to get filters delivered on schedule you get 5% discount.


  • Minor issues only. For example: One filter was delivered broken, but replaced quickly.

Best for

This carbon block filter is best for ridding your water of chemicals.

6. Best for Iron Removal: CQE-RC-04077 Filter Cartridge

Iron-laden water can be a real pain. Not only does it stain toilets and sink. At concentrations above 0.3 parts per million, iron will add unpleasant taste and smell to your water. And it doesn’t look delicious either.

Well, here is the solution: A whole house water filter cartridge designed just for iron removal…

Crystal Quest Iron Whole House Water Filter Cartridge

Iron Whole House Water Filter Cartridge

Type:Greensand + GAC
Filtration Capacity:5,000-10,000 gal (3 ppm Iron)
Flow Rate:3-6 gpm
Annual Cost:Varies

Our Rating

Get 5% Off! Use Code: BOS5OFF


  • Long-time customers praise the filter’s performance and clean taste of the purified water.
  • This iron filter cartridge contains greensand + granular activated carbon. The former filter media provides an effective method of reducing iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide in water.
    • Ferrous iron and manganese are oxidized so that they precipitate and get trapped in the GAC filter bed.
    • Sulfur is reduced to an insoluble sulfur precipitate.
    • The precipitates are removed through regular backwashing cycles.
  • The filtration process helps to greatly improve the taste of your home water.
  • No more orange or brown stains in tubs, sinks, toilets, and other surfaces.
  • The larger whole house filter cartridge is rated at 6 gpm service flow, the smaller cartridge at 3.
  • Installation is easy.
  • Filter capacity is estimated at 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of water at an iron level of 3 ppm. If your iron concentration is lower you get more out of each filter cartridge and vice versa.
    • FYI: Iron in water becomes noticeable above 0.3 ppm.


  • Cartridges need to be backwashed in order to maximize capacity. Without backwashing, oxidation capacity will exhaust much sooner.
  • Not ideal for very high iron levels. Otherwise, you need to replace frequently so that costs add up quickly.

Best for

The CQE-RC-04077 is best for filtering iron.

7. Best for Fluoride Removal: CQE-RC-04068 Filter Cartridge

Our next filter cartridge is for homeowners who want to remove fluoride from their fluoridated tap water supply.

Crystal Quest Fluoride Whole House Water Filter Cartridge

Fluoride Water Filter Cartridge

Type:Activated Alumina
Filtration Capacity:2,000-4,000 gal (1 ppm Fluoride)
Flow Rate:3-6 gpm
Annual Cost:Varies

Our Rating

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  • This fluoride removal filter cartridge uses synthetic aluminum oxide adsorbent media. It’s highly selective targeting nothing but fluoride, arsenic, and lead for optimum reduction rates.
  • The impurities are removed through using two mechanisms: Adsorption and chemical reaction.
  • Effectiveness is guaranteed over a wide pH range.
  • 2 versions available for whole house use:
    • Water flow rates are 3 to 6 gpm.
  • Filter life depends on how much fluoride your water contains. At an average fluoride concentration of 1 ppm, you can expect 2,000-4,000 gallons of filtered water.


  • Not exactly cheap and cartridges don’t last very long.
  • The water filter cartridge is only for inorganic fluoride like it’s added to municipal water supplies. It won’t work with organic fluoride which can sometimes occur naturally in wells.

Best for

The CQE-RC-04068 is best for filtering out fluoride.

8. Best for Lead Removal: CQE-RC-04151

Dealing with lead? No worries, the CQE-RC-04151 has you covered. A mix of filter media (catalytic granular activated carbon, KDF, cation exchange resin) provides for optimal lead reduction in your home’s water supply.

