Ultimate Guide to Activated Charcoal: Benefits and Uses

| Modified on Feb 29, 2024
Activated Charcoal Tonic Health Benefits

Activated charcoal, a simple yet powerful natural remedy, offers many health benefits, from alleviating digestive discomfort to serving as an effective detoxifying agent. Its versatility extends to treating infections, neutralizing insect stings, and functioning as a natural deodorant. The universal accessibility of activated charcoal, derived from burning wood in a low-oxygen environment, makes it a valuable health resource for people from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

What is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is a specialized form of carbon produced by burning wood slowly in a controlled, low-oxygen environment. This process leaves behind a pure form of carbon that, when crushed and purified, is termed 'activated' due to its enhanced medical-grade quality. This potent form of charcoal is known for its exceptional ability to adsorb toxins and bacteria, making it a go-to remedy for a variety of health issues.

The Science Behind Activated Charcoal

The effectiveness of activated charcoal lies in its unique ability to adsorb substances, a process that involves the electrostatic attraction of molecules, unlike absorption. This means activated charcoal can attract and safely remove harmful toxins and bacteria from the body. Its broad adsorption spectrum is capable of neutralizing substances ranging from acetaminophen and arsenic to mercury and various narcotics. However, it's important to note that it does not adsorb substances like cyanide, alcohol, or lithium.

Activated Charcoal's Adsorption Spectrum

Charcoal adsorbs thousands of substances. Here is a very partial list:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Arsenic
  • Aspirin
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Chlorine
  • Gasoline
  • Hemlock
  • Iodine
  • Ipecac
  • Kerosene
  • Mercury
  • Methylene Blue
  • Morphine
  • Narcotics
  • Nicotine
  • Opium
  • Penicillin
  • Pesticides
  • Selenium
  • Silver

What Is Not Adsorbed by Charcoal?

  • Cyanide
  • Iron
  • Lithium
  • Mineral Acids
  • Caustic Alkalis
  • Alcohol
  • Boric Acid

Internal Health Benefits of Activated Charcoal

Digestive Health and Detoxification

One of the primary uses of activated charcoal is in treating digestive discomfort and related conditions. It's particularly effective in adsorbing toxins and gases in the gastrointestinal tract, relieving bloating, gas, and pain. For individuals suffering from diarrhea or symptoms of food poisoning, activated charcoal can help by binding to the toxins responsible and facilitating their removal from the body.

Activated charcoal is also a cornerstone in detox regimens. Its porous nature allows it to capture and remove unwanted substances from the body, including environmental toxins and pollutants. This detoxifying effect benefits general health and supports liver and kidney function, organs heavily involved in the body's natural detox processes.

Poisoning and Overdose Management

In emergencies involving poisoning or drug overdose, activated charcoal is a critical first-line treatment. Adsorbing a wide range of substances can prevent the absorption of harmful agents into the bloodstream, reducing their toxicity and potential damage. Healthcare professionals often administer activated charcoal in cases of ingestion of certain medications, chemicals, and household products, leveraging its ability to neutralize threats quickly.

Alleviating Body Odor and Bad Breath

Beyond its detoxifying capabilities, activated charcoal can address internal causes of body odor and bad breath. By adsorbing toxins and bacteria from the digestive system, it helps purify the body from the inside out, potentially reducing unpleasant odors. Its use in combating halitosis (bad breath) is linked to its ability to absorb compounds responsible for odor, offering a natural approach to maintaining oral hygiene.

Supporting Digestive Disorders

Individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other digestive disorders may find relief with activated charcoal. Its adsorptive properties can help manage abdominal pain, excessive gas, and bloating, contributing to overall digestive well-being. While not a cure, it serves as a supportive measure in managing the discomfort associated with these conditions.

Cholesterol Level Management

Emerging research suggests activated charcoal may have a role in managing cholesterol levels. Its ability to adsorb cholesterol and bile acids in the gut can potentially reduce blood cholesterol levels, contributing to cardiovascular health. This aspect of activated charcoal's benefits is still under investigation but points to its broader potential in supporting internal health.

