When Did Water Filtration Begin?

by Francesca Macias / Mar 21, 2023
When Did Water Filtration Begin?

Want to hear something crazy? Ancient records show our ancestors were filtering water as early as 2000 B.C. So if you’re wondering about the history of water filtration, let’s start there.

2000 B.C.—Sun, Sand, & Heat!

Images on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs depicted what appeared to be sand and gravel being used to filter water. Plus, written records suggest ancient Egyptians used mined alum (a naturally occurring mineral near the Nile) to coagulate material out of cloudy water. In other words, alum was used as perhaps the first “filter” to separate particles from water so impurities were easy to spot and remove.

Meanwhile, the famed Sushruta Samhita, an ancient Indian Sanskrit text on medicine and surgery, went so far as to suggest three specific methods of filtering water:

  1. Boiling water over a fire.
  2. Heating water under the sun.
  3. Dipping a heated iron into water.

The bottom line is, the earliest known methods of water filtration were primarily sun, heat, and sand. And some of these records and illustrations date all the way back to 2000 B.C.! 

500 B.C.—‘The Father Of Medicine’ Adds Fabric

As early as 500 B.C., famed Greek physician, Hippocrates, took water filtration to the next level to better treat his patients.


He poured boiling water through cloth. By doing so, the cloth trapped sediment and solids that were larger than the fabric’s pores. 

Hippocrates' fabric filter became known as the “hippocratic sleeve.” You can think of it as the very first cloth bag filter!

300 B.C.—Romans Build Underground Aqueducts

Between approximately 300 and 200 B.C., Romans began building bridges and structures to transport water long distances. 

While these aqueducts were primarily built for transport, some were actually underground to also protect water from pollution; a clear indication that water quality and cleanliness were a consideration back then.

1500s To 1600s—Trial, Error, & Advancements

Little was done to further protect water until the late 1500s / early 1600s when British scientist Sir Francis Bacon began experimenting with saltwater desalination.

His theory was that sand could remove salt from seawater. So he dug a hole near the shore and waited for salt-free water on the other side. 

Unfortunately, this method didn’t work. But it did spark new interest in more advanced water filtration via sand that became even more important years later as new technology emerged. 

You see, in the late 1600s, the father of microbiology, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, made a game-changing discovery on the new and improved microscope. Leeuwenhoek saw tiny particles (i.e. microorganisms) in water that were previously invisible to the naked eye. These particles indicated that even if drinking water appeared safe and clean, it could still be dangerous to public health. 

The experiments by Bacon and the advancements by Leeuwenhoek influenced the development of the superior slow sand filtration methods that later became commonplace in the very first water purification plants. 

Early 1800s—The First Municipal Water Treatment Facility & Slow Sand Filtration Expands

The designer of high-capacity aqueducts and reservoirs (including the famed Loch Thom), Scottish civil engineer Robert Thom designed the first citywide, municipal water treatment plant in Paisley, Scotland in 1804. 

It was the first facility to deliver filtered water to an entire town thanks to a sand filter created by John Gibb. After a few years of distributing filtered water via horse-drawn carts, pipes were installed for easier transport. It’s probably safe to say Paisley’s water treatment plant became a “blueprint” for others.

Mid 1800s—Treatment Plants Expand, While New Clay, Ceramic, & Charcoal Filters Emerge

An increase in awareness of waterborne diseases signaled a growing need to filter municipal drinking water far beyond a single town in Scotland.

Under engineer James Simpson, the Chelsea Waterworks Company installed a slow sand filtration system to provide filtered water in London in 1829. From then on, more and more treatment plants emerged.

While sand was the most common filtration method of the time, clay, ceramic, and charcoal filters likely began to be used to produce clean drinking water as well. 

1854—A Deadly Outbreak Becomes The Catalyst For Cleaner Water (And Eventually, Chlorine)!

Ever hear of the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak? Cholera, an infection of the intestine, ran rampant in London at the time. And everybody was blaming “bad air” for the outbreak. 

It turns out, “bad water” was the source. British scientist John Snow proved it when he pinpointed a water pump contaminated by raw sewage. Using a microscope, he was able to confirm the presence of tiny cholera bacteria in the water.

This exacerbated the need for water to be more thoroughly cleaned and even disinfected. By 1897, chlorine had become the primary disinfectant of choice to help prevent disease like cholera and typhoid.

1862—Carbon Filters Become More Common

The first ceramic filters are often attributed to a man named John Doughton. Doughton reportedly used earth and clay materials to create ceramic bowls that trapped particles in drinking water. 

Then in 1862, John’s son, Henry, created the Doulton Managanous Carbon Filter; one of the first carbon cartridge filters. 

