Dear PoP – What’s Up With DC’s Drinking Water?

Broken Water Filter, originally uploaded by newbiemind.


“Dear PoP,

I recently moved into DC from Arlington, and while I’m loving the change, I’m not so thrilled with how my tap water tastes. Even filtered through my Brita pitcher, it has a not-so-delicious “metallic sewage” scent and flavor. I don’t want to go to bottled water – expensive and wasteful – so I was wondering if any readers had suggestions on undersink or other types of filters that worked well in DC? I was reading the annual water quality drinking report (, and it identified some specific problems in DC water, so I was hoping someone had already done all the research about what was the best filter to remove those particular contaminants!


Thirsty Reader”

This is a great question. The best solution I’ve come up with is that I use a brita filter on my tap and then I pour that water directly into a brita pitcher for a double filtration. And if all else fails I then mix in a healthy dose of powdered iced-tea mix… What sort of filters do you guys use?

60 Comment

  • Funny, that photo could have been taken in my kitchen. We had that filter and it promptly broke so we went with the giant Brita container that sits in the fridge with the spigot.

    The taste doesn’t so much bother me, I’ve lived and visited many places, and there’s nowhere that’s come close to the awfulness of Florida. It’s more the turbidity. The stuff floating around in my glass was a little disconcerting even if it’s not harmful. So any time we’re not boiling the water, we use the filter.

  • Its not that bad, I drink it straight all the time if I filter it I use a Pur that is probably past its prime.
    Perhaps my tastebuds are junk but I’ve never understood the complaining that DC water is bad – its perfectly acceptable.

  • I had the same problem when i moved to the city in June from suburbs and I did research on the website and found out that PUR filters are pretty darn good and inexpensive.

    So i went to Target and got the cheapest filter for 25 bucks, see link. It was rated very highly by National Science Foundation for doing what it claims to do. I installed it and my water tastes so fresh, I could instantly tell the dif.

  • I heard that no amount of filtering can clean the residue amounts of medicines in the water. Does anybody know how to clean that?

  • It could be your pipes as DC and Arlington water come from the same source.

  • Lead Monitoring Results and Status of Orthophosphate Treatment
    In July 2009, EPA received WASA’s most recent report on lead levels in DC drinking water. WASA reported that 90 percent of the samples had lead levels of 6 parts per billion (ppb) or less, below EPA’s lead action level of 15 ppb. This is the ninth monitoring period in a row that WASA has met the lead action level.

    Since August 2004, the Washington Aqueduct has been adding orthophosphate to the drinking water as a corrosion inhibitor. Orthophosphate is a tasteless, odorless, food-grade additive that is used by many water systems to control corrosion. It works by forming a protective coating inside pipes that decreases the amount of lead that leaches from lead service lines and customers’ plumbing systems. Orthophosphate was added to the entire DC distribution system beginning on August 23, 2004.

    “food-grade” and it prevents corrosion in lead pipes? no thank you.

  • I also think it depends on where you live in DC. I used to live just off GA Ave on Kenyon which is very close to McMillan Reservoir. I remember the water tasting pretty funky even after it was filtered. I now live in Takoma DC, right on Eastern Ave. I still filter my water and am quite happy with it. Good taste, no floaties. I have wondered if living so close to TKPK, MD means that my water source is Montgomery county…

  • Please dont get me started on this…
    please note britas are made by the clorox corporation, i cant imagine them being too invested in good filtration, brita says on the box its for taste not safety.
    The only way to remove 100% of VOC (volatile organic compounds) such as medicine, are basic steam distilling or intense clay/carbon filtration.

  • I live next to GA Ave., Irving Street. Although I mostly use filtered water because my refrigerator has a filter system, I forget and drink from the faucets and it doesn’t taste bad or smell at all. I bought the house as mostly renovated, new copper pipes from the street – maybe that is the problem for some folks – old house plumbing.

  • @GiantSquid I know exactly what you mean! I lived in Orlando for over a year, and my roommates and I would always get tummy aches.

  • I have always, always just gotten my drinking water right from the tap, no filter.

    I live in NE now and chug-a-lug all day long.

