How Do Activated Carbon Filters Work in Air Purifiers? | 3 Things Activated Carbon Filters Clean from the Air to Make it Better for You


Activated Carbon Filters for Air Purifiers are Made from Charcoal Like This

Activated carbon is a buzzword nowadays. Everyone knows someone who uses the stuff. Some people brush their teeth with it, others have it in their soap, and some people eat it.

But what is the point in having activated carbon filters? Activated carbon works great at filtering dangerous and toxic gasses out of the air and it captures unwanted odors as well.

How Can Activated Carbon Filters Help with VOCs?

Activated carbon filters are made out of carbonaceous things like wood and coal. These carbon-rich substances are often then treated with high temperatures while being deprived of oxygen.

Activated Charcoal is Great for Detoxing the Air as Well as Your Body! Activated Carbon Filters Allow Air Purifiers to Clean the Air.

Without oxygen, the carbon in the substances used is unable to combust as it would in a campfire. During this process, the carbon is usually treated with a variety of things including steam and nitrogen, but there can be other chemicals involved too.

The resulting treated carbon is a lot more porous than the charcoal that you would be pulling out of a fireplace. With this increased porous nature, activated carbon is capable of leeching dangerous and unwanted things out of the air that you breathe.

On its own, activated carbon is not a good enough filter to serve in an air purifier. Air purifiers to be able to take care of allergens, dust, and so much more than just gasses and odors. As such, activated carbon filters are used as an addon of sorts that are used in concert with the HEPA filter or whatever other kind of main filter that is present in your air purifier.

If you would like to learn more about the types of filters in air purifiers, we’ve got an article for you. One filtration type that is present in a lot of high-quality air purifiers is called ionization. Air ionizers are super cool, and you can read up on those machines here. Most air purifiers that have ionizers will also have activated carbon filters, so it may be worthwhile to learn a little more about them.

The Blueair Blue Pure 211+ Utilizes Activated Carbon Filters to Sequester VOCs and Odors.

This air purifier is one of the al-time best units on the market today. It hosts all the newest and best technologies in air purification. It also uses tried and true filters like a HEPA filter and activated carbon filters.

This line of air purifiers comes in several different sizes, but here’s a link to this one that’s rated for rooms up to 540 square feet.

Or, if you’re looking for an air purifier for your bedroom, here’s a link to the 411 that’s for bedrooms!

What Do Activated Carbon Filters Remove?

Activated carbon filters remove both dangerous and irritating gasses and odors from the air. These include foul odors, VOCs, pollutants, and even radon, which is a cancer-causing radioactive gas! Activated carbon filters are great at removing these things because of their super porous nature.

If you’d like to read up on VOCs, we’ve got an article that’s all about VOCs. If you’re interested in learning more about air purifiers and radon, we’ve got even more articles for you! Want to know what the best air purifiers are for radon, check here. Or, if you’d like to learn more about how activated carbon filters help with radon in your home, check our other post here.

Ok, so what is so cool about activated carbon filters that they can even capture gasses? Isn’t gas really, really hard to filter?

Anyone who’s been in a room with someone who is experiencing some… “digestion issues,” let’s call it… will know how hard it is to get away from foul odors.

These odors are so hard to get rid of that a lot of air fresheners only mask the smells rather than deal with them.

That results in your still breathing those unwanted smells in, you just can’t smell them as well over the thick presence of VOC filled perfumes (which bring about a whole host of other problems).

HEPA filters are made out of fabric (and paper as well) and anyone who has tried to use their shirt to avoid smelling the unwanted odors from our sick friend know that it only does so much. It might be able to help, but you’ll still pick up on the smell.

Now, this isn’t totally fair to say because HEPA filters are known to take care of some odors and they’ll be better air filters than your shirt, but bear with us. HEPA filters don’t filter odors as well as activated carbon does and that’s also an undeniable fact.

Activated carbon, unlike fabric, paper, and air fresheners, is able to take care of the root of the problem–the smell itself. As such, activated carbon strips the air clean of smelly gasses and their porous structures hold onto them. They save your nose and lungs the pain of foul smells and potentially life-threatening gasses like VOCs and radon.

We know that our little story may make things sound a lot less serious than they might be, but it did provide you with some idea on how our go-to methods of dealing with bad smells can either leave us wanting or be more harm than good (as air fresheners are known to release VOCs that can be harmful). Despite this, we hope that our message was still clear enough–activated carbon filters can do what no other filter can.

Airthings' Wave Plus Checks Your Home's Air Quality and Lets You Know if You Need an Air Purifier with an Activated Carbon Filter to Clean Your Home's Air.

Worried about radon and VOCs in your home? This air quality sensor from Airthings can check your home’s air for these potentially dangerous substances!

You can order it here.

Do Activated Carbon Filters Really Work?

Yes! Activated carbon filters work very well for one simple fact–carbon is naturally very absorbent! The extra treatments that carbon and charcoal receive to become “activated” make them even more absorbent, which is really goo news for you and I.

When carbon is activated, it becomes even more porous which gives it even more surface area, which is very important for filtration.

Activated carbon is super effective at filtering dangerous gasses like radon and VOCs and they can even take care of lingering odors in your house, which is really cool.

In fact, activated carbon can do wonders at even limiting the stench from indoor litterboxes, which is really good for pet owners. If you’d like to read up on that, check out our article on the best air purifiers for pet owners.

In addition to working very well, activated carbon is also safe for humans.

In fact, it’s so safe that people eat it. No we don’t recommend eating it as it doesn’t taste amazing, but it’s safe, and that’s something that can help us rest easy at night.

Frequently Asked Questions About Activated Carbon Filters

Should I Run My Activated Carbon Filter 24/7?

If you want the cleanest air possible, yes, you should run your air purifier’s activated carbon filter all day every day. If you’re interested in extending the life of the filter (which usually isn’t too much money), then you can turn it off, but your air quality won’t be as high as it could be.

Do Activated Carbon Filters Get Rid of Smells?

Yes! Carbon is naturally a great material for absorbing bad things, activating it only makes it better. There is no better filter at taking care of household odors–not even a HEPA filter can compare to an activated carbon filter,

Can Activated Carbon Filters Help with Radon?

Yes, activated carbon helps with radon. Every system that’s in use today uses activated charcoal to sequester the cancer-causing gas. Please note that mitigation is generally your best course of action in dealing with radon, though.

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Jonathon Silva

Jonathan Silva is our longtime Air Purifier Essentials author. He has been writing on air purification technologies for his entire professional career.

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