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How To Clean A Carbon Water Filter | 10 Simple Steps

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Tim Rhodes

A water filter helps in blocking these substances as well as other contaminants, for you to enjoy clean water and that’s why you need to know how to clean a carbon water filter.

There are a variety of water purifiers available in the market nowadays.

Regardless of the size, type, and price, manufacturers build and design each one to trap any unwanted particles from the water you consume, which eventually reduces health risks.

Over time, these filters can accumulate so much of these particles and residue that cleaning and maintenance are really necessary. 

As there’s no harm in being economical, some will opt for cleaning the filter rather than replacing them with a new one.

There are many types of carbon water filters but let’s just focus on the most basic among them.

And if you’re up for a more practical way, there are 10 easy steps on how to clean a carbon water filter.


What Is a Carbon Water Filter?

A carbon water filter is a type of filter that uses activated carbon in order to remove small, organic compounds to make the water suitable for drinking or for industrial use.

What Is Activated Carbon?

Activated carbon is a processed form of carbon which has a greater surface area, enabling it to have more space to hold pollutants.

Generally, you can find activated carbon from carbon-containing sources like wood, bamboo, coconut shell, coals, and many others.

Studies show that one gram of activated carbon has more than 3,000 square feet of space capacity.

That means a lot of parking spaces to house all these harmful toxins after the filter traps them successfully. 

For a normal carbon to become an activated carbon it has to go through thermal or chemical processes to expand its full adsorption abilities.

Activated carbon is a widely-used substance in so many fields including, but not limited to, medical, industrial, agricultural, water and air filtration, cosmetics, and environmental.

How Does a Carbon Filter Work?

The use of carbon filters dates back to prehistoric times and for many generations, the experts manage to explore some ways and configurations in order to maximize its application.

Carbon filters work by way of adsorption. 

While absorption works by absorbing the particles as a sponge does, adsorption, on the other hand, attracts the particles, making them attached to the filter.

When activated, the carbon expands opening its pores and the water filter then starts adsorbing.

However, let’s take into account that the adsorption process is dependent on some factors.

These factors include the pore size and surface area of the filter, the chemical components of both the carbon source and the pollutant, water temperature and the contact time, or simply put, the amount of time the water runs through the carbon filter.

With a vast surface area, carbon filters can effectively screen the pollutants letting them stick to its surface as long as there’s still space in it.

The activated carbon layer inside filters out a wide range of contaminants and impurities from drinking water and apart from this, carbon filters are very efficient in reducing the water’s taste and odor.

Carbon filters are very effective in removing chlorine byproducts and volatile organic compounds or commonly known as VOCs in order to produce purified water (Yes, just like the water that streams from the shower or that pours from the faucets in your homes).

The activated carbon filter helps to dechlorinate the water but in the long run, it will slowly decline and deteriorate.

So far, there is no known filter that’s capable of removing all contaminants from water.

Even carbon can’t filter all these larger impurities some of which are dissolved minerals, salts, and heavy metals like lead, arsenic, or iron among others.

These ones will just easily pass through the filter and go directly to your water supply.

With this inability, experts usually add some other components to it to increase its reduction capabilities.

Do I Have To Clean The Filter Or Just Buy a New One?

In some scenarios where you barely even have time to clean your room let alone all the filters you have in your household, the process becomes tedious and time-consuming. 

You may prefer to just buy new ones than take your time thoroughly cleaning the existing ones and reuse them after.

Try to think of it just like your toothbrush.

You have to replace it every three months so it can perform better.

This goes the same with a water filter – it works better when it’s clean and your water is much safer to drink.

Eventually, the organics in water as well as the toxins will fill up all the spaces and will block the pores of the carbon so either replacing or cleaning them is fundamental.

While filters may not really be that expensive as it’s indeed a low-cost option cleaning them remains a better alternative instead of simply throwing them out.

There are also others that are a bit skeptical about this whole cleaning procedure as it does not completely convince them that it’s as effective as installing a new one.

Or that the filter may somehow lose its capabilities to block contaminants from getting into the water after so many times of cleaning it.

