Carbon air filters are a great thing. But how do they work, exactly? We know that they pick up unwanted things in the air like pollen that can cause allergies, odors, pet dander, mold, and other particles. But how does this work?
The filter from the air purifier itself is made from activated carbon and certain items in the water or air will cause a change in the activated carbon. When the carbon reacts to these contaminants, they become stuck on the filter. In this way, the filter screens out impurities and prevents them from reentering the air or water. It’s kind of like a mesh screen you put on your windows to keep insects out, except in this case the insects’ bodies would react to the mesh, causing a chemical change and would stick to the screen. More and more insects would stick until the screen had no empty spaces for the fly or bee or whatever it was to stick to. Sounds simple, right? Perhaps a better example of an activated carbon or charcoal filter would be a Venus Fly Trap.
Granular activated carbon is a way to absorb certain contaminants from the air, especially those that may cause mold or disgusting tastes or smells. The screen won’t absorb all contaminants, but it can make a huge difference in how fresh and pure the water you’re drinking tastes. When the filter is full of contaminants, it’s no longer useful as new impurities won’t stick to the surface anymore.
Carbon air filters can be a great option for those looking to purify the air in their houses, apartments, office spaces, warehouses, restaurants, and other kinds of businesses. The adsorption works for a lot of different chemicals (though some chemicals do not bond with the activated charcoal filter). These are popular filtration systems because they work in most climates, no matter how high or low the humidity is.
So, now that you have a basic understanding of how carbon filters operate, let’s go into the specifics of what is really quite a neat system. Basically, you’re using a chemical process to clean your air and water: the reaction of two different elements—one good (your filter) and one “bad” (the contaminants causing your air or water to smell rough). The good attaches to the bad, keeping it in place (kind of like how Gandalf fell into that deep ravine with the terror of the ancient world he was fighting, the Balrog of Morgoth). Neat, right? Not exactly the type of information that will impress a friend or that you’d want to bust out at a fancy dinner party, but it’s useful nonetheless. It’s satisfying to know how the world works and how items that purify air in your home function. At least then, if your kid or kid cousin asks, you can give them a straight answer.
What’s astounding about this process is the surface area a seemingly small amount of activated carbon can provide. Just a single pound of this stuff contains about 100 acres of territory. When the chemical contaminants pass over this surface, they’re adsorbed. But why are the contaminants attracted to the filter in the first place? Because the carbon has a positive charge, like a rubbed carpet, and the “bad” elements it’s attracting have a negative charge. Whether you’re using this kind of filter for water, like in a pitcher, a swimming pool, or for air, it works wonders in your home or at a commercial space.
Now, there are two different types of carbon filter. If you’re thinking of buying one, you’ll want to choose the option that works best for your goals, whatever those may be. There are granular activated filters and block filters. What’s the difference? Basically, the latter is better at absorbing more of the bad chemicals. Why? Simply because they have more surface area and more surface area means more contaminants or impurities stick to it like flies in a fly trap.
So, what is activated carbon, anyway?
Also known as activated coal or charcoal, this type of carbon has been rendered more porous than it was in its original state. And the more porous a surface is, the more surface area exists there. Think of a ball of mozzarella cheese and a block of Swiss cheese. Which would take you longer to draw? The Swiss cheese would because you’d have to trace around all the holes. The same idea goes for the carbon. The more holes, the more surface area, and the more room for all those impurities to bond. All these small holes can be considered the “microporosity” of the carbon. This stuff can prevent vapor from passing through organic materials, chemicals, and even ozone—all the stuff in the atmosphere that can be harmful to you. You can even mix different items in with the filter so that it adsorbs different types of contaminants.
There are various sizes and widths of carbon filters. By and large, the thicker the filter is the more surface area it has. So, when you are considering which type of air filter you should buy, you’ll want to make sure you’re investing in a product that will do a good job of absorbing molecules. Thin, cheap filters don’t adsorb as much as thick, more costly filters.
When you’re working with a tool that has the power to change the way your air or water feels on your skin, tastes, and smells, a filter can be a big deal.
What all does the carbon (or charcoal) filter adsorb?
Anything from common household dust, mold spores, chlorine, pet dander, cigarette or other kinds of smoke, cleaning chemicals (or nail polish remover), and lint can be removed from the air we breathe. Activated carbon is often combined with another type of filter like a HEPA filter. These types of purifiers can make all the difference when you move into a new apartment that smells a bit musty or when you’re expecting company and want your home to feel comfortable and clean. But that’s not all. Carbon filters can even be used in combination with something like magnesium dioxide to get rid of hazardous air pollutants like carbon monoxide.
Have you heard of odor fatigue? This is when you can’t smell a scent anymore because you’re so used to it. You may not be able to tell if your house reeks of cats or if your office smells like yesterday’s sushi by the time your big meeting rolls around. If you’re around a scent, your nose simply gets used to it. If you work in a flower shop or at a fish factory, after a while you lose the ability to tell how you smell. In the case of the fish factory worker, you might want to consider a carbon filter for your home if you’re planning on bringing any dates or friends back to the house. Odor fatigue can be a serious and even dangerous situation; however, when the scent you’re not detecting anymore is something hazardous like natural gas or smog from the city you live in. When you bring an activated carbon filter into the picture, the results can be astounding.
So, these filters can improve your quality of life, make your home smell good so that your loved ones and guests feel comfortable, and boost your productivity at the office. They can remove the allergens so that pet owners (or their families) don’t have to worry about constant sneezing or sniffling. They can make a disgusting pool clean again. And they’re relatively affordable to purchase. What more could you want?