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Interesting Facts About Activated Charcoal - Properties & Uses

Updated on April 10, 2019
Vellur profile image

A Botany graduate, Nithya Venkat writes about topics that interest her.

Activated Charcoal
Activated Charcoal | Source

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

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

The pores in the activated charcoal help to 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 present on the surface.

When the surface area of activated carbon is large more impurities will be trapped and eliminated. Special techniques are used to produce activated charcoal with a surface area of 300–3000 sq meters per gram approximately.

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
  • digested material in the intestine is absorbed by the blood stream
  • 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 -

  • impurities in water are adsorbed by the activated charcoal present 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 | Source

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, thereby preventing the eyes from tearing up and helps the soldiers to breathe easily.

Use in Water Filters

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

Filter cartridges are sold along with expiry dates. A filter cartridge has to be changed when it expires.

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

  • Chlorinated solvents
  • Non-chlorinated solvents
  • Gasoline
  • Pesticides
  • Trihalomethanes

All of the above mentioned impurities can cause damage to the body.


Medicinal Activated Charcoal
Medicinal Activated Charcoal | Source

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 of surviving when medical aid is administered.

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

2. A poultice of active charcoal mixed with water and corn-starch 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 to cure skin conditions such as acne by drawing out any dirt or excess 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 with daily use.

5. Activated charcoal is used in face masks and body masks because of it's abilities 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 hyrdrocarbon emissions from vehicles that run on gasoline. 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, odors and helps to increase the shelf life of beverages.
  3. In the food industry activated charcoal is used to purify food products. 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 makes it an important purifying agent in many areas of application.

Activated Charcoal Summarized

Activated charcoal is nothing but activated carbon. Carbon when treated with oxygen transforms into activated charcoal with 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.


© 2014 Nithya Venkat


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    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      3 years ago from Dubai

      Thank you hari.

    • shprd74 profile image

      Hari Prasad S 

      3 years ago from Bangalore

      very useful.

      - hari

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      shanmarie thank you.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon Henry 

      4 years ago from Texas

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

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      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.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      4 years ago from Florida

      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.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

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

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image


      4 years ago

      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.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      4 years ago from Norfolk

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

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      4 years ago from Florida

      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.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      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.

    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 

      4 years ago

      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

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      4 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      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!

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

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

    • RTalloni profile image


      4 years ago from the short journey

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

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      tillsontitan thank you for your visit and many vote ups.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      4 years ago from New York

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

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      teaches12345 thank you for your visit and comment.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      4 years ago

      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.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

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

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      4 years ago from England

      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

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

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

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      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!

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

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

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 years ago from USA

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

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      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.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      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 profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      4 years ago from southern USA

      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

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      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 profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      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. ^+

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      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.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

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

    • word55 profile image

      Al Wordlaw 

      4 years ago from Chicago

      Great presentation here Vellur. Thank you for sharing!

    • manatita44 profile image


      4 years ago from london

      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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