How to Select a Water Filter Part 4: Taste and Odor

As we proceed with this series How to Choose a Water Filter, we’ve already discussed sediment filters and will now get into the taste & odor category. So, what is a taste & odor (hereafter T & O) filter? If you categorize your water problem into the T & O category this indicates you are not concerned with “high level” contaminants like heavy metals, and VOC’s etc… (high level contaminants will be dealt with when we are done with the T & O category). In summary, you simply desire your water to taste and smell better.

Tasteless, odorless water is very rare because water is known as the universal solvent. Water dissolves nearly everything it contacts (think microscopically). Because of this it absorbs many substances which affect T & O. The good news is most T & O problems can be dealt with by an activated carbon filter. Activated carbon, also known as charcoal, carbon and activated charcoal is an incredible substance with a large surface area. This surface area suits it perfectly for capturing contaminants. Carbon for water filtration comes from two main sources, bituminous coal (typically from the ground from decayed plants and trees) and coconut shells which are charred into carbon (no, your water will not taste like coconut). Carbon made from bamboo is also available, and is growing in popularity because of its super fast growth which makes it more sustainable. However, it is not readily available at the present time, but keep an eye out for it in the future. When reach the High Level Contaminants portion of this series we will go into more detail about the various types of carbon, i.e. granular, catalyzed, block etc… and their special performance characteristics.

So, let’s get down to the details. You should decide if you want to deal with your T & O issue at the whole house level, or at the point of use. Your decision will depend on the nature of the specific problem. Some odor issues make bathing and showering difficult and will likely lead you to a whole house system, although shower filters are readily available, while other T & O problems are only an issue when drinking the water, so a point of use system would work. Either way you will likely end up with some type of carbon filter. If you choose a whole house water filter be certain the system is sized properly for a whole house application. Refer back to part 2 for details on sizing. There are automatic whole house carbon filters that require little or no maintenance, and there are filter cartridge systems for both whole house and point of use, but don’t forget your problem is merely taste and odor, so you need not worry about NSF standard 53 fancy lists of contaminants removed; you simply need a carbon filter. I’m not attempting to oversimplify it when I state that almost any carbon filter will meet your needs for T & O improvement.

Sadly some of you will have both a sediment and a T & O issue. If so, you should address those issues separately. Apply a sediment pre-filter followed by the carbon filter. You may question why you can’t simply use a 5 or 1 micron carbon filter alone. Carbon filters do capture sediment, but they will clog much faster than a sediment filter and are typically 3-5 times more expensive. The money you invest for a separate sediment filter will pay dividends over time as you maximize the life and usefulness of each carbon filter. Carbon filters are really good at removing many contaminants, but they are not designed to handle medium to heavy sediment problems. As long as you are going to the effort and expense of installing a filter system, you should do is berkey water alkaline it correct from the start.

There are many causes for various types of T & O issues, but perhaps the most common is H2S or Hydrogen Sulfide which is commonly described as rotten egg smell. Though carbon water filters can remove some H2S, they will do this for a very limited time before the filter becomes exhausted. Many people are happy to find what appears to be a fix to this rotten smelly problem, only to be disappointed by a filter that exhausts very quickly. The rest of the story is that carbon isn’t really designed for H2S reduction. For H2S problems nothing compares to KDF (Kinetic Degradation Fluxion), but that’s my teaser for the next article.


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