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Have you ever wondered why our ancestors didn’t all just die out from contaminated water? With all the disease & bacteria in our water sources, it makes you think:
“How in the hell did we all survive this long?”
The answer is in the humble charcoal water filter! Charcoal water filters gave our ancestors a means of cleaning their drinking water ON DEMAND, whenever they needed it. Chances are that after they learned how they work, charcoal water filters and carbon filtration ushered our species into a new era of clean, healthy drinking water available to everyone. Thank goodness they discovered it!
Does Charcoal Work Well in Water Filters?
Based on studies, carbon is an extremely porous material that attracts and holds a wide range of harmful contaminants. Charcoal is also carbon. Charcoal becomes activated when millions of tiny pores between the carbon atoms open up due to its mixture with oxygen.
Most people use special fabrication techniques to mix oxygen with charcoal and produce an even more permeable byproduct, making it more attractive to impurities and contaminated chemicals. These active or activated charcoals are very often used to adsorb odorous and colored substances from gases or liquids. An example of gas adsorption is when charcoal is placed inside a refrigerator to remove the bad odor inside it.
This is actually the very reason why some mothers put charcoal in their refrigerators at home. In the case of water pollutant adsorption, as it passes over the positively charged carbon surface, the negative ions of the toxins are drawn to the surface of its particles.
How Does Activated Charcoal Work For Water Filters?
In reality, there are only two methods by which activated carbon may be able to remove pollutants from water; one is through adsorption and the other is through catalytic reduction. ‘Adsorption’ refers to the attraction of atoms, ions or molecules from a gas, liquid or dissolved solid into a surface. This is different from absorption because particles undergoing absorption are taken up by the volume and not by the surface (as in the case of adsorption).
On the other hand, catalytic reduction is a process wherein the negatively-charged ions of the contaminants are attracted to the positively-charged activated carbon. Organic compounds are filtered by adsorption and residual disinfectants such as chlorine and chloramines are removed by catalytic reduction. These filters remove or may reduce the amount of hazardous organic chemicals and hundreds of man-made substances found in tap and ground water.
Although activated and catalytic carbon filters are usually effective at removing chloramine, hydrogen sulfide and heavy metals, charcoal water filters are not always successful in eliminating dissolved inorganic impurities or metals such as minerals, salts, copper and certain radio nuclides. To get rid of these contaminants, it is preferable to use either a reverse osmosis water filter system or a distiller.
Charcoal Water Filters For Your Home?
Primarily, for a household which uses water frequently, these water filters should be the first choice. This is basically because it is most famous for removing traces of chlorine effectively, which if not done would otherwise result in a water with a very unpleasant taste.
This kind of filtering system does not require electricity to work because it depends only on the pipes’ pressure. Thus, it is classified as a passive sort of filter. Naturally, this is good, since it is a great economic advantage to run a water filtering system without having to use electricity involving considerable expenses.
Another notable trait is that, while they remove the dangerous contents present in water, they do not get rid of the healthy nutrients in the process. Nutrients in the water are preserved and left beneficial.
A charcoal water filter system is preferable because having it won’t cause a household too much trouble about maintenance issues. As a matter of fact, it requires a very small amount of maintenance which is mostly about regular cleaning and replacement of the element every three months or so, and that’s it.
You may also customize based on the substances and contaminants you are most troubled with. There is a wide range of charcoal water filters to choose from and finding the one which would suit your needs won’t be a problem.
These water filters may also correspond with other kinds of water filter solutions as well, and they can be used in pairs to provide best results. Usually, they are used as a pre-filter to complement a reverse osmosis system; or added to distillers to remove traces of volatile substances.
If the charcoal water filter is stacked and remained unused for a long period of time (a month at least), bacteria will surely multiply inside it. The developed bacteria may or may not be harmful. However, it is still an undesirable situation. If this happens, one must flush the charcoal water filter for half a minute a day until assured that no more bacteria is present within it.
As mentioned earlier, certain pollutants may not always be removed when using charcoal water filters. Some of these pollutants are fluorides, nitrates, toxic minerals and a range of micro-organisms. It is evident that the advantages are far greater than its disadvantages.
Consequently, installing a water filtering system like this is highly recommended if one’s priority is to protect his family from toxic substances, impurities and contaminants residing in the water, while keeping expenses to a minimum. Besides, the prices of whole house filters only run from $500-$1500. Of course this will vary between several different manufacturers.
2 Different Types of Carbon Filters
As of now, there are just two (2) principal forms of carbon filters utilized– powdered block and granular activated charcoal filters.
Powdered Activated Carbon Filters (PAC) have a relatively smaller particle size compared to Granular Activated Carbon Filters (GAC) and consequently, present a larger surface to volume ratio. Usually, PAC are more effective at removing a larger number of impurities than GAC.
Most of these water filters use secondary media or elements, like silver, to avoid bacteria from multiplying within. Otherwise, the activated carbon in the filter itself may be drenched with silver to produce this bacteriostatic property.
