Anyone that has been looking into an effective and safe way to improve their water supply will have encountered charcoal and activated carbon water filters. This can lead to some confusion, charcoal and activated carbon seem to be similar filtration mediums, so which is the best? In this article, we will explore this topic in more detail so that you can make an informed decision.

Understanding Charcoal

Many of us have used charcoal on the BBQ, but people often don’t understand what it is and how it’s created. Charcoal is made by taking organic material (usually wood) and burning it without oxygen between 840ºF-950ºF. This is known as pyrosis; the remaining material cools, the oxygen is removed, and charring occurs. This gives us charcoal; a hard porous substance that is ideal for water filtration and other purposes.

Understanding Activated Carbon

Although activated carbon has a lot in common with charcoal, there are some critical differences between them. Charcoal is typically made from wood, but activated carbon can be made from a wide variety of materials, such as coal, coir, lignite, peat, nutshells, pitch and even coconut husks. There are two main processes used to create activated carbon.

A chemical activation can be achieved by impregnating the carbon material with a chemical. Some common choices include phosphoric acid, potassium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide, zinc chloride or sodium chloride. A chemical activation is the preferred method for many manufacturers as it’s quicker and it can be achieved using lower temperatures.

Physical activation can occur in two different ways, the first uses pyrolization, which is essentially similar to how charcoal is made as we discussed earlier. The second method uses oxidation where the carbon is exposed to steam or oxygen at a temperature of 600ºF-1,200ºF.

The Differences Between Charcoal and Activated Carbon Filters

Both of these materials have a hard porous quality that makes them ideal for water filtration. Some people use charcoal and activated carbon as interchangeable terms, and this can lead to confusion. For modern water filtration, activated carbon is a better choice than charcoal. Activated carbon is a purer high quality filtration medium that works well with other water treatment methods.

Activated carbon has a larger surface area, and this makes it more effective for water filtration purposes. A single gram of activated carbon has a 500m sq (a tenth of a football field) porous area that allows water to pass through it and traps hard chemical contaminants on the surface.

When you installed an activated carbon water filtration system your water will be softer. This will reduce the amount of detergent and soap that you need to create a lather for cleaning. This will help to reduce dry skin and brittle hair issues that are caused by hard minerals and soap deposits that are not rinsed away. Many people also discover that their drinking water, cooking, and beverages all taste better when the chemicals and other contaminants are removed.