Zero Water, Zero Help

On March 23, 2014, my husband and I upgraded to a Zero Water filtering system.  We had previously been alternating between Brita and Pur, as we have hard water where we live which makes filtration essential.  Zero Water’s filtration system consists of five stages, which is much more complex than Brita or Pur and should provide cleaner and better drinking water.  It comes with a meter to test your water before Zero filtration and afterwards, which shocked both my husband and I, as we had far too many dissolved solids showing up in our before water.  Having recently installed a filtration system in our shower, we felt confident that the Zero water pitcher was a fantastic next step for us and were very happy with our nearly $40 purchase.


Fast forward to the week of April 14, 2014, slightly over three weeks later.  My husband began to notice a strange odor in the house.  We cleaned and scrubbed and Febrezed and investigated.  I grew paranoid when my husband sat next to me one day and almost instantly said “what is that smell??”  I was confused when he went into the kitchen one evening and asked if I had made tuna.  And finally, after pouring a glass of water from our Zero Water filter, he found the culprit.  Our pitcher stunk.  It smelled like an old aquarium.  Upon removing the filter from the pitcher, the smell grew even stronger.  It was enough to make us sick.

We began checking our cups to make sure the issue wasn’t coming from another source.  The cups were all fine, the Pur filter we have directly on the faucet was giving us odorless water, and the water straight from the tap was free of odor as well.  I hopped on Google and read this review on Ripoff Report“I purchased a Zero Water Filtration pitcher system about 3 weeks ago. A few days ago, I noticed a fish smell in my kitchen.. So I decided to clean out the kitchen sink pipes.. The next hour the smell was still there.. I poured a glass of water from my Zero Water Filtration pitcher system and found the problem.. The water smelt like a dirty fish tank filter.  I called Zero Water. They told me that where I live has a high amount of materials in the water and the only thing I could do is to change the filter every 2 or 3 weeks to prevent the smell.”  This is apparently such a common problem that they include the following on their official website:


So, not only is the filter life greatly exaggerated (or grossly misleading at best), but the fishy smell is practically a guarantee once the filter has reached the end of its life span.  My husband and I did some thinking, and are now left wondering if the filter issue that caused the odor is the same thing that was causing me to have migraines, nausea, and caused the water to have an odd taste when it warmed to room temperature.  The FAQ on the Zero Water site, along with common sense, urges the consumer to remember that filters don’t last forever, especially in certain areas of the country, and filter life times do vary greatly.  That being said, I did not shell out nearly $40 just to have three weeks of acceptable water before having to throw my nearly $40 pitcher in the trash can.

For our Brita and Pur water pitchers, we would fill it from the kitchen faucet that is also filtered by one of their products.  This double filtration system of ours would allow us to get months out of our filters.  Even at the end of a filter’s life, we would notice no odor and little to no change in water taste.  I don’t care how bad the water is in my city, there is no excuse for any consumer to be given fish-water after three weeks of using a filtration system.  I would rather go out in my backyard and drink straight from the pond than drink aquarium leftovers from an overpriced so-called “top of the line” water pitcher.


According to the Water Resources Authority in Massachusetts, a fishy smell is caused by algae growth.  The public health department of Washington says that organic matter is to blame for the odor.  Plumbing Supply says it could be from chlorine and ammonia used to treat the water supply by the city, or naturally occurring elements barium and/or cadmium.  While I have no doubt that there are all sorts of minerals in my water, I feel 100% confident that my water supply is not to blame.  I have been using the same water supply for over six years now at either my own home or my mother-in-law’s, and have not once had an issue with foul-smelling fish-water until wasting my money on a Zero Water pitcher.
Even positive reviews I’ve read about the pitcher acknowledge the fishy smell.  And while I can’t say for sure, I feel confident that something in the filtration system was making me sick and causing headaches.  I would not pay $5 for a filtration system that is going to make my water and home stink after three weeks, nevermind pay $35 plus tax to get started and $15 for every replacement filter in the future.  Zero Water is a rip off, plain and simple.  I wish I had done more research prior to making the purchase, but I hope that putting this out there helps sway others from making the same mistake I did.  Pur and Brita are fantastic, and I wish I had stuck with what I knew instead of making the switch to a water filtration system that was Zero Help.


About Jamie C. Baker

“Long time no see. I only pray the caliber of your questions has improved.” - Kevin Smith

Posted on April 21, 2014, in Food and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. Useful post. I used to have aquariums, I know exactly what their filters smell like and it’s horrible. The cause of the smell is the same, algae. I imagine your filter is actively filtering out biological elements from your water, OR, water is just getting trapped in the filter with some kind of organic base that it filters out, which is creating a petri dish inside the filter for algae to grow on.

    In my aquarium filter, there would be bright white ceramic hollows that were supposed to capture larger waste material, but over time you could see through the plastic filter box that they were getting covered in algae because the other filtration medium was catching organic material that the algae could live off of. That was time to scrub out the whole system or get that smell.

