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Interesting Facts About Activated Charcoal - Properties & Uses

A botany graduate, Nithya Venkat enjoys researching and writing about topics that interest her.

Activated Charcoal

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is a tasteless, odorless substance made up of carbon.

Activated charcoal is carbon treated with oxygen to open millions of tiny pores between the carbon atoms.

The pores in the activated charcoal help trap impurities in liquids and gases.

How does activated charcoal remove impurities?

Activated charcoal removes impurities through a process called adsorption.

Adsorption is a process in which molecules of gas, liquid, or solid are attached to the surface of a substance and trapped within the pores on the surface.

When the surface area of activated carbon is large, more impurities will be trapped and eliminated.

What is the difference between absorption and adsorption?

Absorption is a process by which a substance dissolves and merges into a substance, for example -

  • water absorbs sugar
  • the bloodstream absorbs digested material in the intestine
  • bread absorbs butter
  • skin absorbs the rays of the sun


Adsorption is a process by which a substance is attracted to the surface and attaches itself to the surface of the solid, for example -

  • the activated charcoal present adsorbs impurities in water in the water filter
  • paint is adsorbed by wood, metal, or plastic and dries on the surface
  • water molecules are adsorbed by glass on windows, making them fog during warm months and turn frosty when it is cold
Gas Mask

Gas Mask

Use of Activated Charcoal in Gas Masks

Activated charcoal is used in the manufacture of gas masks. The gas masks have inbuilt filtration systems that are filled with activated charcoal.

Activated charcoal has the ability to filter out chlorine. In World War I, gas masks were used by soldiers to protect themselves against chlorine gas attacks.

During a chlorine gas attack, the activated charcoal in the gas mask filters out the chlorine, preventing the eyes from tearing up and helping the soldiers to breathe easily.

Use in Water Filters

Filter cartridges packed with activated carbon are used to purify drinking water. However, the filter cartridge has to be replaced when it can no longer adsorb impurities.

Impurities that can be removed by activated charcoal from water are -

  • Chlorinated solvents
  • Non-chlorinated solvents
  • Gasoline
  • Pesticides
  • Trihalomethanes
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Medicinal Activated Charcoal

Medicinal Activated Charcoal

Medicinal Uses

1. Activated charcoal helps in the adsorption of drugs and toxins. It reduces the adsorption of poisonous substances by the body.

Giving activated charcoal orally to a person who has swallowed a poisonous substance will help to reduce the adsorption of the poisonous substance and increase the chances of the person surviving when medical aid is administered.

Call for medical assistance; activated charcoal alone cannot save a person's life.

2. A poultice of activated charcoal mixed with water and cornstarch helps to cure bee stings, spider bites, snake bites, and other poisonous insects by drawing out the poison from the body.

3. Activated charcoal helps cure skin conditions such as acne by drawing out any dirt or oil from the skin. To apply activated charcoal on your skin, mix one capsule of activated charcoal with one teaspoon of aloe vera gel, rose water, and three drops of tea tree oil. Many cosmetic products have activated charcoal as one of their ingredients.

4. Toothpaste mixed with activated charcoal can whiten your teeth daily.

5. Activated charcoal is used in face and body masks because of its ability to draw out impurities from the skin.

Medicinal activated charcoal is available in the form of pills or capsules.

Other Uses of Activated Charcoal

  1. In the automotive industry, activated charcoal is used to filter out contaminants. Canisters of activated charcoal are used to reduce the hydrocarbon emissions from vehicles that run on gasoline. In addition, cars with air purification systems use activated charcoal to filter out contaminants inside the cabin.
  2. Activated carbon is used in the production of beverages to remove bad tastes and odors and helps increase drinks' shelf life.
  3. In the food industry, activated charcoal is used to purify food products. For example, it is used to purify liquid syrups, fruit juices, edible oils, etc.

Activated charcoal is nothing but carbon that is highly porous with a large surface area. The large surface area and the highly porous nature of activated charcoal make it an essential purifying agent in many application areas.

Activated Charcoal Summarized

Activated charcoal is nothing but activated carbon. When treated with oxygen, carbon transforms into activated charcoal with an increased surface area.

Activated charcoal has many pores that help to trap impurities from liquids and gases through adsorption and has many industrial and medicinal uses.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Nithya Venkat


Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on November 16, 2015:

Thank you hari.

Hari Prasad S from Bangalore on November 15, 2015:

very useful.

- hari

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on March 29, 2015:

shanmarie thank you.

Shannon Henry from Texas on March 28, 2015:

Very interesting! I learned quite a bit from you today.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on February 13, 2015:

mary615 thank you for the vote up and share. I read your hub and learned all about how to use activated charcoal.

sallybea thank you for reading.