    It tastes fine, you sissies!


  • Both our house and street pipes are both old (lead) so we decided to just go w/ a water service. The taste is much better and it eases my worries about the lead content.

  • @Reba: Bottled water comes from a tap.

  • I too have wondered what is up with the “film” that covers a glass of water any time you let it sit. I can pour a glass of water at night and leave it on the night stand and wake up in the morning and there is a film on top of it like some chemical floating. Must be that lead inhibitor stuff, all new pipes in this place. I only drink the filtered water from the britta pitcher, would haev thought that would have gotten rid of it but , NOPE.

  • I use an everpure 300 under-sink system. It’s brilliant, and only needs changing once a year (it’ll filter 300 gallons before it needs changing)…it’s also connected to an instant-hot tap and our refrigerator ice maker.

  • mjcolhghts, is not the National Science Foundation.

    I filter my water through a Sears fridge filter. I believe DC water is rated healthful enough, but I trust WASA not at all.

  • T.n — care to explain this unsubstantiated claim a little further?

    “please note britas are made by the clorox corporation, i cant imagine them being too invested in good filtration”

    I’m guessing you just spewed this out because Clorox is a corporation… and is thus evil.

  • i read a flier on water safety from the city last year that said DC water is actually really safe… it’s filtered 9 times before sent to homes. BUT… many homes have old pipes, so the water that sits in them overnight gets dirty. They said to run the water for 30 seconds before using it for cooking or drinking if it hasn’t been run for a while.

  • We had a serious problem over here on the Hill not so long ago with high levels of lead in our water. Friends’ of mine dog ended up with lead poisoning b/c while they drank from a Brita, they gave the dog water from the tap. I only recently heard that story, and while the issue has been rectified for some time now, I’m still switching over to a pur on the faucet.

    I also notice that my tap water tastes differently from room to room. It’s really bad from the kitchen, but the tap water from the bathroom actually tastes fine (although it leaves a filmy residue in your mouth). I should probably get a pur for in there too, come to think of it. The difference is surely due to the age of the pipes in the respective rooms, but it’s nice to have at least one tap pouring serviceable water.

  • As anonymous 3:15 says, DC and Arlington have the same source for drinking water – so it is most likely the plumbing in your house/building or the supply line on your property from the street that is giving it that taste. (Some places in DC are very old.) Our condo building was renovated in the 80s with all new plumbing and our water tastes fine straight from the tap.

  • By the way, I think the three neighborhoods affected the most by the 2001-2004 lead in the water issues were the Hill, Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant.

  • The filter in my refrigerator works very well — just need to change it about twice a year.

  • Frontline did a show on water quality that spent some time on DC’s drinking water. It was pretty disturbing but probably shouldn’t have been too surprising. The link above is to the transcript of the show–the section on DC’s drinking water starts around 2/5 the way down. The gist: there are some contaniments we’re still learning about which are still making it through the treatment cycles, so they remain in our tap water. Scientists wonder what the long-term effect on humans will be, especially since fish are changing sexes, etc., when exposed to the full-blown cess pool. But really, what can you do? I ain’t boiling all my water!

  • Just put it in the fridge for a fews hours (filtered if you like). The cold will kill any “flavor.”

  • TonyS: since the brita is built to filter specifically for taste and not chemicals.
    To remove the ability of your observation of the chemicals that this company creates.
    It lists to filter Chlorine, fluoride, Copper, Mercury, Cadmium and Zinc only. (and large particle lead)

    Where as a worthwhile filter would offer to filter VOCs or more:


  • TonyS: since the brita is built to filter specifically for taste and not chemicals.
    To remove the ability of your observation of the chemicals that this company creates.
    It lists to filter Chlorine, fluoride, Copper, Mercury, Cadmium and Zinc only. (and large particle lead)

    Where as a worthwhile filter would offer to filter VOCs or more:


    Does that substantiate?

  • Floride being my poison of choice.
    and the radical claims.

  • @Thor The only way to get rid of the trace amounts of medicines (honestly I wouldn’t worry about it) is through reverse osmosis. I know Dasani does it. The water ends up tasting odd though since it removes most everything. Kind of tastes like liquid nothing.