    It would sort of be like putting a sponge in your garbage disposal input from your sink, and drink the water that drips through the sponge on the other side. Sure the sponge stopped the bacon grease, potato skins, coffee beans, bread crumbs and everything else you dumped into the sink so the water dripped out nice and clean, but think of what is growing on the surface of that sponge after a few weeks from all of that organic compost sitting on it and what that would smell like.

    Either the PUR and BRITA filters found a solution for this problem, or they don’t catch the “food” algae lives off of, which is fine, since your problem is hard water, not organic material. Of course, maybe your city water has algae in it already, but in doses too small to notice, in which case, the petri dish gets a kick start because the algae is already there, and is just getting caught and concentrated in the filter over time like snow falling.

    We have a PUR filter too, and like yours, works perfect. I’ve also used PUR for backpacking, and nothing turns pig mud into crystal clear sweet water like the manual pump-style PUR filters I’ve used. It was the backpacking filters that promoted me to invest in the PUR home filters. I figured if I can drink cow patty field mud puddle water through one of their filters, city water should only be slightly worse.

  2. Great info. Lucky me I ran across your site by accident
    (stumbleupon). I’ve saved as a favorite for later!

  3. I’ve twice now had a fishy smell coming from the water poured from my Zero Water pitcher. Cleaned the pitcher with a bit of clorox water, replaced the filter and after a couple weeks, as the single user, noticed a fishy odor again! The guage measured 007 but I was surprised and disappointed to find the filter didn’t last longer. I’ve had the system for a couple years. It used to filter so slowly that I abandoned using it and went back to Brita. But in this sequence of use I’ve went through two filters in a relatively short amount of time and though the water filtered more quickly, the fishy smell made me throw the filters away without felling like I’d gotten my money’s worth out of them. Neither my tap water nor the Brita filtered water have ever smelled fishy.

  4. We have had the Zerowater pitcher for years and never had this issue. This month my large bulk supply of filters finally ran out and I had to purchase more. I was a bit surprised to see that the filters had changed and now have a tapered shape. 3 weeks after installing the new filter, BAM! DEAD FISH! Looks like were done with Zerowater.

  5. 4/23/15 just experienced same tuna problem with Zero Water, illness side effects also. NOT HAPPY with Zero Water. Do NOT buy

  6. Yup…..same issue. Bought ZeroWater 3 weeks ago. Today noticed my water glass smelling like fish. Switched to a clean glass, still smelled like fish. Got another new glass, got water from the faucet, NO fish smell. What a scam. I used Brita for YEARS and never, ever had this problem. How gross. Wonder if that is why I’ve been having GI issues and headaches for the past week??

  7. We recently purchased a Zero Water and are going through the same issues (not to mention the shoddy construction of the pitcher, itself). Before I found this article, I also just filed a complaint on Ripoff Report. I will also be filing with the BBB since Zero Water Customer Service won’t properly acknowledge the issue.

    I too will be going back to Brita. We’ve been using Brita for our dog’s water… I wouldn’t use the Zero Water for toilet water.

    We’ll be going back to Brita as of tonight. I wish Brita had the capability of the Zero Water in terms of initial filtration, but without the fraud part.

    Anyway… thank you for writing this article (even though I know it was written a while ago). More people need to be aware and I shared this article on G+ and Twitter.

  8. Oh, I wished I’d run across this before. My roommate and I decided to upgrade from a faucet Brita filtration system to ZeroWater because it should be better – right? Two days after we started using the system – we encountered the fishy-smell. I was pervasive and I had to wash out and rise thoroughly the filter system/unit AND our ice maker [we put filtered water in the ice-maker to have less ‘sludge/slime’ over time]. Resumed use of the ZeroWater and its filter with no issues until two days ago after our third filter change – only to hours later again encounter the fishy-smell. SIGH. Once again I had to wash, rinse and dry the unit and the ice maker.

    When we finish this filter – we’re going to go for PUR on faucet filtration. To heck with this crap with Zero-Water

  9. OK just threw away two water bottles thinking the fish smell was because they were old. Started testing water from my new system in 3 different types of glasses thinking I was going crazy. Gross smell. Ugh. Going to try and return it. Loved for first week or two.. thx for your post l!

  10. Bunch of BS! I also have same POS ZEROWATER filter. It took a couple of months before the fish smell hit mine, but regardless this is unacceptable. This product should be recalled. I cannot imagine selling a water filtration product that makes your water taste like fish. Way to go ZEROWATER! I want my f…ing money back!

    • Btw I live in Chicago and have abused other water filters. Never have they harbored algae and made my water taste like fish.

  11. This is caused by touching the filter. The bacterial on your hands causes a bacterial bloom.. this is not the filter systems fault. disinfect all then put in a new filter and try again.

