What Carbon Water Filters Actually Remove

We all want delicious drinking water, but just saying that water is “filtered” isn’t good enough. Every filtration method works a different way. You simply can’t rely on basic carbon filters to tackle the tough contaminants. They might help a little with taste, but at the end of the day—you’ll be better off with a more advanced system.

What Do Carbon Filters Remove?

Activated carbon water filters are probably the most familiar filtration products on the market. You can find them at any big-box store. They typically come in pitcher models and they’re relatively cheap.

Inside each pitcher is an activated carbon filter cartridge. Those tiny granules of carbon work to adsorb (with a “d”) certain contaminants in the water. Some can remove certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) too, but they’re primarily used to filter out chlorine. As the water drips through the carbon cartridge, the carbon draws the chlorine disinfectant out of water. The water is then essentially chlorine-free because the chlorine bonds to the carbon. This helps drinking water taste better and takes away that bad chlorine smell, but these filters are far from perfect.

What Do Carbon Filters Miss?

Most carbon filters DO NOT remove lead or other heavy metals from drinking water. Only special activated carbon filters can handle those contaminants. Across the board, carbon is ineffective against:
  • Arsenic
  • Fluoride
  • Microbes
  • Nitrate
  • Sodium
If active carbon is your only filtration method, inorganic compounds like arsenic and nitrate will stay in your drinking water. This can be very dangerous for infants and young children. High nitrate levels can even be fatal and lead to blue baby syndrome. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that the drinking water is properly filtered. Relying on activated carbon alone won’t take care of all the issues your tap water might have. It’s often too risky to just use the basic filtration. For drinking water to be truly safe, it needs to go through a few more stages.

RO Filters for Drinking Water

A lot of families choose reverse osmosis (RO) filtration for their drinking water because it can take care of multiple issues in one compact setup. While activated carbon is only really effective against certain VOCs and chlorine, RO filters can remove so much more. Protozoa, bacteria, and viruses are no match for these setups. RO filtration works against all of the following, and more:
  • Cryptosporidium
  • E. coli
  • Giardia
  • Salmonella
Reverse osmosis can also remove chemical contaminants and pollutants that tap water might have been picked up on its way from the treatment center to your home. This home filtration method is more nuanced, so it even works against tough heavy metals and other serious contaminants, including:
  • Arsenic
  • Copper
  • Fluoride
  • Lead
  • Nitrate
  • Radium
  • Phosphorous
  • Sodium
  • Sulfate
The best RO filters tend to use multi-stage filtration process. That way, they can utilize the good points of both activated carbon and reverse osmosis in one, streamlined unit. The carbon stages polish the water to take out sediment and chlorine, and then reverse osmosis filters out the rest of the contaminants that carbon can’t remove on its own. It’s a really smart and effective way to filter drinking water!

Rather than count on carbon to do it all, these kinds of RO systems give homeowners quality filtration in multiple steps. Hands down, they’re the better choice for getting chlorine-free, contaminant-free drinking water every day of the year.