How to Remove PFAS From Water

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PFAS were big in the news several years back when they were found present in “toxic levels” in many bottled water sources. But PFAS exposure isn’t only limited to drinking bottled water. Your home’s public water or well water supply may also be laced with PFAS as a result of pollution in your local area.

In this in-depth guide, I’ll be looking at how to remove them from your drinking water.

Activated Carbon Filters

Activated carbon filters, usually granular activated carbon or solid carbon block cartridges, are particularly effective at removing PFOA & PFOS from household drinking water sources.

According to the EPA, if you’re dealing with PFAS contamination in the United States, activated carbon filters are the first and most studied water treatment option to consider.

A granular activated carbon water filter adsorbs a number of common water contaminants, including chlorine, lead, and PFAS.

Being highly porous and with a large surface area, activated carbon naturally makes for an effective filtration option, trapping larger contaminants in the filter pores and allowing only smaller water particles to pass through.

Granular activated carbon can be 100% effective, according to an EPA researcher, for a limited period of time – and this depends on several factors, such as water temperature and flow rate, the depth of the carbon bed, and the types of PFAS you need to remove.

There are many different GAC treatment technologies you can choose from, but you’ll usually find a GAC filter in a whole-house application for well water or municipal water treatment.

Unboxing new black berkey filter elements

Ion Exchange Systems

Another water treatment solution for removing tap water PFAS is ion exchange. An ion exchange system consists of a tank containing an anion exchange resin, which is typically made from insoluble hydrocarbons.

There are two types of ion exchange resins: anionic resins and cationic resins.

Cationic resins are negatively charged, making them the better choice for removing positively charged impurities, while anionic resins, being positively charged, are effective at removing negatively charged impurities.

Both resin beds work like magnets, attracting specific contaminants, which stick to their surfaces and are unable to pass out of the tank with water particles.

PFAS are typically negatively charged, which makes anionic resins the best choice for removing PFAS.

This solution tends to have a higher capacity than activated carbon water treatment, but it comes at a higher upfront cost.

Like an activated carbon water filter, an ion exchange system can be highly effective in removing drinking water PFAS, but again, the effectiveness of the process may be determined somewhat by the flow rate and temperature of water, the depth and quality of the resin bed, the other contaminants in your drinking water, and so on.

anions and cations explained

Reverse Osmosis Systems

A reverse osmosis filtration system is typically considered one of the most thorough and wide-ranging water filters available on today’s market.

During the reverse osmosis process, water is sent at a high pressure through a semi-permeable membrane, which has tiny pores of around 0.0005 microns in size. While PFAS vary in size, they’re usually much larger than these membrane pores, and are unable to filter through with water particles.

A reverse osmosis filter can typically greatly reduce PFOA and PFOS; up to around 90%. The lingering PFAS, and hundreds of other trace contaminants in water, are released down a drain during the reverse osmosis process, so only pure water makes it to your faucet.

It’s worth knowing that reverse osmosis treatment does waste around 20% of water used in the filter process because of the system’s design.

Reverse osmosis filters may be point of entry – installed at your main water line to provide whole house filtration – or point of use – installed beneath your kitchen sink to provide clean, filtered drinking water.

Some RO treatment options are available as standalone countertop units that don’t require connecting up to your waterline at all.

It’s relatively easy to maintain reverse osmosis technologies. The filter cartridges require changing once every year or so, while the RO membrane usually lasts for 2 years before it needs replacing.

Cloud RO base with new filters installed

🥇 Which Water Filters Are Best For PFOS and PFOA Removal?

Now you know your options, which system is the right choice for you?

It depends on what you’re looking for.

If you’re just after a treatment system that’ll remove PFAS, then carbon filtration or ion exchange systems may provide the ideal solution.

But if you like the idea of removing PFAS and purifying your drinking water, making it completely safe and minimizing health effects from a broad range of contaminants, reverse osmosis filters may be the better option.

Your budget will probably play a big part in your purchasing decision, too.

Read Our Reviews: The Best Water Filter for PFAs Removal in 2024

If you don’t want to spend big bucks on a top of the line water filter for PFAs, you may be somewhat limited in which systems are available to you.

Reverse osmosis filters tend to be the most expensive, while carbon filters are generally available in a broader range of options, with some being more affordable than others.

It’s essential that you carry out testing to know exactly which impurities your water is contaminated with before considering a contaminant removal solution.

Many whole-home filters and point-of-use treatment technologies can filter out more than just PFOS and PFAS.

Contaminants including lead, chlorine, arsenic and VOCs are all common in tap water and have their own maximum contaminant advisory level set out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to their potential health effects.

It’s perfectly possible to tackle multiple contaminants in one go, and knowing what your water is contaminated with is undoubtedly useful.

❔ PFOS and PFOA Removal FAQ

What does it mean if a product is certified by NSF International for PFAS removal?

If a product has an NSF International 53 or 58 certification, it means it has been independently tested and deemed capable of reducing PFOA or PFOS to less than 70 ppt, as outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency. This is a great vote of confidence for you, the buyer, as you can be certain that a product is capable of whatever it’s advertised to do. Visit NSF’s certification listings to view the full list of products certified to remove PFOA and PFOS.

Does Distilling Water Remove PFAS?

Yes, distillation is a highly effective method of removing PFAS from water.

Will boiling water remove PFAS?

No, boiling water alone won’t remove PFOS and PFOA, as there’s no evaporation & condensation or filter process that could remove the chemical. In fact, boiling your water would just cause some of the water particles to evaporate, resulting in the same concentration of PFAS within a smaller batch of water.

Do Refrigerator Filters Remove PFAS?

It depends. Some refrigerator filters can reduce PFAs, some cannot. It’s best to look for a filter certified to NSF/ANSI 53 for PFAs reduction.

Do Water Softeners Remove PFAS?

No, the cation exchange process used in water softeners cannot reduce PFAs chemicals.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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