Crystal Quest Lead Whole House Water Filter Cartridge

Lead Water Filter Cartridge

Type:Catalytic Carbon, KDF, Cation Exchange Resin
Filtration Capacity:80,000-160,000 gal
Flow Rate:3-6 Gallons Per Minute
Annual Cost:~$170-260

Our Rating

Get 5% Off! Use Code: BOS5OFF


  • The 3 filter media combined provide for highest reduction rates of both soluble and particular lead.
    • Few other heavy metals are removed as well.
  • Catalytic GAC also neutralizes unpleasant taste and smell and adsorbs various chemicals.
  • KDF is known to control bacteria and other germs.
  • Choose from any of these sizes:
    • 4.5 by 20 inches (6 gpm filtered water).
    • 4.5 by 10 inches (3 gpm filtered water).
    • Other sizes not for whole house applications.
  • Compatible with all standard-sized filter sumps.
  • Average filter life is 12 months or 80,000-160,000 gallons, depending on which cartridge you use, your water consumption, and the levels of lead in your water. Yearly cost: ~$170-260.
    • Subscribe for scheduled replacement filter delivery and you get a small discount.


  • Nothing so far.

Best for

The CQE-RC-04151 is a whole house filter cartridge best for eliminating lead.

9. Best for Hard Water: Eaglesorb ES3 Anti-Scale Water Filter Cartridge

This whole house water filtration cartridge is a bit of an exception. How? It doesn’t remove anything from your water. More precisely, the anti-scale media is for hard water treatment. It causes dissolved calcium carbonate to form crystals. This stops it from sticking to pipes and other surfaces – the main issue with hard water. And not only is scale buildup prevented, the process also dissolves previous limescale deposits. Eager to learn more?

Crystal Quest Anti-Scale Whole House Water Filter Cartridge

Anti-Scale Whole House Water Filter Cartridge

Type:Anti-Scale Media
Filtration Capacity:2,080-5,200 Hardness Grains
Flow Rate:3-6 gpm
Annual Cost:Varies

Our Rating

Get 5% Off! Use Code: BOS5OFF


  • Can be used to treat water hardness of up to 25 gpg (grains per gallon), which is extremely hard.
  • Any calcium carbonate remains dissolved in the water and doesn’t form scale.
  • A way to prevent hard mineral buildup in your plumbing system and home appliances without using salt or chemicals.
    • Nothing is added to the water.
  • No side effects that come with salt-based water softening like slick feel, extra sodium content, or water wastage during regeneration.
  • For point-of-entry usage, you can choose between:
    • 4.5×20-inch cartridge (6 gpm).
    • 4.5×10-inch cartridge (3 gpm).
  • How long each filter cartridge lasts depends on your water hardness level. The grain capacities are 2,080 grains for the smaller and 5,200 for the larger version.


  • Pre-treatment is required for high iron, manganese, copper, phosphate, oil, chlorine, and hydrogen sulfide above 3 parts per million.
  • This is not recommended for very hard water. The costs would simply be too high due to frequent cartridge replacements required.

Best for

The Eaglesorb ES3 filter cartridge is best for reducing water hardness.

Water Filter Cartridge Comparison List

What’s the best water filter cartridge when we compare models directly?

(Mobile Hint: Swipe to Scroll)

FilterPriceTypeCapacityGPMAnnuallyAdditional Info
SMART Plus$$Mix of Filter Media80,000-160,000 gal3-6~$105-240Best Whole House Water Filter Cartridge
Pleated Cellulose$Pleated Cellulose12-18 MonthsUnchanged~$23-45
Multi-Gradient Density$Multi-Gradient PP???
Granular Activated Carbon$GAC12-18 Months3-6~$26-82
Carbon Block$Block Carbon1-1.5 Years3-6~$26-50
Iron Filter Cartridge$$$Greensand + GAC5,000-10,000 ga3-6Varies
Fluoride Filter Cartridge$$$AA2,000-4,000 gal3-6Varies
Lead Filter Cartridge$$Carbon, KDF, Ion Exchange Resin80,000-160,000 gal3-6~$170-260
Anti-Scale$$$Anti-Scale Media2,080-5,200 Hardness Grains3-6Varies

Buying Guide: How We Picked the Best Whole House Filter Cartridges

The following are things worth considering before you go out and buy your first whole house water filter cartridge. These are also the very same criteria we focused on when picking our top products for this guide.

Your Water Quality

You need to check your water quality before purchasing any water filter cartridge, whole house or not. This allows you to choose one that removes all or at least most contaminants from your water supply.

