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Catalytic vs Activated Carbon – What’s In My Filter?

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Chemical disinfectants, while unpleasant to think about, are a vital part of our water treatment process. Whether your water comes from a WA desalination plant or one of Sydney’s surface water reservoirs, chemicals like chlorine and chloramine are added to deal with bacteria and other contaminants that build up in the water supply.

Disinfectants are a bit like food packaging: very useful for keeping your food fresh and clean until you’re ready to eat it, but once you’ve actually sat down for lunch, it has served its purpose. Chlorine can give your water a very unpleasant taste and smell, so most Australians prefer to filter out the chemicals before they drink their tap water.

Activated carbon is a highly effective filtration medium. It’s used in jugs, taps, and fridges – even our own systems are often configured with granulated activated carbon (GAC) cartridges. However, with several states switching from chlorine to chloramine as a primary disinfectant, activated carbon alone is no longer enough to keep the chemicals out of your water – and out of your body.

To keep up with the changing landscape of Australia’s water supply, Complete Home Filtration has introduced catalytic carbon as a filter option for our whole-home systems.


The Chloramine Conundrum

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Chloramine is a chemical compound produced by mixing chlorine with ammonia. As we discussed in a previous post, chloramine is a more stable chemical than ordinary chlorine. While it is a slightly weaker disinfectant, it takes much longer to dissipate, making it more suitable for areas where water has to travel long distances through extensive networks of pipes before it reaches people’s homes.

Thanks to this longevity, chloramine has a better chance of killing bacteria that enters the water in the later stages of its journey. However, the chemical is also more likely to be present in higher concentrations when the water arrives at your home. Chloramine may have a less noticeable taste/odour than chlorine and not produce the same carcinogenic disinfection by-products (DBPs), but it can still cause irritations to the skin, eyes and lungs – and bring its own set of by-products.

Like chlorine, chloramine is an important part of the water treatment process but becomes detrimental once the water reaches your home. Showering in chloramine can dehydrate your hair and skin, causing rashes and irritations and even increasing hair loss. Additionally, the smell and taste are often still noticeable in your water, even if they are less prominent than chlorine. 


What Exactly Are Activated and Catalytic Carbon?


Activated carbon is essentially purified and powdered charcoal. It is a highly porous substance, making it very effective for trapping any solid compounds that might be present in water or air through a process called adsorption.

Unlike ABsorption, where particles like water droplets are fully soaked up into the body of an object like a sponge or paper towel, ADsorption stops at the surface. Activated carbon adsorbs the organic molecules by trapping and holding them in the cracks and pores through its body. This means that GAC filters have a fixed filtration capacity; once all of the cracks and crevices are full, any additional particles will flow right past them. 

Activated carbon is the most versatile and commonly used purifying agent in the world; it can be used for air purification, sugar refinement, cleaning vegetable oil, and even as a universal antidote in emergency rooms and hospitals.

Catalytic carbon (CC) is a specific variety of activated carbon that has had its surface modified by high-temperature gas processing. This treatment significantly increases the carbon’s catalytic properties – its ability to promote and accelerate chemical reactions without undergoing permanent chemical changes itself.

This surface-modified carbon retains all the properties of other GAC filters, making it suitable for the same wide variety of applications while also bringing new advantages. As well as being more effective for breaking down chemical compounds, CC is able to filter simpler substances more efficiently, allowing filter systems to function with less power and using fewer materials.


Catalytic Carbon Cartridges Counter Chloramine

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Chloramine is a compound favoured for its stability, taking longer to break down than chlorine. A standard GAC filter can capture some of the chlorine particles, but the chloramine molecule isn’t in contact with the filter long enough for the ammonia to properly break down. Consequently, chloramine is able to pass through the filter relatively intact.

Catalytic filters accelerate the process of breaking down the ammonia, separating it from the chlorine to leave behind harmless chloride. The ammonia alone is much easier to break down and capture in separate filters. CC also has a higher capacity for chlorine reduction, being able to capture more of the broken-down particles than regular GAC.

These properties also make the filters more effective for removing hydrogen sulfide and common chlorine DBPs like carcinogenic trihalomethanes and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Whether you have chloramine in your water or not, CC filtration can bring cleaner, healthier water to your home.

However, the increased efficiency and effectiveness are offset by a higher cost of production. The high-temperature gas treatment requires more time and resources than the simple purification of activated carbon, so catalytic filters can be more expensive, even in smaller sizes.

Because of this equation, CC filters are highly beneficial in some areas but not suitable for others. Complete Home Filtration is now offering catalytic carbon cartridges in our whole-home systems for areas with particularly high concentrations of chloramine (like Adelaide and its surrounding suburbs).

We tailor our systems to each individual customer, configuring them to meet the needs and conditions of their home and water. We also do in-home water consultations as part of our quoting process so that we can fully understand your water situation and make sure we’re not charging you extra to filter out something that isn’t there in the first place.

If you want to find out more about what’s in your water,
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