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Can Water Filters Remove Bacteria?

Water, especially drinking water, and bacteria are two things that should never go together at all. This is why water filtration and purification is highly encouraged, to prevent chances of infections from occurring. Water filtration is a two-step process which involves the actual filtration process and disinfection to remove contaminants such as coliform bacteria. In most countries, the standards do not allow the presence of any coliform bacteria in water. Examples of total coliform include fecal coliform and E. coli, which can be found in human and animal feces.

Filtration alone will not remove all harmful bacteria. Most water filtration systems have carbon filters, which remove organic compounds from your water, such as herbicides and pesticides. However, carbon filters on their own cannot remove dissolved inorganic contaminants and dangerous microorganisms. Viruses that are between 20-400 nanometers in size cannot also be removed by carbon filters.

Not all filters are created equal

Different water filters have different functions. However, no single filter can remove all types of contaminants 100%.

Filtration of contaminants highly depends on the number of contaminants, size of the contaminant particle and its charge in the water. Contaminants in this case, refers to bacterial components.

For carbon filters to remove bacteria, they have to work with other physical and chemical components such as iron, manganese and hydrogen sulfide. You will also need to consider addition of coagulants, adjustments to pH or chlorine concentration levels and other pre-treatment processes. The carbon filters must also be of high quality.

How can you ensure water filters remove bacteria?

For complete removal of bacteria through filtration and purification processes, four methods can be used which include microfiltration, ultrafiltration, nanofiltration and reverse osmosis system.

  • Microfiltration

A microfiltration filter usually has a pore size of approximately 0.1 micron (normal pore size ranges vary by filter from 0.05 to 5 micron).

The microfiltration process is very effective for removing protozoa, bacteria (including E.coli) and viruses. Its main limitation is that it is not quite effective for removing chemicals.

  • Ultrafiltration

The ultrafiltration process removes particles based on size, weight and is effective for removing protozoa and bacteria. However, it is moderately effective for viruses. It also has low effectiveness in removing chemicals.

  • Nanofiltration

Nanofiltration is very effective for removing protozoa, bacteria and viruses. However, it has a moderate effectiveness in removing chemicals.

  • Reverse osmosis system

Reverse osmosis system is a process that involves the reversing the flow of water in a natural process of osmosis so that water passes from a more concentrated solution to a more diluted solution through a semi-permeable membrane. Both pre and post-filters are included in the reverse osmosis membrane process itself.

The reverse osmosis system is highly effective for the removal of protozoa, bacteria, and viruses. It will also remove common chemical contaminants, metal ions and salts.


Your water filtration system will need constant maintenance to ensure its performance is maintained at optimal levels. Carbon filters will require regular filter replacements, to prevent build-up of bacteria and other contaminants in the system.







Choosing a Suitable Water Filter for Backpacking

Water availability or lack thereof can be the determining factor on whether your adventure trip is exciting or not. As you plan your trip, you always have to factor the water issue. Is there enough water at your destination? Is there a water source close by? Is the water safe enough to drink? Trying to figure out all these questions can be tiresome; hence the reason why you need to find a solution fast that will make your backpacking experience worthwhile.

The use of water filters and water filtration techniques has really transformed hydration issues for backpackers over the years. As the availability of clean safe water is becoming less and less guaranteed, backpacking water filters are a big value that cannot be understated. There are various types of water filter solutions, which you can choose based on your exact needs, price, functionality and any other aspect you would want to put into consideration.

Types of water filters

1.      Bottle filter

A bottle filter has a built-in filtration element. Some of them use a suction which is provided when you sip from the mouthpiece, while others work like a coffee press appliance. There are others that also use the UV light. An example of a bottle filter is the Aqua Vessel Insulated Filtration which is best suited for daytime hikers who can refill the bottle at a water source while hiking.


  • The treatment process is quite easy and you can drink the water immediately.
  • The element can be replaced easily.
  • It is lighter and costs less than other methods of filtration such as pumps or gravity filters.


  • It is not suitable when large amounts of water are needed.
  • Proper cleaning of the element is required.

2.      Straw filter

This method is best suited for when you need water on demand. The cylinders have an inbuilt element that allows you to sip directly from the source. It was originally designed as an emergency water treatment method, but its use has grown in popularity especially for long distance runners. An example of this filter is the LifeStraw which has a hollow-membrane filter that cleans the water as you sip.


  • It is suitable for when you need to drink water immediately.
  • It is affordable in comparison with other filters.
  • It is light to carry around.


  • It can only be used by one person at a time.

3.      Gravity filter

This method requires a reservoir. Most models come with containers and an inline filter, though the actual setup provided in the water containers can vary from model to model. An example of a gravity filter is the Platypus Gravity Works model.


  • It operates via gravity.
  • You can treat large amounts of water at a go.
  • The element is replaceable.


  • The treatment process is slower than the other filter methods.

Final thoughts

Of all water filter options available, there is none that can be described as the best, because each is dependent on different needs. However, the technique used is the same for all of them. So you can settle for a suitable choice and enjoy your backpacking adventure!






Water Filters and How They Operate

I can bet at any one time we have all assumed that water is safe to drink just by looking at it. Notably, even the clearest water (at least to the naked eye) contains particles and impurities that can prove to be very harmful to your health. These impurities usually referred to as contaminants include parasites, microscopic bacteria, and protozoa which if ingested can be fatal to your body. Research shows that water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery are responsible for 2 million deaths per year.  Due to the high level of contamination of water sources, a solution to address this problem is absolutely necessary. This is where water filters come to the rescue.

So what exactly is a water filter?

A water filter is a device used to remove or reduce impurities in the water such as chlorine, lead, magnesium, bacteria, parasites and many more. They also prevent further accumulation of bacteria, algae, and fungi. The concept is quite simple. The filter traps all undesirable elements and lets clean water pass through. This is achieved through the use of a material which has microscopic pores or holes. These pores which are usually less than 1/1000th of a millimeter (diameter) which allow water molecules to pass through, but are too small for bacteria and viruses to fit.

Water filters vary in size, depending on the intended use. The larger majority use home filters, which use activated carbon to treat the water. Activated carbon is preferred because a small amount has a very large surface area. Imagine this; just a single gram of activated carbon has the surface area of four tennis courts! This means that a large surface area in a compact volume has very small pores which can absorb a lot of organic compounds and pollutants.

How does activated carbon work?

Activated carbon is essentially oxygen-treated charcoal. The oxygen “activates” the carbon and opens the tiny pores between the carbon atoms which then absorb the harmful substances. So when contaminants in tap water try to flow past the carbon filter, the pores immediately trap the harmful substances at the carbon’s surface. As a result, you are assured of clean, odorless water.

The process is in two main steps;

  • Water filtration

Once you install a water filter, the water flows through two carbon water filters which will prevent contaminants and other unwanted and harmful substances such as dirt, chlorine, sediments and heavy metals from passing through.

  • Water disinfection

After the carbon filtration process, the next step is the disinfection process, which goes through another filter. This filter may have a purifier installed, which eliminates substances such as E-coli and coliform bacteria that are most harmful especially to children. Water disinfection is a very important step because it is the final step to ward off infections caused by drinking untreated tap water.

Final thoughts

The consequences of drinking untreated water can be very severe, if not fatal. Water filters are the biggest assurance that you are drinking clean, safe water. Most of them, especially for domestic use are quite affordable and easy to install and operate. They also come in a variety of ways, such as a flask or decanter that can sit on your countertop or on your refrigerator, or a faucet that can be mounted directly on your tap. My parting shot? Filter your water. It is beneficial to your health, your wallet and to the environment!