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How Activated Carbon Filters Work in Water Filtration

Did you know that activated carbon filters are the most common type of water filter used to remove impurities?

It’s true!

An activated carbon filter can help improve the quality of your water by removing harmful contaminants and trapping them.

In this article, we will discuss how activated carbon works and why it is such an important part of water filtration systems.

We will also take a look at some of the benefits of using activated carbon filters in your home or office.

Activated carbon

What is activated carbon and where does it come from?

Activated carbon is a natural substance that is made from wood or other organic materials that are superheated. The heat breaks down the raw materials into carbon atoms, which then form a coal-like substance called activated carbon.

Activated carbon can come from a variety of sources, including:

  • coal
  • wood
  • organic material such as peat
  • charcoal
  • bamboo
  • coconut shells

However, most activated carbon in water filters comes from coconut shells, because they are clean and a highly renewable resource.

Granular activated carbon (GAC) is the most common type of activated carbon used in water filters. It is a black, porous solid that looks like granules or pellets.

Sometimes carbon block filters are used, where carbon is compressed into a dense block with a very large surface area and high adsorption capacity.

The density of the compressed carbon dictates the adsorptive capacity and particle size of the blocked contaminants.

How does activated carbon work in a water filter?

Activated carbon has a high surface area of tiny pores that can absorb impurities like a magnet.

Carbon also has chemical properties to be a catalyst that changes the composition of some contaminants through chemical reactions with the activated carbon particles.

Adsorption is the process where molecules adhere to the surface of the activated carbon.

The unwanted molecules are attracted to the activated carbon because they are either hydrophobic (water-repelling) or have a strong affinity for the surface of the activated carbon filter.

This makes activated carbon a great choice for removing pollutants in both water filters and air purifiers.

The benefits of using carbon or activated carbon filters

There are many benefits to using activated carbon filters to treat drinking water in your home or office.

Carbon filtration can remove chemicals, metals, and many other impurities from the water as it passes through the carbon.

Some of the benefits include:

  • improved water quality
  • reduced environmental impact
  • cost savings over other filter types
  • easy maintenance

Carbon is effective at removing the following water contaminants:

This list is not exhaustive and many other chemicals are trapped by the porous structure of carbon filters.

How to choose the best carbon or activated carbon filter for your needs

Carbon filter
Activated carbon filter cartridge

Generally, you don’t have to choose between types of carbon when considering water filtration technology.

Water filters (including reverse osmosis filtration systems) come with one or more filters that work together to remove impurities from tap water.

In almost every case, at least one of the stages in a water filtration system will contain an activated carbon filter in one form or another.

If you purchase a well-rated filtration system, you can be sure that the components are already set up to improve your water.

Keep in mind that the activated carbon in a water filter will need to be replaced periodically to maintain peak effectiveness.

The frequency of replacement will depend on the amount of water that is filtered and the level of impurities in the water.

Check the manual from your water filter to see how often filters should be replaced to be sure they are performing well.

Depending on the system and usage, filters in small systems like a water pitcher may need to be changed every 2-3 months while a larger carbon filter in an undersink water filtration system will need to be replaced only every 6 or 12 months.

Are you worried about your water quality?

If you are concerned about the quality of your water, you may want to consider using a carbon or activated carbon water filter. This can be in a simple, single-stage process, or a more complex multi-stage water filtration system.

Either way, these filters will remove impurities and improve the taste and quality of your water.

Carbon filters are also affordable and easy to use.

You can learn more about water filters that utilize activated carbon here on