For some, if you are just keen at frequently cleaning it, this can save you some bucks and more.

So, for those who like to understand and learn the process, we hope that the following steps below are helpful enough to make you more comfortable in cleaning your water filter. 

Allow us to walk you through.

Step 1: Safety First

Just like all other procedures involving sanitation and health, you must observe proper caution, especially when dealing with highly-sensitive elements or substances.

This process involves the use of chemicals so it’s very important to take safety very seriously and other necessary precautionary measures. 

Since we are going to deal with an acid and water mixture, it’s best to wear protective gear like hand acid-resistant gloves, face mask, and even goggles or eye protection to ensure that you have very minimal to zero contact with the chemical.

You may also consider wearing protective clothing that covers all of your exposed skin areas.

Please note that though you are doing this at home, you may have to set up outside if possible or in an area with favorable ventilation.

Also, please keep the area away from children or pets who may wander or roam around and get to the spot where you are performing the mix.

If you choose a common area for the setup, please make sure that you properly label your tools especially after using them.

Step 2: Prepare The Tools

In order to prepare the cleaning mixture you need the following items:

  1. Two plastic pails or buckets, one of which you have to use for the mixture while the other one you just have to set aside for later
  2. A small bottle of muriatic acid
  3. Glass measuring cup
  4. Plastic stirrer

These are common household items that you can easily gather, nothing really special. 

If you don’t have them you can actually improvise, except the muriatic acid as it is the most critical item in the list and is key to getting the job done.

You can source or buy it from any home improvement or pool supply stores in your area.

It is a very common cleaning item so you won’t have a hard time getting it, even in a supermarket’s cleaning supplies section.

For the pail or bucket, it can be any plastic container but it must be deep enough to accommodate half a gallon or almost two liters of water and is durable for an acid-water mixture.

As for the glass measuring cup, find anything close and handy but it must be glass, else, there’s a high chance that it will be susceptible to breaking.

Think about what a mess it must be like when this happens so please try to secure this specific type.

Last but not the least, we are not talking about highly-efficient, medical, or surgical stirrers.

You can try to be creative and we are thinking about cutting two long pieces out of a consumed and empty plastic two-liter bottle of soda that you care to store somewhere around the house, in the hopes of selling them for a dime.

You combine the two plastic pieces together making sure you connect them tightly with either a clear tape or plastic tie for it to be rigid enough and won’t fail its very purpose – a stirrer.

Step 3: Prepare The Mixture

In this step, you have to be extra cautious as not to spill the acid into your bare hands or skin. 

You don’t wish to be bouncing around, panicking, and totally forget what you are about to do.

Muriatic acid is hazardous so you have to take the basic or routine measures for safety.

Thus, the use of hand gloves and the above-mentioned protective equipment for safety purposes.

Getting in close contact or inhaling the acid can be dangerous to your health.

At some point, too much vapor in the air can easily get to your system and may cause burning in your nose and throat, coughing, severe headache, vomiting, and other sicknesses. 

You must wear a mask that is very good at filtering out the mist so it prevents you from inhaling it.

To be sure that you have the right face mask or to know which type you must use you can easily search through it on the web or consult any friend who knows better about these things.

To create the acid solution, the following steps will serve as your guide:

  1. Take one bucket and fill it with half a gallon (about 1.8 liters) of clean water
  2. Make sure that the water is in its room temperature
  3. Fill two cups (16 oz. in total) of muriatic acid into the glass measuring cup
  4. Add the muriatic acid carefully into the bucket with clean water, and not the other way around
  5. While doing so, make sure you stir it consistently and continuously for an even distribution of the acid into the water

The condition of the water can be a critical factor in this process so you must be certain that it’s exactly in its room temperature so the solution achieves its full cleaning potential.

Step 4: Rinse The Filter

Besides the fact that after some time, excessive dirt and residue fill the water filter, if it’s unclean it eventually loses its reduction capabilities which can cause the harmful toxins to just flow directly to your supply.

You can just imagine that a little filter can eventually amass so much dirt to it, building and rising over time.

