11 Activated Charcoal Uses for Beauty, Health & Home

Heather Dessinger

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activated charcoal uses

Imagine this: You’ve got one hour to pack for your dream vacation, and all you can take with you is a carry on – what do you toss in your bag? I can tell you one item that would definitely be in mine, whether I’m headed to Iceland’s hot springs or a beach in Bali – activated charcoal.

The stuff is basically the Swiss Army knife of natural living – one bottle can serve as first aid, a portable spa treatment, and a tooth whitener. And that’s just a few of the uses for activated charcoal . . . we’ll cover more in this article!

So, what is activated charcoal?

Although it sounds similar to the charcoal bricks you throw in a BBQ grill to make dijon rosemary marinated shish kabobs, it’s actually very different. Sometimes called activated carbon, it’s made by burning natural materials – often hardwood, bamboo or coconut shells – at high temperatures until they transform into adsorbent granules that are ground into powder.

To understand how activated charcoal works, let’s talk about absorption and adsorption. You already know what absorption is – when fluid is dissolved into a liquid or solid, like water being absorbed by a paper towel.

Adsorption is a little different. Think of it more like a magnet that binds strongly to the surface certain substances, grabbing onto them so they can’t get away.

Millions of micropores in activated charcoal grab onto heavy metals, viruses, poisons, certain types of bacteria, and other substances. 

Just two grams (about 4 capsules of coconut-derived activated charcoal) has a larger surface area than an entire football field. (1)

So what’s it useful for? Great question!

activated charcoal uses

11 Activated Charcoal Uses

Before we dive in, I want to say that this is not medical advice, these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Also, it’s a good idea to discuss any home remedies you consider with your healthcare provider.

Okay,moving on to the benefits of activated charcoal for everything from teeth whitening to gardening.

1. Food Poisoning & Stomach Bug Recovery

Activated charcoal is so helpful for binding with toxins that it’s often used in hospital emergency rooms to treat poisoning. According to WebMD:

Activated charcoal is sometimes used to help treat a drug overdose or a poisoning.

When you take activated charcoal, drugs and toxins can bind to it. This helps rid the body of unwanted substances.

People take activated charcoal to manage a poisoning or overdose.

When used along with other treatments, activated charcoal may be effective for an acute poisoning. But it is not useful in some cases, including poisoning from:

* Cyanide

* Lithium

* Alcohol

* Iron tablets”

Serious situations just as potential poisoning need to be addressed by Poison Control, a doctor, or your local ER. However, activated charcoal is also considered helpful in situations that can often be managed at home – mild cases of food poisoning or a stomach bug, for example.

In Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide For Treating Health Problems With Natural Remedies, which was written by James F. Balch, M.D., Mark Stengler N.M.D, and Robin Young Balch, N.M.D, activated charcoal is recommended for food poisoning. Here’s what they suggest:

Take 3 capsules every two hours for three doses. Activated charcoal doses taken internally can help to absorb toxins from food poisoning. Charcoal works best when taken in the first stages of food poisoning (when you first realize you have food poisoning).”

I’ve also found activated charcoal to be extremely helpful for stomach bugs. It’s used in many water filtration systems to remove bacteria, viruses, and fluoride, so it makes sense that it supports the body in flushing out what’s not supposed to be there. Interestingly, this study found that activated charcoal bound more strongly to e. coli than the normal (beneficial) bacteria found in the digestive tract.

2. Calms Itchy Bug Bites

It’s not the most discreet way to calm an itchy bug bite – a clear bug bite balm might be better if that’s an issue – but activated charcoal is a great option for soothing stings and bites. Just mix with a little water and dab on the area.

3. Soothes Digestive Discomfort (Intestinal Gas, Bloating, Diarrhea)

“Activated charcoal is used to reduce digestive flatulence and also to absorb harmful toxins, including infectious agents that cause diarrhea,” write James F. Balch, M.D., Mark Stengler N.M.D, and Robin Young Balch, N.M.D. (2)

Many people say it helps immensely with bloating as well. Studies that have examined this issue are mixed, which isn’t all that surprising.

We know from research on SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) that there are two types of microorganisms that typically cause bloating – ones that produce hydrogen and ones that produce methane. They don’t usually respond to the same interventions, so it makes sense that activated charcoal might help in some cases but not others.

For this purpose, James F. Balch, M.D., Mark Stengler N.M.D, and Robin Young Balch, N.M.D. recommend the following:

Take it with a glass of water, two hours away from other medications and supplements.

Dosage: Take 500-1,000 mg three times daily for up to three days.” (2)

whiten teeth naturally activated charcoal how to

4. Whitens Teeth Naturally

Activated charcoal binds strongly with tannins and other compounds that stain teeth, and is traditionally used in Tanzania to clean teeth. (3)

Here’s how to whiten teeth naturally with activated charcoal powder. (Turmeric whitens teeth, too!)

For even more whitening power, Primal Life Organics makes a peroxide-free activated charcoal gel that comes with an LED light to whiten and brighten teeth. You can find it here.