Determining the Correct Dosage

The effectiveness of activated charcoal greatly depends on the correct dosage, which varies based on the condition being treated. For acute situations like poisoning, higher doses are typically required, whereas for digestive discomfort or detox purposes, lower doses are often sufficient.

When dealing with poisonings, it's crucial to adhere to the Mayo Clinic's dosage recommendations for activated charcoal. These guidelines ensure the appropriate amount is administered based on age:

  • Adults and Teenagers: A single dose should be between 25 and 100 grams.
  • Children aged 1 to 12: A single dose should range from 25 to 50 grams.
  • Infants under one year: A single dose should be between 10 and 25 grams.

For administration, mix the activated charcoal with water. To give you a sense of measurement, 1 tablespoon of activated charcoal is roughly equivalent to 10 grams, which is also about 14 capsules.

While these dosages may appear large, they are specifically for cases of poisoning. When poisoning occurs, it's essential to immediately consult with a healthcare professional, such as your doctor, the emergency room, or a poison control center.

A significantly lower amount of activated charcoal is typically adequate for addressing other health concerns. In many situations, just ¼ to 1 teaspoon of activated charcoal, which equates to around 5 capsules, can offer benefits. Through experience, you'll understand the most effective dosage for your needs.

Using Activated Charcoal for External Healing

Activated charcoal is not just for internal detox; it's an effective and gentle remedy for external applications. By creating a poultice from activated charcoal, you can harness its properties to draw out toxins, reduce inflammation, and alleviate pain directly at the source of discomfort.

Applications for Activated Charcoal Poultices:

Activated charcoal poultices can be beneficial for a variety of conditions, including but not limited to:

  • Insect bites
  • Bee stings
  • Gas build-up
  • Food poisoning symptoms
  • Gallbladder pain
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Kidney pain
  • Skin wounds
  • Pancreatitis
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Tooth abscesses
  • Canker sores

Creating an Activated Charcoal Poultice:

To make a poultice, you'll need activated charcoal powder, water to form a paste, and a cloth or gauze to hold the mixture. The paste is then applied to the affected area and secured with an ace bandage or cohesive tape. This method allows the activated charcoal to work directly on the skin, drawing out impurities and providing relief.

While specific instructions for creating and applying an activated charcoal poultice can vary, the principle remains the same: combining activated charcoal with a small amount of water to make a paste, applying this paste to the problem area, and covering it securely to let the charcoal do its work.

For those seeking to use activated charcoal for external healing, incorporating it into your first-aid kit as a poultice can be a valuable addition to your natural remedy collection.

Activated Charcoal Tincture and Its Versatile Applications

Activated charcoal can be effortlessly transformed into a tincture, offering a concentrated form for targeted applications. This simple process involves mixing one teaspoon of activated charcoal with a quarter cup of pure water. After shaking the mixture and straining it through a coffee filter, the resulting liquid retains the beneficial particles of the charcoal. Stored in a glass jar with a dropper, this tincture becomes a handy tool for addressing various health issues.

Uses for Activated Charcoal Tincture:

  1. Eye Conditions: Effective for treating pinkeye and pterygium, offering relief and reducing inflammation.
  2. Ear Infections: A gentle remedy that can be applied to ease discomfort and fight infection.
  3. Oral Health: Ideal as a gargle for sore throats and mouth infections, it combats bad breath and provides a natural solution to oral discomfort.

Beneficial for Pets and Livestock

Activated charcoal extends its healing properties to animals, proving valuable for treating wounds, stings, and poisonings in pets. It also aids in managing diarrhea and other health issues in livestock, demonstrating its effectiveness across a broad spectrum of animal health concerns.

Important Cautions

While activated charcoal offers many benefits, it's crucial to use it responsibly, especially concerning medications and hydration:

  • Avoid taking activated charcoal within 2 hours of taking medications or supplements, as it can adsorb these substances and diminish their effectiveness. The exception is in cases of poisoning, where the benefits may outweigh the risks.
  • Be mindful of the potential for constipation or bowel blockage if large amounts are used without sufficient water intake. Always consume plenty of water when taking activated charcoal to prevent these issues.
  • Handle finely ground activated charcoal with care to avoid inhalation, which could pose a risk due to its lightweight and powdery nature.

