It’s easy to understand why most people rely on a water filter either while they’re at home, on vacation, or out in the wilderness, especially when you can never guarantee the quality of water you’re drinking.
Unlike other types of contaminants that are relatively large and easy to see in unclean drinking water, when you learn how water filters work, you would realize that these devices are designed to clean out the things you can’t see.
In plenty of places around the world, you can find crystal clear water, but it may also be filled with microscopic bacteria, viruses, and heavy metals that can make you quite ill.
Being able to answer, how water filters work will give you a clear understanding of where clean drinking water comes from and its benefits.
What is the Most Common Type of Water Filter?
There are four main types of filters that you can find examples of in today’s society: activated carbon, ion exchange, reverse osmosis, and distillation. In terms of water filters that you use while hiking, you’re most likely to experience the benefits of activated carbon versus any of the other types of filtration.
Activated Carbon Filters
Also used in household water filters, any filtration straws or pumps that you use in the wilderness will also have activated carbon in them. These are small granules of activated carbon (or charcoal) that help pull impurities out of the water.
What makes them such great filters is that each granule has a large surface area that attracts plenty of contaminants and traps them during adsorption. Adsorption, similar to absorption, is when liquids and gasses will get trapped inside of liquids or solids.
Activated carbon/charcoal filters are phenomenal for getting rid of common contaminants including chlorine, pesticides, some toxic solvents, and more.
What makes the activated carbon in household water filters different from specialized filters, such as the ones designated for hiking and survival, is that the specialized filters can also get rid of some heavy metals, microbes, and fluorine.
How Do Water Filters Work, Particularly Activated Carbon?
Now that you have a general answer to on how water filters work, it’s time to go through the process of how dirty and murky water transforms into clear and safe water as you consume it through a water filter straw or pump.
Step 1: Extracting the Water
Depending on the device you’re using, you will likely have to use a hose to access the source of water you’re going to use. This hose is responsible for bringing the water from its source through the filter and then to the spout once it has been cleaned.
No matter how high-tech you believe your water filtration device is, it’s always best to avoid water sources that could possibly contain toxic chemicals, as you won’t be able to tell if all of the harmful elements have truly been removed without the help of a microscope.
Step 2: Purifying the Water
As the dirty water is brought into the filter, the activated charcoal will seek out any contaminants and based on the type of filter you have, contaminants as small as 0.01 microns can be removed, giving you cleaner water than you would ever imagine.
The majority of activated charcoal filters will have a three-step filtration process.
- Pre-filtering: During this stage, any traces of algae and bacteria will be removed from the drinking water.
- Second filtration: At this point, a second carbon filter will get rid of traces of heavy metals and generic pollutants.
- Ultrafiltration: For added protection against viruses, the third filtration step will remove up to 99.9% of other contaminants that could make you ill.
How to Store the Filtered Water?
Once the water filter has done all that it can to remove as many contaminants as possible, it’s your responsibility to make sure that you have a clean and safe place to store your purified water.
Again, depending on whether you’re using a water filter pump or straw, you can either consume the water right away or store it in a hydration bladder or jug for your family or hiking buddies to enjoy.
However, it’s important to remember that you’re able to continue to protect the water against other contaminants such as bugs; otherwise, it certainly won’t be as clean as it was when you first harvested it.
How to Clean and Store the Filter?
The vast majority of water filters will require a small amount of maintenance to make sure they’re cleaned and ready to use the next time you need to filter some liquids.
Not only are you going to want to make sure that all of the parts of the filter have been dried, but that they are also cleaned out. The last thing that you would want is to filter dirty water, have contaminants stuck in between the filter, and then find their way into your next batch of clean water.
In most cases, your water filter will give you instructions on what to do if the filter gets dirty. For example, some devices recommend that you throw the filter away and buy a new one, whereas others will come with a cleaning syringe to help pluck large contaminants out of the filter.
When it comes to storing your water filter, it’s the next important part of answering the question “How do water filters work?”
You’ll need to make sure that the filter and all of its parts have had more than enough time to dry as you won’t want any traces of mold and/or mildew appearing in its nooks and crannies, essentially rendering it useless for your next outdoor excursion.
Our Final Thoughts
No matter if you’re getting all of your hiking gear together or if you’re planning a trip overseas, having access to a water filter could mean the difference between life and death.
Although there are exceptions in both directions, as a general rule, the human body is only able to survive for three days without water, and the last thing you’d want is to be in a position to where you’re forced to drink contaminated water that will only make you sick.
With the help of these unique devices, you’ll have the comfort of knowing that up to 99.9% of harmful elements have been removed from the beverage you’re about to consume, no matter where you are.
Additionally, it can be a fun experiment to see the quality of your drinking water at home and how much fresher it will taste once it has been purified with the help of activated charcoal or another type of filtration.