Is your water sourced from a well or city? If you are on well water, you need to conduct your own testing to find out more about its quality and the type of contaminants you are dealing with. DIY testing kits or an independent lab are the way to go here.

If you’re on municipal water, you can visit this page to get a report about your water.

Cartridge Type

Not all filter cartridge types will suit your needs.

Once you figure out the type of contaminants found in your water, you can choose the ideal cartridge type accordingly.

We’ll discuss several cartridge types below.

Sediment Filters

Sediment filters trap solid particles in one or more layers of filter media, making your water visually cleaner. Note that most sediment filters won’t target microorganisms, chemicals, salts, and metals in your water.

Instead, they only remove large particles like sand and rust bits, typically more than one micron in size.

Sediment filters are divided into three categories.

Surface Filters

Surface filters, also known as pleated filters, have a thin sheet that catches all the dirt. Their pleated arrangement gives them more surface area. As such, they have more capacity to trap particles and let the clean water flow out.

What’s more, they are washable and thus reusable. So, you won’t be spending money time and again.

Depth Filters

Nothing is more terrible than a big gulp of water followed by contaminants in your mouth.

Luckily, depth filters – also known as string wound and melt-blown (spun) – have got your back.

These filters eliminate sediment, rust, and other floating contaminants from your water by passing it through a thick filter wall.

They come in various materials, including cellulose, polyester, ceramic, polypropylene, and glass fiber.

What else is good? They often have a graded-density structure.

In other words, as the water passes through, the filter gets tighter. So, it holds the big particles and traps the small ones alike.

The graded density structure minimizes clogging, prolonging filter life and capacity.

Absorptive Filters

Absorptive filters have gained popularity recently, and for good reasons. They are designed in both pleated and depth arrangements.

They trap even the tiniest particles that usually pass through standard filters. Further, they use electrokinetic absorption to attract negatively charged microorganisms.

They are designed to capture particles down to 2 microns in size, but they can capture smaller colloidal matter, too.

water filter cartridges and membranes

Chemical Filters

Granular Activated Carbon Filtration

Granular activated carbon is highly absorbent since it is made of porous material. It traps water contaminants through chemical reactions and adsorption.

Aside from removing chemicals like disinfection byproducts and pesticides, activated carbon also eliminates aesthetic water issues – foul odor and unpleasant taste.

These filters give optimal water flow rates and are more commonly used for whole house applications than carbon filter blocks.

Catalytic Carbon Filter Cartridges

Generally, activated carbon filters eliminate most chemicals from water. However, they do not remove chloramine (a chemical readily used today for disinfecting tap water).

Chloramine can be troublesome. It’s more stable and considerably more difficult to filter out than chlorine.

Even worse, chloramines form unwanted residues that can adversely affect health.

Carbon Blocks

Carbon filter blocks are designed by compressing powdered activated carbon into the preferred shape and size.

Generally, carbon block filters have a micron rating of 0.5 to 10. Therefore, they easily eliminate lead particles and sometimes even giardia and cryptosporidium besides chemicals.

Iron Filters

As the name suggests, iron filters remove iron from a water supply – they use the process of oxidation to convert soluble ferrous iron into solid ferric (rust).

Then, the filter media traps the rust, giving you clean water.

KDF Filter Cartridges

KDF filter cartridges remove water contaminants using redox reactions. The copper-zinc combination eliminates chromium, lead, chlorine, hydrogen sulfide, and more. It also kills bacteria and other microbes and keeps them from accumulating in the water.

Two main types of KDF filters exist:

  • KDF-85
  • KDF-55

People often use KDF in combination with carbon filters to trap several types of contaminants.

Activated Alumina

These filters feature activated alumina granules. They are typically used to absorb fluoride and arsenic. However, they can also remove thallium and uranium.

Ion Exchange

Ion exchange filters target a particular group of water pollutants that other filters do not. For instance, they reduce/remove inorganic substances, including sulfate, arsenic, and other negatively charged pollutants.

Ultrafiltration Cartridges

These filter cartridges can remove viruses, pyrogens, bacteria, protein, parasites, and other organic substances bigger than 0.01 micron in size.

Some ultrafiltration cartridges today can even remove pesticides and herbicides from water while reducing salt and water hardness levels.