Doulton carbon filters were used by the military as well as hospitals. And as we’ll discuss in just a minute, similar carbon filters continue to be used today (despite their limitations). 

Early 1900s—Water Treatment Expands & Ion Exchange Emerges

While treatment was focused primarily on disease prevention at this time, water softeners were introduced in 1903 not to clean water, but to remove “hard” minerals from it.

Even many of today’s water softeners leverage the theory of ion exchange to remove magnesium and calcium ions from water to soften it. But to be clear, that doesn’t mean softeners clean water. They don’t. 

Water softeners simply “soften” water by removing minerals from water (many of which can actually be beneficial to your health!).

1950s-1970s—Reverse Osmosis Grows

At this point, sand filters were common. And carbon filters were spreading. It’s possible reverse osmosis filters were already in use, too. But in the 1950s-1970s, reverse osmosis filters became more widely used.


Because unlike water softeners, reverse osmosis filters were intended to clean water too.

But the critical problem with reverse osmosis filters (a problem that remains today) is that they blindly strip water of everything; both dangerous contaminants and beneficial minerals. We’ll talk more about that in just a minute. 

1974—The Safe Drinking Water Act Is Passed In The United States

While limited drinking water standards were implemented in the U.S. as early as 1914, it wasn’t until the 1940s that federal drinking water standards began to expand. Then, in 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed.

Under the SDWA (which is still applicable today), the U.S. EPA sets standards for drinking water quality and monitors states, local authorities, and water suppliers who enforce those standards.

Despite several amendments over the years, the SWDA is still in effect today and the EPA is still responsible for regulating tap water supplies here in the United States.

2000s—Carbon, Charcoal, & Reverse Osmosis Water Filters Go Mainstream

Basic carbon and charcoal water filters, as well as reverse osmosis systems, become mainstays at retail giants.

But just like water treatment, these water filters had serious deficiencies, and they still do!

Unfortunately, there was little else available to the public at the time that effectively addressed those deficiencies.

And the prevailing thought around the U.S. was that filtered tap water was better than unfiltered tap water. That is until new, more advanced filtration technology emerged.

2009—Affinity Filtration Technology Begins Development

Back in 2009, we, at Clearly Filtered, started to learn more about the many contaminants that were frequently being found in tap water as well as the deficiencies of mainstream filtration technology. 

The more we learned, the more alarmed we became. We found it unacceptable that there were—and still are—"acceptable” levels of dangerous chemicals, metals, and toxins lurking in tap water.

So we developed what is now known as Affinity® Filtration Technology to address the many contaminants that still sneak by typical filters today and continue to pollute our tap water.

2014-2021—New Water Crises & Data Reinforce Widespread Water Safety Concerns

The 2014 Flint, Michigan water crisis opened America's eyes to the limitations of the SDWA and our water treatment systems. 

Then damning EWG data revealed that there were more than 320 different contaminants detected in U.S. tap water supplies. EWG experts pointed out that the U.S. EPA only regulates as few as 90 of these contaminants.

A 2017 poll found 63% of Americans worried a great deal about pollution of drinking water sources, marking the highest level of widespread concern since 2001. 

And studies showed bottled water and tap water are “basically the same.” Meaning, even bottled water could be as contaminated as tap water.

The public continued to turn to store-bought water filters for peace of mind, but testing showed the vast majority of store-bought water filters were not powerful enough to provide complete protection. 

2021-2023—Performance Data Shows Clearly Filtered Filters Are Best-In-Class 

Today, Affinity Filtration Technology is the “gold standard” of water safety because it addresses the deficiencies of other modern filtration methods to give you complete protection and the cleanest water.

Here’s why:

  • Affinity Filtration Technology targets hundreds of contaminants water treatment facilities are not required to. Plus, it even reduces regulated contaminants to guarantee your protection.

  • Affinity Filtration Technology captures hundreds of contaminants mainstream charcoal and activated carbon filters can’t. Even with enhancements, these basic technologies are still limited.

  • Unlike wasteful reverse osmosis systems, Affinity Filtration Technology does not target beneficial minerals. Which means you don’t have to worry about remineralization, excess waste, or tasteless “dead” water like you do with reverse osmosis systems.

  • The bottom line is Affinity Filtration Technology is a safer, smarter, and more efficient filtration method that guarantees the cleanest water! And because new contaminants can emerge at any time, we regularly look to test (and enhance) our water filtration systems to ensure you’re protected. 

    So if you want the cleanest water, Clearly Filtered is your best option. 

    Tap here to shop our premium filtration systems, and enjoy the peace of mind that comes from being protected by Affinity Filtration Technology. 

    World Water Day 2023: https://www.worldwaterday.org/