15 Frequently Asked Questions About Activated Charcoal Water Filters
Activated carbon is one of the most natural methods of water filtration.
It can remove common, unwanted contaminants, including sediments, chemicals, heavy metals, and more.
Carbon filters tend to work best in tandem with other types of purification (ideally, reverse osmosis and mineral filters). Read on for the answers to some commonly asked questions about activated charcoal filters.
1. What are carbon water filters?
Did you know that carbon is one of the most natural methods for filtering water? Carbon water filters are made of granulated active carbon (GAC), an organic material.
Any type of carbon-rich plant organic matter, including bark, bituminous coal, coconut shells, peat, and wood, is considered carbonaceous material. All of these materials could be used in carbon filters, though most carbon filters contain ground-up coconut.
Manufacturers steam these carbonaceous materials to open up their pores, increasing their surface-area. During the water filtration process, the expanded surface layer of carbon bonds with unwanted particles, removing impurities.
2. Activated Carbon Vs Charcoal: What’s the difference?
Are activated carbon and activated charcoal the same thing? Yes! And it’s important to recognize why:
While carbon and charcoal are not interchangeable, the terms activated carbon water filters and activated charcoal filters are used interchangeably. Charcoal is a specific form of carbon - one that has been burned with very little oxygen in order to remove water and other particles. Activated charcoal is simply charcoal that has been burned at a higher temperature, allowing it to become more porous. As we learned above, this makes it perfect for removing impurities.
Because charcoal is the result when you activate carbon (i.e. heat it up and make it porous), “activated charcoal” and “activated carbon” are used synonymously in water filtration language.
3. How do charcoal water filters work?
Carbon bonds to unwanted particles (including chemicals, sediments, and heavy metals), filtering these particles from our water using a process called adsorption.
Adsorption is a process that attracts solid substances to the surface of the adsorbent (in this case, drinking water).
Since carbon is able to form long chains, it’s effective at trapping these unwanted particles. Think of activated carbon as a magnet for chemicals, sediment, and heavy metals.
Carbon uses both chemical and physical adsorption to attract these unwanted particles. The process of physical adsorption is what causes the attraction between contaminants and carbon; the process of chemical adsorption neutralizes chemicals (such as chlorine) when they come into contact with the carbon.
Are activated carbon water filters the superheroes of the water filtration world? We like to think so.
Yet, like most defenders of the universe (or at least our water supply), activated carbon filters aren’t as effective without a team of complementary filters to help block contaminants that might slip by unnoticed, such as PFAS (“forever chemicals”) or microplastics. That’s why it’s best to pair them with reverse osmosis or a mineral filter.
4. What do carbon filters remove from water?
Carbon filters are effective at removing a long list of unwanted materials, including chemicals, small solids, and heavy metals.
Activated carbon water filters are considered pre-filters because they can remove particles that could potentially harm other filters (such as reverse osmosis systems) or shorten their lifespan.
While not the worst offender in water, small solids (such as sediments) can affect your water’s taste and texture.
Activated carbon water filters can remove organic material such as, “sand, silt, loose scale, or clay.”
One of the most important jobs for activated charcoal filters is to remove harmful chemicals that seep into drinking water supplies.
Charcoal filters can bond to industrial solvents, pesticides, polychlorinated PCBs (found in consumer products until the 1970s), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (found in coal, crude, oil, and gasoline), nitrates, hydrogen sulfide, and radon. They are especially effective when it comes to removing volatile organic compounds, manmade chemicals used to make paint, refrigerants, and pharmaceuticals.
Some of these chemicals, such as chlorine and trihalomethanes (THMs), are the byproducts of water treatment processes themselves. While they help make water safe to drink, they can ruin the flavor of water and are harmful in large amounts.
Others, such as polychlorinated PCBs, are often found in well water.