5. Non-Toxic Face Paint

I developed an easy recipe for non-toxic face paint after the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reported that 10 out of 10 face paints they tested were positive for lead. Also, 6 out of 10 tested positive for other toxic heavy metals. (4(5)

6. Face Mask & Cleanser

For deep pore cleansing and detoxification, mix 1-2 capsules with enough water to make it spreadable and apply to the face area for about 10 minutes before rinsing. Follow with a moisturizer like this rosehip seed oil or my homemade hydrating skin repair serum recipe.

Many people also swear by activated charcoal soap for balancing oily or acne-prone skin.

7. Armpit Deodorizer

Activated charcoal absorbs odors well. Many companies include it as a filtering component in air purifiers. It’s sometimes incorporated into natural deodorants like this one, but I haven’t tried it personally since I love my homemade deodorant recipe.

However, I do know that for some people who find that natural deodorants don’t quite cut it, adding a charcoal armpit mask to the routine as needed can be really helpful. Just dump 4-5 capsules into a small bowl, mix with water until you reach a spreadable consistency, apply and let sit for 5 minutes, then rinse.

8. Water Filtration

You can’t use activated charcoal capsules for this one, but it’s still worth mentioning. Although I don’t love that they’re plastic, I keep a couple of portable water bottles like these on hand because they have built-in activated charcoal filters. They’re my “go to” when we travel and don’t have access to the clean filtered water we have at home.

how to improve indoor air quality

9. Room & Car Deodorizer

As I wrote about in this article on improving indoor air quality naturally, Moso bags are a budget-friendly air purifying option that can help absorb odors and toxins in small spaces like cars, closets, bathrooms and pet areas.

They’re filled with activated charcoal, which is the same stuff that companies like Austin Air use in their top-rated air filters.

Each bag works for approximately two years. Set it out in the sun each month to keep it working. After the second year, cut the charcoal out of the bag and use in your yard or garden. Here’s where to buy them.

10. Activated Charcoal for Plants

Often called horticultural charcoal, bags of activated charcoal can be found in many garden stores. They’re often used in terrariums and pots with no drainage to protect plants from overwatering.

11. Soothe Discomfort From Poison Ivy, Oak or Sumac

Although a little messy, activated charcoal powder can be mixed with water and rubbed onto skin that’s been irritated by poison ivy, oak or sumac.

Where to buy activated charcoal

I buy this brand of activated charcoal capsules because they’re made from coconut shells, which is more porous (meaning it adsorbs better) than hardwood derived activated charcoal. Coconut shells are also considered a more sustainable, environmentally friendly choice.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does activated charcoal prevent hangovers?

Human studies have shown that taking activated charcoal with alcohol does not reduce alcohol absorption. (6)  However, I’ve found that taking it after sipping a glass of wine at a social gathering prevents me from feeling icky the next morning. My guess is that it helps by soaking up certain additives I’m sensitive to – there are currently 200 different approved additives in the United States. (7)

Interestingly, I’ve found that when I drink Dry Farm Wines, which are grown with organic practices and don’t contain added sulfites or other ingredients that are commonly used (like sawdust and food coloring), I don’t have the issues I do with most wines.

Does activated charcoal have side effects?

According to WebMD:

“When used to treat a poisoning or overdose, activated charcoal is usually safe, but it needs to be administered only in a health care facility. Side effects are more likely when it is used on a long-term basis to treat conditions like excess gas.

Side effects. When you take it by mouth, activated charcoal can cause:
* Black stools
* Black tongue
* Vomiting or diarrhea
* Constipation

In more serious cases, it can cause gastrointestinal blockages.”

Are there any other cautions to be aware of? 

Activated charcoal binds with a lot of substances, including vitamins and prescription or over-the-counter medications. One study, for example, found that when a single dose (50 grams) of activated charcoal is taken within thirty minutes of ingesting a drug, it can reduce absorption by up to 50%. For that reason, it should not be taken within two hours of any supplements or medicines. (8)

Does activated charcoal expire?

Some producers may list an expiration date in order to meet government regulations, but several sources I’ve read say it should last indefinitely as long as it is dry. If not stored in an airtight container, it will eventually “fill up” by adsorbing moisture and other pollutants/ particles from the environment.

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This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.


1. Dillon et. al. (1989) Large surface area activated charcoal and the inhibition of aspirin absorption.

2. Balch, M.D., James F. et. al. (2016) Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements and Other Holistic Methods.

3. Sarita, PT and Tuominen, R. (1992) Tooth cleaning methods and their effectiveness among adults in rural Tanzania.

4. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Pretty Scary: Could Halloween Face Paint Cause Lifelong Health Problems?

5. Grist (2015) There Could Be Lead In Your Face Paint

6. Minocha, A et. al. (1986) Activated charcoal in oral ethanol absorption: lack of effect in humans.

7. The Splendid Table (2013) Yes, natural wines pack surprises. But would you prefer sawdust?

8. Chyka, P.A. et. al. (2005) Position paper in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology: Single-dose activated charcoal

9. Drugs.com. Activated Charcoal.

uses for activated charcoal

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Heather is a holistic health educator, herbalist, DIYer, Lyme and mold warrior. Since founding Mommypotamus.com in 2009, Heather has been taking complicated health research and making it easy to understand. She shares tested natural recipes and herbal remedies with millions of naturally minded mamas around the world. 

