How a Cartridge Filter Works

While many people are understandably concerned about potential contaminants in their drinking water, they don’t always think about the water that is used when they take a shower, wash your dishes, or do laundry. This water ends up on your skin and hair, as well as in your dishes, food, and clothing. You’re still exposed to chemicals, pesticides, and other toxins in the water. A whole house cartridge filter system can be used to remove many kinds of contaminants and provide clean water throughout your home.

How a Cartridge Filter Works

Cartridge water filters typically have a fairly simple design. Water from the city, your well, or another source comes into your home and enters the filtering system. It passes through one or more filter cartridges that are made to remove specific contaminants. Depending on your system, the water may then flow directly into your home’s plumbing, or pass through a reverse osmosis system, UV disinfection chamber, and/or water softener for further treatment first.

After a certain amount of time, which can vary from a few months to a year, depending on the quality of the water being treated and the cartridge type, the cartridge filter will need to be changed. The filter housing is removed from the system, the cartridge is removed and disposed of, and a new, clean filter is put into place. Different systems require different filter sizes, although there are a number of common dimensions available.

Contaminant Removal

One of the best things about a cartridge filter system is that the filter housings are usually made in one of several standard shapes and sizes, while the filters themselves can be selected to treat your home’s specific water issues. This means that you can customize your cartridge water filters to remove a number of different contaminants, including the following:

  • Sediment
  • Arsenic
  • Fluoride
  • Chlorine
  • Chloramines
  • Nitrates
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Pesticides

There is no single filter cartridge that removes everything from water, so the best water treatment often involves a series of filters or other systems that treats the water in stages. In order to choose the right filters, you need to know exactly what’s in your water and decide whether or not you want to remove it. This starts with a complete water test to learn about your water hardness, chlorine and fluoride levels, metals, total dissolved solids (TDS), and other contaminants. Once you know what’s in your water, you can put together a water treatment system to deal with each issue. While a cartridge filter system can remove many contaminants, your water could require additional treatment methods.

Physical Filtration

If your water contains dirt, sand, or other larger particles, a sediment cartridge filter can help. As the water flows into the filter, the particles are trapped inside the filter material and cleaner water comes out. There are several different types of filter material that can be used, including pleated polyester, string wound polypropylene cord, and spun polypropylene.

Physical cartridge filters include a micron rating that indicates the size of particles that the filter can trap. One of the most common ratings is 5 microns, although filters can range from 50 to 0.5 microns. Whole house cartridge filters often include a 5 micron sediment filter because it’s small enough to trap most particles, but large enough that it won’t clog up and need to be replaced too quickly. By way of comparison, a human hair is about 90 microns wide. Check out our filtration spectrum chart , which includes common materials and their sizes. Note that 1 micron = 1 micrometer.

Chemical Filtration

In addition to cartridges that physically filter contaminants out of your water, chemical cartridge filters contain an “active” material that interacts with the contaminants in the water in some way. Perhaps the most common form of chemical water cartridge filter media is granular activated carbon or GAC, which is a form of charcoal that has been specially processed to attract and trap many types of impurities. GAC is very effective for removing organic contaminants, chlorine, and chemicals that give water a bad smell or taste.

GAC is effective at removing many contaminants, but it’s not the best solution to every water problem. To remove fluoride from water, for example, you will have better success with a bone char cartridge filter, while catalytic carbon is better for chloramine removal.