Reverse Osmosis Membranes

If you want anything removed from your water, reverse osmosis membranes are the answer. These cartridges reject pesticides, tannins, salts like nitrate, heavy metals, and much more.

A reverse osmosis membrane can even filter out viruses and other microorganisms as small as one-thousandth of a micron in size. Speaking of…

Micron Ratings

One micron is equal to a thousandth of a millimeter. Filtration effectiveness is often measured in micron.

The smaller the micron rating, the more – meaning smaller – contaminants a filter can remove.

Consider whole house water filter cartridges that can only trap silt, sand, and rust. These filters should have a micron rating of about 50. They’ll remove all particles as small as 50 microns in size. Contaminants like lead, fluoride, and pathogens are left untouched.

Other micron ratings are 1, 5, 10, and 25.

The problem? The smaller the micron rating, the lower the flow rate and water pressure.

This explains why whole house reverse osmosis water systems are rare. A regular reverse osmosis membrane is rated 0.0001 microns. Consequently, the process significantly drops the water pressure if no booster pump is used.

NSF/ANSI Certifications

NSF certifications ensure the quality and performance of a water filter. They are not really used for whole house water filters however. The only NSF certification that you might find here is standard 42 – still better than nothing.

NSF 42 tests a water filtration system for particulate matter and free chlorine. Further, the goal of this certificate is to check the structural integrity and material quality of a filter.

Flow Rate

A whole house water filtration cartridge provides filtered water to your bathrooms, kitchen, washing machine, dishwasher, and other household areas and appliances that utilize water.

As such, the provided flow rate should be high enough if you don’t want to experience a pressure drop when using multiple outlets.

10-15 gpm is pretty standard, and a rate less than that might not cater to the needs of a large household.

Filtration Capacity (& Maintenance)

Generally, small cartridge filters have a shorter life span. On the flip side, large whole house cartridges need less frequent replacements as they last longer. As such, they not only save you money but are pretty convenient, too.

Nonetheless, a cartridge’s life expectancy is also determined by the type of filter media used. For instance, a carbon filter block will clog much faster than a pleated sediment filter.

Typically, the lifespan of a standard whole house filter cartridge is about 1 year or 100,000 gallons, whichever comes first. But there are exceptions! For example:

We can consider the CQE-RC-04151 from above, a lead filter cartridge, which can treat 80,000 to 160,000 gallons. Compare this to the CQE-RC-04068, used for fluoride removal, which can treat a mere 2,000 to 4,000 gallons of water.

Talking about maintenance, tank-based whole house water filters use a large media tank and require little to no maintenance. On the other hand, cartridge filters need little attention time and again to perform their best. However, replacements according to schedule keep them going. Here’s how to replace:

  1. Turn off the main water supply and drain all the water.
  2. Remove the filter sump.
  3. Take out the old filter cartridge.
  4. Insert the new filter and screw the filter housing back on tightly.
  5. Turn on the main supply slowly.

Sizes + Installation

Standard-sized whole house filter cartridges fit any standard filter housing. In other words, they are universally compatible.

Generally, filter cartridges come in four sizes.

  • 4.5 x 20 inches
  • 4.5 x 10 inches
  • 2.5 x 20 inches
  • 2.5 x 10 inches

whole house water filter cartridges of different sizes

Whole house applications commonly use 4.5 x 20 or 4.5 x 10-inch filters. 2.5 x 20 and 2.5 x 10 inches are not suited for whole house applications. They would restrict water pressure and flow drastically and are thus unsuitable.

You could also go for proprietary sizes, but they are not recommended and for the right reasons. First, they are expensive. Second, you won’t be able to get a replacement in case the product discontinues, or the company closes.

Product Warranty

A warranty should reflect the life expectancy of a product given by its manufacturers. Not all whole house filters come with a warranty, however, let alone filter cartridges.

Obviously, it’s better to opt for a product that comes with a warranty instead of one that doesn’t include a warranty at all.

Your Budget

Anyone rarely has an unlimited budget. But that doesn’t indicate you should get a cheap, low-quality whole house water filter cartridge that might leak a few days after installation.

