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How to Filter Water Without Plastic

Zero Waste Kitchen

Last Updated on April 25, 2023

Learn how to filter without water using an unexpected, eco friendly water filter! Many people want clean, filtered water since tap water is notoriously full of toxins and heavy metals. However, most water filters use wasteful filters and a lot of plastic.

This plastic free water filter couldn’t be easier to use! Instead of using plastic and disposable filters that often need to be replaced, this non plastic water filter can be used for months and composted once it’s used up! Learning how to filter water without a filter is simple, cost-effective, and a great way to learn how to filter water without plastic! Just a simple, eco friendly water filter in your water bottle.

photo of a glass water bottle with a charcoal stick and overlay text reading "how to filter water without plastic"

how to filter water without a filter

Coming from Arkansas, the idea of filtering water had never crossed my mind. Arkansas has pure, spring-fed mineral water.

It’s some of the best tasting water in the world. If you live in Arkansas and buy bottled water, I could slap you. When I left Arkansas to embark on my acting journey, I brought along with me my trusty bobble.

It’s a water bottle that filters the water as you drink. It’s plastic but was a lifesaver in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Florida. Florida has to have some of the nastiest water in the US. And, while California isn’t the worst… it’s no Arkansas.

The water is very, very hard here. It has caused a litany of skin problems. My hair isn’t fluffy, my skin is dry, and I’m more prone to breakouts. You want to know why women in the south have big hair? Besides teasing, it’s literally in the water.

A charcoal stick is great for how to filter water without a filter

After almost two years, I’m finally finding a new system to help with these issues. I was starting to get used to drinking our tap too, but Justin was very insistent on filtered water.

We’re both well aware that bottled water is no safer than tap water; plus it’s an exorbitant waste of money. I don’t want my drinking water surrounded by plastic, whether it’s single-use or more permanent. Bottled water and Brita pitchers were both out.

Brita pitchers, fridge filters, and most all water filters use activated charcoal to filter water. I’m sure this name rings a bell… it’s been used in my eyeliner and face mask recipe.

charcoal in water used as a non plastic water filter

I stumbled into the world of activated charcoal when trying to make eyeliner and mascara. I watched this great video tutorial, but making it from scratch seems difficult and time-consuming.  Luckily, Rainbow has it in bulk, and I am so grateful for that!

And then the idea was born — how to filter water without a filter, using activated charcoal. Instead of using activated charcoal particles, I just use an entire activated charcoal stick. It works the same as every other filter, just in a different form. 

how to filter water using charcoal

Ok, so the question remains: exactly how to filter water without using a plastic filter?

A plain stick of activated charcoal will act as your plastic free water filter. Simply place the activated charcoal stick in a glass carafe full of tap water and let it sit for several hours. Don’t use a plastic jug; it really needs to be glass or stainless. I use an upcycled glass milk bottle. 

Activated charcoal naturally bonds with toxins. This means your homemade water filter will remove mercury, chlorine, copper, and even lead. It does not remove fluoride. So, don’t worry! I am getting plenty of fluoride without having it in my toothpaste.

A charcoal stick is a great plastic free water filter

how long does the plastic free water filter last?

This simple, non plastic water filter will last around 4 months. They do take a little bit of maintenance. Every 3-4 weeks the surface will fill up with toxins. You need to release the toxins so that it will keep working. It’s very simple. Just boil the stick for 10-15 minutes, discard the water, and it’s ready to use again!

what happens to the non plastic water filter at that point?

Nothing really happens to it. It simply loses its efficacy at absorbing the toxins and will need to be replaced. However, thanks to being a zero waste option, you’re able to compost it or use it as a deodorizer once you’re done using it as a filter. I keep one under Nala’s kennel. You could keep one in the fridge, by your shoes, or any other place you need to help control odor. 


where can I buy a charcoal stick to use as an eco friendly water filter?

There are several options out there, but I like this one and this one because the packaging for either is compostable. 

Many health food stores or even bulk grocery stores carry them in stock. I always suggest shopping locally before ordering online!

why can’t i just use a brita?

There is nothing wrong with Brita pitchers. It is still wayyyyyy less waste in the long run than buying bottled water. But, once your Brita pitcher is no longer in working condition, consider switching to this eco-friendly option. Plus, it will save you a lot of money! Brita refills aren’t cheap. 

How do you filter your water? Would you give a charcoal stick a try? 

This post may contain affiliate linking you can read more on my disclosure page.

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  1. Our water is fairly hard, too. We drink tap water nonetheless. For our #1 drink black or green tea, we use a Brita filter – it does make a difference in the taste of the high-quality tea. The think about coal filters is that they are a bacteria hotbed. After a few days, bacteria accumulate and spread there. Since we boil all filtered water, this makes no difference to us. the straight tap water has a bit of an odd taste: this comes from all the particles in the natural water. Since I prefer these non-toxic particles to lots of bacteria, I live with the odd taste. I do not use bottled water at all, even though in Germany we have good glass-bottled water besides the PET-bottled water. Both glass and PET bottles are recycled but the cost of shipping and cleaning the glasses or of shipping and melting the PET into a down-graded material are immense. No point to it in my opinion.
    Friends like sparkling water, which can be bought in glass or plastic. If they really wanted to, they could use a sparkling machine, i.e. a machine that fills the water from the tap into a bottle and adds gas to it.
    The only downside here s that you cannot order tapwater in pubs and restaurants. If you have a meal, you may ask one and sometimes get it. Mostly, they want to charge for sitting down and insist you consume something. Tapwater is not considered a sellable item in pubs.
    I like your idea with the coal stick. However, I wonder whether bacteria aren’t an issue. Four months is a long time to grow happily if you are bacteria… ?

