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What Is Activated Charcoal and How Does it Work?

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Question: What Is Activated Charcoal and How Does it Work?
Answer: Activated charcoal is used in water filters, medicines that selectively remove toxins, and chemical purification processes. Activated charcoal is carbon that has been treated with oxygen. The treatment results in a highly porous charcoal. These tiny holes give the charcoal a surface area of 300-2,000 m2/g, allowing liquids or gases to pass through the charcoal and interact with the exposed carbon. The carbon adsorbs a wide range of impurities and contaminants, including chlorine, odors, and pigments. Other substances, like sodium, fluoride, and nitrates, are not as attracted to the carbon and are not filtered out. Because adsorption works by chemically binding the impurities to the carbon, the active sites in the charcoal eventually become filled. Activated charcoal filters become less effective with use and have to be recharged or replaced.

Several factors influence the effectiveness of activated charcoal. The pore size and distribution varies depending on the source of the carbon and the manufacturing process. Large organic molecules are absorbed better than smaller ones. Adsorption tends to increase as pH and temperature decrease. Contaminants are also removed more effectively if they are in contact with the activated charcoal for a longer time, so flow rate through the charcoal affects filtration.

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