Rogelio Alvarez

By: Rogelio Alvarez on July 19th, 2023

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What Is a Carbon Filter: A Beginner's Guide

Water Filtration & Purification

A taste test between tap water and carbon-filtered water can highlight how much better water tastes when filtered. Carbon filters are commonly found inside some water pitchers, refrigerator water dispensers, and whole-house filtration systems, but what exactly do they do, and how do these filters work?

From maintaining to installing carbon filtration systems across the Los Angeles area, we have accumulated years of experience with carbon filters. At Monkey Wrench Plumbing, Heating & Air, we're always prepared to help homeowners with any questions regarding these filtration systems. 

In this article, we will examine and review what carbon filtration is, what impurities it removes, and how it can filter out these specific contaminants. This information will not only help you understand carbon filters but also help you decide whether this filtration is suitable for you and your family. 

Ready? Let's begin!


How Does a Carbon Water Filter Work?

Carbon filters can come in two different designs, but both are meant to filter out specific contaminants from water. Regardless of its size and design, all carbon filters help improve the taste and odor of water. 

The carbon water filtration process is relatively quick and provides better-tasting water in seconds. The filter can be preinstalled within a water pitcher, sink faucet, or showerhead. Larger filters can be installed as a point-of-use system under a kitchen sink or as a whole-house system installed right after a home's main water line. 

Once installed, your carbon filter can begin to remove contaminants. 


What Does a Carbon Filter Remove?

Regardless of its location, carbon filters capture contaminants to improve the quality of water. Before diving into what carbon filters remove, we'll touch on what they don't remove. 

If your home has hard water, then carbon filtration cannot treat it or prevent scale from forming. If your water appears cloudy, then you may want a sediment filter to help reduce the amount of dissolved physical contaminants like dirt and rust from flowing in the water. 

Here's a list of the impurities a carbon filter can remove. 

  • Disinfectants such as bleach: This chemical is commonly used by industrial companies and released into the environment. Unfortunately, small amounts of this chemical can end up in water. 
  • Chlorine: Safe amounts are added to water to help mitigate the growth of bacteria. 
  • Pesticides: The agricultural sector uses this chemical to ward off pests that harm crops. Some of these chemicals can seep through the ground and end up in the water.
  • Herbicides: Like pesticides, herbicides are commonly applied to crops. Improper disposal and accidental spills can cause this chemical to end up in the water.  
  • Hydrogen Sulfide (rotten egg odor): This chemical occurs naturally when waterborne bacteria feed off sulfur found in water. 
  • Other chemicals and solvents

Some contaminants, like chlorine, are purposely added to water by municipal water facilities to control and lower the number of bacteria in the water. Although safe amounts of chlorine are added, some people have reported that their water has a minor chlorine smell and taste. 

Other impurities filtered by a carbon filter end up in the water due to contamination from agricultural and industrial sources. Regardless of where it comes from, carbon filters can remove contaminants thanks to adsorption. 


What Is Adsorption?

Adsorption is the filtration process all carbon filters use to remove contaminants. As water enters the filter, the contaminants are attracted to the carbon media inside the filter. The carbon media acts like a magnet and traps the impurities from traveling in the water. 

The adsorption process sounds similar but is different from absorption. Like paper towels, absorbent surfaces soak up water along with contaminants instead of separating them from water. Carbon filters would be rendered useless if they absorbed impurities instead of binding them to their surfaces. 

Activated carbon is the main component of adsorption. Without it, carbon filters cannot filter water. In the following section, we'll review what activated carbon is and what it's made of.


What Is Activated Carbon?

Carbon filters get their name from the material used to treat water, activated carbon. The carbon is derived from carbon sources such as coconut shells and charcoal. Coconut shell is the most common source of activated carbon thanks to being highly renewable and more environmentally friendly.

Activated carbon is created by applying heat to the carbon source. The high temperatures kill any impurities in the carbon source. The resulting carbon source will then have cracks and pores that store contaminants during filtration. 

Two types of carbon filters are produced that contain activated carbon. We'll touch on these carbon filters in the following section. 


Types of Carbon Water Filters 

All carbon filtration systems will be either a carbon block or granular activated carbon (GAC). Both treat water the same, but their composition is the key difference between them. 

  • Carbon Block Water Filter: The carbon source is first ground into loose particles. The carbon particles are then compressed and bound together to create a solid block. 
  • Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) Water Filter: Like a carbon block filter, GAC water filters start with ground carbon sources. The carbon granules are then housed in a filter container where it can treat water passing through. 

These types of carbon filters have similar lifespans. They can last a few months to a year before requiring a replacement. 

Another key difference between these filters is that carbon block filters have micron ratings. This rating system indicates the size of pores on the filter. It helps determine the contaminants' size that won't pass through the carbon block filter pores. 


Is a Carbon Water Filter Right for Me?

Regardless of which you choose, your water will taste better with carbon block or granular activated carbon filters. Higher-quality water can also be used for cooking and making coffee. Now that you're aware of how a carbon filter works and what it is, you can start thinking about whether one of these filters is right for your home.

We've kept up with the major manufacturers that provide carbon filters for over 15 years. At Monkey Wrench Plumbing, Heating & Air, we have seen how important these filtration systems are in providing better quality drinking water in homes across the Los Angeles area. 

If you have any pending questions regarding carbon filtration, schedule an appointment through our water filtration scheduler or click one of the buttons below.

Carbon filters are often installed with other water treatment systems for superior filtered water. If you are wondering how carbon filters compare against other systems, like Flow-Tech, check out this article comparing them both. By comparing carbon filters with Flow-Tech, you can weigh out different water treatment options for your home.