The list of chemicals that can be removed by activated carbon water filters includes:
- Hydrogen sulfide
- Industrial solvents
- Polychlorinated PCBs
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
- Trihalomethanes (THMs)
- Volatile organic compounds
Carbon filters can also remove 14 of the most common pesticides, 12 of the most common herbicides, and all 32 identified organic contaminants.
Just a few of the heavy metals activated carbon filters can remove from water include arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead — all of which can affect the taste and texture of the water.
While chromium isn’t dangerous except at extremely high levels, other heavy metals in drinking water can be.
For example, the Minnesota Department of Health writes, “Eating or drinking too much copper can cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, liver damage, and kidney disease,”
It has been documented that long-term exposure to arsenic can lead to cancer.
One of the biggest culprits when it comes to water contamination is lead. “The EPA has set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero because lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels.”
5. Does activated carbon remove chlorine?
Yes - activated carbon water filters are effective at removing chlorine (a chemical commonly used by water treatment plants) from water. Chlorine can give water an unsavory taste and smell, so removing it improves the taste of your water.
Unlike when filtering sediment, activated carbon uses chemical adsorption to filter chlorine.
6. Do carbon filters remove fluoride?
Yes, carbon filters can safely remove some fluoride from water, but they aren’t always effective at removing all fluoride. That’s why it’s important to use a water filtration system that uses several different types of filtration — like Wisewell’s water filtration system.
Both carbon filtration and reverse osmosis (RO) filtration can remove fluoride from water, but they do so most effectively when they work together.
What! Isn’t fluoride good for me?
Yes, overall the mineral fluoride is good for us in the correct dosage. It can help prevent tooth decay and bone fractures. Fluoride is also added to toothpaste to help prevent tooth decay.
But there’s a downside to ingesting fluoride, too. Ingesting too much may lead to a fluoride accumulation in our bodies. Some studies have linked ingested fluoride to cancer — though we need more research before we can know for certain. Since we use our tap water for drinking, cooking, and more, there’s the possibility that we could be ingesting too much.
The city of Juneau was so concerned about the health effects of fluoride that it voted to stop adding fluoride to its public drinking water. Unfortunately, its citizens’ teeth suffered. A study conducted by the University of Anchorage Alaska found that Juneau adolescents on Medicaid suffered from more cavities after the removal of fluoride.
The bottom line? Many water filters won’t remove all the fluoride from your water, but a small amount of fluoride may actually be healthier than no fluoride at all.
7. Does activated carbon remove algae?
No, but it can neutralize algae-causing organic material.
8. Do water filters remove bacteria?
Some water filters can remove bacteria, but activated carbon filters do not.
So what can’t carbon filters remove? Calcium, magnesium (which our bodies need), bacteria, and microorganisms.
That’s why it’s important to use a water filtration system that uses several stages of filtration.
Wisewell’s system uses carbon filtration, reverse osmosis (RO), and mineral filtration as well as a UV light. RO has been proven effective at removing bacteria and viruses, such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli, Enteric, Hepatitis A, Norovirus, and Rotavirus.
9. Do carbon filters remove minerals from water?
No, carbon filters don’t remove “good” minerals from water in addition to unwanted particles.
But since activated carbon water filters are often used as part of a water filtration system, tandem filters, such as RO systems, can remove beneficial minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, sodium, potassium, zinc, and iron from water.
The upside is that good water filtration systems provide a means of adding minerals back into your water.
Wisewell’s system utilizes a Maifan stone filter that releases healthy minerals back into your water. These minerals offer health benefits, bring acidic water’s pH closer to neutral, and improve the taste and texture of the water.
10. What are the benefits of activated carbon water filters?
Activated carbon filters are effective at removing some of the most unwanted particles in water. Not only does this make your drinking water safer, but it can also improve the taste and texture of water.
On their own, activated carbon filters can remove a long list of chemicals, heavy metals, and small solids. However, they’re also used as a pre-filtration treatment in water systems that use more than one type of water filter.
Carbon filters can help protect delicate RO filters from large particles.
