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How Do Backwashing Water Filters Work? Read Our Review

Backwashing whole house water filters have been a popular residential water treatment system option for years.  These systems are one of the most popular backwashing water filters on the market but local companies carry similar models or variations.  These systems usually have granulated activated carbon in the mineral tank, an electronic source to regenerate and start the backwashing cycle that cleans and resets the media bed for continued use for the life of the system. 

How do backwashing carbon filters work?


 backwashing water filter like lifesource water


Backwashing water filters use a mineral tank and operate in a downflow direction that requires backwashing to reset the carbon bed to keep the tank from forming channels and flushes sediment and other contaminants.  The backwashing filter requires an electrical hookup and drain to dispose of the water similar to a traditional water softener.    

These downflow backwashing systems differ from up-flow systems that operate in the reverse direction in that the water goes down the distributor tube and from the bottom of the tank flows up to a screen to separate the media.

Up-flow systems do not need an electrical hookup or drain because they do not require backwashing to reset the carbon bed.  It is usually recommended to install a sediment filter with up-flow systems to trap any fine sediment or debris in the water that backwashing filters don’t need.

For downflow backwashing systems, the water is metered by the electronic head that is programmed for a set time or an amount of water that has flowed through initiating the self-cleaning backwash cycle. This usually happens every 6 to 8 days when the bed needs to be reset.  When the bed needs to be cleaned the process sends the water in the reverse “up-flow” direction mixing and tossing the media while water runs through to the drain that is by-passing the service flow.  These systems however thousands of gallons, a vital life source to waste.

Is there anything special with backwashing carbon filters?

Local companies will usually have an endless list of things that make a backwashing filter to seem different than other systems.  Sometimes they will call the media “medical grade”. Some will have KDF or other media added to claim something extra with a backwashing system however like KDF usually gets clumped together and hardens in the carbon tank from what we have seen showing mixed results.

Even if a local company adds any mixed media with the carbon filter there is not much that is going to make an added benefit or remove anything more than what the activated carbon will remove to justify the large upfront cost of typical carbon systems. 

We get calls from customers about local backwashing filters as there is an endless list of media types asking if we have ever heard of calling it a “special media mix” or “medical grade”.  Usually, these are more for sales and marketing than anything else so always be wary and do a bit of research when dealing with any local company offering a high priced backwashing carbon filter.

What are the price and costs for a backwashing water filter?

While we are not entirely against backwashing carbon filters as we carry up-flow carbon systems,  we are certainly shocked by some price quotes some customers get. It's not unheard of for some of these backwashing filters to get quoted close to $4,000!!  That is a massive markup considering our FS1000 is right around $700 including free shipping. Our up-flow systems are easy to install, require no backwashing, wasting a vital life source like water or electricity. 

Our main issue is that these systems are simply massively marked up for a granular carbon filter tank as well as an old design that requires electrical hook up and wastes hundreds of gallons of water in regeneration adding to the overall cost of the system.  

Pros and cons to backwashing systems 

Backwashing charcoal filters are one of the oldest whole house systems on the market.  These systems do have a slightly longer capacity to the fact they simply have more carbon.  They are a staple and have been sold by local companies for decades. However, with water waste, energy and environmental impact, Filtersmart was founded with the mission to be a no water waste, no salt or sodium eco-friendly company. In addition, we do not believe in outdated technology.  The downside to backwashing water filters is the added electrical use and hundreds of gallons of water waste generated by regeneration. 

Up-flow whole house water filters





up flow systems and how they work  


With many of the softeners and carbon filters with electronic heads, there is also the constant maintenance issues and malfunctions.  As long as up-flow carbon filters are properly pre-soaked prior to installation and under proper water pressure requirements, there are not a lot of issues customers experience with the simple in/out head design. 

For private well water dealing with iron/hydrogen sulphide and or other issues, we do usually recommend a backwashing system as it is the only efficient way to remove these elements from the water with backwashing and using specialized media such as garnet, anthracite, zeolite, granular manganese dioxide, or greensand for special uses.  For carbon filtration, the everyday city water use for chlorine treatment, the pros do not outweigh the cons to any degree for us to justify offering a backwashing carbon filter system.

The water filtration industry is greatly being impacted by direct to consumer companies that are competing against local companies making massive markups on products that are now becoming difficult to justify for average homeowners.  The online world has allowed homeowners to make much more informed well-researched decisions in an industry that has typically operated in a large grey area. We always recommend our customers to do their own research and price comparisons to make the best purchase decision for them and their whole house system.  

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