FILTER (a word common in various forms to most European languages, adapted from the medieval Lat. filtrum, felt, a material used as a filtering agent), an arrangement for separating solid matter from liquids. In some cases the operation of filtration is performed for the sake of removing impurities from the filtrate or liquid filtered, as in the purification of water for drinking purposes; in others the aim is to recover and collect the solid matter, as when the chemist filters off a precipitate from the liquid in which it is suspended.
In regard to the purification of water, filtration was long looked upon as merely a mechanical process of straining out the solid particles, whereby a turbid water could be rendered clear. In the course of time it was noticed that certain materials, such as charcoal, had the power to some extent also of softening hard water and of removing organic matter, and at the beginning of the 19th century charcoal, both animal and vegetable, came into use for filtering purposes. Porous carbon blocks, made by strongly heating a mixture of powdered charcoal with oil, resin, etc., were introduced about a generation later, and subsequently various preparations of iron (spongy iron, magnetic oxide) found favour. Innumerable forms of filters made with these and other materials were put on the market, and were extolled as removing impurities of every kind from water, and as affording complete protection against the communication of disease. But whatever merits they had as clarifiers of turbid water, the advent of bacteriology, and the recognition of the fact that the bacteria of certain diseases may be water-borne, introduced a new criterion of effectiveness, and it was perceived that the removal of solid particles, or even of organic impurities (which were realized to be important not so much because they are dangerous to health per se as because their presence affords grounds for suspecting that the water in which they occur has been exposed to circumstances permitting contamination with infective disease), was not sufficient; the filter must also prevent the passage of pathogenic organisms, and so render the water sterile bacteriologically. Examined from this point of view the majority of domestic filters were found to be gravely defective, and even to be worse than useless, since unless they were frequently and thoroughly cleansed, they were liable to become favourable breeding-places for microbes. The first filter which was more or less completely impermeable to bacteria was the Pasteur-Chamberland, which was devised in Pasteur's laboratory, and is made of dense biscuit porcelain. The filtering medium in this, as in other filters of the same kind, takes the form of a hollow cylinder or "candle," through the walls of which the water has to pass from the outside to the inside, the candles often being arranged so that they may be directly attached to a tap, whereby the rate of flow, which is apt to be slow, is accelerated by the pressure of the main. But even filters of this type, if they are to be fully relied upon, must be frequently cleaned and sterilized, and great care must be taken that the joints and connexions are watertight, and that the candles are without cracks or flaws. In cases where the water supply is known to be infected, or even where it is merely doubtful, it is wise to have recourse to sterilization by boiling, rather than trust to any filter. Various machines have been constructed to perform this operation, some of them specially designed for the use of troops in the field; those in which economy of fuel is studied have an exchange-heater, by means of which the incoming cold water receives heat from the outgoing hot water, which thus arrives at the point of outflow at a temperature nearly as low as that of the supply. Chemical methods of sterilization have also been suggested, depending on the use of iodine, chlorine, bromine, ozone, potassium permanganate, copper sulphate or chloride and other substances. For the sand-filtration of water on a large scale, in which the presence of a surface film containing zooglaea of bacteria is an essential feature, see Water Supply.
Filtration in the chemical laboratory is commonly effected by the aid of a special kind of unsized paper, which in the more expensive varieties is practically pure cellulose, impurities like ferric oxide, alumina, lime, magnesia and silica having been removed by treatment with hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids. A circular piece of this paper is folded twice upon itself so as to form a quadrant, one of the folds is pulled out, and the cone thus obtained is supported in a glass or porcelain funnel having an apical angle of 60°. The liquid to be filtered is poured into the cone, preferably down a glass rod upon the sides of the funnel to prevent splashing and to preserve the apex of the filter-paper, and passes through the paper, upon which the solid matter is retained. In the case of liquids containing strong acids or alkalis, which the paper cannot withstand, a plug of carefully purified asbestos or glass-wool (spun glass) is often employed, contained in a bulb blown as an enlargement on a narrow "filter-tube." To accelerate the rate of filtration various devices are resorted to, such as lengthening the tube below the filtering material, increasing the pressure on the liquid being filtered, or decreasing it in the receiver of the filtrate. R.W. Bunsen may be regarded as the originator of the second method, and it was he who devised the small cone of platinum foil, sometimes replaced by a cone of parchment perforated with pinholes, arranged at the apex of the funnel to serve as a support for the paper, which is apt to burst under the pressure differences. In the so-called "Buchner funnel," the filtering vessel is cylindrical, and the paper receives support by being laid upon its flat perforated bottom. In filtering into a vacuum the flask receiving the filtrate should be connected to the exhaust through a second flask. The suction may be derived from any form of air-pump; a form often employed where water at fair pressure is available is the jet-pump, which in consequence is known as a filter-pump. Another method of filtering into a vacuum is to immerse a porous jar ("Pukall cell") in the liquid to be filtered, and attach a suction-pipe to its interior. A filtering arrangement devised by F.C. Gooch, which has come into common use in quantitative analysis where the solid matter has to be submitted to heating or ignition, consists of a crucible having a perforated bottom. By means of a piece of stretched rubber tubing, this crucible is supported in the mouth of an ordinary funnel which is connected with an exhausting apparatus; and water holding in suspension fine scrapings of asbestos, purified by boiling with strong hydrochloric acid and washing with water, is run through it, so that the perforated bottom is covered with a layer of felted asbestos. The crucible is then removed from the rubber support, weighed and replaced; the liquid is filtered through in the ordinary way; and the crucible with its contents is again removed, dried, ignited and weighed. A perforated cone, similarly coated with asbestos and fitted into a conical funnel, is sometimes employed.
In many processes of chemical technology filtration plays an important part. A crude method consists of straining the liquid through cotton or other cloth, either stretched on wooden frames or formed into long narrow bags ("bag-filters"). Occasionally filtration into a vacuum is practised, but more often, as in filter-presses, the liquid is forced under pressure, either hydrostatic or obtained from a force-pump or compressed air, into a series of chambers partitioned off by cloth, which arrests the solids, but permits the passage of the liquid portions. For separating liquids from solids of a fibrous or crystalline character "hydro-extractors" or "centrifugals" are frequently employed. The material is placed in a perforated cage or "basket," which is enclosed in an outer casing, and when the cage is rapidly rotated by suitable gearing, the liquid portions are forced out into the external casing.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)