By Rehan Iqbal
Does your tap water taste bad, despite being perfectly safe? Does using the shower make your bathroom smell like a swimming pool? It might be time to install a whole house carbon filter. These filter systems are mostly known for removing chlorine, but they’re also effective at getting other chemicals and heavy metals out of water.
Top Rated Whole House Carbon Filters
- 1Pentair Whole House Carbon Filtration System - For City and Well Water
- 2Home Master Carbon Filter - For City Water
- 3SoftPro Catalytic Carbon Filter - For Well Water
- 4Springwell Whole House Water Filter System - For City Water
- 5Waterdrop 2-Stage Whole House Carbon Water Filtration System - For City Water
- 6Bodyguard Whole House Carbon Filter - For City and Well Water
- 7Carbon Water Filter & Pelican Water Softener Alternative Combo System - For City and Well Water
If you have access to municipal water, these filters can drastically improve the smell and taste of what comes out of the tap. If you use a well, adding a carbon filter system can keep chemicals from industrial and agricultural runoff out of your home’s water. We’ve rounded up some of the best whole house water filter systems on the market, and answered the most common questions about these systems.
1. Pentair Whole House On Demand Carbon Filtration System for City and Well Water
Are you looking for a simple way to reduce the amount of chlorine and other chemicals in your water? Once the Pentair Whole House On Demand Carbon Filtration System is installed, you can pretty much forget about it. This GAC filter has an automatic backwash system, so there’s no sediment filter to change.
This system is built into a tank that is 10 inches wide. It holds 1.5 cubic feet of carbon media, with a flow rate of up to 11.9 gallons per minute. This is enough to handle three to four bathrooms. Forcing water through the filter lowers water pressure by 15 PSI. Pentair also offers tanks for 1-2 and 4-6 bathrooms. The total height including the valve head is 61 ¼ inches for all tanks.
Instead of using a sediment filter to prevent clogs, this Pentair filter has a backwash system. The electronic head needs a source of AC to operate. Controller options include a service mode, as well as backwash, slow rinse and fast rinse modes. Backwash cycles can be pre-programmed. The backwash flow control should be cleaned yearly. Otherwise, this system requires no maintenance. Tap water will look cloudy for the first few days of use as air is purged from the carbon media. This does not affect flavor.
The Pentair carbon filter system uses ¾ inch connections for home plumbing, as well as the backflush drain. An air gap drain is usually required by municipal code. The drain pipe must be separate from other drain systems, including those used to backflush water softeners.
The entire valve body is plastic, which is a problem if your home uses the plumbing as a ground. If this is the case, you’ll need to add an electrical bypass grounding cable. This links the inlet and outlet pipes going to the head, restoring the electrical connection.
Pentair backs this system with a one year warranty on the tank and a 5 year warranty on electronics in head. If you connect this system to a municipal water source, the filter media is guaranteed for 5 years. If it’s used with well water, the media warranty lasts just one year.
2. Home Master Carbon Filter 2 Stage Filter for City Water
The marketing copy for the Home Master 2 State Multi Gradient filter uses the word “huge” to describe this system, but it’s actually quite small. Instead of using a giant media tank that lasts for years, this system uses wall mount filter cartridges that you have to swap out every few months. That way, you can get purified water for your whole house without giving up precious floor space.
This filter system has a bracket that holds a pair of 20 x 4.5 inch filters. The first cartridge is a sediment filter that uses several layers to remove contaminates. The first pass filters down to 25 microns, followed by 10, 5 and 1 micron layers. From there, water moves through an activated catalytic carbon filter. It removes chlorine, chloramine, VOCs and many other chemicals. The system uses 1 inch ports for the water inlet and outlet, and flows up to 20 GPM.
This Home Master whole house water filter can be used with well water, as long as that water meets certain requirements. This water must be disinfected, and both iron and iron bacteria must be removed before water reaches these filters. The manufacturer recommends chlorine shocking your water supply before installation and at every filter change.