Blackspaniel1 thank you for stopping by.

aesta1 thank you for your visit and am glad that you came to know about activated charcoal.

mary615 do link my hub to yours and thank you.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on February 11, 2015:

I forgot to ask you when I first read this Hub if I could link it to my Hub on how I use Activated Charcoal for skin and teeth. I will do that now if I may. Thanks.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 10, 2015:

Thanks for the read on something I have no idea about. I'm surprised about its many uses.

Blackspaniel1 on February 10, 2015:

Interesting. I still remember the small packs in potato chip bags that were supposed to remove moisture and keep the chips fresh. They contained activated carbon and silicon.

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on February 10, 2015:

Very interesting hub about a product which I previously knew very little about. It has also been beautifully formatted. Very well done.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on February 10, 2015:

This Hub is a related one to the one I wrote about activated charcoal. It is a wonderful product, and I'm glad I discovered how to use it for skin and teeth. Your Hub is very useful because you go into more benefits and uses.

Voted UP, and shared.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 16, 2015:

vocalcoach thank you for your support, vote up, tweet and share. Much appreciated.

ImKarn23 I love to write educational articles about things that fascinate me or anything that I am interested in, hence this hub. Thank you for visiting.

Karen Silverman on January 15, 2015:

I wonder what brought about this in-depth look into activated charcoal? It's quite an undertaking and you covered all the bases. (i's not like i knew anything on the subject before reading your informative hub.

I'm not sure i understand how one pound is the 'size' of 6 football fields altho..

nice 'visiting' with youxx

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on January 15, 2015:

I always look forward to your hubs Vellur. The information you provide is useful and interesting. Charcoal was on my list to learn about. So thanks and I voted up, useful, awesome, interesting and will pin, tweet and share!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 02, 2015:

RTalloni thank you for stopping by, many people use activated charcoal for various purposes.

RTalloni on January 01, 2015:

Friends have mentioned using activated charcoal and I've meant to read up on it. This is a great start on that research--thanks!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on November 13, 2014:

tillsontitan thank you for your visit and many vote ups.

Mary Craig from New York on November 12, 2014:

This is great information. I had no idea activated charcoal could be used for acne or bee stings.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on November 06, 2014:

teaches12345 thank you for your visit and comment.

Dianna Mendez on November 05, 2014:

THis iis such an interesting topic. I thank you for bringing this awareness on activated charcoal out to readers. I will have to keep it in mind.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on October 31, 2014:

Nell Rose thank you, yes we never think of such things. Activated charcoal tablets are great for stomach problems.

Nell Rose from England on October 31, 2014:

Fascinating article vellur, its amazing how we never think of these things, but they have so many uses. I tend to use it for stomach problems much better than any other tablets, thanks, nell

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on October 29, 2014:

ChitrangadaSharan thank you for reading and for your vote up, much appreciated.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on October 29, 2014:

Very informative and well researched article!

I have some rough idea about activated charcoal, but this is truly quite educative.

Thanks for sharing! Voted up!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on October 29, 2014:

FlourishAnyway thank you for reading and am glad you understood. You made my day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 29, 2014:

How interesting. I learned a lot from reading this. Thanks for specifying the differences in adsorption and absorption, too. I didn't know.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on October 28, 2014:

Jackie Lynnley thank you and activated charcoal is good to have around at home.

DDE thank you for your visit and vote ups.

Faith Reaper thank you for your visit, vote up and pin. Much appreciated.

always exploring yes it has many uses and also used in makeup products.

AliciaC thank you for your visit and yes it is very useful in many ways.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 28, 2014:

Thanks for sharing this interesting information, Vellur. Activated charcoal sounds like a very useful substance!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on October 28, 2014:

I'm amazed! I knew nothing about activated charcoal. It is used in so many products, even makeup. Thank you for sharing. I really learn from your hubs..

Faith Reaper from southern USA on October 28, 2014:

Fascinating topic for a hub. I learned a lot here. This is a well-presented and well-written hub full of insight and useful information.

Up +++ tweeting and pinning

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 28, 2014:

You always come up with a well--researched hub and I admire your great talent. Your efforts are worth a reader's time. Voted up, interesting and useful.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on October 28, 2014:

Very interesting article. Nell wrote a little on this and I meant to get some charcoal tablets but forgot all about it. She said it is used like for Tylenol overdose; sounds like something good to have around. ^+

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on October 28, 2014:

mantita44 thank you for your visit and comment.

words55 thank you for stopping by.

billybuc thank you and yes activated charcoal as a substance is very interesting structurally and chemically.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 28, 2014:

Very interesting about a topic I have never read about. Great read for anyone interested in science and life.

Al Wordlaw from Chicago on October 28, 2014:

Great presentation here Vellur. Thank you for sharing!

manatita44 from london on October 28, 2014:

Interesting article and great product. We have used it in Accident and emergency departments quite successfully. I'm not sure but I think they use a lot of iv fluids nowadays. Great Hub.

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