Can Brita Filter River Water?

If you’re in a situation where your only source of drinking water is river water (while camping, hiking, or even for domestic use), there’s the matter of its safety for consumption. 

While you may consider using a Brita filter to improve river water quality, does it make the water sufficiently safe to drink?

Brita filters can remove impurities from river water and make it safe to drink. However, it isn’t recommended as the primary method of filtration due to the high amount of sediment and other particles in the water.

The range of waterborne contaminants, impurities, and microorganisms in river water renders it unsafe to drink as is. When using Brita filters, it’s important to note that they don’t remove all the impurities from water; it’s best to check local advisories before drinking from natural water bodies.

Can a Brita Filter Purify River Water?

Brita filters can remove sediment and contaminants like chemicals. However, they aren’t intended to purify water or remove biological contaminants like bacteria.

River Water Quality

In its movement on and through the surface of the riverbed, water reacts with the minerals that occur in the rocks and soil while also dissolving a wide range of materials.

River water, in its natural state, is never pure. It always contains a variety of soluble organic and soluble inorganic compounds, apart from suspended insoluble materials.

It has several types of impurities:

  • Living organisms like algae, bacteria, microbes, pathogens, protozoa, parasites, and viruses
  • Organic waste products and amino acids
  • Suspended solids like sand, dust, clay, and rust
  • Chemical impurities
    • Dissolved gases
    • Industrial sewage and wastewater
    • Inorganic compounds from medical equipment systems and wastewater
    • Decomposing plants and animals near lakes, rivers, and streams
    • Organic compounds from domestic and agricultural waste
    • High levels of chlorides, sodium, magnesium, iron, and calcium

The following table list potential contaminants that may be present in river water and the health risks associated with them.

E. coliDiarrhea, urinary tract infections, and bloodstream infections
LeadDamage to the nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive system
Algal bloomsHarm to aquatic life and humans
PesticidesDamage to the nervous system and reproductive system
Heavy metalsDamage to the kidneys and liver
Petroleum productsDamage to the nervous system and respiratory system

How Effective are Brita Filters?

Among the many Brita products available in the market, from pitcher filters and bottles to faucet systems, they claim all their filters cut the odor and taste of chlorine while reducing other contaminants.

Brita claims its Longlast+ filter removes 99% of lead and most other contaminants. This filter is certified to reduce the following:

  • Heavy metals like cadmium, mercury, and lead
  • DEET
  • Microplastics
  • Certain herbicides and pesticides, like metolachlor, atrazine, linuron, etc.
  • Certain pharmaceuticals, like ibuprofen, estrone, naproxen, etc.

On the other hand, a standard Brita pitcher filter isn’t certified for lead reduction.

When using a Brita filter, here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Different Brita filters remove or reduce various impurities from the water.
  • A Brita filter comes with a National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) certification that states which components of water it will filter out.
  • While the overall concentration of certain impurities may reduce, they aren’t eliminated entirely.

Since Brita filters aren’t designed to filter microbial contamination, using one to filter river water will still leave behind different bacteria and chemicals.

How Do Brita Filters Work?

The Brita standard water filter used for pitchers uses multiple filtering. 

  • A built-in mesh screen prevents black flecks. 
  • An activated carbon filter is designed to remove lead and chlorine, among other contaminants. 
  • Finally, an ion-exchange resin filters copper, cadmium, and zinc.

However, activated carbon filters don’t remove all dissolved minerals, nitrates, viruses, and bacteria through absorption. These don’t bind to the carbon (like metals) and pass through the filter. 

These filters have pores (that come in different sizes) to control which components pass through, thus affecting the filtration results.

The bottle filters utilize a carbon block form that reduces the taste and odor of chlorine and particulates of the water passing through it, providing better-tasting water.

As for the longer-lasting Longlast+ filters, they feature patented pleated media and proprietary active filtering agents that reduce contaminants like cadmium, asbestos, and lead.

Replacing the Water Filter Regularly

If you’re using a Brita pitcher or bottle to filter river water, it’s also important to clean it regularly. As for the filter itself, Brita recommends changing the filter in your pitcher every 2 months or 40 gallons, whichever comes first.

The most important thing for a good filtration system is to change the filter according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. 

Filters that aren’t changed at the recommended time might not work well in reducing the contaminants they’re designed to deal with. Moreover, with its moist environment, an old filter may lead to higher concentrations of bacteria getting into the water.

Effective Filtering of River Water for Consumption

While using a Brita filter to purify river water, it’s essential first to let the water settle for about 24 hours. This is to get the sediment to settle down at the bottom of the container.

You should also boil the water for 1 minute before filtering. Since Brita filters cannot remove bacteria, protozoa, and viruses from water, boiling is the surest method to kill these disease-causing organisms.

If boiling the water isn’t possible, you can use a chemical disinfectant (like unscented household chlorine bleach) to make small quantities of settled and filtered water safe to drink.

Filter the boiled, cooled water using a Brita filter to remove any remaining impurities. Boiling, filtering, and chemical disinfection treat the water sufficiently, making it safe for consumption.

A more effective method of river water filtration: Use a multi-stage filtration system with a pre-filter for removing larger particles, followed by a carbon filter that removes organic contaminants and a fine particle filter that removes smaller suspended particles. 


Brita states it can eradicate more components than most similar filters and last longer. Yet, you mustn’t use it as the only means of filtration.

A Brita filter removes chlorine taste and odor from water and reduces certain chemicals. However, this alone can’t purify river water sufficiently to make it safe for drinking.

Suspended solids, chemical impurities, organic waste, and microorganisms make river water unsafe to drink and require the necessary treatment. Therefore, it’s best to boil, filter, and chemically disinfect river water to make it safe for drinking.

If you’d like to use Brita filters for filtering rainwater instead, read into Can Brita Filter Rainwater.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has a degree in journalism and has worked as a freelance writer and author for many years. She is passionate about clean drinking water and has written many articles on this subject. Amy enjoys hiking and water skiing with her husband and is grateful to have the opportunity to help others learn more about the importance of clean drinking water.

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