On top of that, a bad filter might leach additional contaminants into your water. Therefore, purchase a cost-effective model that doesn’t compromise quality either.

The cost typically depends on the type of cartridge, its size, and filter capacity. Make sure you purchase one according to the requirements of your family.

More on Whole House Water Filter Cartridges

What Is a (Whole House) Water Filter Cartridge?

A whole house water filter cartridge provides fresh, clean, and purified water. However, not everyone faces the same issues with their water. For instance, the contaminants you’re dealing with in your water might significantly differ from your neighbors’.

As such, the water filter cartridge you need varies from what’s ideal for others. This explains why whole house water filter cartridges come in several types and sizes.

A few are designed to remove chemicals, while others trap large floating particles like sand from the water.

Therefore, it is essential to determine your water issues before purchasing one.

Who Needs Water Filter Cartridges?

Pure drinking water is crucial to health. Unfortunately, most US water supplies are contaminated. Though all contaminants in water are not harmful, most are. So anyone willing to protect their family’s health needs water filter cartridges.

Also, if you want your water to taste and smell better – of course, you do – you need one certainly.

Further, if you want to prevent your water appliances, fixtures, and plumbing system from damage due to sediment or high iron levels in your water, you should go for a water filter cartridge.

Besides, water containing high chlorine levels isn’t only unhealthy to drink, it can harm your skin too – when showering and doing the dishes.

The Different Types of Whole Home Water Filter Cartridges and How They Work

We’ll discuss various types of whole house water filter cartridges to help you choose the one that best suits your needs.

Mixed Media Bed Filter Cartridges

Mixed media bed filter cartridges are those combining more than one type of filter media in a single cartridge. The filter media are either mixed together or structured in layers.

A good example for a mixed media whole house filter cartridge is the Crystal Quest SMART Plus reviewed above. It features 7 different filter media which allows it to remove the various types of contaminants commonly found in water supplies:

  • GAC and catalytic carbon neutralize unpleasant tastes and odor removing all kinds of chemicals.
  • Two types of KDF are effective against chlorine, sulfur, and water-soluble heavy metals including lead.
  • Ion exchange filter media removes ionic contaminants, first and foremost metals and salts.
  • Ceramic and tourmaline balls balance water pH and thus provide for better-tasting water.

All in all, whole house water filter cartridges containing a combination of filter media are great if you are dealing with more than one type of water contaminant. In this case, a mixed media bed filter is a good alternative to a multi-stage filter setup.

Granular Activated and Catalytic Carbon Filter Cartridges

Granular activated carbon filters are made from highly porous material that removes contaminants from water through chemical reactions and adsorption.

Apart from removing pesticides and disinfection byproducts, these filters eliminate bad odors and taste, making them unique among other filters on the market today. Also, these filters have high flow rates.

While standard carbon filters eliminate most chemicals from water, they do not remove chloramine – a substance widely used to disinfect water. Besides, chloramine is known to form stubborn byproducts in the water.

water filter cartridge

This is where catalytic carbon comes in. We like to think of it as activated carbon on steroids. Catalytic carbon can easily remove chloramines and their disinfection byproducts.

Carbon Blocks

These filters are from powdered carbon compressed into a filter cartridge of the preferred shape.

With a filter capacity of 0.5 to 10 microns, carbon filters can reduce lead, giardia, and cryptosporidium besides eliminating chemical content.

Sediment Filters

Sediment filters target solid particles and trap them in one or more layers of filter media, providing clean water.

These filters are further divided into three types

  • Surface filters
  • Depth filters
  • Absorptive filters

Note that most sediment filters do not remove microscopic organisms, chemicals, heavy metals, or salts. Instead, they only eliminate particles like sand, silt, or, well, sediment.

Specialized Filter Cartridges

Specialized filter cartridges produce treatment-specific solutions for your water problems.

For instance, iron filters remove iron from your water. They use the process of oxidation and convert soluble ferrous iron into rust. Later, the rust is trapped in the filter media.

On the flip side, some filter cartridges use ion exchange resin to target a particular group of contaminants that other filters cannot remove – think metalloids.

Basically, there is a specialized filter cartridge for any type of water contaminant.

