Anyone that’s looked into a way to remove the minerals that cause hard water may have heard about charcoal and activated carbon water filters. But, is there any difference between them and if there is, which is the better option? In this article, we will explain what these two materials are, how they work and the differences between them.

Understanding Charcoal

Organic material (usually wood) is burned without oxygen to create charcoal. This burning process is known as pyrosis, and it occurs between 840º and 950º. Once the burn has completed the resulting material is left to cool and char. Charcoal is a hard porous material that is used for cooking on a grill, heating our homes and for filtration. Charcoal has been used for water filtration for thousands of years, because of its porous nature it has a surface area far larger than its relative size. This makes the surface ideal for trapping a wide variety of contaminants found in water.

Understanding Activated Carbon

Activated carbon has many similarities to charcoals, but there are some important differences to consider. As we saw above, charcoal is usually made from wood, but activated carbon can be made from a wide variety of sources, such as wood, lignite, nutshells, peat, petroleum pitch and even coconut husks. It’s made using one of the following two processes.

1. Physical Activation

A physical activation can be completed in two different ways. The first uses pyrolization, which is the same process we showed above to create charcoal. The second, uses oxidation, which exposes the carbon to steam or oxygen heated to temperatures somewhere between 600º to 1200º.

2. Chemical Activation

A chemical activation happens when the carbon is impregnated with chemicals, such as phosphoric acid, potassium hydroxide, zinc chloride, sodium chloride or sodium hydroxide. A chemical activation is favored by many activated carbon manufacturers because it can be achieved with much lower temperatures and it’s a far quicker process.

What is the Difference Between Charcoal and Activated Carbon for Filtration?

The main difference between charcoal and activated carbon as a filtration media is determined by the actual materials. Many people use the terms charcoal and activated carbon interchangeably, and this is a mistake. Although both are hard porous materials that are well suited to water filtration they are different. There is evidence that shows that activated carbon is a better choice because it’s a purer and better quality material compared to charcoal.

Activated carbon has an even larger surface area than charcoal.  This porous nature of activated carbon allows water to pass through and yet that large surface will trap minerals and chemical contaminants, including iron.

An activated charcoal water filter will still be effective, but an activated carbon filtration system will perform better. Activated carbon can even soften hard water to reduce the amount of soap and detergent you use and help you to achieve better washing results for your hair and skin.

It is a good idea to consult your local professional water treatment specialist. A fully WQA certified technician can not only perform water testing, but also guide you through the appropriate filter options.

By EcoWater Systems.
EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is the largest water treatment company in the state and is a member of Water Quality Association.