If you don’t pay attention to it, this may somehow make the water unsafe to drink, risking your health.

Using a hose, preferably with a high-pressure nozzle, wash your filter off meticulously so you can take out as much of the debris and excess gunk as possible, even the rust and/or calcium build-up.

If you are so into the process, better rinse off all the sides to make sure you cover all the areas.

Being an obsessive-compulsive or overly attentive to details sometimes helps to get things properly done and into the right places.

Step 5: Soak The Filter

Hosing off the filter can only get rid of the junk and excess dirt visible on its layers.

However, soaking it into the solution is for sanitizing and thorough cleansing which is what the filter really needs for it to properly function again.

Now, after rinsing immerse the filter into the bucket with the water-acid mixture and allow it to sink to the bottom.

You can take the bucket to a spot or any well-ventilated area and leave the filter to soak for about a week.

We mention in one of the safety tips earlier that you must place the bucket with the acid mixture in a safe area away from children, pets, or other people if it’s a common space.

You may consider labeling it for caution just to be sure no one bothers to check or play with it without knowing what it’s for or what it’s made of.

Worst, you don’t wish to find your solution spilled over onto the ground or concrete.

Good thing is, the muriatic cleaning solution will be spent and neutralized at some point due to chemical reaction.

Nevertheless, it is still a mess and may still be a harmful one, adding to the fact that you need to start the process all over again.

It’s better safe than sorry.

Step 6: Monitor

You need to let the filter soak in the solution for about five days for effective and thorough cleansing.

Also, this is to guarantee that you completely get rid of all the unpleasant debris and contaminants from it.

Allowing it to sink in a longer period takes much more of the build-up and in a way, it cleanses and refreshes the carbon which is inside the filter.

You can consider this as the most important step in the whole process since it gets your filter back as sanitized and safe to use again.

During the five-day period, you have to constantly check on the solution making certain that it’s at room temperature.

It’s possible that any variation in the temperature an incline or decline may somehow reduce the effectiveness of the mixture in cleansing off the filter.

Step 7: Prepare The Second Bucket

Now it’s time for the second bucket.

Take it out and fill it with half a gallon of clean water.

Yes, the same amount as the first time which is about 1.8 liters if you can recall.

This step is in preparation for the final rinsing when you take the water filter out.

Step 8: Take The Filter Out

After five days, you can finally take the water filter out from the water-acid solution.

Though we can say that the mixture is already neutralized or maybe not totally, please consider using tongs to pick it up just to be safe.

Then, carefully place the filter into the second bucket waiting with clean water.

Let your water filter stay there and let it soak for about five minutes.

This is just enough time to prepare the carbon water filter for the final rinse.

Step 9: Rinse The Filter

This is the final stage of cleaning the filter.

Using a hose, that high-pressurized one, do a final rinse of the filter in all sides and areas.

Hose it off thoroughly so you can be really certain that you wash off all traces of the acid solution from it.

Take your time in doing so.

You don’t want to taste any acid mixture left to it when it’s back to your water system, right?

You’re at this last step anyway and you have waited for five full days to complete the process.

To attend to this one remaining task with full care may not really do much, but then again, we aim to do all things better as much as we can.

Step 10: Reinstall

Once you are sure enough that the filter is all clean and sanitized you are free to reinstall it.

And now, you have your carbon water filter back, clean, safe, and ready to use again.

Do the same exact steps to all the filters you have in your household.

Final Thoughts

To find out how to clean a carbon water filter, one must bear in mind that it can be a meticulous process.

Steps may look simple and easy to achieve but the execution and the whole duration of the procedure need proper attention.

The wait may be long and if you don’t feel like waiting, you can just actually rinse it off with a hose and skip the parts starting from when you prepare the solution, soaking your filter into the acid bath, soaking it back into clean water and the final rinsing.

However, a simple rinsing won’t completely remove all the toxins and dirt build-ups it accumulates over a period of time.

A clean water filter ensures that the water that gets into your supply for consumption is clean and safe. 

Health is wealth.

You can’t afford to risk it at all.



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