Incorporating activated charcoal into your health regimen can offer a range of benefits, particularly for internal health issues. Whether it's aiding in digestion, detoxifying the body, or managing more acute conditions like poisoning, its natural adsorptive properties make it a versatile and effective remedy. As with any supplement, it's crucial to use activated charcoal under the guidance of a healthcare provider, ensuring it complements your overall health strategy safely and effectively.

Activated charcoal's broad range of applications, from health tinctures to pet care, highlights its remarkable versatility as a natural remedy. Explore extensive feedback from Earth Clinic readers, who have shared their experiences with this powerful remedy for over 20 years!

Related Links:

Activated Charcoal for Pets: Emergency Uses, Dosage & Benefits

Activated Charcoal and Meds

3 User Reviews
5 star (3) 

Posted by Craig (Las Vegas, Nevada) on 12/23/2011

Would taking the activated charcoal affect someone who is on a fentynal patch? Would it reduce the effectiveness of the patch?

Also does activated help with parasites?


Replied by Charcoal Dependent
(California, US)

Activated charcoal may have an effect on a fentanyl patch although, not as severe as if you were taking an opioid pill. I still think it would pull some of the fentanyl out of your system. Check with your doctor, and or try a dose or two and see how you feel. No withdrawals intended :) I am a RN who is prescribed a large amount of activated charcoal due to a form of toxicosis. My MD advised me to wait 90 minutes-120minutes between taking charcoal and other medications or supplements. Make sure if you take activated charcoal, that you at least take a multi vitamin. As the article mentioned, charcoal will pretty much absorb the good with the bad.

Activated Charcoal and Meds
Posted by Rita (Skandia, Michigan /usa) on 02/05/2010

Will the activated charcoal tabs take away the effectiveness of my medicine?

Replied by Heartrhythms
(Santa Fe, Nm)

Hi Rita, activated charcoal would probably reduce the absorption of your medicine if taken around the same time (to be safe, I'd leave at least 4-5 hours between the charcoal and meds).

Replied by Anon

I would also eat something in between the charcoal and meds, such as fresh fruit - cantaloup would be a decent choice I think, as it is bulky and has a lot of water. It should sweep away the charcoal before your meds get near it, or provide a barrier between the charcoal and meds if you take the meds first. I would not take the charcoal and meds together without doing this.

Raw potatoes are also bulky and have a lot of water. Both are low in sugar and fats. The amount you need would depend on how much charcoal you took if you took the charcoal first. If you take the meds first you would want to wait 30 minutes to an hour perhaps before eating the melon. That way the meds are not mixed into the melon in the stomach, but have exited into the small intestine and will not contact the charcoal at all. Taking psyllium fiber after taking the charcoal may help sweep it from the digestive tract in case it lingers and adsorbs the meds. Wait perhaps an hour after taking the charcoal to take the psyllium. Away from the meds, of course. Mixing psyllium and charcoal in water and taking them together seems to reduce the effectiveness of the charcoal in my experience as it is trapped in the psyllium.

Charcoal is wonderful stuff. Sulfur is also a good detoxifier, though it works differently. Probiotics like kefir may be helpful in case the charcoal removes the beneficial gut microbes. I have been getting hives recently after using store bought kombucha, though I enjoyed it for a few years before the hives started. You may want to stear away from it temporarily if you are ill.

Activated Charcoal for Dogs

3 User Reviews
5 star (3) 

Posted by Italiandobergirl (Nj) on 11/17/2015

I am a now retired Vet Tech yet will be opening a Pet Rehab in NJ I pray. I also run a 501(c)(3) Animal Rescue. We save all B& S, yet many Dobermans that are very gassy and prone to bloat.

I am a huge fan from my work at a Vet of the use of Activated Charcoal (AC). I always had it on hand. Issue until I open my Business/Clinic I am looking for any OTC compatible AC. The AC at stores has dyes and other ingredients not good for our furkids.

Has anyone found a brand OTC as I am not a fan of ordering, and now will NOT order any online meds that is NOT a VIP Approved Pharmacy.

Yes sidenote other non VIP Online Pharmacies have had many reports of tampered meds or not even the correct medication....so PLEASE make sure you utilize a VIP Pharmacy. I.E. Dr. Foster & Smith is VIP. JW any specific brands to add to my first aid kit for my furkids and our Rescues? Grazie.