Leave a Comment

21 thoughts on “11 Activated Charcoal Uses for Beauty, Health & Home”

  1. I once ate something that I hadn’t realized had expired by a long time. I was anxious about getting sick, so I took AC to counter-act anything. Didn’t get sick. Not sure if it helped, but it certainly didn’t hurt. I also gave some to my dog once when I thought he’d chewed up a pill my mom dropped. He was fine.

  2. I use activated charcoal along with bentonite clay as toxin binders in my recovery regime from toxic mold exposure and tick infections. It helped to bring me from being refined to bed in pain for three years to walking and getting out again and I have not yet even remediated my home. I cannot imagine how good I will feel when that is done. It works!

  3. I bought a bottle of cubed AC before I realized there was the powdered capsules. Do you know if there would be any reason that I couldn’t crush the cubes into powder for easier use? Thanks!

  4. Thanks, Love Activated Charcoal. Got a stomach bug right now that it’s helped tremendously.
    My question is….Where did you get the cute jar/bottle???

  5. A poultice of activated charcoal and bentonite clay completely cured my Brown Recluse spider bite on my hip last year in just three weeks, and it was a very bad bite indeed — a baseball sized ring with a nasty black spot of dead flesh about the size of a quarter in the middle after three days. I knew what it was after Day 2 but didn’t tell anybody since I knew what the doctors would do (cut, cut, and cut some more while chasing infections for a year or more is way too common). Anyway, I finally found that if you mix AC with bentonite clay into a putty (just like Silly Putty) and apply the resulting blob as a poultice three times a day (throw the old blobs out while using new ones, of course) will eventually draw out the poison while at the same time healing the wound. It worked! Now all I have is a faint pinky-nail sized pink spot left. My neighbors thought I was insane. Funny thing is, many of my neighbors have finger or even fist-sized scarred depressions in their arms or legs with horror stories about what their doctors did to them. Brown recluse spiders are very common here and every family ends up with at least one person (usually more) bitten each decade. Thank gads for AC and bentonite clay is what I’ve learned via my own personal experience!

  6. Activated Charcoal is also great for stings, break open a capsule and make a paste with water and it will help pull the poison out of the sting.

  7. There are many other issues and beneficial uses of charcoal. One popular use is for use in hangovers. The issue is that if you take them before drinking alcohol charcoal capsules will absorb a lot of the alcohol. For the best effects, they should be taken right after finishing drinking and again in the morning – at recommended dosages. Assisting with alcohol hangovers is perhaps one of the most famous uses of charcoal capsules.

  8. Hi,
    I have your activated charcoal with an expiry date January 2015. I think that it is still ok to take it, isn’t it? I do not think that activated charcoal really expires if it was kept in the original bottle. It was open though but I do not think that it should make a difference.
    Thank you.

  9. I have a severe reaction to poison oak here in Oregon. During the fall and spring, when some people burn piles of brush, I always worry about burning poison oak. I deliver mail and can’t close the window when driving through smoke in the rural areas I deliver to. One year, I drove through some smoke and couldn’t get the window up fast enough. Sure enough, an hour or so later, I felt my face ‘burning’ (no pun intended), and knew that poison oak had indeed been in the pile of burning brush. I had several hours left to go to finish my deliveries, and the faster you get to cleaning the exposed skin and removing the urushiol, the oil that causes the reaction, the better, as when left on the skin it will continue to do its damage.
    When I got home, even though I had done years of searching remedies for the painful, oozing rash that usually leaves me in agony for at least two weeks, (even when I take prednisone, which I hate as it shuts down your entire immune system) I found another one, this time it was different:
    “This skin mask, which includes bentonite clay, activated charcoal, turmeric, and red Moroccan clay, is powerful, especially when used with tea tree essential oil and water to make the clay into a paste. After allowing this mixture to dry on the skin for 30 minutes, the poisons are drawn out.”

    So I made a paste out of bentonite clay, Act. Charcoal, oatmeal, turmeric, a few drops of Tea tree EO, a few drops of frankincense EO, and ACV & water smeared it on and left it for 30 minutes.
    Not only did it work, but also it stopped the itch in minutes. I used the mask three times just to be sure. This was, for me, truly a miracle.
    It is unfortunate that the website where I got this recipe is now gone.
    The powers of natural remedies are all around us…we just need to find them and use them wisely.

  10. 5 stars
    You left out cooking. Last Halloween I used it to make black swirls in my pot de creme! Very cool! One does have to be careful since the charcoal is messy and stains. I was careful and lucky! Thanks for the article!

  11. Hi Heather, Maybe I am just missing it but when I clicked on the link for the charcoal soap recipe it just brought me to Amazon for a charcoal soap already made. So where is the recipe to make my own? Thanks!