  • I don’t think DC tap water is fantastic and I use filtered water, but I don’t think it is horrible either. Once or twice I’ve filtered water and noticed it is still rusty colored. I assume that such occasions were more about the quality of my pipes than about the District’s water treatment system. I simply dumped out the water and tried again, letting the tap run for a few minutes before filling my filter tank.

    I use a PUR “water filter dispenser” which is much larger than a pitcher. A pitcher holds about 50 oz. of water; my dispenser holds 144 oz. It has a spigot on it so I can just leave it on the refrigerator shelf or counter to fill a glass. I bought it at Target for about $30. It might be worth noting that there are two-stage and three-stage filters available on the market. Two stage do not filter minerals; three stage do.

  • Oh, and PUR filters remove 99% of pharmaceuticals in water. Not 100%, merely 99%.

  • This thread is really interesting and informative…

    As I understand it, women who are pregnant and small children are especially vulnerable to issues of lead, etc. in the water. I’m within the high-impact area that Nichole mentioned above (zip 20011) and even if the sources are the same, the pipes in these ares are supposed to be the greater issue.

    Do people in those areas trust systems like the Pur, etc? Or am I just better off believing the Deer Park sales pitch?

  • I have a water cooler, I buy 5 gallon jugs of spring water for 4.99 at Sam’s Club. I pay DCWASA about $16 a month and Sam’s Club about $10 a month. I don’t trust WASA. The plastic that the water jugs come in could have it’s own problems, of course.

  • I guess I’m gonna die b/c I drink unfiltered DC water. It tastes fine to me. The worst water I’ve encountered is in Florida: tastes bad and is YELLOW. When I lived there I kept thinking the cat learned to pee in the toilet. Nope just the water. bleck.


    Money well spent. Your skin and clothing will thank you as well.

  • The water treatment industry is finding large amounts of estrogen and estrogen by-products in our drinking water supply that they never thought were there before. They think it’s from female urine and probably a result of the large proportion of the female population either taking oral contraceptives or estrogen supplements.

    There’s a link above that someone posted to a Frontline that I suggest everyone look at. Male fish in the Potomac are developing eggs in their testes, and the experts are saying they wouldn’t drink DC tap water.

    Bottled water is a bit of a scam, I admit. It comes out of a tap, too. But it’s brought in from less populated, usually non-Riparian areas.

    I’m an educated man, and I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I eat a lot of stuff that’s not good for me and understand the consequences. That said, I find DC tap water vile. I only drink it when I have to, and I sure would never let my children drink it — Brita or no Brita.

  • I also drink directly from the tap. Sometimes tastes a bit too chlorinated, but overall I think its ok. We had lead in our last house so I put in a pur undersink filter – worked great.

  • Really? DC’s tap water is some of the best I’ve tasted.

  • @Reba, I honestly don’t know. A lot of my neighbors got so scared that they installed either under the sink filtration or whole house. Others are fine with Pur. I think it’s just personal comfort. I mean, I’ve been using the brita for years, but my ice was always plain tap water. So for now, I’m sticking to the Pur, and hoping for the best. (Of course, I don’t have kids, so it’s just me I’m choosing for.)

  • *eats words and hangs head in shame

    its probably because all the farm animal antibiotics ive been drinking for the last several years thinking my brita was filtering them out.

  • dcmom, Nichole, etc…

    when you say you used Pur and it was great what do you mean by that? Was it the taste or did you test the water in the lab before and after and got great results?

  • Thor, it’s taste and texture. Sorry, I should have been clear. I’ve never taken it to the lab, although I would be interested in doing that.

  • Even if I trusted DC’s water, it often has a really bad fishtank/algae smell that I can’t handle. I smell it in the shower and I can’t imagine drinking it. We installed a Multi-Pure ( undersink filter and ran the icemaker in the fridge though it after talking to our plumber about wanting a filter. It’s not the cheapest system but it has been great for us and we only replace the filter once a year.

  • I am addicted to the tap water. Not sure what it is, but I’m definitely addicted. The brita in the fridge is for the girlfriend. I go straight to the tap.