Each filter cartridge has a 95,000 gallon capacity, which should last between 6 months to 1 year in a home with four people. Home Master offers pressure gauges for both filters. That way, you can see at a glance if one of the filters is clogged and due for replacement.
The entire filter system, including the bracket, measures 25 x 19 x 9 inches. The filter comes with a mounting bracket and bolts for wall mounting.
Home Master backs the hardware used in this system with a two-year warranty. There is no guarantee on filter media.
3. SoftPro Catalytic Carbon Filter - Auto Backwash for Well Water
No matter how big or small your home is, there’s a SoftPro catalytic carbon filter that can keep up with your water demand. This filter system built to deliver trouble-free, maintenance free chemical removal, with a focus on chlorine and chloramine.
This filter only uses catalytic carbon, which removes chemical contaminates, as well as small amounts of heavy metals. This is a great filter media choice, if your primary concern is chlorine and chloramine. Catalytic carbon also removes small amounts of iron, but you’ll want a separate iron filter if your water’s iron levels are more than a couple parts per million.
This filter is offered in four sizes, based on the amount of media in the tank. The 1 cubic foot model is sized for homes with one or two bathrooms, requires a water flow rate of 6-7 gallons per minute, and has a tank that measures 9 x 48 inches. The 1.5 cubic foot model treats water for two to three bathrooms, requires 6-7 GPM, and measures 10 x 54 inches. The 2 cubic foot model handles 3-4 bathrooms, needs 8-10 GPM of water, and has a 12 x 52 inch tank. The 2.5 cubic foot model is good for 4-5 bathroom homes, requires at least 11 GPM, and has a 13 x 54 inch tank.
The electronic head used in the SoftPro system backflushes automatically. Since SoftPro specializes in well water treatment, this filter is designed to work with their other treatment components, letting you get everything you need to build a complete treatment system. The company offers packages that pair this carbon filter with water softeners, iron filters, and KDF filters for heavy metals.
Soft Pro backs this filter system with a 7 year warranty on the head electronics and a lifetime warranty on the tank. The system also comes with a 6 month return guarantee, but you have to pay for shipping, and you might be charged up to 25% of the purchase price as a restocking fee.
4. Springwell Whole House Water Filter System for City Water
Springwell’s municipal water carbon filter system is one of the largest you’ll find on the market. Thanks to the amount of media it holds, it will outlast nearly every competitor.
The main filter tank has several media layers. After passing through a flex bed to distribute the water, it passes through a KDF filter. This removes heavy metals. Next, a catalytic carbon filter removes chlorine, chloramine and other chemical contaminates. From there, the water passes through the second tank, which holds a 5 micron sediment filter.
The main filter tank has several media layers. After passing through a flex bed to distribute the water, it passes through a KDF filter. This removes heavy metals. Next, a catalytic carbon filter removes chlorine, chloramine and other chemical contaminates. From there, the water passes through the second tank, which holds a 5 micron sediment filter. This filter system can be upgraded with UV treatment to kill pathogens and reverse osmosis to remove any remaining contaminates. There’s no sediment filter before the carbon tank, and the head doesn’t have a backflush option. If you choose this filtration system, you’ll may want to add a sediment filter ahead of the tank to prevent clogging.
This system comes in three sizes. The CF1 handles homes with one to three bathrooms, has a 9 GPM service flow rate, and uses a main tank that measures 52 x 9 inches, including the valve head. The CF4’s tank is 54 x 10 inches in size and has a 12 GPM service flow rate, which is good for 4 to 6 bathrooms. Both tanks use one inch connections. The CF+ has a 58 x 13 inch tank, a 17 GPM service flow rate, and uses 1 ½ inch connections. It’s big enough for houses with 7 or more bathrooms. Whichever system you choose, you’ll get a carbon tank with a 1 million gallon capacity. In a 2-3 bathroom home, that’s big enough to last a decade. The small sediment filter cartridge needs to be changed every 6 to 9 months.