Activated carbon water filtration systems are also more natural than chemical filtration systems. Since activated charcoal naturally bonds to unwanted particles, it’s the perfect way to filter both sediment and chemicals from your water.
11. How effective are carbon filters?
Carbon filters are extremely effective at removing 10 common chemicals, 14 of the most common pesticides, 12 of the most common herbicides, and all 32 identified organic contaminants. They’re also effective at removing sediments and dangerous heavy metals.
12. Do we really use charcoal to filter water?
Yes, but carbon filters contain a special type of charcoal, called activated charcoal, which may be safe for human consumption in small doses.
Activated charcoal has even had its moment in foodie culture. Back in 2017, we started seeing this ingredient in everything from ice cream to cocktails. It made its way into toothpaste around the same time.
13. Are Charcoal Filters Safe?
Activated charcoal for water purification is safe. It’s important to change your water filters as recommended by the manufacturer, so they don’t become a safe space for bacteria.
Worried about bacteria in your water filter? Wisewell’s got you covered.
When you sign up for a subscription plan, we automatically send out replacement filters every six months and track your filters through our app. There’s no need to even think about whether you’ve forgotten to replace your water filters.
14. Are there alternatives to activated carbon filters for water?
Carbon water filters are often used as a pre-filtration method, in conjunction with other types of water filtration systems. They work best when used alongside other types of filtration, such as reverse osmosis, mineral filtration, and UV lamps.
This means that they aren’t the only type of filter that can remove unwanted particles from water. You’ll find other types of filters, including sediment and ceramic filters.
RO filtration is used by many bottled water manufacturers, such as Aquafina, Dasani, Nestle, and Smart Water.
It’s effective at removing some of the most unwanted chemicals, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS, or “forever chemicals”), heavy metals, and aqueous salts.
Mineral filtration can remove unwanted particles from water, but it can also add minerals back into the water, which may have been removed during the filtration process.
Minerals such as magnesium, calcium, sodium, potassium, zinc, and iron are found in natural water sources but may be removed during filtration. These minerals not only offer health benefits, but they can also improve the taste and texture of drinking water. Mineral filters help replenish them.
UV lamps are the cherry on the sundae for water filtering systems. Ultraviolet lights kill any bacteria or microorganisms that could be lingering after the filtration process.
Sediment filters remove dirt and debris from drinking water, while carbon filters mainly remove organic compounds and chemicals.
When using an activated charcoal filter with an RO filter, there’s no need to add a sediment filter to the mix.
Sediment filters are usually whole-house filtration systems and are installed near a structure’s waterline entry point.
Ceramic also makes a great natural filter. By pouring water into a ceramic filter, larger particles, such as sediment, are trapped by the ceramic container. This kind of mechanism can filter particles (such as sediment) as well as some bacteria and microorganisms.
These filters don’t remove forever chemicals and may not remove all viruses. Ceramic filters are also more fragile than RO and carbon water filters and may need to be replaced more frequently.
15. What is a carbon filter’s lifespan?
Depending on your water filtration system, the lifespan of a carbon filter is between 6 and 24 months.
Wisewell’s filters should be changed every six months. Our subscription plan includes replacement carbon, RO, and mineral filters. No need to worry about remembering the date of the last time you replaced your water filters — we do all the heavy lifting for you. You can also check your water’s quality on the Wisewell app before and after changing your filters.
Our filters use twist-and-click technology, making them easy to replace and your Wisewell system easy to maintain.
–Drinking Water Treatment: Sediment Filtration
What are volatile organic compounds?
Is there chromium in my drinking water?
Copper in Drinking Water
Basic Information About Lead in Drinking Water
What Happened When Juneau Took Fluoride Out of the Drinking Water?
Water Filtration Technique Removes Dangerous Freshwater Algae Toxins
A Guide to Drinking Water Treatment Technologies for Household Use
Everything You Need to Know About Eating Activated Charcoal