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Carbon Filtration

Why do we use carbon, or charcoal, to filter our water? Find answers and filtration solutions inside!

Discover how Carbon Filters improve the Taste and Quality of Drinking Water


How filters help make your drinking water safe

Modern infrastructure and technology provide much of the developed world access to safe, treated drinking water. The water treatment process reduces impurities and adds chemicals to disinfect or deactivate water-borne contaminants. However, this process can negatively impact the taste and smell. Additionally, byproducts of the disinfection process can create their own issues. While some of these are not directly harmful, there are health benefits associated with their reduction.

How chlorine impacts your water quality

The primary substance used in modern water treatment is chlorine. A well-known and widely used oxidizing agent, chlorine contains powerful disinfecting and bleaching properties. It is added to drinking water to kill harmful bacteria and viruses. Unfortunately, continued exposure to high levels of chlorine can be an issue. Chlorine is a very potent chemical that strips hair and skin of natural oils, resulting in dry skin, damaged hair, and brittle nails.

Chlorine may also impact the aesthetics of water - taste, odor, and color. Of greater concern, according to the U.S. Council of Environmental Quality, the risk of cancer for people who consume chlorinated water is 93% higher than for those whose water does not include chlorine.

Drinking water can be tested for chlorine levels, and city water reports are available in most communities.

How to treat chlorine

One of the most common methods for addressing aesthetic and chemical concerns of chlorine in drinking water is to filter the water with carbon filtration media.

What is carbon and why is it used in water filters?

Activated carbon is a highly porous substance that collects and bonds organic chemicals to itself. Because carbon is so porous, it has a large amount of surface area available to attract chemicals and contaminants. Factors that affect carbon’s capacity are molecular weight, pH balance, particle size, flow rate, and temperature.

How carbon filters work

When water encounters carbon media, the carbon absorbs chemicals in the water. As water flows through the filter, the chemicals adhere to the carbon, which cleans the water. The flow rate and water temperature of the water determine the effectiveness of this process.

Carbon can reduce multiple toxic chemicals such as volatile organic compounds, (VOCs) which include benzene, toluene, and some chlorinated compounds. Carbon filters also reduce odors and discoloration. However, carbon filters are not as effective at reducing inorganic contaminants (e.g. arsenic, nitrates) and other heavy metals. Inorganic contaminants require more robust filtration solutions such as reverse osmosis systems or specially designed filters.

Taste and Odor in Drinking Water

Drinking water can sometimes give off unusual flavors and odors. When water has a bleach-like taste, it is usually due to the presence of chlorine. The bad taste is because of an insufficient residual or the lack of chlorine in the water. If you can smell or taste chlorine, then there isn’t enough chlorine residual in the water. The correct amount of chlorine to sustain the required minimum residual of “free” chlorine is essential. If the residual falls below the “free” minimum, the reforming of chlororganics and chloramines takes place.

Polishing Filters and Aesthetic Effects

Polishing filters reduce microscopic particulate material to improve the taste. Because people can easily detect aesthetic changes, aesthetics impact perception of water quality. Water filters and polishers can reduce issues of discoloration, taste, and odor.

”Reduce” vs “Remove”

Very few if any water treatment or water purification systems can completely remove all possible water contaminants that may be active in a water supply. The primary focus of domestic water filtration systems is reduction of contaminants to safe levels. People can safely drink water with low levels of chemical contaminants. The EPA mandates treated water to have a detectable level of chlorine up to 4 parts per million.

Two Kinds of Carbon Filters

There are two primary types of carbon filters: carbon blocks and granular activated carbon, (or GAC) filters.

Carbon block filters are made by grinding activated carbon into a fine powder. GAC filters are created using carbon that has been ground up and is loosely held together inside a cartridge.

Carbon block filters have a larger surface area than GAC filters, enabling them to filter a higher percentage of water. They are also more effective at filtering out particles, heavy metals, and other contaminants. However, they typically have a slower flow rate and clog up sooner.

GAC filters reduce the amount of organic disinfectants found in water supplies, improve taste, and eliminate health risks, helping maintain and preserve the other treatment units such as reverse osmosis membranes and ion exchange resins from breakage or deterioration.

Filter Systems: Point of Entry or Point of Use

Filtration systems can be installed either at the point of entry (POE) to the home, or at the point of use (POU).

Point-of-entry, or Whole-house filter systems, are installed at the water line’s point of entry on the home's water supply. These treat all of the water in the house, reducing chemicals before the water enters the home’s plumbing system.

A point-of-use filter is attached to a water supply at the point of intended use. Shower filters and faucet filters are examples of POU systems.

Carbon filter care

It is essential to replace filters in a timely manner to maintain effective filtration. Filter life is usually estimated as a specific gallons of usage to help a user know when the filter should be changed. When in doubt, filters should be changed every six months to ensure they are working at full removal capacity.

For more information, please contact our Customer Service team.
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