This filter system is set up for city water, and SpringWell makes an alternative system designed for well water. However, this system’s warranty still valid for well water use as long as hydrogen sulfide, copper, iron, manganese and oils are removed from the water before they reach this system.
SpringWell backs the Whole House Water System with a 5 year head warranty and a 10 year tank warranty. There is no warranty on the media.
5. Waterdrop 2-Stage Whole House Water Filtration System WHF21-FG for City Water
Does your water smell like rotten eggs? It’s probably because of hydrogen sulfide, a water soluble form of sulfur. Normally, this chemical is removed using aeration or catalytic carbon. However, the Waterdrop 2-State Whole House Water Filtration System takes a different approach.
It uses manganese sand and activated carbon to remove sulfur, chlorine and many other chemicals that lead to bad tasting water. This system is a great choice if you don’t have the space for a large aerator.
This filtration system has two filters. First, water passes through a large activated carbon cartridge. This removes chlorine, VOCs and other chemicals. From there, it passes through a multi-layer filter. This cartridge alternates between sediment-filtering PP cotton, activated carbon, and manganese dioxide sand. While manganese sand has been in use since the 1950s, it’s a rarity in modern filter systems. This material removes manganese, iron and hydrogen sulfide.
Both filters measure 10 x 4.5 inches. The cartridge housings are mounted on a plate that can be bolted onto a wall and plumbed in directly to the main water line. One inch and ¾ inch adapters are included, so it will fit most home plumbing systems. Maximum flow rate for this filter system is 15 GPM, which is more than enough to handle a house with 5 bathrooms. This system is only built for use with municipal water, and isn’t suited to removing large quantities of iron. Waterdrop includes everything needed for installation of the filter, including a filter wrench.
While the small size is convenient for installation, the filter cartridges only last a maximum of 6 months. The guarantee also doesn’t compare to competitors. This system can be returned for any reason within 6 months, but you’ll have to pay for shipping and a restocking fee equal to 20% of the purchase price. There is no other warranty.
6. Bodyguard Whole House Chemical Removal Filter by US Water Systems for City and Well Water
Do you need several types of filter media to address your water quality problems? Us Water Systems’ Bodyguard Whole House Chemical Removal Filter packs two types of carbon media and a heavy metal filter into a single tank. That way, you can get rid of most of the causes of foul tasting and smelling water before it reaches the rest of your home.
In this system, water passes through a 5 micron sediment filter, removing particles that may clog the media. From there, the water is pushed down to the bottom of the main tank through a series of filter layers.
First, US Water Systems’ Vortech distributor spreads out water as it enters the bottom of the tank, which reduces channeling. This is aided by a layer of quartz gravel, which helps spread out water flow.
Next, the water passes through a KDF-55 filter, which removes heavy metals. This is followed by an activated carbon layer and a catalytic carbon layer. Together, these carbon filters remove chlorine, chloramine, VOCs, and many other chemicals that make water taste bad.
This system is offered in three sizes. The three bathroom system has a main tank that measures 52.5 x 9 inches, and flows up to 10 GPM. The 6 bathroom model has a 56.5 x 10 inch tank, and flows up to 15 GPM. The 6+ bathroom unit has a 58.5 x 12 inch tank, and flows up to 20 GPM. US Water Systems offers this system in packages that include a salt-free water conditioner, a fluoride filter and a UV filter.
The only maintenance required for this system is occasional replacement of the sediment filter. US Water Systems offers this filter in two sizes. The 10 inch filter needs to be replaced every 6 months, while the 20 inch filter lasts about a year. Both filters fit this water system, no matter the size of the main tank.
This water purification system is backed by a lifetime warranty on the tank and head. The media is guaranteed for 5 years, whether you use it with municipal or well water.