    1. If you’re keeping the water in the fridge you shouldn’t have a problem. We go through one of these pitchers twice a day? You release the toxins by boiling it every 3-4 weeks. If you’re really worried about it, I’d boil it every week.

  2. Love this idea. I’m still using a Brita but when my filters run out I want to try this. Is it essential to remove the stick from the water after a few hours or can it be left in over night? I usually refill my Brita twice a day, so would it be okay to just leave the stick in all the time for convenience?

  3. This is not as good as reverse osmosis, the water you filter contains other chemicals and contaminants (public water). The reverse osmosis under-sink systems are not plastic free, even though they tout being "BPA" free. Plastic and containers in genera contain "BPS" as a replacement (and who knows what else), and other toxins. Surgical grade (316) stainless steel, and glass are really the only truly safe containers I could think of. I’m having so much trouble finding something to solve this issue. This Binchotan charcoal filter is great for some water sources, but not for tap water.


  4. hello just saw this post. I have always been told that consuming flouride was detrimental to health? Wondering if there are any ideas on combating the flouride in water as well

  5. You say you let it sit for several hours, can you be more specific, please? I saw sticks you can put into your water bottle, is it going to get filtered in short time or is it better to leave in jug and after several hours pour water to the bottle?

  6. This is probanly a silly question, but if you compost the charcoal after 4 months, aren’t you putting the removed chemicals into your compost pile? ?

  7. I’ve been using the charcoal sticks, two in a glass gallon of water. I was traveling by car and noticed a lot of black bits on the bottom. Is it from the agitation? Is it unsafe to consume since the charcoal holds the toxins?

    Why do they only work for a few months? Is there a definitive way to tell when it’s at the end of its life?

    I do love the idea of this. I’m also considering though, that in a Brita, all of the water is being forced through the charcoal filter. How can we be sure that the method you described is safe for effective? I want it to be!

    Best, Donna

  8. I use a Kangen water ionizer that has charcoal filter ,but also ionizes the water trough electrolysis and makes is alkaline and antioxidant. I use the different ph waters for cleaning,drsinfecting, washing produce, laundry, skin astringent..etc.
    Truely an eco friendly technology.

  9. I am definitely going to give this a try!! My doctor keeps insisting that I only drink alkaline water, which only comes in plastic bottles, and the only other way of getting it would be through a $5,000 machine.. ?

    I’m going to try ditching the Brita and replacing it with your method!

  10. We have a system called a Birky (metal container) which I really like. It has large charcoal filters that you need to shave every couple of months and then replace. It also has another filter you can purchase to remove other chemicals that charcoal can’t if you want. The only downside is the second filter is made of plastic but depending on the water, you may not even need it.
    I love it because we drink 6 or 7 litres a day in our house and this system can keep up with us!

  11. I was wondering, why can’t I use a plastic jug to contain water and filter it there? I wouldn’t buy a plastic option now, but I have two old plastic jars that I don’t want to throw away, but reuse. Is there any reason for this other then don’t buy plastics?

  12. So do you have to wait several hours to use the water you’re filtering in the glass jug with the charcoal stick? Should you have a separate glass jug you move the filtered water to once it’s done so you can continue the process of filtering more? Just wanting more clarification on what you do with the water once it’s filtered.

  13. What Carbon Filters Remove
    Carbon filters are very effective at removing a number of deleterious chemicals, reports the Home Water Purifiers and Filters site. These include chlorine, benzene, radon, solvents trihalomethane compounds, volatile organic chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides and hundreds of other man-made chemicals that may come into contact with tap water as it proceeds through the system. In addition, filters remove bad tastes and odors from the water.

    What Carbon Filters Don’t Remove
    Carbon filters are not particularly successful at removing dissolved inorganic contaminants and heavy metals such as minerals, salts, antimony, arsenic, asbestos, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, mercury, nickel, nitrates, selenium, sulfate, thallium and other contaminants, which may require a reverse osmosis system or distiller instead. Carbon block filters can remove some large, dangerous microorganisms, such as giardia and cryptosporidium, that can cause a number of diseases and epidemics, but nothing less than the size of the carbon itself. Viruses are too small to be removed by carbon, as they usually range between 20 and 400 nanometers in size, according to the University of Oregon.

  14. I feel like I could definitely give this a go… but how long does it need to be in the water for, for it to have sufficiently filtered the water…

    And do some research on Flouride. It is not good for us. It shuts down the Pineal Gland which is ultimately our intuition. Not good. And it turns out it’s not even good for our teeth, it actually contributes to decay. Just do some research.

    Love your posts ! Keep up the good work!