  • TonyS: i just want to make sure everyone knows what your drinking and how to clean it to your preference and dispell the brita myth.

    i havent looked into PUR, but a quick scan shows they are owned by Proctor and Gamble………. cries

  • saf

    CoHeRedneck: minerals. We have very hard water in DC.

    Our house was one of those with very high lead. We filter, and have finally managed to have our water line replaced. But honestly, it has always tasted fine to me. Then again, I came from an industrial city, so my basis for comparison is not great.

  • Everyone just get a LIFESAVER filter… (Ala TED talk, July 2009)

    But really, DC water is not that bad. Could be better, but I’ve lived a lot of places and water is always different and often worse.

  • Lemon… keep a squeezy organic bottle on the fridge door and drop in 2 drops!

  • I notice DC water tastes better after heavy rains have covered the WV/VA/MD region NW of DC. Fresh supply?
    No filters in this house, solid copper pipes from water main in middle of street to all facets in house.

  • RainSoft is a very expensive option, but it does becomes another way of life some never want to return from.

    The resulting water is so soft that drops of soap or detergent are only needed whether washing dishes or the car.

    Women love to wash their hair in houses with RainSoft systems.

    Requires stocking up on bags of salt or blocks of cow lick.

  • You get used to it and its fine. I used the container style Brita simply because cold water tastes better and my building was old so it provided me with the psychological comfort of ‘cleaner’ water.

    I’ve recently moved to NYC (yes, still check PoP from time time time). I immediately thought the water tastds funny and smelled bad in NYC and just after I moved, I visited DC again and remember thinking – ah, normal water. I find I am less averse to NYC water ever day though. Funny that, but like I said – you get used to it.

  • Drinking water filter systems are not created equal by any means. There are standard cartridge filters systems, reverse osmosis systems and specialty cartridge systems like Aquasana. So which one should you look at? A standard cartridge system typically uses a sediment and carbon and/or specialty filter. For most homes using city water, this is actually a great system for such an economical price. Specialty cartridge systems like Aquasana are exactly the same thing except you are forced to use their filter.

  • yuck yuck yuck!

    deer park, thats good water!

  • We spend an unbelievable amount of money in this country providing a safe water supply and yet people routinely freak out about it. Drinking bottled water on a regular basis is an unbelievable waste of money and does huge amounts of harm to the environment in the form of waste products.

    Bottled water at the store costs more than twice as much as gasoline! 16 ounces of water for a buck? That’s 8 dollars a gallon. Umm….

    The water supply is very safe. The difference in taste probably has more to do with what is NOT in the tap water – namely, all the minerals that are found in spring water. DC has had a few problems in the past, but this has mostly to do with lead pipes. If you have small children this should be a concern, but lead is the most easily filtered of contaminants because it is large. So just filter water you feed your kids. But for adults, even in rare situations where the lead levels are elevated, it’s very unlikely you’ll drink enough in your life to cause harm. If you are concerned have your water tested or just use a filter.

    A whole house filter is ridiculous though. The vast majority of the water you use goes straight down your drain from the shower, dishwasher, sink, and garden hose.

  • I used Deer Park’s Direct service. Not too expensive, and I’d say worth the money. Its a simple water cooler system…. new bottles 3-5 gallons get delivered each month. And the best part is, they have a system to reuse the bottles…. so I don’t feel TOO bad about going the bottled root.

  • The mass-market PUR and Brita filters are garbage. At best, they remove about half the lead in DC’s water. And they INCREASE the chance of bacterial contamination in your water: bugs just love the warm, wet, dirty environment of a used water filter.

    I hate to say it, but if you live in DC, you really need to be drinking bottled water, or invest in a professionally installed multi-stage filter. Our tap water contamination is barely compliant with EPA standards, and is objectively much worse than any other jurisdiction in the area; the numbers don’t lie.

    But hey, if you think drinking lead is “no big deal”, have at it.

  • well guys i think that water is as pure as it gets but only here…
    do try it!
    James Clark

  • Oh and lets debase the myth of bottled water is better while we are here:

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