Replied by Mama To Many

Dear Italiandobergirl,

Well, my charcoal source is not a VIP approved pharmacy, as far as I know. But I have used them for years and have always been very happy with the service and products. We use charcoal to treat our people, our farm animals and our pets.


~Mama to Many~

Replied by Steve

I've had good success with starwest activated charcoal. They should have 1lb bulk bags. Not sure about the VIP labs that sell this.

Replied by Joan

The brand KAL charcoal activated seems pure and only has charcoal and gelatin due to the capsule. U can find it on vitacost.com

Allergic Reactions

1 User Review
5 star (1) 

Posted by Anonymouscat (Sarasota, Florida) on 07/04/2012

Charcoal and Allergic Reaction from Benadryl

Took Benadryl for hives, but begain having serious adverse side effects: pounding, irregular or racing heartbeat shaking tremors difficult time catching your breathe, my tongue felt thick. Seriously feel like I was going to die! Well all of that happened to me, dr called and said she thought it was a reaction from the Benadryl. So I took some activated charcoal tablets I always keep on hand, and the adverse side effects fell away It was truly AMAZING.

Bee Sting

2 User Reviews
5 star (2) 

Posted by Grace (Spring City, Tn.) on 03/27/2012

I have used charcoal for bee stings also. It works good to put this mixture into a pouch: cut from a baby diaper or chuck with medical tape around it, Pull out the stay dry lining because charcoal only keeps drawing if it is wet. Ground Flax seed works best but when my husband became allergic to flax seed I started using corn starch.

This also works on Brown Recluse Spider Bites, Snake Bites, Mosquito Bites, Infected Cuts of any kind and Ear Infections (Tape to the out side of the ear, pulls the infection out). I used this on my children it really works. Put it on at night and the next morning there was yellowish pus on the poultice.

I believe if people knew the benefits of Charcoal and how to use it many lives would be saved. No worries about gangrene.

Bee Sting
Posted by Gean (Salina, Kansas) on 05/05/2008

I am very allergic to bee stings. I had gotten stung a few times during my childhood and teens, each time with more severe swelling. The last time I had gotten stung (stepped on a bee going barefoot), my leg swelled up like an elephant leg all the way to the thigh (the time before that it was just above the knee). So I knew it would be worse the next time, so I carried an Epi-pen around for a while until it expired. Then I carried nothing with me, but I knew if I got stung again esp. above the waist it would probably cut off my airway circulation. Well, lo and behold, about 20 years later I got stung again, right on my throat, so I yelled for my husband to call 911, thinking I was done for. Then a few seconds later I said, "Never mind! Hang up and help me mix up this charcoal!" So we took some powdered activated charcoal, mixed it with water, and applied it to the sting site. When the paramedics showed up a few minutes later (they had traced the call), we told them we were fine, since there was no swelling at all. I changed the charcoal poultice quite often during that first day, I don't remember exactly how often. Maybe every hour for a few hours. We also ground up some flax seed and mixed it with the charcoal and water. This makes it gelatinous and less runny. I kept the poultice on for about 3 days. Two days later I felt it itch and begin to swell, and then I realized the poultice had slipped off the sting site. So I knew I was still very allergic, and the charcoal had probably saved my life.

Replied by Anon

I wonder if holding a cloth soaked in apple cider vinegar would penetrate the skin and disolve the toxins from the sting. Or an aspirin or vitamin c tablet.

Also, chia seeds would work in place of the flax.

Replied by Pam
(Southern California)
140 posts

I have used AC for cases of infected teeth with abscess, though ... and found it to be very effective!!! However, I keep a spray bottle of white grain-based vinegar handy, & when something stings me, I head straight for that & spray the sting-site a few times ... rubbing it into the skin around & over that area.... I used to swell way up several inches around a sting, with skin turning red & so painful I wished I would die! Since I started immediately spraying with 5% vinegar to treat stings, though, I no longer experience much if any swelling or pain! And it only requires a 1x application, for myself....