7. Carbon Water Filter & Pelican Water Softener Alternative Combo System for City and Well Water
Dealing with hard water and poor water flavor? Pentair’s Pelican Water Softener Alternative Combo System addresses both problems. It has water conditioner that stops hard water problems without using salt and without backflushing. It also has a carbon filter to strip out VOCs and other chemicals.
Water entering the system first passes through a 5 micron sediment filter to remove anything that may clog the other filters. Next, the water goes through a conditioner.
Instead of using ion exchange to soften the water, it has nucleation points that crystallize hardness minerals. Technically, the water is still hard. However, the microscopic mineral crystals won’t react with plumbing, and don’t leave a film of soap scum around faucets and inside appliances. From there, the water passes through a tank packed with activated carbon, which removes chemicals that can lead to bad tasting water.
The Pelican Water Softener Combo System is offered in two sizes. Model PSE1800-P is built for homes with 1-3 bathrooms. It has a maximum flow rate of 8 gallons per minute, and uses 9 inch wide tanks. The carbon filter is rated to filter 650,000 gallons of water. There’s also a 4 to 6 bathroom version called the PSE2000-P. This model flows up to 11 GPM, and uses 11 inch wide tanks. It also has twice the carbon media. Pentair says these systems will last around 5 years before the carbon needs to be replaced, while the sediment pre-filter cartridge lasts between 6 and 9 months. The filter head has built-in bypass valves, making it easy to swap out filter cartridges.
This filter system can be installed by a plumber, or you can do it yourself with an optional installation kit. It includes fittings and flexible hoses that connect to your main water line.
The Pelican Water Softener Alternative Combo System is covered by a one-year warranty for the tanks and valves. If you use this system to filter municipal water, the carbon media comes with a 5 year warranty. If you use it to filter well water, you only get one year of warranty coverage.
Why Should I Get a Whole House Carbon Filter System?
The main reason people add these systems to their home plumbing is smell and taste. Municipal water is safe to drink, but even small amounts of chemicals and metals can throw off the taste of your water. Carbon filters remove most of these contaminants, including chlorine.
Using a carbon filter on well water is an effective strategy for removing chemicals from agricultural and industrial runoff, including VOCs, THMs, pesticides and herbicides. If you use chlorine to kill pathogens in your water, adding a carbon filter removes this chemical before it reaches your taps. Most chlorine-based systems use both an off-gassing tank and a carbon filter to remove chlorine.
What are the Different Filters Used in a Whole House Carbon Filter?
There are two types of carbon used in these filters.
Activated carbon is specially treated carbon that has an enormous amount of surface area. Even the smallest filter has millions of square feet that water molecules have to pass through. Some contaminants cling to this surface, much like lint moves from clothing to a lint roller. This activated carbon is usually made from coconut shells. Don’t worry if you’re allergic to coconuts. By the time the shells are turned into charcoal and activated, they are pure carbon. There’s nothing in them for your body to react to.
Catalytic carbon is made by spraying steam through hot charcoal. If nitrogen is added, it creates catalytic carbon. This changes the shape of the carbon, creating thin sheets that are great at picking up heavy metals, chlorine and chloramines.
KDF filters are often paired with carbon filtration systems. KDF stands for “Kinetic Degredation Fluxion.” This filter is made of copper-zinc granules. A KDF filter uses oxidation reduction, AKA “redox,” to turn soluble heavy metals into insoluble molecules. One the metals are insoluble, they fall out of suspension, and can be trapped by the filter. There are several blends of KDF. Most carbon filter systems use KDF 55, which is particularly good at removing chlorine, as well as iron, hydrogen sulfide and heavy metals.
Since carbon filters have a fine structure, they’re easy to clog. Most systems also include a sediment filter. This filter screens out particles before they reach the main filtering tanks. These filters usually aren’t sized to filter all the water entering the house. If you’re on well water, you’ll want a larger sediment filter in place before it reaches your carbon filter system. Alternatively, the media tank may have a backflush mode to remove built up contaminants, restoring flow through the filter.