  12. Barry White, Sick and Tired?

    Yes I experienced the same fishy smell and also with the bits of charcoal in the top section I noticed a gold looking substance in there as well, looked like a gel type substance, probably the algae mess, yuck! I have had symptoms of nausea, light headaches, lethargic and fatigue, none of which I care for! Thanks for the other comments, I’m junkin this thing and going back to the one I had on the facet, I think it was a Pur Product?

  13. I have the same problem. Had been using the smaller version and pouring that filtered water into the lager pitcher to make it last longer. Just started noticing the smell and it is bad. Getting rid of the two Zero Water pitchers and filters and going back to the faucet Pure system. Will be notifying BBB of this problem . Will not use Zero Water again!

  14. Echoing other comments here, we have the exact same problem (same Zero pitcher purchase a month or more ago, same fishy smell…) My spouse purchased the pitcher after some research because she understood that the PUR does not do enough filtering (doesn’t get the lead out?) Anyone know whether the faucet PUR system gets the lead out sufficiently?

  15. People like to have filtered drinking water. In the filtering water, there is no metals, toxic and another dangerous microorganism. So the water is fresh and pure for drinking. Some people like to drink filtered water than the tap water. There are many reasons for which people like to have a filter to the counter top of the kitchen. The is no risk of health hazard by drinking filtered water. You must know the difference between zero water vs brita before buy, further details-

  16. I used Brita for years without any complaint except for the activated charcoal dust that settles into the first couple of pitcher fill-ups. Early this year I decided to replace my pitcher as it was getting old and a bit nasty. Decided to try the ZeroWater pitcher just based on the info printed on the thing at the store. I gave it a good 8-month trial. I changed the filter cartridge at least 5 times during that trial. Each time the cartridge was changed when terrible smell and taste developed in my water. It took me some time to figure out the ZeroWater cartridge itself was the cause. All I know is that it is some kind of organic micro-organism that actively grows inside until it becomes out of control. Terrible product, and anybody that just lives with that is not playing with a full bag of marbles in the head. I bought a brand new Brita pitcher and the ZeroWater is now in landfill. What a total waste.

  17. Bought a zero water pitcher and about 5 filters. On filter number 3 an noticed the fishy smell. Thought I was upgrading form my Brita. Glad I saved the dozen Brita filters I had, will go back for now.

  18. I got the same fishy smell after 3 weeks of use of a brand new Zero filter. The water meter read 66 so I know I should have changed the filter sooner (Zero Water says meter reading of 6 should trigger you to get a new filter.

    Here’s why I am still sticking with Zero Water. The ppm comparison test showed me the following:
    1) Tap water in IL = 198 + ppm
    2) Filtered Brita water = 120-140 ppm
    3) Filtered water from Whole Foods (at 40 cents/ gallon) = 12-40 ppm
    4) New Zero water filter (good for a fortnight or so) = 0-3 ppm

    As long as the filter is replaced every fortnight or so, the fish smell is not there. Just very clean water.

  19. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I thought I was going crazy with the smell… I was sure it was the Zero Water. I live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and our tap water is fine to drink but I thought that filtered would be better… Every three weeks I have been smelling that Fishy Smell and began to feel sick to my stomach. I washed and cleaned the pitcher and replaced the filter. Voila… the smell and sickness gone. Cheaper for me to buy bottled water and store in my fridge. They even deliver. Thumbs down for Zerowater.

  20. Like many, we switched from Brita to a Zero jug a couple months back. Not long after I noticed a disgusting tuna fish smell eminating from the area on the counter where it sits, on the counter beside the sink. Thought it was possibly coming from the sink, after investigation realized it was from the zero jug. Now my roommate feeds our cats a diet that a Hollywood star would receive, and we both thought that the cats were licking the jug spout after getting their daily tuna fish surprise. After reading all this not only am I pissed about the misleading product , I’m upset that I was giving my cats grief for going on the counters. The last 3 weeks I’ve been getting headaches that i normally never suffer from, and been home sick vomiting on 4 occasions. You can’t tell me that in testing this product, they didn’t test the limits of their filters which in turn would produce this nasty, fishy smell that clearly so many people have experienced. I will be returning this product to the store I purchased it from.

  21. I am experiencing the same phenomenon of fish smell with my new Zero Water pitcher.

  22. Reading all comments after taking a big swig of Zerowater in a glass and almost choking. The whole fridge stinks!!!!! It smelled as if we had cleaned shrimp and left the body parts in the trash for a couple of days. Zero pitcher will now become a flower pot. That was an AWFUL experience. Dead shrimp are for eating, not for smelling!!!!!!
    I googled “dead fish smell from a water pitcher” and got all this info!

  23. I knew I couldn’t have been the only one! This is the second Zero Water filter we’ve been through that makes our water disgusting. The last filter lasted about a month.TDS meter reads 002. Filters are supposed to do the opposite. Waste of $$$. I guess it’s back to Brita.

  24. I noticed same thing . I bought one of these for Christmas and noticed the flavor of water was bad after using it a few weeks. I thought it had a metal taste…but something definitely not right with this water filter…its undrinkable

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