Bites, Poison Ivy, Wounds, Infections

1 User Review
5 star (1) 

Posted by Maria R. (Knoxville, TN) on 04/01/2023

ACTIVATED Charcoal for bites, poison ivy and wound infection

My husband worked in the forest building trails and came back with what looked like poison ivy. He treated both legs with an ointment. One leg was remedied, the other leg stayed red for two weeks and started becoming hot to the touch. We knew that it meant he had systemic infection so I made him a poultice of Activated Charcoal, rice flour (for thickening, you can use arrow root or corn starch), and castor oil. I spread it on his wound and put a gauze over poultice and a plastic wrap over the gauze. I then wrapped the entire would around the thigh in an Ace Bandage. He did this for four days, making sure he removed the bandage in the shower as the AC is VERY messy. We replaced with new gauze each day for four days. I used an activated charcoal for whitening teeth found at Bed, Bath and Beyond!

On top of this I had him do four days of taking activated charcoal internally by capsule, found on Amazon.

Day 1 he took only 2 capsules in morning and two in evening with lots of water.

Day 2 he did the same.

Day 3 he took 1 capsule every hour all day long.

Day 4 he took 1 capsule every hour all day long.

Day 5 all was clear - accept for a VERY dry thigh, (which we rubbed Coconut oil into until dryness was gone)

All the heat and redness was gone!


3 User Reviews
5 star (3) 

Posted by Mark (Las Vegas, Ca) on 03/30/2012

Activated Charcoal is good for food poisoning, Gas and bloating and Accidental poisoning. Always keep some on the house. I take it fairly often. I have never had a bad experience using it but many times it has saved me from problems such as gas, bloating and bad food.

Those that warn people to stay away always fail to recognize that maybe it will work for others and their problems might be an abberation and not the typical experience. I have never had charcoal cause constipation.

Posted by Killer Bees (Brisbane, Australia) on 05/15/2008

I had the same problem as Sharon from Santa Fe. I'm 42 now and for the last couple of years, I've had problems with everything I eat making me bloated and uncomfortable. I've tried everything I can think of, including elimination diets, with no luck. But activated charcoal really worked for me. I take 2 tabs in the morning and then 2 at night, each time about an hour after eating to give my body time to digest the meal's nutrients. I don't usually take it at lunch time because I only have soup or tea and that doesn't seem to upset me too much. I didn't have the diahorrea. My stools were solid and did change to a very dark brown/black and I felt very cleaned out. They passed more easily as well. I'll keep taking the tabs twice a day until I feel like I don't need them. My thanks to Sharon from Santa Fe for recommending this product. Girl, you rock!

Posted by Sharon (Santa Fe, NM) on 03/04/2008

After menopause, I seemed to be bloated in my midsection most of the time. My lower stomach was puffy most of the time. I'm a thin person, and thought this was weight gain due to menopause & quitting smoking. Ond day I took 2 activated charcoal capsules for gas, and I ended up spending a lot of time in the bathroom that day. By that evening, I realized that my stomach was flat again! I figured that the charcoal had detoxified my system!! I will continue to take the charcoal once or twice weekly now. I am extremely happy with the results!!

Body Odor

1 User Review
5 star (1) 

Posted by Therese (Maui) on 05/18/2018

I use activated charcoal externally as my natural deodorant. But this takes practice to make sure you don't go out in public with a tank top on a blackened arm pits!

About 20 minutes before I shower I apply a mixture of activated charcoal and water that I keep in a jar (say 1 teaspoon of charcoal to 2 teaspoons of water) to my armpits and let them dry with the charcoal on them. 20 mins later when I shower, I use a MICROFIBER cloth to remove the activated charcoal from my armpits. It doesn't always wash off easily so you must use a microfiber cloth, which is soft and won't scratch your armpits. And voila! No need for deodorant and lasts all day. Try it please in the morning and let me know what you think and don't get mad at me if you forget to wash it off and get weird looks. Me? Never! Heh heh.

Charcoal Poultice in a Hurry

1 User Review
5 star (1) 

Posted by Mama To Many (Tennessee) on 05/07/2015

My three year old came into the house with a really bad fire ant bite on his foot. (It crawled into his shoe! ) I didn't have any poultices pre-made (my bad, especially this time of year! ) and I needed a poultice for him super fast!

