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Activated Carbon

Activated carbon (AC)  units are usually installed as point-of-use (POU) systems. They are generally placed at the kitchen faucet and used to purify water intended for drinking and cooking purposes only.

Carbon Filtration - Activated carbon filters are primarily used to remove taste, odor and  some of the contaminants in water supplies.  AC is effective at removing organic compounds such as volatile organic compounds, chlorine, pesticides, trihalomethanes and benzene and gasoline. They are moderately effective at removing removing metals that are bound to organic molecules, chloride and radon. They are an efficient, cost-effective means of treating your water.

Activated carbon is an extremely porous, black solid substance with a very large surface area resembling granular or powdered charcoal.  An ounce of AC has an estimated 30,000 square yards of surface area. Contaminants accumulate on the surface of the AC in a process called adsorption.

Activated Carbon is effective at filtering or reducing:

  • chlorine, lead, mercury, radon
  • hydrocarbons, pesticides, PCBs
  • volatile organics like benzene
  • bacteria


Activated Carbon (AC)  filters eventually become fouled with contaminants and loses their ability to adsorb pollutants.  At such time, the filter needs to be replaced.  Eventually, the surface of the AC will be saturated with adsorbed pollutants, and no further purification will occur. This is called breakthrough - the pollutants have broken through the filter to emerge in the treated water.  An AC filter may become fouled before they slow water passing through, in this case contaminants will pass through into your drinking water while the filter appears to be functioning normally.  Worse, an AC filter can support bacterial growth. Condition for bacterial occurs when the filter is saturated with organic contaminants.  It is unclear whether the bacteria growing on the carbon poses a health threat. 
Consider maintenance.

It is difficult to know when to replace the various components of an RO system. Verification of a system's performance can only be determined by chemical testing.

Rust, scale, sand or other sediments can clog an AC filter. One solution to this problem is to place foam, paper or cotton filters (often called sediment or fiber filters) between the cartridge and incoming water.  When the sediment filter becomes clogged, it can be replaced more cheaply than the replacement of the AC filter.

Physical and chemical characteristics of the water will also affect performance. The acidity and temperature can be important. Greater acidity and lower water temperatures tend to improve the performance of AC filters.

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Last modified: January 12, 2023