What Does a Whole House Carbon Filter Remove?
Each type of filter media in the carbon filter system removes specific contaminates:
Many companies offer filter systems as packages, letting you add components that address other issues, like water hardness and biological contaminates.
How Often Do You Need to Change a Whole House Carbon Filter?
This depends on the size of the filter, your water usage, and the amount of contaminates in your water. Most 2-3 bathroom systems are built to handle around 100,000 gallons of water per year. Wall mount systems typically need their cartridges replaced every 6 to 12 months, while large tank systems last several years. Unlike other types of filters, you usually need to replace the entire carbon filter tank once the media wears out, not just the filter media.
When Do I Need to Replace a Whole House Carbon Filter?
If you have a catalytic carbon filter, the easiest way to check the life of a filter is to get a chlorine test. If chlorine is making it to your taps, the carbon media is saturated and due for replacement. Flow rate will noticeably decrease as the filter approaches the end of its life, while the taste of the water will change. Some systems have built-in pressure gauges and usage monitors to help you estimate when the media is due for replacement.
How Do I Size a Whole House Carbon Filter Unit?
Systems are sized by the number of bathrooms you have in your home, since that’s where most of your water is used. Along with the size of the system, you need to consider flow rates and water pressure, especially if you’re on well water. Passing through filter media takes considerable pressure.
Most home water lines are either ¾ or 1 inch in diameter. While it’s nice to get a filter with the same size fittings, you can always get adapters to connect your filter to your plumbing.
Should I Get a Whole House or an Under Sink Carbon Filter?
Under sink filters only filter the water for one tap. If you’re only concern is water flavor, this is an affordable option for purifying water. If chlorine and other contaminates cause problems throughout your home, get a whole house system.
What Do I Need to Use a Carbon Filter on Well Water?
Carbon filters can’t handle water that contains iron, pathogens or sediment. Your water needs to pass through sediment and microbe filters before it reaches the carbon filter system. Iron filtration is only needed if your water has high levels of this metal. While KDF is effective at removing iron, the media layer used in most systems isn’t large enough to handle high levels of contamination.
Read the fine print before you buy a filter system. Some companies don’t recommend using their systems with well water, and won’t honor warranties. Others offer shorter warranties on systems used with well water, or require proof of upstream water treatment, including iron and pathogen removal, before they’ll honor the warranty.
How Do I Recharge an Activated Carbon Whole House Water Filter?
Unlike water softeners, carbon media can’t be recharged. Once the spaces on the filter media are filled, the media must be replaced.
Clogging is an issue with carbon filters, so manufacturers address this in one of two ways: add a sediment filter, or include a backflush system. Backflushing doesn’t remove contaminates picked up by the filter. Instead, it removes large particles, restoring the flow rate through the filter. This is often confused with recharging, since it works the same way. The system opens and closes valves, redirecting water through the tank and out of a drain.
How Long Does a Whole House Carbon Water Filter Last?
Unlike water conditioners, you usually can’t replace the media in a large carbon filter system. Most systems have enough media to filter water for 5-10 years.
The hardware in wall-mount systems lasts for several years, but the filter cartridges must be replaced every few months.
How Often Should You Backwash a Whole House Carbon Filter?
This depends on the type of system you have, how much water you’re using, and the amount of contaminates in your water. This typically ranges between twice a week to once every two weeks.
Electronic control heads can handle this automatically, cycling at night when you aren’t using water. A typical backwash cycle takes about 10 minutes. Systems with a KDF filter need to backflush more often that systems that only use carbon and sediment filters.
Are There Carbon Filters that Never Get Clogged?
The water must make contact with the carbon filter media to work, and there’s no way to make that happen without finely packed media. To prevent clogging, these systems backflush or use sediment filters to keep particles from clogging the carbon filter media.
If you use well water, you should have a sediment filter built into your water treatment system to remove most of the particles in your water. The carbon filter’s sediment filter or backwash system should only be used to remove minor contamination.