What Do Carbon Filters Do

What Do Carbon Filters Do? What should you expect?


What Do Carbon Filters Do?

Carbon water filters are a popular method of filtering water to remove contaminants and improve taste and odor. The activated carbon adsorbs chemicals like chlorine and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as the water passes through. However, carbon filters have limitations in removing some dissolved minerals, heavy metals, and microorganisms.

When Do Carbon Filters Work Well?

Carbon filtration excels at removing certain types of water contaminants:

  • Chlorine removal – Carbon chemically reacts with chlorine and eliminates it from water very effectively. This makes carbon filters useful for most municipal tap water.
  • VOC and odor reduction – The porous carbon traps VOC molecules that cause odors, smoke, and off-tastes. Carbon removes these contaminants from water.
  • Particulate filtration – Carbon traps sediment and particles, improving the clarity and appearance of water.

When to Consider Other Filtration Methods

While carbon filters are good for the contaminants above, they have limitations:

  • Microorganisms – Bacteria, viruses, and parasites are too small to be trapped by carbon. Reverse osmosis or UV sterilization is better for biological threats.
  • Heavy metals – Carbon does not remove many heavy metals. Reverse osmosis or specific metal filters are more thorough options.
  • Dissolved minerals – Carbon does not remove dissolved salts, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals. For softening hard water, a water softener or reverse osmosis works better.

Comparing Carbon Filter Types

There are several types of carbon filters for home use:

Filter Type Advantages Disadvantages
Pitcher Style Inexpensive, Easy to Use Lower Capacity, Bulky
Faucet Mount Convenient, Easy Install Lower Flow Rate
Refrigerator Built-In Filtering More Expensive, Fixed Filter
Under Sink High Capacity Professional Installation

Carbon Filter Recommendations by Contaminant

Contaminant Recommended Filter Type
Chlorine Carbon Filter
VOCs/Odors Carbon Filter
Sediment Carbon Pre-Filter
Bacteria/Viruses Reverse Osmosis, UV Filter
Heavy Metals Reverse Osmosis, Metal Filter
Hard Water Water Softener, Reverse Osmosis

Carbon Filter Contaminant Removal

Contaminant Removal Effectiveness
Chlorine Highly Effective
VOCs Highly Effective
Particulates Highly Effective
Bacteria/Viruses Not Effective
Heavy Metals Limited Effectiveness
Calcium/Hardness Not Effective

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How often should I change my carbon filter?

Most carbon filters should be replaced every 2-6 months depending on usage and water quality. Check with the manufacturer for your filter’s recommended change frequency.

2. Where is the best place to install a carbon filter?

For whole home filtration, carbon filters are often installed on main water lines entering the home or under the sink at point of use. Pitcher or fridge filters can also be good options.

3. Can carbon filters remove lead?

Carbon filters alone cannot remove all lead in water. They should be paired with reverse osmosis or an additional lead-specific filter for full lead removal.

4. What maintenance is required for carbon filters?

Carbon filters themselves are low maintenance, only needing occasional cartridge replacements. Pre-filters may need changing every few months to keep the carbon filter working optimally.

5. Can I filter hot water through a carbon filter?

Carbon filters are designed for cold water use. Filtering water hotter than 100°F can damage the carbon and reduce effectiveness.

6. Do carbon shower filters work?

Yes, carbon can filter some chlorine and VOCs from shower water, though they are not effective for filtering microorganisms. Replace filters often in humid shower conditions.

7. Can carbon filters remove fluoride?

No, carbon filtration does not remove dissolved fluoride ions. Reverse osmosis or distillation is required to remove fluoride.

For more information, check out guidance from the EPA on water treatment.


Published by

Dennis Reed

Dennis Reed Owner and Author @ BreatheBetterAir.org