Type #1 PAC Powdered Block Carbon Filters
Powdered carbon filters (carbon block) allow carbon particles to maintain their initial position relative to each other. This prohibits channeling of water which is very common with GAC. There are also two important things to be considered in determining the performance of a powdered block. These are:
- particle size distribution
- path length of water within the block
These considerations are decided by the manufacturer based on the quality and quantity of water the filter can and is expected to handle and are not released.
CONS (Powdered Carbon PAC)
Reducing particle sizes can very much enhance the capability to remove contaminants with similarly small particle sizes, as stated in Mukherjee’s blog. At the same time, doing this also adds resistance for water to flow through the block and may cause the flow rate to drop reasonably.
Low flow rate is the most common consumer issue with powdered block charcoal filters, especially for those who use gravity filters. Generally, PAC powdered block filters are capable of providing many advantages which GAC filters, on the other hand, cannot offer. However, both GAC and PAC have a limited ability to remove contaminants from drinking water.
Even with a powdered block’s properties, PAC filters cannot remove bacteria and virus from this kind of water, unless it is specifically designed to do so. Hence, before using this water filter as a standalone filter, one is required to know the contaminants present in his supply water. Can your product do the job? That will really depend on how contaminated your water supply is!
Type #2 GAC Filters
GAC (granulated active carbon) filters are fixed and loose bed carbon filters. It contains an outer housing which is commonly shaped like a cylinder and carries carbon. The ratio for the filter is decided based on the velocity of water that passes through it, in order to minimize pressure drop, specifically in gravity based application.
Fluidization, nevertheless, has never been an issue with gravity filters. It is guaranteed that water velocity never reaches a point of transition between fixed bed regime and a bubbling regime in specialized high quantity filters. Although activated carbon is a very useful adsorbent, loose particles present in GAC filters might limit the full benefits that a filter like this can provide.
GAC Filters CONS (GAC)
A common problematic concern with GAC filters is that, as water travels through, it finds the path in the loose bed where there is least resistance. Hence, during channeling process, water bypasses carbon, making the adsorption capacity underutilized.
Bacterial growth in GAC filters is also a very often phenomenon. When micro-organisms are present in contaminated water and it moves through the loose GAC bed, it creates stationary pockets of contaminated water within carbon bed. The trapped bacteria multiply immediately within the pores of GAC. These bacteria eventually find their way into the clean filtered water.
There are times when consumers still find particles in filtered water after using their charcoal water filters. This is due to generation of fines produced by the wearing out of particles by friction on the loose bed in the filter. GAC filters also can’t be regenerated by washing and can’t clean turbid water.
DIY: Make Your Own Charcoal Filtration At Home (STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE)
If you are wondering how to create a do-it-yourself carbon-based filter, here is an excellent step-by-step guide:
- Obtain fresh charcoal that has cooled completely.
- Crush your charcoal into small bits, from powder up to the size of aquarium gravel.
- Obtain or fashion a cylindrical container (taller is better than wider) with open ends.
- Fill the smaller opening with tightly-packed grass or a piece of fabric (if both ends are the same diameter choose either one) to prevent the charcoal from falling out or running through with the water. Or if you are using a bottle that still has its cap, poke a small hole in the cap before placing your fabric or grass.
- Pack the crushed charcoal into the container tightly. The idea here is to create as fine a matrix as possible for the water to drip through slowly, thus trapping more sediment. If the water runs rather than drips through, you will need to pack your charcoal tighter. You should have enough crushed charcoal to fill your cylinder about halfway up.
- It is a good idea to place a couple of inches of packed-down grass or sand, or another piece of cloth on top of the charcoal to prevent it from becoming displaced when you add your water.
- Place your filter atop a container to catch your water.
- Slowly pour the untreated water, filling the remainder of your cylinder with water and allowing it to slowly percolate through. Remember, the water should drip slowly out the bottom of your filter.
- After all of the water has run through, pour it back through as many times as needed to make it clear. It is usually done at least two or three times.
- Once the desired clarity has been achieved, bring water to a boil for a few minutes in order to make sure it is completely sterilized. Remember, boiling is the only way to ensure safety from pathogens. And that’s it. Clear water at your service!
If our ancestors could do it, then you can do it yourself. This may be a handy thing to know when the water pump breaks down, during camping trips or when there’s an emergency. Why don’t you make this your home project this coming weekend? Tell us how it went and let’s see if you’re as good as the ancient Egyptians!
History of Activated Charcoal
A long time ago, the Egyptians and Sumerians were the very first people to produce and use charcoal as a fuel to reduce some elements in the process of manufacturing bronze.
The two civilizations also discovered that it can be used as a preservative, and thus started capitalizing on its anti-bacterial properties. They used charcoal to prevent wood from rotting especially when it is buried in the wet soils of Nile River.
As centuries passed, more and more useful applications of charcoal were discovered and exercised. It was used to seal or block holes in ships; it was also utilized to scorch wooden barrels to preserve the water and other items stored in them.
These uses of charcoal are extensively used until today, especially in the case of water filtration, where activated charcoal is the main component.
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