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How to Clean a Charcoal Water Filter Step by Step Guide

Fact checked by Stephen Conklin

how to clean a charcoal water filter

Do your drinking water smell and taste of chlorine? Are there sediments and other particles in your water? If you are having any of these issues, learning how to clean a charcoal water filter can be the solution.

While water filters have a definite service lifespan, some products have a reusable design. One such product is a charcoal or activated carbon water filter. However, you can only reuse this filter up to two or three times, after which you must replace it.

Nevertheless, cleaning a charcoal water filter is a cinch, and I will show you how.

Table of Contents

Things You Need for this Tutorial


You need a few things to clean a carbon water filter.

Knowledge of Carbon Filter Type

The majority of charcoal water filters have a standard three-layer design. At the core is a solid activated carbon block that serves as the unit’s principal contaminant-removing element.

Outside the carbon block is a foam-like or dense paper-like layer that acts as a barrier against sediments, particles, and other substances the charcoal layer failed to trap.

Forming the filter’s outermost layer is mesh netting, often made of plastic. It traps larger particles, preventing them from mixing with the filtered water.

Sanitizing Solution

You have two options for a sanitizing solution: household bleach and muriatic acid. Both cleaning agents are irritants that can cause soft tissue and skin inflammation if you are not careful.

That is why it would be best to include safety goggles, a respirator mask, and a pair of rubber gloves when preparing either solution.

Cleaning Materials and Tools

The materials for cleaning a charcoal water filter are not that many. If the filter is not that dirty, you will only need a garden hose with a steady stream of water. Otherwise, a soft-bristled brush will be advantageous in removing stubborn dirt off the water filter’s surface.

Steps to Cleaning a Charcoal Water Filter


Step 1. Remove the charcoal water filter from its canister.

The first step in cleaning activated carbon filters is removing them from their canister or housing. Close the water supply shutoff valve before removing the filter. It also helps to open all faucets and water fixtures to flush the water out.

Most water filters come with their respective filter housing wrench. Use this to remove the canister from the bracket and access the carbon filter membrane.

Step 2. Prepare a cleaning solution.

Your choice of a cleaning solution depends on how dirty the charcoal water filter is. For example, if it is mild to moderately dirty, you can prepare a bleach solution. You might need muriatic acid for more stubborn water filters.

Get a bucket, fill it with a gallon of warm water, and add two to three tablespoons of household bleach.

If preparing the muriatic acid solution, you need half a gallon of room temperature water. You can then add one and a half to two cups of acid. Pour the muriatic acid as slowly as possible while stirring the solution continuously.

Remember to wear safety goggles, gloves, and a respirator mask when preparing either cleaning solution.

Step 3. Expose the carbon block.

It would be best to expose the carbon core before you rinse and clean a charcoal filter.

Start by removing the plastic mesh netting and setting it aside. Cut the second layer lengthwise to unwrap it from the core.

Leave about half an inch of the paper filter on the carbon block to facilitate re-wrapping after cleaning.

Peel the paper backing off the water filter.

Fresh Water Systems has an excellent video on activated carbon filters. You can check it to understand how you can clean your charcoal water filter.

Step 4. Rinse the water filter.

Get your garden hose and spray water into the charcoal filter assembly. Hose down the paper filter to remove as much dirt as possible. Pick the large particles with your fingers to aid in their removal.

Spray and rinse the carbon block, too. You can use a soft-bristled brush to remove chunks of sediment on the surface.

Step 5. Soak the water filter in the cleaning solution.

Immerse your water filter into the cleaning solution, ensuring full submersion. The soaking time depends on how dirty the water filter is. However, five to ten minutes should be sufficient.

Always use rubber gloves in immersing the water filter into your sanitizing solution, especially if using muriatic acid. You can also use plastic tongs if you want.

If your charcoal water filter has a simple single-block design without the paper filter layer, you can brush off the dirt on the surface before immersing it into the sanitizing solution.

Step 6. Clean the water filter housing.

While sanitizing the water filter in the muriatic acid or household bleach solution, it would be best to clean the water filter housing.

Use warm soapy water to clean the canister’s inside and outside surfaces, ensuring you reach the crevices with a small brush.

Rinse the water filter housing thoroughly to remove the soapy smell.

Step 7. Rinse the water filter again.

Take the water filter out of the sanitizing solution and rinse it well with room-temperature running water. You will want to rinse it for two to three minutes or until you can no longer smell the scent of either muriatic acid or bleach.

Step 8. Replace the water filter in the housing.

Wrap the paper filter around the solid carbon block and secure the top with a nylon tie. You may have to tie several sections of the water filter with nylon to ensure no gaps are present between the carbon block and the paper filter.

Replace the mesh netting and slide the carbon water filter back into its housing. Secure it with the appropriate wrench.


You should feel more confident about how to clean a charcoal water filter after this tutorial. The process is uncomplicated, and the materials are not too many. You can resume enjoying fresh and great-tasting drinking water without the odd smell within thirty minutes.

I hope you find this tutorial advantageous and that you will also share it with your social contacts. You can also shoot me any questions you might have or send a comment about this article. I will be more than pleased to enlighten you further.

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