The Two Standard Sizes of 20-Inch Cartridges

The two standard sizes of 20-inch whole house filter cartridges are 4.5 x 20 inches, also known as Big Blue, and 4.5 x 10 inches.

Point of Use Only: 10-Inch Filter Cartridges

10-inch filter cartridges are for point-of-use applications only. The two standard sizes available are 2.5 x 20 inches and 2.5 x 10 inches.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Cartridge Water Filters

Below, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of using a water filter cartridge for your whole house.


High Quality Water

Even the most reliable water utilities have unwanted contaminants. Your tap water probably holds several types of particles, chemicals, possibly even bacteria, metals, and other impurities (not to speak of untreated private well water).

These contaminants can lead to several health issues, reducing your quality of life. A filter cartridge, in that case, saves your day.

And with a quality whole house water filter cartridge, you get clean water in your entire home. Since you install it to your main water supply, it filters out impurities before the water distributes.

Improved Taste and Smell

Aside from pollutants that make your water contaminated and unhealthy, there are impurities that make it taste and smell bad too.

Hydrogen sulfide (rotten-egg smell) and chlorine (swimming pool) are infamous for that.

Many filters help get rid of bad smells and improve the taste of water. However, note that not all whole house cartridges improve water aesthetics.

young woman drinking water


Whole house water filters using cartridges are convenient as they work fully automated, unlike small portable systems that need to be operated manually.

Further, they are often easier to handle compared to large tank-based systems (especially the installation part in the beginning).


Regular Replacements Needed

Filter cartridges have a shorter lifespan compared to tank-based systems. While the former may usually last anywhere between 3 and 12 months, the latter can be operated for 5+ years without requiring your attention.

In other words, filter cartridges need to be replaced more often which is not a big deal but still less convenient.


You know what frequent filter cartridge replacements entail? Higher costs! And it’s true, over the long run a tank-based whole house water filter almost always turns out more affordable than a system running on filter cartridges.

Replacement: How Long Does a Whole House Water Filter Cartridge Last?

How long a whole house filter cartridge lasts depends on several factors, including the filter cartridge type, your water conditions, and usage.

  • A filter cartridge with more capacity will last longer than one with a small capacity. The best example is pleated sediment filters. Such filter cartridges have more filter capacity and therefore last longer.
  • Secondly, your water conditions also affect the life of a filter. If your home water has lots of contaminants, including dust, sand, and silt lurking, a filter cartridge might not last very long.
  • Further, your water usage also determines how long a filter lasts. If you have a large family, the water utilization will be higher and the filter life will decrease.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • How many gpm do I need for a whole house filter cartridge?
    Your required gallons per minute water flow depend on your household size. To illustrate: Several people living under one roof with multiple bathrooms use more water at peak times than a single person with just 1 bath.
    10 to 15 gpm is pretty standard for whole house filtration.
  • How often should you change a whole house water filter cartridge?
    This depends on the type of filter cartridge, your water conditions, and your water usage. Most whole house water filter cartridges last somewhere around 3-12 months.
  • How long does a whole house water filter cartridge last?
    The filtration capacity of a whole house water filter cartridge is either measured in gallons or in months. 100,000 gallons or up to 1 year is pretty standard for whole house applications.
  • How do you know when a water filter cartridge needs changing?
    There are several signs that indicate that a water filter cartridge might need replacement. One is bad water taste and odor. Another common sign is reduced water pressure. Aside from that, you should check the manufacturer specifications.
  • Do whole house water filters decrease water pressure?
    A whole house water filter may decrease water pressure depending on its type and size. Smaller filter cartridges can provide less water during a certain time period, and so do certain types of filter media.

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I hope this list of the best water filter cartridges was helpful. Questions? Ask away!

And keep in mind: We’ll add new whole house water filter cartridge reviews occasionally. So come back for more!

About the Author Gene Fitzgerald

Gene Fitzgerald has been with BOS since the very beginning. She is head of content creation and has fully immersed herself into the home water treatment industry only to become an expert herself. Outside of BOS, Gene loves reading books on philosophy & social issues, making music, and hiking.
Learn more about Gene and the rest of the BOS Team.


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