I put a paper towel on the counter, put a spoonful of charcoal into it, folded the towel over to enclose the charcoal (like an envelope) and wet it at the sink. I was able to get this onto his foot in less than a minute. I put plastic wrap and a cohesive bandage on it. He stopped crying.

While the method I have described in the past in writing and in my video are ideal (less messy and will hold moisture longer) this method is easier to execute and quicker to make in a hurry.

~Mama to Many~

Charcoal Side Effects

3 User Reviews

Posted by Newlynatural (Fl, Usa) on 08/27/2013

Hi. I have a problem. I started taking activated charcoal on a regular basis and now I am bloated and cannot go. My stomach is solid as a rock. I stopped taking the Charcoal of course but what can I do to fix this problem, it's been 4 days?

Replied by Bobbie
(Rowlett, Tx)

Try drinking Senna Tea. This usually works on the worse cases of constipation problems. Because it's been four days you may need a cup on an empty stomach in the morning and another around noon. You can try a cup before bed and usually in the morning you get relief. I dilute my cup by 1/2 by pouring 1/2 in another cup and filling with water because it usually works when I don't need it to work if I use the undiluted cup. If It's been more than two days, I use the undiluted cup. Put a tea bag in a cup and pour boiling water into the cup and cover it and let it steep for about five minutes. Drink as warm as you can get it. I don't put any sweetner in mine and I don't know if it makes a difference.

Replied by Timh
(Ky, Usa)
2063 posts

@Newlynatural: Three natural remedies for help in elimination are Milled Flax Seed, Vit-C, and Magnesium. The benefits of these certainly go beyond simply elimination. Begin w/ recommended doses and increase until you get results.

Replied by Toourlady89
(Ca, Usa)

Hi, taking activated charcoal on a regular basis as I understand is not really a good idea. It is used for certain occasions for absorption of bad bacteria from the stomach such as: in food poisoning, abdominal distention with gas, or absorption of excess medication in cases of over dose. It could absorb large amounts of liquid from the stomach and thereby cause constipation. There are many other uses of charcoal but Use it as needed only. Not for regular daily use. You would wanna take it separately from your meds or vitamins as it would also absorb some of those. For constipation, hydration is most important, Milk of Magnesia could help followed by 6-8 glasses of water for the day. Magnesium Oxide daily would help prevent constipation in the future.

Replied by Reba
(Stockton, Nj)

Take magnesium oxide capsules or a dose of epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) hopefully that should do it. I'm sorry I didn't see post till now...hope this helps someone else with constipation.

Charcoal Side Effects
Posted by Mercedes (Wilkes Barre, Pa/usa) on 05/25/2011

I took natures way activated charcoal for gas pains it caused worse pains then I started I also feel a lump in my stomach it has been 6 days and I still cannot have a bm. I also went to the hospital for this pain. They couldnt do anything for me because I took exlax which made me go but not the hard lump above belly button. The exlax made me dehydrated so they sent me home. I wouldn't recomend this to my worst enemy. So to all who read this before taking it please don't take it.

Charcoal Side Effects
Posted by Kelly (Mt. Healthy, Ohio) on 08/19/2009

I have been considering using activated charcoal for multiple conditions, but i'm not sure if it causes constipation, that's the last thing I need right now. any advise and experience would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Replied by Tina
(Toledo, Ohio, Usa)

I take a heaping tablespoon of activated charcoal in 2 cups of water and have lots of fiber-foods(vegetable!)during the day as well as lots of water. I don't have a problem with constipation as long as I drink sufficiently and eat fiber-foods.

Replied by Diamond
(Salisbury, Usa)

Kelly from Ohio; I usually do a complete cleanse before introducing my system to some thing new or different;so if the charcoal does block you up, you have enough time inbetween bowel movements to do the charcoal then again work on your bowel movements. I use one of the very best cleanses ever for the past fifteen years, it's a twin pack of multi-herb digestion & detox support the other bottle is multi-fiber cleanse;you take one of each herb(2), morn. Noon & night and this herb will let you know it's time to go potty haha because it's Dynamite, but it's bought in an herbal store & very affordable. Good luck

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