Water Treatment Certifications: What Do They Mean?


Man with Clipboard

Say you’re walking into your local grocery store at eleven o’clock in the evening with one thing in mind; a jar of pickles. Ignoring some of the bigger questions like “why am I buying a jar of pickles this late?”, you have a few requirements and restrictions while heading into the store.

  1. You only have enough money in your pocket for one jar of pickles.

  2. Your friends have warned you against buying sweet pickles in the past.

  3. You know nothing about pickles and you’ve never bought a jar of them before.

When you make it to the pickle aisle, you’re greeted with the classic problem of Overchoice: there are dozens of jars there with dozens of varieties of pickles inside. Some have orange “sale” stickers plastered on the price tag. Some are priced higher than others, but why? Some are labeled “premium” while others have a picture of a dancing cartoon cucumber on the face of the jar. And since you know nothing about pickles outside of your friends’ advice on avoiding a specific variety, even reading the ingredients on the back of the jars is no use.  

You want to make an educated decision to choose a high-quality pickle, but the absolute wealth of choice is overwhelming, even after whittling your choices down a bit by eliminating a few of the jars.

If you’ve just made the decision to start looking into treating your home’s water, you might have already found that the process of research is strikingly similar to standing in front of a wall of pickle jars. You may already have some rough idea of what is wrong with your water. Perhaps you’ve noticed scale buildup on your faucets or bad taste or odor to your water. But, knowing nothing about water treatment, it’s hard to figure out where to head next. You know that there are big-box stores that sell water softeners and there are some local water treatment specialists in the area, but how do you know that what you’re buying is actually doing what it’s advertised to do?

The Importance Of Certified Water Treatment

Whether you’re just getting started on researching water treatment equipment or if you’ve had a unit recently installed, you want to make sure that your equipment is working as well as it claims to do. This is where third-party certifications come into play.

A certification body is an independent organization that performs a series of tests on water treatment devices to ensure that equipment is performing as the manufacturer advertises. The goal of these organizations is to place their approval stamp on certified products and to pass on confidence to the end consumer that what they have installed in their home is trustworthy and working as advertised. Bringing things back to the pickle aisle; perhaps you would prefer to buy pickles that are labeled as organic. Farms that are providing truly organic pickles go through a series of validations to prove this is true and that brand then earns the right to include on their packaging that they aren’t just organic, but they are certified organic. Water softeners and filters work in the same way.

Manufacturers work through several third-party agencies to get their water treatment products certified. You may have seen some of their certification labels before on products that you’ve purchased or researched in the past. The three primary certification bodies are the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Water Quality Association (WQA), and the International Association of Plumbing and Manufacturing Officials (IAPMO). Each of these bodies has specific certification standards for different products. Understanding what these standards mean can help you better determine if the water treatment equipment that you’re researching or have installed in your home meets your requirements.


The National Science Foundation is a federal agency that was created back in the 1950’s with the tagline of “promoting the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; to secure the national defense…”. Among its myriad of other responsibilities, the NSF’s certifying body extends to many different industries. When certifying water treatment equipment, the NSF uses a set of strict standards created by the American National Standard Institute (ANSI). Some of the common water treatment standards are:

  • NSF/ANSI 42: Aesthetic Effects
    This standard applies to evaluating non-health-related qualities in water, pertaining to factors that influence the odor, taste, and appearance of water. Some examples would be the reduction of iron or total dissolved solids.
  • NSF/ANSI 44: Water Softeners
    Specifically for water softeners, this standard creates baseline requirements for the reduction of hardness, capacity (amount of hardness that can be removed before regeneration), and material safety. Additionally, this standard can also establish efficiency standards that pertain to the amount of salt and water used during regeneration and normal use.
  • NSF/ANSI 53: Health Effects
    Pertaining to water filtration, this standard applies to equipment that claims to remove more than 50% of contaminants linked to health-related concerns.
  • NSF/ANSI 58: Reverse Osmosis (R.O.)
    The R.O. standard ensures that certified equipment is reducing contaminants in accordance with its claims. It also creates baselines for unit efficiency, overall safety and quality of materials used in its manufacturing, and the recovery rating, which establishes the amount of wastewater used to flush the membrane system vs the amount of drinkable water it makes.
  • NSF/ANSI 401: Emerging Compounds/Incidental Contaminants
    This standard applies to the reduction of emerging contaminants, which are contaminants that are believed to cause health problems, although there is not enough evidence backing their negative health claims. This may include some common herbicides and pesticides discovered in the water.

WQA CertificationWQA

The Water Quality Association offers a Gold Seal Certification Program which measures standards similar to the NSF. The WQA provides regular audits on products in their Gold Seal Program to ensure that standards are still being met following the initial certification. Some of the WQA standards include:

  • WQA S-100: Pertains to household, commercial, and portable cation exchange water softeners.
  • WQA S-200: For residential and commercial water filters.
  • WQA S-300: For point-of-use reverse osmosis systems.
  • WQA S-400: Pertains to point of use distillation drinking water systems.


IAPMO CertificationIAPMO

The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials consists of a laboratory testing unit that examines water treatment products against both NSF/ANSI and WQA standards. In addition, IAPMO has its own set of standards that it tests and validates against. Like the other certification bodies, IAPMO certifications require regular audits and must be resubmitted every three years.

Why Buy Certified?

Just like many of us wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a certified organic pickle and a non-organic pickle in a blind taste test, you can't always see, smell, or taste the difference between regular water and treated water. You just have to trust that the system did what it said it was going to do. This is the real benefit to third party certification, being able to feel confident that the product you’ve settled on has been tested to meet the standards it’s claiming to meet, making your decision that much easier.

A way to make the process of settling on a water treatment unit even easier is to contact your local Evolve Dealer.  An Evolve water expert takes all of the guesswork out of the equation, from testing your water to prescribing a customized solution to your water woes. You can feel comfortable relying on the Evolve Series line of professional water treatment products that include a variety of industry certifications to live up to their impressive claims. Just look for the gold WQA seal on qualifying products.

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